HL Deb 26 October 1943 vol 129 cc291-327

LORD TEVIOT rose to call attention to food values in relation to agricultural methods in view of their importance to the health of man, animal and plant; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I begin to deal with the Motion which stands on the Paper in my name, I wish to make a few general remarks. Your Lordships are well aware that the hospitals and similar institutions are full to overflowing, and this has been the case for many years; in fact, I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that all such organizations have a waiting list. How many of us are there who have not had some kind of operation, or have not been treated for some internal ailment? Only a few days ago I was talking to a friend who works among hospitals, and she was very perturbed at the enormous increase in the number of young people who have cancer. I remember that in my young days it was only old people who were thought to have cancer, but to-day such troubles seem to be on the increase. Then take the animals of our country. I do not think any of us who are connected in any way with agriculture can be other than perturbed at the number of diseases there are among our farm stocks. Take foot-and-mouth disease, Johne's disease, mastitis, abortion, swine fever and many others that one could mention. Lastly, I come to the crops. We are well aware that the diseases among our crops are legion. Yet it seems to me that we accept all these afflictions as part of our existence; and while immense sums are expended in trying to cure them, I am afraid there is no doubt whatever that disease is increasing.

Every day we hear a great deal about planning. The real object behind this Motion is to see that we put planning for the health of our people, the animals, the plants and the crops of our country, first. We know that the spirit of our people is magnificent, their courage, now as in the past, is undaunted. Their bodily conditions, however, are bad. I should like, if I may, to quote some figures. Since statistics are always boring, I will make them as short as possible. I have here a report—it is not marked "Secret," so I think I can mention it—from the British Medical Association, which sums up the whole situation in this way: While hundreds of millions are expended in trying to cure, only one-fifth of one per cent. of the natural expenditure and waste through ill-health is expended on research to find out, not how to cure but how to prevent. I have another authority here, from America. It appears that their position is very analogous to our own, but of course the figures are much larger because of the larger population. They put it in a rather realistic way. They say that every year among the population of the United States there are about 100,000,000 illnesses, serious or slight, and in the hospitals 700,000 beds are occupied every day in the year. The care of these patients requires the efforts of 145,000 doctors, 280,000 nurses or student-nurses, 60,000 dentists, and 150,000 pharmacists. It also necessitates 7,000 hospitals, 8,ooo clinics, and 60,000 pharmacies. The public spend annually £143,000,000 on medicines, and medical care in all its forms costs about £700,000,000 per annum. Obviously, disease is a very heavy burden not only here but in the rest of the civilized world.

Now I come to my Motion. What is the cause of this terrible tragedy? From the evidence of very well-known authorities who have for years carried out extensive tests and experiments, the conclusion is that food is largely responsible. We hear a great deal about a balanced diet. With this naturally I am in entire agreement, but unless the components come from a healthy soil rich in humus, life-giving and disease-resisting properties must be deficient. This reminds me of a friend of mine who is a pharmacist, a man with whom I often talk on this subject. I asked him the other day, when I went into his shop, "Do you think that all of these tabloids that I see with their Vitamin A, Vitamin B, and so on, do any good?" He replied, "I suppose they may, but I like to take my vitamins and my proteins with my knife, spoon, and fork." I thought that was a very good way of putting it. But he is not done with the question then if the food which he is going to eat with his knife, spoon and fork is not grown from healthy soil. We know what has happened in various countries with regard to the soil. I am sure that those of us who have studied the question and read the evidence of the great authorities on this subject who have made tests not only for one or two years, but in some cases for more than twenty years, must say to ourselves, "There is something wrong here with the soil." We are aware that the soil is our most precious asset and it has far too long been exploited for gain.

Throughout the world food has been sold a great deal too cheaply, and the soil, suffering from the strain upon it, has had to be boosted up with stimulants. We all know how long we should last if we boosted ourselves up with stimulants. Thereby the soil has been robbed of its fertility without anything being put back. Over vast areas in the United States and in Canada there has been erosion. We all know about that. Where there has been an attempt by artificial means to combat this, the result has been worse still. I do not want to become academic on this point, and I do not want to go on hammering away at things that your Lordships know about, but in order to develop what I am going to ask for at the end of my speech I must say a great many things that are home truths. It is obvious in this, as in everything else, that quality means a great deal, and if we can eat food that is of good quality, and if the protein of that food is of good quality, then we are healthy. Your Lordships know the name of McCarrison. He is a man with a world-wide reputation. Those of you who have read his works will know how he has studied other nations of the world, some of them quite small, who have none of these things, who have no disease except just the machine wearing out. The Hunzas in India are a particular instance. He writes that they have no abdominal troubles—no appendicitis, no colitis, no duodenal ulcers, no cancer, and colds are practically unknown. Then there is that great country from which 1 have just returned—China The fertility of China has been maintained for thousands of years, and has supported hundreds of millions of people. One cannot but be impressed with the virility, the tremendous strength of the Chinese as carriers of immense weights, and by their endurance. I wish we had the same sort of thing here.

We all suffer from wrong nutrition on occasions, but even right nutrition and the proper diet must depend upon the component parts being grown in a healthy soil which will impart to the crops health and power to resist the disease that I have already shown your Lordships is prevalent all over the country. Surely crops doped with stimulants, dressings or sprays, cannot impart to those who partake of them resistance to disease if they have to be, if I may use the term, so much gingered up in order to exist. We know quite well that the soil which is impregnated in many cases with artificial means of keeping it going destroys the greatest friend of man in agriculture, and the greatest friend of mankind generally, and that is the earth worm. You put on some of these strong artificial manures and it means death to that worm straight away. So we have a sort of cycle—a healthy soil, a healthy plant, a healthy animal and then a healthy man, and it is the integrity of that life cycle which is so important. In fact so far as I can see it is the only hope, not only of this country, but of all the world in the future.

Many experiments and tests have been made with animals, and in particular with the white rat, by many men of great scientific knowledge and distinction, and it is curious that the white rat, which will thrive on good food as man will thrive on it, when it does not get it becomes unhappy, bad-tempered, neurotic. It has ill health, and becomes sterile; in fact the result of this bad feeding from soil which is not healthy reacts on the whole of its existence. We must in my view plan to put back into the soil those things we take from soil. I drove through Hyde Park this morning, and what did I see? I saw an immense pile of leaves being burned. That is wicked and it ought not to be allowed. I hope the day will come, and that ere long, when the people of our country will realize the importance of sustaining the health of our soil and with it the health of the people, because the two are indissoluble, the one needs the other. We all know quite well that we are prone to disease. That is a dreadful thought, but it is true and it is due to the defects and deficiencies in our diet which come through the defects and deficiencies of the soil.

I have just had sent to me this morning a short passage from a very distinguished man. If your Lordships will permit me to read it, he says this: While recognizing the value of 'artificials' in crop production, the great reliance on artificial manures in common use insidiously impairs the health of the soil, predisposes to disease in the plants, with the resulting unfavourable influence on animal nutrition and the resistance of animals to disease, with, in sequence, a similar impairment in human nutrition and resistance. What does medicine do about this? Medicine seems to me to be just a palliative. So far as I know, research is greatly concentrated on how to cure and not on how to prevent all this happening. There was suggested some time ago a Council of Nutrition. I hope it will be set up, and I am sincerely hoping, too, that such a Nutrition Council will take into very serious consideration, not what we shall all eat, but from whence it comes and how it is cultivated. If it does not, then in my view, and in the view of a great many others, it is just a waste of time.

I beg the Minister who is to reply to put forward to the Government a request that a Royal Commission or a Committee of Inquiry shall be set up to deal with these matters in order that we may somehow or other combat this really tragic state of affairs. I would respectfully suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture, and of course the Ministries of Health and Food, must be represented, and I would also very earnestly plead for the representation of many men who have been studying this subject for a good many years. I give as an instance Sir Robert McCarrison, Dr. Lionel Picton (of the County of Chester Local Medical and Panel Committee), Sir Albert Howard and also a lady, Lady Eve Balfour, who has just written a most admirable book called The Living Soil. What I have been talking about is not happening here only; it is happening also in all parts of the world such as New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, India and Assam. These matters are occupying very serious attention and are being dealt with. In addition to those I have mentioned there are others with just as great positions in the experimental world, in the field, in clinics and in the laboratory. There is, moreover, a vast mass of ready-to-hand information that can be given by those who can speak with authority and give confidence to the public mind on the subject. I should say that with the information I have and that many others have on this subject a definite decision could be arrived at pretty soon. Then we could proceed to tackle this question which I think is vital not only to the future health of the people of our country but to the future health of all the people in the world. I beg to move.


My Lords, at the beginning of his speech the noble Lord told us that planning should begin with the soil. In that I most heartily concur. It seems to me that with all our planning for the post-war world at the moment we are in danger of getting everything arranged inside the cart, but of forgetting the position of the horse. Housing, medical services, all the other amenities are the cart and its furniture, but food is the horse which alone can draw the cart, and the vigour with which the horse can perform his duties is the test of the soil. In order to give an illustration of how necessary it is to have regard to food as the first item in planning for health, I would recall to your Lordships the report of Dr. McGonigle, that it was found, when Stockton-on-Tees set out to re-house slum dwellers, the result was a vast increase in the death-rate and more disease because people had less food in their new houses than they had in the old. That the quality of food matters is shown by the experiment of a very well-known doctor, who, working in the Peckham pioneer health centre, found that when expectant mothers were examined, the hemoglobin content in the blood was far too low. He found it impossible, with all the modern assistance of injections and so forth, to raise that content until the mothers had drunk raw fresh, unpasteurized milk. Nothing else would do.

Sir Robert McCarrison's experiments on rats, or some of them at least, if they do not prove at any rate very strongly suggest that the life and health of the rat under ideal conditions were more dependent upon the way the food was produced than upon the food itself. From that I think it might be safe to deduce that positive health, such as the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, mentioned in a recent speech— one of the most remarkable speeches, if I may say so, that I have seen reported in your Lordships' House for many years— vigorous abounding health, normal health, and not merely the average freedom from disease, can come only from proper treatment of the soil in the beginning, although it may be that other things have also something to do with the matter. In our own country before this war the cost to the State of health—that does not include private patients of doctors or the people who put sixpence in the slot in the "pub" and get an aspirin tablet—was more than the total wholesale value of our home-produced foodstuffs, considerably more. If, therefore, there is complaint from time to time, when care is taken to prepare good food, that the cost of it is high, I would like to reply that the high cost of ill-health equals the low cost of food, and the low cost of food, as my noble friend has just said, equals exploitation of the soil.

There is no lime in this debate to recall to your Lordships all the evidence of very serious indications of the gravest nature that our treatment of the soil is leading to ill-health and disease in plant, animal and the human being. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, mentioned that very remarkable book by Lady E. B. Balfour, The Living Soil. In that book there is given for the first time, at any rate in our country, the evidence of the indications which go cumulatively to prove that something is very wrong with our present methods. There is no time now to do more than try to draw an analogy. The analogy, which I would like to draw is again from the human body. Very few surgeons to-day would care to perform a surgical operation with crude antiseptics, and very few doctors would advise their patients continuously to use strong antiseptic nasal sprays. If they did the living membranes would suffer and would have left no power of resistance to disease. But we are doing exactly that to the soil. With lethal sprays we are destroying the soil's power of resistance and we are at the same time giving continuous doses of chemical food and chemical stimulants so that the infinite complex of bacterial and mycelial life in the soil is being upset, and we are upsetting the vitamins content, that is the capacity of the soil to produce food, by destroying the humus within the soil itself. I wonder sometimes whether not only the sub-normal health from which the majority of our population suffers, and indeed the population in all the so-called civilized world, but even the birth-rate are not closely connected with this exploitation of the soil which has been going on so long.

If your Lordships will excuse me I would like to relate my own personal experience because I feel it is relevant to the argument. When I started to farm some twenty years ago I was thoroughly up to date with modern ideas, but gradually by trial and error—far more often, I may say, by error than by success—I revised all my previous notions. I found again and again that, despite what analysis proved, the quality of bought food was very low compared with the very genuine food value in my own home-grown foodstuffs. For instance, in a comparison between protein in beans and in oil-cakes, my beans won every time. The same thing was found in home-grown oats. The analysis showed their food value to be very low, yet practical experience in feeding homegrown oats to my own cattle showed the value of the oats to be much higher than anything that could be bought, except the most expensive foods. I found that my animals had a bloom. That experience brought me back to the necessity of consulting nature instead of trying to beat her. I have come, therefore, through the very hard force of circumstance and by-practical trial on my own land, to believe that there is more in the way we treat the soil than there is in any methods of trying to get the maximum out of the soil by artificial means.

Though I admit that my own farming experience is very small—I feel that I would have to live for five generations before I could speak with any authority— if I could farm exactly as I liked without any restrictions at all for a few years and treat my soil exactly as I liked, I would be willing to introduce any ordinary disease in plants, and I would be fairly certain that, though the disease would be there, it would not have such a hold as to matter. I would also be perfectly willing for all those who worked and lived with me on that land, and fed from those products likewise, to face any epidemics that might occur with far greater hope of success in overcoming them than would be the case otherwise. Lord Geddes, in that speech of his which I mentioned earlier, spoke of the need for integrated research, of the need for getting rid of the fragmentary attitude and bringing the fragments together into a mosaic that might make a whole picture of life. But if there is only a shadow of suspicion that for us and our population in this country, and indeed for all people in the modern world, health depends on the right treatment of the soil, then I would suggest to your Lordships that there is no time for delay. Though very little may have been proven positively, if there are sufficient indications that there is more than a shadow of suspicion that our methods are wrong, we cannot afford to wait. We have had 150 years of harm through the workings of the industrial revolution. We have had 100 years, nearly, of exploitation of the soil. The human body is very slow acting. It will stand up to almost anything under almost all conditions, and the sooner we know positively what is right in this connexion the sooner shall we be able to take steps for improving the health of our people in the future.

Lord Teviot, at the end of his speech, urged upon His Majesty's Government the setting up of a Royal Commission. I would like to support that, and to express the hope that it would be a permanent Commission, not one that would dissolve after its first findings. Such a Commission might become the basis for continuous integrated research and the development of knowledge. But that will take long. The authors of Biologists in search of material stress that it is almost impossible, in this country, to find a human being who may be described as normal, that is an individual of abounding physical health and with the fire of that health glowing and radiating from him. The great majority of our people are only sub-normal, although they may have nothing positively wrong with them. There is no normal standard of positive health in this country by which to measure the real health, the positive health, of the population. This will mean that a Royal Commission will have to perform years of work under most difficut conditions, collating evidence, and perhaps carrying out certain inquiries in the outer countries of the world where there are pockets where the health of the people and health of the soil show up abundantly together.

So I would like to urge on the noble Duke, who I understand is going to reply for the Government, that he should ask the Government to consider the immediate need for the initiation at home, as soon as possible, of a large-scale comprehensive experiment. The experiment I suggest should be performed on a large block of land and the soil there should be treated according to different methods. But the experiment should not be concerned only with the soil. From that there should be built up integrated research concerned with all types of plant and animal life and human beings as a community. The control will be the rest of the nation. Such an experiment, I suggest, would have to cover twenty years at least. It seems to my mind that we might derive from it very strong indications within a few years, but before definite proof which might sway the nation could be obtained, I think twenty years must elapse. And there is no time to be wasted, for whenever there is a genuine advance in these matters those interests which consciously or unconsciously are vested in ill-health make their influence felt, and they will not be easily overcome. Undoubtedly there will be a great deal of combat. Much of it will be carried on by both sides in good faith, but undoubtedly the necessity for combat there will be.

Therefore I would like to conclude with a quotation from that remarkable document, the Cheshire Panel Doctors' Medical Testament. They say: That the use of the wastes of life in accordance with natural laws is at the root of national health, seems to us to issue from a contemplation of the whole subject. Even when wastes are returned to the land merely to get rid of them, they assert their power of conferring fertility …. It would seem that the marriage of agriculture to a foreign partner, chemistry, arranged by Baron Liebig in 1840, was a mistake. A more homely alliance would have been preferable—in our Cheshire proverb, 'It is better to marry over the mixen than over the moor.'


My Lords, I feel sure that I voice the feeling of every one of your Lordships when I congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken on the speech which he has delivered. It is the first time that he has addressed your Lordships' House and I feel certain that every one of us present hopes that it will not be the last. The noble Lord who introduced this debate to-day has put forward a case for health based upon the working idea of soil health, which, in turn, he suggests, means plant and animal health. That plant and animal health, he says further, results in human health. There is a great deal of truth in that, of course, but I do not know that it is all quite as simple as that. For many years I have been concerned with the problem of what is, and what is not, the cause of positive physical health. It is a very elusive and very difficult problem, but I recall to-day that thirty years ago—it was in October, 1913—I was talking to a very distinguished man, whom many of your Lordships will remember and one of your Lordships especially, Sir Andrew Macphail. He said to me: "There is only one place in the world that I know of where positive health exists—Prince Edward Island." That idea has remained at the back of my mind for many years. I would remark that Sir Andrew was a Prince Edward islander. I understand that there is at least one of your Lordships who believes that New Brunswick is also the seat of positive health !

At all events, Prince Edward Island has recently been the subject of a most interesting demographic investigation. That very distinguished lady—the most distinguished of our British demographers, in my judgment—Dr. Enid Charles, has published the results of her examination into the demographic statistics and position of Prince Edward Island. It is relatively a small community, one of the provinces of Canada, peopled almost entirely by descendants of Western European stocks; the Scots form 44 per cent., the English about 21 per cent., and the Irish and French make; up the rest. There we have a very high standard of health, an extraordinarily vigorous, active population, and, quire remarkably after fifty years of close examination, no fall whatever in the birth-rate. It is the only social organization composed of Western Europeans which has not shown in the last fifty years a really sharp fall in the birth-rate.

It is important to examine, therefore, what special conditions attach to life in Prince Edward Island, to see whether there is any evidence which would support, at least in part, the view put forward by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. Prince Edward Island is surrounded by the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The population is engaged in fishing, farming and the rural trades and crafts. There are no great cities. The farming there is mixed, not like the farming in the prairie provinces of Canada. It is mixed farming, and it has always been carried out in the traditional manner, not using large quantities of artificial fertilizers but using muck and the products of the sea. There we have this Scotto-Anglo-Erse-French population maintaining a standard of health, a standard of well-being and a standard of reproduction which is unique amongst Western Europeans at the present time. That is not a chance impression; it is not merely the feeling that one might have about Prince Edward Island; it is the result of one of the most beautiful pieces of demographic research that can be found anywhere. I suggest that any of your Lordships who are interested in this subject should look up Dr. Charles's paper on this matter, which will be found in the Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, Vol. 8, 1942.

There is one point which is of such very great interest and importance that I am surprised that it has not been widely noticed. The population reproduction curve for these fifty years, when the cubic parameter is applied, shows that there is running through that curve a 44-year cycle, and, by going back before the fifty-year period and getting the best figures available, there is a carrying of that curve backwards. The interesting point is that not only is there that cycle there but that, from the interpretation of the Fourrier series, we find a 9-year sub-cycle working on the 44-year big cycle. These cycles have been met before in connexion with vegetation, and they affect health. They appear in Prince Edward Island, where very level positions have been maintained in health and in the reproduction rate. That is most suggestive from the point of view of the subject which I ventured to bring before your Lordships some time ago—namely, the physiological element in the fall of the birth-rate, which I spoke of on that occasion as being referred to the germ-plasm, as it undoubtedly is. We have got, therefore, in Prince Edward Island, a population living very much as the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has suggested we all should live, drawing their food fresh from the sea and from the field in the traditional manner, living upon simple foodstuffs, the products of their own farms and fishing, and maintaining an extraordinarily good state of health and birth-rate.

Another paper by Dr. Enid Charles, who is now in the employ of the Canadian Government—I feel sure that the Government of Canada should be congratulated on the steps which they are taking to work these matters out—has appeared in the Journal of Economics and Political Science, of May of this year, on the differential birth-rate in Canada, and it shows something which I think is of extraordinary interest. The French people in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec have a very high birth-rate. They live in a traditional way in all those provinces. If, however, the French Canadians move to the wheat farms of the prairie provinces, their health declines and their birth-rate falls in some cases below the level of British stocks. That is a very interesting observation, proved by the most careful statistical examination of all the available facts in the possession of the Government of Canada.

What has happened? Those people have moved away from their traditional life and their traditional type of agriculture and from their traditional association with the sea to a continental climate and to wheat farms where a large part of their food is similar, being imported, to the food in the towns and cities, and therefore their birth-rate falls abruptly and their health declines abruptly. These are matters of very great interest and very great importance and, so far as I know, this work of Dr. Enid Charles has not received anything like the attention which I feel sure it deserves, because she has behind her the full resources of all the knowledge possessed by the Government of Canada, and she, as one of our leading; demographic experts, has been working out these facts.

So far as we have gone, it looks as if the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, was supported one hundred per cent. by these Canadian figures. We see the good health, the high birth-rate with the type of agriculture he recommends, the association with the sea which he recommends; we see the birth-rate of these French-speaking people fall almost like a stone as you go away from those conditions. The case is complete. It is a most extraordinary thing that as soon as you get to a people of different stock origin, the Central Europeans, that is to say, the Eastern Germans, the Czechs, the Poles and the Rumanians—as soon as you get to the stock of Canada derived from those countries you find that the birthrate rises as they go West; it is low in the East and high in the centre; and their health goes up, too, as far as I can make out the figures. And what clearly suggests itself to my mind as the line along which one has to look for an explanation would be that they are racially adapted to a continental climate, whereas the Western European is racially adapted to a maritime climate, and that we have thus got another factor coming into health.

Again I refer to Dr. Enid Charles and her work. She has been struck as the work has cone forward by the extraordinary difficulty of assigning any one influence in the observed facts as a cause, and she has worked out the correlations between health and reproduction and the various things which are known to affect them. For instance, taking reproduction for a moment as one of the indices of positive health, you find that always with rise of income there is a fall in reproduction; you find always with urbanization there is a fall in reproduction; and you find always that if large number of women are employed in any occupation, that becomes a low reproductive occupation. And there are some other facts, such as the association of low fertility with textile workers, which has been known since before the Christian era. If you take all this and work out the correlation of health and reproduction, which Dr. Charles does, you will find that only something between one-third and two-fifths of the variations in this manifestation of positive health can be accounted for by the environmental conditions, and that the rest, the two-thirds or three-fifths that is left, is not explained unless it has an association with the nutritional type with which the individual is by descent associated, and with the climate type with which again he is by descent associated. So that we have got a highly complex picture before us, and we find in it one of the factors, and a very important factor—this question of the origin of the food. But how far food, and food alone, is responsible for the ill-health of this or that population it is not possible to say definitely without complete demographic examination, and also external experimentation.

Now I have another group of facts which I should like to bring before your Lordships, and they refer to a completely different part of the world. In 1924 or 1925, when I returned from being on duty in the United States of America for four years, I was asked by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin as he then was, to see what I could do in connexion with the supply of copper for this country. It seems to be a far cry from soil health to copper, but as a matter of fact the nation would not be getting its copper today unless somewhere in the back of my mind had not been the fact that soil health was what made health. Because the copper that we had to get hold of was in Northern Rhodesia. It was the only place in the sterling area where there were known deposits of copper. It was not very well known, but copper was known to be there because it appeared in native use, and we had to get a copper reserve in order that we might in this country be in a position to defend ourselves, because copper is extraordinarily important in connexion with war preparations. The country in which that copper existed was in large parts depopulated. There was no one living there, not even Africans, because of sleeping sickness, malaria and all the range of tropical diseases which make some of the great forest areas in the heart of the tropics impossible for human life. We started in, and the greatest medical problem that I have ever known was the opening up of the Copper Belt in Northern Rhodesia—probably the greatest medical problem of our time.

There are several branches of medicine. There is curative medicine, which divides itself into research into the nature of diseases, and the other part of curative medicine, the care of sick people; there is preventive medicine, which deals with all the problems of keeping a great community healthy; there is tropical medicine, which is really a spawn of zoology—it is rather making a study of the wild animals that live in the country, even though they are small. And then there is creative medicine, and creative medicine is a thing that very few people know anything about at all. In going into Northern Rhodesia we had to use all the forms of medicine in Order that we could get in. A country that has been depopulated by the virulence of the diseases there is not an easy country to get people of another race into and to keep them in a good state of health. I shall not bore your Lordships with the various steps taken during the fifteen years that followed, but I will tell you this. The curative medicine was just the ordinary sort of curative medicine of Harley Street or elsewhere. It was interesting, but of very much less interest than the other. Preventive medicine dealt with the ordinary problems of public health in a community. As to tropical medicine, the School of Tropical Diseases helped us and we found out a lot of things ourselves. Creative medicine—what did we base that on? On the health of the food; and my noble friend Lord Bledisloe can tell you that our idea of how to keep people healthy there is that we give them food grown on rich humus soil with plenty of life in it.

What have we done? What have the men who were there done? I do not want to take any credit for myself—I was only Chairman of the Company. The people who fought the thing through were the doctors and the agriculturists on the spot—everybody there. My job was simply to see that they were not interfered with by short-sighted economy. They have beaten back disease, and turned that part of Northern Rhodesia into what is a health resort. It is a most extraordinary phenomenon. The positive health of these people is based on food. This group of facts provide evidence tending in a definite direction. They show the importance of what Lord Teviot has brought before your Lordships, and they show it in a way, I believe, that places the truth of his contention on a secure basis—that food is the basis of health. But it is not the only basis. There are a great many other things that have to come in. May I mention one thing more?


Go on.


I do not know whether many of you are familiar with the Hawthorn experiments carried out by Harvard University, with Dr. Roethlis-berger as chief examiner. They were carried out under the direction of Harvard at the Western Electric Works a Hawthorn. They were directed towards discovering how to get the greatest efficiency out of the workers, and they began, like all these management investigations, with a sort of gadget-loving lot of pseudo-scientists on the job. It always happens like this; they always turn up first ! These experiments went on for ten solid years. They started off—it has nothing to do with health for the moment but that comes in later—with an attempt to get the greatest efficiency out of the girls working in the factory where the electric relays were made. In the best style they fixed one shop as control, another shop as experiment, and they began jigging around the benches. Output went up. They increased the light, and output went up. They increased the light a bit more, and output went up—it went up in both shops !

Then they started the bright idea—quite unusual in industrial psychology—of reducing the light. So they reduced the light—and output went up ! A variety of other performances were gone through and, finally, what it came to was this, that the people working in the Hawthorn factory worked well when they felt important and when they felt they were being appreciated; that made them happy. In other words, the human value of the people was what mattered. After many years the whole thing is worth reading, and perhaps the most reverend Primate (the Archbishop of Canterbury) might find a great deal of interest in it. It is all in Roethlis-berger's book Management and the Worker, which goes tremendously into the social application of the matter. The book is published by the Harvard University Press, and there is quite a good summary, a short view, of it in the May number of the Canadian journal of which I spoke a moment ago by Hart of Toronto University.

What we have found also in Northern Rhodesia and what appears to be the case in Prince Edward Island is this, that the really surprising health which you find in these places, considering the conditions in which the people are living, is linked with a feeling of importance and of being cared for, and in connexion with positive health there is no doubt that that has an enormous psychological value. That is the last point I want to make, but before I sit down I would support the plea put forward by Lord Teviot for some sort of work to be done in this country to follow up the work which is being done now in Canada. Canada is a peculiarly suitable place for it, because there you have got a new country, and practically in any given year you can have a cross-section of the population. You have the old French settlement in the East, the old Highland settlement, and the more recent settlements, all with their different traditions and different culture habits. If we had in this country an examination going forward comparable in its vigour, in the clearness of direction, and in its intelligent purpose to try to discover really what the people are doing, how they are, and how they are prospering, I believe we might be able to find surer ground for many of the necessary social improvements than we shall find if we allow ourselves to be directed, as we are too often at the present time, by pseudo-scientists, men who know far too much about too little, and very soon will know far too much about nothing at all—and too much multiplied by nothing is still nothing !


My Lords, it is seldom that your Lordships enjoy the delight of listening to such an informative and indeed erudite debate as that initiated by my noble friend Lord Teviot. I think your Lordships will feel that this step on the part of Lord Teviot has been fully justified if only by the interesting and well informed speech which fell from the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, and the illuminating discourse to which we have just listened from Lord Geddes. Lord Geddes, if I may say so, is an unduly modest man. But for him I dread to think where we should be in the matter of copper supply for essential war requirements to-day. He has pointed out very interestingly that the augmented output from the Copper Belt of Northern Rhodesia is very largely due to the-efficiency of the workers in at least the British controlled portion of the Copper Belt and, if I may say so, most emphatically to that mining company over which he himself so skilfully presides.

He has pointed out that in South Central Africa the land is fearfully poor, and is on the whole badly farmed, that there is very little mixed husbandry, and that the morbid condition of the native population is appallingly high. Indeed when I was out there five years ago as Chairman of a Royal Commission I found that the chief problems that we shall have sooner or later to solve in that area depend not merely preponderantly upon the health of the native population, and especially upon the native workers having a properly balanced ration, but also upon the distressing fact that over 60 per cent. of the millions of natives living and working in that part of the world are affected with some disease, a very great proportion from venereal disease, but a large number of others from various sub-tropical diseases, all of them induced or aggravated by malnutrition. The noble Lord was modest in this respect; he did not tell the whole story. When I visited that remarkable oasis in the desert, where everything seems to be bright and green and the bulk at least of the white population happy, cheerful and well supplied with every sort of social amenity, I discovered that the efficiency of the natives working in these copper mines was largely due to the fact that my noble friend Lord Geddes had made experiments through his management with the men, I believe not swayed solely by philanthropic motives but by economic considerations, to discover what a properly balanced ration for the native race is.

Perhaps Lord Geddes will forgive me referring to those experiments because they are very remarkable. They showed, if I remember rightly, that if, instead of feeding the natives entirely upon the starchy food which is what the country— most of it rather a poor type of land—preponderantly produces, you introduce a meat ration once a week and couple with it, I think I am right in saying, vitamin C in the form of citrous fruit, there is a remarkable increase of output on the part of the native worker, amounting, I believe, to something like 30 or 40 per cent. If the native is given two rations of meat a week (very unusual) that efficiency and quantity of output is augmented by a further 30 or 40 per cent., but if you give him three rations of meat a week the law of diminishing returns begins to operate and it is found not to be strictly an economic proposition. All that is new knowledge, very valuable new knowledge which, so far as I know, but for the enterprise and scientific activities of my noble friend and his managerial staff would not be available to-day.

My noble friend Lord Teviot appears to desire to see some action taken in order more definitely to establish the inter-relation between morbid or deficiency conditions of soil, edible plants, animals and human beings, and he has cited very interestingly the experiments and observations of "General Sir Robert McCarrison, Dr. Picton, at the head of the approved pane ! doctors in Cheshire, Sir Albert Howard, of Indore fame, the famous discoverer and promoter of the Indore method of making compost which I am glad to say is now being largely taken in hand in South Central Atrica, to the marked and obvious advantage not only of plant products but of the animals and natives in the areas where it is employed. Last but by no means least there is that enterprising lady, Lady Eve Balfour, who has just produced a remarkably interesting little book to which Lord Teviot has referred. I am bound to say that there has come to my notice, particularly in New Zealand, supporting evidence apparent to the least instructed. I thought there was a very marked relationship between these three different factors. There is of course an immense amount of strong conjecture but, so far as I can discover, very little clearly ascertained knowledge. I myself only about eight months ago, when I was perhaps rather imprudently commenting, in a preface I wrote for a certain interesting book upon war-time agriculture, upon the value of the use of compost in the absence of an adequate amount of farmyard manure, drew attention to the conclusions of my friend Sir Albert Howard, and I was taken to task by the late Sir Daniel Hall, who, I suppose, I may say was for ten years prior to his lamented death, a few months ago, the outstanding agricultural scientist in this country. What he said was this: "Be cautious in what you are saying, at least in print, because although there is every likelihood that these conclusions will ultimately be proved to be true, there has so far been no full development of research to establish them beyond all doubt."

Therefore I want to press very strongly upon His Majesty's Government that the time has come when there ought to be research—research not merely conducted in watertight compartments affecting on the one hand the health of plants, on the other the health of animals, and in the third place the health of human beings and some relation between the soil and all of them, but comparative research on the important problem of the inter-relation between the morbid conditions of soil, plant, animal and human being. For many years past in the field of comparative pathology we have moved very slowly behind certain other countries, notably Denmark and the United States. What applies to comparative pathology—in which respect Britain has frequently been severely criticized by scientists overseas— applies just as much to other branches of science affecting the different habitats in which these morbid conditions exist.

The noble Lord opposite, in a debate on milk not long ago initiated by my noble friend opposite, Lord Perry—whom we are all glad to see back after his serious illness—referred to undulant fever. Undulant fever, as most of your Lordships know, is due to the ingestion of the milk of animals suffering from contagious abortion. What did our doctors know about this up to about fifteen or twenty years ago? Most of them do not know much about it to-day. A case in my own neighbourhood was mismanaged, for at least six weeks, because that disease, traceable to the morbid condition of a cow and her milk, could not be diagnosed. That is only one illustration. We are still in a considerable condition of doubt and mystery with regard to foot-and-mouth disease and to distemper in dogs, which are supposed to be closely associated. All these diseases, which I believe are due to ultramicroscopic filterable viruses, are suspected of causing a good many serious diseases in human beings, but the interrelationship is not fully established.

Would your Lordships allow me to refer for one moment to New Zealand? New Zealand is conspicuous among the countries of the world in which soil deficiencies exist and it has been perfectly well known for at least a generation that the soil deficiencies result in very serious diseases in live stock. Bush sickness, for instance, which devastated so far as live stock are concerned the most fertile part of the North Island about thirty years ago, was found to be due to the lack of an almost infinitesimal amount of iron and cobalt—cobalt which the noble Lord is producing in the Copper Belt of Northern Rhodesia as a by-product of copper production and which has proved of enormous value to animal health in New Zealand. Dopiness in sheep, which also affected many parts of New Zealand, is due to lack of lime; goitre in sheep, and in fish for a certain way up the river from the sea, is traceable, as your Lordships know, to lack of iodine; and other diseases are traceable to lack of phosphate. Owing to research on this subject—and very valuable research is being done to-day by scientists in New Zealand—all these diseases are being counteracted by the supply of something which will make good those deficiences. But what the doctors do not know is the relation, if any, between these deficiencies and several mysterious morbid conditions of the human population of that very loyal Dominion. When I was His late Majesty's representative in that country I did my best to see if research could be instituted into that subject. Everywhere there doctors are very anxious that something of the sort should be initiated, and if we here in the old country can do anything in that direction no people will be more grateful than the inhabitants of New Zealand.

I want to give an illustration of the difficulties under which we are labouring to-day. A short time ago I raised in your Lordships' House the question whether the Government could see their way to remove the restrictions upon the use of phosphatic fertilizers on unploughable grassland. They did not see their way to do it. I emphasized the fact that large quantities of phosphatic rock are lying on the shores of Tunisia to-day waiting only for vessels to ship them for conversion into superphosphate of lime for use in this and other European countries. I hope that before long the embargo upon the shipment of this phosphatic fertilizer will be lifted. I emphasized also on that occasion, by the way, that the fact that these unploughable pastures are becoming notably deficient in phosphates is indicated by the sort of weeds, which are perfectly well known to the scientists, which spring up in these old pastures. They are of no nutritive value to the stock and of course gradually spoil the pasture.

I took some trouble after the debate to consult some agricultural scientists and certain Fellows of the Royal Society as to whether, if cows are raised upon pastures deficient in phosphate, that deficiency is transmitted to the milk, and if so what effect it has upon human beings. I am sorry to have to tell your Lordships that there is no clearly ascertained knowledge in this country on that subject to-day. I was told that there was good reason to believe that a cow, before she starves her milk of the normal amount of phosphate content, is prepared to starve her own bone structure, her muscles and therefore her constitution, to the detriment not only of her own health but to the detriment, of course, of her offspring. But there is no exact proof to-day of what is the result of feeding cattle upon phosphate-starved pastures.

Another problem came to me from New Zealand, where there has been a certain amount of ergot infestation in rye grasses. We know it chiefly in rye in this country and Europe generally, but in rye grasses here it is relatively uncommon. There is a considerable amount of ergot disease in rye grasses in New Zealand to-day, and of course as your Lordships know a very large proportion of our rye grass seed for sowing our own pastures comes from New Zealand. The problem put to me by a certain group of scientific women in New Zealand was this: "Can you ascertain in the Old Country whether the consumption of milk from cattle that have been fed upon ergotted rye grass will produce abortion in human females? We have some reason for believing it will." Surely that is a problem we ought to be able to solve, a problem of the very first importance. There is no exact ascertained knowledge on that subject to-day in this country or, as far as I can ascertain, in the world. It is assumed, because, where abortion has taken place in women no ill effects can be traced with exactitude to this consumption of ergotted rye grass by cows that have supplied them with milk, that there is no real reason for any great alarm on this subject.

I only mention these things to show what an enormous volume of important research work has yet to be done, and to be done particularly at a time when we know that we are exhausting the land of this country in order to feed our population and our fighters overseas adequately during this war. After the war we shall be faced with an almost abnormal exhaustion of the soil, and if that exhaustion results in a lack in the soil of ingredients essential to human health then surely it is up to us to get at the truth. It seems to me that that can only be done by research of the character which I have described.


My Lords, I have always understood that in considering the subject which has been brought to the notice of your Lordships by Lord Teviot to-day, it is necessary to approach it with a considerable degree of humility. That is on account of the difficulties of the subject. Now I feel doubly humble owing to the really remarkable standard of the speeches which have already been delivered in your Lordships' House to-day. I always greatly enjoy listening to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, but of course he made the subject into a world-embracing one, if he will allow me to say so. For those more simple individuals amongst us who have not his knowledge, I would like to try to confine my remarks to that part of the subject which relates to our own island. Lord Geddes referred to Prince Edward Island, concerning which I have previously had the pleasure of having some conversation with him. The reason why that particular geographical entity may fitly be made use of in this connexion is that it very closely reproduces our own climatic conditions. In addition, it is, of course, principally stocked by people from these islands.

Now before going into details I would like particularly to stress that word "humility," because while your Lordships' House is a most enlightened place, the attitude of the general public to this particular subject is really staggering. The ordinary man in the street seems to believe that he can go on year after year; that he belongs to a particular civilization unlike any of those which have preceded it, a civilization which nothing can stop and which, apparently, is going eventually to reach Utopia. That may be possible, but I think your Lordships will agree that it is also, possibly, unlikely. In any case the enormous industrialization that has taken place in our world, in what is really a minute of time, has created huge sections of the population who are totally ignorant of the soil from which we are sprung, and unless they are taught to know and understand it and to love and cherish it, then, to my mind, there is no question but that the fate of our civilization will be exactly the same as that which befell Babylon, Egypt and Rome.

We must possess self-knowledge and we must practice a humble and really statesmanlike method of approach to this subject if we are to get anywhere. It is no use continuing with these charming theories and political devices which are to-day perplexing the world with ideas for our post-war fashion of living. Man is made up of two things—his body and his soul which comes from God. It therefore follows that unless he can do away with nature, unless he can invent some methods of maintaining and reproducing life without recourse to nature, then surely he must try to marry the laws of God and the laws of nature instead of perpetually trying, as he does to-day, to keep them at variance. Scientific knowledge, as was pointed out by Lord Geddes, may be a very dangerous thing. I am afraid that our generation has been inclined to lack the wisdom necessary to apply scientific knowledge. I read a paragraph in a newspaper the other day which recorded the declaration of a scientist that summer milk dried by a certain chemical process was quite as good as winter milk taken directly from the cow. That is really a half truth. What the scientist really meant was that with the limited information available to modern bio-chemists, and according to a toy scale of measurements which these chemists employ, the constituents of these two milks of which he spoke, when compared, appeared to be equal. Now it is a very funny thing that the general public are more impressed by that sort of scientific remark than by almost anything else. Whether it is because they are frightened by the long and high sounding terms used by the scientists, or whether it is because they do not live long enough to hear the scientists of the next generation refute the theories of the scientists of their own generation, I do not know.

May I recall to your Lordships some simple doggerels in this connexion? The first one, which is by Pope, runs: Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night. God said: 'Let Newton be !' and all was light. About 300 years later another poet—in this case I believe Sir John Squire—wrote: It could not last; the devil, shouting Ho ! Let Einstein be,' restored the status quo." Now, if the experiments of this worthy man of science had been carried out, and the results had been satisfactory to his theory and his idea of the synthetic improvization of nature, can anybody prove that in the next generation or in the generation after that, or in the third or fourth generations, evil results might not appear which would mean death to the race? We have astonishing belief in our little test-tube marvels and in our ability to mould ourselves in what we appear to think is the image of God, and it is frightening to me to think that 99 per cent. of the so-called civilized population of this world are more likely to pay attention to a newspaper article of this nature than to use common sense and humility, and to realize the almost certain improbability of our poor little civilization having been chosen as the one to upset the whole cosmic world.

Scientific proof rests upon a series of experiments prolonged into infinity. There is really no such thing as scientific proof; there is only scientific probability. In dealing with all these subjects which concern dietetics for men, beast and soil, any experiment must perforce take a long time, and, because we are concerned principally with the human body, any experiment will be very difficult to do. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, discussed the passing of phosphates through milk into the human body. Apart from our old friend the white rat, it is very difficult to do experiments except with the human body, which is ap[...]to object to being treated in that way, so that our knowledge must perforce come slowly. I think, however, that if we take the whole cycle of nature, and then add those man-made discoveries which are most probably proven, always remembering their possible fallibility, we have a reasonable chance of continuing to exist, together with all those other organic bodies that are in the world; but, if we do not, I am sure—and I know that many of your Lordships are of the same opinion—that we are committing ourselves to a form of race suicide.

We all know the history of agricultural England, from the days of the Saxons and the Normans up through the village lands to the enclosures of the eighteenth century and the perfection of the rotation of crops introduced by Coke and Towns-end. I suppose that that system exists to-day almost in the same form as it existed a hundred and fifty years ago, with the exception that probably since 1846 and the repeal of the Corn Laws it has not always been permitted to be properly carried out. I do not suppose that any really serious effects on our soil, although they existed, became noticeable until the twentieth century; but with the enormous strain which we have put on our soil in the last war, and to an even greater extent in this war, those effects are becoming very apparent. I am certain that at the end of this war the soil of this country will not resemble at all the soil of the country in the time of our Saxon forbears. That soil was an accumulation of the composting of thousands of years. It was rich in fibre, in lime, in nitrogen, and above all in vegetable humus. I do not suppose that the Englishman has ever put back into the soil as much as he took out. If, like the Chinese, he were to do so, I do not believe there is any reason why we should not continue to grow the straw crops which we have grown in the present war for an almost indefinite period. However, this is not and has not been the case, and we are faced to-day with the possibility of those difficulties which have so seriously affected the United States of America with their "dustbowls." The very short history of that country should enable us to realize the enormous speed with which such a catastrophe can occur once it has started.

I should like to quote a few small cases which fall into line with the speech of my noble friend Lord Portsmouth. I recall a remark by Sir Albert Howard to the effect that he had noticed that over a period of twenty years or so stock grown upon soil rich in humus seemed to him to be immune from diseases such as septicæmia and foot-and-mouth disease, which frequently devastated the cattle in his area. Some years ago, in South Lincolnshire, I came into contact with a farm which was in an almost derelict condition. Quite a good farmer took it over, and the first thing he had to do to restore its fertility, of course, was to stock it heavily. This he did, with, I am glad to say, ultimately excellent results; but it is very significant that although he was a good farmer and had good stock, within the first two years of his occupation of that derelict farm his farm was the first to have a recorded case of foot-and-mouth disease in that county.

Ask the dairy farmers to-day what is their principal difficulty, and I think they will answer that it is the sterility of their cows. They try to get their cows in calf in the autumn and winter months, in order to produce winter milk, but in nine cases out of ten the cow will not calve until the following spring. What is the cause of this? Partly, of course, it is climatic, seasonal, but to a very large extent it is due to the devitalized condition of the food on which the animals are fed during the winter months, and the reason for this is that it has been produced on devitalized soil, which has been treated only with artificial fertilizers. Sir Robert McCarrison, who has been referred to several times to-day, made a remark about thatch straw which has always fascinated me. He said he had seen on many occasions that straw grown on soil rich in humus lasted ten years or longer in the thatch, but if grown on a similar soil which had been treated only with artificials it was rotten at the end of five years. We have heard all about the white rats, and how they can exist on potted vitamins but cannot breed, and how the minute they go back to absorbing those same vitamins from their natural sources they automatically regain their powers of growth and of reproduction. This must surely make it quite evident that there is some quality of the soil, both for beast and for man, which is not accounted for by the ordinary chemical ingredients—the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins—and that without that quality we are all doomed to sterility. It would be an awful thing that if through the few discoveries and inventions of our modern world this race was to condemn itself to extinction.

We keep on hearing to-day of these awful dehydrating plants being put up all over the country, and of some new vitamin having been discovered. We hear of the constant spraying of vegetables—tomatoes, fruit, and, in the last four or five years, ordinary beans. If these plants were grown on soil which was rich in humus, they would not need any poison sprays at all. I should like to quote what Sir Albert Howard has said on that subject: Insects and fungus are not the real causes of plant disease and only attack unsuitable varieties or crops improperly grown. Their true role in agriculture is that of censors for pointing out the crops which are imperfectly nourished. Disease resistance seems to be the natural reward of a healthy and well nourished protoplasm. I know that that must be true. Take the great market gardeners of this country, such as Mr. Secrett, of Walton-on-Thames, and Captain Wilson, in South Lincolnshire, or Dr. Pfeiffer in Holland. They have all reported year after year that fungi and insect pests were very rare in their gardens, and they employ no arti- ficial spray. That is because they ensured that their soil was strong and had positive health, which is passed on to the plant, enabling it to withstand disease. Today in contradistinction to that, in the Worthing area which is so famous for market gardening, many of the greenhouses have soil which is completely sterile; it has been made sterile purposely by the use of a new steam treatment. How can it be possible for a plant grown under those conditions to impart any positive health to the man who eats it?

It would be possible to go on for hours with these various examples which one hears of from time to time. Most of them, I expect, have already come to your Lordships' attention, and anyway one can read about them in many works which have been written by some of your Lordships and also by scientists and practical farmers who have been exercised by these problems. I would, however, like to draw your Lordships' attention to what I suppose is the longest-term proof in our experience which I have been able to discover, which is the case of the island of Barbados. I think about the turn of the century they were still renewing the fertility of their soil by the use of a system known as pen manuring, which was simply the use of vegetation with the waste from the live stock—oxen and mules and horses —on the island. When the West Indian Agricultural Commission came along they suggested that this process should be suspended, and that instead they should put on potash, nitrogen, and phosphates in chemical form. The first thing that happened was that the old variety of sugar cane, called the Bourbon variety, which they had used until then, began to suffer from a fungus disease and died out.

Since then none of the seedlings which have been used have proved entirely satisfactory. More and more artificials have been used in the soil and more and more virus diseases have manifested themselves. And, if that is not enough, the actual population of the island just before this war was showing signs of malnutrition, there was a great deal of unrest and rioting prevalent—all things which have never happened in the history of the island before. And yet forty-two years ago one of our greatest agricultural experts warned the West Indian Agricultural Commission of that day exactly what would occur, and every one of the prophecies he made at that time has come true. That is a fairly long-term proof which we have to hand of what can take place when the soil loses its fertility.

I do not suppose anybody can look back to the years of a prosperous agriculture. And yet a prosperous agriculture must have a great deal to do with maintaining the fertility of the soil. I believe that the country to-day is generally worried about these problems, and it falls to the lot of your Lordships to review the facts and to sum up the evidence and decide before it is too late whether or not it is in the interests of this country to have a fertile countryside or not. There will be many people who believe that this war is the war to end wars, and that when it is over it will become easy to buy cheap food again and we shall not have to worry. I hope—I know we all hope— that the fate of the Atlantic Charter will not be the fate of the League of Nations. But all these things depend for their performance upon other countries, and surely no statesman can afford to base his plans for running a country on circumstances outside his control in other parts of the world. The first bulwark of our national safety here is our land. The first certain guarantee of the continuation of the great quality which has made the British nation what it is depends on our land, and I am sure that, if only we can keep the soil fertile, disease can and will disappear in plant, in beast and in man.


My Lords, those of us who have been privileged to-day to listen to this very remarkable series of speeches may, and I hope will, look back upon this debate in the future as the beginning of possibly a series of other debates which will lead to more concrete proposals than may be possible at this stage. I will not detain your Lordships long, because there is little that can be suitably added at this hour to the very interesting things which have been said in the speeches to which we have listened, but I think acknowledgments should be made to His Majesty's Government, and especially to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food, of the fact that, despite the war and all its difficulties, the health of the nation is probably better than it was before the war started. But none of us will be satisfied with the progress that has been made. I think most of us agree that all is not well, and that a great running off the rails has been taking place over a long period, especially in the nineteenth century and up to the present time, when cur chief guides have perhaps been the science of chemistry and the science of economics. I often feel that during this period we have been walking, so to speak, with a test tube in one hand and a cash book in the other.

We have heard of the diseases of plants, animals and man, and there is no need for me to say anything more about these, because I am sure that with them many of us are too well acquainted. But there are sometimes facts which we do not always keep in mind, not only the absence of positive buoyant health, but also the various deficiencies, mental deficiencies and so forth which cannot be attributed to the cause of heredity. Proposals have been made, and I suppose are being considered, such as those that have been put forward in a memorandum proposed by members of your Lordships' House, for producing after the war a great quantity of protective foods in this country. I suggest to your Lordships that this is a very practical way of proceeding because of the many things that must come into the trial of this policy. The production of such things as milk, eggs, poultry, meat, fruit and vegetables require a considerable proportion of our population living on the land, and that in itself would be a corrective of the state of affairs which none of us can regard happily, when so many of our population live in the cities. The figures we have sometimes seen regarding the health and the powers of reproduction of families, which have only for a few generations lived in cities without the benefit of the enlivening addition of country blood, are very frightening. One way in which this may be to a certain extent helped is by this policy of growing these protective foods being embarked upon.

I should like to support the proposal made by the noble Lord whose Motion we are discussing, that the noble Duke (the Duke of Norfolk), in answering for the Government, should accept what so many of your Lordships have recommended—namely, that research in the very broadest biological terms should be instituted in order that we may know more clearly the relationship between man, animal, plant, and mother soil from which all spring. I should like to add that this should be coupled with a policy of keeping open the gate to those individuals who are carrying on, in field and elsewhere, experimental farming to-day. There is much that has been done, there is much material of a very interesting nature regarding the life of plant, animal, and man which has to be investigated, and there are individuals here and abroad who are putting to the practical test farming along the lines which have been indicated. In war-time, naturally, certain concessions have to be made, but if bodies such as the war agricultural committees are to be kept going after the war, I would ask that their powers be tempered with judgment and wisdom so that experiments by individuals as well as institutions will not be hampered or stopped by the compulsory enforcement of a standardized method. If such a policy were not adopted it would seriously hold back that mass of important information of a long-term nature without which research cannot be successful.


My Lords, we certainly feel in this House this afternoon that we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Teviot for introducing so immense a subject as that which is dealt with in the Motion which we are discussing. We have not only had a full discussion, but I think everyone would admit we have had a discussion which is in keeping with the importance of the subject. If I do not follow very closely all the suggestions which have been made, I would assure my noble friend at the outset that his remarks and those of the other speakers will be brought to the notice not only of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, but also of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Food, whose Departments are so closely connected with this subject. As a result of my noble friend putting down this Motion, he has induced the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, to make his maiden speech. I should like to add my own tribute regarding the noble Earl's speech. Then we had the remarkable speech of my noble friend Lord Geddes on the position in Prince Edward Island. A certain theme which seemed to run through his speech in connexion with that island was the fact that mixed farming has, to a large extent, been responsible for the state of health which the people there enjoy. I need not refer to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Bledisloe on research, except to say that the Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council, Earl De La Warr, was in his place during that speech, and I have no doubt he took notice of the noble Viscount's remarks.

The Motion before the House is a somewhat complicated one. The noble Lord and others have spoken about the fertility of the land and its reaction on the health of the plant and of the animal, and indeed of the man which consumes either the plant or the animal. The fertility of the soil, as we all know, depends on a variety of factors—adequate drainage, adequate lime, and adequate supplies of chemical plant foods. These include nitrogen, phosphates, and potash, as well as the so-called minor elements consisting of certain other chemicals that have to be present in very small quantities. Fertility is also influenced by the efficient cultivation of the land, which includes, of course, the proper control of weeds and pests, a certain amount of maintenance, and a quantity of humus—humus, perhaps, being best described as decayed vegetable matter. There is a substantial amount of agreement among agriculturists on all aspects of this problem except, possibly, the last. On this, from time to time, rather extreme views have been expressed. These views regard humus as the mysterious source not only of soil fertility, but of the health of the crop, of the live stock, and of the human population that consume both. Linked up with this view is the idea that the chemical foods which the plant needs must be manufactured in the soil from this humus and must not be applied in the form of artificial fertilizers.

Let me try and deal briefly with the separate points. Firstly, I should like to deprecate any suggestion of antagonism between chemical fertilizers and humus. Those who decry either fertilizers or humus are doing a disservice to the farmer and to the country. It is not a question of fertilizers versus dung, it is a question of using both to the best advantage and using them in proper proportion. There is no evidence whatever, from farming or medical experience or from the scientists, that the proper and balanced use of fertilizers has any harmful effect whatever on the soil, on the health of crops or of man. A large number of names have been mentioned this afternoon and various quotations have been given, and if I may I would like to quote two well known authorities, Sir John Russell and Sir Daniel Hall. Sir John Russell says: Experiments were made by three German bodies on the value of vegetables grown with animal manures and artificial manures. The results when the vegetables were given to labour Service men were negative. When added to the food of inmates of two children's homes, the results indicated that the vegetables grown with animal manure and artificial manure together, were superior to those grown with animal only. The quotation from Sir Daniel Hall is as follows: When it is asserted that produce grown from artificial fertilizers has no nutritive value, lacks vitamins or flavour, or is subject to disease, my scepticism asserts itself. I only remember that the men who grow 60 to 80 tons of tomatoes to the acre must depend very largely on artificial fertilizers and that their crops are entirely free from disease and are of unrivalled quality. Disease is not a product of modern high farming with chemicals, though it may be the mark of their use in an ignorant manner. I know that there are some soils, mostly outside the British Isles, deficient in certain minerals—iodine, copper, iron, phosphorous cobalt—which do affect the health of animals and occasionally men who live entirely on the produce of this particular land. Few people in Britain live entirely off their own land, and as regards stock we are already finding how to correct some of these troubles by the addition of the missing substances. These, however, are examples of harm arising not from the presence, but from the absence of minerals. So far as this country is concerned, our safeguard lies, as ever, in sound principles of mixed farming. Having read the Motion I naturally consulted the Ministry of Health before I came here. They told me that if the view is expressed that food produced from soil which has been fertilized by artificial manures is in some cases dangerous to health, I could say they were not aware of any medical evidence in support of that opinion. Returning to the question of humus there can be no question whatever as to its supreme importance in the soil. It increases the water-holding capacity of light soils and improves the structure and working of clays. It aids, I am told, the activity of certain useful fungi which helps in the control of certain diseases of cereals. The value of a certain amount of humus is beyond all argument, and I think it might be a mistake if we raised this question to so high a level as the realm of political controversy.

Let us leave these contentious and theoretical matters and turn to something practical on which we must all be agreed —the maintenance of the fertility of our land. I do not think it will be alleged that the Minister of Agriculture and his Department have been backward in stressing the importance of this for some time past and the recent resolutions from Hot Springs confirm this importance. If we have to maintain our maximum output of human food for some years yet, we can only do so from fertile land and the Minister's four-year proposals for agriculture are designed to this end. Much of our arable land is due, some of it is overdue, for cleaning and restorative crops, particularly temporary leys. Since we have to do our best to maintain the tillage acreage, we must plough more inferior grassland to take its place. The increased productiveness of these leys will require more cattle and more sheep to consume them and once again we shall, I think, be all agreed on this important corollary to the four-year plan—the improvement in quality and the numbers of our live stock.

The very success which we have achieved in increasing our tillage area necessitates sufficient live stock to consume our wider area of forage crops and temporary leys, together with the increased straw and by-products of the farm. The live stock will play their part not only in supplying milk, which is our first priority, and meat, but also build up soil fertility so that we may continue to make our contribution to the world's supply of bread corn and any other demands that may fall upon us.


My Lords, I must thank the noble Duke for his reply. I am a little disappointed that he has not said anything with regard to the request that he would ask the Ministries concerned if they will set up after this debate in particular an inquiry or a Royal Commission to investigate this very important matter.


May I be allowed to interrupt my noble friend? I am sorry if he misunderstood me, but I did say that I would bring his request to the notice of the three Departments. I thought I had made it clear.


I thank the noble Duke. It was my fault. I did not recollect that. Really my complaint was that he did not go as far as I had hoped he would go, but no doubt that may come in due course. There is one great disappointment which I think we must all feel. I wrote to the three noble Lords who represent the medical profession in this House, telling them that this debate would take place and expressing the hope that they would be here. Apparently they had other engagements. It would have been very instructive, I think, if we had heard their views on this matter which is so very important to the health of the people. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk referred to Sir John Russell. I was very glad to see in Sporting and Country—it used to be Sporting and Dramatic— two or three pages by this very remarkable man who speaks with all the authority of Rothamsted. He seems to have come round now to the compost idea. That is most gratifying to those of us who, despite the experiments that have been made at Rothamsied, have very good reasons for not accepting this idea that you can go on growing wheat, for instance, on the same soil if you dope it with artificials. It is admitted now that they used new seed all the time.

I know of a certain experiment where a plot was divided into three and doped with artificials. The seed in the first year gave a good crop, in the second year it was very bad, and in the third year it was sterile. That is what we knew would happen if you did not maintain humus in the soil. It is absolutely necessary to have humus in the soil if you are to maintain its life and also maintain the health of the product. I do not want my noble friend to think I am attacking him. What I want is that this matter should be investigated right up to the hilt. I can quite understand some people thinking there is no proof, but I have myself, and no doubt other noble Lords have also, seen definite proof that the land treated in a certain manner does produce the results I have indicated. We want that question considered more fully than is possible in a debate here. We want research. There is one fact I can never get away from. It is this. No matter how much he may try, the chemist cannot make life. It seems to me that if there is no life in the soil there is no life in the plant, the animals deteriorate, and in consequence man deteriorates. I have a certain hope that as a result of this debate, initiated by me in all humility and supported by men who have tremendous practical experience and have also written great works on this subject, that the Ministries concerned will take this subject very much to heart and will start as soon as possible the most exhaustive investigations. I again thank my noble friend for his reply and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.