§ LORD PERRY had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the economic and social necessities arising out of the decision by His Majesty's Government that a. healthy and well-balanced agriculture should be a permanent feature of national policy; and to move to resolve, That the Government should now state its plans for giving effect to this pledge. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Resolution which I am submitting for consideration o this afternoon deals with a subject which I think your Lordships will agree is urgent and replete with every justification for immediate action. I feel it rather Gilbertian, having regard to the terms of the Motion on the Paper, that I should, so to speak, try to tell His Majesty's Ministers what I expect them to say in reply and the steps that they are asked to take in carrying out the policy which has been advocated. Having an idea that His Majesty's Government have a policy and something to say about it, it is extremely difficult, certainly for one like myself so inexperienced in procedure, to anticipate them; but although as I say the situation is a little Gilbertian, that is what I am bound to do and what I am now going to do.
§ There is no intention whatever on my part of criticizing His Majesty's Ministers or embarrassing them in any way. I believe everyone interested in this particular subject understands how extremely difficult the position of Ministers is at the 674 present time when they are asked to declare any long-term policy and attempt to give effect to it adequately in war conditions. It is a matter for congratulation, therefore, that not only your Lordships' House but the other House, the Government themselves and, I venture to think, the whole country are of one mind in desiring that there should be a statement of policy and that so far as possible the policy should be a long-term one and should be carried out. I would remind your Lordships that as a form of property and as an industry agriculture occupies a very peculiar position. We have in this country only so much land. It is a form of wealth that we cannot increase by increasing the quantity of it. All that we can do is to improve its quality. A great authority has said that in agriculture if you do one thing late you are late in all things. Every true agriculturist knows the very great difficulties that he has to meet which are peculiar to his own endeavours. He cannot be an opportunist. He must have a policy, not for to-day or to-morrow merely, not for this year or next year only, but for a long series of years if he is to render good stewardship of the property he is occupying and get the best out of his land.
§ Agriculture in this country, certainly during the last hundred years, has had a most unfortunate history. With the rise and growth of the industrial revolution, as industrial pursuits became paramount in this country, and the population grew rapidly, in order to keep pace with the prosperity of our exports during the nineteenth century we had, almost as an economic necessity, to import foodstuffs. This afforded the most ready means by which our debtors could pay for our exports. Probably, if our ancestors had had more prevision they would not have taken that payment—at least not so liberally as they did, and to the detriment of our home industry—but in fact that is what happened. It was, if you like, economic common sense, but it has landed this generation in a most unfortunate position. For some time agriculture has been the Cinderella of our industries. Because of its very attractiveness it has become almost a drudge, or, at any rate, it has been treated like one.
§ Some of us of my generation, after the last war, believed in and hoped for the advent of a Fairy Prince; not that we 675 wanted the special treatment that Fairy Princes are supposed to give but we were anxious that agriculture, our Cinderella, should have equitable treatment vis-à-vis the Ugly Sisters of Industry. At the end of the last war, during the period of which very strenuous efforts had to be made to increase our home production of foodstuffs, we received from the then Prime Minister, who had recently been returned to power at the head of a great majority representing all political Parties, assurances as to the permanent future of agriculture which were very encouraging, and we were very hopeful. But within a very short period the popular clamour and demand for economies found expression which, through the "Geddes Axe" Committee, resulted in agriculture being practically thrown into the discard, and the country reverted to a policy of what was called cheap food. We know now—of course it is very easy to be wise after the event—how disastrous that penny-wise-pound-foolish policy has been to our country. I am sure your Lordships will agree that when, because of the pressure of the present war, it became necessary to stimulate the production of home foodstuffs, it was a very poor and weak sort of, story which had to be told to the farmers in asking them to step again into the breach and produce foodstuffs at home. However, the farmers have done so with quite astonishing results. A good many of us would think them almost miraculous results; and I am sure that everyone concerned is to be most heartily congratulated. As a country, we were, I think, very fortunate in that Providence gave us, as Providence does give on these occasions, a Minister of Agriculture who was resolute, enterprising and almost inspired. He has been served by a staff who have been able to apply their labour and their prescience—if that is the right word—with remarkable intelligence and adaptability. The Minister of Agriculture has been very careful, and properly so, about giving any pledges as to the post-war future of agriculture. There have been a good many announcements on the subject by various Ministers, but I would call attention only to a statement made by the Minister of Agriculture in November, 1940, which has been repeated since; It is a very careful announcement, phrased in language which 676 in the circumstances was not very encouraging, particularly having regard to what has happened in the past.
§ The whole subject of the future of agriculture has received attention from various organizations and bodies concerned. Pronouncements have been published by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the National Farmers' Union, the Conservative Party and others; in fact, there are six printed documents all purporting to advise and instruct His Majesty's Government on this subject. The general demand is for a continuation of the form of encouragement which was applied in the last war, and which has been used again in this war—that is, guaranteed prices for farm products. Sometimes the guarantee has been specifically as to price, and sometimes maximum prices have been fixed, in which case experience has proved that the maximum price has always been realized by the producer. As was probably necessary in the circumstances, any maximum price has been fixed at a figure which is not an accurate figure to provide a proper reward for the products which have been marketed. The principle which has been followed has been for the guaranteed price to be unduly high, and personally I would say extravagant in many cases. No doubt it has had to contain a reward, not perhaps for the least efficient farmer, but at any rate for the average poor farmer. When regarded from the point of view of a reward for efficiency, and certainly when regarded as something for permanent application, the calculation of guaranteed prices by the Government has not been accurate.
§ What is wanted now and, notwithstanding the difficulties, what is asked for now, is a guarantee by the Government of future prices, and particularly of post-war prices, or a policy which will fix post-war prices so that we may have a maximum of dependable assurance which will remove forebodings and which will liberate the energy which must be devoted to the restoration on a permanent basis of a prosperous agriculture. This demand for guaranteed prices, if looked at realistically, means nothing more than the demand for guaranteeing a living, and a good living, to everyone engaged in agriculture. That is rather a tall order, and I can quite understand the hesitation of Ministers in committing themselves in any way, or at any rate in committing themselves in a way 677 which will give grounds for hope that the policies adopted will be binding on their successors.
§ Since 1931, our country has played with tariffs as a pseudo-protection for our agriculture. I say "played with" because Government action has never covered the field properly and thoroughly. I do not know what your Lordships think, but I imagine that the terms of the Atlantic Charter would not permit of the re-enactment of tariff protection for our industries in this country. I cannot read Article 4 of the Charter with a simple mind and then believe that any industry can be protected by means of a Customs tariff. Nor can I believe that the present system of food subsidies can be permanent. I understand that at the present time approximately £150,000,000 a year is spent in subsidizing food or in encouraging our domestic farmers to grow more essential foodstuffs.
§ As I see it, the guaranteed prices which are asked for cannot be provided by the indirect methods of the imposition of tariffs or the granting of subsidies. Fortunately there is a third method open to His Majesty's Government, which will not make any claims upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which had been in use for some years before the war and had been satisfactory to everyone concerned. I refer to the provisions of the Wheat Act, 1932, and the way in which the Wheat Commission made a deficiency payment for the growing of wheat to our British farmers. That certainly involved a guaranteed price, and it certainly restored one item of food production to a profitable basis. I think that the experience which the country has had of the operation of the Wheat Act is altogether encouraging. It has worked satisfactorily, thanks to the co-operation of the milling and baking and grain industries. It was not found necessary to have any central purchasing board, and if all branches of agriculture were in the happy position of the grain trade, I think it would be possible to apply the principles of the Wheat Act to all essential foodstuffs and work with a minimum of political interference. In fact, the Wheat Act involved very little interference or bureaucratic control. Beyond the enabling Act itself, I think political influence was negligible. But I am afraid that, with the many different forms of essential food products, 678 we would have to have a central authority, which would be a monopolistic buyer both of domestic products and of imported foodstuffs. It would be a central board or boards, worked by practical people, and in that regard the present operations of the Minister of Food at least have made quite clear that the assistance of practical business people is forthcoming to help control of this nature when it is appreciated that such control is necessary.
§ This matter of prices is so wrapped up with the operations of the Ministry of Food that I would like to emphasize that the Government have at their disposal a good deal of practical experience gained by the working of the Ministry of Food, and I think the experience is not only valuable but so good as to warrant a continuation of the policy. Although the application of guaranteed prices to such an industry as agriculture is a very large order, I think that society in all its forms considers it to be necessary. But it will have to impose safeguards. I think any of us would like to be guaranteed an income without responsibility, so that we might grow our products, or make our goods, and be sure of a profitable price for them, irrespective of whether we grew the right stuff or made the needed material. There are, therefore, and must be, two sides to this demand for stabilized and guaranteed prices, and in considering the matter and looking over the situation which has, as I think, warranted this demand, is it possible to say that the parlous position of British agriculture has been brought about entirely by circumstances over which the agriculturist—the estate owner and the farmer—has had no control? Is he at least partially; actively or passively, responsible for the present state of affairs? I do not think you can examine the subject exhaustively and avoid the conclusion that in general the past conduct of agriculturists is largely responsible for the present situation.
§ Estates have been neglected, land has not been property worked, and the method of marketing agricultural products, so far as the producers themselves are concerned—apart from the stray efforts of the Milk Marketing Board and some little endeavours of that sort—would be the high road to bankruptcy in any business. It has been the practice of the farmer to grow his product irrespective of whether it is wanted or not, without any proper co-ordination of supply or consideration of market conditions. To grow your crop 679 and send it to market, and submit to a state of affairs in which it is marketed through perfectly irresponsible channels by a pack of gentlemen working for commission only, who have nothing at stake in the particular product they are handling—because that state of affairs has prevailed now for many years in the marketing of our main food products—is in itself evidence of stupidity, negligence and self-interest on the part of farmers themselves.
§ At any rate, at the present time the demand for guaranteed prices that is put forward is very much in the nature of seeking public relief, and if I may use the phrase which is so well known in other connexions, there is necessarily attached to public relief something in the nature of a means test. There must be, it is unavoidable. If guaranteed prices are to be given to agriculture, there must be some measure equivalent to a means test. Please do not criticize that phrase too particularly, but I hope it conveys my correct meaning. Farmers have to be instructed, they have to be advised constantly, they have, I regret to say, frequently to be compelled, and it would be idle for any Minister to lend himself to a guarantee of prices unless he were sure that the goods were going to be produced as and when the Government wanted them, particularly as agricultural products are secured from a wasting asset such as land. So that we shall have to have a continuance of control and the advice of the Ministry of Agriculture through the county war agricultural committees. If we ask for guaranteed prices we must at the same time say that we will work for those prices in such a manner as is laid down for us by an authority which takes into account all considerations, wherever prevailing throughout our island. I therefore suggest that the county war agricultural committees should be continued into the peace years, and that they should be given powers, of course under the central authority of the Ministry of Agriculture and properly settled by Parliament, which would be plenary powers within the rule of law.
§ I do not suggest that there should be any delegation by Parliament of what I call creative authority. With the growth of professional politics in recent years there has been a tendency in another place to—"down tools" shall I say? At any 680 rate, not to complete the job; and it has taken the form of passing clauses in various Acts of Parliament which enable Ministers to make orders and delegate their authority. Your Lordships had a very interesting debate on that subject yesterday at which I was not fortunate enough to be present. That cannot be allowed, and I am not suggesting that in any shape or form. I am not suggesting that there should be any delegation of creative authority, but that Parliament should, as it ought to do, properly discuss the powers to be granted from every angle and in all their applications, embody them in a Statute, and then entrust the appropriate Minister with the administration of them.
§ I can myself envisage the setting up of an extension of the Great Unpaid—agricultural magistrates—who would be served by a professional staff and who would be entrusted by Parliament to secure, first of all, that agricultural land, when once properly selected as good land upon which to grow our foodstuffs, should remain agricultural land and never be exploited for any other purpose. That would be one of the first duties. Having done that, they must then see that the land owners and the farmers use the land and perform their duties with intelligence and continual industry. The country, in my opinion, can never become self-sufficient in essential foodstuffs so long as we have a population of 47,000,000. We have therefore to import a good deal of our necessary foodstuffs. We are in this rather unfortunate position that our near neighbour, Holland, enjoys natural advantages which make competition with her in certain foodstuffs, in a Free Trade world, impossible or, at any rate, place us at a very great disadvantage. It will be more obvious, perhaps, that we cannot compete in a Free Trade world market with the virgin lands of Canada and the Argentine or with tropical countries with cheap labour such as exists in India, Japan and China, in such necessary articles as rice. That we cannot do. It therefore becomes more incumbent on the Minister and his executive to see that we get everything possible out of the land we have at our disposal. In this connexion I would like to quote the case of Denmark. It is within my lifetime that Denmark has become a leading exporter of bacon, eggs, butter, and cheese. There is no reason at all—no economic, Indus 681 trial, or climatic condition or any other reason I can possibly adduce—why this country should not produce butter, eggs, and bacon as cheaply as they are produced in Denmark, if only the job is tackled with the same industry, the same prescience and application, as the Danes put into that particular form of endeavour.
I have tried to show your Lordships how, if the guaranteed prices are conceded, they can be financed and how the industry can be supervised by using means we have at hand. We have experience of the Wheat Act in respect of prices, we have the experience of the Ministry of Food in respect of centralized monopolistic purchase, and we have the experience of the Ministry of Agriculture in respect of the supervision and proper treatment of our own land in this country. May I read a note about the duties of the war agricultural committees?
They will keep all agricultural land under constant inspection, and where there is any sign of its. deterioration or that its productivity demands additional expenditure or drainage, fertilizers, buildings, housing accommodation, etc., will make a detailed survey and require the owner to carry out the necessary improvements or maintenance.
These duties are a national concern and involve the preservation and utilization of national assets which cannot be neglected or destroyed merely to the loss or detriment of the private user or owner, but involve the interests of the whole country. There are some idealists, recognizing the essential responsibilities of land ownership, who would like to nationalize land. We all know by experience that a change of ownership is not necessarily an improvement. Speaking from personal observation of changes of ownership, where public authority has taken the place of private enterprise, the change has rarely been for the better. The path to the preservation of land as a national asset does not lie in the direction of public ownership.
§ To carry out improvements and maintenance will involve the expenditure of a great deal of money, and there is no justification for expenditure unless the results are going to be economically profitable. It will be the duty of the county committees to satisfy themselves on this point before making the demand. Broadly speaking, the necessary expense may come under two headings, one of them being the provision of public services and the other investment for the improvement 682 of private property and the purchase of new assets. Under the heading of public services I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to the mixed problem of land drainage. That is really a major problem. There is perhaps no other particular item that you can put your finger on which is of such crucial importance in its call for immediate attention if our agriculture is to be prosperous. The public authorities are concerned with land drainage because, however well a farmer may drain his own land, the storm water has to be carried away by public authority and the present catchment boards and internal drainage boards are very unsatisfactory. I leave it at that. Their powers should be extended and coordinated and they should be impelled and inspired by a national motive rather than a parochial one, which is the manner in which they at present operate.
§ Then there is provision of fresh clean water on the farms. This is a crying necessity. It is not always possible for private ownership to undertake this duty. I personally think that it is a great necessity and requirement of a public authority, be it municipal or public utility, to provide clean water for the use of farms, particularly dairy farms, and for the comfort of rural dwellers. It is just as necessary for them as it is in urban districts and it should be so provided. That is a matter for State control, as is also the provision of electricity. In these days mechanical power is an absolute necessity on farms as well as in other walks of life. It is really little short of scandalous to observe that electrical power is carried over the land of farmers from one urban district to another, very often past the very door of the farm,, yet the power is not made accessible to the farmer. That is a state of affairs, again, which it is the national duty to remedy if agricultural prosperity is to be achieved. There is also the question of roads and transport which again fall to the State to provide and maintain rather than private enterprise. But if I can put sufficient emphasis on these necessities which the State must provide then I think I can be satisfied to leave all the other financial requirements to be provided by private enterprise, and in that I include rural housing.
§ Speaking for myself I am particularly averse from the way in which the Ministry 683 Agriculture has in past years—I do not mean during the present war—spoon-fed agriculture by small "doles" for liming, for draining, for basic slag and so forth, all calculated to improve private property. It is a system which is wrong in principle. Your Lordships will appreciate that I place against it what is known as the ploughing up of lands by the Ministry of Agriculture. That is not wrong in principle because, in theory at least, the ploughing up of land is to the detriment of the land; it was held to be so by statutory authority up to comparatively recent years. I know that in the Food Production Department in the last war we were frequently up against the legal impossibility of the conversion of pasture land into arable, so that when a grant is given for ploughing up land that is not calculated to be an enhancement of the value of private property. Therefore I personally do not object to it, but I do object to the payment of public funds to anybody for any purpose where the end will be the subsidizing of private personal property.
§ I said I thought that rural housing could be provided by private enterprise. I know that the need is a crying one. We recently had a debate on that in this House. I think the Government are committed to 3,000 houses. A noble Lord here wanted 30,000 and he referred to a noble Marquess who demanded 75,000. Even then he had not stated the number of rural cottages that are really necessary if we are to have a prosperous agriculture. The capital investment in houses is a very large one, but I do not believe it is necessary for the public purse to contribute to the cost. We are fortunate perhaps in agriculture in having established a minimum wage of £3 per week for a 50-hour week for the agricultural labourer. The agricultural labourer therefore is quite able to pay 10s. a week rent from that sum. The urban labourer docs it now and the agricultural labourer is to-day fully as well compensated as the urban labourer. I can speak from my limited but actual personal experience immediately before the war, when I say that ignoring the value of the land really good cottages of proper size with modern amenities can be built to let after payment of rates at an economic rent of 10s. per week. That the position has changed because of war circumstances and that we 684 shall never perhaps get back to that position is quite likely, but then in principle neither will agricultural wages stand still.
I would here call your Lordships' attention to a point in the argument for prices. If prices are guaranteed to the farmer, obviously included in those prices is the payment of a proper wage so that, vis-à-vis agriculture, it will also be a matter for national concern that adequate wages are paid. If I may strike a personal note, during the whole of my life I have advocated, and certainly for the last thirty years practised, the principle of paying a minimum wage in any event. Society to-day admits its obligations to our population as a whole. That is, it admits that people may not starve or be in suffering or want. Shylock, in the Merchant of Venice, when he was trying to explain that a human being was a human being and there should be no differentiation between human beings, said that all of us are
fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer.
That is true of all of us in this country. It is true of all wage-earners and that is why they should not be subject to any differential wage rate. When I said that I had practised for thirty years the payment of a minimum wage, I meant this, that before a man works at all in terms of quality he has to live. The most highly-skilled man and the least skilled man demands the things which I have just enumerated to your Lordships. They suffer or enjoy them alike. I should like to see it made a penal offence for any labourer to sell his labour—and 95 per cent of the population have nothing to sell but labour in order to get their daily bread—below a prescribed minimum which will provide necessities, and equally it should be a penal offence for anyone to purchase labour below that price.
§ That is a little interjection, but I make it because I would like to see the land carry its own housing problem. That involves the question of wages, because it involves the payment of an economic rent which could be paid, not in the form of a "dole," but out of actual earned money as has to be done in urban industries. Capital improvements, I believe, can be provided or should be provided by private enterprise. The demands are going to be 685 extraordinarily large. Personally I would rather have nothing done than that I should be offered anything in the nature of an agricultural mortgage corporation, so thoroughly insignificant and, to use an Americanism, so picayune in its possibilities. I think private enterprise will put up all the money that is necessary for improvements such as the re-erection of buildings. Where such improvements are the improvement of personal assets, such as putting land into good heart, for example, draining one's own farm, looking after one's own hedges and ditches, or getting one's own buildings in proper repair, that is an expenditure for personal gain and an enhancement of personal values which should never fall upon the State. Private enterprise will find the necessary funds providing the State recognizes the necessity of the provision of such funds. The State was induced to recognize the necessity of export trade and accordingly we nave a department called the Export Credits Department. I would like to see the necessary capital for the improvement of agricultural land advanced by joint stock banks or private enterprise under a guarantee similar to that offered by the State in respect of export credits. If Parliament and our Treasury officials will only recognize that we are living in 1943 and not in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, they will readily see that such facilities must be afforded.
§ I have taken a much longer time than I ever intended this afternoon. I have struck, I know, some rather novel practical suggestions out of a difficulty which is a very pressing one. If I may I will now make a summary of them trusting to my memory instead of my notes. I have suggested, first of all, that prices should be guaranteed, and that the administration of that guarantee should be along the lines of the Wheat Act and in the hands of an altruistic body of expert administrators appointed for that purpose under, of course, the central authority of the Ministry of Agriculture. I recommend that the county war agricultural executive committees should be continued as a permanent institution with properly defined statutory powers after the war. I believe that public authorities such as the Ministry of Transport, the Board of Trade, the Home Office and the Ministry of Health must exercise pressure to see that public utilities are made available to agriculture 686 and to rural labour. I believe that private enterprise will take care of the obligations of agriculture in respect of land improvements and housing, subject to being encouraged to do so from the national point of view by being guaranteed against, what I call as a business man, bad debts. We have existing authorities which can carry out these suggestions and we have existing precedents which give experience along the line of these suggestions. It only remains to extend what we are doing so as to make it comprehensive. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That His Majesty's Government should now state their plans for giving effect to their pledge that a healthy and well-balanced agriculture should be a permanent feature of national policy.—(Lord Perry.)
§ House adjourned, during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.
§ THE MINISTER OF ECONOMIC WARFARE (THE EARL OF SELBORNE)
My Lords, it may perhaps be for the convenience of your Lordships if I say a few words at this juncture. I am sure all your Lordships will have listened to the very interesting and thought-provoking speech of my noble friend with the greatest pleasure. That speech is not only the inauguration of a new debate but the continuation of debates that have taken place in your Lordships' House in recent weeks on this subject. I, personally, agreed with a very great deal that fell from the lips of my noble friend, but there are one or two points on which I should like, on another occasion possibly, to press him a little further. But, generally speaking, we are all agreed with his demand for some measure of price stability, and with his diagnosis of the evils from which agriculture has suffered in the past. I agree, too, with an immense amount of what was said by other noble Lords, who spoke in previous debates, with regard to the absolute necessity of evolving an agricultural policy in the future which shall be very different from the policy that prevailed in the period between the two wars.
I do not think there has ever been a greater tragedy enacted, or a greater blunder made, than the way in which agriculture was let down by all political Parties in that period. In considering this problem, we must remember that the farmer having been once bitten—as he 687 has been—will be twice shy. If, after the war, farmers have reason to believe that this country is once more going to become the dumping heap of the world's surplus and that they are going to be exposed to the same sort of economic blizzard as that from which they suffered in the twenty years between the two wars, I think the great majority of them, in this country, will go down to ranch farming. That, of course, would at once mean the unemployment of many thousands of agricultural labourers; and we should, in fact, be starting our post-war period with an agricultural slump of unparalleled magnitude, and, probably, greater unemployment in agriculture than we have ever known before. I think that the realization of that helps to bring it home to us that we cannot hope to solve our unemployment problems, we cannot hope to get our trade going again, we cannot hope to recover the strength of this country after the war, and we cannot hope to build a new and better world, unless we are going to give agriculture a square deal. I am, therefore, alive to the considerations which my noble friend has stressed so eloquently to-day and to what other noble Lords have said on previous occasions.
The Government are also alive to these considerations. As my noble friend mentioned, in November, 1940, the Minister of Agriculture gave this pledge:The Government, representative as it is of all major political Parties, recognizes the importance of maintaining after the war a healthy and well-balanced agriculture as an essential and permanent feature of national policy. The guarantee now given is meant to secure that stability shall be maintained not only during hostilities but during a length of time thereafter sufficient to put into action a permanent post-war policy for home agriculture.I repeat that on behalf of His Majesty's Government to-day. We adhere to every word of that pledge. There has been no change in the weight which the Government attach to the importance of the maintenance of a healthy and well-balanced agriculture after the war as a permanent feature of national policy. I want to make that quite clear from the start.
Since my right honourable friend the Minister gave that pledge the industry has produced its programme, as my noble 688 friend mentioned to-day. We have had considered programmes put forward by the National Farmers' Union, the Royal Agricultural Society, the Central Landowners' Association, the Council of Agriculture, and also by a group of members of your Lordships' House who have made a most important contribution to this problem. Now these contributions, these reports, reveal a marked unanimity. This, in itself, is a fact which must necessarily carry great weight with any Government who are considering the problem of agriculture, and I am sure that it will also carry great weight with the nation. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture had hoped to enter into consultation with the industry this spring—the Minister without Portfolio announced that, in another place, some time ago. But we find that we are not yet in a position to do this, and the reason for that, in a nutshell, is that you cannot draft the policy of one great department of our national economy without reference to issues of basic importance in other great departments of national economy. I think that anyone who listened to the speech of my noble friend just now will have realized that.
In other words, these great problems of the post-war world cannot be considered in watertight compartments. You cannot design a pillar for your new edifice without knowing how many other pillars there are going to be, and what positions they will occupy. Nor can you design that pillar without knowing the weight of the rafters, the joists, and the roof that it will have to bear. It is also desirable to know whether you have the building materials with which to build the edifice. Therefore, the problem before the Government is not merely the problem of agriculture to be considered in isolation, because that cannot be done. The problem therefore becomes a very big one indeed, and the blunt fact is that Cabinet Ministers, when the whole of their energies are devoted to winning the war—and, my Lords, we are winning it now—simply have not got the time to go into these numerous and immensely complicated questions with the thoroughness and care with which they will have to be gone into one day. The Civil Service and experts can, of course, do preparatory work. An immense amount of preparatory work is going on at the present moment, and has been 689 going on for some time; but there are matters which must come before leading members of the Government in any such consideration of policy, and it is physically impossible for them to give the requisite amount of time to these problems at this juncture. Moreover, Cabinet Ministers do not yet know enough of what the conditions of the post-war world are going to be to be able to form a correct judgment on some of the questions which will have to be answered.
To illustrate my meaning, let me remind your Lordships of some of the points which were raised in the Parliamentary discussions on the Beveridge Report. Your Lordships will remember that, when that Report was discussed in another place and here, the Government were criticized by members of the Socialist Party, and also by members of other Parties, for refusing to declare their policy fully. The reasons why the Government had to adopt this attitude were very fully and frankly explained by Ministers at the time. The Lord President of the Council, Sir John Anderson, pointed out that:Apart from social insurance, which must take a high priority, there are education, agriculture, housing, roads, forestry, civil aviation, Colonial development, all matters referred to by various honourable Members in this debate. Work is proceeding on all these matters, but it must be months yet before the Government can be ready.And he added later:In the meantime there can be no commitment.The Chancellor of the Exchequer put it in this way:… you cannot measure our finance and what we are able to undertake in the future simply in terms of a social security scheme in isolation; so, when we come to say what we shall be able to undertake, we must not overlook the strong and urgent claims which are pressed upon the House by all sorts of proper and legitimate interests in the country would like to refer to two or three very briefly …He then went on to mention housing, civil aviation, education, our present high rate of taxation, agriculture and, above all, international security, that is to say, national defence. He ended up by saying:When all these matters are before the Government, and when we have a much closer idea of what the cost will be, we wait before finally committing ourselves to any or all of these proposals and again consider the financial situation and the cost.My right honourable friend asked the members of another place: 690Does anyone say that this is an unfair or an unreasonable thing to do? Is not it, in fact, what everyone would do in connexion with his personal affairs?The Home Secretary, in picturesque language, clinched the matter when he said:… I always refused, when I sat on that Opposition Front Bench in this House, to be any more loose—even when I was in Opposition—about the finances of the country than I was prepared to be loose about the finances of the London County Council. I will not do it. There has been too much of Parties in Opposition or semi-detached Opposition giving reckless undertakings and making rather wild promises and then not carrying them out when they are in power. I will not be a party to any such political jiggery-pokery.He ended by saying:I believe that, when the time comes along and things happen, we shall be thanked and respected as a Government and not vilified for being cautious and for refusing to make reckless promises. We have refused to make any reckless promises to the House to-day, and I reaffirm that refusal. We will not do it. We are not going to have any repetition of what some people thought happened in the last war, of soldiers coming back with a promise of a paradise which they did not get. We will work for that paradise. I will tell the House something else. By the way the Government are moving there will be infinitely more preparation for after this war than there was for after the last war. We have learnt a good deal from that experience and from that time.In this House, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor made the same point. He said:This proposal and the class of proposal involved in it, is only a portion of the problems in the post-war period; it is only a portion of what must be written down as post-war requirements, not merely post-war desiderata but post-war claims which cannot be denied.Then he gave the same list.
I have made those quotations at some length to show that the considerations which forced the Government to adopt that attitude with regard to the Beveridge Report apply equally to agriculture, and indeed to all these very great questions which are awaiting solution after the war and which cannot be considered in isolation and which have to be considered as part of one picture. All that we are saying is that that consideration must necessarily take a considerable amount of time. In addition to points of the nature made during the Beveridge debate, in the debate in your Lordships' House on February 16 noble Lords pointed out, and the National Farmers' Union in its published policy insists upon, the fact that our agriculture 691 is not merely a national problem but is partly also an international problem. My noble friend Lord De La Warr, in his speech on February 16, said:I … place before your Lordships reasons why on grounds of the widest national interest and also—I am not exaggerating—of international security, it is essential that this country should take the lead in planning a world food policy. The case is strong on the merits of agriculture itself. It is strong on national grounds, in the interests of industry and the towns. I believe it is quite overwhelming from the point of view of world economic reconstruction.My noble friend Lord Addison said that he agreed that our efforts and undertakings would have to be international. My noble friend Lord Phillimore made exactly the same point; he asked for an All-Party agreed policy, and said that it must be a policy "not confined to these islands, but one which will take the world into its purview." The National Farmers Union in their programme say:Action is required on an international scale to regulate the production and marketing of food supplies in the manner visualized by the Empire Producers' Conference.That shows that the scope of the subject which we are now considering is a great deal wider than even the issues raised by the Beveridge Report.
I think that during the last few hours we have had a good instance of the truth of those quotations in the proceedings of the Food Conference now going on in the United States. I have no doubt that when the reports of that Conference are complete and your Lordships have been able to considér them you will desire to debate that matter in this House. I do not think it would be really quite appropriate to debate what has been in the newspapers in that connexion at the present moment for two reasons: first, because it is a very big subject, which would require, I venture to suggest, a debate of its own, and secondly, because the information available to members of this House and to the country is not yet complete. But I think it would be useful if I pointed out how it illustrates the truth of the statements that noble Lords have already made that this is not merely a national but an international problem. Your Lordships will realize that this Conference is of a purely exploratory character. No Government is bound by its proceedings. The object of the Conference is that every 692 nation should find out how other nations, our Allies, are thinking on these world problems, and it will not be until we have the views of the other nations that the work of that Conference will have been completed. When those views have been all put before the Conference then we shall all know what our friends and Allies are thinking on these subjects. That is the sole purpose of the Conference. It does not bind anybody.
But the declaration by the United Kingdom delegation, copies of which I believe have been made available to your Lordships, approaches this international problem very much on the lines on which your Lordships approached it when you were discussing agriculture here a few weeks ago. I do not think that any of the noble Lords whom I have just quoted will disagree substantially with anything in that statement. For instance, the statement asks the members of the Conferenceto pledge ourselves to make the better nutrition of all our peoples the primary objective of our policy.I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Addison, will heartily support that, and I think agriculturists throughout England will. The declaration suggests an international production programme and machinery for the co-ordinated purchase, allocation, and transportation of commodities. It also contains the suggestion of "buffer stocks" which should be held in the interests of the producer as well as of the consumer, the object of which would be to shield both the producer and the consumer from violent short-term fluctuations in price. The statement says:This form of orderly management seems to us preferable to one based on export or production quotas.It goes on to say there should be no regulation by quotas of any agricultural commodity except under the control of some authority fully representative of both producers and consumers. I would ask your Lordships to compare that statement with the resolution of the Sydney Conference, which is quoted by the National Farmers Union and was referred to by my noble friend Lord Phillimore on the last occasion, because I think this idea is an idea that has been borrowed from the Sydney Conference.
The declaration also advocates a comprehensive organization "to study problems continuously and to collect scientific 693 and statistical data" on food and agriculture, and it concludes by saying:Food and agricultural policy are, therefore, closely inter-related with international economic policy—that is, with monetary arrangements, with commercial policy and with the future of international investment. All these parts are parts of a single whole, and we cannot tackle one of them satisfactorily without paying some attention to the rest.I venture to suggest that that statement is strikingly in agreement with the views put forward by your Lordships and by the National Farmers Union. I have merely quoted it to show your Lordships that when His Majesty's Government approach and have to deal with these inter-related problems we do so with the agricultural problem in mind. All these questions are inter-related, they all have to be borne in mind, and the ship has to be so steered that it avoids the rocks that lie on this side or on that.
When we consider, therefore, the complexity of these post-war problems I am sure we must applaud the wisdom of the Prime Minister when he said in his broadcast on post-war problems the other day:You will see from what I have said that there is no lack of material for a Four-Years Plan for the transition period from war to peace, and for another plan after that. For the present during the war our rule should be, no promises but every preparation.I would remind your Lordships that the Prime Minister in that broadcast put agriculture in a leading position in his Four-Year Plan. Therefore all that I am saying to your Lordships this afternoon is that our reformers, whether they be reformers in education or in agriculture or in social security or in housing or in planning, must have a measure of patience and confidence in the Government; and may I add they must have mercy on the physical capacity of Ministers? It is those reasons and those reasons alone that prevent my right honourable friend from being able to enter into the discussions with the industry which he is most anxious to inaugurate and which were foreshadowed.
The industry has put its suggestions before the Government. For the reasons that I have given the Government are not yet in a position to make their definite suggestions to the industry. It would be a mere waste of time to take busy men from their farms where they are doing work of vital national importance, and to bring them up to conferences in London, when the Minister was only in a position to talk 694 about generalities. When the conferences start, then both parties must be in a position to make concrete suggestions which have been fully worked out, and I am sure that on consideration your Lordships will agree that that really is the only reasonable and sensible attitude.
The only criticism that can be made against the Government in this matter is that possibly my right honourable friend the Minister was a little bit over-optimistic when he said he hoped to be able to start these conferences in the spring. If he said that it was merely an indication of his extreme anxiety to get down to brass tacks with the industry, I can assure your Lordships that the moment he is in a position to do so he will do so. I cannot to-day give the date when these conferences will start. My right honourable friend has already given one date, and that has proved to be wrong. Therefore I do not think any of his colleagues will venture to suggest another. It must necessarily be some months ahead. The more you look into these post-war problems, the greater does their complexity appear, the more closely inter-related they are seen to be; and therefore the Government are not likely to be in a position to work these things out, as business men with business men, for some time to come.
You may ask, in view of that reply which I have just given on behalf of the Government, "Well, what is the next step?" Possibly some of your Lordships will also ask, "Is there nothing we can do to expedite this business or assist in the agricultural problem?" I believe there is a very great deal that your Lordships can do to help the Government and the nation in this matter. I have already pointed out, as did my noble friend Lord Perry, the very remarkable unanimity that there is in all the reports published by the agricultural bodies. One of the most important and valuable contributions was the programme put forward by certain members of your Lordships' House, some of whom are here to-day. That report was very important and attracted much attention for two reasons. In the first place the noble Lords who signed that report are themselves high authorities on agriculture. In the second place each of them occupies an honoured position in one or other of the three great political Parties.
I should like to suggest this afternoon that they should make it their business to 695 commend the views of the agricultural industry to their own respective political Parties and bring them before their Party conferences for discussion, examination, and criticism. More would however be necessary than that. It is most important that the agricultural programme should be presented to the leaders of urban and industrial life—chambers of commerce, industrialists, trade unions, co-operatives. Many of their leaders already recognize the need for a new agricultural policy, but I do not think that all the rank and file do. If your Lordships who have this knowledge and who have worked in the compilation of this agricultural report, could give the time, and find the occasion, to go and explain the agricultural programme to these industrialists, I believe a very great service would be rendered. If the nation can be unanimous about the principles of agricultural reform, that will enormously facilitate the task of the Government. I would therefore like to ask my noble friends to carry their influence, their knowledge, and their eloquence beyond the walls of this Chamber, where they have already won the day, to those men and women in their great Parties and in our great cities whose concurrence and good will are necessary if agriculture is to be lifted out of the cockpit of domestic politics
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, in the first place I should like to associate myself with what the noble Earl said in paying tribute to the most remarkable speech my noble friend Lord Perry delivered to us to-day. It is, to me, a matter of great significance that an experienced industrialist like him, with first-hand experience over many years of the successful conduct of great business affairs, should have approached this subject, as he has done to-day, in a speech full of practical suggestions. I shall only refer—because there are many noble Lords who wish to speak—to two main topics indicated in his speech. While doing so, I must take account of the speech to which we have just listened from the noble Earl on the Government Bench. I would remind him, in the first place, that the Government gave a pledge which he, with wholeheartedness, has reiterated, declaring that it remains the decided policy of His Majesty's Government. That pledge is that the Government recognize the importance of maintaining, after the war, a 696 healthy and well-balanced agriculture as an essential and permanent feature of national policy. That pledge stands. I am glad to find that the noble Earl stands by every word of it. That being the case, I find it a little difficult to follow some of the rest of the noble Earl's speech. I am not prepared to admit—I do not think he is really—that you have got to settle everything before you can settle anything. That seems to be the suggestion which is made, to some extent, on behalf of the Government. I cannot accept that. I do not believe the farmers will accept it, and I do not think it is reasonable in itself. There are lots of things we can decide.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I do not want my noble friend to be under any misapprehension as to what I did say. I never said you could not settle anything until you had settled everything. All I said was that we had not yet got to the point when we could make definite suggestions to the industry.
§ LORD ADDISON
I hope the noble Earl will not think I am trying to put into his mouth something he did not say. I was trying to represent, in a concentrated form, the impression I obtained from the noble Earl's case. It seemed more or less to be that we are confronted by a bewildering complexity of international and national problems, each one of which contained within itself more or less a national obligation, and we have got to see where we are with the whole lot before we can agree. I am not attributing this to the noble Earl, but that was my impression. I do not accept that for a moment, and I do not believe that it is really the attitude of His Majesty's Government. It certainly is not in keeping with that pledge. I think there are many things we can settle. The noble Earl is justified in making, and indeed I welcome, his invitation that all of us should do the best we can to secure what support we can for this declaration of His Majesty's Government. For myself I have never been backward in that respect, but I think there are a good many things within the national sphere that are our own affair which we can certainly settle before all these other great matters are decided. It is to one or two of them that I would like to direct attention.
In doing so I would in the first place like to congratulate the noble Earl and 697 those who are responsible for this memorandum to the Food Conference for the wide-mindedness and the general method of approach that this memorandum of His Majesty's delegation indicates. It has been epitomized by the noble Earl and I will not repeat it, but it is a great thing in the world that Governments should be invited to approach food problems for the first time in history for the purpose of seeing that hungry people, wherever they are, get something to eat. That is what it comes to and it is a very great thing indeed. I welcome the statement which this document makes, and which was repeated by the noble Earl, that it involves the creation of an international organization which will deal with securing stability of price. which will control bulk supplies and, so far as and whenever there are surpluses, will prevent their being burnt or destroyed, will reserve them for use and secure their distribution, if need be, to necessitous nations. That is a very great thing in history and I hope with all my soul that something practical will come out of it.
I should be glad if the noble Earl, on some other day perhaps, could give us some indication as to the policy that is behind the mind of His Majesty's Government in contemplating the creation of the food control purchasing organization, because it is intimately related to the kind of thing the noble Lord has been speaking about. It is evident that, whatever we do, we shall be dependent upon a certain amount of imported supplies, and the securing of any stability of prices must necessitate in some form the kind of organization which Lord Perry indicated and which is indicated in this memorandum—a comprehensive organization which will secure supplies, and help to secure some stability of prices, for that is an essential concomitant of stability so far as our own home market is concerned.
But before I come to the home side of it I should like some information at some time on the principles that His Majesty's Government have in mind. Is it contemplated that this organization or any import board that we may set up will pursue the policy of beating down everybody else to get things at the least possible price? That is a very important question and I would like an answer to it, because if that vicious practice is pursued there is no hope for British agriculture. As it is 698 recognized in this document that the poverty of people all over the world is one of the chief causes of unemployment, we must expect our purchasing organization, in concert with the producing countries, to arrange for some price stability for the producers over there as well as here. That is essential if you are going to lift the burden of poverty. I think the day is past when we want the people of this country to be fed at the price of the starvation of somebody else in some other country. It is essential, I think, that any international organization should secure the same reliability of price in the producing countries, within reason, as we expect in our own.
I am enlarging a little on that because I was rather troubled by one particular sentence in the Prime Minister's broadcast. I draw the noble Earl's attention to it because it is very intimately related to the plan described by Lord Perry. The Prime Minister said:At the same time the fact remains that if the expansion and improvement of British agriculture is to be maintained, as it must be maintained, and a reasonable level of prices is to be maintained, as it must be maintained, there are likely to be substantial charges which the State must be prepared to shoulder.I want to ask something about those last words. I rather discerned that thought in what the noble Earl said about the Beveridge plan, and this plan and the other plan. One was going to cost x millions, the other y millions, and so on; and one wanted to see what the whole sum would amount to before one could declare our ability to deal with it.
Now what are these charges? I think the plan indicated by the noble Lord who opened the debate is the only self-respecting plan that we can adopt. I cannot imagine that the taxpayer of this country will be willing to go on in perpetuity paying millions in subsidy to this commodity, millions more to that, and so on. This system of separate large-scale commodity subsidies cannot possibly endure. Is it that that Was in the Prime Minister's mind when he used those words? It is that which creates the misgiving which I am trying to express, because if we are to wait until that appalling sum is added up, I do not wonder action is postponed. That may account for the indecision. I suggest that there is a better way open and that we have not a right to expect 699 people to buy goods at the price of the improverishment of the people who produce them. At the same time, it is right, as we have recognized in the establishment of wages for agricultural workers and others, that people should have enough wages to enable them to buy what they need and that the prices paid should be such as to provide a decent living for the man who produces what they want. I hope His Majesty's Government will not depart from that principle by handing out millions for this, that and the other thing from the taxpayer's pocket. If the principle of the Wheat Act were adopted in the large-scale marketing of all our principal commodities the net price to the consumer would contain a sufficient profit for the producer. That is the proper way of dealing with it. I hope sincerely that some day we may have some explanation of these substantial charges which are contemplated in this statement of the Prime Minister.
The only other subject I will refer to is the cost of equipment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Perry, is right, but I do not think he is. What is required in the way of capital expenditure in order that land may be properly farmed—not for any other purpose—is an appalling amount. When I was Minister of Agriculture I had a calculation made for me and the figure then was £2,50,000,000 as a minimum. That was thirteen years ago. With the experiences of the war before us every one of us with first-hand knowledge of the dilapidation which is widespread in the country would, I think, agree that we must have better farm roads, rural water supplies, proper drainage, adequate cottages and proper farm buildings. I do not believe that £250,000,000 would anything like touch what is required. It may be that if we had a proper agricultural system private enterprise would provide the money on the lines indicated by the noble Lord—I will not say it is impossible—but knowing what one does of the impecuniosity of vast numbers of landowners, who are quite unable to afford what is required, I cannot think that that method will be sufficient. At all events it will have to be supplemented on a very large scale by a Land Commission or some other organization which will be able to secure capital at a low rate of interest. I agree with the noble Lord that the right method 700 of dealing with it is that the county war organization should ascertain what is required and should certify the minimum that is required. When that has been done the necessary capital should be provided through the Land Commission or by some similar means. If the State is going to guarantee prices the nation is entitled in return to see that the land is properly equipped and properly farmed. These two things must go with it and there must be some organization to secure that that is done.
I feel myself—I am sorry to say so—very disappointed at these long delays. It is two-and-a-half years since this Government pledge was made. Being of a very charitable disposition, and knowing quite a lot of the inner workings of Government offices, I sympathize with the noble Earl in the task he had to perform to-day from the Front Bench, but I remain unconvinced as to the necessity for the long procrastination which seemed to me at all events to be envisaged by him. It is time that many of these matters which are completely independent of international concern should be decided. I think they can be decided. I think there is a unanimity and strength of opinion in this country to-day which makes this an exceptional opportunity, and it would be deplorable if that opportunity were wasted.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I felt sure that His Majesty's Government would not protest against the introduction of the Motion which was moved in a powerful speech to which we listened with great interest, and I also felt sure that the noble Lord who moved it would not receive a very categorical reply. I was right, I think, in both anticipations. But, like the noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench, I feel some disappointment that the noble Earl was not able to enter into more detail in the speech which he made. I was all the more disappointed because of the fact, which he stated and which has been stated by others, of the very remarkable agreement shown by the different skilled bodies who have made reports on the present situation. Some of these have already been mentioned—the important committee composed of members of your Lordships' House, the Central Landowners' Association, the National Farmers Union and representatives of the main political Parties. Each, 701 of course, laid special emphasis on certain points obvious in the whole situation which specially appealed to them, but on a great many points they were in very remarkable agreement.
There is the further fact that extreme views on the crucial question of how farming can be made to pay have been practically obliterated by the passage of time. Now I think the most ardent advocate of Protection, with or without Imperial Preference, would hesitate to express the view that a prohibitive tariff should be placed on articles of imported food in order to enable the average farmer to make a profit. Equally, the most convinced Free Trader would not now advance the view that it ought to be possible for imported food of all kinds to be brought into the country, whatever the result might be on the most skilled and scientific farmers by making their products practically un-saleable. Therefore I hoped that it would be possible for the representative of His Majesty's Government to say more on the regulation of imported produce.
I cannot help feeling that the noble Earl opposite, in praying in aid, as he did, the discussion in the House of Commons on the Beveridge Report, somewhat overstepped the mark. Surely the reasons which were then advanced by the Government speakers—reasons, by the way, which were not universally admitted to be altogether cogent—had, at any rate, the force of pointing out that it was not reasonable to expect His Majesty's Government to make a statement of policy which might involve expenditure, perhaps amounting to thousands of millions of pounds, and affecting future generations. Surely as regards the industry of agriculture no such question arises. As the noble Lord who spoke last has pointed out, there are two entirely different aspects from which the approach to agriculture ought to be regarded. There is the international point of view which, in one of its aspects, is now being considered by the conference in the State of Virginia, and which, undoubtedly, has to be dealt with if the farming industry is to be supported in some way. Whether Lord Addison was right in supposing that at the back of the minds of His Majesty's Government was the possibility of vast agricultural subsidies of unknown dimensions, and that therefore, they had to regard that with the same degree of kindness with which they regard expenditure on 702 some of the other objects set out in the Beveridge Report, I cannot say. I confess that I had always supposed that the minds of His Majesty's Government, in bringing about stabilization of prices, ran in the direction of import boards rather than in the direction of subsidies. But so far as that is concerned perhaps one could hardly have expected the noble Earl to have made a detailed reply.
I think, however, that there are many sides of the subject which might be dealt with at an earlier date than seems to be contemplated by His Majesty's Government, although I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture has done his best to hasten matters. Surely there are various sides from the domestic, as distinct from the international, point of view on which, while it might not be possible to take action at the moment, the intentions of the Government might be fully stated. One aspect of the question, which I am sure would appeal to many of your Lordships, is the extreme variety of British agriculture. The farmer on the Cumberland Fells, the farmer in the Cambridge-shire Fens, the fruit farmer in Kent, and the dairy farmer in Devonshire are engaged in totally different businesses, and they have to learn their trades in entirely different ways. If moved about like pawns upon a chessboard, I think they would be very helpless.
That points—and in this I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Perry, said—to the continuation, which, I think, ought probably to be permanent, of the county agricultural committees which are working at present. These committees have undoubtedly varied in different parts of England in authority, and to some extent, possibly, in efficiency, but they have done, and they are doing, as I am sure most of your Lordships will agree, most excellent work. They have been able, in a great many cases, to do what was done in the more prosperous days of agriculture, and before the break-up of so many large estates, by members of the very skilful and efficient profession of land agents. It is one of the misfortunes of that change in agriculture that these men, many of them not merely of long experience but of great scientific ability also, should have tended, naturally, to some extent, to disappear. Their counsel and assistance to a tenant-farmer, as many of your Lordships know, was of 703 the utmost importance and value. To some extent, their place has been taken, particularly in the case of the new class of the smaller farmer-owners, by the county agricultural committees. So I think that one of the matters which the noble Earl might have touched on—I do not think that he did touch upon it at all—was that of such local questions as those. In conclusion, I only hope that it will not be very long before my right honourable friend, the Minister of Agriculture, is able to call together the kind of conference on the conclusions of which he wishes to base his future policy. The work which he has done so far has, I know, been appreciated by everybody concerned with or interested in agriculture; I therefore wish him and his office the very best fortune in the work which they are going to undertake.
My Lords, this Motion does not ask the Government to say what their policy will be. It does not ask the Government to say whether they are committed to a healthy and well-balanced agriculture. That has already been settled, and we are all glad to think that they are so committed. What the Motion really asks is that the Government should now state their plans for giving effect to that pledge. The noble Earl who spoke for the Government delivered what I call an unfair speech—by that I mean an unfairly good speech-which left me puzzled. He almost persuaded me that, if I cut my face when shaving, I was entitled to claim that I could not walk to the office, because every drop of blood in my veins is connected by the blood-stream with every other drop. He put forward the argument for delay to which the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, and the noble Lord, Lord Addison, have already referred with so much skill that for the moment I am almost tempted to be sorry for him.
As a matter of fact, however, everything must have a beginning—even the post-war policy of this Government—and, as again the noble Marquess opposite pointed out so clearly, the fact that there is very general agreement inside the industry makes it very much easier for the Government to take this first step. There have been very few occasions that I can recall when there has been any similar unanimity on the part of any body of 704 persons. When we talk of the industry, moreover, we are entitled to include in many instances the freely-expressed sympathy of chambers of commerce, of the Federation of British Industries, and others, who have also given their verdict in our favour. The Government are in fact on velvet so far as this matter is concerned, and I venture to say that no reasons, or at any rate no adequate reasons, have been brought forward to-day by the Government for non-compliance with the request made in this Motion.
There is one thing, before I go on with that argument, which I should like to get firmly from the noble Earl. I think that I took down accurately what he said, and I think he said that the Government were definitely in favour of some measure of price stability. I hope I am correct in thinking that he said that; and, if that is so, it marks some advance, for which we are grateful.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I was not giving any pledge on behalf of the Government, and I hope that my noble friend will not interpret what I said in that way. What I said with regard to the speech of my noble friend Lord Perry was that we were all in favour of price stability. I was speaking as an agriculturist, but I was not making a pledge on behalf of the Government, and I do not want any misunderstanding on that score.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, the noble Lord will excuse my interposing to ask the noble Earl whether he supports the words used by the Prime Minister in his broadcast, that "a reasonable level of prices is to be maintained, as it must be maintained." Does he accept that?
My Lords, I must say that I am disappointed. I thought that we had found a diamond, but it has turned out to be a bit of coal. All I can say is that there seems to be no reason why the Government should not take further steps. Are there any reasons why they should take further steps? The answer is most emphatically Yes, and the principal reason may be summed up in one word: Confidence. It is confidence that this industry has lacked. It is confidence that the investors and the 705 potential investors in this industry have lacked. It is lack of confidence which has prevented the labouring man from allowing his boy to go into agriculture, because he sees no future for him in it. It is lack of confidence which has influenced the teacher who says: "If I encourage this boy to go into agriculture, he will do worse than the others, and so I shall encourage him to become a black-coated worker." That confidence must depend on the attitude of the Government, and the attitude of the Government requires to be defined so that confidence can be regained.
A very touching little incident in which I was concerned took place only four days ago. I was outside a petrol-filling station in Oxford when a very nice-looking woman came up to me and said that she saw by the notice on my windscreen that I had something to do with the war agricultural committee. I said that I had, and she said, "Well, I have a boy of 14½, and I want to apprentice him to some farmer." I welcomed the idea, and told her what I could. That sort of thing could not have happened three years ago; apprenticeship to the industry had been unheard of for decades, or even for generations; but, now that fresh interest is being taken in agriculture, that is the sort of thing which happens, and it is born of confidence.
From the point of view of the farmer, confidence is required most urgently. After all, all that we have been told up to the present—and we have been told it with some emphasis—is that we can rely on a full production policy until 1947. The emphasis, if anything, tends to show that we may not be sure of our ground after 1947. If we are not sure of our ground after 1947, what are we going to do about our live-stock policy? Are we going to build up herds such as we should like to Lave in a prosperous agriculture? Are we going to the expense of buying good sires in order to build up such herds? Are we going to put our pastures down for five- or six-year leys when the occasion requires? Is our landlord going to repair the barn? Is he going to be able to repair the barn? Can he borrow the money to repair the barn? No, not unless there is confidence in the industry. If you want to get the best out of any body of men, you have to get their confidence first. It is this fact, with all its 706 ramifications, which really provides the reason why the Government should take a step where I think stepping is most easy, and that is in the development of their agricultural policy. I sincerely hope that something more will be conceded before this debate is over.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
My Lords, the debate to-day has travelled round the world, and quite rightly so, because, as was pointed out by the noble Earl who spoke for the Government, this future agricultural policy is a world-wide policy. I must apologize, therefore, if I become a little local. I have a considerable feeling that the noble Earl who spoke for the Government would have said a great deal more if he had been allowed to. He, like a good many other noble Lords, and a great many other agriculturists, has suffered as much as anybody from political neglect of this industry. I am rather worried when all we get in this debate is to be told that we are to keep ourselves in a state of suspended animation and hope that something is coming some day, and that the only contribution that we can make at this moment is to go round turning ourselves into human gramophones—which all of us are perfectly ready to do, and are doing day in day out, till we are almost accused, like that great Liberal statesman, of being intoxicated with our own verbosity.
I should have liked to hear something definite—not detail, but some broad principle—that we could have taken back with us to bring comfort to the agricultural industry. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for bringing this Motion before your Lordships' House, not because one can expect the Government to produce any complete cut-and-dried policy, but because it affords me an opportunity of giving a few local reasons in support of his Motion. My noble friend Lord Phillimore hit one nail straight on the head when he spoke of confidence in the industry. The confidence of the industry in the promises that have been made is rapidly waning. It is not a thing one likes to have to say, but it is true. We were told to bring the matter before our political Parties. Well, I am not very active in politics, I am afraid, but I have noticed that the topic of agriculture has been rather conspicuous by its absence from some of the political Party conferences. One would like to see some action 707 that would anyhow prove to those engaged in the industry that it is the fourth side of the square of defence now, and has some importance in the future.
This state of uncertainty and the apparent shelving of the problem does not bring encouragement to an industry—and here I defy contradiction—that has made the greatest effort of any industry in this country during the war. What is that accomplishment? It has overtopped by hundreds of thousands of acres every single target that has been set yet. How it has done it is a miracle, as Lord Perry has said. But there is one illusion that I do want to dispel, because I come across it very often, and that is that the farmers of this country are now making a fortune. They are doing nothing of the sort. I hope that that view, which is held by ignorant people—and a great many of these ignorant people are in high places, too—can be dispelled once for all. I apologize to your Lordships if I use rather strong language, but the insanity of the incidence of the present method and rate of taxation on the agricultural industry will lead us to a very severe crisis before long unless something is done. There is nothing being left in the industry for the maintenance of the proper standards of farming in anticipation of the bad years to come. They may come, we hope they will not, but the tragedy is that the bigger the farmer, the better the farmer, the more land he takes on and the more he expands, the harder he is being hit and the less is being left in the till for him to do his work with. It may lower the standards of farming and seriously affect the food position unless someone realizes it quite soon.
Let me give your Lordships four examples, and I do not wish you to think that these are just local cases that I know of, because I have taken the trouble to inquire about other areas. I have asked the chairmen of war agricultural committees to make inquiries from their farmers, and I find that the same thing obtains in other counties. I think there are probably other noble Lords in this House who could give similar instances. One farmer says he sold approximately £500,000 worth of produce last year and his accountant has written at the bottom of his accounts that he is rapidly approaching a state of insolvency, because 708 there is nothing left but his immediate working cash, after he has paid Excess Profits Tax and other taxation, with which to run five or six very large farms. About the best farmer I know told me he has taken on a tremendous amount of land in this war-time effort, and that he cannot go on farming on his present scale and pay his Excess Profits Tax at the present time, because it does not leave him enough working cash to get through the periods when nothing is coming in. I will give another instance, that of a farmer I know who paid all his taxes within a month of demand, as soon as his accounts were out. Within one month he received a demand from the E.P.T. authorities for £10,000 on account for the next year. They had no idea that he required £150 a week to pay wages before anything came in at all. I will give you another illustration. A man came to me the other day and said, "My wages bill for 1938–39 was £5,200. To-day it is £10,400. I am putting nothing away. The E.P.T. and taxation are taking it all, and if I have bad years I shall have nothing in the till to meet those bad years."
I hope that your Lordships, from whom a great deal more has come about agriculture than from anywhere else, will seriously realize the financial situation with which we are faced. We are asked by the Minister not to "let up" for four years. There will be no let up for four years. But farmers may be taxed out of operation at the end of those four years if the same drain is going on. We are told it is impossible to give any idea of what the policy is going to be. Well, is not there something? Cannot we retain some capital in the industry? Is it not possible for the Government to say, "We are seriously considering the abolition of Death Duties on agricultural land, or a very considerable remission of them"? Is not that something that can be given by way of encouragement to the farmer? It seems to me that there is something that could be done, even if a vast and detailed policy cannot be expounded.
A noble Lord to-day referred to priorities. The reason why agriculture is brought before your Lordships' House again and again is in order to keep it on the map. The agricultural community thought they really were on the map at last, but now they are not quite sure that 709 they are not being gradually smudged out. And one of the reasons is that there is a feeling that agriculture is still not treated as a priority industry. There is no real priority of labour. The Ministry of Labour diverts anybody that it does not know what to do with to agriculture. Anyone will do. The Minister of Labour apparently thinks that anyone who can wield a hammer can mend agricultural machinery. There are no skilled men being left in the agricultural machinery department. That does not sound much like a priority. Then there is the Ministry of Supply. There is always a delay in the supply of spare parts. When you get a firm that is prepared to make tracks for tractors, you cannot get any steel to make them. All these delays, all these little examples, only serve to emphasize what my noble friend Lord Phillimore spoke about—lack of confidence—and make the people engaged in the industry wonder whether they really are in a priority industry.
Your Lordships will probably say I have said this before, but what are we discussing? We are discussing the future of an industry that has risen from a state of dereliction to being the saviour of the country's food supply. That is something that wants saying. There have been no strikes by workers or farmers in this industry. That wants emphasizing very strongly. There has been no necessity for people in this industry to receive a personal letter or appeal from the Prime Minister asking them to work. That wants emphasizing. The privilege I have had—the very proud privilege—of living and working with these great folk who put their country before themselves, is something I shall never forget as long as I live. What prevents us from receiving some charter, some broad outline, as I have said, not in detail—something that will give us a definite feeling that there is a fair deal coming in the future?. I wonder what the reason really is why we cannot get at the basic policy if we get at nothing else. Is it because there is a certain amount of obstruction in the Cabinet? Are there certain members of the Government in high places who really do not worry about agriculture? Is it political prejudice? It certainly is not that in your Lordships' House. Everybody here is trying to meet one another and all are working to the same end. It cannot be a sordid return to thinking about votes.
710 What is the reason? What is stopping something being done so that we can go back with some assurance to these people who are working clay and night?
Some of your Lordships should come down to the edge of the cliffs of Dover and realize what is happening. Cannot we have something to go back to them with instead of being told, "No, I am afraid you must wait, there are so many other things to be thought of." I know there are, and so does everyone else here, but I am afraid that if you lose this confidence you will find that the food supply may not be kept up in the wonderful way it has been in the past. The Beveridge Report has been referred to. Here we are dealing with something far more important than the I3everidge Report. There have been reports on the use of land, the Scott Report and the Uthwatt Report. We are waiting for a report to tell us how this land of ours can be kept in maintenance and fertility and be the life-blood of the nation for years to came, and how it is going to remain in cultivation, not the use particularly to which it is going to be put. Security for the stomach, which is produced by the agricultural industry, is a very large part of our social security, and I hope the Government will give very earnest attention to the question of the future of this great industry.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I am sure we must all welcome the knowledge and eloquence which my noble friend Lord Cornwallis is able, in these days, to bring to bear in this House upon agricultural problems. In the enemy-afflicted county from which he comes he is a real light, enlightening and enthusing the whole of the agricultural community of his county. When he comes to speak to us in this House he speaks with knowledge and experience, and is able, moving about among farmers and farm workers, to echo accurately their feelings and aspirations. I am, of course, disappointed, as so many of your Lordships appear to be in every quarter of the House, at the reply which the noble Earl gave on behalf of the Government to the eloquent plea put forward by Lord Perry with a view to rebuilding the greatest industry of country on a sound basis after the war. One drawback to many of our agricultural debates in clays gone by has been that there was no leading industrialist to put 711 forward the claims of agriculture and to utter, to some extent, a more enlightened view on the part of industrialism regarding the country's most vital industry. Although Lord Perry is undoubtedly an enlightened practical agriculturist, he is also a great industrialist, and it seems to me somewhat significant that the debate on this occasion should have been initiated by a man of his influence and authority in industrial circles.
I do not propose to take up the time of your Lordships for more than two or three minutes, because what I wanted mainly to emphasize has been so eloquently and emphatically urged by my noble friend Lord Phillimore, and that is the problem of confidence. I should have thought that the main ingredient, or material, for that agricultural pillar to which the noble Earl referred is confidence. Whatever the Government may do under existing conditions, and in face of the amazing unanimity which prevails in regard to the solution of our agricultural problems, what is more essential than anything else is that Government pronouncements should develop and maintain confidence in every class of the agricultural community. We had from the noble Earl the metaphor or simile of a national structure supported by various pillars, some of them industrial and at least one agricultural. There is a certain part of most well-formed structures which is very essential for maintaining the stability of the arch supporting the building, and that is the keystone. I suggest that whatever may be the future reconstructive programme, or—to maintain the simile—whatever may be the structure which the Government propose to set up after the war, they should make agriculture the keystone of the arch, and in that connexion reflect on the wise words of that very enlightened man of vision, President Theodore Roosevelt. Some thirty or thirty-five years ago, when initiating a new national policy for the United States, he emphasized the fact that the welfare of every nation should be founded upon the welfare of the agricultural population, and that unless you have a confident and prosperous agricultural community you are not likely to achieve national welfare or national progress.
Surely the Government might be prepared to give us a little more confidence in their utterances with regard to their post-war agricultural policy. The outlook 712 for British agriculture is markedly brighter than it was and it would of course become definitely brighter still if we had some assurance that the agricultural industry could be put upon a permanently secure basis without being perpetually propped up by "doles" or subsidies. We do not like to be regarded as a mendicant industry. There is no earthly reason why the agriculture of this country, at least in the hands of competent practitioners, should be a mendicant industry so long as the people of this country are prepared to pay full value for the essential food that is drawn from our own land, and, of course, consequentially, are in a position to receive enough remuneration for their work to enable them to pay it.
That leads me finally to make one observation with regard to those farmers and agricultural workers who are mainly responsible for the output of food from the land of this country. Not only does the land need cultivation, but so also do those who live and work upon it. This culture or cultivation, both mental and manual, must be scientific as well as practical. Practice must be based upon science. I want to draw attention to the fact that until the war period in this country came, and particularly since we had the experience in the last twelve months of Government agricultural demonstrations, we in this country were curiously backward in regard to demonstrations of improved agricultural practice and also in regard to the application of ascertained knowledge or science to the art of husbandry. What I want to point out is that to-day the Government expenditure upon agricultural science appears to be smaller than in any other civilized country of the world and markedly smaller than in the United States.
Curiously enough, there is no reliable information as to what the amount of Government money is that has been expended upon scientific research, not merely upon agricultural research, but research of every description in this country. I have endeavoured to obtain it and I have failed entirely. No Government Department is in a position to provide it and there are no official sources from which it can be obtained, but it is estimated by experts that the British Empire spends perhaps £10,000,000 a year on research for the 713 benefit of 500,000,000 people. This compares unfavourably with the United States whose estimated expenditure is £40,000,000 a year on 150,000,000 people. When one looks at Great Britain apart from the Empire generally, £5,000,000 is estimated to be the annual expenditure upon research of all descriptions in Great Britain with a population of something under 50,000,000. Therefore we see that we spend here in this country some 2s. per head per year upon scientific research as compared with the United States, which spends 5s. 4d. per head. All I want to suggest is that surely the time has come when we must give definite encouragement to scientific research and should take greater pains to convey the more useful results of agricaltural research to those who so very badly need it nowadays upon the farm holdings of this country.
We are told by those in authority that a large proportion of the men, farmers and workers alike, who are attending these excellent demonstrations that take place during the summer months in different parts of the country and who watch these demonstrations and listen to the lectures given upon new machinery, implements and other subjects, simply do not understand the technical jargon in which so many of the explanations are made. I feel that nothing is more required to-day, apart from sufficient expenditure upon agricultural research, than that the teachings of research so far as they are of economic value shall be conveyed in intelligible language to everyone who is prepared to improve his methods, whether he be a farmer or a farm worker.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I venture to interpose in this debate for a few moments in order to put, if I can, into their proper perspective certain features which have been stressed in the first place by Lord Perry and later by my noble friend Lord Addison. The noble Lord, Lord Perry, referred at some considerable length to the question of subsidies now being paid to agriculture, and Lord Addison later on expressed the opinion that the public at large would not tolerate the continuance of those subsidies for any long period. What is exactly the position to-day? Actually the price of food has been pegged down by the payment from the Treasury of sums which are stated to be from £100,000,000 to £150,000,000 per 714 annum, and it is very convenient to some persons to describe these payments as a subsidy to agriculture. They are nothing of the sort.
What would be the real position if today there was a free market in a world that is short of food? The very few items that are not now controlled are sufficient evidence in themselves. Vegetables until they were dealt with soared to absurd prices, not last winter but the winter before. Anybody who was so fortunate as to shoot a pheasant which he did not wish to eat, and sent it into the public market, soon discovered to his profit what it was to have a commodity that was not controlled. That is what would happen to every form of food were it not pegged by the wise action of the Government, which does so at the expense of the general taxpayer. There is no such thing as a subsidy to-day to the producer. Actually the farmer is getting a price which is a mere fraction of the price he would get if there was a free market. I am not suggesting that he should be allowed a free market, most certainly not, but I am not going to have it said that he is now subsidized, and that he is filling his pockets at the expense of the general taxpayer. That is not true.
What is the situation likely to be for a period of years after the war? We all of us must realize and visualize the practical certainty that all the exporting countries of the world will be required to place into a starving Europe the whole of their exportable surplus and probably considerably more; in fact they will be asked to go short in order that those who are even shorter shall have sufficient for a bare sufficiency. That of itself means that in Great Britain the produce of the farmer would soar to very high figures unless for a period the price of food was pegged. That is not a subsidy; that is preventing the farmer from taking advantage of the free play of the market. There will come a time when we shall get to the stage which apparently the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and the noble Lord, Lord Addison, imagine exists to-day. There will come a time when Europe is saturated and will have its own exportable surplus, which will come to Great Britain and the British farmer will be sunk. That, of court, is the fear in the minds of my noble friends Lord Phillimore, Lord Cornwallis and many others. But it will not happen for a considerable number of years after the 715 war is over, and during that period the farmer will be prevented, quite reasonably and quite properly, from securing the profit which would be his if the market were free.
I think that security in agriculture depends really upon wise finance more than anything else. Let us perhaps for the period of this debate leave out the subject of control. It is highly controversial and I do not know that we have reached a stage where we need even discuss it. But the finance of agriculture needs looking into now. It must be agreed that the price which the farmer is now receiving, coupled to the taxation imposed on him, debars him and his landlord from putting any reserve aside. There is no reserve being created. That is where our danger is going to come. That is the real danger. It is purely a financial question, if I may venture to express so emphatic an opinion. You are imposing restricted prices upon your producer and simultaneously you are making him pay Excess Profits Tax, of course on top of his ordinary tax, and you are giving him no opportunity of setting aside any reserve. The landowner who at the end of this war is going to be faced with a truly prodigious expenditure, if he is to make good the devastating arrears of the years during which it was not possible to employ labour, quite apart from finance, because the labour did not exist—the landowner is going to be faced with immense expenditure and is being given no opportunity to set aside a reserve. Those two things in combination are going to spell destruction, sheer destruction.
I think during the war it does not matter whether the farmer pays Excess Profits Tax or not. If the country wishes to have the use of his money let it have it, but for mercy's sake let it he put into a pool and let him take it out again. There is to be a remission of 20 per cent. in the case of industry. The farmer will want 100 per cent. Machinery is wearing out. It cannot be bought to-day and therefore plenty of money would not help now, but the time will come when it can be bought and then the money will not be there. My noble friend Lord Cornwall's with his great knowledge told us in categorical terms of farmers left with no cash in hand to carry on ordinary working expenses. What will be the 716 position of these farmers after the war? What will be the position of any farmer after the war? If the Government could bring their mind to bear upon making a pronouncement on the financial side, that agricultural confidence to which my noble friends Lord Phillimore and Viscount Bledisloe referred, that confidence which is more urgently required in agriculture than any other form of assistance, would be given through its financial end.
Those of us who have spent their lives in agriculture know that it is a veritable sink for money. It requires more and ever more new money. Equipment has to be kept up to date and buildings have to be rebuilt. Everything in agriculture wears out and therefore wants continuous renewal. Renewal can only come out of profits. My noble friend Lord Cornwallis referred to Death Duties. If it is agreed, as it must be, that agriculture is always wanting more and more money, surely it must be allowed to keep more of the money it has got and not have it taken away from it. Would it not be possible to give to agriculture a remission of a Duty which has drained it of all the capital it had? Let it be hedged about by all manner of conditions. Let it be laid down that any remission shall be expended exclusively upon equipment for the land. Let that be done. Let it be assured that the landowner shall derive no conceivable profit from it, but for mercy's sake let money be available for the land itself; otherwise it will be impossible after the war to revive agriculture and still less to maintain it at the high peak it has reached to-day. We cannot do it. The farmer himself must be put in the position of having a reserve.
Those of us who have had access to farm accounts know that, even to-day, very large numbers of farmers are still heavily in debt, debt which was piled up in the lean years. Interest on that debt, of course, is chargeable in the accounts before tax is paid, but not the capital sums. If the farming community during the lean years were compelled in order to carry on to borrow money which they did borrow, surely not only in common fairness but in the interests of the State the farming community ought to be given an opportunity of clearing themselves of debt when they have an opportunity, if the money is not taken from them and paid into the Treasury. Astonishing figures were given by my noble 717 friend Lord Cornwallis. I could give you equally astonishing figures, incredible figures of money paid in Excess Profits Tax, which ought in the interests of the State to be placed in a reserve, so that after this war we shall be assured of the continuance of agriculture out of its own resources and not out of the resources of the taxpayer. I do trust that it may be possible for members of the Government who understand agriculture—and there are many—to press that particular point of view.
We have got to determine before we can have an agricultural policy whether after this war we are going in for self-sufficiency or for a nutritional policy. They are wholly different. I do not blame any Government for not having deter-wined that yet, because we do not know the conditions under which this war will end, and until we know the conditions which will prevail at the end of the war we cannot tell whether we shall be compelled to adopt a policy of self-sufficiency or be free to adopt a nutritional policy. But we shall never be able to adopt either self-sufficiency or a nutritional policy unless we have the money. My noble friend Lord Addison, and many others in your Lordships' House, know the extreme difficulty there will be at the end of the war to induce the taxpayers to put their hands in their pockets in order to maintain agriculture. There will be conflicting claims from every conceivable interest, all of them pressing and urgent. Therefore the reasons which I have ventured to adduce why agriculture should be put into a position to maintain itself out of its own profits are surely sound. That, to my mind, if I might venture to close on that note, is the point of real importance. Give us the opportunity of making our reserves now and then the State will not be troubled with agricultural problems after the war.
THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE
My Lords, I shall detain you for a few minutes only, but I must add to what has been said by other noble Lords, that it is extremely disappointing to have had from the Government spokesman today a statement that Cabinet Ministers have no time to deal with this question, followed by the statement, in effect, that they have no knowledge of it. The noble Earl then quoted the broadcast of the Prime Minister which contained these 718 words: "No promises, but every preparation." I do hope that, if nothing else results from this debate, the last four speeches to which we have had the privilege of listening, will impress upon His Majesty's Government that it is time to get on with the preparation. As Lord Addison properly said, surely there are one or two steps on which we could have pronouncements and make a beginning.
If I venture to occupy two or three minutes of your Lordships' time it is because I wish to strike one note which has not yet been sounded in the debate to-day. It follows up the note struck by Lord Phillimore and Lord Bledisloe—that confidence is required. I would like to say that confidence is required not only by the large farmer but also by the small farmer, the small-holder. I would like to urge that in the Government plan for a well-balanced agriculture there should be found a place for the small-holder, because I feel and believe very strongly that, in spite of the fact that openings are made, under the new régime of better wages, for the advancement of the agricultural worker, there is a very large body of men who are anxious to secure independence rather than security, who are willing to put their whole effort and their whole capital into work over which they have some form of control, themselves, rather than operate for a wage at the direction of a master.
It is for this that I would specially plead to-day: that in planning for a well-balanced agriculture for the future we should remember the place which can profitably be occupied by the small-holder. When I say "profitably," I mean profitably not only to himself but profitably in connexion with the kind of food which can be produced by the small-holder. I think that that is a question which has got to be considered in relation to this main problem. Vegetables, fruit, milk, poultry, eggs, and, possibly, pigs, all will respond in an almost miraculous way to the individual effort of a man who spends his life on the land and gives his whole attention to his own small holding. I should like to quote two illustrations showing what has already been accomplished on small holdings in this country. But before doing so I would emphasize that associated with any small-holding policy there must always be co-operation in buying and selling, otherwise the small-holder is at a disadvantage.
719 Given co-operation in buying and selling he comes into the same sphere as the large farmer, and it has been found possible, on estates of the Land Settlement Association, for holders with holdings of four and a half acres devoted to market gardening and small live stock, to make, on an average, from the value of their production, something in the region of £800. That is better than the average minimum wage of £3. In addition it gives, as I say, the boon of independence. The other illustration is from actual experience, and relates to the advantages of organized marketing. This enables packing and grading to be organized and maintained at a high level of quality, and it saves the' producer all labour costs except those of producing. In actual fact, we can show that on the estates which are at present managed by the Land Settlement Association, 600 tenants have produced from their holdings food to the value of £475,000. I wish to make this contribution to the debate to ensure, if possible, that the small-holder is not squeezed out in the consideration of the national plan for the future. I believe that he can fill a place of real usefulness—usefulness not only in the production of food, but also in bringing up a strong, healthy, independent population.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, debates in your Lordships' House upon agriculture are always of a very high quality, but the one to which we have listened to-day is of such unusually high quality that I almost hesitate to intervene, for fear I should depart from the standard which has been maintained hitherto. It is a symptom of the times, and a very welcome symptom, that this debate has been initiated, not by an agriculturist but by one who is primarily a great industrialist, although with agricultural connexions. That is a very good augury for the future. At the same time, perhaps my noble friend Lord Perry will forgive me if I say that even these agricultural connexions do not, I think, in some cases permit of his seeing all the problems which unfortunately at every turn confront those of us who are directly concerned. It is really easier, I can assure him, to get a balanced crankshaft than a balanced ration, and whilst the same explosive mixture may work very well throughout all the carburettors of the whole range of 720 Ford engines, the same food may not suit the digestions of all the cows in one small byre. But we do welcome here to-day his exposition of these agricultural problems because he is certainly starting along the right line.
The first desideratum must be, of course, to afford a good wage, not just a living wage, to the workers in the industry. Next the farmer must be sure of a reasonable amount of profit or you will not bring into the industry the best men, the men with the best brains—they will prefer to go elsewhere. This brings me to the position of the landlord. Lord Addison staked, with only too much truth, that a vast amount of capital is required if the land in this country is to be put into proper order. If your Lordships will pardon a personal reference, from the time that I first assumed control of the estates of my own family, which are fairly extensive, some fifteen years ago, I have not drawn out a penny for my personal use, and the agricultural revenues have also been subsidized by sporting rents. As a result, I am perfectly prepared to let anyone see the properly without any feeling of shame, but I am by no means satisfied with the condition that it is in; there is a great deal more to be done. I have renovated a hundred cottages, but they have not all got baths yet, as I should like them to have.
At the present time, although one may put back into agriculture every penny that comes out of it, one is still not in a position to do all that one would like to do. It is not merely a question of maintaining agricultural property, whether land or buildings, in the state in which they are to-day; it is a question of bringing them up to date. It is no reflection on one's predecessors to say that the equipment is not up to date, because in their day the equipment was often entirely adequate for its purpose; but time moves on, and agricultural requirements move with it, and move very fast. One would like, as Lord Perry has said, to introduce electricity everywhere, but the fact that a high-tension cable of perhaps 132,000 volts passes just beside a farm does not mean that it is easy to get electricity on that farm. A transformer is needed to bring the voltage down, and, while the cable may pass within a few yards of a farm, if the farmer is able to get electricity it will probably come to him from 721 a transformer anything up to ten or fifteen miles away.
We must get capital into the land. I am not sure that from the housing point of view I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Perry, because, if houses are to be provided by private enterprise in the form of a corporation, what assurance is there going to be that these houses, although meant for agricultural workers, are always going to be available for those workers? Unless the corporation is going to show a truly remarkable public spirit, I am afraid that the tendency for the week-ender to take cottages meant for agricultural workers, and pay for them rents quite beyond the capacity of the agricultural worker, will again manifest itself, and a great many of these cottages will be turned to occupation for which they were not meant. If, however, the cottages are built by, or under the control of, the State or the local authorities, the nature of the occupation of the occupants can be controlled, as is the case with the reconditioned cottages at the present time.
The noble Lord spoke of the so-called "doles" received by the agricultural industry. On that point he was answered fully, and I think very satisfyingly, by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, but I will add this one rejoinder. Is it only agriculture which has ever had "doles"? Have the extensive works controlled by the noble Lord benefited to no extent at all from derating, and, if they have, what is de-rating but another form of "dole"? At the same time, let me express complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Addison, when he says that what we want is to get away from any form of "dole," whatever it is for. Agriculture must be made self-supporting by whatever means can be found for doing so. I join with other noble Lords in regretting that we have not so far to-day had any more definite indication of the intentions of the Government.
There is one very important branch of agriculture which, surprisingly enough, has been touched on so far only by the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore. I refer to live stock. As your Lordships know, we produce incomparably the best live stock in the world, both for the purpose of the production of meat and for providing sires for herds and flocks abroad. Our live stock has been very seriously reduced, quite unavoidably, owing to the enormous 722 demand for corn and other crops. Those of us with pedigree stock have, it is true, been afforded a certain relief from demands which would otherwise have been extremely difficult to fulfil; but, after this war, not only shall we have to expand our live-stock industry in the interests of ourselves and our customers overseas for prize bulls and so on, but we are going to have a great demand for animals to replace the devastated and almost annihilated stocks of the countries occupied by the Germans. Only a short time ago, I was talking to a young Belgian who recently escaped from Belgium, who assured me that live stock in that unhappy country had almost ceased to exist; what had not be stolen by the Hun had been consumed by the semi-starving population. He fervently expressed the hope that this country would be able, after the war, to provide Belgium with at least a large proportion of the live stock she required. Belgium is only one instance; all the other occupied countries are to a greater or lesser degree in the same plight, and I think it would be well for His Majesty's Government to consider whether we should not even now begin to prepare for the replenishment of their diminished flocks and herds.
There is another point, The reduction of live stock in this country has an unfortunate, if unavoidable, effect upon fertility. Even if we were able to get all the artificial manures we could use, there are qualities which natural manures possess which cannot be obtained from any artificial. There is an intangible something which cannot be expressed by a chemical formula. There is also the fact that farmyard manure is helpful to the production of insect life, and insect life, on the whole, is beneficial to agriculture, if not indeed essential to it. There is also, apart from the chemical action, the mechanical action on the soil. The actual dung, mixed with the straw, has an aerating effect, particularly on heavy soil, which cannot be brought about by the use of any artificial. That is more or less an obiter dictum, but it should really be borne in mind, because, as has already been stated, fertility in many cases is being gravely encroached upon.
I should like to make one last thrust at the noble Lord, Lord Perry. He spoke of his abhorrence of subsidies for manures, on the ground that he did not like to give public money to private per- 723 sons. That gift, however, is not one which remains with the landlord; it is entirely to the advantage of the farm, because the manures put into the land do not remain there, but go out again sooner or later with the crop. They may remain for a few months or for several years, but in the end they go out, so that they are only a loan and not a permanent improvement.
There are only one or two other things that I wish to say, in view of the lateness of the hour. The first is that I cordially support the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, in his demand for further steps in agricultural education. I would also go a little further myself and urge the Government to do more for agricultural research into animal diseases. Once again in Scotland we are being swept by that mysterious grass disease which is striking down our horses and for which absolutely no cure has yet been found, nor is its exact nature really known. There we might spend a considerable sum of money to the very great advantage of our industry and of agriculture generally. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is, I know, at present engaged in trying to work out the problem of hill sheep, and something should be done at an early date in that matter, as all hill farmers that I know of are even to-day working at a loss. I am in entire agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and others who have expressed their satisfaction at the way in which we are for the first time now getting a large measure of agreement among agricultural experts of all Parties as to many of the steps that should be taken in the future. Once one can get agriculture away from Party politics, once one can get all thoughtful men who know something about it to agree upon the main lines of an agricultural policy, however much they may differ about the minor matters of the administration of such a policy, we have laid the foundation stone for a prosperity for agriculture which agriculture certainly deserves but which it has not, except at rare intervals, had for a century or more.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE DUKE OF NORFOLK)
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Perry, replies, it might be convenient if I made 724 a few general observations on the somewhat full and wide debate that we have had to-day. There is little, I must admit, that I can add to the speech of my noble friend Lord Selborne, but one or two specific questions were raised with which I will endeavour to deal. I would first like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for bringing this subject before us and to tell him that, while I am disappointed not to be able to give him what he asks, nevertheless we welcome such discussions. I do so personally as an agriculturist if for no other reason than that, in the phrase of Lord Cornwallis, they keep the industry on the map. I was a little surprised at two remarks made by Lord Perry. From what I understood him to say, it would appear that drainage schemes and water-to-farm land schemes were practically non-existent. No one would assert that what we have done in regard to drainage is complete, but a tremendous amount has been done and a great deal of help is given to the farmer in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Addison, made reference to the Food Conference in America, but I do not propose to enter into that this afternoon. I think he will agree with what my noble friend said that, later on, that subject should be a matter for a separate debate. The noble Lord also asked what the Prime Minister meant in his broadcast when he said there are likely to be substantial charges which the State must be prepared to shoulder. I think the answer is exactly what the noble Lord and myself both had in mind, that none of these things can be carried out without financial help from somewhere, and whatever is done in any industry the money must be there before it can be done. I think Lord Addison himself mentioned the figure of £250,000,000 as not being near the mark, and said that if you multiplied it by seven or eight you would be nearer the mark.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
I may have slightly exaggerated. I apologize. There was only one other point in Lord Addison's speech to which I wished to refer. Was it to my Department that he 725 referred when he used the word "procrastination"?
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
I thank the noble Lord for that. The word "confidence" is one that has run through the debate, and my noble friend Lord Phillimore dwelt on chat at sonic length. From my experience of the country today I think it is perfectly true to say that there is tremendous confidence in the agricultural industry, both in the urban and the rural districts. Lord Phillimore mentioned the four-year plan which my right honourable friend spoke about yesterday. I know that the noble Lord was present at that meeting, but my right honourable friend did specifically state that this plan is a four-year plan because, whether the war lasted one year or four years longer, there cannot possibly be any letting up of the agricultural effort, and that the industry must produce all it can in the next four years. He did, at the same time, make a fairly long reference to the position of the live-stock industry in this country, and if my noble friend Lord Mansfield has not yet had time to read that speech I would ask him to relieve his mind by referring to what the Minister said. The noble Earl, Lord Elgin, gave me the impression that he thought nothing had been done at all. He said there was no promise, only preparation.
THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE
I was quoting from the Prime Minister; that was not my own statement.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
What I am going to do—and I make no apology to the House for doing so—is to quote once again what the Prime Minister said, and to quote it more fully than has already been done. After all, he made this statement at a moment chosen by the Government and made it as the great leader of the nation. He said:It is absolutely certain we shall have to grow a larger proportion of our food at home. During the war immense advances have been made by the agricultural industry. The position of the farmers has been improved, the position of the labourers immeasurably improved. The efficient agricultural landlord has an important part to play. I hope to see a vigorous revival of healthy village life on the basis of these higher wages and of improved housing and, what with the modern methods 726 of locomotion and the modern amusements of the cinema and the wireless, to which will soon be added television, life in the country and on the land ought to compete in attractiveness with life in the great cities.But all this would cost money. When the various handicaps of war conditions are at an end, I expect that better national housekeeping will be possible and that, as the result of technical improvements in British agriculture, the strain upon the State will be relieved. At the same time the fact remains that if the expansion and improvement of British agriculture is to be maintained, as it must be maintained, and a reasonable level of prices is to be maintained, as it must be maintained, there are likely to be substantial charges which the State must he prepared to shoulder. That has to be borne in mind.That is where I propose to end, because I am quite certain, in spite of the disappointment that has been expressed by some noble Lords this afternoon, that the clay will dawn in the not far distant future when a similar Motion will appear on your Lordships' paper, and I am equally certain that at a not far distant date there will be a long-term policy for agriculture.
§ LORD PERRY
My Lords, it would be very interesting to reply to certain of the debating points which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, raised, but in anything I said to-day my aim was to substantiate the case for the practical setting up of a permanent policy. As I expressed my personal opinion on certain points, there is no need to discuss them now. I am very sorry if I stated something wrongly about drainage, as the noble Duke mentioned. I have seen what I call main drainage at work in many parts of the country. I have discussed the subject with a great many people. I did not intend to say nothing was being done. What I did intend to say was that there is no co-ordination of effort, and that the work of catchment boards should be looked upon as national work rather than parochial, as it is at present.
I am very grateful particularly for the speeches of Lord Phillimore, Lord Cornwallis, and the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, all of whom stressed this word "confidence." I have received an express letter from a noble Lord who intended to be here to-day. He says:From experience of what happened to the Government's pledges to the wheat producers after the last war, I cannot help regarding these pledges as mere slips of paper in spite of the fact that our present Minister of Agriculture has personally gone into farming on a big scale.727 That is utterly representative of the condition of confidence throughout the country, and it should be a matter of considerable concern. Everything depends on confidence. The world and life rest upon it. Destroy it and we cease to exist. We must have confidence. If we talk about confidence at the present time let us put it in terms of morale. It is, I assure His Majesty's Ministers, just as necessary to preserve the morale of our workers on the land, and of our investors in the land, as it is to preserve the morale of any other people, whether in the Army or in munition works. Therefore, it is very much to be regretted that the Government cannot got a little way further.
Of course I anticipated the difficulty of the Motion. I quite understood that no cut-and-dried programme could be laid down, but it is surely time that something was said to carry out the pledge that has been given. We know the war is going on, and that it is very difficult, but in view of the continued and repeated demands of the Minister, it is a great pity the Government cannot see their way to do something better. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, even gave it away when he said that when he made a certain statement he was talking as a fellow agriculturist and not as a Minister. The noble Duke has done exactly the same thing, so we are all unanimous about it. It would not be right to say that Ministers are procrastinating, so far as I know—and I know a great deal about the operations of the Ministry of Agriculture—yet that word does creep into the minds of those of us who have not complete knowledge of all the Government's motive' and considerations. We are apt 728 to think that there is procrastination when things do not happen. I hope this debate cannot be described as inopportune. I heard that expression applied to a debate recently by a member of the Government, and I was really scared about my Motion in case it, too, should be called inopportune. In the circumstances I ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.