§ Order of the Day read for resuming the debate on the Amendment to the Motion for Second Reading—namely, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, moved yesterday by Lord Treowen.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, you will have noticed that there is a Motion on the Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Lovat, who proposes that the debate should be adjourned until the cereal policy of the Government is defined. I think it is in accordance with the recognised practice of your Lordships' House that, as the adjournment was moved in my name last night, I should now resume the debate. The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, in a speech which gave me more pleasure than satisfaction to listen to, began by stating that it was worth while to look and see before we discussed the Bill whether there was not some common ground. My Lords, there is some common ground. This country is over-taxed, it is over-spent, and it is over-peopled. I do not advance these statements as controversial propositions: I make them as indisputable facts—facts in the face of which all legislation should be prepared, and in the light of which it should be criticised. It cannot be said that, with regard to the first two of those propositions, this Bill gives us much relief, and with regard to the last of them all it can offer is an expectation—the hope of a dream, a dream which is always the refuge of weakness from the irrevocable nature of reality.
The noble Earl said that the Bill could be divided into two parts. I think it can be divided into five. The first relates to the experimental company, the second to the demonstration farms, the third to the reclamation provisions, the fourth to small holdings, and the fifth to allotments; and in that order I propose, as briefly as I can, to examine this Bill. The first proposal is, it must be admitted, not merely novel but startling. As far as I can understand it, its purpose is to finance, with Government money, but to leave outside Government control, a Corporation that is to be set on foot for the purpose of making experiments in large-farm agriculture. I hope I have not misread the Bill: the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong. But my reading of the Bill is that that company can 69 only act by agreement with the various people from whom the land is bought. There is no compulsory power of acquisition. If that is the case, what you are going to do is to start a Corporation with corporate power to buy and to sell, to lake and to grant leases, and you are going to set it to acquire a large area from a very large number of people for the purpose, when it has been acquired, if not exactly of turning it to a different use, of using it in a different manner from that in which it has hitherto been used.
It is essential that all these properties which they acquire should be adjacent; otherwise your big farm breaks down; and if you have to acquire by agreement, as you cannot acquire simultaneously I should like to know what would be the terms that would be proposed by the persons whose lands were last to be acquired. It is perfectly true you may, in case of dispute, have some method of settling the quarrel. But that does not affect what I say, namely, that it is obvious that, directly it becomes necessary for this big Corporation to acquire the piece of land which is essential for its operations, the price of that land not only will go up but must go up, because it has become a more valuable piece of land.
When that has all been done and they have acquired it, they proceed to put it to use, either, as I understand, for extensive arable or extensive ranching purposes. What I want to know is what happens to the people who were there before? I imagine that the tenant-farmers will have their interests acquired, but the labourers—the people for whom this Government are so peculiarly solicitous—what is going to happen to them? It cannot be suggested that when you are going to begin a. vast experiment like this, you will be able to retain in their old positions and occupations immediately all the men who were there before. They hope that ultimately they may be able to use them, possibly on this large farm, but immediately it cannot be so. While they are preparing this farm for its new purpose the agricultural labourer will be left stranded and unprotected to swell the ranks of the unemployed.
I understand that part of it is to be devoted to large dairy farms—a pleasant thing for a man who is already profitably 70 and diligently conducting a dairy farm to have a vast new dairy farm started by his side, financed out of the public funds! It appears to me that a more unjust thing you cannot possibly imagine. The man may have sunk his fortune in it, may have given his life to its development. And the new farm alongside is going to be a much more profitable undertaking. You are therefore going, by Government money, to put into competition with that man a far more formidable rival than he had before. That may commend itself to people who are fond of making experiments, but it appears to me to be making an experiment in the living of people who are already earning their bread. It is not an experiment that I like.
I do do not want to waste too much time over this first proposition. It has been already extensively dealt with. I should like to ask a question. The directors consist of from five to nine. Half at least must be people who have some knowledge of agriculture. The others, with one exception, may be picked up from anywhere, but the one exception is a thing which strikes me as interesting. He must have experience in finance. Will you tell me why? Am I to understand that when an agriculturist is in difficulties about his cows or cultivating his farm he consults his stockbroker, or that a stockbroker when he wants information about finance consults agriculturists? What has a financial expert to do with this, and who is he going to be—a bank manager, a stockbroker, an underwriter at Lloyds, a money lender? Who is the person interested in finance who is going to be a member of this board? And he must be there. When you get to Scotland you find what so often happens, that the Scots get more favourable treatment in this matter, because this remarkable body can only operate in Scotland after they have consulted the committee of agricultural experts. But there is no such protection for us.
In the end there is one provision that I see which I think is prophetic. It is the provision enabling the Corporation to be wound up. If nothing were wound up excepting the Corporation there would be few who would shed tears at its funeral. But that Corporation will carry to its grave upwards of £1,000,000 of 71 public money. I want to ask one further question about this matter. I will try and summon all the remaining grains of optimism I can collect, and assume this is not a failure. On that assumption, what is the next thing that is going to be done? Are you to say: "We have demonstrated to you that with the public funds behind you and 10,000-acre farms you can make a living"? What is the result of that? People cannot acquire 10,000-acre farms. Or do you think this is going to stimulate company promoting, and that they will start promoting 10,000-acre farms, and try and get once more all the necessary properties required in order that the experiment may be carried on? It is said by the noble Earl to be an experiment. It is to my mind a rash and costly and dangerous experiment, and one which I myself can sec no advantage whatever from undertaking.
Let us pass from that, and go to the next thing, the demonstration farm. That, I admit, causes me a certain amount of uneasiness; because I find myself quite unable to picture it. I know that at this moment in connection with Universities and public bodies there are a large number of farms called model farms where they are busy conducting agricultural scientific experiments. But I would beg you to notice that in this Bill there is not one word about scientific experiments from the first line to the last. There is no money to be given for science—science that asks so little and gives so much. But science is no great friend of this Government's, otherwise we might have the money that is about to be squandered in providing foreign singers to flatter the ears of a few rich people, devoted to something like the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which would enable us to win. the victory that at this very hour, I assure you, is trembling in the balance against one of the most formidable foes that mankind has ever faced. I know that is irrelevant, but as this House is unable to criticise money expenditure except by remote irrelevancies I trust I will be considered in order.
What are these demonstration farms to do? To demonstrate to the world how, if you have unlimited resources at your back, you can conduct a farm. What a comforting prospect for the unhappy man who lives nearby, who, by working 72 long hours all day and putting all his hard-earned savings into the land, is just able to make both ends meet. He is told to come round and see: "Here, look at our beautiful barns, look at our stables, look at our fences, look at our machinery, the very best; that is the way you ought to run a farm." This wretched man, who has not a spare ten pound note in his pocket, is to go back encouraged by this prospect, and, I suppose, enabled, I do not know by what means, to equip his farm in the way the other has been equipped at the public cost. These demonstration farms are things that I simply do not understand, more particularly when I find—I think I am right in saying—that they are to be demonstrated under the Minister of Agriculture. He is the person who is to have the power to purchase, equip and utilise the land, and it is to be done by people under his management, either as agents for the Minister or the authorities—any persons who in the opinion of the Minister of Agriculture are qualified to manage and control such farms and to give instruction in agricultural subjects.Surely, a more startling proposition was never put before a reasonable body of men.
The next thing is a matter which caused one some considerable interest. It is the power on the part of the Minister to reclaim land. Lot us deal with the first part of it first—that is, where land is in a condition that it cannot properly be used at the moment for agricultural purposes, the Minister may enter and reclaim. I am satisfied that there are many of your Lordships to whom I am speaking who know perfectly well that there is a good deal of land to-day that is not in a fit condition for agriculture, for the simple reason that it has been impossible to make it pay. When you have reclaimed it, what then? It is in just the same condition as it was before it went back, and unless there is some means by which a person is now going to be enabled to make it pay you have done no good at all. You have simply put the thing back to the state from which it came. Your Lordships know so much better than I do, but if you only take a railway journey and look out of the window you will see land which only a little time ago was prosperous and 73 flourishing and has now become derelict, simply because people cannot under present conditions make it pay. If they really wanted to help, do you not think it would have been a good thing to have examined more closely into all things connected with the production and distribution of the produce of the farm? At the present moment the difference in cost between orchard farm produce and an equivalent thing—not necessarily the same thing—as sold in London shops is perfectly shocking. If they wanted really to help surely the thing to do would be to understand why it is that these prices get so inflated, and what would be the wisest steps to take to secure that the farmer should get a proper return for the things he has grown.
I will not trouble your Lordships with any illustrations because they are perfectly obvious to all. But there is something more that can be done. The Minister has power after serving notices to require that certain works, should be done and then if that has not been done the Minister can enter. Then follows a provision which I think, if anything could be interesting, is one of the most interesting in the Bill. After you have determined what the compensation is and after you have entered, after you have done the whole thing, you then begin to think and you find out that the expense is more than you ought to incur—a process which I should have thought might have been undertaken before you began. If you find that out in six months you are at liberty to withdraw, give the land back and give the man compensation for having taken it. But they do not tell you what is to happen then. If, after six months, the Government find they have embarked upon a scheme which can by no conceivable possibility be productive of profit, under which they are going heavier and heavier into expenditure without prospect of recovery, you can do nothing. You just have to go on. Either you have to look before you leap, or if you have leapt before yon looked you have six months in which to jump back. After that you are in bog for the rest of your life. So much for the reclamation provisions.
Did the Bill end there, I admit that I should find it quite impossible to approve its Second Reading. I think it 74 is a Bill that can be productive of no good. But there is another part of the Bill which, I think, requires different treatment. Up to now there has been nothing which any one could suggest could really remedy unemployment. Some of the things, I think, might increase it. Rut this part of the Bill is expressly designed for the purpose of mitigating that evil. Directly any one, speaks of unemployment he finds everybody ready to listen and ready to help. The shadow of unemployment has spread over this country until it has darkened the homes of 2,600,000 people, and its weight lies like an incubus upon the nation's heart. There is no man who would not be willing to make any sacrifices for the purpose of seeing that shadow chased away. But there can be nothing more dangerous than to call attention to an existing state of things that excites your pity and then say: "Therefore, this is what we must do to put it right." You must show that what you are going to do is really a practical palliative of the thing you seek to heal. If not, you may be aggravating the evil which you desire to remedy.
There is no product of goods from land or factory to-day that does not go into the market carrying part of its burden of the taxation that is spread over the whole country, and if you increase the burden on that product you may cause far more unemployment than your remedy may cure. I want to examine closely in that light the provision that this Bill contains for small holdings and allotments. Let us begin with small holdings. A small holding is to be provided for a person who satisfies these conditions: he is to be an unemployed person, he must desire to lease a small holding and cultivate it himself. He has merely got to say so and, of course, that is enough. Finally, he must show that he is able to cultivate the holding properly. As this Bill is of universal extension, and as small holdings must be spread far and wide over the face of the country, this necessarily involves that there must be some persons to examine all these applicants to satisfy themselves of their ability to cultivate them properly. It is a big task and it cannot be done without somebody being paid for it. People are not going to volunteer to examine into a person's ability. But the 75 thing which I think most striking about that is that the ability referred to there is not agricultural ability.
It is not knowledge of the land, nor power to cultivate it. Why I say that is that if your Lordships look at Clause 6 you will find that where any person other than one of the unemployed desires a small holding—I am referring to subsection (4) (a)—he must bein the opinion of the Minister, likely to become suitable as a tenant of such a holding.I ask leave to contrast these two things. One is the application of the man who is unemployed, the other is the application of the man who is not. In the case of the man who is not, he must be a person "likely to become suitable as a tenant." In the case of the other all that you have to show is that he "is able," which I imagine means something to do with his muscles. I do say to your Lordships with the utmost certainty, being called upon, as I am more often than I like, to construe these Acts of Parliament, that it would be impossible for any judge to say that the words "able to cultivate the holding" in Clause 6 (1) (c) had the same meaning as "suitable as a tenant of such a holding" in the latter part of subsection (4) (a).
Just see what that means. You are to take an unemployed man—he may be a miner or a cotton spinner—who is willing to lease a small holding, and he must be, I imagine, of the necessary strength or qualifications, whatever they may be, to enable him to cultivate it. Once he has satisfied that requirement the thing becomes easy. He is provided with a small holding, he is provided by grant, loan or guarantee with all the necessary moneys for the provision of stock, foodstuffs, fruit trees, seeds, fertilisers or implements. If he cannot supply himself, the Government are going to give them to him. In other words, the Government are going to embark on the occupation of buying and selling stock, fruit trees seeds, fertilisers and implements. Those of us who had experience of Government purchasing burnt into our minds during the War will not imagine that the tenant is going to get on to his land with a very cheap equipment. At any rate, that is what is going to happen, and when he has that he is going to be provided with an allowance of £50 a year in the aggregate, in sums not exceeding 30s. a week.
76 In the course of the debate yesterday my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam asked whether that allowance was in addition to what he calls the "dole." I may say that I have never liked the word "dole." Unemployment benefit has been grossly, shamefully and in some cases criminally abused, but I do not like using a word, to cover payment to an honest man who is honestly seeking work and cannot find it, that carries with it a suggestion that there is some disgrace in the receipt of the money. I would rather call it "unemployment benefit." It makes little difference what the name should be. Call it what you like, when the Bill was being debated yesterday, my noble friend Lord Ban-bury asked whether this £50 a year, not exceeding 30s. a week, was to be in addition to the unemployment benefit or not. The noble Lord asked: "Will he get the 'dole'?" The noble Earl in charge of the Bill promptly answered that he would not. He also told the noble Lord that if he had read the Bill he would have found that out. That was a dangerous thing to say, for I know nobody who reads these Bills with greater interest than the noble Lord. In fact he is the only person I have ever met who took any pleasure in reading an Act of Parliament. The noble Earl told him to look at the Bill and see. As I had not seen anything of the sort, I said, "Which section?" The reporter did not put that in, but I certainly said it, and the noble Earl was silent. I asked him again under which section it is provided that, if a man receives benefit under subsection (3) of Clause 6, he is disentitled to receive any more unemployment benefit. Will the noble Earl tell me now?
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARE)
I really think it is best not to have cross-examination during the debate. I will deal with that when I speak.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I do not want to have it dealt with; I merely want to be referred to the section. If the noble Earl does not want to tell me that, it is perfectly plain that I cannot compel him to do it. I am a very old practitioner in these matters, and I have often noticed that, when counsel is asked a question and tells the Judge that he is going to deal with it later on, that "later on" is never reached. At any 77 rate, I will say that I have added my humble efforts to those of the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, and I cannot find anything of the kind. Nor do I think it would be reasonable, and for this simple reason. The life of a man who is going honestly to undertake one of these small holdings is going to be a hard and arduous one. He will be in contact with the country, he will have all the advantages of living in the open air—advantages which our town people do not like—but none the less he will have to work hard. Do you think that, when he begins this work, he is instantly going to step into an income? It will be weeks, if not months, before he will get sixpence. But; under his employment benefit, with good fortune, he would be receiving 30s. or 32s. a week, not merely up to £50 a year but so long as he remained unemployed.
What inducement are you going to offer in those circumstances? I do not see how it is possible for a man to carry on under this scheme without unemployment benefit, which the noble Earl told us yesterday was clearly not going to be paid—or so I gather, unless he deals with it by some other means. I am quite serious in what I say. I gather that his intention still is to adhere to the answer that he gave yesterday to my noble friend.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
It is not necessary to put in a section that he is disqualified. The point is that, once he comes off, he has to re-qualify before he goes back.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
How does he come off? Beside that—the noble Earl must forgive me—what he said yesterday was that it was in the Bill, and that if my noble friend had read the Bill he would have seen it.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
If the noble Earl would lead me a little more sympathetically in this matter, the thing might pass. I am as ready as anybody 78 to understand how easy it is to make a mistake in answering about an Act of Parliament. The noble Earl says he did not make a mistake. But his answer does seem to me incredible when you look at the Bill. What the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, said was:—Will the noble Earl tell me whether they will get the 'dole' as well as the £50 a year?The answer was:—No they will not. If the noble Lord had read the Hill, ho would have seen that.But it is not to be found in the—
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, it is perfectly clear that in the Bill there is no provision stating that when a man goes off benefit and becomes a smallholder he will automatically revert to his benefit on his failure as a smallholder, and therefore it is perfectly clear from the Bill that he does not go back; and to that extent it is in the Bill. The reason why it is not stated in so many words is that it is quite unnecessary that this should be done. The man is entitled to benefit because he is registered as a member of a certain industry which is liable to unemployment insurance. He ceases to be a member of that industry, and therefore, unless he requalifies after Failing on the land, he does not become eligible again. I apologise to the noble and learned Lord if I did not answer his question at first, but it always seems to me better not to interrupt a debate, and I thought it better to deal with the matter at the end.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I should have thought it would have been a very simple thing to say that it was not in the Bill but that it was an automatic effect of the Bill, and then we could have dealt with it. If it be the automatic effect of the Bill, that appears to me to put an end to Part II. It really is not thinkable that you are going to get unemployed people to relinquish 30s. a week, or 32s. a week, for a sum that cannot exceed £50 a year and must not exceed 30s. a week, in order to indulge in this extremely difficult and laborious occupation. I should have thought that it was very difficult. Suppose you have equipped this man at the public expense and that he really is a zealous, hard-working man and makes his small holding a successful small holding. What about the man who has 79 a small holding next door? He has never had any Government help, never been equipped with fences or stock, never had his farm provisions given or rather lent to him, but he has got to enter into competition with the man who has. I do not say it is an insuperable answer to the Bill, but it is very hard treatment for the man already working his small holding. You may also demonstrate in small holdings. I shall say nothing more about demonstration because what I have said applies with equal force to this; nor am I going into the further details of those measures. I cannot believe that that part of the Bill is, in the circumstances, destined to be a great success. I should be extremely interested to know what Lord Ernle, who knows more about this matter than I shall ever be able to touch the fringe of, has to say about it.
As to allotments, I am entirely in favour of the provision of allotments to any extent. To enable a man to spend his time in the garden and not in the cinema ought to be one of the first objects of legislation. I find that the allotment provisions are drawn up in a strange way. There is a power given to the Minister under Clause 14 to provide allotments if the county council is in default. The idea is that it is better to act himself instead of trying to compel county councils to act. I have always thought it a strange reflection upon representative government that, no sooner do we get a representative council, than everybody finds fault with it. That is a thing one cannot escape from. The Ministry can provide these allotments in case of default by the county council, but, when I turn to the end to see how the necessary money is going to be provided, I cannot find, in the clause which provides the money for this Bill, a single sixpence in relation to the allotments which the Minister has power to provide.
It is a very remarkable fact that you have the money provided for the expenditure on large-scale farms, on demonstration and reclamation and on providing small holdings, but there is not one word about the money for these allotments. I can find no provision in this Bill enabling a single sixpence to be provided for the allotments which the Government have power to set up in default of the 80 county councils. If I am wrong on this point, I should like to be corrected because I do not want to make a false point. I cannot find that provision nor can it be introduced because for us to introduce it would be one of the breaches of the Privilege of the other House. We have no right to introduce allotments into that section unless the Government agree that the financial Privileges in regard to this Act are to be waived. They cannot possibly be waived selectively but must be waived altogether, and we must have power to deal not only with that point but with other points regarding-the financial provisions in this Bill which demand most urgent attention.
EARL DE LA WARE
May I deal with the point which the noble and learned Lord has raised? In Clause 22 subsection 4 he will see it provided that:-All sums received by the Minister in the exercise and performance of his powers and duties under the provisions of this Act relating to.… allotments shall be paid into the Small Holdings and Allotments Account.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
These sums are to be paid into that account and expenditure is to be defrayed out of that account; that is to say, the money he gets is to go in and the money he has to pay has to come out of it. That does not enable him to go and buy an allotment. It is the difference between a profit and loss account and a balance sheet. I do not see how he can get an allotment.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I would point out that the work will be carried out through agents of the allotment societies.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
In part the Ministry can act through agents, but what I was referring to was the power of the Ministry in default of the county councils to provide allotments themselves. That can only be done by purchase. This does not refer to purchase at all. The moneys for the provision of small holdings are specifically set out in the Bill but the moneys for allotments are specifically not. I have discussed the details of this Bill without reference for a moment to its expense. Surely, that is the gravest thing that underlies the whole measure. Supposing for a moment hat this Bill really was in all respects a perfect Bill, this House and the other House should first of all apply their 81 minds to the question, good as it may be, can we afford it? We have under the Bill a limit of expenditure of £1,000,000 for the company, £5,000,000 for demonstration and reclamation and absolutely no limit whatever to meet the expenditure, which must be vast, under the provision of small holdings and allotments.. It must be vast for this reason. If this Bill is seriously designed to relieve unemployment, it must relieve it to a substantial extent and, though 100,000 or 200,000 men may be a small number, it must be at least that. Does anybody suggest that you can work under the clause I read without the provision of upwards of £200 per man? Apart from all that, outside this Bill there must be an enormous increase in the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, which will come under the Vote of the Minister of Agriculture and not under this Bill at all.
All these are circumstances we have got to face at a moment when, by common consent, it is the very first duty of every Government to limit every expenditure and to retrench in every possible direction in order that this country may maintain its stability. There is an old story, which we all remember, of the bell that rang upon the sunken reef. It was cut loose by a pirate and his was the first vessel that was wrecked. The Chancellor of the Exchequer sounded the bell the other day and the Government have silenced it—silenced it at a moment when it ought to have been constantly and clearly ringing in our ears. No one can doubt the gravity of the position in which we stand. We are drifting fast on to a lee shore, so fast that I sometimes think I can hear the breaking of the waves upon the rocks and see the wreckers watching on the cliffs. It needs a strong hand to seize the helm and stout courage to face the storm, and unless these are provided to us our end is certain and our end is near.
§ Moved, That the debate be now resumed.—(Lord Buckmaster.)
§ LORD LOVAT had given Notice that on the Motion that the debate be resumed, he would move, That the debate be further adjourned until the cereal policy of the Government is defined. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before moving my Motion I would like permission to give a few reasons why I think it is ad- 82 visable to consider this question. We are to-day dealing with a Bill which may fairly be said to have for its primary effect the placing of practically an unlimited number of amateurs, without capital or knowledge, in a line of work in which a million expert professionals, many of them with money, have either failed or at the best are conducting their business under most difficult circumstances. I think it is highly reasonable, if you are going to embark upon an experiment of this size, that you should consider every possible circumstance which affects the situation, and that you should ask the Government bringing forward this Bill to put all their card on the table, so that we can judge and decide what shall be our action with all the facts before us.
§ This is a colossal experiment. It may involve ten, fifty, and even hundreds of millions of pounds. It is bound to create a (horde of officials, but most important of all it is going to attempt to settle on the land families who very often, through no fault of their own, have met with failure, and whose final failure on the land may render them unable to make any further effort towards success. If, instead of a Parliament debating a Land Bill, we were a hoard of directors considering a business proposition, and if the branches which we had throughout the country were not making good, would we, without further inquiry as to what was the root of the evil, pour more capital into the business and send out further people to replace those who had already broken down? Would we not rather look to see where the error lay before spending more capital and adding to the personnel? Yet that is exactly the position to-day. You have farmers to-day barely able to make ends meet. Many of those who are able to do so are giving up their farms and going into other lines of work. There are at least 50,000 smallholders, taken on the balance, less than there were twenty years ago in England, Scotland and the North of Ireland. Allotment holders are 175,000 fewer in England, and in Scotland the number has gone down from 43,000 before the War to 13,000.
§ With these facts before us, is this a time at which to consider plunging into new capital expenditure? If we are going to do so ought we not first to examine every single relative fact before making up our minds what we are to 83 do, or, in our case as occupants of the Opposition Benches, deciding what suggestion we shall put forward for ending or amending this Bill? I have put down my Motion that we should adjourn this discussion until such time as we have had from the Government a statement of their policy on the question of cereal farming. It is not much to ask. It is a fair demand to make, and a reasonable demand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised us on August 1 last—and this was repeated by the noble Earl, the Parliamentary Secretary—that His Majesty's Government would undertake whatever practical steps could be devised to put cereal farming on an economic basis. Before we indulge in these vast experiments ought we not to know what that cereal farming policy is, because as far as the operation of this Bill goes, including the creation of small holdings, it is intimately connected with the cereal policy of the Government.
§ The cereal policy of the Government does not affect the matter of allotments, but then I think it is clear that the allotments part of the Bill is one on which the whole House is agreed that it should come forward in some shape or form. Cereal farming, however, affects every branch of agriculture, and may I in a few words point out to those who are not agriculturists how absolutely certain that is. Whether it is a question of the breeder of live stock, whether it is a question of the feeder of live stock, whether it is a question of the smallholder or of the largest hill farmer, it is on the rotation crops that everything depends. By cereal crops, of course, I mean rotational farming, and it does not merely mean the selling of wheat, barley and oats, but the selling and using of those other crops for agriculture as a whole. Unless we know what is the policy of the Government on this question of cereal farming how can we possibly decide what view we are going to take of this Bill?
§ May I ask your Lordships in the briefest way that I can put it to consider how the policy of cereal farming affects the important clauses of this Bill In the first place a million pounds is going to be spent on this large-scale farming. If cereal farming is going to be put on an economic basis by the Government what in the name of fortune 84 is the point in spending this million pounds? We have got the results of the large-scale farming which has been done by the Cooperative Wholesale Society. Their figures can easily be obtained. They have lost in their large-scale farming no less than something approaching £2,000,000 in ten years, farming between 40,000 and 70,000 acres. And these are the people who no doubt will be among the number to be selected to run this large-scale farm. If this is what the loss is by an organisation which has its own ready markets, what is likely to be the loss in the case of large-scale farming by the State, which has no cooperative association through which to sell its produce?
§ Then there is the question of land improvement. Surely, in regard to that, if we knew what the policy of the Government was on the subject of cereal farming, and if we knew whether they were going to make cereal farming an economic proposition, this £5,000,000, which is going to be spent in drainage and other works, would be spent by the farmers and landowners themselves in order to get this land suitable for cultivation. If we know what the cereal policy is, it will be possible for us to reject this clause with certainty that we are doing the right thing. The land has only gone out of cultivation because it is not worth cultivating. If the Government have a cereal policy which is going to make it worth while, let the individuals concerned do it now, as they have done it in the past.
§ I pass to the next important clause, the most important clause of the whole Bill, Clause 6, dealing with small holdings. The objective of the Bill is to put more people on the land. We may argue with justice about the enormous cost that will be involved, we may also talk of the difficulties that will have to be grappled with in view of the displacement and the moving of the people there already; but the acid test of the success or failure of this portion of the Bill will be the answer to the question: Will an additional number of men or not be settled on the soil? If we do not know what the policy of His Majesty's Government is as regards cereal farming, we may be settling 10,000 new settlers a year on the land, but, on the other hand, we may be losing 20,000 of the men at present working on the land; so that there would 85 be a deficit of 10,000, although we are spending these tens of millions upon the effort. It is important also in this connection to know—and it must govern our decision as to what view we take of the Bill—whether or not the Government are going to produce a policy for cereals which is, or is not, going to keep on the land those who are working there to-day, and which is going to give a fair chance to those who are in future to be settled on the land.
§ I believe that your Lordships in all probability, against the advice of the two Front Benches, are going to reject this Bill. It is a bad Bill. No one can say that it is anything else. Are you altogether wise in rejecting this Bill without having the whole of the facts before you? The agriculturists throughout this country, I am certain, want first and foremost to know what is the cereal policy of His Majesty's Government, which up to date they have absolutely refused to tell us. I believe, that now is the opportunity, and it is a legitimate opportunity, when a part of the Government policy comes before your Lordships—a policy which in parts we dislike intensely—I believe now is the opportunity to say: "Tell us what your real policy is for the people who are on the land, and we will then tell you what we think should be our policy for those people whom you mean in the future to put on the land."
§ What is the relative importance of this Bill compared to agriculture as it stands to-day? There are very nearly a million people employed on the land to-day. There are 150,000 farmers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland who are employing labour of some sort. Establish cereal farming on a proper basis, which means to say successful farming in the majority of the other lines of farming, and you will have put on the land, and will keep on the land, more people than by any Bill such as this. I believe that we should insist on the Government letting us know what their cereal policy is, and I would commend to your Lordships the Motion which stands in my name, that you should postpone the further discussion of this Bill until such time as the Government have come forward and told us what they are going to do in regard to cereal or rotational farming as practised in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, on a point of order, may I ask whether the Question before us is simply whether or not we should adjourn the debate until the Government declare their policy upon cereal farming, and whether it would not be better to decide on that now, and then get back to the debate, so that we can discuss the Bill without any difficulty as to whether or not we are in order?
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, on the other hand the discussion by the noble Lord who has just sat down extended over the actual Bill. His principal point was that the Bill itself would become ineffective, and from that point of view may we not go on discussing the Bill, and carrying on the debate as heretofore?
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I apologise for intervening again, but I understand that the only people who can decide that are your Lordships.
§ LORD ERNLE
Then if your Lordships will allow me to go on I will continue the debate on the Bill. We have had the Bill discussed from every point of view "now for nearly two days. There is hardly anything left for me to say. But let me begin by pointing out that this Bill has been a very grave disappointment to agriculturists throughout the whole country. Their needs have been before Parliament for months, and even for years; yet there is not a single line in the present Bill which even professes to meet those necessities. What has happened over this Bill in another place reminds me of nothing in the world except the Mad Hatter's tea-party in Alice's adventures. The Mad Hatter, with nine-pence for fourpence in his hat, and the March Hare, spend their whole time in putting the Dormouse into the teapot, and Alice could got no answer. Substitute agriculture for Alice, and soup tureen for teapot, and the three political Leaders for the protagonists of the Mad Hatter's tea party, and you have the exact position in the other House. That is the ridiculous aide of it. On the other hand, this Bill is the product—I say it in all seriousness—of manœuvres which have degraded our Parliamentary institutions at the very moment when it was vital that they 87 should be respected, and has made Party politics stink in the nostrils of the country The position of agriculture is the position. equally neglected in this absurd pre-occupation of political Parties, of economy and employment.
A great deal has been made of the Corporation. You must remember that when this Bill was first presented to the other place it was a townsman's measure, a townsman's scheme of rural planning, a scheme also for the almost exclusive benefit of the townsman. These small holdings and allotments in rectangular blocks on either side of the road, what were they but what in the 18th century would have been called citizens' retreats? They were reserved exclusively for the townsman, and, naturally enough that edifice had to be crowned with a Corporation. Citizens cannot do without Corporations, and, consequently, you have that fantastic body of whom we know nothing except that they administer £1,000,000 a year, and account for it. We do not know whether they are whole-time or part-time officials. We do not know whether they administer that £1,000,000 in their leisure moments or in office hours. They are there, and they sit on velvet. Now the Bill has been turned round. It is no longer exclusively a townsman's Bill. We may deal satisfactorily enough with the Corporation. Agriculturists are simple folk, and they do not want furs and gold chains. Neither are they dazzled by the lure of the common seal. Let us be done with the Corporation. I think that is the emphatic opinion of every one of your Lordships now.
Let me refer to experimental farms—I mean the large experimental farms. Both Sir Daniel Hall and Mr. Orwin are personal friends of mine. I sat on the Departmental Committee, although I did not sign the particular Report by which the experimental farms were recommended. Those experimental farms were, undoubtedly, recommended in the Report of 1917 or 1918. Those twelve years might be a century ago. The changes are absolute. That Committee's purpose was to prophesy and provide for the future; it was what was to be the policy after the War when the War was still going on, and the members of that Committee supposed that the rest of their recommendations would be followed—that is to say, that there would be a fixed price for corn, 88 and that beet would be an integral part of the nation's production. You cannot argue from those circumstances to the present day.
Has it ever occurred to your Lordships how absolutely inconsistent the experimental farm is with the whole spirit and purpose of this Bill? What are you doing in the Bill? You are relying upon an economic unit which, as everybody knows, is an anachronism, which economically is inferior to large farming units, and you are doing this practically because you do not know what else to do with your superfluous population. Mechanical science every year makes more and more of our population superfluous, and medical science, I may add, counteracts at every turn nature's remedy to cure that surplus. What, then, are you to do? Create small holdings; go in for density of population; never mind about production. That is the policy of this Bill. Then why have an experiment conducted by means of a proposal which really means the reduction of labour? It is inconsistent and to my mind it can bring no useful grist to the mill. Therefore, I shall have nothing to do with the experimental farms.
But I am an advocate for small holdings, and also for allotments. Let me take allotments first; they are the least expensive, I suppose, though, as the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster has pointed out, there is a limitless capacity of expense. In the last two years of the War we created nearly 1,000,000 allotments. The Government are not inventing anything new. We distributed seeds and every other necessity to the allotment holders. We even sent agents to Scotland to obtain seed potatoes. But I should like by way of a diversion to say that we did not send our agents to Scotland as the Minister for Agriculture has sent his now. What has happened? It gives me rather a shiver when I think that the Ministry of Agriculture is going to undertake this enormous business. In the House of Commons the Minister for Agriculture announced that his agent—in this case Sir William Waterlow—was going to leave that night for Scotland to buy seed potatoes on behalf of the British Government. Sir William Waterlow arrived in Edinburgh, and when at his breakfast table 89 he saw the announcement "Sir William Waterlow has arrived in Edinburgh to buy send potatoes for the British Government." Is that a sample, I wonder, of the way in which His Majesty's Government is going to conduct this very serious business? We bought them, but we did not say anything about it until some six weeks afterwards, and that I venture to think is the right way to do it. If we are to have, in addition to the expense pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, the enormous expense of dealing with a man who knows you want to buy and therefore is able to put up his price, I do not know where we may not be—on the road to ruin.
But the great argument for these allotments is the psychological effect that they produce on the. men who hold them. I have the greatest faith, of course, in what they can produce. I have seen what they did in the War. They grew cauliflowers out of cement and broccoli out of brickbats. They literally did, and the amount of food that they produced was enormous. But it is not that. It is the psychological effect of having a place where they can go and work, where they can go with their children, where they can go with their wives and feel that all the time they are doing some useful, manly work. In the dark and difficult and even dangerous times that lie before us, I say that even if the allotments alone were in this Bill the Bill is worthy of a Second Reading.
Now I come to these small holdings. One of the funniest things about this Bill is how it was produced—who is responsible for one part, who is responsible for the other. The Leader of the Liberal Party in 1923 was swept off his feet by the post-War legislation of Eastern Europe. I know he was. I am not going to betray the confidences of private conversations, but he was. He decided, stimulated by this legislation, that he would bring it to bear upon this country. What that legislation was, was that in every country landlords were expropriated from their property and peasant-owners were set up in their stead. It was a magnificent thing, and I believe quite honestly and seriously that from a social point of view it was of immense uplift to those people. But here we are dealing with the question of production, 90 and what has been the result? In Rumania, the agricultural exports have dwindled away to nothing. In Russia they dwindled away to nothing until production was taken out of the hands of the peasants. in Czecho-Slovakia and Yugo-Slavia, where they proceeded on rather different lines, where they had the power to expropriate, they have ceased for the last three or four years to exercise that power because their towns were starved. I was amused to see that in the other House no word was said of these high hopes on which Liberal policy had been based.
Not a word was said about the success of the peasant holders in these different countries. The silence was wise. The facts are patent. They are known everywhere. When the Government try to show the success of the small holdings movement in other countries they go back to the familiar instances of Denmark, of France and of Germany. Take Denmark first. It is quite impossible to compare the two countries. Denmark has no industries, no mineral resources. There is no competitor there as there is here, no competitor such as the British export manufacturer who must have food brought into the country. The one export trade they have is in their agricultural produce. When you talk of Denmark as being a Free Trade country you must remember that the chief point of the whole fabric of their industry is their dairying industry, and they protect themselves against foreign cheese. Try in this country, if you like, what would be the effect of putting a duty on cheese. The stimulation to your dairy industry would be miraculous. It is not true to say that Denmark is Free Trade. It is a Protectionist country in the one vital point that matters to the industry of the country.
Then look at Germany. No politician on either side of the House in either the House of Commons or in your Lordships' House has ever paid the slightest scrap of attention to the magnificent series of laws in Germany by which in 1875 and 1878 she built up her society just as you are now by this Bill attempting to build it up. She did that by a series of profoundly wise and ably administered pieces of legislation of which I do not believe noble Lords who are responsible for this Bill have the faintest notion. They 91 built up a structure of society so compact, so strong, that the resistance it was able to offer in the late War was one which was the admiration, I venture to say, of everybody who knows what magnificent resistance they were able to set up. How did they do it? They knew that they had got the same problems as we have. They knew that their rural population was dying out. They knew that their towns were becoming excessive and would in time become dangerous to physique. They divided their industries into major minor and rural, so as to provide seasonal employment for the peasant and thus put more in his pocket than any of our people possibly can have under the present system. In that way they got something approaching to economic equality without which we can never keep our men upon the land. As it is, the German peasant proprietor derives from the land alone—according to the Report of 1925—what is estimated at very considerably less than the wage which he weekly pays to his hired labour. That is the best that Germany could do if it were not for these peasant industries.
When I wanted to do something useful after the War I became chairman of a committee for the development of rural industries. We found that one of the most useful and most important of these industries drew all its material from this country. Yet when we tided to start them here we were met by trade union opposition the whole time. If this Government, which does after all represent the trade unions, would try to create a peasant population like that of Germany they would do a vast deal more than by this fantastic and in some ways absurd legislation. There is no suggestion even that they are going to exercise any discrimination as to where they are going to place these holdings. They are going to pursue the same indiscriminate, haphazard method of putting them down that has been followed to some extent heretofore. It is going to be done on a huge scale. I notice that in the other place they quoted the example of France as a proof of what small holdings will do. Have they ever taken the trouble to study France? I venture to think that they never have. I hate posing as a person with any particular knowledge but, in spite of that, I should like to say that I spent a good deal more than a year in walking up and 92 down and across France, that there are even few villages in France which I have not visited, and I can tell you this about the peasant proprietor: he does not exist, and does not even attempt to exist, unless he gets particular conditions of soil, climate, market and crop. Go from one Department to another, and in one you will find 90 per cent, of peasant proprietors and in the other only 10 per cent, of peasant proprietors, the reason being that the right conditions are not always present. Under this Bill, on the example of France, we are to plump down on the soil anywhere any number of persons, without consideration of the character of the soil, the climate or anything else.
The only way to deal with this matter, if you want to create small holdings—I know that Lord Buckmaster was severe on reclamation, yet it is, I believe, possible at this present moment to do a great deal by way of reclamation; not by reconditioning, but by reclaiming. I am speaking of reclamation as applied to land that has not been cultivated, not the absurd proposition of reconditioning land that has fallen out of cultivation. I speak of the reclamation of really waste uncultivated land. I venture to assert without, I believe, the possibility of contradiction that the Ministry of Agriculture could lay its hands on 1,500,000 acres in England and Wales of land which, if it were reclaimed, would pay to cultivate. You cannot do it in ordinary circumstances because the expense is practically prohibitive, but if the Government are prepared—since they say this is an employment measure—to say that they will use the unemployed for this work of reclamation, then it can be undertaken and carried through at an ultimate profit. Of course, they will have to charge annually to the scheme only the difference between unemployment benefit which the men would otherwise receive and the rate of wages paid.
If we could arrange for that reclamation to be carried out, we should, as I say, have 1,500,000 acres. I do not profess to be able to do a sum in my head, but I suppose that means 30,000 holdings of 50 acres apiece, and these—this is what I think is important—would be in parts of the country where smallholders still exist, where soil and climate are convenient and where these holdings can be put to precisely that use in which, if 93 ever, the smallholder can hold his own against the larger man. It is in the hope that we shall be able to amend this Bill in the directions in which I should like to see it amended that I am going to support the Second Reading, subject of course—a point that I was very sorry to see Chat other people took long before I had a chance of coming in—to the Government pledging themselves to waive the Privilege which, no doubt, they can exercise.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I am deeply conscious in rising to-night that, at this time in the debate, nearly everything worth saying has been said already, and said far better than I can say it; but at the same time this Bill introduces matters so vital to agriculture, and even to the country in general, that I hope I may be allowed to put a few considerations that have occurred to me with regard to the various clauses. With regard to the Land Corporation, two diverse opinions have been expressed as to whether it is likely to be a paying proposition. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill and the noble Duke who spoke last night were confident that it would, while the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, and the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, were equally confident that it would not. I should like to make a suggestion to the noble Earl on that point: that he should insert a short clause into the Bill which would ensure that the remuneration received by the directors of the company should be payable only out of the annual profits made by the company. When promoters produce a scheme, any proposition of that sort gives the public very considerable confidence. For my part, I think that this Corporation might make a profit, but I think, as my noble friend on my right [Lord Hastings] said in his great speech yesterday, that it can be made in only one way.
There is one thing that I want to point out to your Lordships. This is no new idea that we have before us. I can recall quite twenty years ago a neighbour of mine saying: "If you want to get the full value out of land, what you want to do is, so far as possible, to get rid of hedges, and of ditches if you can. putting drains in instead, get rid of as many horses as you can, utilise steam cultivators"—there were no trac- 94 tors then—"and use that land for cereal growing only." I replied that this seemed a spendid idea. He brought forward figures—he was a very knowledgeable man—and I asked him why he did not do it. His answer was: "Because I should have to turn out my tenants, some of whom have lived there for many generations, and I should have to turn out of employment labourers who work on the land. I am perfectly convinced that it is a profitable way of farming but, so far as I am concerned, humanity and decency forbid it." If humanity and decency forbade this proposition twenty years ago to a "grasping landlord," I am surprised that the Socialist Government should bring it forward now.
With regard to the administration of the farms, two things have caused me surprise. The first is that it is not even one of the three objects put into the Bill. I am amazed that it is put in almost as a bit of make-weight, as if we had so much money in this country that anything would do to spend money on. The second point that caused me some surprise concerns the people who are to conduct these demonstration farms. They are to be local authorities, Universities, agricultural colleges, and any other persons qualified to give instruction. One rather wonders that the words "if any" were not put in. The omission that appeals to me is the fact that there is no mention of farmers to give instruction. My noble friend Lord Stan-hone has pointer? out that in this Bill the word "Minister" has been used 110 times, but I would point out that the curious thing is that the word "farmer" has not been used once. I am acquainted with several demonstration farms which do most excellent work. Most of the demonstrations and lessons they give are, in fact, lessons learned long ago, which have in many cases been forgotten. Farming is a very old science and most that there is to be known about it is already known. Only a week ago a young and most capable demonstrator or agricultural organiser was giving a lesson on the utilisation of poor light land, the main ingredient of which was the ploughing in of lupins, when an old man at the back of the hall said: "That's right. I remember my old grandfather telling me his father used to do it regularly when he was a boy." 95 It was, in fact, true, but it had been forgotten and was being again brought forward. There is far more scope for improvement on the economical side than on the actual experimental farming side.
With regard to the reconditioning of land, I would like to correct the impression which is very prevalent throughout the country that this clause refers to derelict land. The noble Earl, who introduced this Bill, may himself have fallen into this error when he mentioned his friend in Hampshire, because that, of course, is derelict land. I hold no brief for this notorious gentleman in Hampshire, but, at all events, he has lost less money in farming than I and many of your Lordships, which is worth some consideration. This clause has not to do with derelict land because the Bill distinctly says that reconditioning shall take place where necessary works of maintenance are not maintained. What are those necessary works of maintenance?The repair or reconditioning of farm houses, cottages, agricultural buildings, drains, embankments, ditches, bridges, fences, walls, hedges, gates, roads, and water supply.At least 90 per cent, of land in the Eastern Counties would come under this heading because it is not conditioned as it should be or as it was once. This clause opens wide the door to nationalisation and I hope your Lordships will shut and bar it.
I do not propose to say anything about small holdings for the unemployed, because that subject has been dealt with better than I can do it, but I must say a word about Clause 7 dealing with agricultural labourers. That was not originally in the Bill, but was put in in another place and the extent of the liability under it is so enormous that one can hardly realise it. At first sight it may be thought the number of agricultural workers, which I believe to be about 800,000, is small in comparison with the 2,600,000 of unemployed, but the point is that the whole of the 800,000 are suitable and capable of being put on the land whereas only 100,000 of the unemployed are so suitable. The agricultural labourer is one of the most grossly underpaid men in the world, and in many cases gets 30s. a week for 96 thirty-three weeks, £275 of gear and stock, and a house and buildings costing £640 to occupy as long as he wishes. The House can judge how many of these 800,000 men will not jump at the chance of taking this offer. My noble friend on my right gave an argument in his speech which almost forced him to go into the Lobby against this Bill. He riddled this clause, saying it was the worst and most expensive clause in the Bill, and, after leaving it not a shred of decency, he said that he found it impossible to vote against or to alter this clause. For my part, unpopular though I know it to be, I would be ready to delete this clause because I do not believe there is any one on either side of the House who is prepared to defend the vast and undefined burden it places on the country. Those who feel unable to amend this clause seem to have no alternative but to go into the Lobby against it.
One word about allotments. Everyone of your Lordships who has spoken has expressed himself in favour of this scheme for the provision of allotments. With that view I range myself and I should hesitate to do anything against a scheme which would give some measure of health and of self-respect to the unfortunate men at present unemployed until such time as another Government can find them employment. Some of us may have been told and will be told that for reasons of political expediency it is better not to reject this Bill on a Second Reading. Before your Lordships yield entirely to that argument, I would like to call your attention to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, last week, spoken with deep conviction and undoubtedly true. He said that if a man in this House cannot speak strongly when he feels strongly your Lordships' House is already moribund. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that if a man in this House cannot vote in accordance with the way his conscience points out as his duty, then your Lordships' House is not moribund, but already dead.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, it may well be asked why, if the Education Bill was thrown out last week upon the score of its cost, a like precaution is not taken with this Land Bill. It is even more questionable in principle—I think that will be generally admitted—and it would inflict, so far as one can judge by the course of the debate, greater burdens 97 upon the taxpayers. What I feel myself is that if agriculture is being conducted at a loss by the individual, which for a great part of the industry is no doubt true, how much greater will that loss be so far as agriculture is conducted by a Government Department, ignorant of agriculture, with officials operating at the public expense. It was said some years ago that the ancient emblem of strength was Hercules leaning on his club. Now the club is duplicated, reversed and placed under either arm. Nowadays all Parties seem to view Socialistic interference with more or less equanimity, and they seem to forget that it is the individual alone who can save money, which is at the present moment our great need. The unfettered individual is indeed our one hope.
The first clause of the Bill seems to be a tribute to Soviet practice. The great ranch is, of course, well known in the less settled parts of the British Empire, but England is not a country two or three million square miles in extent, and if Socialistic adventure to cope with the Soviet slave camps is organised here, we shall soon have no agricultural population at all. On the other hand, it has been estimated or mentioned that 100,000 is the number of unemployed who might be employed upon reconditioning land, and so forth—that is about one in thirty of the existing list of unemployed—at a cost of two or three hundred million pounds—Mr. Lloyd George's own figure was even more—under the present Minister in charge of this Bill, who proved too lavish even for Mr. Lloyd George. I would like to say here, with reference to the proposal of Lord Ernie as to reclamation, that if we had money I would at once put Lord Ernie in charge of such work, but that is quite a different thing from putting in charge those gentlemen whose names were on the buck of the Bill when it came into the House of Commons. This process of reconditioning land will cost a great deal more than the reconditioning of the roads, which was originally undertaken to mitigate unemployment, and on which many scores of million pounds have been spent.
The same may be safely predicted of the small holdings clause. It is no doubt true that in England, under the county councils, there has not been any substantial loss on small holdings, and in some counties great numbers have been 98 created. In Scotland they are not under the county councils but under a Government Department, and the loss has been enormous, both in the land transactions and in the equipment of new holdings. It is that system of control by the Board of Agriculture which is about to be extended, and is provided for by this Bill. If your Lordships leave out Part I, what is left of the Bill? The allotments, and if it was only a question of allotments, if this Bill were out of the way there would be no difficulty in dealing with that subject.
The question of the unemployed agricultural labourers is a more difficult one. The agricultural labourer is outside the insurance scheme. He cannot get the "dole," which is demoralising the country. He is becoming unemployed, and no Party in Parliament has any agricultural policy worth the name. I own, although a Free Trader with shaken faith, that if there must be Protection for other industries then agriculture cannot be left out and exposed to Soviet dumping. As things are the agriculturist must lose his employment, and if we could do anything such as is proposed in Clause 7 of the Bill that should be done also. To migrate is not easy, and those on the land are the soundest part of the community, and if the taxpayer is to be forced to incur fresh expenditure then I do not know that the money could be better spent than in the replacement of displaced agricultural labourers.
I was a good deal impressed by the terms of the Motion proposed by Lord Lovat. but I think there is only one plain duty for us, and that is to reject the Bill on the Second Reading. That, no doubt, is our plain duty, because if it is amended in Committee the Bill virtually disappears. There is nothing left of the Bill worth continuing. It would be far better to drop the Bill and to bring in a Bill dealing with allotments. From the point of view of tactics Lord Lovat's Amendment has a great deal to commend it, for we all want to know where we stand with regard to existing agriculture, which this Bill does not pretend to touch, but I doubt whether we shall be given a lead by the Party Leaders, and my conclusion is that Lord Treowen is deserving of all the support he can get, and the Bill should not be given a Second Reading.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, It is with some hesitation that I rise to address you. Most of my life has been spent in the study of international affairs and Imperial politics, but fate about a year ago precipitated me into administering a very consider able agricultural estate, and I have had in my short experience to study most of the problems which confront agriculture at the present time. I also feel hesitation in trying to arrest the overwhelming tide of criticism which has been delivered against the principle of this Bill. I do not dispute in any way that the Bill can be considerably improved in Committee, and in fact I would appeal to your Lordships to look at the Bill with a view of trying to improve it in Committee and not merely from the point of view of killing as much as possible. Because it seems to me that even in principle, and definitely in principle, this Bill is a sound Bill. And I will venture to give what seem to me a few arguments in favour of the Bill.
I do not think anybody can study the condition of agriculture in this country to-day without a feeling of sombre pessimism about its future, and it seems to me there are three main reasons for that pessimism. The first is one which has not been mentioned perhaps as fully in this House as I expected, and that is the policy which has been pursued by all Governments in the last decade and more, of steadily denuding agriculture of the capital which is within it by Death Duties, to some, extent by Income Tax, and, though it is rare for an agricultural estate to pay Super-Tax, by Super-Tax also. All these taxes are steadily taking out of agriculture the capital without which it cannot possibly survive. What is successful agricultural land to-day? It is the product of brains and capital in the past. The reconstruction of agriculture in this country was largely the outcome of the great reforming landlords of 150 to 200 years ago. And what did they put into it? Brains and capital. Far be it from me to say that the brains of the existing landlords are not as good as those of their predecessors, but it is quite certain that their capital resources are nothing like as great.
In fact, they are almost wholly denuded of capital, and in my view one 100 of the main causes of the decline of agriculture, and in the future a certain cause of the continued decline of agriculture, is its steady denudation of the capital without which it cannot possibly exist. I have never seen any figures published, I am not certain that they ever have been published, but it has been authoritatively stated, and I have never seen that it has been denied, that the agricultural Death Duties alone amount to between £9,000,000 and £10,000,000 a year. That means that since the War something like £100,000,000 has been taken out of agriculture. Now, it is perfectly obvious that the landlord class who still own, for good or evil, between 40 and 44 per cent, of the land of this country, are unable to adjust their methods to the changing conditions of the times if they are called upon in Death Duties and other taxes to deprive themselves of the capital without which agriculture cannot possibly be reconstructed.
And this is the more ominous when you consider what seem to me the other two main causes of the depression of agriculture to-day. The first, of course, is the fall in world prices. I do not refer merely to the exceptional prices which afflict us at this moment, because they are in the main due to over-production, which, unless Governments interfere too much, will gradually right itself. The surplus in the world will gradually disappear, and prices, will anyhow return to something like what will give a reasonable profit on the basic costs of production. But there is no possibility, as I see it, of the price of the agricultural products which we in this country have produced in the past reaching a level at which we can produce them at a profit with our existing methods. Nobody can travel across the great wheat lands of Canada, and see the modern machinery, the elevators, the extremely efficient systems of transportation, of moving wheat across the Atlantic, without realising that agriculture in this country is up against the same kind of rationalised production as the cottage industries of this country were up against when factories were first brought into being. I am assured on good evidence that it is only a question of time, and possibly a short time, when the same methods, which to some extent already exist, will be brought into play for the production of 101 wheat. And I would observe the ominous fall in wholesale wheat prices in the last few weeks.
Well, now, in substance the fall of prices is due to improved methods and new lands brought into production overseas. That is a condition which, as I see it, we cannot expect to change. On the contrary, the tendency will be for these methods to become more efficient, and the competition which British agriculture has to meet will become more intense, and not less intense. That is the second great problem which seems to me to be in front of agriculture today. And what is the third? The policy which has been adopted, and, I think, with the assent of every member of this House, of securing, I will not say an adequate, but at any rate a tolerable minimum wage to the agricultural labourer—a wage which, on The whole, in England to-day is an average of about 30s.—a very small and from the human point of view inadequate wage. But the effect of it, in substance, has been to double the labour costs of British agriculture. Well, now, how is British agriculture to recover, how is it to survive. when it is confronted with those three things—denudation of capital, falling world prices, and doubled labour costs?
Some people will say Protection. Is there any Party in the State to-day which is prepared to inscribe Protection on its banners? Is it possible, even by Protection, to give to British agriculture, as it is conducted to-day, that protection which will enable it to survive in the face of the conditions which I have described? Is Protection, any Protection you can conceive of, of the slightest use to the wheat farmers? We are told that wheat cannot be produced on the average at a profit, unless it is sold at a price of 45s. to 55s. It was selling last autumn at something like 25s.—considerably less than the cost before the War. Are you going to give Protection on that which is going to double the cost of bread? Some people think that you can deal with it by a subsidy. Subsidies may be necessary to deal with emergencies, but, as a permanent policy, can you conceive of this country voting £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 a year to maintain in existence a form of agriculture which deals with only 4 to 5 per cent, of the production of the 102 land? It seems to me that as a permanent policy it is building on sand and inevitably building on sand.
If I may for a moment strike a slightly Party note, I would say that the only Party which has recommended anything for dealing with agriculture as a whole is the Liberal Party, which has put forward a proposal which has not received perhaps the attention which it merits. It is that you should give some assistance to all forms of British agriculture by means of railway rates. Is it not possible to raise railway rates and port rates on foreign produce coming into the country and to induce the railway companies to reduce railway rates on British produce by an equivalent amount? Is it an inconceivable policy to adopt? And, if you adopted it, would it not have some beneficial effect on agriculture? I would anyhow commend it, if I might, to the Government Benches for consideration.
There is another item, not a great item, but one which has been thought worth while for The Empire, which is that you should do for British agricultural products what you do for Empire products. The Empire thinks it worth while to spend a million a year in popularising Empire foods. Is it inconceivable that we should spend, I will not say an equivalent sum but some sum in popularising British products? Since when have people believed that white bread is better than brown bread, and why do they believe it? I would ask you to consult some of the propaganda of millers in the last fifty years, astute and extremely successful propaganda, that white Canadian bread is better than British wheat. I do not believe it is. I believe you could remedy that idea in the popular mind by those methods of advertisement which have been used with great success for the Empire and for commercial productions. There are methods by which this could be done.
One reason why I think this Bill is sound in principle is that for the first time it recognises that capital must be put back into agriculture. It is the first time in my knowledge that any Government has recognised that, having taken £100,000,000 out of agriculture, it ought to put something back. I do not say that all the methods by which it is suggested in this Bill that it should be put back are the best, but it does admit the 103 principle and it is one, I think, which ought to be seized and improved upon in every possible way. What are the main tour underlying ideas, as I see them, for the utilising of capital for agriculture as they exist in this Bill? The first is, roughly, testing and experimentation. People have different opinions about it, but in my view, if you are going to improve the methods of British agriculture, which in the long run is the only way in which it can be made profitable, you cannot do it without scientific investigation, without practical testing of the methods which are evolved in the laboratory, and without demonstrating and proving to the ordinary man that they have actually worked. That is the first method. The second method is reclamation or reconditioning, if you like to call it so, of the land. Anybody who knows anything about agriculture in this House admits that there are great areas of land in this country which need reclamation and reconditioning. It is a sound purpose in principle.
The third method is small holdings. A great deal has been said in this House about breaking the hearts of the unemployed by putting them on land where they are destined inevitably to fail. I have not had much experience, but I have travelled around investigating a certain number of small holdings, and I cannot believe that either a Government Department or a county council committee would behave with the incredible ineptitude which almost every speaker on this side of the House has taken for granted that those who administer the small holding system will behave. While, no doubt, the experiment was naturally wasteful immediately after the War, there is now a body of experience in this country almost unmatched, showing how to deal with these problems. That experience will certainly be drawn upon.
Where are the hearts that are being broken to-day? The hearts that are being broken are among the people who have been brought up on the land, and who are now stranded in the towns, and would give their souls to be able to get back to the land. It seems to me that if your Lordships do not do everything you can to give opportunities—I do not say what the numbers of these people are, but they are very considerable—to men and women of that kind to enable them to get back to the soil of their ancestors, 104 and begin to earn their living on their own land, and recover that independence of character, that health of themselves and their children which is denied to them in the towns, you will be taking a very serious responsibility. There may be opinions about ways and methods. Those are Committee points which, I agree with previous speakers, require the most careful consideration. It seems to me to be demonstrated beyond dispute that there are a large number of people in this country who want small holdings, and that there are many people on small holdings who can make a success of them. Where these small holdings are properly conditioned the smallholders are happy and contented, and you can make a great success of them.
I do not think anybody has mentioned that statement of the Land Department, which is, to my mind, a very significant statement, of the experience of the Department as to the prosperity or otherwise of the smallholders in this country during the last year, as compared with ordinary farmers with farms of 50 acres and above which are outside the denomination of small holdings. This is what it says:—It is most important to try to meet the demand for small holdings, because experience during the recent difficult years has shown that smallholders are, on the whole, maintaining their position better than men who farm on a larger scale.That is the experience of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the reason of course is obvious. When prices are falling it is labour costs which make the difference between profit and loss, and the smallholder, who may not make much profit, does not have that profit destroyed and taken up by having to pay wages on a statutory basis. The smallholders work hard, but if my experience is true there are thousands of smallholders who like working hard. It is quite a mistake to think that there is not a large class of people in this country who would not like the life of the smallholder. It is not everybody who would like it, but I believe the number who would is far larger than is generally believed, and it is the duty of the House to make it possible for the Government or county councils, under proper conditions, to find places for everybody who reasonably can be expected to make a success of small holdings.
105 Just one word on employment. I think there is some misapprehension among your Lordships as to where the employment is going to come. As I understand it the employment is not in the near future going to come from the small holdings themselves. It is going to come in much larger measure from the work of house building—building modern houses and cottages in the country which are urgently needed. You get much employment in that way. Obviously the speed with which you can create small holdings depends in the main on putting up an adequate number of houses in which the smallholders can reside.
I would urgently ask your Lordships to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I will not discuss now some of the points winch have been raised as to how it should be amended in Committee. I would only mention one which I think may be worth consideration. I have not taken any legal opinion as to whether it would be in conflict with Privilege or not, but what strikes me about this Bill is that it is based on the assumption that the only person, the only institution which can do these four things—experiment, test and demonstrate better methods of agriculture, recondition or reclaim land, settle smallholders and deal with allotments—is a Government Department. I venture to wonder whether another principle which has been applied in another sphere is not equally possible here. The present Minister of Agriculture has been frequently referred to in this House as being a spendthrift Minister in Thou matter of housing. That was at a time when it was believed by the Government of the day that the best way of getting houses and getting them cheaply was that they should be built by the State. A later Government introduced another principle, which was that you should mobilise private enterprise by private subsidy. I think there is no doubt that the experience of the Chamberlain Housing Act has been that it has produced more houses and cheaper houses. Is it quite impossible that, by applying the principle to this Bill and making it applicable to private enterprise as well as to State enterprise, you would produce more holdings?
Is it not possible that there are many landlords in this country who would like to develop small holdings, and who would 106 develop them infinitely better than a State Department? They would do it more flexibly, with better knowledge of the land, with less dislocation of whole farms, with better testing of the personal equation. The one reason why they cannot possibly do that now is that the cost is absolutely prohibitive. They cannot remodel the farms; they cannot build the houses. Is it inconceivable that this Corporation should be empowered to advance, under conditions which must not lead to the raising of rents, money to develop small holdings? It seems to me worth consideration, and if you are looking at it from the point of view of reasonable results you will get more results and better results that way than by concentrating entirely upon a Government Department operating all over the country.
I would go further. I think that in dealing with the reconditioning of land, if any private enterprise can produce evidence before the Corporation or the necessary authority that they have a scheme which will have the effect (a) of increasing the productivity of the soil or (b) of increasing the population on the soil, that body should be authorised to make capital advances for those purposes under conditions which are common in agricultural countries—subject, I agree, to the condition that it should not lead to the increase of agricultural rents. I merely throw that out as a suggestion to see whether the Bill might not be improved by giving power to the authorities to work with the assistance of private enterprise and not wholly through the machinery of the State. I do not agree with those who object to all State machinery, but neither do I agree that everything should be subject to State activity. Therefore, I would, in conclusion, earnestly ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Bill, and, in a spirit of desire to make it a success and try to get capital back into the agricultural industry in the best possible way, we should consider what Amendments can be made in Committee with that object.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I am sure you will agree that we have listened to an interesting analysis and examination of the Bill. I agree entirely with the last speaker that we should devote ourselves to trying to improve this Bill 107 in Committee rather than be led aside and persuaded to kill it on Second Reading. There are many issues which have been raised in these two days that I shall not attempt to deal with because I know there are still several other speakers who wish to address the House. I want to concentrate in the main on the proposals which deal with small holdings. As your Lordships know there are three clauses which deal with them. There is a proposal to deal with the unemployed, to assist the unemployed to have small holdings; there is a proposal which would facilitate the granting of small holdings to agricultural labourers; and there is a proposal also to supplement the work which is being done by the county councils, and, where there is an unsatisfied demand, a local demand which has not been met for small holdings, that they should be provided.
In trying to arrive at a conclusion whether small holdings have been a success or a failure I think we are far too apt to judge by the failures which are advertised rather than to form our opinion by the successes which never get into the newspapers. if a man goes on a small holding and fails he is very apt to write to his Member of Parliament and get a great deal of publicity, whereas the man who succeeds gets on with the job and gets no publicity whatever. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill indicated that of the men who have been put on small holdings since 1919 85 per cent. are still on their holdings. Those are very significant figures. There cannot have been this overwhelming tide of failure if 85 per cent. of the men put on the small holdings at a very difficult time when special opportunities were given to ex-Service men are still on those holdings. Your Lordships are probably familiar with two official Reports, one produced by the English Board of Agriculture in 1925 and the other the Nairne Report of 1928. Were it necessary I could quote extracts from both those Reports showing that substantially the policy of small holdings has been a success.
The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, who spoke yesterday gave some very interesting figures on the other side. He took the figures of small holdings twenty years ago—small holdings of five to fifty acres—and he showed that to-day there was a 108 considerably smaller number of small holdings in spite of the fact that county councils had added a considerable number of small holdings under the Acts of 1919 and 1908. He said he was not quite certain what was the reason for this apparent failure, and he suggested that it was bad selection of tenants and the fact that smallholders have been unable to sell their produce at remunerative prices. I would suggest another reason to him. I have tried to analyse these figures also. The noble Earl will find that if he merely takes holdings from five to fifty acres he is including a large number of bits of land which have no buildings attached to them. They cannot accurately be described as small holdings. If a man takes a five-acre field for the purpose of turning out a hunter during the summer that would be technically a small holding. In course of time that land may develop a building value and instead of using it for summering hunters that man may sell, and the land will then cease to be registered in statistics as a small holding. Figures, therefore, are apt to lead to fallacious conclusions. I think it better to take the figures relating to holdings between twenty and fifty acres. Your Lordships will find then that instead of a diminution there has been an actual increase in the number of small holdings in the last twenty years.
But where there are conflicting statistics and conflicts of opinion in regard to agricultural and social policy, it is very necessary to try to form opinions for oneself. I decided last winter to give up a considerable amount of time for the purpose of going round to see for myself how smallholders were doing, not in selected parts of the country, but in different parts of England. I have seen many of the estates belonging to the county councils in the Eastern Counties, I have also been to see estates in the West, and I have visited some in the Midlands. During the course of those peregrinations I had the opportunity of forming a very fair conclusion as to the way in which smallholders are getting on. There was another thing I did. I tried not so much to see the man who had just been put on the land hoping that he would succeed, but rather to talk to people who had been five years, eight years, ten years, fifteen years on the land, to hear what they thought about it and to see if they were keeping their 109 heads above water. It is extraordinarily interesting to find how well, taking it as a whole, smallholders are doing. Talking to county land agents, to county commissioners, to chairmen of agricultural committees of county councils, it is quite obvious that when a large farm or a large estate is purchased and converted into small holdings you at least double the population on the land—a very important consideration in these times when we have completely lost the balance between rural and urban populations. I think there is general agreement among people associated with small holdings that there is also a considerable increase in the live stock carried when large estates are broken up into small holdings.
What interested me most was to find that the men actually on the holdings were on the whole contented and satisfied with their livelihood. It is quite true they work hard. It is a hard life, but when there is an overwhelming number of people asking to be given a hard life, when a man realises that when he takes a small holding he will have to work hard, he will have to take off not only his hat but his coat and his waistcoat, I think we ought to do all we can to assist him. Very briefly let me give your Lordships three illustrations of the sort of thing I found when I went round the country. I went to see one estate of over forty holdings and I talked to eleven or twelve of the men farming small holdings on that estate. It belongs to a county where a progressive policy has been pursued as regards small holdings. They have had 430 small holdings for twenty-two years and only twenty-two men put on the land have failed. That is a very significant figure. What interested me about this particular estate was that most of the men on it were ex-agricultural labourers. I have often been told that many agricultural labourers would prefer to remain as hired servants, secure in the relatively small wage that they are paid and not wanting to take the risk of going out on their own. Most of the men that I talked to were satisfied with the life that had been provided for them.
Let me quote an illustration of an ex-agricultural labourer who started first of all on a small holding of seventeen acres, was promoted afterwards to one of fifty acres and who has now forty head of cattle, eighty hens and a market garden, and is doing so well that he has recently 110 bought a motor van in order to take the produce to market. He is perfectly happy and he admits that he is making a good living out of his holding. I certainly came away impressed with the fact that, with careful selection both of the site, in its propinquity to a market, and of the person put on the land, you can make a success of small holdings. Now let me take an entirely different example from another part of England, a very much bigger estate in the Midlands, where several thousand acres have been converted into small holdings. What struck me there was the good type of horse that belonged to the smallholders, and the way in which they looked after their work. I spoke to many of them. They also were satisfied with their life and with the profits that, they were making—satisfied to-day, in times when we are told, and when we know, that many farmers find it very difficult to keep out of the bankruptcy court! Smallholders on this estate were in the main themselves the sons of smallholders or of small farmers—that is to say, men who had been bred to small holdings. There also I found that there was an unsatisfied demand for small holdings. If more of them had been available, they would have been filled that week or the week after. I found there no indication of the drift away from agriculture into the towns. I think anything that we cart do to prevent that drift, which has been going on for the last generation, should receive our support and encouragement.
I then tried to see how men with no previous experience whatever of agriculture, townsmen, were doing when they were put on the land. Let me quote to you, without of course giving names, the actual cases of men whom I saw and with whom I talked. First let me take the case of an ex-soldier, a man who had been twenty years in the Army and who is now farming a small holding of five acres. He is doing well with ducks, fruit and vegetables. He admits that in his first few years he almost went under, but by dint of hard work and the help of his wife—and in most cases where smallholders are successful they will tell you quite frankly that they owe their success as much to their wives' efforts as to their own—he is now happy, contented and doing well.
Then take a quite different case of a townsman who, at the end of the War, 111 was invalided out of the Army. He had never had previous experience of agriculture, and his wife had previously worked in one of the large hosiery establishments in London. He went through one of the training courses provided by the War Office. He obtained a bull through the Ministry of Agriculture, and he is now rearing his own stock. What interested me was, not only that he is doing well, but that he is competing successfully and winning first prizes at the local agricultural show. That is a townsman, a man who previously had no knowledge whatever of the land. I will mention only one more case—that of a man who came from a camp where men invalided for shell-shock were trained. He, again, is doing well now with poultry and market gardening. In almost every case what struck me was, not so much that a man ought to have previous experience as that he should have certain definite qualities, the desire and the ability to work hard, grit, "guts," the very qualities that we want to try to develop in the people of this country. I came away from my tour very much stimulated and cheered by what I had seen.
During the debate to which we have listened, we have naturally heard a survey of the position of agriculture at the present moment. I think we all agree that those agriculturists who are least hard hit are the smallholders, the men who, in the main, work a holding themselves or with their families, or the specialist farmers. Those farmers are hardest hit who have to employ a considerable amount of hired labour. As Lord Lothian has explained, what has hit so many farmers to-day is the fact that agricultural wages have gone up far more than prices, and the farmers who are being most hardly hit to-day are those who have to employ a great deal of hired labour. It seems to me that we have to decide between two alternatives. Are we going to give Government assistance to that type of farming, which is proving most successful; or are we going to bolster up that type of farming which is finding it most difficult to meet the competition of the world?
It does seem to me that, irrespective of whether we have Protection or not, we ought to do what we can to assist that form of farming that is proving
112 most successful, because the man who has to employ a great deal of labour and has to pay high wages is the one who produces his product most expensively. Accordingly, whether we have Protection or not, he is going to be a most difficult man to assist. When we talk of the desirability of increasing the prices that are obtained for agricultural produce, let us remember one thing which has not vet been referred to, so far as I know, in this debate—namely, that if agricultural prices are increased through Government action, there is going to be a very strong demand for an increase in the wages paid to agricultural labourers. I think it is going to be very difficult for the owner of farms who does not him-sell farm to earn enough capital to be able to put back into the land the capital which we all agree to be necessary.
I want to say just one word on the question of unemployment. I agree with what Lord Ernle said just now, that as regards small holdings and allotments, the great part of their value is the psychological effect on the people who work them. I have been very much struck with that. At the present moment you have people who are eating out their hearts on the "dole." If we can assist them, by giving them occupations after which they can go back to their industry or trade, by giving them an allotment, I think we ought to try to do so. I think the Government have produced a certain amount of misunderstanding and have drawn upon their measure an unnecessary amount of criticism by putting forward this proposal too much as a measure to deal with unemployment. I support this Bill as an agricultural measure. If I thought that the noble Earl, or those who will be responsible for administering this Bill if and when it gets on the Statute Book, were going to rush tens of thousands of unemployed on to the land, I should certainly vote against it; but I do not believe that they will attempt to do that. I do not believe the unemployed would want to go upon the land in tens of thousands. There will only be a limited demand because they have got to give up their rights to the "dole," they have got to make a sacrifice before they go upon the land. If they are prepared to make that sacrifice, we should do what we can to help them.
113 As regards the cost of the scheme, we have to compare the cost of working this Bill with the alternative. We are paying out £100,000,000 or more for keeping people in idleness. I would far rather pay out a bit more to get those men off the "dole" building out-houses, byres, and cottages in the creation of these small holdings. If we are able to increase the production of eggs, pigs, poultry and dairy products through the development of small holdings, which, in fact, will happen, we shall do a great deal to reduce the value of the foodstuffs we import. We have to put that against the cost of working this Bill.
During the last few months I have had to devote a considerable amount of time to migration within the Empire. Many of us in the past have done what we could to assist the flow of people from this country and to enable them to settle in the uncultivated and undeveloped parts of the Dominions of Canada and Australia. We have not hesitated, if necessary, to go to the townsman and invite him to go out, explaining to him that he will be up against a hard life and a hard winter but that, if he made good, he would make a living for himself and a home for his family. We had confidence in those inherent qualities of hard work and grit which enabled us to build up the British Empire. At this present moment that particular door is shut. Canada at the moment does not want to receive migrants, because Canada in the main depends upon the market for wheat. We here in this country, although a great deal of agriculture is also suffering from the slump owing to the fall in the price of wheat, have also another market in eggs, poultry and dairy products and live stock at our door which would enable us to provide a living for smallholders. Are we going to say to these same men that we are not prepared to risk a little money to give them the same opportunities of settling on the land in this country that they have had hitherto in the Dominions? At the present moment, if the nation is prepared to spend money on land settlement, we are as likely to get success in land settlement in this country as we are in the Dominions. It is for the various reasons which I have ventured to explain that I certainly hope we shall vote for the Second Reading.
§ LORD BAYFORD
My Lords, the question we have to decide to-day is not whether this is a good or a bad Bill but whether it is such a bad Bill that we should be justified in throwing it out on Second Reading. After a great deal of hesitation, my humble opinion is that we should not be justified in so doing. It only Part I of the Bill was under consideration, I should have no hesitation on the subject and would vote for the rejection of the Bill. That Part proposes to apply the system of prairie farming to England and practically to create prairie conditions in order to do so. It is a plan which has been lately advocated in an able book—as his books always are—by Professor Orwin. But, although the Government have adopted this scheme, they have forgotten that Professor Orwin postulates, as a preliminary to it, a careful survey of all the land of England to pick out such portions as would be useful for this system of prairie farming. Further than that, he states that an absolutely necessary consequence of this system of prairie farming will be nationalisation of the land. The Government have done nothing for this preliminary survey and I am quite sure that this House does not want to promote any measure that leads to what is said to be the necessary consequence—namely, land nationalisation.
The question has been raised whether this scheme, if adopted, could pay. My opinion is that it could not because the overhead charges would be too great. It is not like the prairie land because you have got to do a great deal before you can begin the work at all. You have got to level all your fences, fill up all your ditches and pay compensation to the tenants you are turning out. By a special and very just provision of the Bill you have also to pay compensation to the labourers on all the farms. That would be a huge expense. On arable farms now you get three labourers to the 100 acres; I was in Canada a few years ago and there in the prairie farina they are employing one man to what they call a half section of 320 acres. You would have to compensate all those people you are turning out and so your overhead charges would be so high that it would be impossible for any Corporation to make the land pay at that price.
115 The next Part of the Bill deals with small holdings, a subject with which I am in every way sympathetic. In my own county, Somerset, small holdings have been a great success. We have got small holdings bringing in a rental of about £60,000 a year and in the last half year the arrears only amounted to £19. There are not many estates that can show such a good rent roll as that, but I believe that success on the part of the smallholders is achieved by working very hard and working very long hours. You find the same thing in foreign countries, such as Belgium and France, where the peasant makes his living by working very hard and working very long hours. The question I should like the noble Earl to answer in his reply is whether it is the intention of the Government, if this clause is passed, to import smallholders from one county into another. If it is the intention to do that, they will create great jealousy on the part of the existing smallholders of a specially subsidised class that is going to be set down by their side.
Another difficulty that will arise will be whether these men whom you propose to settle on the land, men who have very often come from trades where an eight-hour day is fixed by law, will be inclined to work these very long hours without which they cannot attain success. Two years ago, die Government of the day sent harvesters out to Canada as a relief of unemployment. Some of those men stayed there and did well, but a very considerable percentage of them tried the job, did not care for the hard work, threw it up and came home at very short notice. What are you going to do if the smallholders are settled on the land? Say a man has been working on some other occupation, and you have spent money running into hundreds of pounds in educating him for the job, and also spent money in supplying him with stock. What are you going to do if he throws up the job at the end of a month or so and the whole of your money is wasted? Also, what security are you going to take against a man, before he does that, selling the stock he has bought with the grant you have given him and then clearing off? Are you going to have a system of perpetual inspection, which will prevent a man selling his stock? Are you going to watch him whenever he goes to market? I suggest that that is a real difficulty and it is one
116 which I hope the noble Earl will deal with when he comes to reply. I do not want to declare myself entirely against this system, but I do wish very strongly to reinforce what was said by the noble Lord below the gangway, that if you are going to work any such system it would be much better to do it through the county councils than through a Government Department.
Then there is a clause which has hardly been referred to in the course of the debate, and that is Clause 13, which gives power to the county councils to provide cottage holdings. That, I think, is a clause which every member of the House will support, and it is one which I am sure can do nothing but good. I come next to the question of allotments. I must confess that in my own neighbourhood land which was under allotment has been thrown up, and I should not say—mine is a rural district—that the experiment there was a success; but it undoubtedly has very often been a success in industrial neighbourhoods; and like so many other noble Lords who have spoken I am certainly in favour of promoting allotments in every way I can. It is good for the holders, and not only do I think it is good for them in itself but also it gives the industrial population an interest in agriculture, which, I think, is not only good for the industrial population but certainly good for agriculture as well. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, I should be prepared to support the Second Reading of the Bill if only for the allotment provision.
My noble friend was saying just now that one ought to put political considerations out of account altogether. I quite agree with him, but I have come rather lately from the House of Commons. I know the feelings of members there and it undoubtedly would come as rather a blow to a great many of the county and agricultural members of the House of Commons if it was a cry at the Election that the Conservative Party had thrown out a Bill for the provision of allotments. The chief reason why there is so much suspicion of this Bill, as far as I have been able to ascertain, is the fear, which to my mind is perfectly justifiable, on the subject of the finance of the Bill. The scope of the Bill was a good deal expanded while it was in the House of Commons. The finance is more undefined than in any Bill which I ever came 117 across, and I therefore think that it is due to us on the part of the Government to give us some more explicit assurance on the subject of finance. The noble Earl who introduced this Bill gave some figures. Lord Hastings gave us other figures. There was a difference running into hundreds of millions between the two estimates. Is it too much to ask the noble Earl if something could be put into the Bill which would bear out what he says with regard to finance? It seems to me that it is on this financial question that the fate of the Bill ultimately depends.
If the Government mean to shelter behind points of rigid Privilege, then think they will have considerable difficulty in getting this Bill through all its stages. I do not know what the Government really want. If they want the Bill to go through in its present form I think the Minister will have an impossible task. I think he must give us some reassurance about finance before this House will consent to pass the Bill. Of course it is possible that the Government would not be sorry if the Bill perished. They may think that its destruction would be a good electioneering point. It is possible it may be so, but if they really and truly believe in this Bill, and really and truly believe that it would operate for the good of the country, then they ought to meet us and to reassure us on this point of finance, and it is in that hope, that they will give us a reassurance on this vital matter, that I shall vote for the Second Reading.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, we have had during the last two days a discussion which I think all your Lordships will agree has been very interesting in itself, and which has been a remarkable illustration of the great wealth of knowledge and practical experience which your Lordships' House is able to bring to the consideration of a matter of this kind. As a result of listening to the whole of the debate I certainly find myself in very great disagreement with the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who introduced the Bill as a kind of panacea for the unemployed and a land of hope—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
No, that does net come from that side—a land of hope in which heroes may be invited to live. 118 Still less do I agree with the Duke of Marlborough, who last night found this Bill so encouraging to agriculture. I am bound to confess quite frankly that if at this moment the decision which I had to take was a decision between taking the Bill as it stands and having no Bill at all, then without hesitation I should vote for having no Bill at all. I think there are matters contained in this proposed legislation which would be so dangerous, so damaging to our national credit, and so unfair to the agricultural and unemployed population whom it professes to benefit, that, if the Bill stood in its present form for our final verdict. I at least should have no doubt at all in saving that that verdict ought to be one of rejection.
But that is not the situation in which we find ourselves to-day, and I suppose that it is the duty of anyone who is delegated to act as Leader of this great Party, even a mere locum tenens, to try and offer some advice to those who work with him, and who are connected with him in political opinion. It is not an easy task. It may easily, if he is repudiated, became an impossible one; but at any rate I propose to attempt it. And I should like to reassure my noble friend Lord Banbury that when I approach the problem as to what advice I ought to tender to your Lordships, I am not animated by that intense desire to conciliate our enemies of which he apparently suspected me. I have been accused of many things, but conciliation has never been my strong suit. But there is another point which my noble friend suggested ought to weigh with us, and one towards which I find myself much More sympathetically inclined. The noble Lord said we ought rather to consider our friends. He expressed the view that our friends in the country were of opinion that the Conservative Party do not take a definite or strong enough stand, and that they would be encouraged by a demonstration of determination in rejecting this Bill. Well, I have done my best to consider our friends. I have, first of all, consulted those who are the recognised leaders of the Party in both Houses of Parliament, and I find among them a consensus of opinion that it would be a disastrous mistake to reject this Bill on Second Reading.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I said somebody; I hope the view is not too generally held. I have not rested content with consulting merely the recognised leaders of the Party. I thought it right to consult those who are the leading members of the Conservative Agricultural Committee, which is set up in another place to consider agricultural measures and to advise the Party as to agricultural policy—a body not consisting of the Front Bench, but of the ordinary rank and file who represent agricultural constituencies. I had with them two long discussions, partly, I confess, to inform my mind more as to the merits of the case, but very largely also to ascertain their views as to what was the right course to adopt, and I found that they were unanimously of opinion that it would be a disastrous mistake for your Lordships to reject this Bill on Second Reading.
Of course, I am not so foolish as to suppose that members of another place are in any better position, or indeed in perhaps as good a position, to decide on the merits of an agricultural subject as members of your Lordships' House. At any rate, there could be no higher authority than those whom we can find within our own body. But when it comes to considering what is going to be the effect in the country of a particular line of conduct, however anxious we may be to say that we are acting on our own consciences and doing what we regard as our duty, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is on our friends in the constituencies that the burden must ultimately fall. They have to justify our conduct, they have to explain what it is we have done and why we have done it; and when you find a unanimous consensus of opinion that the course which the Amendment suggests is a mistaken course, is one which would in their judgment lead to discouragement and almost to despair among our friends in the country, then it requires a very strong case to persuade me to go counter to that advice.
They take the view, and I think there is at least force in it, that this is a 120 measure which purports at least to be a measure dealing with unemployment. Unemployment is a matter upon which the country rightly feels deeply, and indeed passionately. We are able to say that during the twenty months that the Socialist Government have been in office there never has been a single measure purporting to deal with the unemployment problem which has not received our free assent in this House and in another place. And, whatever other excuse the Socialist Government may make, they cannot say that they have been hindered or hampered or baulked in any way by any action of ours in Parliament. If you throw this Bill out, that at any rate will no longer be true. You may say that they are mistaken in their views, and that the measures which they propose here are mistaken measures; but at least it will be no longer possible to say that the measures which the Government have brought forward, designed to deal with the unemployment problem, are measures which have been allowed to have a free passage, with which we have allowed them to proceed unhampered by any interference of ours. Now our friends think that there would be a justified resentment in the country if we were to adopt that course.
We have had a number of speeches from various noble Lords carrying the most destructive criticism of various parts of the Bill, but I think, almost without exception, in every speech there has been an admission that there are at least some things in the Bill which are good. Certainly, my noble friend Lord Hastings said there were some matters of which he approved, and my noble friend Lord Lovat said that everybody was agreed that the allotments part of the Bill was a good part. He suggested that we should overcome any difficulty of rejecting this Bill by then introducing a fresh Bill incorporating the allotments proposals. But he will forgive me if I point out that that is not possible, because one thing at least is clear in matters of Privilege, that any Bill which incorporates or imposes any charge on the public Exchequer must he initiated in another place, and, as your Lordships know, it cannot be initiated by anybody but the Government even in another place. So that we cannot do that.
121 Now this is a Bill, largely, in the opinion of most of us, a bad Bill, but still containing within its four corners some measures which meet with general approval: what is the right course to take with regard to such a Bill on Second Reading? I think even the noble Lord, Lord Treowen, in moving the rejection, said that normally the right course would be to pass the Second Reading, and then to proceed to amend the Bill in Committee. But he was deterred from taking that course, and one or two other noble Lords have been anxious not to take that course, because he and they have seen two possible dangers. First of all, they have said there is a danger arising from the provisions of the Parliament Act. I think it was Lord Hastings in what was, if he will permit me without impertinence to say so, a most powerful speech, who said: "Well, we may pass this Bill with Amendments, but when it comes back certified we can do nothing." That at least is not a real danger. The Bill has to be a certified Bill when it leaves the House of Commons. This Bill is not a certified Bill and therefore there is no question now of any certification under the Parliament Act. The Parliament Act does not apply at all and is not relevant to the present consideration I am quite sure that I am right in making that statement.
Then there is the second point. It is said that this Bill is largely intermingled with questions of finance, and it is said, and said truly, that Amendments which deal with the qualifications and limitations and conditions of a grant are matters of Privilege which we cannot insist upon in this House and which are the exclusive prerogative of another place. I think that some speakers at least have a little exaggerated the extent to which that Privilege goes. I am speaking not merely from my own knowledge, such as it is, but also after consulting authorities elsewhere and I am quite sure I am right in saying that just as, without any breach of Privilege, you can reject this Bill on Second Reading, so on Committee stage you could, for example, strike out one subject matter of the Bill if you so thought fit.
I am not suggesting that you should necessarily do it, but supposing the House should take the view that Part I be deleted, that would not raise the question of Privilege, so that Privilege does 122 not apply there. On the other hand, there are some Amendments which have been suggested in the course of this debate which undoubtedly would raise questions of Privilege. There was the Amendment which was suggested by my noble friend Lord Stanhope, in his speech yesterday, whereby it should be a condition of the grant of a small holding that the Minister should be satisfied that the proposed prospective smallholder might reasonably be expected to earn a livelihood on the holding—as it seems to me, at any rate, a very reasonable suggestion. There was a proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, who said that his financial conscience had remained consistent in one respect throughout his career in the House of Commons, that he had never allowed any Money Resolution to go through which did not contain a limit as to the amount to be expended—a very proud record, on which I am sure we all congratulate him. Again, such a limitation, I am advised, would undoubtedly be one which conflicts with the rules of Privilege.
We know well that, the Privilege being a Privilege of the House of Commons, the House of Commons can and does waive Privilege on proper occasions, and it does so normally on the advice of the Government of the day. Nobody, of course, could doubt that if the Government advised the house of Commons in such a case as this to waive the question of Privilege, they would have the support of the Opposition, and some portion, at any rate, of their own supporters—of that dwindling body of their own supporters—and that such a waiver would take place.
What occurs to me, at any rate, as being the right course to adopt in such a case as this would be first of all to pass the Second Reading; and, secondly, to say to the Government—and if they will permit me to do so I do say to them now—that in a Bill which raises a number of controversial questions, which deals with matters upon which great care requires to be exercised in order to avoid grave risks, we must be allowed a substantial time before we are asked to embark upon the Committee stage of the Bill. If we give them the Second Reading we must have ample time to consider what Amendments ought to be put down in Committee—not less I suggest than three weeks or thereabouts, but I am not particular as to a clay. Then, when the 123 Amendments are down, the Government can see, and we can see, which of them may raise questions of Privilege, and I would suggest to your Lordships that the Government be asked to tell this House whether or not, supposing a particular Amendment is passed, they are going to invite the House of Commons to insist on the Privilege reply, or whether they are willing to advise that Privilege be waived, and that the Amendment be discussed on its merits. If they are willing to give that assurance, why then, it seems to me that we are in the same position as we should be in the discussion of any ordinary Bill, and we can proceed safely with the Amendments.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do not think my noble friend can really be under any serious apprehension. I do not want to do many sums, but the House of Commons contains some 250 members 91 our own Party, and at any rate a large number of members of the Government, and if the Government were to invite the House of Commons to waive Privilege there is no real doubt the House of Commons would accept that proposal. Supposing the representatives of the Government are willing to give that assurance, then they can discuss the Amendments on their merits. Suppose, on the other hand, they are not willing to give the assurance. They can say that they have not had time to make up their minds, in which case I would suggest that we should proceed to the passing of the particular Amendment, and should invite them to make up their minds before the Report stage, and we should have down a Motion to delete that particular clause unless the assurance were forthcoming when the Report stage were reached. If, on the Report stage, we had not got satisfactory assurances, and if, as a result, we found the Bill in the long run so mutilated and so shorn of any value that it really was not worth passing, there comes the Third Reading. One noble Lord said that if you have once passed the Second Reading you have adhered to the principle of the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Lord Banbury is an authority and a stickler on these matters. He made the statement, but I wonder if he would tell us what the principle of this Bill is.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Unless we can be told what the principle is, obviously we are not committed and Lord Banbury is not committed to it. It is quite true there are some Bills which embody in legislative form some one particular principle—the principle that you are going to derate or relieve agriculture or industry of rates, the principle that you are going to enforce military service—your Lordships can think of half a dozen. I dare say there are two or three Bills actually before your Lordships now in which you can say such and such a principle is embodied. But this Bill does not purport to embody one principle; it purports to deal in its various parts with a number of problems all relating to the land, but none of them parts of one great over-riding principle. And so far as I am concerned, and I think I can safely say so far as any of your Lordships who accept my advice and vote for the Second Reading are concerned, it will be abundantly clear, certainly after what I am saying now, that we are not committed to any principle by passing the Second Reading except the principle of considering each clause on its merits, and deciding what ought to be done about it.
If it turns out when the Third Reading is reached that, owing to the failure or inability of the Government to give satisfactory assurances on this, that or the other, the Bill remains in an unsatisfactory condition, why then it is perfectly open to any one of your Lordships, without the slightest tinge of inconsistency, to vote against the Third Reading and make an end of the Bill then. That is the advice which I very respectfully tender to your Lordships. I can assure your Lordships, if the advice is taken, that I, at least, am not going to be a party to allowing the Bill to go to another place with Amendments in it with regard to which Privilege can be raised and with regard to which a promise has not been made that the Privilege will be waived. That is the position which I should like to take up.
125 May I remind your Lordships, in conclusion, that we have had more than once, unfortunately, to come into conflict with the Government of the day. Within the last two or three months I have not been afraid to advise your Lordships to accept the challenge when I thought it right. if what we read in the newspapers is accurate it is not unlikely that we shall rind ourselves again compelled before very long to take a stand with regard to matters in which we think the vital interests of the nation are at stake, and with regard to which, I am sure, we shall not flinch if we think it our duty. With regard to the matters on which we have already taken a stand and with regard to the matters as to which I foresee possibilities in the future, we have, as we believe—noble Lords opposite will not agree with me—the mass of the people of this country behind us, and we are perfectly certain that we have the whole of our Party in the constituencies and in the country and in both Houses of Parliament solid behind us. We are, therefore, fighting with our Party and with their enthusiastic assent.
But, it has got to be a serious conflict. It has got to be a conflict in which we are exposed to misrepresentation. We did not have to wait until the echoes on the debate on the Education Bill had died away before actually one of your Lordships' Rouse made outside what I respectfully regard as a disgraceful misrepresentation as to what happened. We know, therefore, that we shall have to face misrepresentation and vilification. We are not afraid of it so long as our own people are able to tell the truth. But it would be a thousand pities—to put it no higher—if we were to take a stand on the Second Reading of this Bill which people would not understand, which would be represented as being a refusal of everything in the Bill, which our own supporters in the country would not understand and which would give rise to discouragement and dismay, when by passim the Second Beading we ran insist on those things which are vital and can insist on them with the assurance that we will not pass this Bill unless they are dealt with, and whatever action we then take we shall fake with the whole support of our Party in the country and in another place. On this ground I believe it well to vote in favour of the Second Beading.
126 There have been very powerful speeches delivered the other way. One of them delivered from the Liberal Benches vas interpreted I believe by some of your Lordships as being an invitation to vote against the Second Reading. I think I shall not be misrepresenting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, if I say that was not the advice which he intended to give. The force of his invective and the devastating criticism which he levelled at what was wrong in the Bill were so overpowering as to set up in your Lordships a wave of enthusiasm which quite lost sight of the minor matters on which he was able to give perhaps a somewhat qualified blessing. At any rate I am rejoiced to know, that being so, that the advice I am giving today is sound advice and that he will be found with us in the Division Lobby when the time comes. I apologise for taking up a considerable amount of time. I have had by no means an easy task to pursue, but I hope that your Lordships will be good enough once more to give me your confidence and follow the advice I have ventured to tender. I hope your Lordships will once more believe me when I say I shall not let you down.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, no one can say that this debate has not been full of most interesting episodes. There is one point on which I think we who sit on this side of the House can most certainly congratulate ourselves, and that is that we are the only Party in your Lordships' House that appears at the present moment to present that united front of which the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down was boasting. None of us could fail to be interested by the almost (shall I say?) timorous tact with which the noble and learned Viscount has just discussed this matter with his followers. Before. I deal with the question which, as I gather, is really before your Lordships—that is whether or not we shall give this Bill a Second Reading—perhaps I might just mention the Amendment which has been proposed. I think I can deal with that almost in one sentence. I myself find it very hard not to be amazed at the effrontery of some one who was a member of the last Government for over four years now attempting to hold up the legislation of this Government because 127 they have not done what they themselves failed to do. So much for that Amendment.
The noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down suggested to your Lordships that I put this Bill before you as a panacea for unemployment and that I suggested that it was only necessary to offer sufficient land to sufficient unemployed applicants to solve the unemployment problem. As I remember, I said exactly the opposite. I do not think, and the Government do not for a moment imagine, that the unemployment problem is going to be solved by this measure. Nor would they say even that this was primarily an unemployment Bill. We do say that we believe that it is for agriculture, by proper economic handling, to make a real contribution to the prosperity of this country and therefore to the employment of more people on the land.
Before I deal with that part of the Bill which affects unemployment perhaps your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments if I try to answer a few of the criticisms levelled at Part I. if there are a few more criticisms that are not dealt with I am sure that the feelings of your Lordships will be nothing but those of relief. I think that most of those criticisms have been based on the assumption that this Corporation that is to be set up to experiment in large-scale farming is to deal only with cereal growing. Nothing is said about it in the Bill and that is not our intention. Your Lordships may say. "Very well, then, what are they going to do?" I say that the Very essence of the principle of setting up this Corporation is that we shall have a body of experts who are free from Departmental interference. Therefore I would not for a moment undertake to state before your Lordships what steps they will take. I can only say that there are many other economic problems to be investigated in agriculture, which it is to be remembered has a total product of £240,000,000 whereas the cereal output is well under ten per cent. or under £20,000,000.
Let us accept for a moment the assumption that they will deal with the subject of wheat. As I have said, if we accept the contention—and we will for the moment—that it is essential for the prosperity of agriculture in this country that wheat-growing shall continue, then 128 we have got to face it with the knowledge that it can only continue by our adopting one of two policies. Possibly there may be a combination of those two policies, but I think we have really got to choose one of two. It is either going on because we so alter our method of growing and cultivation that we can grow wheat in competition with the other countries of the world, or else it is going to persist because of the size of the subsidy at the expense of either the taxpayer or the consumer. For the moment I am not going to argue against any temporary relief for wheat-growing, but I would say, as I have ventured to say to your Lordships before, that whatever temporary relief may be necessary it would be folly amounting to extravagance, criminal extravagance and negligence, to accept as final the situation that wheat-growing has got to be subsidised by many millions of pounds a year. The only alternative to that is to discover new methods of cultivation.
The purpose of this Corporation, therefore, is to carry on, not technical research but research into an economic problem. That is the point that I want to emphasise in regard both to Clause 1 and to Clause 2. Clause 2 has been criticised on the ground that there are already a great number of research and educational institutions in the country run by Universities, colleges and county councils. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of this Bill was, I think, under the misconception that we intended to take over the existing research institutions. We do not intend to do so. These research institutions are dealing mainly, at the moment, with problems of technical and scientific research, and it is intended that these new institutions, when they are set up by the Ministry, should limit themselves to commercial demonstrations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, waxed very eloquent upon this point, but I do not believe there are any of us who have anything to do with the country who do not know that the real trouble with agricultural education in this country is, not the amount of knowledge that is lacking in those who do know, but the amount of knowledge that has not yet filtered through to those who live far away in the country. This is not suggested in criticism of the farming population of 129 this country, but I do say that there is a tremendous need for more demonstration, particularly of the commercial possibilities and methods of farming.
Turning to Clause 3, I am very sorry indeed that I shocked the noble Lord, Lord Treowen, by referring to our friend in Hampshire. I should really like to ask why he was so shocked that we should have mentioned this case. Does he mean to suggest that, because a scandal has now been going on for so long and because it is of such a disgraceful character, we should now, therefore, stop talking about it and do nothing about it? I ventured to interrupt the noble Lord's speech and ask what he would do to such a man if he does not like this clause of the Bill, and he answered me by saying that he would tell me. I listened to his speech last night very carefully, and I read it through very carefully this morning, and not one word did he say to tell me how he would deal with that case if Clause 3, subsection (2), is erased from the Bill. I do feel that it would be a national tragedy if, having got away with this type of offence for the last six or seven years, he is now allowed to slip through our fingers.
The noble Lord told me that it was ridiculous to have a clause in the Bill dealing with a, state of affairs that is unique. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said the same. Are we, because there is only one person, so far as we know at the present moment, committing a certain nuisance, to say that we shall not deal with it? Have we got to wait until, by our refusal to deal with it, we have allowed a great many more nuisances to crop up. Are we to have a separate Act of Parliament for each nuisance? If we have a special Act of Parliament to deal with this case, I suppose that when the example has spread to a neighbouring county, we shall have to go to Parliament and demand another. Surely it is better to have a general clause in the Bill to deal with a situation which, I think we all agree, cannot be allowed to continue.
I pass from Clause 3 to the question of small holdings. Here I think the Government found a good deal more support than on Part I. The noble Lord, Lord Ernie, I think, accused us of always having to point to Denmark for examples of success in small holdings. We do not 130 point to Denmark; we point to this country. At the beginning of this debate I gave your Lordships the figures of success and failure in previous experiments in this direction, and I told you that, before the War, no less than 95 per cent. of those who settled were successful, and after the War, in spite of the adverse conditions that we discussed before and of which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has again reminded us to-day, no less than 85 per cent. have been a success. I was very glad that, when he was dealing with this matter, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, mentioned the figures that were given us by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope. We have looked into those figures very carefully, and we have come to exactly the same conclusion as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. In fact, over the period of years that the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, mentioned, small holdings between the sizes of twenty and fifty acres have increased, and it is only those between five and twenty acres that have decreased. As Lord Astor said, the great number of those are only small accommodation fields, let temporarily, many of them situated just outside towns, and some perhaps turned into golf courses and other places of amusement. It is fair to say, therefore, looking only at this country and our own experience, that small holdings have in general proved themselves to be a success.
A number of rather doubtful points that I might call Committee points have been raised on this portion of the Bill. Noble Lords have mentioned the question of unfair competition by men who are settled with an allowance of 30s. a week or £50 a year for the first year. Again at the risk of repeating what I said before, I would suggest to your Lordships that, if we want to have this scheme, we had much better do it in a way in which there is going to be some possibility of these men making good. It is quite useless to deny that, if we throw these men on to the land, perhaps with years of unemployment behind them, and therefore with no money and no capital on which to live even until their crops begin to yield, the scheme is assured of failure. This is an emergency scheme, and an emergency provision of the Bill, and I would venture to ask your Lordships, therefore, to look kindly on this provision, which is essential 131 to its success. A number of points were raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. I noticed, for instance, that on Clause 6, subsection (4), he said that he understood that the training referred to could be given to a class of applicants—
§ EARL DE LA WARR
That is a small point; I have a note of it, but no doubt it will come out in Committee. He also raised the point of the finance of allotments, which we can also deal with at a later period of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Bayford, asked a number of questions. He asked what would be the position of these tenants as debtors of the State and whether we would have to have an elaborate system of inspectors always going round. These men will be treated as normal debtors by any normal creditor, and I do not see why we should adopt any different attitude towards them. He also asked how far we would be flooding one county with applicants for small holdings from another. I suggest we are dealing with two types of small holdings. One is for the normal applicant, who would go to the county council, and there we would normally take the county as the basis for those applicants. In dealing with the unemployed, we are dealing with a national scheme and therefore that scheme will be looked at from the national point of view.
The noble Lords, Lord Ernie and Lord Stanhope, both asked about the situation and districts of these small holdings. It is really very difficult to specify in an Act of Parliament exactly where a great number of groups of small holdings are going to be. I do not know how you would do it, whether you would have some definition of soil which was considered suitable, or some elaborate schedule to the Bill. It is obviously out of the question, but I can assure the House that the whole basis of this scheme of settlement is that care is to be taken in the selection of the applicants, in the advice given to those applicants, in the choice of situation and in the choice of a market. We are even attempting to influence them in the type of product which they will produce in order that they will not have to compete in an already flooded market. I do not know why it should 132 be always assumed, as it so often is in Parliamentary debates, that all Ministers are fools. I know a great many of us in this House have been Ministers and it is said that we all know ourselves better than anybody else, but, seriously, I do not see why that should always be assumed. To suggest that we are likely to place these men in unsuitable situations unless we are somehow tied down by some clause in this Bill is rather going in that direction. I was particularly sorry that Lord Ernie should have spoken in that way, as he has worked in such close contact with our advisers at the Ministry who will be responsible for decisions of this character.
Let me come to another point which is perhaps one of the most important in the view of your Lordships, the question of expense. The main charge has been on the ground of indefiniteness of expense. There is very little I can say on this that will not be a repetition of what I said yesterday, but I would remind the House that every single item of expenditure is strictly limited and laid down except expenditure on small holdings. There we have given as accurate an estimate as is possible per thousand of every type of small holding that is to be set up. The reason why we do not go further is that inevitably, however much we want to push on with this scheme and however keen we are on it, we are really in the grip of circumstances. We are taking on an enormous administrative problem. We have got to survey the land and the situation, we have got to equip the holdings and to select our applicants, and I submit that it is quite impossible to inform your Lordships at the moment at what rate it will be possible to proceed. Therefore, as this is a Bill we believe in, as we believe this policy of settlement will make a real contribution both to agriculture and employment, we ask your Lordships to allow us to press forward with this Bill as quickly as we can, living as we do in a time of emergency, and not to tie us up by attempting to limit our activities in this direction.
Every other item of expenditure is strictly laid down in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has complained that Clause 7 has completely upset the finance of the Bill. It is quite true that Clause 7 was not originally in the Bill, 133 but it was not the Minister of Agriculture who inserted it. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read an Amendment which was put down in the name of Viscount Wolmer, Sir Ernest Shepperson and Sir Joseph Lamb, which was in these terms:—The Minister shall have power to provide a small holding other than a cottage holding for an agricultural worker and lease it to him in like manner as if he were a person for whom a small holding may be provided under Section six of this Act, and the Minister may grant to such agricultural worker such allowances and loans and subject to such conditions as are specified in that section.That was an Amendment which was to be moved from the Conservative Benches. A similar Amendment was, however, moved by the Liberals and accepted, with a speech by Mr. Guinness in full support. If the Government have got to lose this Bill because of a Liberal Amendment supported by Conservatives—
§ LORD HASTINGS
The Government did not resist that Amendment and, if they do not resist it, they must accept responsibility for it.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
We accept responsibility for it, but it was put in with the consent of all Parties. If we had resisted it, we should most certainly have lost the Division by the united votes of the Liberal and Conservative Parties. To complain from that side of the House that She finance of the Bill has been upset by this Amendment is a little hard on His Majesty's Government. Lastly comes the question of Privilege, which the noble and learned Viscount and other Lords have already mentioned. It is quite impossible at this stage of the Bill for a member of your Lordships' House to announce to your Lordships that we are willing to waive the question of House of Commons Privilege.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
If the noble Earl is referring to me, I did not suggest that His Majesty's Government should to-day on the Second Reading make any such announcement. What I was suggesting was that, when His Majesty's Government have seen the Amendments and had an opportunity of considering them, they should then be in a position to say to this House what attitude they propose to invite the House of Commons to take on the question of Privilege. 134 do not think that is an unreasonable request. At any rate, it is one I am afraid I shall have to press, although I am not asking for an answer to-night.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I admit I did misunderstand the noble Lord and I am sorry for it. We shall see about the Amendments when they are put down. I do not know very much about House of Commons procedure, but I gather that Governments sometimes waive Privilege with regard to Amendments they like, and do not with regard to those they do not like; but I can assure your Lordships on this point that we are most anxious to be reasonable. We realise to the full that there is an immense store of agricultural knowledge in this House, and so long as Amendments are not wrecking Amendments I can assure your Lordships that they shall certainly receive the closest consideration. I think I need only ask your Lordships to throw your minds back to those days which we spent on the Drainage Bill, and to remind your Lordships that on that Bill the Government showed themselves in no way unreasonable in the consideration of your Lordships' Amendments.
Therefore I would ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, and to realise that we are not justified at the present moment in turning it down on any question of detail, or on any question that can possibly be dealt with on the Committee stage. If this Bill is turned down before that stage it would be turned down on principle. It would be turned down because your Lordships on principle disapprove of any large-scale experiments into new methods of farming. It would be turned down on principle because you will not consider allowing on any terms the State to recondition neglected land, even by voluntary agreement with existing owners; and it would be turned down because you are, on principle, against any increased provision of small holdings for normal applicants, and any increased provision of small holdings and allotments for the unemployed. I am perfectly sure that those are not the views of your Lordships, and therefore I am perfectly sure that you will be prepared to give the Bill that further consideration which a Second Reading entails.
§ On Question, Whether the words proposed to be left out by Lord Lovat shall stand part?
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ LORD TREOWEN
My Lords, I am not entitled to address your Lordships a second time, but I trust that with your indulgence I may say these few words. In view of the appeal for the Second Reading which was made by the noble and learned Viscount who at present leads the Opposition, and in view also of the sympathetic manner in which the noble Earl in charge of the Bill seemed to receive the suggestions we made with regard to the later stages of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.136
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 101; Not-Contents, 22.135
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Falmouth, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.]|
|Argyll, D.||Hereford, V.|
|Bedford, D.||Mersey, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)|
|Wellington, D.||Aberdare, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Addington, L.||Luke, L.|
|Northampton, M.||Alvingham, L.||Marks, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Albemarle, E.||Arnold, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Ancaster, E.||Askwith, L.||Monson, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Bayford, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Carlisle, E.||Belper, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Biddulph, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Camrose, L.||Passfield, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clan william.)||Poltimore, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Lichfield, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)||Queenborough, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Clwyd, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Cornwallis, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Peel, E.||Danesfort, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Darling, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Sanderson, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Denman, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Stanley of Alderley, L.(L. Sheffield.)|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Desborough, L.|
|Dickinson, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Doverdale, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Astor, V.||Ernle, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Erskine, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Chaplin, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Trenchard, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Faringdon, L.||Treowen, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Gainford, L.||Weir, L.|
|Esher, V.||Greenway, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Radnor, E.||Jessel, L.|
|Lovat, L. [Teller.]|
|Bristol, M.||Bertie of Thame, V.||Newton, L.|
|Novar, V.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Cawdor, E.||Phillimore, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Berwick, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Leven and Melville, E.||Hindlip, L.||Sydenham of Combe, L. [Teller.]|
|Macclesfield, E.||Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.|
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, with regard to the Committee stage of the Bill, the noble and learned Viscount suggested an interval of three weeks. I had actually in my mind two weeks, but I do not think we really need fall out about that.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I have spoken to one or two of my noble friends behind me, and they say that when I said three weeks it was the minimum period in which we could be ready. I 137 hope the noble Earl can meet us on that point.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past seven o'clock.