§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.678
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM)
My Lords, I hope the House will allow me to preface the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill to your Lordships' House by referring to the great loss which the agricultural industry has sustained in the death of Lord Ernle. As your Lordships will know better than I, Lord Ernle, who was for many years a member of this House, was President of the Board of Agriculture during the very trying period from 1916 to 1919, and he had to administer the affairs of the agricultural industry during an anxious period of the Great War. I believe that I shall voice the opinion of your Lordships when I say that in this House he was regarded as one who was in a position to speak authoritatively on all aspects of agricultural matters. It is a great loss to your Lordships' House and indeed to the wider public that the noble Lord is no longer with us.
This Bill, to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading, is conceived along somewhat different lines from other farming legislation of the past few years. In the past our chief preoccupation has been to endeavour to provide a remunerative basis for the production and sale of different commodities. This Bill has an equally vital purpose. It is directed towards improving the fertility of the soil and the health of the stock that the soil carries. It is therefore concerned with fundamentals. While it does not in itself represent a long-term policy for the agricultural industry, it makes a contribution which is essential to the success of any long-term policy. It seeks to repair the damage which has been done to the chief capital asset of the industry, the soil, during the long period of agricultural depression. When the producer—and also the landowner—is struggling to make ends meet, he cannot afford to observe as fully as he would wish all the rules of good husbandry, and, in particular, the potential fertility of his land must necessarily deteriorate. Yet it is essential to maintain soil fertility at its highest pitch, whether we are building for peace or guarding against the danger of war. In short, therefore, this Bill embodies primarily a peace-time policy, which is nevertheless in complete 679 harmony with the aim of making agriculture ready to confront any emergency that might arise.
So much for general considerations. I now turn to the actual provisions of the Bill. Under Part I it is proposed to give financial assistance to enable farmers to apply more lime and basic slag to their land. For lime the Exchequer contribution is to be 50 per cent., and for basic slag 25 per cent. of the farmer's expenditure in purchasing these materials and transporting them to his farm. The cost of spreading them on the land will be borne entirely by the farmer himself. All occupiers of agricultural land will be able to participate, smallholders as well as large farmers; for, although no assistance will be given for a smaller quantity than two tons of lime or slag, it will be possible for smallholders, allotment holders and others to combine together for the purchase of this minimum quantity. The word "lime" is used in the widest possible sense so as to include all forms of calciumoxide, hydroxide and carbonate with which farmers are at present liming their land. It would cover sea-sand containing lime, which is, I believe, used by farmers in Cornwall and certain parts of Scotland, and waste lime from beet sugar factories and other manufacturing processes, provided the proportion of calcium in these substances is sufficient to justify the cost of conveying them to the land. Special regulations will be made to cover the case of a farmer who digs chalk on his own land, or obtains it from a neighbouring chalk pit, using his own labour and transport.
The scheme will be administered by a Land Fertility Committee appointed by Ministers, and the scheme may provide for the collection of a small levy, not exceeding 2d. a ton, from occupiers and from producers of lime or basic slag, the proceeds of which will be devoted to research, investigation and instruction in the use and application of lime or basic slag. The advice of the agricultural education staff will be available to all those who wish to participate in the scheme. The scheme will run for three years certain, and may be extended, with the consent of Parliament, for a further one or two years. I believe that the House will appreciate the reason why the Land Fertility Scheme is to be confined to 680 lime and to basic slag. These two substances have a more lasting effect upon soil fertility than other fertilisers; and they are different in so much as we produce all our requirements at home. If imported fertilisers were allowed to rank for subsidy, it would be quite impossible to place any adequate check upon the movement of prices. Lime, as your Lordships are aware, is not a fertiliser in the strict sense of the word, but rather an improving agent whose presence in the soil helps the action of all other fertilisers. Bad times have been responsible for a falling off in the time-honoured practice of liming, and there is plenty of evidence on almost every kind of soil that a return to liming is essential if fertility is to be maintained.
Part II deals with the cereal crops. There is a school of opinion, which received support from the Opposition in another place, which holds that we should not encourage cereal farming in this country. But I contend it is not practicable to divide arable and pasture farming into watertight compartments in this way. They are inter-dependent, and the mixed farm has the soundest economic basis. The Government's intention is to prevent a further decline in the arable area and to stabilise, by certain price guarantees, the production of cereals at a reasonable level. We need a proper balance between arable and pasture, but it is no less necessary to hold the scales evenly between the three chief cereal crops—wheat, barley and oats—since on many types of soil they are by no means interchangeable. Wheat is not a crop that can be satisfactorily grown everywhere, and the payments made under the Wheat Act of 1932 have, as I think your Lordships know, mostly tended to go to the arable farmers of the Southern and Eastern Counties.
It is therefore proposed to provide growers of oats and barley, who have obtained little or no benefit from the Wheat Act, with a measure of insurance against low prices for their crops. In any year when the average price of homegrown oats in the United Kingdom falls to 7s. 7d. per cwt. or lower, subsidy payments will be made to growers of oats and barley at a rate per acre amounting to six times the difference between the United Kingdom average price of oats and a "standard price" of 8s. per cwt. The maximum subsidy per acre is fixed at 681 20s. Owing to the considerable rise in cereal prices, no subsidy would be payable under these proposals at the present time; but payments of varying amounts would in the past have been made if this scheme had then been in operation. Therefore, as I have said, the Government's policy for crops of oats and barley is one of insurance rather than one of subsidy.
The fixing of a maximum payment per acre will limit the possible charge upon the Exchequer. That charge will be further limited by two other provisions. Firstly, the rate of subsidy will be reduced in proportion as the total "qualifying" acreage of oats or of barley exceeds by more than ten per cent. the acreage of the present year. Secondly, subsidy cannot be claimed both for wheat and for oats and barley. The grower must decide each year, on or about June 4, which subsidy he will choose. The wheat subsidy is larger than the oats and barley subsidy and, generally speaking, it would not pay a farmer obtaining average yields of wheat to choose the oats and barley subsidy, unless his acreage under barley and oats were at least three and a half times that under wheat. These provisions should enable us to avoid the twin dangers of an over-production of oats and barley and an unlimited liability upon the taxpayer. I should add that it would, of course, be undesirable to aim at restoring the oats and barley acreage to anything like pre-War figures, in view of the smaller demand for those crops owing to the decline in the number of horses and in the consumption of beer.
As your Lordships will have noticed, the subsidy for barley will be calculated on the price of oats, and will therefore vary with that price. There are two good reasons for this. In the first place, barley is in reality two products, according to whether it is used for feeding or for malting, and little significance could be attached to an average price for all barley. In the second place, the price of oats and the price of feeding barley tend to move together. In fact, prices of all feeding stuffs move more or less together. Consequently, there is no reason to suppose that any unfairness will result from linking the subsidy for barley to the price of oats. Part II also increases the quantity of wheat receiving the price assured under the Wheat Act from six million to eight million quarters. In a year of good har- 682 vests the limit of six million quarters, fixed by the Act of 1932, can be, and has been, exceeded. When that situation arises, the grower does not receive the full price of 45s. per quarter, and the extension that is now proposed will provide him with a better guarantee that he will, in fact, receive the standard price for the wheat that he sells.
I believe that no one will question the value of an adequate and efficient system of land drainage. Arterial drainage has been pressed on with vigour by the catchment boards, and the value of the work embarked upon under the Act of 1930 amounts, with the aid of grants, to the very large sum of £6,500,000. Financial assistance for drainage works in England and Wales is at present limited to work on the main rivers, for which the catchment boards are responsible. Drainage must be effected from the sea upwards to the source, and not from the source to the sea. It would be worse than useless to drain off water more rapidly from the higher reaches, if the lower channels were too choked to carry it away speedily to the sea. But the work on the main rivers has now proceeded so far that the Government feel able to take a further step with profit, and Part III of the Bill empowers the Minister to make grants for work on the lesser streams, drains and watercourses in England and Wales, which are the responsibility of internal drainage boards and, where no such boards exist, for the most part of county councils. Grants will be payable to all these bodies at a flat rate of 33⅓ per cent. for the ordinary work of drainage, but a 50 per cent. rate of grant will be permissible where expensive constructional work is involved, such as the erection of new pumping plant, machinery or sluice-gates or the provision of sea walls. These provisions will run for three years, but the Minister may, with the consent of Parliament, prolong their operation for a further two years in all. It is not proposed in this Bill to include field drainage operations in England and Wales within the scope of the Bill for the reason which I have already given: that an eye must be had to practical considerations, and drainage must be conducted in logical sequence.
Finally, I come to Part IV of the Bill, which many may regard as the most ambitious and far-reaching part. It embodies a long-term programme for the 683 eradication of animal diseases, and it recasts the existing machinery in order to attain that goal. All livestock, including poultry, are included in the programme, which is to be national in scope. Speaking generally, the present treatment of animal disease is in two distinct compartments. There are, first, the Diseases of Animals Acts, which are administered by the Ministry of Agriculture on behalf of the whole of Great Britain, and which are primarily directed against those diseases which are liable to spread in epidemic fashion. Those Acts establish a dual control: control at the ports, to prevent the introduction of disease, and control of the movement of livestock into and out of any areas or premises which are infected. The steady application of these methods has led in the course of years to the extinction of many of the most virulent diseases and to the effective control of others.
Unfortunately, efforts to deal with certain cattle diseases, such as tuberculosis and contagious abortion, have met with little success. The position has, indeed, grown worse, largely because of the increasing ease of communications and the wider adoption of the practice of buying-in animals for the herd instead of breeding within the herd. That practice aids the introduction of disease into areas previously uninfected. The seriousness of disease in our herds was amply shown in the Report of the Gowland Hopkins Committee, which was published in 1934. The figures will be familiar to some of your Lordships. Fifty-eight per cent. of dairy cattle leaving herds are disposed of on account of disease; four out of ten cows are infected to a varying extent with bovine tuberculosis, and about the same proportion with contagious abortion; and the average productive life of dairy cattle is four-and-a-half years, or half what it might well become. It has been estimated that the total annual loss from all kinds of livestock disease amounts to some £14,000,000, or 10 per cent. of the output of our meat, dairy and poultry industries.
Besides the Diseases of Animals Acts, there is legislative provision such as that contained in the Milk and Dairies Acts and Orders and the Milk (Special Designations) Order, under which cattle are subject to veterinary examination. Under 684 these measures the problem is approached from the public health and not from the animal disease standpoint; and their administration is in the hands of local authorities up and down England, Wales and Scotland. With the best will in the world—and many local authorities have combined the best will with the most efficient action—it has not proved possible to make this system a complete success. This has been due to natural causes outside the local authorities' control. Disease cannot be hemmed in by county or by political boundaries. Uniformity of administration is required, and that cannot be provided by a collection of separate local authorities, each working on its own. Consequently, the Government have come to the conclusion that their programme for the eradication of disease requires a reorganised machinery of administration. It is felt that the whole problem of disease must be dealt with as what it is in fact, a diseases of animals service.
It is therefore proposed in Part IV of the Bill that the local and central veterinary services shall be amalgamated into a central State Veterinary Service, and that the area of administration shall be the whole of Great Britain. The veterinary work now being done by the local authorities in connection with the examination of animals for the purpose of securing the purity of the milk supply will be taken over by the State, and whole-time veterinary officers employed by local authorities for this work and that connected with the Diseases of Animals Acts will be offered appointments with the Ministry of Agriculture. There is also, of course, a very large number of veterinary surgeons in the country who are employed on a part-time basis by local authorities. The Government also will have need of the part-time services of these officers and there is no reason to suppose that the transfer of all public veterinary work to the State will entail reduction of the work that they do. Indeed, the demand for their services should, if anything, increase because of the more active and thorough campaign against disease which it is intended to undertake. I gather that the Government's proposals are generally approved by veterinary opinion, which recognises that its capacity for service to the community will be greatly enhanced.
685 These several proposals for fertility, drainage, disease and cereals are not simply brought together into this Bill for convenience. They are interdependent, and the value of each Part of the Bill depends in a very real way upon the inclusion of the other Parts. Taken together, they provide a sound foundation for the creation of a healthy soil and healthy stock on which a more prosperous industry can be built. They are neither superficial nor sensational, and their results will not be seen immediately, but I believe that their value will be permanent, and therefore I trust that your Lordships will generally accept these proposals. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Feversham.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I might perhaps be allowed to associate myself with what the noble Earl said in his opening remarks about the late Lord Ernle, who was a colleague of mine during some very anxious days of the War, and I will say that his stimulating and kindly personality were a comfort and help to his colleagues almost every day. If your Lordships will allow me I will make some comments on the different proposals of this Bill in the reverse order in which they appear in the Bill, and afterwards try to associate them, if I can, with some scheme of policy which the noble Earl suggested in his closing remarks and which I suppose he saw with the eye of faith. I would like to associate myself very heartily with what the noble Earl said about Part IV. One has said sometimes in another place that the Government's agricultural policy is rather a patchwork affair. We had a Beef Bill before us not long since with five different sets of proposals, and here is another one with four. Well, if it is like Joseph's coat, of many colours, this is a good red patch, and I notice that, avoiding objectionable terms, the noble Earl called it national reorganisation. I welcome it under any terms, because it is the beginning of a national veterinary service, a service very badly needed for a long time past.
I am sure all who have any inside knowledge of this matter will agree with the warning which the noble Earl very properly gave that it will necessarily be a considerable time before the full effect of these proposals becomes manifest. I am quite sure that if we had had them a long 686 time ago we should not have had the struggles, which I well remember having to share in, to secure some improvement in the National Veterinary College in Camden Town. We shall all hope, I am sure, that they will lead in the course of time to the recruiting into the veterinary profession of an increasingly high standard of men and an increasing efficiency in its educational establishments. I wonder whether the methods which appear to be proposed for the eradication of tuberculosis are altogether on the right lines. Owing to our lack of knowledge in times past we have been accustomed in this country to engage in mediæval attempts to eradicate disease. When I allude to the slaughter heaps that have followed on an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease noble Lords will understand what I mean.
The question I am going to ask is related to a portion of these proposals. Clause 20 of this Bill provides that:The Minister may, with the approval of the Treasury, expend such sums as he thinks fit with the object of eradicating … diseases of animals in Great Britain.I would like to know whether it is proposed that any of the money thus provided shall be spent in encouraging and developing research. That does not appear to be mentioned in the Bill but it is the beginning of progress. We have now established, with very inadequate finance, an Agricultural Research Committee on the lines of the Medical Research Committee and the Scientific and Industrial Research Committee in the civil and industrial field. Both those other Committees were provided with very large funds and there is no question anywhere as to the immense value of their work. I hope that this provision will be interpreted to mean that the agricultural research branch will be provided very generously with finance.
I had a struggle—in 1931 I think it was—with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and I only got away with a very skimpy sum which was entirely inadequate. If we had had organised and well directed research into animal diseases for a long time past with such pay as would attract the right young men into research and keep them in it, I believe that we should have been much further forward than we are now. Anyhow, I would express the hope that this expenditure will 687 not take the form too much of paying for animals which are found diseased—which of course have got to be got rid of—but that it will aim at seeking to remove the causes of disease which can only be achieved by large-scale, patient encouragement of research.
Now I come to a Part of the Bill towards which I am afraid I cannot be quite so friendly. The noble Earl said with regard to Part III of the Bill relating to land drainage that £6,500,000 was the amount of our commitments under the Act of 1930. I notice that the noble Viscount, who was Chairman of the Commission on whose Report that Act was founded, is now in his place, and I remember very well that the forecast for requirements for ten years for main river drainage under that Act was £40,000,000. We could not have a better illustration of the disastrous short-sightedness of the Treasury in this matter than what occurred in the Great Ouse district not many months ago. That is a district in which the lowly-rated people in a rural area cannot possibly be expected to contribute a large proportion towards the costly works which are necessary. I notice that the noble Earl said that the first thing to do was to let the water out to the sea. I agree, and I wish that his colleagues at the Treasury had borne that in mind during the past six years, because the first section of the work which ought to be done on the River Ouse, as I am sure he is aware, is to take the sea canal through the shallow waters out into the deep waters of the Wash.
All that has happened so far is a niggardly expenditure of £200,000 or £300,000 near King's Lynn. Until this work is undertaken it is quite futile to spend money on the higher reaches of the river, and I hope that what the noble Earl has said means that His Majesty's Treasury will be prepared to make a generous grant, much beyond 50 per cent., in this case. In the Trent catchment area you have thirteen county boroughs, where a penny rate yields a very large sum, but a penny rate in the Ouse area yields a very trifling sum, because it is a rural area and it is impossible to expect that this work will ever be done unless it is looked at as a national responsibility and until the 688 Treasury get away from the local haggling which has held up the work for a good many years in this manner.
I am glad that £190,000, or whatever it is, is going to be spent in grants to internal drainage authorities in Great Britain. The noble Viscount's Report tells us that there are 1,750,000 acres of good land urgently in need of drainage. If that was the figure then, I am quite sure it is much more now. All you have to do is to go up and down the Eastern Counties and many other good areas and you will see excellent land with far too many rushes growing on it, waterlogged and sodden. Why? Because the owner or occupier cannot afford to do any tile drainage, and because the main drainage undertakings have been sterilised for some years past by the kind of proceedings that I have just described. Your Lordships will, I am sure, be merciful to me if for a moment I say why I think this system as it now stands cannot possibly succeed. This vast area of good land—I am not talking about bad land—which needs adequate tile drainage is in the ownership of a large number of men some of whom are very poor. A large number of landowners get a very trifling return from their land. I am not, and never was, one to blame them a bit. What with their annuitants, Death Duties and one thing and another, they cannot afford the great expense which is entailed in large-scale drainage. The owner-occupier is for the most part mortgaged up to the hilt, and he has not got any money to spare at all.
With great respect, my Lords—and this is really Socialism; I would not call it reorganisation—I do not believe that this work can ever be done under the present system of land tenure. Large-scale land drainage is an engineering proposition. Water runs downhill and has no regard whatever to the banking account of the man who owns this field or that. You will allow me, I am sure, to relieve my mind on that subject. For all that, so far as this is useful, we welcome it; but do not let us get it out of proportion: it is a trifle as compared with what is really required. I have no criticism to make of the oats and barley scheme. I do not know to whom the noble Earl referred: I am afraid I had a little parental responsibility for drafting some provisions of the wheat scheme, although I asso- 689 ciated with it certain other conditions which were, I am sorry to say, dropped afterwards. Still, it is an approach to a reasonably stabilised price system, which we believe is essential if ever agriculture is to be put on the basis upon which we all wish to see it.
Might I ask the noble Earl some time or other to reply to two or three questions about the lime and basic slag proposals? In the first place these proposals, so far as they operate at all, if they do operate successfully, should not be limited to three years. I think, as Professor Stapledon says, that we need liming on 20,000,000 acres of good land for twenty years. I do not know whether his figure is an outside figure or not; it is a long time of liming that we need, and I am quite sure that three years is not enough. The farmers will only just have got into the working of it by the end of three years, and if the thing is to succeed at all it must be much longer. The Ministry should inquire carefully into the prices to be paid. I have made some inquiries into the prices of basic slag, and without wearying your Lordships with a lot of figures I may say it was found that 40 per cent. basic slag was priced at Corby delivered on the farm at 62s. 6d., and that basic slag with the same percentage apparently is quoted f.o.b. Antwerp at 35s., and with shipping and loading and discharging costs on the farm at, say, 46s. The Minister of Agriculture has been good enough to provide me with quotations, and I see that the usual basic slag quoted for farmers by different corporations in this country is 15¾ per cent. at about 50s. I understand that if you allow a generous estimate for the grinding, costs for freight, merchanting expenses and so on of this slag—it should be being produced in abundance now because the steel trade is doing so well—the price should be about 30s. a ton, and therefore there is £1 to be added for selling charges and rebate to the furnace.
Before the Minister of Agriculture consents to pay the proposed price for 15¾ basic slag I hope he will have these costs carefully checked. Otherwise we shall find ourselves in this position, that when the farmer has received his 25 per cent. subsidy he will still be paying a big price for basic slag. On the estimate I have given I find that for the principal unit of 690 phosphate, which is the thing which matters in basic slag, the price he will be paying the corporations under this scheme at the price quoted me is 1s. 6d, per unit on the high percentage slag, which can be obtainable at Antwerp, although I do not say it should be, at 1s. 2d. per unit. It is quite clear that these figures of the cost of basic slag need very careful scrutiny, and I hope that the Ministry will not allow the price to be placed so high that the three-quarters which the farmer has still got to pay will be such a figure as he will find difficult to pay.
So far as the general scheme underlying these proposals goes, I confess I am glad the noble Earl places it in the future. There is only one nexus between them, and that is the cash nexus. If we take the series of Government proposals, all of them have the cash nexus. Subsidies amount to £16,990,000 this year—the whole lot—and that is apart from the £1,450,000 proposed under this Bill, the expenditure of which is limited from one to four years. Then there is derating as well; so that it is a large sum of money which the taxpayer is finding, one way or another, through the proposals of the Government for agriculture. As I said the other day, if the farmer was getting the benefit of it perhaps one would be more comforted, but I do not think he is.
And that brings me to a continent in reply to what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said the other day in relation to something I had been saying on the Livestock Industry Bill. If these various devices—bonuses for milk in different forms, cattle, lime and basic slag, milk and wheat subsidies, quantitative regulation, tariffs and all the rest of it—were really effective, I should not be able to quote to the noble Lord the figures I am now going to quote. I think that the head of the Government had some misgiving about the value of this dole system. I see that the clay before yesterday the Prime Minister, speaking at Middlesbrough, said:I have a sort of an idea in my bones that the farmers will presently be coming along and asking for more.I am sure that is a well-grounded apprehension, and the reason why they will be coming and asking for more will be that they are not really getting the benefits that were designed for them. And that is the reason why, with great re- 691 spect, I do not feel chastened by what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said in reply to me the other day.
I was commenting upon the fact that I was afraid the agricultural labourer was not participating in these benefits, and the noble Lord said that if it had not been for these subsidies he was afraid something very calamitous would have happened. He said that this form of assistance has "automatically redounded" to the benefit of the labouring class, and that "it is alarming to suppose what might have happened unless these measures had been taken." Neither he nor I can prove a negative, and I am not concerned to contest what he says. It is I think a fair statement that you do not know what would have happened if there had not been the beet sugar subsidy, for instance. That has helped, I agree, in some districts. Then he went on, however, to say:If Bills before Parliament are expressly to include the labourer, the inevitable consequence will be to lead the noble Lord and his Party into a direct subsidy of wages. There is no other way of benefiting the labourer otherwise than by direct subsidy of wages.I cannot accept that at all. I think that we can create a self-respecting and self-supporting agricultural system which will give the producer a price upon which he can rely, and out of which he can pay decent wages, without subsidies, but only if we are prepared to organise the whole thing on a proper and comprehensive basis. Anyhow, I suggest that the condition has now become so perilous that these methods cannot be continued, at all events with any expectation of success.
Let me give the figures. I have taken them to-day from the Agricultural Statistics. In 1921, all told, there were 996,000 workers, men and women, whole-time and casual, employed in agriculture in this country. Last year the figure was 751,000, a fall of a quarter of a million people employed in agriculture in sixteen years. If you take the whole-time workers there is a fall of 112,000 whole-time male employees. There have been 77,000 fewer people employed in agriculture since 1931, and last year, the only year in which agriculture has had the full benefits of the bounties which have been heaped upon 692 it since 1931, the fall was 35,000—that is all told, workers of all classes. The diminution of whole-time male employees was 15,713. Why did they go? They went because the young men were not satisfied that they had a good enough prospect or the security of a decent standard of life in agriculture. That is why they drifted from it, and, with great respect to the noble Earl, these disastrous figures—more disastrous last year than the year before—show clearly that these devices are not enough.
I believe that we shall not succeed until we decide to have a sufficiently managed price system in each of the major commodities. We can do it, but that will include a sufficient management of the costs of distribution. It is a discredit to an intelligent community that milk doubles its price in a few hours. It must limit the consumption of liquid milk, it must limit the demand, it must increase the amount the producer has to sell at 5½d. a gallon to the factories. It must, pro tanto, diminish the producer's ability to pay decent wages, because nobody can pay good wages on milk which is sold at 5½d. a gallon. We all know that. We have to control the discreditable system of charges which prevails between the producer and the consumer. I believe that is an essential if we are going to succeed in our long-term agricultural policy. For my part, speaking with no partisan bias at all, one would welcome it if, in order to avoid any suspicion that what you are doing is not completely respectable, you gave it a cloak, some other name—say it is "Management," say it is "Regulation," say it is "Control," say it is "Disinterested direction"—anything you like save Socialism. Of course, that would be very objectionable. But, whatever we call it, that is what we shall have to do, in my opinion, if we are to make agriculture the splendid, self-supporting, thriving industry we should all like to see it.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I cannot help feeling, after listening to the noble Lord, that we have in him a valuable recruit to what I may call the Agriculture Group in your Lordships' House. I find it rather difficult sometimes, as I read his speeches on public platforms, to find myself wholly in accord with his political outlook, but I am bound to say that I have seldom heard in this 693 House a speech on agriculture with which I am more fully in accord in almost every sentence than that to which we have just listened. Being a member of the medical profession, the noble Lord is naturally an expert at diagnosis, and in the course of what he said to your Lordships during the last half hour I consider he has most accurately diagnosed some of the more serious maladies from which the whole of the agricultural community of this country is not only suffering now, but has been suffering for at least half a century.
I, for my part, congratulate the progenitors of this Bill, and warmly welcome its birth, not because it is a perfect Bill—very far from it—but because it seems to me to indicate a realisation on the part of a British Government of the nature of the deep-seated canker which has been for at least fifty years slowly but steadily eating away the very foundations of Britain's most vital industry and the welfare of her rural population. If I am a critic, as I feel bound to be, of its illogicalities, its scientific defects, and its obvious concessions to political and, in some respects, local considerations and prejudices, I may say candidly I am very far from being a critic of the present Minister of Agriculture or of his able lieutenant who has presented this Bill with such clarity to your Lordships' House. They have done their best under difficult circumstances to bung up some of the chief holes in a very leaky structure. They could hardly do more in view of the unattractive legacy, what the lawyers would call the damnosa hereditas, which they have inherited from the past.
May I, in passing, pay my tribute to the memory of the late Lord Ernle, as having been an old colleague with him in one of the War-time Governments? The courage, vision and initiative of that cultured English gentleman, and the respect which the whole countryside entertained for his integrity and his frankness were very material factors in saving the nation from starvation during a period of unparalleled emergency. Mistakes were no doubt made during that period—and it is to his lasting credit that there were not more—and valuable lessons were learned, some of which I fear may be forgotten by those who have not sufficiently accurate memories. Two mistakes 694 which we realised all too late, and which are somewhat material to the consideration of this Bill were the basing of our emergency food policy almost exclusively upon wheat, regardless of suitability of soil and climate, coupled with the premium being placed, as I see it is placed in this Bill as regards oats and barley, upon acreage rather than yield. The result, of course, during the War was a ploughing up of much good pasture land, particularly in the West of England and in Wales, which was serving a much better purpose under grass than ever it did subsequently under cereal crops.
But the most valuable lesson in my judgment that we then learned—and I speak as one who was during the most critical period of the War the Chairman of the National Council of County War Agricultural Executive Committees—was the paramount advantage of leaving the industry in time of crisis to control itself rather than attempting to control it from Whitehall. The control then exercised was far more drastic, equitable and discriminating than any that a Minister of Agriculture could have exercised. I wish that this plan of local "farmer control," if I may so call it, could have been incorporated in this Bill. It would be more in accord, I venture to suggest, with the genius of our people, who respond strenuously to patriotic appeals but intuitively resist regimentation.
The Bill itself deals, admittedly in somewhat piecemeal fashion, with four important factors in seeking to revive the productivity of the land of this country—namely, the maintenance of inherent fertility, the stimulation of cereal products, especially of oats and barley, the proper drainage of the soil and the health of our livestock. These are, with one exception and a very important exception, the fundamental conditions of rural welfare, the exception being the nationwide realisation of the basic and indisputable fact that unless efficient farmers of all dimensions can earn their living there can be no confident and continuous enterprise in any branch of the agricultural industry. Had this realisation existed in this country, as it does in most other countries, during the last half century, I venture to suggest that there would have been no need for this Bill except possibly as regards arterial land 695 drainage and the control of contagious animal diseases. As regards the latter it is worth remembering that the control of contagious diseases was the sole raison d'étre for the foundation in 1889 of a Department of Agriculture in this country. It was then realised, and it has come to be realised still more in recent years, that there must be central control in the matter of animal disease, unless in this somewhat overcrowded country disease is to become rampant and uncontrollable. Given decent encouragement and fair treatment, farmers would long ago have worked out their own economic salvation without any recourse to the artificial and in my judgment somewhat humiliating stimulus of subsidies, quotas and marketing boards.
As regards the agricultural labourer, I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Addison, indicate that he realises—as some of his colleagues, particularly in another place, do not appear to realise—that you cannot get more than a pint out of a pint pot. If the industry is not in a sufficient state of prosperity to give a larger wage to its workers then it is no good clamouring for a larger wage unless you want to accentuate the depression and hasten the bankruptcy of this our most important industry.
As regards fertilisation of the land, lime and phosphates are admittedly the most crying need of our surface soil, especially, as regards lime, in the West of England and in Wales, where the normal rainfall is relatively high and the soil relatively sour. Lime and phosphates, it is sometimes forgotten, are the two main constituents of animal bone structure. They must come from somewhere. In their absence morbid and unthrifty conditions are bound to develop among our livestock. I was glad to hear the noble Earl accentuate the fact that the different Parts of this Bill are interrelated, because the longer I live and the more I study the morbidity of farm animals, the more I am convinced that it is very largely due to soil deficiencies which largely exist in this country as well as in other countries of the world. Unless the land is generously treated we cannot expect the animals who live upon it to be in a thrifty, healthy condition. This applies particularly to pigs and poultry whose requirements make a special drain upon 696 these elements of phosphate and lime in the soil, a drain which is seldom made good.
There are two points I would venture to make as an agricultural chemist. One is that lime varies in constitution, and if the Bill, as the noble Earl or his chief in another place indicated it might, stimulates the reopening for land surface dressings of old lime kilns in areas where the local limestone has a high magnesia content, which we are told is poisonous to plants, it may do more harm than good. The other thing I would point out is that basic slag is not the only source of phosphate. Superphosphate of lime, which is very largely used as a source of phosphate throughout the world, is, let us remember, the first of all chemical fertilisers, which had its inception at the Rothamsted Experimental Station in this country, and which we owe, above all, to that greatest and most enlightened of all country squires, Sir John Bennet Lawes, the first director of that institution. Superphosphate of lime is, speaking generally, as no doubt many of your Lordships will realise, far more effective on light soils as a source of phosphates than is basic slag. The suggestion that slag, as more largely the product of British factories, therefore merits a special Government premium upon it does not carry complete conviction to my possibly ultra-logical mind. Its use on all soils seems to resemble somewhat the giving of cod liver oil to a sickly child when malt extract would be a more appropriate remedy. In any case I venture to hope that, as time goes on, superphosphate will come to be included in what is described as the Fertility Scheme. I could have wished that the transport of lime to the farmers might have been entirely at the public expense, as it is in New Zealand under a similar scheme which was initiated four years ago. Otherwise, of course, those farmers whose holdings are easy of access by road or rail to the source of supply of the lime will obtain a larger benefit and, as I think, an undue benefit out of the proposed public subsidy by comparison with those who are not so favourably located.
I am glad to perceive in a certain provision of this Bill a determination to prevent anything in the nature of a monopoly or corner in agricultural lime, such as undoubtedly occurred in the West of England some ten years ago and put 697 lime to a large extent beyond the means of farmers who desired to use it. Although lime and phosphate are undoubtedly the main desiderata, I trust that British farmers will not imagine from this Bill that these are the only medicines that their sick and exhausted land requires. It is to be hoped that potash and other chemical dressings will eventually be brought within the ambit of this so-called Land Fertility Scheme, preferably after a complete soil survey of the agricultural areas of Great Britain, a survey which has been carried out in many countries of the world, which is long overdue here, and in the absence of which, in my judgment, much Government money is bound to be wasted.
This leads me to remind your Lordships that the average English and Welsh farmer, although, thanks to county council instructional activities, he is better informed about plant food and animal food than he was a generation ago, is still far behind his fellow-farmer and competitor in many oversea countries, foreign as well as British, in the matter of scientific instruction such as is necessary to ensure, with a minimum of expenditure, well-balanced fertilisation of his land and well-balanced rationing of his stock. It would, in my judgment, be true national economy to apply some of the money which will become available under this Bill in supplying what I may call peripatetic supervisors, such as are employed in Denmark, who, as a condition of enjoyment by farmers of these subsidised fertilisers, shall have free entry on the recipient's farm in order to afford guidance in their prudent and appropriate application. Otherwise, I cannot help feeling that a large amount of public money is going to be wasted on supplying what will be wrongly used en various farms, particularly the smaller farms, in this country as a dressing for land which really requires a dressing of a different character altogether. I was glad to hear the noble Earl who introduced this Bill say in such clear language that you cannot separate grass land from arable land in this matter of fertilisation. If there is one thing that Professor Stapledon has made more clear than anything else, it is that grass is a crop and has to be cultivated like any other crop if you want to get the best possible kind of output from it. I desire to make no comment 698 on the proposed cereal subsidies, except to urge that a yield basis be substituted for one of acreage, and that the difficult and delicate task of discrimination and condemnation in regard to site and practice reserved to the Minister under Clause 8, subsection (2) be delegated to county agricultural committees, as was the case during the War.
The noble Lord who spoke last referred to my Chairmanship of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage in England and Wales, and in that connection, and reminiscent of the really alarming evidence brought before me and my colleagues at that time, in 1927, I warmly welcome the contemplated Exchequer grants to drainage authorities, for according to the calculations which we made at that time at least one-seventh of the whole of the non-mountainous land in this country is more or less waterlogged or inadequately drained. In consequence its productivity is very materially decreased, and the maturity of its crops considerably delayed owing to depressed soil temperature. When I read of grants being given now to internal drainage authorities, I venture to ask whether there has been taken into account the fact that some of these internal drainage authorities are about to be merged in the catchment boards. I am given to understand that that is what has taken place with regard to the large catchment area of the River Thames. May I assume that where such merger or amalgamation is taking place these grants, available to the internal drainage authorities, will similarly be available to the catchment boards in which they will come to be absorbed?
But the solution of this problem cannot rest where the Bill leaves it. The field drains of our farmers in this country require entire overhauling and relaying, not in the interests of the owners of the land but in the national interest, and without some financial incentive to the owners to undertake this task the food supplies of the nation in war time will be seriously restricted. About eighty years ago, when land drainage was the great cry of the agricultural community, and landowners were more affluent, millions of pounds were spent, but the pipe drains of our fields in many cases were laid too deep and too far apart, and in many cases the pipes have long ago become choked up. Why should Scottish landowners have 699 this definite advantage over the landowners of England and Wales in the matter of grants? Of course I recognise that the Royal Commission on land drainage dealt only with England and Wales and, the Report dealing only with England and Wales, I take it that no catchment boards were set up in Scotland, and it is owing to the absence of catchment boards—and I wonder whether perhaps we would not be better without them—that the Scottish landowners are going to obtain valuable grants towards the re-drainage of their land. Realising how very serious is the state of field drainage in England and Wales to-day, I hope that this great privilege that the Scotsmen, with all their shrewdness, have extorted from the Government will be extended to their neighbours south of the Tweed.
I entirely welcome and endorse that Part of the Bill which relates to animal diseases, first because it provides for slaughter, with compensation, of animals affected with contagious disease of any character—and I trust that this will include contagious abortion, which is far too prevalent in this country—and partly because it makes for greater uniformity and equity of administration than are possible under the present system—a system which gives almost despotic powers to the veterinary officer of a local authority, which he can exercise according to his own discretion, based possibly on insufficient knowledge or upon incorrect diagnosis. In saying that I want to make it perfectly clear that there are plenty of efficient veterinary officers of local authorities, but what is very noticeable, particularly when one lives on the borders of a county, is that the lack of uniformity in the attitude of the different veterinary officers of different counties does appear to operate an injustice in the manner in which the Diseases of Animals Acts are administered locally.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
The Ministry of Agriculture are going to take it over, I quite agree. That is all to the good, and that is why I for my part warmly welcome this Part of the Bill. The noble Lord who spoke last referred, and I think with perfect justice, to the relative 700 lack of progress that we have made in the matter of veterinary research and veterinary science in this country. When I presided over the Imperial Agricultural Research Conference about ten years ago it was admitted by all those attending that Conference from every part of the Empire that in every branch of agricultural research Great Britain was preeminent, except in the matter of veterinary research and veterinary administration, and we all had to acknowledge that South Africa at any rate, under the able guidance of Sir Arnold Theiler, who I am sorry to say has lately died, was doing far more valuable work—and incidentally at much greater expense but it was money well laid out—in South Africa than what was being conducted in this country. I venture to hope that the time has come when the status of veterinary surgeons in this country is going to be improved. Why should those who attend to the ailments of livestock be put in every sense upon a lower status and less generously remunerated than those who attend to the ailments of human beings? There are countries in which in some cases the professions merge one into the other, as they do in Denmark, but in many countries there is not that disparity of status which unfortunately exists in this country and keeps some of the ablest and most scientifically minded men out of that branch of the medical profession.
And finally—and I am afraid I shall not carry this House altogether with me here—I want to make the somewhat revolutionary suggestion that if we desire to build up a sound agricultural organisation in this country, in which not merely adequate wages but what I think even more important, opportunities for promotion and economic independence, are to be open to efficient and keen agricultural workers, and if, moreover, we really want to provide profitable outlets in our over-sea Dominions for people of our own race, we should found our agricultural policy and erect our national agricultural edifice not, as in the past, on the needs of the larger farmer, but on those of the allotment holder and the small family farmer. Sufficient inducements, coupled with a rural bias in our country schools, should be held out to them and their families to make the land the scene of their life's vocation, and the channel of their social and material advancement. Under such 701 a policy, continuously and honestly pursued, the English countryside would receive recruits rather than lose deserters, hope would replace despondency, and the vast fertile spaces of our Imperial heritage would gradually be occupied by British settlers of an experienced and acceptable type. After all, if you are able to benefit those on the lower rungs of the ladder, in an economic sense, you are bound to benefit those who are situate higher up.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I feel it can seldom be possible, and I am confident it can never be wise, to offer unconditional acceptance to any Bill, but with that qualification it is only the truth to say that this Bill is greatly to be welcomed by all agriculturists, more particularly by those who, in and out of season, have preached and prayed that some day the land itself would be recognised as the foundation of any scheme for agricultural betterment standing a permanent chance of probable success. It would be less than human if, having preached this doctrine myself for so many years, I should not feel comfort at that realisation having been at last begotten. But what a ghastly confession it is to those who were brought up in the strict tradition of land ownership which prevailed universally not more than thirty years ago! It is positively shocking to think of the need that a Bill should be introduced into Parliament including a land fertility clause. In those days it was the proudest and first duty of every landowner to make himself responsible for that fertility. In those days he had the power to enforce it, and in the main he had the means to make his own essential contribution to it. To-day he has neither the power nor the means. And why? Because for thirty years unseeing jealousies, political spite, and, above all, fundamental and abysmal ignorance have deprived the owner of the soil of what it was his first duty and privilege to do—not only a duty and privilege to his own good name, but one which, in conscience if not in law, he held himself obliged to do in view of his responsibility to the State.
It is not as if Parliament and those in high places have not been warned, for all through this long period there have been voices crying in the wilderness pointing to what would happen. Now it has happened, and mark you, my Lords, this is only the beginning. To-day we are 702 asked, under sheer necessity, to invite the taxpayer to pay for the re-fertilisation of the soil. Lime is good and basic slag is good, but the land does not live on lime and basic slag alone, and when these two constituents have played their part, there will be others also which will have to be brought into play, and the taxpayer and not the landowner or the farmer will have to pay for them out of sheer necessity. I did not get up to voice a jeremiad, nor to say, "I told you so"; but it is sad to think, now too late, that the position that the landowner used to occupy with credit to himself and advantage to the country has been so undermined that the taxpayer has now to pay for these things himself. These provisions for re-fertilisation of the soil, sad though the necessity of them is, are good in every way. I welcome them. It would be true to say that in many parts of England there are forms of phosphate more suited to the land in those parts of England than is basic slag. It is true to say that not all of England requires lime, but large parts of England do, and large parts do require basic slag, and those parts that do require them are going to benefit very largely from their application. It would be foolish, therefore, not to offer the largest welcome to what is done, always remembering that other things must come if a full refertilisation is to be secured.
I suggested that there might be certain criticisms to offer to this Bill and the criticism which I offer at once is in the title of the Bill itself. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, gave us a list of the various subsidies which have been and are still being paid, and are now being added to for the advantage of agriculture. We see in the title of this Bill "a subsidy to farmers in respect of their crops of oats and barley." The noble Earl, Lord Feversham, admitted that at the present time no subsidy would be payable. It is extremely doubtful if on a rising market, circumstances being what they are, a subsidy will ever be payable in respect of oats; it is an absolute certainty that no subsidy will ever be payable in respect of barley. Yet here, in the title of the Bill, we are invited to pay a subsidy to farmers in respect of their crops of oats and barley. And what is the farmer going to get out of it? He is not going to get a subsidy out of it. All he is going to get is the odium of a subsidy 703 which he is not going to receive. Therefore I have the greatest objection to this particular phraseology in the title of the Bill.
I have already dealt quite briefly with Part I and I move on to Part II. Part II of the Bill contains a number of provisions which are reprehensible in the highest degree. The first of them standardises production. It is not the first time in this House that I have objected to standardisation of production. The noble Earl, Lord Feversham, said, with perfect truth, that a reduction in the number of horses had made it undesirable that oats should be overproduced, and the reduction in the consumption of beer had made it equally undesirable that there should be an overproduction of barley. That is a dangerous statement for the noble Earl to commit himself to. The obvious answer is to say that you must increase the consumption of beer. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, in this House has been holding out to us, and indeed it requires no holding out, the alarm which is generally felt in regard to the migration of agricultural labour to the towns. Has beer nothing to do with it? Is it not possible to conceive that when an agricultural labourer finds himself unable to buy the quantity of beer which it is necessary he should drink in order to perform his function properly on the land, he should be forced into some form of employment where beer is no longer a necessary of life? Whereas beer is in every way a desirable liquid the consumption of which should be encouraged, I do not take it that barley production should be restricted, but that beer consumption should be increased.
But, apart from these pleasantries, it must be entirely unsound to restrict production. It cannot be right. After all, there are many acres of land in this country that are suited to the production of particular crops. Why restrict the growing of the crop to which the land is particularly suited and force the production of some other crop to which the land is not suited? That cannot be sound agriculture. The thing to do is to increase the market for the product to which the land is suited and not tell the farmer no longer to grow that particular crop. I have protested about this before, I shall protest about it again and I am protesting about it now. This is one of the 704 most undesirable features of this particularly undesirable Part, but it is by no means the most undesirable. There are things far worse.
There is Clause 7. Clause 7 has shocked me very much. For years I have taken for granted that here and there in the Ministry of Agriculture there must be one or two men with some practical knowledge of the profession. Clause 7 has forced upon me very reluctantly that there are none, because Clause 7 has no application whatever to practical agriculture. It is stated in Clause 7 that the man who grows wheat shall not be eligible for any assistance in respect of his oats and his barley. If he does grow oats and barley and elects to take what little assistance there may be given to him in that regard, he is not to be able to claim any assistance in respect of wheat. For some extraordinary reason this clause links oats and barley. It is a a complete mésalliance. They have nothing whatever to do with one another. Wheat and oats are alternative crops; barley and wheat are not alternative crops.
In Scotland, of course, they have peculiar habits, and I may be criticised there for what I am saying, but I am speaking with some knowledge of agricultural conditions that prevail from Yorkshire down the whole East coast to Hampshire in the south. In that considerable stretch of country it is possible to grow corn in some form of rotation. If you farm land on a four-course rotation you have one fourth wheat or oats and one fourth barley. If you grow on a five-course rotation you have one-fifth wheat or oats and two-fifths barley, and so on through the various permutations and commutations of cropping and rotations whichever you care to adopt. But never in England do you grow wheat instead of barley or barley instead of wheat. They have nothing whatever to do with each other. Every farm in the south that I have seen has always had both wheat and barley growing upon it. If land is unsuited to wheat, oats will be grown, but there will always be barley.
To say that a man is not eligible to claim the wheat subsidy because he is growing barley as an alternative to wheat is to display truly amazing ignorance. It is incredible that the Ministry of Agriculture should have committed itself 705 to such a clause as this. If they do not wish to pay a subsidy to the barley grower let them say so and be honest about it. We know that there is no such thing given in this clause for the barley grower, but why not say so. Why delude both the corn grower and the public into the belief that there is going to be a subsidy to barley growers when there is no subsidy for them at all? It does not seem reasonable or proper or even decent. The barley grower is going to get nothing whatever out of the Bill except perhaps the sand which it throws into his eyes.
In the matter of land drainage I can only join in the chorus of welcome given to the proposal in this Bill, only in common with all practical agriculturists I would warn the Government that the Bill does nothing like enough. There is here, in Clause 14 (1), the statement thatThe Minister may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, make towards expenditure incurred by drainage authorities to which this section applies in the exercise of their functions in carrying out drainage schemes, grants of such amounts and subject to such conditions as may be approved by the Treasury.Now anybody reading an Act of Parliament, such as this will become, would naturally be disposed to try to discover what would be the percentage of those grants. The local authority or other persons concerned would buy the Act of Parliament and hope to find it. But it is not even possible to find it by reference to the Financial Resolution that was passed in another place. You have to look at the Memorandum introducing the Financial Resolution to discover what those grants are going to be. It is not quite a matter for me to complain about, but I would ask the noble Earl if it is not very unusual and if it is not peculiar, and if he does not think that it would be more reasonable and make the Bill more easy to understand if in Part III words were put into Clause 14 indicating the extent of the grant which the local authority or other authority is likely to be able to obtain. That is hardly a criticism. It is a criticism of the drafting more than of the provisions of the Bill itself.
There are one or two other points in respect of this Part to which I would like to refer. Although it is unquestionable that the drainage proposals embodied in this Bill are most urgently needed, and whereas I would agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Addison, that 706 something far larger than this is required, there is going to be a limitation to the possibilities of this matter which we have not yet taken into account, and that is the labour question. It so happens that at the present time the demand for the man capable and willing to undertake manual labour is tremendous. It is very great; greater than I think any of us has ever known. This, combined with the various disadvantages which have hitherto attached to labour on the land, is causing and has caused an abnormal number of agricultural workers to leave the land. Here in Part III we have an additional occupation for just the type of man for whom everybody is now looking. We must not expect, we must not hope, that at the present time it is going to be possible to do anything like as much as we should wish to do in the matter of this land drainage unless we deplete ordinary agricultural work to an even greater extent than it is depleted already. I only throw that out as a word of warning: in most parts of England the men are just not there to do it with.
Then there is Clause 15, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. With a number of Scotsmen about me, I feel almost anxious and nervous about saying what I think about this clause without turning my back to the Table and looking at them. Clause 15 is an outrage, and all I can say is that, unless the Scottish Peers support me in moving the elimination of Clause 7, I shall have a most vigorous contest with them about Clause 15. Really, there is a limit to what can be tolerated by the unfortunate Sassenach! Here in Scotland is a landowner, quite properly, going to receive subsidy grants towards doing work which it is most necessary that he should do. His English neighbour is to have no such opportunity offered to him, and drainage authorities which in many cases now exist are going to have the distribution and spending of the money which the landowner could so very much better lay out for himself. Clause 15—well, perhaps I had better not say what came to my mind. It would not in any way be disrespectful to noble Lords from Scotland, but it might be thought disrespectful of a Scotsman who is not in this House.
"Part IV: Provisions as to Diseases of Animals." Now, my Lords, here is a 707 very gallant venture. I do congratulate the Government with all my heart on daring to attempt this. I am, again, more than nervous about its operation. I am most fearful of the things which may happen under this Part. I fear, amongst other things, that the Government will attempt to go far too quickly. Here, if ever there was a case for proceeding very cautiously, it is in this Part, and in particular in respect of this venture which the Government are now taking in hand. Our knowledge of animal diseases is not yet sufficiently advanced to justify any wholesale determination in any direction.
Lord Addison spoke with great wisdom of the necessity for research into animal diseases. That is more essential than any other work which could be undertaken in respect of animal diseases at this particular moment. To fly off into the counties and destroy wholesale, on insufficient grounds, would be to create panic among agriculturists without doing permanent good to anybody. There is another feature which I think the Government would be well warned about. They would require a very large and very efficient veterinary staff to carry out these proposals. If they take all the men they will require from the available veterinary surgeons they will remove out of their ordinary work in the counties every veterinary surgeon worth having, and will do more damage than they give advantage to agriculture by putting them into these new pursuits. They want to train a much larger number of efficient veterinary surgeons than now exist before putting in practice the schemes which are adumbrated in Part IV. With those warnings I give a hearty welcome to this Part of the Bill. It is very obviously overdue, and I can only wish the Government well in their undertaking which, if it succeeds, will redound to the immense advantage of agriculturists and of agriculture in our country.
Before I sit down I would refer only in a word or two to one or two general issues, such as were referred to by Lord Addison. The noble Lord will of course remember that when I said what I did say the other day I was not myself advocating a subsidy on agricultural wages. I should regard anything of the kind as literally a counsel of despair, but I did say, and I say now, that it is most undesirable to endeavour to dissociate the 708 three classes engaged in agriculture. What we have to remember is that anything which benefits agriculture itself must always benefit every class engaged in it, and it is far safer to try to devise schemes for the benefit of agriculture out of which the labourer will get his share, than it is to pick upon the labourer and try to give him a benefit without giving to the other two classes any share. That is all I had in mind.
I think it is very necessary and desirable to warn the Government and the House that desirable though this Bill is, welcome though it is to agriculturists as a whole, it is only an instalment of what must follow. We have issues far greater to compete with than those with which this Bill attempts to deal. For years we have been taking out of agriculture money which agriculture has most badly needed. For more than thirty years sums slightly in excess of £2,000,000 a year have been extracted from an industry which requires new money more urgently than any other industry in this kingdom, and there will come a time, and heaven pray it comes soon, when this country will realise that it can no longer afford to deplete agriculture of that money. Year after year the taxpayer's money has been paid into agriculture while all the time we are taking it out. It is folly. It is the fact that the occupier, the would-be farmer, has not the money with which to farm. There is to-day a letting value to small farmers, but all England cannot be divided into small farms; the land is not suitable for the purpose. There is no money to take up large farms, and unless and until the would-be farmer, qualified in other ways, can see his way to credit at a proper figure, we shall not find it possible to farm these lighter lands and broader farms of England to the best advantage. Something in the way of a national credit scheme is most urgently required. Such credit schemes as are now in existence have defeated their own purpose; the rates of interest which they necessitate are crushing to the agriculturalist.
Those are two directions in which real help could be given to agriculture, both of them of a financial character. And finally there is the infinitely greater and more difficult problem of how to retain labour upon the land. That is far the greatest problem which we have now to consider. It far outweighs anything that 709 this Bill can possibly do, and until that problem is solved we cannot really look to a prosperous agriculture. On the contrary, we can look to one which is diminishing both in extent and in value. With these remarks I shall close what I have to say, but on the Committee stage there will doubtless be a great deal more to say on certain of the provisions of this Bill to which strong exception is taken in certain parts of England.
§ LORD BAYFORD
My Lords, the first thing I want to say a word about is a remark which was made by my noble friend opposite (Lord Addison) and that I have heard from members of his Party very often, with regard to the cost to the consumer as compared with the cost of production by the producer, and the enormous amount of money which must go into the pockets of the middleman. That has been said over and over again, and naturally the way by which that drawback is to be faced is by co-operative societies. The noble Lord shakes his head: he would probably say by State distribution instead of by individual distribution. Well, that is really very much the same thing as co-operative societies on a larger scale, and the experience that one after another of us has had in trying to assist co-operative societies has been that they have gone on for a short time and, after a short time, they have been wound up and we have lost whatever money we put into them.
I want now to deal with some things in the Bill. With regard to Part I, I do not think anyone is likely to quarrel with it seriously. It is a Part that we all welcome. On Part II I do not think that one need comment at all, because I think that it is unlikely to come into operation. I hope that it will not come into operation, because I believe that the price of these two cereals will not fall, in the time for which the Bill extends, below the limit that is there fixed. On the drainage question, which comes in the next Part of the Bill, I want to say something. I welcome this drainage. As my noble friend Lord Bledisloe said, it is overdue. It is absolutely necessary in great parts of the country. In my own part of the country, all over Sedgemoor, the land is going back and back. This year we had something like 60,000 acres under water for four months. That is 710 not an unusual thing. It happens whenever we get a wet winter, and a great many of these fields are now growing rushes more than anything else. We have a big scheme for carrying out very extensive drainage works. Towards that the catchment board contributes, but the Government contribute a considerably larger sum than does the catchment board. Even these two do not make up the whole of the money that is going to be spent on the scheme, and they have had to come to the county council to ask for a special grant towards effecting this large scheme of drainage. It is quite a good way, no doubt, for the county council to spend its money, but the unfairness of it lies in this.
There are three contributors to this work. One is the catchment board, representing the owners and occupiers of the land, the second is the Government, and the third is the local authority. Supposing the scheme is a success—and we devoutly hope it will be—it will raise the value of that land per acre to a very considerable extent indeed. It may very well raise the rental value by £1 an acre. That will mean that there will be a very large return upon the money that has been spent. A considerable amount of that will go to the owners and occupiers, a considerable amount will be taken out of their pockets in increased taxation and it will go to the Government, and if the scheme works out as it is hoped, it will more than recompense the Government by paying a considerable amount of interest on the money that the Government has advanced. The only body that gets nothing out of it at all is the local authority. I would ask the Minister in charge if he would have that matter looked into, and if he could see whether there is not some way by which, now that the land is altogether derated, some return should be made to the local authority for the large sums that may be spent in that way.
As to Part IV of the Bill, I should like to start by saying that I do not want to take anything away from the Scotsmen. Their scheme in this respect for veterinary surgeons seems to differ entirely from what we have in England, and if, in order to meet the purposes of their scheme, there are certain Amendments they want to introduce, I should be the last to urge the Minister to say them nay. I am dealing with the scheme 711 as it applies to the English counties, and I quite realise the reason for this scheme. The veterinary surgeons have been called in for this comparatively new work of inspecting cattle for tuberculosis. It has been found that the services they render lack uniformity, that the practice in one county is different from the practice in another. That, of course, is not desirable. We want to see that altered, but at the same time we want to see it altered with the minimum of friction, and what I would suggest to the Minister is this. All the veterinary surgeons who are employed in this work in a county are county servants working solely for the county. They will be taken over by the Government. But in a great many counties that is not so. In those counties one or two veterinary surgeons are whole-time men for the counties, and a great deal of the rest of the work, in fact the whole of it, is done by the local practitioners. I want to ask the Minister whether, when the Government scheme comes in, those local practitioners who are doing part-time work will lose their jobs. If so, I presume they will want compensation. Who will pay the compensation? Will it be paid by the Government or will it fall upon the county council?
I hope the Ministry will exercise a very great discretion in regard to the men whom it appoints. After all, this work of inspection is one that requires not only a great deal of knowledge but also a great deal of tact, and I do hope that the Government will see that they appoint not only men who know their jobs but also men with considerable knowledge of dealing with people. I have heard some controversy about this veterinary question. Am I to understand that there will be no further veterinary expenses for these services falling on the county councils at all and that the whole thing is taken off their shoulders? I should also like to know whether they are going to take on in their service, when they can, the part-time men? If so, I hope, as my noble friend said, that they will exercise the greatest care about it, because there are not too many veterinary surgeons scattered about the rural districts, and it will produce quite a serious situation if the best of them are picked out by the Government and taken into 712 Government service, so that the ordinary individual who wants the service of a veterinary surgeon cannot find one within reach. As I said, I welcome the Bill as a whole, and I hope it will have a safe passage through this House.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me, and I am bound to say a somewhat unusual one, to congratulate heartily the Government on an agricultural measure. I have two grounds for doing so. The first one is that this is a comparatively simple measure. I went to a meeting of a farmers' club the other day. There was a man who spoke there who had farmed half his life in the Argentine and half in England, and he was asked after he had spoken what was the difference between the two. "Oh," he said, "the difference is quite simple. When you farm in the Argentine the whole of your working day is given over to farming, but when you farm in England half the day is given over to filling in forms and wrestling with Government inspectors and officials." I am glad to think that under this Bill the labours of the ordinary farmer will, I think, he very little added to.
The second ground is that this Bill seems to me to be the first step along a new path. It is a short step but it is a very necessary step because it deals with the condition of the land, and without land in good heart I think we shall agree you cannot get anywhere. I venture to hope that it will not be very long before His Majesty's Government take another step, and that that step will deal with the man who has his living to make out of the land. I do not think that any one on either side of your Lordships' House would attack the good intentions of this Government with regard to agriculture or the great efforts they have made, and I have a feeling that some among the members of the Government will feel that there is a certain ingratitude on the part of farmers towards the efforts they have made. But you know, my Lords, that neither the farm labourer nor the farmer can live entirely on good intentions or on efforts. He judges, and must judge, by results, and it is by results that you will ensure his gratitude.
I noticed the other day that a speaker in another place, not taking quite the same line as the noble Lord, Lord Addison, who spoke so admirably just 713 now, said that he had worked the whole thing out quite carefully and he had found that during the last eight years—I think it was eight years, but it might have been ten—the farm labourer had got a shilling a week, that he was perfectly certain the farmer had got nothing and therefore the landlord must have got the lot, barring that shilling. It was quite a reasonable statement, but I think he forgot one or two things. He forgot in the first place that it is most easily demonstrable that the landlord's rents have not gone up and that his maintenance costs have gone up by 75 or 100 per cent.; and therefore he would not appear to be very much better off. Next he forgot the agricultural wages boards. I can recall not so very long ago when the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, who is so conspicuous now by his absence from your Lordships' House whenever an agricultural measure is brought forward, introduced the Agricultural Wages Bill into this House. He said it was a magnificent measure, that it was a charter for the agricultural labourer because it would ensure for all time that the agricultural labourer would get his full share of any prosperity that was going. I should very much like to know whether in the opinion of the noble Lord opposite that has remained a charter or whether it has been a failure. If the money has not gone to either of the three people I have mentioned, where has it gone? I think a little of it has gone, as the noble Lord said, to the middleman, but I think the bulk of it has gone to the consumer. He has got the bulk of that money in the form of cheaper food, and I recommend the consideration of that point to His Majesty's Government.
The present Minister of Agriculture said the other day, if he was correctly reported, that the aim of the Government was to ensure prices to give a reasonable profit. An even better way of putting it, if I may say so, was the phrase used by the noble Lord opposite when he said that farming must be made to pay. I thought that a remarkably good sentence, rather better than the words used by the present Minister. Either statement will do, but it is not by words but by fruits that we shall know them, whether in the past or whether in the future. I have the greatest sympathy always with the 714 Minister of Agriculture. It is always rather a wonder to me how any one is got to be a Minister of Agriculture, to tell you the truth. After all, we know that 93 per cent. of the people of this country do not live by agriculture or care for agriculture, and therefore the Minister is up against the people who want the votes of the majority. He is usually up against the Treasury, the Minister of Health, and the President of the Board of Trade. As a lover of the soil I am deeply grieved over the feeling of this country towards agriculture. After all, we have had an instance of it to-day. Before dinner we had a debate in this House concerning the rights and wrongs of some 400,000 Arabs and some 400,000 Jews. There was a most interesting debate, a full House, a crowded Press Gallery and most admirable speeches by Cabinet Ministers and eminent orators. Now, after dinner, we come here, we few—I cannot even say, "We few, we happy few," can I? because I do not know that we are happy, and we are not confident of the result of our efforts, either. That is a serious and a sad thought which I have towards this matter.
Just a word or two on the provisions of this Bill, so far as they have not been spoken to already. The first is with regard to lime and slag. I think the Government have made out a good case for limiting the assistance to these two things, but I must confess that I was disappointed in the percentage of help that they are given. I hoped it would have been a higher percentage, because, as my noble friend Lord Hastings has so justly pointed out, and I think other noble Lords as well, the capital of farming in this country has so largely gone now that in many cases it must be very doubtful whether they will be in a position to pay the half and three-quarters that they are called upon to pay.
Now taking Part II, with regard to wheat, in the first place I would point out—I do not know whether that has been pointed out; I expect it has—that this Bill will not cost the Government anything. It never has cost the Government anything, the wheat measure; perhaps that is why it is so successful. But this will cost nothing in any case. It is welcomed, and most certainly welcomed by me, because it is an assurance to the 715 farmer that he will get, at all events, 44s. out of the 45s. that is available. But what I want to suggest to the noble Earl below me is this. I believe that, either next year or the year after, the standard price is to be again reconsidered. I wonder whether it would not be possible to expedite that reconsideration. Surely this is a very good reason to expedite it and to raise that standard price by a very considerable sum. There are two good reasons. The first is that the price of wheat throughout the world has gone up by at least 10s. and there is no sign whatever of its going down, none whatever. The second, and I do not think that anyone in this House, or anyone else, can doubt it, is that the cost of growing wheat since the Wheat Act was started has gone up by at least 5s., if not more. I commend that to the consideration of the noble Earl.
With regard to barley and oats, how I conceive this took place was that, when the question of wheat was decided on, the Government gave a sudden start and said: "What will our friends in Scotland say? Everything gone for those infernal fellows on the East Coast! Something must be done about it." So, with lightning rapidity, they said, "Do something for oats and barley!" I should like to see our friends in Scotland getting a lot, but it does not seem to me that they will get anything at all as the matter stands at the moment. I must join my noble friend Lord Hastings in saying that it seems to be a remarkable thing that under a clause of this Bill the assistance to the two cereals should be alternative, coming from a Government who have said again and again that balanced agriculture is the thing they want. And then they say, "Well, it is one or the other."
Now as to drainage. It is a regret to me—and I hope it is merely a postponement—that this drainage does not go further than it does. It does not go to the ditches, pipes, etc., and I am not entirely convinced with the argument that you must get rid of the water below before you get rid of the water above. When I was a boy the fields were pipe drained and the ditches were cleared out. There were no drainage or catchment boards, but the farmers got the water off their farms, and would have been 716 ashamed if they had not. How is ditching and, in the main, pipe draining done? It is done in this way. After the winter corn is in, and before the spring corn is in, there is a shortage of work for the men on the farm. Generally there are two or three men whose services can be dispensed with, but when I was a boy they were always used in draining. Now they are turned off, and of course they can get the "dole," or whatever you call it, but if they were assisted it would be a direct subsidy for employment, and I sometimes think that a subsidy for employment is the only subsidy that is economically justifiable.
Finally, I would say a word about the diseases of animals. I share with my noble friend Lord Hastings the very greatest fears en this matter. I am entirely at one with the Government in what they aim to do, and my only fear is how it will work out from the point of view of the farmer. I do not like putting myself entirely in the hands of a body of scientists. I fear that I may be putting myself in the hands of a body of cranks, and I am the more full of these fears because I notice that in the Bill the only disease mentioned except the diseases of poultry is tuberculosis. There is more misapprehension and more nonsense talked about bovine tuberculosis than any subject in the agricultural world. I heard it said, to-day, by a person fully conversant with this subject, that 40 per cent. of the cows in this land were reactors. People are getting frightened to drink milk. It is a scientific fact, though you may not be aware of it, that nearly 90 per cent. of your Lordships are reactors, but you do not die because you have a resistance to the disease; and a very high authority has said that a little tuberculosis is a very good thing but a lot of it is a very bad thing. Of the 40 per cent. of reactors only a very small minority, I think about 4 per cent., are dangerous, inasmuch as they give milk which might cause bovine tuberculosis. Those animals can be discerned by clinical examination and I do not think that any clinical examination can be too careful to get rid of them, but I do say that where these animals are got rid of, and prove to be healthy, full compensation should be given.
In this matter we heard research mentioned, and I would myself ask that one of the earliest forms of research should 717 be research into the tuberculosis test. I believe everyone connected with cattle knows that the double intradermal test at present in use is utterly unreliable. Veterinary surgeons themselves say that in the hands of experienced veterinary officers it is 90 per cent. effective. Ninety per cent. does not appear to me to be very good, if you work it out in pounds, shillings and pence, but that is only in the hands of experienced and knowledgeable officers, and I do think that this subject should be very carefully investigated. It is one of the first methods of research which should be gone into. May I point out that the veterinary profession have said that the size of the wound is not of itself of any value? Yet in every sale of tuberculin-tested cattle you will see particulars of the size of the wound given; and it is the same with regard to cattle exported abroad. I very seriously suggest to the noble Earl that that is one of the very first forms of research for which money should be used.
I also regret in this particular instance to find in the Bill no mention of contagious abortion, or indeed anything else—only tuberculosis is mentioned. And in the Financial Resolution I find what seems to me the most remarkable thing, namely, that only those herds which have been fortunate enough to become attested with Government help are to have the advantage of further help with regard to contagious abortion. I hope that the noble Earl will give some explanation on the point. It seems to me quite incapable of explanation. This clause is going to cost the farmers a lot of money. The livestock producer is without doubt going to be financially penalised. I know the Ministry think that he is going to get an advantage in the longer life of his stock. I think that is a false hope. I have for many years had one tasted herd and I have had one accredited herd. There has been no difference whatever in the life of them, and I somewhat doubt whether it is very desirable that cattle should be kept in a herd after a certain time. My own belief is that after ten years in ordinary cattle, and after twelve years in Red Poll cattle, the life of an animal is wasteful in the stock. A cow is an uncertain breeder and is liable to form disease, and I doubt very much whether she is an economic proposition. I have made certain criticisms, but ray final remark is this, 718 that I regard this Bill as the first small step along a road leading in the right direction, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, there are experts in this House who have dealt with the first three Parts of this Bill, and now it is a chance for Scotland, and perhaps a hope for Scotland. I wish to refer your Lordships to Part IV, which deals with the transfer of all veterinary services from the county councils to the State. The Association of County Councils and Royal Burghs of Scotland, of which I am a member, are strongly against this Part, and they are against it because they feel that the great progress that has been made in Scotland during the last few years with regard to the eradication of diseases among animals will be retarded, if not definitely set back. I hate to criticise this Bill, because I, like all your Lordships, am in entire agreement with the ideal behind it. The Association of County Councils are also in entire agreement with the ideals of the Government, but they consider that these ideals could perfectly easily be carried out in Scotland, at any rate, without transferring the present county veterinary services to the State. So strong is the feeling that they have about this that they have suggested that it be moved in Committee that Part IV of the Bill should be deleted, and that the Government should bring in a new Bill dealing with the veterinary services after consultation with the local authorities. I personally do not agree with this, as such action, if passed through Parliament, of which there would not be the slightest chance, would set back for a definite period all hope of grappling with this very important problem.
But I do desire to protest very strongly against the method by which this constitutional change is being carried out. The Gowland Hopkins Report was presented to Parliament in May, 1934, so that while the Government has taken three years to decide on its policy, Parliament is asked to pass this Bill within a few weeks of that policy being declared, and before the local authorities who are vitally interested have been consulted at all. The Government adopted the unusual course of securing a Financial Resolution in another place before the terms of the Bill were disclosed. The Bill was introduced 719 immediately afterwards. First and Second Readings were taken on successive days, and the Committee stage was taken in a week when most Scottish members, at any rate, were up in Scotland on the occasion of Their Majesties' visit to Edinburgh. As a matter of fact, several Amendments were put down on behalf of a certain member of the House of Commons, but unfortunately he was unable to be in his place. The Bill will take away all power from local authorities to provide these veterinary services. It is a direct revisal of the policy of the Government as expressed in the Local Government Act where larger local authorities were constituted in order that larger executive powers should be conferred on them. It is also contrary to the policy of the Trunk Roads Act where the Government take over the roads, including all finance, but have retained the executive position of local authorities by constituting them their agents.
It is extraordinary how this Bill slipped through another place. One can only surmise that members did not realise its implications. What is to be done is unprecedented in local government. The Government are taking the administration of the veterinary services out of the hands of local authorities, and the Government officers will give orders to officers of the county council, because you cannot separate the veterinary services from county drainage and health. Although I understand the Government will pay for the new veterinary services, yet the ratepayers will still have to pay the police and for advertising, &c. In other words the ratepayers will be paying partly for the Government service. I do not say that the amount will be large, but the principle is deplorable. We in Scotland would almost prefer that the Government should take the diseases of animals administration entirely out of the control of the county councils. There is a difference to my mind between England and Scotland, in spite of what English Lords have said, as regards progress in the eradication of disease in animals. There are, of course, backward counties in both England and Scotland, but, taking it as a whole, Scotland has been much more progressive than England. In my own County of Ayr there are 221 herds which are T.T.—in other words, which are licensed as free from disease, 720 and we have also 23o attested herds. I understand that is far better than the whole of England put together. There are other counties in Scotland which are nearly as good.
In the more progressive counties, where the local authorities have developed a coordinated medical veterinary and bacteriological service, we are considerably concerned that the proposals of this Bill may seriously affect not only the veterinary services but also the health services generally. In respect of these public health services, the veterinary officer is only one link in the chain of control, the other links being the sanitary inspector and the county medical officer of health. Now it is proposed to break this chain, and, important as animal disease may be, surely public health is of more importance. The danger of this severance is aggravated in Scotland by the fact that the laws of public health are different from those in England where the veterinary service is to be controlled from London; the Department of Health for Scotland being in Edinburgh. Scottish local authorities are, therefore, greatly concerned as to the relationship between officers of the new service on the one hand and the Department of Health, the local authority and the medical officer on the other.
We are afraid that with the divided control in veterinary public health questions the essential close liaison is being destroyed. To give your Lordships an example, I may remind you that in the Bill the present veterinary officers in Scotland will be retained. The best veterinary officers will be retained, but instead of being responsible for a county they will be responsible for an area. Take Ayr as an example. Supposing the veterinary officer in Ayr has charge of other counties in Scotland, say those of Wig-town, Dumfries and the Stewartry, some of them hundreds of miles away. At the present time the veterinary officer is able to step across a passage and confer with the medical officer of health and with the sanitary officials, as occasion may require him to do. Under the new scheme he will be unable to do this or to carry out those measures which are required in Scotland. It seems to me that it would be difficult to keep in the future that splendid liaison which we have had all this time.
721 One last word. There is no guarantee in the Bill that whole-time veterinary inspectors or local authorities are to be transferred, as Lord Bayford said, to the Ministry staff, nor that part-time inspectors, who are essential for some districts, will be employed in future in carrying out the transfer duties. I recognise that during this debate in another place certain assurances were given, but why not incorporate them in the Bill, especially since no provision is made for compensation being payable to any inspector who may not be transferred or who may suffer loss of salary through his transfer? Of course in terms of the Financial Resolution such provision cannot now be incorporated in the Bill, but surely the veterinary inspectors of local authorities are entitled to the same consideration in respect of compensation as officers of other branches of public service who have been transferred from one authority to another. If no compensation is given a dangerous precedent will be established. We cannot embarrass this Government because it is a strong Government, but I do hope the noble Earl when he replies will give some assurance on the points I have raised.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, at last the turn of Scotland has come. We have been waiting all the evening to put Scotland's case. I agree with what the noble Earl has just said about Part IV, but I should also like to say that we in Scotland do recognise that the National Government have done more for agriculture than any other Government in recent times. This Bill is another earnest of their resolve to go on helping agriculture, which really is one of the most important industries, if not the most important, because it is a country industry and other industries are generally based on populated centres. While I say that, I must disagree with my noble friend Lord Hastings when he complains of Scotland getting a subsidy. England has been getting a subsidy all through the depressed time, whereas Scotland has had no subsidy.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I beg my noble friend's pardon, but I did not object to Scotland getting a subsidy. What I objected to was the suggestion that barley was getting a subsidy when it was getting nothing of the sort.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
Why should barley not get a subsidy? The wheat grower has had a subsidy, but wheat is a crop we cannot grow in Scotland. We in Scotland think we should have equal treatment and get a subsidy on the cereal crop which we can grow. England can grow wheat, and because English farmers have been getting a subsidy they do not now require it, as the subsidy has raised the price of wheat. I hope that may prove to be the case in Scotland, but until we are helped in some way we cannot get our price. It is only now that the suggestion of a subsidy for oats has been put in black and white that the price of oats has begun to rise. People in England cannot complain of beer not being helped, because I remember that not very long ago there was a discussion in this House on hops. Hops were aided, and therefore beer was aided. Why should not the national beverage in Scotland be aided by Parliament and the national food in Scotland, oatmeal, be helped by a subsidy on oats? It has to be remembered that Scottish agriculture cannot be compared with English agriculture, because we have a different climate and different circumstances to deal with in Scotland. Therefore I thank the Government very much for at last implementing a promise which was more or less made in a very good speech in the City of Aberdeen, some eight years ago I think, by the then Prime Minister. We have had to wait, but we are thankful for mercies even if they are delayed.
There is one other point which I believe my noble friend Lord Saltoun is going to raise but to which I should just like to allude. Throughout the Bill the date June 4 is mentioned. That is the date, I believe, on which a general census of produce is taken, but it is not a date which applies very well in Scotland. The date in Scotland for taking or leaving a farm is May 28, and I think reference should be made to the occupier before May 28, because the man who comes in has to pay for the work which his predecessor has done on the land. It seems to me quite wrong that there should be no notice taken of the custom in Scotland—namely, May 28. I should like to see a new clause added to this Bill: "Application to Scotland." There are one or two clauses and subsections which apply to Scotland; my noble friend has 723 already objected to Clause 15, just because there are no catchment boards in Scotland. Perhaps the noble Earl in charge of the Bill might consider the inclusion of a Scottish application clause during the next stage of the Bill. I will not weary your Lordships with further suggestions from Scotland, but simply say that we in the North welcome this further earnest of the Government to help agriculture as a whole.
My Lords, I do not wish to weary you at this time of the night by talk of barley, wheat, oats or even Clause 15, which caused a certain amount of controversy, but confine myself entirely to Part IV of the Bill: that dealing with animal diseases and the veterinary service. I have had a very long experience, both in my own herd and in the herds of my neighbours, of the double intradermal test, and the longer that experience has been the more clearly has it been proved to me that this test is one of the most valuable tests the farmer has for diagnosis. Once again I would say, if properly administered; and it is the basis of the whole of the veterinary services of this country. In the past there has been too haphazard a choice of those who were to administer the test, which has led to anomalous results, and to a lack of confidence among the farming community in the value of this test. I have had exactly the same experience of the agglutination test for contagious abortion, and I am convinced in my own mind that this, if properly applied and not just made on one individual occasion, is of the greatest possible value and certainty in the diagnosis of disease.
I fear that if the figure which has been named on some occasions, of some 550 veterinary surgeons, for this great centralised veterinary service is correct, it will mean that considerable time will have to be wasted. I cannot believe that a central service of anything approaching that number is required. I cannot believe that there is any necessity for more than a nucleus to carry out the services of co-ordination and of supervision. I believe that as much use should be made as possible not only of those halftime men who are already in the employ of the counties, but also of the general practitioner in veterinary surgery. Under the present scheme in force in Scotland 724 —the attested herd scheme—there is a provision that the man who brings the herd to the state of supervision or attestation is entitled thereafter with proper supervision to carry out the routine test. That proves that the man is capable of doing his job, and that is all that we want to get at: the men in the county who are capable of doing their jobs and the men who are not.
Any service which says to the veterinary surgeon in private practice, "Go along, help us to draw this man to the stage where his herd is free from tuberculosis, and the more quickly you do it, and the more efficiently you do it, the sooner will you lose your bread and butter," is a scheme which is bound to fail, because the farming community have the greatest possible respect and affection, I may say, at least in our part of the country, for the general practitioner in veterinary surgery. I would maintain that the greatest possible use should be made of the central staff purely for supervision and co-ordination, and of the general veterinary practitioner for carrying out the general work with proper safeguards.
Then the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, brought up the question of the taking over by the Government of other services than those which are contemplated by this Bill: that is, the inspection and passing of dairy premises, the inspection of meat in the abattoirs. These services are done sometimes by the medical officer of health, sometimes by the sanitary officer, and sometimes by the veterinary officer. It is a most anomalous position that the sanitary official should have to be called in before any decision can be come to as to the eligibility of a herd for a tuberculin tested certificate—a man who has no experience whatever of dairy conditions, and yet who has the say over a man whose job it is to be skilled in such things. It will inevitably lead to friction, and I fear that if the inspection of dairy buildings is left in the hands of sanitary officials, and the inspection of the animals themselves is taken over by a centralised State Veterinary Service, it will lead to greater friction than ever. I urge upon the Minister the desirability of taking over the whole of these services out of the hands of the local authorities and overcoming these possible, not to say probable, causes of friction.
725 I come now to Clause 21, which deals with compensation. I believe it is essential that compensation should be paid in cases where eradication is being set up. I think it should be essential where there has been a wrong diagnosis and valuable animals have been destroyed. I think this affords a desirable opportunity of doing away with a piece of legislation which has served no useful purpose since it was passed in 1925, and that is the payment of compensation under a tuberculosis order. In 1925 there was some reason for saying that compensation was desirable so that the farmer might be persuaded not to conceal indurated udders in his herd. Nowadays, with the constant supervision, which is to be intensified in the future, there is no chance of his concealing it for long, and there is no excuse whatever for a man being allowed to keep on his farm cow which is not only a danger to public health, but also to the man's own herd and those of his neighbours. I am not dealing now with the cow which merely reacts, but with the animal which is condemned under the Tuberculosis Order, 1925. I hope the noble Earl will consider whether it is necessary still to continue compensation under that Order.
The next point I will call attention to is Clause 22. There seems to be an anomaly that an area which holds an attested certificate is not subject to restriction as to pigs and poultry. Pigs, as we all know, are most susceptible to tuberculosis, and have been the cause of many reactors in otherwise disease-free areas, and it seems strange that you should place restrictions upon the entry of cattle into those areas from outside while pigs are allowed free entry without restriction. Poultry are a slightly different problem. I do not believe they are anything like the same danger. Pigs, however, should, I think, be under control as to importation into an attested area, or areas which are in process of being freed from disease under Clause 22.
Then I come at last to a question brought very clearly to my notice last year, when I was privileged to serve on a committee investigating the livestock improvement schemes in Scotland. We learned of a poultry station scheme whereby certain poultry breeders, if they wished to do so, may receive a certificate and have the health of their stock attested regularly on condition that they supply sitting eggs at certain specified 726 rates. It is in the knowledge of every one of your Lordships that disease in poultry has reached such a stage that many of us believe that we shall have to go back to the foundations in order to try to build up once more a healthy stock. There is no certification of poultry flocks in this country. It is proposed under Clause 23 of this Bill to set up stations for testing poultry free of charge. I would press upon the noble Earl in charge of the Bill the importance of not wasting money in this direction, but of setting up accredited flocks of poultry, just as we have set up accredited and attested herds of cattle. There should be no trap nesting conditions in connection with these flocks. There should be a low restriction of production for the cockerels used, say 180 to 200 eggs; but the emphasis should be laid on the fact that these flocks should be free from all disease, hereditary or contagious, and that any deaths among them must be reported to the county staffs or the various veterinary authorities, who would be able either to give them a clean bill of health or to send them to a central laboratory where they can be diagnosed. I believe that that is most important for the well being of the poultry industry in this country.
Now, to come to the provisions dealing entirely with Scotland. You have heard that conditions are different from what they are in England. It is essential to my mind that if the Diseases of Animals Acts are to be administered from the Ministry of Agriculture in Whitehall there should be the closest possible liaison with the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. I would suggest that we should have a liaison officer permanently in Edinburgh who should be in the closest touch with the various Departments in Scotland and with Scottish conditions, and that he should be given, in the early years at any rate, a certain discretion in the administration of the various orders, which would allow him to suit his orders and administration to the conditions which exist in Scotland. And over and above that I believe, not because Scotland is separated from England, but because some parts of Scotland are a very long way from Whitehall, that a central laboratory for the diagnosis of disease in poultry or in cattle should have a subsection in Scotland, so that delays in diagnosis may be avoided.
727 It is not only the case that delays occur in diagnosis, but that a number of carcases arrive at Weybridge in such a condition that no diagnosis is possible. It is impossible to send a carcase from Caithness to Weybridge on a hot summer day and expect it to arrive in a condition that will encourage any bacteriologist or chemist to take an interest in his work. Therefore it is essential that there should not only be a liaison officer who will keep in closest touch with the Scottish Departments in Edinburgh, but that there should be a branch of the National Veterinary Laboratory in Scotland, either at Glasgow or Edinburgh.
One more point. Reference has been already made to research. I heard not long ago of a man who went with a largo sum of money in his pocket to give to a clinic for research into rheumatic diseases. When he arrived there he asked how much research work they were doing, and he was told none, because they had to treat so many patients. That is exactly what has been happening in agriculture. The Government have been treating so many patients that they have not had any time or money to spare to find out the cause of the diseases. I hope that all these research and educational institutions will not be forgotten, but that the research workers, who are working at the present time for salaries which no commercial firm would think of offering to scientists and chemists of equal standing, will receive more consideration from the Government in future than they have done in the past, and that we may be able to say with confidence that we are not only getting the finest service from our research workers but that we are paying them a salary which will recompense them in some way for the work they are doing and for the years they have spent in equipping themselves for their work.
My Lords, I wish that the occasions were more frequent, and that we did not have to sit up so late at night, to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, speak. My noble friend Lord Hastings, quite inadvertently and without any previous consultation with me, at the beginning and at the end of his speech took all my opening remarks. Your Lordships will admit they sounded 728 extremely well from his lips. I should like to carry them just a step further and say that if it had not been for the reckless plundering of the land by this Government and all its predecessors over so long in the past this Government would not have been under the necessity of setting up such an infinite number of boards and similar agencies for controlling everything connected with the production and marketing of agricultural produce. By doing so the Government, politically speaking, have in a sense placed themselves in the position of Providence, with this difference, that while civilised people have ceased to pay their clergy in accordance with their success in rain-making, the Government are politically accessible and a succession of bad seasons will put them in difficulties which may be very serious owing to the responsibilities which they have assumed.
I notice that the noble Earl avoided Clause 11 of the Bill. I am in the happy position of being able to inform your Lordships that I can scan, parse, and construe Clause and that entitles me to deal with a point that arises in Clause 6 on page 5, line 20, which says that the subsidy, whatever it may be, is payable tothe person who, at the beginning of the fourth day of June in that year, was the occupier of any farm in the United Kingdom, comprising land then under oats.The usual removal day at the end of a tenancy in Scotland is May 28, and the law in Scotland is that the crop belongs to the man who sows it. Now it is not the case—and I hope the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will not give me this answer, because it really is not the case—that the crop is invariably taken over by the incoming tenant. I know many cases, and there are many different reasons why the crop should not be taken over very often by the incoming tenant.
I myself at the end of the tenancy of a farm have had to see to the reaping of my crop which was in the North of Scotland while I myself was in Edinburgh. But that kind of thing is always happening everywhere in Scotland. I know that legally there is one way of looking at it. One says that the incoming tenant gets entry to the houses and pasturage lands at Whitsuntide and he gets entry to the corn land on the separation of the crop from the ground. I do 729 not know whether that is good law or not, but it is certainly a point to avoid because I do not think it is accurate. But whatever interpretation may be suggested there can be no doubt under any law who the person is who at the beginning of June 4 was the occupier of a farm comprising land under oats. He is undoubtedly the incoming tenant. That means that the Government, according to this clause, are going to pay to the man who has absolutely nothing to do with the oat or barley crop, except such part of it as he may obtain by purchase, the subsidy which should properly go to the true owner of that crop, who is the man who sowed it, the outgoing tenant. I should not like myself to have to draft an Amendment on this point and I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give me an assurance. It really is a matter for a Government draftsman. It is a serious point.
The only other Part of this Bill that I have to criticise is Part IV. I will try not to trespass on what other noble Lords have said on this subject. The Association of County Councils in Scotland feel the introduction of this Part of the Bill to be a very retrograde movement for Scotland. In the first place they feel—I think we all feel—that this Part of the Bill is so important of itself that it ought to form the subject of a separate Bill. But if that is not the case I do not think it is a fair thing to Scotland to introduce this Bill and to pass it through all its stages in another place before the county councils of Scotland have had a proper opportunity of seeing it. Many of them have had no opportunity of meeting before it passed through all its stages in another place so that it has really not been considered by them. That is serious for Scotland because Scotland has a very creditable record in its public health services.
For instance, in the City of Aberdeen during the last eighty years the death-rate has fallen from one half per cent. to one-twentieth per cent., and I presume Aberdeen's other services have succeeded in the same way. In the County of Aberdeen we have a very carefully co-ordinated public health service with a chief medical officer, a veterinary officer and a bacteriologist. All these work together in the Department. Suppose the chief medical officer diagnoses a case of tuberculosis, the bacteriologist gets on to 730 it and says it is bovine tuberculosis. Thereupon the veterinary officer immediately functions and gets the whole thing put right. Part IV is going to interfere very seriously with our county organisations in a case like that. Again, if an animal dies different counties have different ways of dealing with the matter. In the County of Stirling, where they have three county veterinary officers and excellent road communication, they can get a man to that carcase in three hours at the outside. In Aberdeen road communication is not so good and there is only one veterinary officer, but the county officer makes use of the services of local veterinary surgeons and they are in a position to perform the same service. Our local authorities are very anxious that Scotland should be excluded from Part IV, but they are more than willing to put into force any schemes which the Ministry wish them to execute.
If, as so often happens, the interests of Scotland are incompatible with those of England we are the last people in the world to forget our partnership. What the county councils say is that they will content themselves with asking that the Minister shall take over the whole administration of the Diseases of Animals Act, because they say it is not fair to leave them with responsibility for the expenses of the administration of the Act if they are deprived of control. We think we deserve some consideration in the matter. The Diseases of Animals committee recommended—it was their first recommendation—that the veterinary services should be expanded under the immediate control of the local authorities. If the Government are going to take a directly contrary course it is only fair, I think, to grant this very fair and reasonable request and an Amendment to carry it out will be moved in Committee.
One other point I would like to make has reference to the First Schedule. The average price of oats in Scotland is 2S. 6d. per quarter below that in England. The Schedule provides for a single average price in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The heavy weight of the extra acreage in England coupled with the difference of 2S. 6d. in price will have the result that Scotland will feel that a subsidy is payable when the presence of England in the calculation of the average price excludes it. This, on 731 top of the fact that Scotland is very ill adapted for growing wheat, and for that reason is unable to benefit to the same degree as England from the wheat subsidy, will be felt as a real grievance, and therefore I would ask the noble Earl to consider whether he cannot give each country a separate average.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, in the course of his speech drew a distinction between this debate in your Lordships' House after dinner and the debate before dinner on Palestine. The noble Lord expressed regret that there were not more members of your Lordships' House present to discuss the fundamental issues that are contained in the provisions of this Bill dealing with the great industry of agriculture. I naturally share that regret, but I think I shall be expressing the general opinion when I say that if we have lacked quantity we certainly have had quality. I believe that if any agriculturist, whether he be from Scotland or from England, were to compare the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debates, on agricultural matters in general and on this Bill in particular, in another place with the REPORT of those in this House, there could be no doubt in his opinion that the fund of knowledge on all the relevant matters of present-day administration of the land is of a far higher quality in this House than it is in the other place.
I have listened during this debate, not only to the particular issues that have arisen out of the provisions of this Bill, but also to those fundamental aspects which have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and taken up by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and indeed by a number of your Lordships who have spoken. I feel that your Lordships will not expect me at this hour to endeavour to reply to the many points that have been referred to in each of the separate Parts of the Bill; but with your permission I should like to refer to what I consider some of the major issues that have been raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Addison, referred to the price of basic slag and asked what safeguard there will be against part of the subsidy being deflected from the farmer to the supplier through an increase in the price. I am glad to be able to say that 732 steps have been taken to ensure that the subsidy goes where it is meant to go, and that is to the occupier of the farm. The question of price was discussed confidentially beforehand with representative bodies in the lime and basic slag industries. As a result, the producers of basic slag have agreed that, when the Scheme comes into operation, they will reduce their prices by 6d., 9d., or 1s. per ton according to grade, below the rates ruling on May 1 this year—that is, before any announcement of the proposals was made. The Central Association of the Lime and Limestone Industry of Great Britain, whose members supply the bulk of the lime used in agriculture, have also agreed to charge, when the Scheme comes into operation, prices no higher than those normally ruling on May r of this year. In regard to the point raised by Viscount Bledisloe, the arrangements in the cage of both lime and slag provide for variations of basic prices (up or down) to correspond with ascertained variations in the cost of wages and fuel; but it will be necessary to have an accountancy investigation before any increase in price is made, and there is provision in the Bill to that effect.
It was a gratification to me, whose task is not made any easier, as the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, by the fund of knowledge that has been delivered to-night and to which I have to reply, to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, generally bless this Bill; but as his speech proceeded so did his criticism of certain parts of the Bill, and the noble Lord saw fit to describe Clause 7 as quite incredible, and neither reasonable, proper nor decent. I think Lord Hastings has no justification whatsoever for making that statement. He comes from the Eastern part of this country, and in the normal rotation of crops there the farmer relies in a large measure upon the production of wheat. He has also in the past been able to rely upon the production of beet sugar.
But I think that the noble Lord must have had a lapse of memory when he said that the subsidy for barley growers would not in fact operate. There are tracts of land which range from the East of Scotland to parts of Yorkshire where, owing to climatic and soil conditions, it is impossible for a farmer who recognises the rules of good husbandry to grow wheat. It is those farmers who, during the last 733 few years, have had to rely upon barley and oats as their mainstay in cereal production, because they are unable to grow wheat or sugar beet. As I said in my earlier speech, the intention of these proposals is more an insurance than a subsidy, but there are a large number of farmers in those parts of the country to which I have referred who will derive direct benefit from the barley subsidy, because they are unable to claim any subsidy on wheat. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to enlarge his vision with regard to the benefit which this proposal will give.
The noble Lord, Lord Bayford, and a number of your Lordships have referred to the drainage proposals, and it has been said by noble Lords who have taken part in the discussion that the Government have not really tackled the problem because they have neglected to give for England the provision made for Scotland as regards facilities for field drainage. I would repeat, in spite of what Lord Cranworth has said, that whereas in past days where the farmer saw to it that his main drains and main streams running through his farm were well cleared, now owing to one circumstance or another those main drains are very often blocked. It is the intention of the Government, under the auspices of the internal drainage boards, to get those main drains and those subsidiary streams and watercourses clear. The next logical step would be a system of field drainage such as they have in Scotland.
In Scotland there is no equivalent of the internal drainage boards, and the financial assistance which it is proposed to give in England and Wales under this Part of the Bill will, in consequence, not be applicable to Scotland. But field and hill drainage works in Scotland, owing to the topographical nature of that land, have been provided for by Exchequer assistance, and such works will, under this Bill, continue to receive assistance, although at a rate of grant of 33⅓ per cent. instead of 25 per cent. as at present. There is no doubt that, owing to the lie of the land in Scotland, they have been able to provide a system of drainage there that does admittedly assist the individual farmer to a greater extent than has been possible in England. But we hope that, under these proposals, we shall be able shortly to inaugurate a policy whereby the individual 734 farmer will benefit from the middle course of draining the lesser streams now that the main-river schemes under the catchment boards are being undertaken.
I would now turn to the points raised so successfully, if I may be permitted to say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, and Lord Saltoun. There are three points which I believe are in the minds of most of the noble Lords who represent Scotland, and I should here state that it is a matter of regret to me, as the one in charge of this Bill, that your Lordships have been put to some considerable inconvenience owing to the fact that these proposals have had to be considered at such short notice. I hope that in the further stages of the Bill I shall be able to co-operate with your Lordships in discussing any Amendments that may be necessary, in order to facilitate the proceedings on the Bill before Parliament rises.
The point first raised was, I think, that many local authority veterinary inspectors have done excellent work in their districts in Scotland, and have gained the confidence of farmers, and that therefore it would be a mistake, on their transfer to the Ministry's service, for such inspectors to be moved to other districts. A second point was that a central veterinary service should not exclude the employment of suitable veterinary practitioners as part-time officers. I would wish to assure the noble Lords that I think that the apprehensions which they have expressed on those points are to some extent unnecessary. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has assured the County Councils' Association that the importance of maintaining to the fullest possible extent the local connections made by these inspectors while they have been working for local authorities is most appreciated by him. He has further said that every endeavour will be made, both in the interests of the officers themselves and, indeed, of the efficiency of the service, to reduce changes to the minimum. These will of course be matters for consultation with the local authorities before the change-over to the centralised State service is effected.
As regards the full-time veterinary inspectors employed by local authorities, I would say that it is proposed to invite 735 whole-time officers to accept appointments under the Ministry, subject of course to the conditions normally attaching to the State Veterinary Service, which include an age limit with as generous an interpretation as possible. There can be no doubt that in the minds of those who formulated the plan for a central State Veterinary Service the activities of the part-time officer of the local authority will still be necessary under the new scheme. Further, the general practitioner who has such a great influence in his district in the eradication of diseases will, through the stimulus given by the campaign for the eradication of disease, be more likely to have a greater volume of work to do, and his services, where required, will be utilised by the central body. I wish to give that assurance to the House.
In these circumstances the question of the part-time veterinary surgeon does not seem to arise in quite the same form as noble Lords have expressed. An adequate whole-time staff is essential for the effective conduct and uniform administration of a campaign which is to be national in its scope. But there will be a considerable amount of work for which the part-time services of private practitioners will be needed, and I wish strongly to intimate to noble Lords that the scheme should work more satisfactorily than they at present believe, partly because the point stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, as to the necessity for a liaison officer for Scotland, will be agreed to by the Minister. There will be a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture appointed to Edinburgh, acting as a link between Whitehall and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. I believe that system will largely assist in bringing the standard of England into line with the high standard that exists to-day in Scot-and, and it will be our aim to see that the conditions ruling in this country are brought up to the high level that they maintain in Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised a point under Clause 6 with regard to the date on which the tenant leaves his farm after having sown one or more crops for which subsidy is provided under the Bill. The Bill provides that the subsidy 736 will be payable to the person in occupation of the land on June 4. Some date must be fixed, and this is thought to be the most convenient date because it coincides with the date on which the occupier of an agricultural holding must render his agricultural return to the Ministry. If a change in the occupation of the land takes place in the course of a year the question of any subsidy that may accrue will no doubt be taken into account in the usual arrangements between the outgoing tenant and the incoming tenant. It would, I think, be impossible to fix a date that would suit all circumstances, and it has therefore been felt wise to fix a date that is most convenient both from the point of view of administration and also from the standpoint of the farmer, who will be able to make his claim, except for the present year, at the same time as he renders his annual returns.
For the present year the forms for the making of claims will be issued early in September, but they will of course relate to land which was sown under barley and oats on the 4th of June last. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, will appreciate that no payments can be made until after the following 31st of March, as the average price has to be calculated for the seven months September to March. It is for those reasons that the Bill provides that it is the person in occupation on the 4th of June who will receive the subsidy. I will, however, further inquire into the point raised by the noble Lord and if I can meet him in any respect I would be very glad to intimate it at the next stage of the Bill.
I regret that I have not been able to cover more fully the important points that have been raised in discussion on the Second Reading, but I hope that I have said sufficient to allay certain fears of the Scottish representatives in your Lordships' House as to the proposals of Part IV of the Bill. Meanwhile, I shall be glad to discuss the whole question, which only came to my notice this afternoon, with my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at eighteen minutes before one o'clock.