§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, as you know, this subject is not a new one. This Bill has been in the Department for some time, as the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, could tell your Lordships, and apart from that the general case for the organisation of agricultural marketing is one that has been so frequently made out in general that I do not think it is necessary for me to detain your Lordships on that point. We all know the various efforts that have been made in the past by organising co-operative societies and the vast amount of effort that has been put into the movement by such bodies as the Agricultural Organisation Society, the National Farmers' Union, the Sir Horace Plunkett Foundation and a vast number of other bodies. But finally we came to a stage, in 1922, which constituted a definite landmark. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bay-ford, then Sir Robert Sanders, was Minister of Agriculture, and it was he who appointed a Committee with the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, as Chairman, to investigate the whole question of agriculture in relation to its markets.
Very largely as a result of the Report of that Committee my noble friend Lord Noel-Buxton, in 1924, formed the Markets branch of the Ministry of Agri- 898 culture. Out of that branch arose, in 1928, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, under which the National Mark scheme for grading agricultural produce has been prosecuted. Following on that development, comes this new stage in the journey; the Agricultural Marketing Bill. The Grading and Marking Act was an effort to provide for the standardisation of English home-grown produce. This Marketing Bill is an effort to add to the provision for standardisation that for organisation. So far we must all be agreed that some such provision is needed. The main point of controversy is whether it is necessary or not to have any compulsory powers in those arrangements for organisation and, if so, what form they should take.
The opinion of His Majesty's Government is that the experience of the past has shown quite clearly that voluntary organisation has not made any real contribution to agriculture in this country. I am not saying that there have not been individual successes among voluntary co-operative societies; there have; but I say that it is really impossible for us to place our finger upon the map and point to any country in the world to-day where co-operation has made a real contribution to the agricultural organisation or prosperity of that country, unless in some form or other, either through legislation or circumstances, that co-operation has been compulsory. The obvious reply to that is the amazing success of cooperation of an apparently voluntary character in a country like Denmark; but it is idle to pretend that co-operation there is really voluntary. There is no legislative compulsion because it is not necessary, as the Danes have got to get their produce to our markets through the bottle-neck of the ports with a necessity of grading and sending that produce over here in a form upon which the English shopkeeper, who cannot go to Denmark to inspect it, can rely. Therefore, I contend and have frequently contended, and have never heard it seriously challenged, that in no country in the world has voluntary co-operation really been a success.
What is it that we really hope to gain from the increased organisation of the marketing of English agricultural produce? There are a great number of 899 gains that we hope would result from such a step. In the first place, there is the general point of the economy of working on a large-scale organised method, but we have got to go very much further than that before we can build up a case for the form of compulsion that we want to see exercised under this Bill. What is the main problem with a great number of our commodities to-day? I am putting aside for a moment the case of cereals. I have never contended that this Bill would deal with the cereal situation. I think it is safe to say that the main problem is, with such commodities as milk, potatoes, and hops, the control of surplus. Without the control of surplus you can never hope to get an organised market. Then, again, there is the problem of how to deliver to your wholesale and retail trade goods in the form in which they must have them if they are going to deal with them on an economic basis. They must have regularity and uniformity of supplies, and those supplies, coming as they must at the right time and in the right quantity, must be of the very highest quality.
Then there is the question of how far the producer, in competing with imported goods, is to protect his good name—his good name particularly as regards quality. There are certainly producers—to give an instance, shall we say producers of Cheshire cheese?—who might undertake a grading scheme in order to be able to put over their commodity a special mark; a mark for something that is known, and can be relied upon, as being first quality Cheshire cheese. What do they have to contend against at the present moment? They have to contend against the fact that there are certain producers who put their cheese on the market in a form that is going to discredit the good name of their product. The consumer, say in an industrial area, will buy something as Cheshire cheese and having done so will probably never buy any more Cheshire cheese.
Then we come to the question of collective bargaining. I do not think many of your Lordships require to be reminded of the complete farce of the present milk negotiations. Every year the various representatives of the various interests in the milk trade solemnly meet together and arrange for the prices to be paid for 900 various forms of milk during the ensuing year, the negotiators knowing all the time that a great deal of milk has already been sold at lower prices, and that a great deal more is going to be sold at lower prices before the year is up. Those negotiating on behalf of 'the producers know perfectly well, just as do the distributors, that they are not really speaking in the names of the producers. And until they are those negotiations must continue to be a farce.
There is also the question of levying for the good of the whole market. If we take the example of milk again, the only hope of dealing with the milk situation is not only to have collective bargaining, so that the representatives of the producers are really speaking for the producers, but also to be able to make arrangements for the financing of the manufacturing side of the industry. At the present moment one of the factors that is destroying the milk market most is the fact that the cheese-producing areas, finding there is a very good chance of getting more for their milk if it is sold on the fluid market, are ceasing the production of cheese and coming on the fluid market, and by so doing will make the condition of affairs worse than they are at the present moment. There must therefore be some arrangement for financing the manufacturing processes to do with milk.
There is also the provision for advertising milk. At the present moment something like £20,000 a year is spent on the advertisement of milk, a commodity worth £50,000,000 a year in value to the whole industry. And your Lordships know perfectly well the figures regarding milk consumption per head in this country as compared with America and the Continent! It may be said, why should a levy for this purpose be compulsory? For a perfectly simple reason. Who is going to contribute voluntarily to a fund, let us say for financing the Cheshire cheese producers, or for advertising milk, when there is no assurance that the contribution is going to help the subscriber one iota in regard to his milk, but, may be utilised to assist his neighbour who has not been prepared to contribute? The only hope of getting contributions for a purpose such as that is that all milk producers should make the same contribution.
901 Finally, I think we only have to examine the case for a very short time to realise that if there is to be, as there might be in the future, any form, of control of imports, it can only be done on the basis of an organised home market. We all of us know perfectly well that there is one Party in the State that is committed to a policy of import boards. It has not yet been able to convince any other Party that that policy is a sound one, and therefore it is not likely to be put into operation for the moment. There is another Party in the State that is committed to a policy of import control by means of tariffs; and now to-day, in the Amendment that is before us on the Paper, we find that at last the Liberal Party is beginning to realise that imports present us with a problem. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, had many long and earnest conversations with Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Herbert Samuel before putting this Amendment on the Paper, and I am sure we are very delighted at the outcome of those long and earnest deliberations. I think it becomes increasingly clear that, somehow or other, it is essential, whether from the point of view of the home market or of the foreign market, that the first step that is to be taken in agricultural organisation in the future is the organisation of the home market, and until that can be achieved there is very little hope of any further progress for agriculture in this country.
On that basis let us examine for a moment the machinery of the Bill. Admitting, as we must all do, that the powers that are contained in this Bill are of a somewhat drastic order—and there is no point in trying to shirk that fact—we are living in days when this country is going through a very had time, and the industry in which we are all interested is going through a very bad time; and, unless we take drastic steps, we shall continue to go through that bad time. The sooner that all of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, face that fact, the better for this country.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord will have full opportunity of making that point later. Admitting that we are asking for drastic powers under this Bill, I 902 think it is only right that we should have to satisfy Parliament that, having done so, we are also providing for adequate safeguards for the producers and for the public as a whole, and I think that perhaps the best way of doing that would be to present to your Lordships the exact steps that will have to be taken before a scheme can be put into operation, informing your Lordships at the same time of the period which each stage of submission will take. The first stage is the submission of a scheme to the Minister. That is provided for in Clause 1 (1). The second stage is the publication of the scheme, and the time required by the Minister to satisfy himself as to the representative nature of the persons submitting the scheme is taken to be a period of at least two weeks. They have, your Lordships will note, to be substantially representative of the industry: that is provided for in Clause 1 (3).
We then come to the submission of objections and representations, and the consideration of the scheme and the objections and the holding of any inquiries which are thought, to be desirable. Those are provided for in subsections (3), (4) and (5). The Bill lays it clown specifically that the period allowed for the submission of objections shall not be less than six weeks. Detailed consideration of, and inquiry into, the scheme in the Department can take place within the period allowed for the submission of objections, and, save in exceptional cases, it is considered that it should be possible to complete this stage within two months. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for going into this matter rather in detail. We are asking your Lordships a great deal, we know, in asking you to take this Bill through all its stages in a comparatively short period, and we feel it is essential that, if you are to do that, a full exposition and a full discussion of the Bill should take place.
The next stage is the notification of proposed modifications, and consideration by the persons who are submitting the scheme. It has to be submitted back to those persons if there are any alterations suggested. The period for this stage was originally four weeks, but in the House of Commons this was amended, so that if those persons who submitted the scheme and had these modifications referred back 903 stated that there was no objection, then the scheme could go straight on in such time as was considered to be advisable. So that period might be one week if there was no objection at all to the modifications, otherwise it would have to be four weeks. Then there has to be consultation with the Board of Trade. That, of course, can go on at the same time as the other stages, and should take no time. Then there has to be an affirmative Resolution of each House of Parliament. That is provided for in Clause 1 (7), and I suppose really, assuming that Parliament is in session at the time when the stage of tabling the draft scheme is reached, it ought to be possible to complete this stage within four weeks. As to the issue of the order of approval, that, of course, need take no time.
Now we come to the poll of registered producers which has to be taken after this scheme has been approved by Parliament. This poll has to be taken within a time that is specified in the scheme. Allowance must be made for the compilation of the register of producers—an essential preliminary to the poll—and for the distribution of the papers. This, in the case of a national or a large area scheme—say, a national scheme such as milk where the producers run into hundreds of thousands—is likely to take a considerable time. The time necessary to complete this stage will vary, of course, but three months could be taken as a general average period. Probably there is more to be added in the case of a large scheme such as milk. Then, having got almost everybody you can think of to agree, the scheme can come into full force; but presumably it would take some time actually to get into operation. The list of stages and periods that I have read out to your Lordships totals up to between 8½ and 9 months. We can take it that in quite a large number of cases it will probably take longer than that; but we consider that we are being rather optimistic. I think your Lordships will see that there are very great safeguards and a great number of stages to be gone through—consultation, approval of the scheme, poll of producers, and modifications going backwards and forwards between the Minister and the producers. I think your Lordships will realise that there is very great provision here for safeguards for the producers and all interests amongst the producers.
904 That is not the end of the safeguards. We must all realise that in any scheme we can think of there are bound to be a number of producers to whom that scheme does not really apply. The purpose of a scheme must be in some form or other to improve the market for the home producer. As I think it is impossible to deal with this matter without taking instances, let us consider the egg producers. We all know there are a very great number of egg producers both small and large who already have their own individual contracts with large wholesale or retail businesses, perhaps with hotels or hospitals; they may even have a retail trade of their own. In so far as those producers are not likely by their operations to do any harm to a comprehensive scheme for capturing a greater share of the egg market of this country for the home producers, there is not the slightest reason why those men should not be granted exemption. When you have said that there are a great number of men in that position, you are quite entitled to say that they should have exemption. Where I quarrel with our friends from the National Poultry Council is that they should say that a great number of other producers in the egg industry, who might well profit by an organisation, should not be allowed to operate the powers of this Bill. In such an industry as the poultry industry there are very different circumstances in different counties. Some counties are importing; that is, from other counties. Other counties are exporting. Because the producers in certain areas are right on the top of their markets and can sell their eggs whether they are properly organised or not, it does not mean that the producers, say, in Devon and Cornwall or in such a district as Norfolk may not have to adopt what might be called export methods in order to compete with those producers who supply the big wholesale markets or the industrial towns.
The risk of the position in the egg industry might well cause some anxiety. Production is increasing at an enormous rate. Hitherto the market has been able to absorb all the eggs that are produced. But a time is coming when, more and more, we must come to grips with the type of market that the importer has at the present moment because of the method he has been employing. If any of us were large traders in an area such as 905 Birmingham, a big industrial area, we should not want to deal with small consignments of eggs arriving in boxes of every shape and size, every egg of a different weight and many of them covered with products of the farmyard that we as countrymen might not mind but to which some townsmen might legitimately object. They want their eggs carefully graded and in bulk quantities. They want to know that every single egg in a consignment is exactly what it is said to be. They do not want to examine them; they do not want to be bothered; they just want to hand them out over the counter. If you desire to capture that trade, you have to adopt those improved methods, and you will only do that by organisation.
It is just the same in the milk industry. There are a number of men in that industry who could quite well be exempted from the scheme without doing any harm to the industry as a whole. If a man is getting a higher price for his commodity or has a better market, why should be not go on in that position? We are not after the man who is getting a high price for his commodity and is doing well. We are after the man who is prepared to undercut the market and thereby to ruin not only other producers but, ultimately, probably himself. Therefore, we provide for exemptions to schemes, and for schemes making provision for exemptions. Your Lordships will find that in Clause 4 (1) (b). Further, if a producer, having asked for an exemption, considers that it has been unjustly refused, your Lordships will find a provision in Clause 6 (1) (d) for an appeal to arbitration.
There is one other safeguard that I think I ought to mention. The quite legitimate criticism may be offered regarding this Bill that we are allowing the English farm producers to organise themselves into large monopolistic trusts, and that it is essential, particularly in regard to commodities in which there is no very great foreign import, to safeguard the consumer. Therefore, provision is made for setting up a consumers' committee in conjunction with every scheme. That consumers' committee should investigate all complaints brought before it by those entitled to speak for the consumers. If they consider a complaint valid, that complaint should be 906 submitted to a committee of investigation, which should deal not only with the consumers' points but with any general points that are brought up by, let us say, minorities who have been possibly included in the scheme. Those are the safeguards in the Bill, and I think your Lordships will agree that they are really very full and complete.
We pass on to the powers and duties of a board. Those powers are mainly dealt with in Clauses 5, 6 and 7 and the Third Schedule of the Bill. Some of those powers and duties are optional, and some are mandatory. By an examination of those clauses your Lordships will see exactly how they are parcelled out as between those two classes. When you come to examine this part of the Bill you will find it is very complicated, and there is no doubt that as you look at those powers and duties of a board they do seem to be of a somewhat full and drastic nature; but I would ask your Lordships to consider this. We are in this Bill dealing with a vast number of industries. We all know that agriculture is not one industry; it is a very great number of industries; and we have to provide powers in this Bill that will be applicable to all the various commodities that agriculturists produce. You are bound to have different powers for operating a milk board from the powers which you require for operating, say, a local fruit board, or a cheese board, or a hop board, and, therefore, it is essential to include in these clauses powers which will enable any body of producers who want to formulate a scheme to be able to find the powers that are necessary for the proper formulation of that scheme.
I would impress upon your Lordships that it is inconceivable that any one scheme is going to include all these powers. Indeed some of them, I might say, it would be impossible to include with others, for this reason. While it is probable we shall have a vast variety of boards, the boards mainly, I think, can be divided into two classes. One will be the pooling or the trading board—that is, a board that actually handles the commodities. At the present moment we have two co-operative societies that actually handle the wool that they deal in. I should say that if the wool producers and those who are running those 907 co-operative societies decide that they could operate better with the powers of a marketing board and form a board, then they would become a pooling or trading board. But in the vast majority of cases that we at the Ministry have been considering, I think on the whole it is much more likely that you are going to get a different sort of board, and that will be what you would call a regulating board—a board that will regulate the conditions of marketing rather than actually handle the goods.
Here, I think, you come up against rather greater complications than with the first more straightforward form of board. The purpose of a regulating board might be, let us say, in the case of eggs, or cheese, or certain forms of fruit, or possibly bulbs, the laying down of grades. The members might say: "We have got to get it established in this country that the English bulb, produced shall we say in Lincolnshire, is an absolutely first-class article that we can always rely upon, and we, as producers, are going to lay it down that no one producer can destroy our good name by turning out bulbs of a poor quality." The same might apply to eggs, or to fruit, or to cheese. That would be one function of the board.
I have already mentioned the question of collective bargaining, which brings me to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, with regard to the fixing of prices. I do not know why the noble Lord feels that it should be necessary to fix the price of imported food simply because you are going to give to your milk board the power to negotiate an "all-in" price for milk to which all producers of milk must adhere. I cannot see the logic of it. It may well be that he can make out a strong case for fixing the prices of imported food products, but how he is going to join it on to the powers of collective bargaining which we are intending to give to the home producers I really cannot see.
Then there is the point which we have partially dealt with—a very important one—of the orderly feeding of the market. It is essential if we are going to build up a market for our goods in this country—and I say this at the risk of repeating myself—that the traders, or it may be the manufacturers, who are depending for their supplies upon the producers shall be assured of steady 908 organised supplies on which they can rely. It may well be that the great new canning industry, for instance, that is being built up in this country, would be immensely assisted and aided if it could depend on the growers for the orderly consignment of their goods. There has been a lot of correspondence in the fruit papers lately on this point. The canners complain that last year, when some fruits were actually rotting on the trees, they had to go short by between 3,000 and 4,000 tons in their factories, which they could not obtain. There has been a good deal of dispute on this point, and I do not know which side is right, but it certainly does look as if there was something very wrong if, in a year when there is an appalling glut of fruit throughout the country, your fruit canning industry has to go short of its raw material by 3,000 or 4,000 tons of fruit. I am not allotting any blame anywhere. It is purely a question of organisation. It is obviously a matter that requires to be dealt with.
Lastly, we come to a point that has already been mentioned, that of dealing with the surplus; again another function of the regulating board, the board that may not touch the commodity but will direct where it is to be disposed of. I will give your Lordships an illustration. The representatives of the independent creameries came to the Ministry the other day to discuss with us this Marketing Bill, and when they went away they left a resolution to the effect that they could not hope to bring their industry into a proper state, where it could compete and build up the cheese or butter market, unless they could be sure of steady supplies of raw material. At present they are flooded with milk in times of glut, and in times when there is a heavy demand for liquid milk they cannot keep their factories going. We can never hope to build up any sort of surplus organisation if it is going to be treated like that.
The question of hops, I think, has already been mentioned. There is also the question of potatoes. I do not think it is necessary to deal with the question of hops, whether it has been mentioned or not, because it is one that has been quoted so often in this controversy—as to whether there should be compulsory powers in any Marketing Bill or not. I would say, however, with regard to 909 potatoes that about two years ago in some cases the price of potatoes fell to a mere matter of shillings and some potatoes were actually not sold. In that year very few potatoes were imported into this country under £4 a ton. The difference between those two prices was caused by the fact that it was our own surplus in this country that was occasioning the big decline. At the present moment when you have a £4 duty on hops the price of hops is very much below that £4 because of our own lack of organisation and our own surplus.
There are one or two other powers that I would like to mention before closing. In Clause 5 (c) there is power to purchase supplies. This is a power that is intended not to cut out the existing co-operative societies or to displace them in any way, but simply to make it possible, where these boards are taking delivery of certain goods, to supply their members with requisites. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a very useful addition to the original Bill. It is purely of a voluntary character. In Clause 5 (i) the boards are also given power to encourage agricultural co-operation, research and education. I think it is most important that it should be got into the minds of agriculturists, just as it has been got into the minds of other industrialists, that one of the major functions of a central industrial organisation is to foster the progress and prosperity of their industry by extending research and education.
Then there comes the question: how are these boards to be financed? Firstly, there is to be no share capital. These boards will be financed by the boards levying their members. It is for them to determine, but presumably it will be on the basis of the members' dealings with them. One takes it that this will be done mainly for dealing with administrative expenses and also with such schemes as have been already mentioned, such as an advertising scheme or a scheme for the diversion or the alternative use of surpluses. For capital purposes a board would borrow from the banks. Their credit would be the assets for which the credit or finance is required. If the board is a pooling board, or a merchanting board that is actually going to handle the commodity, they would be entitled 910 to pledge the crop or commodity which they are going to purchase, under Part II of the Agricultural Credits Act, 1928.
If your Lordships will look at the Second Schedule you will see in paragraph 7 that there is also the general credit of the board which is given by the contingent liability of the registered producers. That liability is limited to a, total of one year's dealings with the board, and it is for the board in submitting their scheme to put into the scheme what proportion of that one year's total dealings they consider it is necessary to have as a contingent liability. This provision has caused a certain amount of alarm, but when I remind your Lordships that one per cent. of the milk turnover would give the board a credit for half a million pounds a year, or that one per cent. of the total potato crop would give them a credit for over £200,000, I think you will realise that this contingent liability need not be a very serious item for the producer while, at the same time, even though on a very small scale, it could produce a very large sum.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I should like to ask the noble Earl to tell us, presuming money is borrowed by a board and the farmer is made liable and the board loses the money, has the farmer got to pay?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Yes, that is exactly what I was saying—according to a limited amount laid down in the scheme. It must be laid down in the scheme. It can be put, say, at one per cent. of the annual turnover with the board, but. it has to be laid down definitely in the scheme what the total liability can be.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
It cannot be exceeded, so it is to that extent a limited liability. Provision is also made, to the extent of £625,000 to be divided between England and Scotland, that short-term loans from the State can be made to these boards for their initial expenses. These loans can continue for two years, and they can be made free of interest if it is considered necessary for the starting of the scheme. The loans can be extended with interest after that two years subject to certain conditions and limitations.
911 Finally, if I may pass from finance, I would like to refer to one very important clause—that is, Clause 15 which deals with Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commissions. This is considered by some people to be perhaps the most important clause in the Bill, and it has very great possibilities, because while it gives the Minister no power of compulsion whatsoever, and gives him no power of coming down on the producer and saying "You must have this scheme," it does give him the power, if he feels that for some reason or other the producers are lacking a lead, to bring in first-rate men either from the industry—or, if the scheme is likely to be complicated from the legal or accounting point of view, from outside the industry—to prepare a scheme and lay it before the producers. Really it offers the Minister the possibility of changing the initiative for the scheme, but once a scheme is submitted to the producers it is for the producers to say whether they will adopt it or not.
But this clause really goes further than that, because in some cases I think it is perfectly clear that it is going to be very difficult to get any organisation, or to justify any organisation, unless the next stage of the industry is also dealt with. It will be very difficult to make a strong case that certain advantages—though there might be some small advantages—would be obtained, say, by the establishment of a Pig Marketing Board if nothing was done about the organisation of the bacon industry. This clause gives to the Minister power to instruct the Commission to prepare schemes for, let us say, a bacon board. He has no compulsory powers whatsoever, but it does gives him the opportunity of calling in the best brains in the country and working out a scheme for the purpose of discovering what really is the essential condition before the farmers can set up their organisation.
There is only one criticism that has been made to me verbally on this point, and that is on the question whether there should not be a limitation to one Commission. I wonder if the noble Lord who made that suggestion realises what a colossal task it is going to be. I think it is almost inconceivable that, even if the majority of the local producers came together and desired to formulate a scheme, it would not be necessary to call 912 in some outside advice, whether it might be a first-class accountant or business man, accustomed to prepare schemes for business organisations; or it might be considered that there would be great legal or contractual difficulties. It it almost inconceivable that a scheme of that order would not need outside brains in the preparation of it. Really the purpose of this clause is to put the Minister in the position to provide that outside assistance. Does anybody imagine that they would be able to provide a scheme in less than six or nine months of the heaviest labour? And we have other problems going on all the time. At the some time we may be approached to assist, say, a potato scheme or a bacon scheme, and we do not want to be limited purely to one Commission, or to restrict our operations to only one scheme. I hope, therefore, that we shall not be asked to make an alteration here, because it is undoubtedly very much a matter that concerns the speed at which we can advance. I think we must all agree that we do want to get on.
So much for a brief outline of this Bill. It has been criticised as not really meeting the situation in the agricultural industry to-day. Let me reply by admitting, as we have always admitted, that it does not deal with the cereal situation. But apart from that, I would submit to your Lordships that it does offer a means of dealing with milk, which is over 20 per cent. of the whole industry and represents £50,000,000 a year; with potatoes, which are 8 or 9 per cent. of the whole industry and worth £20,000,000 a year; and with smaller groups such as hops, worth perhaps only £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 a year—but they all mount up. It offers us hope of dealing with the great bulk of certain other commodities, such as eggs, worth £20,000,000 a year, that have to fight against imports of £20,000,000, and fruit, where the imports run into many millions, on which surely there is room for grading and organisation. It does really make a big contribution.
I admit, and we all know, that there are certain problems of imports which no one pretends that this Bill deals with, any more than the Grading and Marking Act of 1928 excluded foreign produce. When we examine this Bill, we want to examine it rather from the point of 913 view of the things that it actually does than that of the things that we should like it to do and that it does not do. If your Lordships think it ought to be carried further, doubtless in years to come some of you will have opportunities to carry it further, if the Act has not already done so. But, so far as it goes, your Lordships will admit that it is a very big contribution to make, and I would appeal to those bodies in the agricultural community which have hitherto opposed the progress of this Bill, notably the National Farmers' Union and the National Poultry Council, to be just a little less suspicious than they are of the attitude of those who are trying at the present moment to deal with the agricultural industry, and to give us the benefit of the doubt whether it is merely because bureaucrats and politicians always want to interfere with and control their activities that this Bill is introduced,, or whether it is brought in from a genuine desire to help them in their present position.
It may be that when this Bill is passed there are parts of it which many possibly will not like. There may be certain parts of it which they think go too far, and others which they think do not go far enough. I suggest to them that we should get together and consider every word of this Bill to find whether we cannot really agree to get forward immediately with the development of this industry. If they consider some of the powers bad, there is nothing in the Bill to compel them to operate those powers. If they consider that the scheme dealing with a whole commodity is bad, there is nothing in the Bill to compel them to operate that scheme. One last word in this connection. I would suggest that, if they can put forward nothing but abuse and criticism of the efforts that are being made at the present moment to offer facilities for reorganising the industry, there is very real danger that circumstances will push them into taking the steps that they ought to be taking, not against the advice of the National Farmers' Union but with their assistance. They have fought the Bill, and we have all told each other on various occasions what we think of each other, but. I would suggest that, once this Bill becomes law, as many of us hope that it shortly will, we should all get together, 914 forget our differences and really see what we can make of it.
We should have liked to have had their assistance in the preparation of the Bill and in its passage through Parliament. There are always times, as your Lordships know, when you are preparing a Bill or getting it through Parliament. when important questions either of principle or detail come up, when you do want the advice of those who are engaged in the industry. We could not have it, but we do hope that, if we could not have their advice during the introduction of the Bill, we will have their advice and assistance when the Bill comes to be operated. It is said that there are certain dangers in the Bill. If that be so, let them come forward with their advice and help, so that we may not lay ourselves open to those dangers. I make this appeal because it is essential, if this Bill is to be a success, that it should be worked with the good will of the producers. As a matter of fact the whole thing is dependent upon their good will, and it is really essential that the agriculturists should stick together and work out their own salvation. This Bill is a contribution towards that end. It does give to the producers for the first time facilities and powers for giving reality to their organisation. I therefore appeal to the different farming interests to rally round and to help us in this operation, and I submit that this Bill should be given a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD STRACHIE had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading, he would move to resolve, That this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of the Agricultural Marketing Bill, which fixes prices for home produce while not fixing prices for produce imported from abroad. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is not the first time that the Minister for Agriculture has introduced an Agricultural Bill in the House of Commons, which has afterwards come here and which does the right thing in the wrong way. This is, no doubt, a very complicated Bill indeed. It has taken the noble Earl, with all his great ability in explaining Bills, over an hour to explain it to a very small extent indeed. I think it will be found, if this Bill is ever examined properly by a Com- 915 mittee of this House, that it is a measure which in the interests of agriculture ought to be very drastically amended. Yet what is the line that is taken up with regard to this Bill? The haste with which the Government is pressing forward this Bill is almost indecent. They propose that this Bill should be put down for Committee stage on Thursday next. On Thursday next, as your Lordships are aware, there are other engagements which many noble Lords will feel the necessity of keeping, and so it has been suggested, I am told, that we should meet on Thursday at 3 o'clock and only have one and a half hours for the consideration of the details of this Bill.
§ If this Bill is to be properly considered in Committee it will have to be considered, not for one and a half hours but for a great many hours. The noble Earl, in merely moving the Second Reading, has taken over an hour in explaining its details. Then I am told there is to be further indecent haste. We are to have only a very short interval between the Committee stage and the Report stage, and after that the Government have made up their minds—I hope it is not true, but I am told that the Front Opposition Bench have agreed—that they are to have this Bill before the adjournment of Parliament, which we know is to take place on Friday of next week. If that is so, and we know the House of Commons' time is practically all taken up with the exception of Friday, it means that the Amendments made by your Lordships—I take it very substantial Amendments will be made—will have to go down to another place and there receive only very short shrift.
§ The Bill will then be sent back here and we shall be told that if we do not give way to the Government then the effect will be very much the same as in the case of the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill. The Minister and other members of the Government have already told us, as regards the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, that they have not the slightest intention of accepting the very valuable Amendments made by this House, and would rather lose the Bill. No doubt, they will take the same attitude with regard to our drastic Amendments in this Bill, and therefore it is that I wonder why the Government are so anxious to press forward this Bill 916 at this moment, giving us no opportunity for negotiations with regard to the drastic Amendments which are required. That is one of the reasons why I have put down the Amendment which stands in my name.
§ As regards the principle of co-ordination and organisation, I am entirely in agreement with the noble Earl, that it is very desirable indeed from the agricultural point of view that we should have that principle approved of, but how ought we to get agriculturists to adopt that principle? The plan of the Government is compulsion of the most drastic kind. It might be necessary, under special safeguards and provisions, to have some compulsion in this matter, but I say advisedly that if you have compulsion put in a Bill of this sort you first ought to have the assent of the great agricultural and farming bodies, and I challenge the noble Earl to say that he has got that assent.
§ The powers of compulsion under this Bill are very drastic indeed. There is the power of the majority to coerce the minority. It is to be a majority of the registered producers voting on the poll. It would be very interesting to know how the poll is going to be taken. Is it to be the whole county, or counties, or small areas? If you are going to have very large areas, it is very doubtful whether you would get registered producers to go to the poll, and therefore in many cases it might be that the people who enforce a scheme are actually a minority in the particular area. It is, therefore, interesting to know whether the areas are going to be large or small. Also, whether you are going to have different areas for different produce? Different areas for bacon, potatoes, milk, cheese and butter? The noble Earl left us entirely in the dark as regards that in his statement on the Bill. If you have different areas, what will be the result? You will not be able to insist that in every area the fixed price shall be exactly the same, and an area where prices are low will proceed to dump their produce in an area where prices are high.
I noticed in The Times to-day a very interesting letter on the Agricultural Marketing Bill by a Mr. Hamlin, which puts the matter in a nutshell. He writes:
The seven classes of product are: (1) that produced by the registered producer in the area; this is restricted; (2) that produced by an unregistered producer in the area; this cannot be sold; (3) that produced by a registered producer outside the area; (4) that produced by a farmer outside the area and brought into the area; (5) that brought into the area by a dealer; (6) imported from outside England; (7) the exempted produce.
Numbers 3, 4, 5, and 6 can be sold free from restrictions in the area.
I think that statement shows how very complicated indeed is this Bill.
§ One thing we have to remember is this. As regards fixed prices neither a registered nor an unregistered producer can sell below or above; and also (which seems to me to hamper a producer very much indeed) the scheme may actually have the right to state the amount of produce that is produced in any particular area—or rather to be sold, but it practically comes to the same thing, because a man does not produce things unless he wishes to sell them. And fixing the price might in some cases be a very great hardship indeed. For instance, there may be cases where there is a forced sale, and the man is obliged to sell his produce at the best price he can get for it. According to the scheme he is only allowed to sell it at a certain price, and if persons who are willing to buy it are unwilling to give him that price for it he is prevented from selling.
§ Then again, if there is a general agreement for the fixing of prices it would be valueless if free importation from abroad is allowed. I noticed that the noble Earl caused amusement by asking me whether I had consulted Mr. Lloyd George, the Leader of part of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. He certainly in this House does not lead the majority of the Liberal Peers. The great majority of the Liberal Peers absolutely repudiate Mr. Lloyd George's leadership.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I also mentioned Sir Herbert Samuel. Could the noble Lord tell us how he stands with reference to him?
§ LORD STRACHIE
Of course, Sir Herbert Samuel is only the lieutenant of Mr. Lloyd George. Supposing I had thought of consulting Mr. Lloyd George, as the noble Earl suggests, we know very well what Mr. Lloyd George would have said. He would have said to me: "Well, 918 of course your Motion is a very good thing against the Labour Government and for any Liberals running in agricultural districts, but you must not move it, because it might hamper the Labour Government and be very bad for them, and my great object at the present moment, regardless of other considerations, is to keep the noble Earl and his colleagues in the enjoyment of the sweets and emoluments of office, and to keep the Labour Government in as long as I can." I am glad to think that the noble Earl and also the Leader of the House agree with me that that is the object of Mr. Lloyd George at the present moment, regardless of any other considerations—in fact, tactics instead of principles.
If you have these fixed prices they will be an inducement for dumping. We have suffered very much indeed from clumping from Russia and the dumping of oats from Germany. What a great advantage it would be for any one who wanted to dump goods in this country to know exactly the price at which the home produced goods had to be sold in England! They could then cut their prices to undersell us. It is perfectly clear that that could be done.
The noble Earl referred to Clause 15, and said it was not so drastic. I hope he will remember that Clause 15 was described in the House of Commons as the "Star Chamber clause." Certainly it seems to me a very remarkable one, and a very strong one. The Minister may set up one or more Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commissions. These Commissions would be the creatures of the Minister of Agriculture, and they would have drastic powers to enquire into the private affairs of producers and to act in secret. The Minister has power to bring these producers before a Commission and order them to disclose their trade secrets. Anyone who knows anything about farmers knows that they are very jealous indeed about their trade secrets and the way in which they carry on their business. If they are unwilling to give all this information, if they are contumacious, there is power, as far as I read the Bill, to bring these people before a Judge of the High Court.
I now come to the question which to my mind is the most vital one raised by this Bill, and on account of which I have placed my Amendment on the Paper—the 919 question of the unfairness of allowing foreign goods to come into this country at a price below that fixed under a scheme, so that, they may be able to undersell us, while we are forced to sell at a fixed price, neither below nor above it. I am speaking without fear of contradiction when I say that the organised farmers of England are entirely opposed to the proposal of this Bill which gives that unfair preference to goods produced overseas. At the present moment it is hard enough to compete with overseas produce, but it would be much harder if the home producer is to be prevented from underselling the foreigner. The Conservative Agricultural Committee in the House of Commons fought this Bill tooth and nail. They divided on every opportunity against it, they divided against the Third Reading on a reasoned Amendment similar to the one which I have placed on the Paper. Why did they oppose it? Because they know that those whom they represent in the counties are entirely opposed to this Bill. Of course they said, and said very truly, that the questions of organisation and co-ordination and the grading of produce are quite different matters, but they held that it was no good bringing a Bill of this sort, which was entirely opposed to the views of their constituents.
It is perfectly well known that the National Farmers' Union have told the Government from the very first that they entirely object to a Bill which contains the unfair principle of favouring the foreigner as against the English producer, and giving him every opportunity and encouragement to undersell the English producer. Then again, the Central Chamber of Agriculture has from the very first been entirely opposed to this Bill on the same ground. It may be asked: "Why cannot you amend the Bill in Committee?" but you cannot amend it in Committee, because then the Amendments would at once be Privilege, and we know that, as regards the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, the Government are always telling us, "This is Privilege, and therefore we shall reject it in another place." Exactly the same thing will be said if we attempt any Amendment giving equality as between produce coming from abroad and produce produced in this country.
Another body which represents the landowners, and to which so many members 920 of your Lordships' House belong, have also dealt with this matter. At the annual meeting last month of the Central Landowners' Association the resolution of the Council of that body was affirmed. The resolution was in these terms:While realising the need of better organisation for the marketing of home grown produce, the Council hold the opinion that no measure could be effective while the home market is undersold by imports of agricultural produce from overseas.It is quite clear that that must be the case.
I have another very important quotation to make, and that is from the report of the Standing Committee of the Council of Agriculture for England, which met last October. That Council consists, as no doubt most of your Lordships are aware, of two representatives from each county in England and Wales appointed by the agricultural committees of the respective county councils. In addition, there are members nominated by the Government of the day. It is composed, therefore, of Conservatives, Liberals and Labour men, and there are also women members. What the Standing Committee reported to the Council of Agriculture for England, in regard to the Bill, is this:.…for no amount of combination for marketing or compulsion of minorities will avail where the home market is undersold by imports of agricultural produce from countries where costs of production are lower than in this country, or where subsidies or veiled subsidies are paid. For this reason, the Committee considers that the measure can only reach its full beneficial effect if there is coupled with it control of such imports under a scheme which will ensure that these do not undersell a fair home market.They went on to say, and this, remember, was only in October last:If, therefore, the Bill is likely to become law at an early date, the Committee most earnestly represent that its necessary complement is a measure of imports control of the kind suggested.They suggested further that it would be necessary also to see that goods brought into this country were not produced by sweated labour and that wages bore some proper relation to the matter. That report of the Standing Committee was carried by a body representing agriculturists, among whom were Labour men like Mr. Dallas and Sir George Edwards, as well as Free Traders and Protectionists of every class. And it was carried, 921 nem. Con., as no doubt the noble Earl knows, as he was present with the Minister.
The council of the National Poultry Council sent a very strong circular to noble Lords entirely protesting against this Bill and saying in conclusion:We, therefore, ask your careful consideration of the Bill and its implications, and hope that you will vote for its rejection if and when submitted to your House. Both in principle and detail it is subversive of liberty and antagonistic to the national interest.The National Poultry Council represents a very great agricultural interest. When it is remembered that the total value of eggs and poultry produced in Great Britain last year was nearly £30,000,000, that is 20 per cent. greater than the value of all grain crops and more. than 260 per cent. above that of wheat, I think your Lordships will agree that I have quoted enough to show what is the view of the organised agriculturists of England with regard to this matter.
It is all very well to say, as a good many noble Lords who follow me will no doubt say: "It is all right; we are going to amend the Bill and make it perfectly fair for the producers in this country." I should not oppose the Second Reading if I thought for a moment that the Government in another place would accept the Amendments which are desired by the farmers. But we know very well how they treated the other Agricultural Bill that we sent down to them, and they will treat this Bill in exactly the same way. At any rate, it needs the most drastic amendment. The noble Earl may contradict me, but I understand that they mean to force the Bill through both Houses of Parliament before July 31. In the old days we always sat into August. The reason for the earlier adjournment is, of course, that they will not sit on Bank Holiday, which they regard as a sort of sacred day.
I do not think I can do better than conclude by quoting what was said in another place by Lord Wolmer, who, as we all know, is a very able protagonist of agriculture, who looks very carefully after agricultural interests in another place and is also a large farmer himself. After saying that he intended to vote for the reasoned Amendment against the Third Reading of the Bill, he said: 922Unless you are prepared to deal with the question of foreign imports, it is impossible to hope to gain stabilisation of agricultural prices, it is impossible to hope to gain fair play for our farmers.The noble Lord and the whole of the Conservative members who were present, and I am glad to say some Liberal members, voted against the Third Reading of the Bill. I beg to move.
Leave out all words after ("That") and insert ("this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of the Agricultural Marketing Bill, which fixes prices for home produce while not fixing prices for produce imported from abroad").—(Lord Strachie.)
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, this is the first time within my recollection that an important measure purporting to deal with agriculture has not in the end revealed itself as one masquerading only as dealing with agriculture and in fact containing an attack, veiled or otherwise, upon our existing system of land tenure. It is with infinitely greater satisfaction that I have been able to convince myself that this particular measure has been brought before your Lordships in no partisan spirit. It is possible, therefore, for noble Lords sitting in all quarters of the House to give it the attention it deserves from the purely agricultural stand point. This Bill comes before your Lordships with a further and very unusual advantage. It is not often that a measure comes before this House which has been so fully and so exhaustively debated in another place. It is a fact that this measure bears little real resemblance to its original appearance in another place. It has been dealt with exhaustively in Committee, and I am told that the right hon, gentleman the Minister of Agriculture behaved towards that Committee in so conciliatory a manner that he not once moved the closure upon the Bill. That does not in any way relieve your Lordships of the responsibility of dealing with it most carefully and in extenso, but it enormously lightens the burden of that responsibility when we are assured that representatives of agriculture in another place have given to the measure the time and attention which have been given.
My noble friend Lord Strachie has mentioned and quoted from a number of bodies speaking with authority who are definitely opposed to the Bill. I have 923 received a number of communications to the same effect and I have given them the consideration which their importance most thoroughly deserves. But this is a highly technical measure. Moreover, it is an experimental measure, and in the end one is compelled to form one's own opinion upon it by a careful study of it in the light of such experience as one may possess in the practice of agriculture. For that reason, and for that reason only, I have not permitted myself to be guided by any other opinion than that of my entirely humble and unworthy self, and I am not speaking for or against any organisation which has expressed an opinion upon the Bill. The essence of this Bill can almost be given in a phrase. It is, shall the majority of the farming community of this country be given the statutory power to coerce the minority or shall they not? That is really the essence of the whole Bill. All the rest is machinery—very important machinery—which lends itself to debate and to discussion in Committee, but the real principle that we are discussing, and are asked to decide upon to-day, is whether or not this element of compulsion, drastic as it is, shall or shall not be permitted.
I think that everyone concerned in any degree with agriculture must in his heart detest the necessity for compulsion. It goes bitterly against the grain that an individual, whose family for generations, possibly, has been cultivating the soil and must clearly know a great deal more about it than anybody else, should be subjected to compulsion in any form. It is very un-English, and is also particularly unattractive to those who live in the countryside. I think it may be taken for granted that the natural instinct of any countryman would be against any form of compulsion. Nor would it be pleasant, if any of these powers become established, that the majority of the farmers may be enabled to coerce the minority. The majority will not enjoy it any more than the minority will enjoy it. It may—I almost fear that it must—create a certain bitterness of feeling between and amongst agriculturists themselves. Therefore, before accepting the principle of compulsion, one must be convinced to the foundations of its necessity. I regret to say that I am convinced.
924 I do not myself see any way of getting out of the impasse which we have got into in agriculture without giving to the majority the power to coerce the minority. I cannot myself visualise any matter in which the farming community can deal with the organised distributing agencies other than by being put in possession of compulsory powers to coerce a recalcitrant minority. The noble Earl who introduced the measure, if I remember rightly, gave certain specific instances in which attempts to deal with organised distributors had broken down because of this recalcitrant minority, and I am afraid it is only too well known that the temptation to undersell one's neighbour, if thereby one may be enabled to get rid of one's own produce, is one to which too many farmers are prone to fall. That is undeniable, and, though I dislike intensely this principle of compulsion, I am bound to recognise that without it nothing in the direction of organised marketing can be done.
My noble friend Lord Strachie has given a reason for desiring to reject this Bill on Second Reading—a very cogent and a very important reason—but, as a matter of fact, this question of whether the Bill is or is not useless or useful without some power of controlling imports attached to it, is in a degree beside the point. It is at least an entirely separate question. The question of compulsion is the one which we have to decide to-day. Personally, I would have liked to have seen and taken part in an entirely separate debate upon whether or not the Bill is or is not useful without the power to control imports, but inasmuch as my noble friend has raised the matter, and inasmuch as a Division presumably will take place upon that very issue, it is obviously necessary to say something in regard to it. I presume that every noble Lord sitting on this side of the House will really be in complete agreement with my noble friend Lord Strachie—that is to say, that they will feel that this Bill without the power of control of imports attached to it is of relatively little value. But they must ask themselves also: Is it wise, is it right to discard the Bill because without the power of control of imports it is of relatively litle value? I do not share the opinion of my noble friend. I entirely 925 dissent from that view, and I will venture to give the House the reason why.
It is my considered view for what it is worth that if we had control of imports, which I trust before long we shall have, this Bill would be absolutely essential before the control of imports could be brought into effect. It is my view that the people of this country would, rightly, require to be assured before any control of imports was permitted that they were going to be supplied with goods graded and of equal quality to those of which control might deprive them, and not only of equal quality, but in settled quantities; and without the powers given to committees and commissions and boards in this Bill it would be impossible for this producers in this country to replace the imports which now come in from abroad. That may not be a reason which will appeal to the majority of noble Lords sitting on this side of the House, but it is the only reason why I myself entirely dissent from the view that the Bill without control of imports attached to it is a useless Bill. I am confident that something in the nature of this Bill would be essential the moment control of imports was imposed.
Turning, if I may, to points possibly not themselves of principle but which, nevertheless, are of great importance, I would refer in particular to Clauses 2, 3 and 4, which can be taken almost as one, and in the centre of which there is a provision that not less than two-thirds of the total number of registered producers voting on the poll shall have the control in these matters. I am assuming that the House has accepted the principle of compulsion. Assuming that, we are not, I think, justified in admitting that principle unless we can be equally assured that the majority will be a true majority. It must not be the majority of a minority, and, as the Bill now stands, carefully drafted and re-drafted as it has been, it is still a fact that a majority of a minority may be coercing the whole of the producers of a particular regulated product. In my opinion there is only one way in which to make perfectly certain that that extremely undesirable result does not occur, and it will be to carry compulsion to its logical conclusion and to compel all producers to be registered before this poll takes place.
926 It may not, in itself, sound a very popular suggestion, but it will eliminate one of the principal grievances of the agricultural community and one of the principal fears of the agricultural community—that is, that they may be coerced by the majority of a minority. When we come to the Committee stage I shall hope to have Amendments on the Paper which will avoid that misfortune. I greatly hope, too, that those Amendments will be drafted in conjunction, if possible, with the noble Earl and that they will receive agreement from him. I know, of course, that the noble Earl will tell me that compulsion already exists in Clause 6, and I suppose when you tell a producer that unless he is either registered or exempted he cannot sell at all it is almost impossible to conceive any form of compulsion more drastic than that. But, none the less, it does not get over the broad point of principle which I have raised—namely, that the compulsion of a majority by the majority of a minority is a thing that cannot be permitted.
Clause 9 of the Bill is one which obviously is anathema in the agricultural community, and I cannot honestly see any reason why that Clause 9 should be in this Bill. What I do see is that if the question of the control of imports is attached to this Bill Clause 9 would be essential. May I hope that the noble Earl and his chief had that in mind when they drafted Clause 9? I am perfectly well aware that with the tremendous statutory powers given to the home producing community in this Bill coupled with the control of imports, it would be impossible to do without Clause 9, but why this Bill should include Clause 9 I am very puzzled to know. The latter part of Clause 9 contains provisions which, in a sense, might be disastrous if left as they are drafted. Can the noble Earl conceive of the feelings of a board which has spent a vast amount of time and trouble in setting up a scheme being then told by the Minister that it has got to rectify it? I am quite aware that the Second Schedule contains some kind of provision for getting out of that difficulty by giving the board power to wind itself up, but I do not think that the provisos on page 15 can be allowed to stand exactly as they now do.
May I refer before closing to the Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commissions? I am confident that the 927 noble Earl was right when he said that there is the most important feature of the whole Bill. Opinions will differ very greatly on the value, or otherwise, of these Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commissions. Some will say that they have no business to be set up under this Bill, that they constitute a danger to agriculture, and much else of the same kind; but for myself I live in hopes that with experience and with the prestige which their actions will give them, these Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commissions will eventually be a very great power in the land, that they will exercise an immense beneficial influence over agriculture, and that their recommendations will be of a kind which no Government is able to refute or to resist. I believe that they can be made an instrument of much that the Party to which I belong holds very dear. What a position, that, of the chairman of one of these Commissions! What an opportunity for an agriculturist to go to the Government of the day and tell them what has and what has not got to be done! There is practically no limitation to what he can undertake or what he can visualise.
The only fault I personally find with Clause 15 is that "the Minister may constitute." I want to see it "shall" and I want to see the Marketing Reorganisation Commissions not permissive in any sense but made permanent. We shall hope to draft an Amendment in that sense. As to subsection (5) of Clause 15, I, as an agriculturist, prefer to leave criticism of that subsection to others. It will be said—and said with justice—that a subsection which gives such powers to the Commissions as is proposed is one which this House, having regard to the fair and proper interests of traders as a whole, ought not to pass. But speaking as an agriculturist I do not wish to stress that particular view. This is not the Committee stage, and therefore I do not propose to make any further detailed reference to the proposals of the Bill, but I have attempted to give some definite reasons why I cannot fall into line with my noble friend Lord Strachie when he puts down on the Paper a reasoned Amendment which he might justly believe to represent the views of the majority sitting in this House. I have felt it necessary to give such reasons, and having done so it now only 928 remains for me to say that if he goes to a Division I regret that it will not be into his Lobby that I shall go.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down commenced his speech by saying that he was in favour of this Bill, partly because there had been a great deal of discussion in another place and partly because he thought that if Protection was brought in later this Bill would be necessary. There was, I believe, considerable discussion in another place, and as far as I know the Conservative Party in another place divided on every possible occasion against the Bill. As I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, they divided against it on Third Reading. Therefore, why the fact that there have been long discussions in another place should be a reason why we should pass this Bill I fail to understand. With regard to the other point, that if there is Protection then this Bill would be necessary, I would say to my noble friend—I am sorry he has gone out of the House—that we had better wait until there is Protection and then we can bring in a. Bill of this sort if it should turn out to be necessary.
The Bill does three things which, as far as I can see, are always the policy of the Government. It spends money, it creates officials, and it compels people to do what the Government think they ought to do whether they like it or not. Those principles are principles which I have been brought up to oppose. Especially at the present moment should we oppose the further spending of money and the creation of more officials. We ought to reduce the officials we have and we ought to save money, not spend more. I could not make out last week why we were suddenly going to meet on Monday. Now I know. This was such a bad Bill that noble Lords opposite were certain that if it were brought in when people had had a little time to read and understand it, and when noble Lords would probably be here, they would be defeated. Therefore they have suddenly brought it in on a Monday, when, they know it is inconvenient for noble Lords to attend. Further, they propose to take the Committee stage on Garden Party day, when there will be few noble Lords here, in order to smuggle their 929 Bill through without any of the opposition which, they know is likely to arise.
Everybody knows and will admit that agriculture is not in a very good way at the present moment. What is the reason for that? The reason is that prices are so low that the producer cannot sell his products at a sufficient price to remunerate him for his labour and trouble. How is this Bill going to remedy that? The reason the producer cannot sell his products at a sufficient price is that there are more sellers than buyers. That applies to everything, whether to Consols, War Loan, iron, steel or coal. If there are more sellers than buyers the price goes down, and the wily way to get it up is to see that there are more buyers than sellers. Is this Bill going to do that? On the contrary, it leaves the sellers who send their goods from abroad untouched, and will allow them to sell their goods here, while restricting our own unfortunate people who have to produce their goods here.
Now I turn to the Bill. I looked at it yesterday for the first time, and when I read it, though I had not intended to come up to-day, I thought that it was absolutely necessary that I should come up and say a few words. It is full of "the Minister." I dislike "the Minister." do not want him to come interfering on my land, or in my farm or buildings, and I do not want him to do just whatever he likes. I am old-fashioned enough to think that Parliament ought to decide what is to be done, and not the Minister. On page 2, I see that the Minister—after considering any scheme duly submitted to him and any objections and representations duly made with respect thereto and after holding such inquiries (if any)"—so that the Minister need not hold arty inquiry whatever if he does not likeas he thinks fit"—there again, if he does not think fit he need not hold any inquiries—may make such modifications in the scheme as he thinks proper.Why put it in that way? Why not say that the Minister can do what he likes, and there is an end of it? Then there is a proviso:Where an objection has been duly made to this scheme by any person affected there by and has not been withdrawn, the Minister, unless he considers the objection to be frivolous—930 So that if I object to a certain scheme, he merely has to say: "I consider your objection frivolous, and there is an end of it." Nothing further happens.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Well, I am not sure. He could not say it rightly, but I am not at all sure that he would not say it. In fact, I could believe anything of the present Government. On page 4, there is to be a scheme and there is to be a board, to be composed "of persons named in the scheme" and of two persons nominated by the Minister. There is always the Minister there to control everything. Then you see on page 5:For the purposes of this section, a person who is registered as a producer notwithstanding that he has been exempted from registration by or under the provisions of the scheme, shall not be deemed to be a registered producer.That is a legal form of words which at first sight does not seem to mean very much, but what it really means is that, if a person is not registered, he cannot sell his goods. That I think is rather strong, or let me say, in a slangy way, rather a tall order.
I must remind your Lordships that this is going to cost, to start with, £650,000. The Minister may find £500,000 out of moneys provided by Parliament for England and £150,000 out of moneys provided by Parliament for Scotland. then if you turn to Clause 5, you will see some very curious provisions. It says that subject to the approval of the Minister—we can do nothing without the approval of the Minister—a scheme may provide:for empowering the board to buy the regulated product, to produce such commodities from that product as may be specified in the scheme, and to sell, grade, pack, store, adapt for sale, insure, advertise and transport the regulated product and any commodity so produced by the board.What is that going to cost? You cannot do all these things without spending money. And, when you have spent the money, will you get anything further if you let in foreign goods? You will not get more, and you will lose the money that you have spent in doing all these things.
931 Then there is power:for requiring registered producers to sell the regulated product or any kind, variety or grade thereof, or such quantity thereof or of any kind, variety or grade thereof as may from time to time be determined by the board, only to, or through the agency of, the board.What does that mean? It means, I presume, that if I am a farmer somebody may come to me and say: "I see you have some winter oats. You are not to grow any more after this year, because we do not want winter oats in this area. You must do something else." If I say I cannot grow barley because my land is not suited to barley, the Minister replies: "Never you mind. You have to do so." I have to do what the Minister tells me. In fact, my business and my money are to be applied, not by myself but by the Minister.
There is, further, this extraordinary provision. I wish my noble friend Lord Hastings, who thinks that this is such a good Bill and that the Second Reading ought to be passed, were here to explain this to me. The scheme may provide:for empowering the board to buy, and to sell or let for hire to registered producers, anything required for the production, adaptation for sale, or sale of the regulated product.I read that as giving power to the Minister to say that he will buy horses, tractors, seed, cows, bullocks, and sheep—I suppose at the expense of the small minority of people who pay Income Tax and Super-Tax in this country, and who are not as a rule supporters of the present Government. Accordingly I suppose the Government do not much mind what money they take out of their pockets. They will take money out of the pockets of the taxpayers to buy, sell or hire horses, tractors, and all the things that I have mentioned. That seems to me to have nothing whatever to do with the regulation of the sale of farmers' products or Anything of the kind, or to conduce to a higher price, which, after all, is what is necessary for agriculture. All it seems to me to do is to give an unlimited opportunity for spending money.
The whole Bill is so bad that I am merely choosing provisions here and there. I cannot go through it all, but I am taking some of the worst. Here is another provision: 932for empowering any person authorised in writing by the board for the purpose of securing compliance with the scheme, to enter and inspect, at any reasonable time and on production of his authority, any part of the land or premises occupied by any registered producer which the person so authorised has reason to believe is used for producing the regulated product or for doing any of the following things which is regulated by the scheme or.…for requiring registered producers to furnish to the board such estimates, returns, accounts and other information relating to the regulated product as the board consider necessary for the operation of the scheme.A great number of tenant farmers only keep very small accounts. They are already bothered by returns of how many cows they keep, how many calves they have, how many calves have died, and of what they died. All kinds of things are asked. I have to fill up the returns myself, and I look forward with horror at the idea that I shall have an official of the noble Earl coming upon my land and into my house asking for all these accounts, and ordering me to do anything which he thinks I ought to do.
Then there is a provision which says:No sale of a regulated product shall he made by any producer who is not either a registered producer or a person exempted from registration by or under the provisions of the scheme.And later there comes this. The board may borrow money. Subsection (4) of Clause 7 says:A debenture issued by the board may create in favour of a bank a floating charge on any farming stock in England the property in which is vested in the board.I understood, as the result of the interruption that I made, that the board may borrow money from the bank and then when they lose it, as they certainly will, in order to pay back the bank they will come upon the farmer and say that the farmer has to pay so much in order that the bank may be repaid. The noble Earl said it was only 1 per cent., like the woman who said, in apology for her baby, that it was only a little one. I cannot conceive any noble Lord being in favour of such a Bill.
Then I find this:The Minister may pay such remuneration to the chairman and other members and the secretary, officers, agents and servants of any such commission or committee, and such other expenses of any such com- mission or committee, as the Minister may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine.933Any expenses incurred by the Minister under this section shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.Jobs again! Money is to be found by the taxpayer to coerce an honest body—men who hitherto, certainly, have understood their business, although I believe an official of the Department over which the noble Earl presides, Sir Daniel Hall, criticised them a short time ago. I rather think he has withdrawn that criticism since. The farmers, a body who have been in many ways the backbone of England, are to be interfered with, their right to do what they like with their own and to manage their own business is to be taken away from them, and they are to be compelled to carry on their business in a way which the Government thinks right.
I have the election programme of the Party opposite, and I read it yesterday. I had intended to bring it here and read it to the Government, but I have forgotten to put it in my pocket. I notice that everything they said they would do they have not done, and everything they said nothing about they have done. They said they were going to make farming pay. Is it any better than it was before? They never said a word about the franchise or the alternative vote, and yet they have brought it in. I hope that my noble friend will go to a Division, and that we shall reject this Bill, which is too bad to be amended.
My Lords, several Englishmen having spoken, may I say a few words? In Scotland I do not think that those who are interested in agriculture have any more enthusiasm for this Bill than appears to be felt in England. At three different meetings, at which all three parties interested in agriculture were represented it was put to the vote and unanimously carried that the organisation of marketing on the lines indicated in the Bill was useless, unless we had at the same time the same control over similar produce from abroad. That is, I think I may say, the unanimous opinion in Scotland. Therefore, it does not appear that this is the right time to bring forward this Bill, or at all events to rush it through the House. We have had a distinct promise from the noble Earl, based on the promise made by Mr. Snowden, to which Lord Banbury has referred, that something 934 was going to be done for the Agricultural farmer. What can be done except some form of quota or restriction of imports? I strongly advise your Lordships not to go forward with this Bill at the present time, but to take time for its consideration. Surely, we have a right to take time.
There is one point raised by Lord Strachie which I am sure all agriculturists view with concern. The farmers, through their majorities, or perhaps minorities, when they have fixed certain prices are bound not to sell below those prices, and then the importer may come along and sell below those prices. Where shall we stand then? I think that is too great a risk to take. I think we should ask the Government to postpone the passage of this measure and to push forward with the fulfilment of their promise to do something for the farmer. We have been put off long enough. We have been put off by the question of the Imperial Conference and for other reasons and I suggest that your Lordships should not deal with this Bill until we have had the real agricultural policy of the Government defined, and so know where we stand.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down, and Lord Banbury, appear to think that the compulsion imposed by this Bill is going to be imposed by the Government. That is not the case. The compulsion which is exercised under this scheme is to be exercised by the farmers themselves, and that, to my mind makes the whole difference to the scheme of the Bill. If there was any question in this Bill of the Government or Government officials being put in the position of imposing the scheme on the farmers, I should be amongst the first to oppose it. As it is all the Bill does is to empower farmers to draw up a scheme, and then, if they obtain a majority in favour of the scheme, to compel the minority to agree to it and carry out its provisions.
Many of us have made no secret of the fact—certainly I have not, because I have made the statement on public platforms and on private occasions—that we believe the British farmer as a producer need fear no comparison with any other producer in any other part of the world. The farmer in England and Scotland who succeeds in growing crops in weather such 935 as we have had during the past week is really a man who excites our admiration, although perhaps he also excites our sympathy. But when it comes to the question of marketing, there the comparison is entirely different, and many of us have told the farmers quite definitely and without any hesitation that, as men who are trying to dispose of their produce, the comparison is very far from being in their favour, and indeed very much the reverse. Many of us are strong individualists, and therefore we are naturally inclined to oppose compulsion. In old days the individual farmer was able to deal with the individual dealer and the individual purchaser; in these days, more often than not, the farmer has to deal with a combine, and when an individual deals with a combine everybody knows what happens: the individual is crushed and has to accept the terms imposed upon him by the combine. The only chance of giving the farmer an opportunity of standing out and being able to obtain fair terms from the combine is by enabling the farmer to combine himself with others who are producing the same product. Obviously, therefore, the farmer has to get into combination if he is to make satisfactory terms with those who will buy his produce.
Then we come to the question, shall that combination be voluntary or shall it be compulsory? I think the noble Earl opposite was inclined to say that at any rate the case of hops was one in which the lack of compulsion had brought about the failure of the scheme. I know that is said very commonly in my county, but there is another side to it, and it is only fair to say that the breakdown of the hops combine was, I believe, to some extent due to the action of the men in the combine themselves in growing a hop that was more prolific, although perhaps not so good. But it is fair to say that the action of the minority and the flooding of the market by those already in the combine did a great deal to bring about the fall in price to which the noble Earl referred. Therefore I feel, in common with many of your Lordships, that where a minority is prepared to go in and flood the market and lower the price, compulsion is necessary in order to regulate the price of that product. That being so, if your Lordships are prepared to agree to compulsion, I think you 936 will insist that we should be thoroughly satisfied that the body which proposes to bring a scheme into operation and to compel others to accept it must be a real majority, as my noble friend Lord Hastings said, and not by any possibility a minority.
But that is not how the Bill is drafted. As the Bill is drafted the Minister has to be satisfied that a scheme has been produced by people who are representative of the industry. He then approves it, he then brings it before both Houses of Parliament, where he obtains an affirmative Resolution. Then the scheme is circulated in skeleton to farmers, and they are asked to register. Anybody who knows what, farmers are in this country knows quite well what will happen. Nine out of ten of them will not answer. They will put the scheme into the waste-paper basket. Now, take a scheme affecting, we will say, 1,200 producers. Two hundred of those may be exempted from the scheme because they are going to sell direct to the consumer, or for some other reason. That leaves 1,000 farmers. Nine hundred of them will not answer. Sixty of them will register as producers, and they will be entitled to vote, and they will vote in favour of the scheme. A further ten of them will register, but will not take the trouble to vote because they have not made up their minds; and a further thirty of them will register and vote against the scheme. You will therefore get sixty voting in favour of the scheme, and thirty voting against it and you will have your two-thirds majority. But actually you have got 1,000 farmers affected by that scheme of which possibly 930 are in opposition, as against sixty in favour of the scheme.
Obviously anybody putting forward a scheme is not going to take the trouble to get the farmer to register unless he is satisfied that the farmer is a supporter of the scheme. Anyone who is likely to oppose it will very likely refuse to register, and therefore he will not get a vote and not be able to express an opinion. It is quite easy to do. It has only to be shown that anybody who registers has to pay a fee, and that if the scheme fails all those who are in it will have to pay something to wind up that company—
§ EARL STANHOPE
Which they did not wish started—something of that kind has only to be shown and many farmers will not answer. I submit that this House will desire to satisfy itself that the promoters of a scheme shall have a real incentive to get every farmer to vote on the scheme, either for or against, and therefore, instead of having a majority of two-thirds of the registered producers it should be at least two-thirds of all the producers affected by the scheme. It may mean a considerable amendment in the Bill. It ought to be quite simple to do, and probably the noble Earl and his advisers will be able to get us out of our difficulties with comparative ease. If you get a really large majority of farmers voting on the scheme, with the further safeguard that each House of Parliament will undoubtedly satisfy itself that a scheme is not going to impose any real loss on individuals, then I think we can afford to take the risk, and can also accept that policy, which so many of us in principle dislike, of compelling people to do things against their will. After all, in this question of compulsion it is not a question of conscience, it is not a question of asking a man to do something which he believes is contrary to the interests of the State, it is asking a man to do something which might possibly be of disadvantage to his own pocket. That, I am afraid, is the situation in which many of us find ourselves more often than not, and I think that many of your Lordships have often had to vote for a Bill in this House although individually you would certainly vote against it from your own private point of view.
Now I come to another part of the Bill with which I am much less in sympathy, and that is where the Socialist Party have unfortunately given way to the policy of which they are so very fond, the policy of setting up a series of committees and commissions. If your Lordships refer to the Bill you will find that, for every scheme that is set up, as soon as it comes into full operation the Minister is compelled to set up a consumers' committee, composed of a chairman and not less than six members. He sets up for every single scheme a committee of investigation, consisting of a chairman and four members. He sets up 938 in each case an Agricultural Marketing Facilities Committee for England, and another for Scotland, and another for Great Britain; and, in addition, he also sets up an Agricultural Marketing Reorganisation Commission.
I am not going to say that those bodies may not be necessary, but I do submit to your Lordships that to set up two committees for every single scheme that is brought into operation, to enable them to appoint a paid secretary and paid officers and possibly to draw salary and expenses themselves, all at the cost of the taxpayer, is not a thing which your Lordships will be prepared readily to agree to, unless you are satisfied that those committees are all essential to the schemes, and that the schemes in fact are worth while. After all, as the noble Earl said, it is essential, in order to get these schemes into operation, that we should win the support—not merely the acquiescence but the active and wholehearted support—of the farmers. One of the things that the farmers are fearing under this Bill as much as anything is that these consumers' committees and these committees of investigation may say, when a satisfactory scheme has been set up: "This is a thing which is going to affect the consumers and, therefore, the price is much too good for the farmer; it must be cut down." The more we can reduce this number of outside committees the more support we shall get from the farmers in setting up schemes.
My noble friend Lord Hastings spoke strongly in favour of the Reorganisation Commissions. I am much more doubtful about them. It is possible that occasionally the Minister may require expert advice in regard to starting some further scheme; but what many farmers in this country are fearing at the moment is that they may themselves refuse to set up a board or to start a scheme, but the Minister, on the advice of the Reorganisation Commission, may compel them to set one up. It is not in the Bill at this moment, and I am well aware of the fact, but what they say is that here is the skeleton of a compulsory scheme to be imposed on farmers by the Minister. Therefore, they are really nervous of the setting up of the Commissions, and that is one of the things which 939 militate against getting the support of farmers and those who lead them in the farming industry.
The "Star Chamber clause," as it is called, is one that I think hardly any member of your Lordships' House is prepared to support. It may be true that it is in favour of the farmer that you should be able to get the bodies who market his produce and put it to factory uses to give evidence before a tribunal. But I am very doubtful, when the House realises that this Commission is to be given the powers of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act of 1921 and when the House realises what that means, whether the noble Earl will succeed in getting that clause through this House. What does it mean? It means that the Commission can enforce the attendance of witnesses, can compel evidence to be given on oath and can compel the production of documents, which may be of the most secret character, concerning schemes which the interest in question may have taken years to discover and may have spent time, energy and money in bringing into profitable use. Yet all that may be demanded of them on oath by the Commission. What happens if they refuse? The Chairman is entitled to give his verdict that an offence of contempt of Court has been committed because the witness has refused to give the evidence required. The delinquent is then sent before the High Court in order that the matter may be further investigated and, if the High Court so decide, that the man may be punished. That section from the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, is only allowed to come into operation when each House of Parliament has resolved that the tribunal shall be set up, and then only when that tribunal is to enquire into a definite matter described in the Resolution as of urgent public importance. Under no possibility can there be a scheme under this Bill which can be regarded as of urgent importance to the general public and the nation. It may be of urgent importance to individuals but not to the general public, as is obviously meant in such a section as that in the Act.
I think, therefore, your Lordships will feel that that and the question in regard to the poll are serious defects in the Bill. They are all the more serious when, as I 940 have already said, it is essential to the scheme that the farmers should give the Bill and every letter it contains not merely their acquiescence but their wholehearted support. I hope that your Lordships will feel it necessary to amend the Bill in those directions. We on this Bench feel that there is much in the Bill as so amended which would be of real value to the farmer. We do not share the enthusiasm of the noble Earl opposite, and we feel that hardly any schemes under this Bill are likely to come into full effect until something has been done to control foreign imports. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, pleaded that the Bill should be postponed until that control of imports had been brought into effect. I would point out that this Bill has been before another place for practically the whole of this long Session and has only now come up to your Lordships at a time when you have to rush it through, and when in many cases you would be unable to rush it through. I am one of those who are firmly convinced that the public will decide at no distant date that a control shall be imposed upon foreign imports. Therefore, I am anxious to see the machinery which will enable full advantage to be taken of that situation in existence when the situation arises.
I am very anxious, and those who sit on this side of the House are anxious, that when the control of foreign imports is imposed the farmer shall be the first to receive assistance from the situation. It is because we realise how serious the situation of the farming industry is and how necessary it is that the farmer should have immediate relief when foreign imports come to be controlled, that we are anxious that this Bill should be placed upon the Statute Book in order that farmers may obtain the advantage from that control at the earliest possible moment. We think there are some schemes which might be put into operation even as things are at present, and might enable the farmer to make a better profit, or at any rate a smaller loss, than he is making now. What we really look forward to in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, is that the farmer shall be able to take full advantage of the control of imports when that arises, as we believe it will, at a very early date.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, I want to remind my noble friend Lord Strachie that this Bill is merely the development of a policy in which he himself took a leading part when he was working at the Ministry some twenty-five years ago. It is not an isolated instance of a Socialist job. It is the coping stone of an action which has developed gradually. I would like to remind my noble friend that he was at the Ministry when the State first began to take a hand in dealing with our defects in agricultural marketing, and I should like to persuade him that this Bill is merely a practical, purely non-Party proposal. Nobody can say that it is a vote-catching proposal. Nothing Socialistic can possibly be discovered in it. If it is anything in the political line, it is a compliment to the Dominions which in very many cases have developed legislation on these lines as a necessity of their agricultural marketing, riot all of them under Labour Governments. In the case of at least one Australian State it was a Conservative Administration. From British Columbia to New South Wales some form of compulsion of this kind is in practice.
There is no need to labour the arguments for a Bill of this kind because it is admitted that our agricultural marketing is out of date. Our production is very good, but our marketing is greatly defective; one might say it is our only great defect. Many attempts to improve our marketing have been in practice for almost the last thirty years. It is only because of the failure of those numerous attempts that we are driven to adopt compulsion in some form or other if we are to succeed at all. My noble friend gave a very clear history of the events which led up to the Bill, and there are very few points to add. But it is worth noticing that the improvements for better marketing have come very largely from Conservative authorities. It has not been a Radical or Socialistic movement. We, who have been in it for a very long time, remember that Lord Winchelsea played a very big part in propagating the idea of a direct market between our producers and consumers. The Agricultural Organisation Society was presided over by a well-known Conservative Member, Mr. Yerburgh, and one of its active leaders when I was myself on the Committee was Lord Bledisloe. All the time the attempts for 942 better marketing on voluntary lines of co-operation have been frustrated by the unwilling minorities. It has not been quite unjust that in cases such as the hop combine those minorities have been called "black-legs."
After voluntary activity had failed—it was in the time when my noble friend Lord Strachie was at the Ministry—the State began to take a hand. I well remember how negotiations, started in 1907, led to Government help to the co-operative movement. But by the year 1922 or 1923 failure even of the State-aided co-operative movement had come about, and it was in the time of the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, I think, that the Linlithgow Committee was set up. Meanwhile, organisation had improved in an extraordinary degree abroad. It comes home to one in the most dramatic form when one sees the train loaded with produce run straight on to the ferry double ship at Zeebrugge, and then run over to England to ports from which lorries take the stuff direct to the great markets of Lancashire and Yorkshire on the same day.
In 1923, therefore, the Government entered the field to deal with what was really the main emergency of our producers in a very large section of agriculture. It fell to me, when I was at the Ministry in 1924, to take the next step of instituting the marketing section, and the first duty which the Ministry undertook was the compilation of the well-known Orange Books, which laid the foundations for the action taken in a very few years for establishing the National Mark. While we have seen the extraordinary success of the National Mark in some spheres, it is perfectly evident that without some measure of compulsion the National Mark itself will not yield its full value. In 1929 we celebrated the first entry of English eggs on to the central egg market. How many millions of pounds had been lost in the years preceding that date by the exclusion of English bulk eggs from the market through lack of organisation!
We are told now that the reason for rejecting the Bill is that it does not establish Protection. And it is said vaguely that in some way it injures the farmer and hampers him in competition with foreigners. If you read the debates in another place, and in 943 Committee, you do not find that that assumed injury to the farmer is anywhere closely defined, and you can read in very many of the speeches, especially those of men like Lord Stanley, who have taken part in agricultural co-operative societies, a genuine sympathy with the general principles of the Bill. But you also see that they regretfully conform to the Protectionist formula. Surely, the fact is that the farmer is really strengthened in relation to imports, and the Bill gives him the chance of making the best of the market as it is. If you read the debates in another place you see that no real ground for opposition to the Bill animated the speakers, except the Party tradition which enjoins that an Opposition shall oppose, and except to some degree the pressure of vested interests which are affected by the Bill, though not widely affected, and except, in the main, a longing for Protection, which makes every other proposal seem a rival. It rather reminds one of the boy at school who refused the bun because he wanted the whole cake, although the bun was not alternative to the cake.
The truth about this question of imports is, as Lord Hastings said, that even if you get Protection an unorganised body of sellers in this country will still be overwhelmed by the organised foreigners. It is like an unorganised rebel army relying
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.944
§ on a barbed wire entanglement which will be no protection against modern forces. How, after all, are the farmer's opportunities restricted by the Bill? Does the standardisation of English produce help the foreigner? Nobody has explained that it does. Do long contracts, provision of credits, the disposal of surpluses help the foreigners? That again has been unexplained. If we get Protection the danger of its repeal remains the most crushing disaster to the farmer, and, therefore, marketing reform is perhaps the most solid boon we can give him. We are told that the National Farmers' Union are against the Bill, but we must not suppose that the National Farmers' Union is unanimously against it. There is a very keen division of opinion in the union. The most far-seeing brains are not always in a majority, and some of the best are strongly in favour of this policy. I would venture to prophesy that it will not be long before our farmers regard the provisions of this Bill as constituting perhaps the greatest boon that a Government has conferred on them in modern times.
§ On Question, Whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 39; Not-Contents, 10.943
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Stradbroke, E.||Hastings, L.|
|Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.]|
|Sutherland, D.||Hailsham, V.|
|Wellington, D.||Ullswater, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Aberdare, L.||Marks L.|
|Bayford, L.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|De La Warr, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Methuen, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Clinton, L.||Passfield, L.|
|Morton, E.||Cranworth, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Peel, E.||Danesfort, L.||Snell, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Ernle, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Faringdon, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Swinfen, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Forester, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||Islington, L.||Strachie, L. [Teller.]|
|Doverdale, L. [Teller.]||Lamington L.|
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.