HL Deb 02 February 1944 vol 130 cc613-37

LORD TEVIOT had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the Royal Commission which it has been decided to set up to investigate the birth-rate and trends of population, and to ask whether the terms of reference cover the subject raised in the debate in this House on 26th October, 1943—namely, the condition of the soil in relation to the health of man, animal and plant—and to move for Papers.


My Lords, I rise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Teviot to move the Motion standing in his name. This morning he telephoned that he was confined to bed with an acute attack of lumbago, and he asked me to present to your Lordships his apologies for not being able to move this Motion in person. I should also like, in moving the Motion, to absolve my noble friend from any responsibility for the manner in which I may do so. When the Royal Commission on population trends was announced on behalf of the Government by the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, to me, at any rate, it seemed that it was a move which was, or could be, of more importance than anything else that has happened in the social life of our country in the last forty or fifty years. The way in which the noble Duke replied on behalf of the Government showed that, in his own mind, there was the same sense of this importance, and the feeling that the inquiry, if it is to be thorough, searching, and realistic, must go very deep, to the very basis of our civilization—that it cannot confine itself to one thing or another. It cannot deal merely with the shell or structure of our Social Services responsible for the vitality—for that is what it means—or lack of vitality. It must go far deeper than that. In that connexion I cannot help feeling that if the Royal Commission were to investigate this problem and not investigate the relation between the vitality of man and the vitality of the soil on which he feeds, it would be like producing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

Those of us who are seriously interested in this aspect of soil nutrition and its bearing on the health of plants, and animals, and man, realize profoundly that this is only one aspect but it is, after all, the basis of a great deal of our lives. We can see outside, upon the London County Council buildings across the Thames, the sign, "Food is a munition of war—do not waste it." It is far more: it is a munition of life, and let us see that it is vital food. The difficulty in moving a Motion of this sort is not to find material for one's argument but to select material. It is difficult because there is such a wealth of it. I should like to-day to confine my arguments as far as possible to the findings of a group of people who are scientifically qualified in the highest degree and who have had a long experience of the matter we are discussing. I refer to the group known as the Peckham Pioneer Health Centre. They are, as your Lordships are probably well aware, a group of doctors who have investigated over a period of years an urban cross-section of our population. They have confined themselves to no particular class. So that their experiment and their experience may be not made invalid by special arguments, their experiment has been confined neither to very poor income ratios nor to the very high income ratios, but covers a very wide cross-section of the population and a very wide cross-section of occupation as well. The point they were searching for was to produce health, to have research into health and its relationships.

They have begun with the family as a unit. Arising from their work with the family, naturally the whole question of environment has come in and the most vital member of the family, the mother, has been the subject of their special attention. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, the day before yesterday, made a most profound and interesting speech to a body called the Food Education Society and he expressed a wish in that speech that hospitals might become the centres of positive health. With all due deference I feel that the term "positive health" is there used in its wrong context, because positive health cannot begin with hospitals. Hospitals may be magnificent centres for rehabilitation, for teaching a better way of life to those who have been invalids, but they cannot be centres of positive health. Positive health, in my opinion and I believe in that of most of those who have thought deeply upon this question, must begin in the womb and indeed in the womb before conception starts, with the health and vitality of the mother. In that connexion the doctors working in the Peckham Health Centre discovered that feeding the families in the Centre with the ordinary so-called balanced food diet bought from a shop was not enough. The vitamins and so forth in the ordinary analysis of such vegetables as spinach and in such food as milk were not there; the vitality was not there; and they were forced to turn then to their own farm. They were forced to grow the food themselves, so as to get the beginnings of positive health in the unborn child, and the methods they were forced to use were the methods upon which Lord Teviot and others spoke in the debate on 26th October last. They were forced to use not new methods but the ancient method of returning waste to the soil and creating humus.

I think the importance of their work is to be found not only in the wide field covered but in the results of their original examinations. The number of individuals examined from these families ran into nearly four thousand. Of those a very large proportion had actual disease, but even more, the majority, were suffering from some disorder of which they were largely ignorant because it had not immediately affected them. As your Lordships know, it is quite possible to have cancer and to be ignorant of the fact. The majority of these people had some disorder which would affect them in later life but of which they were in ignorance because they had been able to compensate themselves in other ways. It was found that 10 per cent. had neither disease nor disorder. The most striking and I think the most sinister finding, however, was that among the nearly two thousand women examined only 4 per cent. were found to be without disorder. It seems that while many things may have contributed to this disastrous state in a comparatively well-off section of the population, even from their own findings the doctors were forced to get food which they thought would create the beginnings of positive health. There must be a very serious connexion between the food we eat and the health which it produces. It seems to me that we are too much concerned to-day to try to build the shell, the structure of the Social Services, too much concerned with pathological remedies and palliatives, and that we do not pay sufficient attention to the living organism which must grow within the shell, or in spite of it. I feel that we are confined far too much to-day in our farming and in our medical life within the scaffolding of pathology.

I should like at this point to draw a comparison. Before the war, for several years it was my privilege to be able to visit, sometimes once, sometimes twice each summer, two farms in Holland run by a most able and distinguished man, a man who was not only a great observer but one of the most practical men I ever met. Those farms were run on the line of creating humus from organic waste. They were market gardens as well. There you could see probably every disease that was usual—endemic or even epidemic—in the local countryside; red spider on the tomatoes and so forth; but in no case was the disease getting the upper hand. The animals had a bloom on them and a gentleness quite remarkable. They were being fed far more economically than most of us could manage to feed our animals if we were to obtain the same results. Their production was not higher than production on the neighbouring farms. There was disease, but health predominated, disease nowhere got the upper hand. When thunderstorms laid neighbouring crops flat the crops on these farms were standing up. That was one side. The other side was in the market. At that time when the world was being forced to restrict production because people were unable to consume, not because they did not want to consume, tens of thousands of lettuces were being dumped through the agency of the Dutch Government every day into the sea, and the same thing was happening with other vegetables. But from these two farms, while all this destruction was going on, every vegetable which could be produced was being sold at from 15 to 20 per cent. above the ordinary market price. Families who were being supplied with food from those farms, as they had been supplied for yeas, said that they could manage on less of this food and they felt a great deal better. When they went for holidays they sometimes came back early because the children did not flourish in the same way as when they were at home. I am not saying that there is any great proof in that, but it was a very interesting picture which I was privileged to watch over a period of years.

Compare that with what you could have seen before the war on a visit to one of our research stations in England. There you could have gone into the laboratory and have had explained to you a new form of spray for poisoning aphides on apples. The history of the need for that new spray was that round about 1900, when apples were being sprayed with arsenic to keep them free from various attacks, several people died of arsenic poisoning through eating apples, so that a law was introduced prescribing the maximum amount of arsenic that could be sprayed on apples. But about 1935, 200 times the legal amount of arsenic was being sprayed on apples which had to be washed afterwards with some napthalene solution. The various parasites which the arsenic was supposed to kill had developed a resistance to arsenic, and although the strength was increased 200 times the parasites were still there. Therefore it became necessary to develop a new form of poison. But on those farms in Holland no sprays of any sort, apart from certain vegetable sprays, were ever used.

This same group of doctors has produced a report for the Association of Planning and Regional Construction. If I may I would like to make some short quotations. The report says: Conditions necessary for the invalid are inimical to the continued validity of the valid. From this it follows; that we cannot expect health from any policy—however efficient— which in effect is solely directed to the stamping out of sickness. On the subject of hygiene, they say hygiene is now progressing away from pathology, i.e. away from direct methods of attack upon the parasite towards a self-sustaining balance in the living environment. They say, speaking of the return of organic waste to the soil, that there is here evidence of a mutuality of function at work between soil, plant, insect, animal and man … And later on they say: We have, nevertheless, seen that the laws of pathology cut across the path of mutual synthesis. Their essence is separation from and reaction to (against) the environment. All disease and disorder are therefore inimical to health. We live in our own islands in a world where at least lip service, accompanied at times with very deep conviction, is rendered to the fact that we have a religion which teaches love more than anything else; but however much we may fail in our daily practice with each other we fail infinitely more in our practice with the soil. We consider it far too often necessary to defeat nature. We talk of the struggle for existence and we forget that the earth could not carry on without all forms of life upon it, that we have a mutuality and synthesis working together. In all humility I submit that it is time that we very seriously considered whether we ought not now to investigate that mutuality and not every time the destruction of the parasite. I should like to quote a story of the family life of the dove. The dove sits for eighteen days. Male and female can both sit, and do sit. But four days before the young dove is due to be hatched both in male and female there is a secretion of saliva in the crop which enables the young chicks on being hatched to be fed with that pre-digested food from the crop. Without that saliva the young chicks could not be fed and could not live. If by any chance the eggs are addled and infertile the doves continue to sit but the crop saliva is not created. There must therefore be some relationship which we do not yet understand between the egg and the parents. Again, the male dove can be induced to sit without the female, but although the egg may be fertile he cannot produce the saliva of his own accord. He can, however, produce this secretion through the crop gland if injected with some of the saliva of the female. In other words there is a reason for billing and cooing.

I will not comment on the significance of this evidence in support of our deepest instinctive feelings for family life, but I should like to point out that it must have some parallel in terms of farming. As your Lordships know, there is to-day a movement for the widespread and increased use of the artificial insemination of cattle. Is there, by reason of this particular parallel of the dove, anything which would give us cause to doubt? If so, we should make very careful investigations before we unreservedly adopt this new form of progress. We think in terms only of what is already ascertained, but in the relationship of the egg of the dove to the parents' crop there is evidence, I suggest, of influences which may vitally affect farming, in the relationship, for example, between plant and plant, in the action of humus and in the matter of the conservation of waste. I suggest that it gives us another parallel which should make us think. It is often said that the onus of proving the correctness of the doctrine of returning to natural farming should be upon the people who say that there is something in it. But it is not a new doctrine. It is as old as time. Surely the onus of proof should rest on the other side; that is, upon the people who have gone, without very deep consideration, into the newer forms of farming which tend to do away with the return of waste and to place reliance on the heavy use of artificial chemical manures, the pathological use of the poison spray and so forth. These things have been adopted as new inventions merely on face value. They may be very good. I am not denying that they may be right, but surely the onus of proving their rightness should be on the school which professes to believe in them rather than on the school which holds by methods which have been tried for centuries and not found wanting.

We have done very quickly, in the name of progress, things which might concern human beings to the utmost. We have, for instance, accepted the necessity for compulsory vaccination—though it is no longer compulsory. We have jumped to conclusions about the pasteurization of milk, and many people to-day are ready to say that that should be compulsory. I shall not weary your Lordships by discuss- ing these matters at length, but we all know that many doctors to-day are giving M. and B. 693, to their patients, less by reason of the nature of the disease than from the fact that patients like to think that they are getting up-to-date treatment and the latest benefits of science. We welcome the motor car as a great factor in human progress, and we do not object to it maiming or killing 250,000 people a year. If we are willing to take these things on their face value, is it too much to ask that this Royal Commission should undertake to consider whether there may not be something which is vital to life in the forms of agriculture which were debated on the 26th October? I do not believe it would be very expensive. It might take a long time but that would not matter. But we are in desperate danger now. If what we say is right, if there is anything in this theory, recovery will take a long time. Even if there is nothing in it we shall have gained knowledge, and still be able to go ahead with clear consciences. If there is something in it, the quicker a start is made, and the more thoroughly the investigation is carried out, the greater will be the benefit not only to this country but to the whole human race. And the cost of obtaining this knowledge would be just the merest fraction of the cost of obtaining another 100 miles an hour speed in the air.

One thing that we do know is that we have lost that full abundance of overflowing health which once we possessed. Picture the swallow curving in flight above the river in summer, or the teal dropping down at dusk. Consider the vigour and the beauty of their flight. Imagine a tigress with her cubs coming down in the evening to drink at a pool on the edge of a jungle; note the ripple of her sleek coat and the beauty of her colouring which, in its way, equals that of the wild peacock which she disturbs. And then think of the multitudes of human beings, 90 per cent. of them suffering from disorders, swaying wearily homewards in the Tube at night. In the rather self-conscious evening of our civilization cannot we use by every means in our power the knowledge which we have got in order to discover something which can give back to mankind the feeling of the morning of the world? My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion and the very able speech which has been made in moving it by the noble Earl, in the absence of Lord Teviot in whose name the Motion stands. As the noble Earl has said, those of us who support this Motion feel very strongly that an opportunity is given by the appointment of this Royal Commission, to lose which would be a very great disaster. If we could be assured that one of the channels which would be explored by this Commission would be the close relationship between the life of man, animal, plant and soil, we should feel that the Commission would be undertaking the task in its entirety and in a way in which no undertaking of its kind has ever been carried out before.

We are talking of life, and life on this planet, in relation to the great size of our planet, may be called a thin film upon its surface, a tenuous film which has been called the biosphere. It extends only a few inches into the surface of the ground and but a short way into the atmosphere and into the waters which cover the earth. It is easily and quickly destroyed; and so, if we look at it in this light, the existence of life on this planet may be a more precarious thing than we have hitherto imagined. Before the era of modern science, the close and complex interlocking of living things was clearly realized, for man's close contact with nature gave him an intuitive understanding of these things. To appreciate this we need read only such a work as Good Points of Husbandry, by Thomas Tusser, written in the sixteenth century, and we shall realize that this went without question.

The study of matter, which developed so rapidly in the nineteenth century, from its very orientation, from its methods of analysis and searching always into smaller and smaller entities, became a method of disintegration; from element to molecule, from molecule to atom, from atom to electron, from electron to quantum and so forth, and so the search continued always into smaller and smaller entities. The strides which science has made in these directions have been of the greatest possible importance, but until recently they have always been in one direction. A technique, a habit, a mentality has been acquired which has become almost universal. Aboard the good ship Science, the lookout post was for a time unmanned, because the ship's company were so busy peering at their charts and looking through their navigational instruments that they developed a short-sightedness which made them quite unsuited for going into the lookout and scanning the horizon.

This state of affairs was realized after a time by our deep thinkers, and especially in the world of biology, where the process of studying the small entities yielded unsatisfying results. But the biologists, with all possible respect to them, had in those days been trained in the school of nineteenth century science, and it was difficult for them to think of putting the ship's helm over and sailing in the opposite direction, the direction of synthesis and integration. Many of them, however, are now steering that course in different parts of the world, including this country, for biology has been emancipated and has received—I say it with all humility—a new inspiration. In supporting this Motion, I am one of those who do so because we feel that the opportunity is now open, with this Royal Commission, for the study of the whole and not of the part; and we feel that in this direction only are there reasonable chances for the re-establishment and maintenance of health.

I plead with His Majesty's Government to support a long-term, wide-range research into the whole organism comprising man, animal, plant and soil. I ask your Lordships' indulgence so that I may quote from a most important work by Field-Marshal Smuts, which he wrote in 1926, called Holism and Evolution, which had a most profound effect on the contemporary thought of the time. In that book he said: Both matter and life consist, in the atom and the cell, of unit structures whose ordered grouping produces the natural wholes which we call bodies or organisms. This character or feature of 'wholeness' which we find in the case of matter and life has a far more general application, and points to something fundamental in the universe, fundamental in the sense that it is practically universal, that it is a general operative factor, and that this shaping influence is felt ever more deeply and widely with the advance of Evolution. Again, he says: The whole as a real character is writ large on the face of Nature. It is dominant in biology; it is everywhere noticeable in the higher mental and spiritual developments; and science, if it had not been so largely analytical and mechanical, would long ago have seen and read it in inorganic nature also. These are very important words, and I think we can take them well to heart to-day.

As the noble Earl who has just spoken has said, research into the nature of the whole may be often a much more expensive, difficult and slow process than research into the nature of the fragment; but in the matter with which we are concerned to-day no difficulties are too great and no perseverance too exhausting if we can make progress in this extraordinarily important and fundamental matter. I suppose that nothing in the nature of research exactly of this order has ever been attempted before. That it will be undertaken either in this or in some other country before long is, I think, certain, because the writing is clear upon the wall. In the continents where man's lack of wisdom has caused more obvious havoc than it has here, the writing can be more clearly seen. The recent United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture at Hot Springs has recommended that a permanent body should be established to deal with the varied problems of food and agriculture, not in isolation but together, and in its unanimous findings it has emphasized the relation between the quality of food and the productivity of the soil. We ask that that be extended one step further to include the realm of human nature. International collaboration in this field would, of course, be of the greatest possible value, and after the war there is no reason why experimentation of this kind in different countries could not and should not be linked closely together.

We have got a wonderful opportunity in these islands. We are most singularly suited to carry out research of this nature, because we can find soils between full fertility and barren want, where experimental work, already carried out, can be observed and larger and more carefully co-ordinated experiments instituted. This will need the whole-hearted co-operation of scientists in every field, but the experiments, I am convinced, should be carried out under the direction of impartial and independent bodies. It may well be that these researches would not only show us the way to better health and a stronger and more abundant population, but may also show us fundamental faults in our sociology and our economics, and they may indicate certain remedies. We may find out, as some of us suspect, that in a country of whose population only so small a proportion is engaged in agriculture compared with other industries, we shall need to take steps to alter this proportion.

The latest figures I have been able to find are in the 1931 census, from which I see that in England, Scotland and Wales together the proportion of men and women over fourteen years of age occupied in agriculture, compared to the total number in all industries, is a figure of only about six and a half per cent. The proportion may have altered during the war, but I doubt very much if it has increased materially, because, although we have so much larger an acreage under cultivation, still the amount of mechanical apparatus which we are using must greatly counterbalance the increase in agricultural employment, and at the same time the number of women employed in other industries has been so very greatly increased. That, to me, is a very disquieting figure. I wonder whether it is possible for a population to be healthy if only about six and a half per cent. is engaged in the natural pursuit of tilling the soil. In the study of the problems of population most disquieting statistics, I believe, exist as to the low fertility of urban families entirely composed of town-bred people for more than two generations, and it will be surprising if, in the researches to be undertaken into questions of population, more disquieting facts still are not revealed. In the study of the whole we may find that the well-being of man is the paramount consideration and that his place in the whole organism, his life and function in relation to other forms of life, should be the controlling factor. In recent times the demands of economics have to a great extent usurped this central position in the system, and if we find through our researches that nature insists in the long run in preserving in full measure the well-being of living things, we shall know better how to go forward.


My Lords, I should like to apologize to my noble friend Lord Portsmouth inasmuch as, owing to an official engagement, I could not be here in time to hear his speech. I agree very much with what the last speaker has said about the great importance of research, and research not by one but by a number of Government Departments. In any such research the Agricultural Research Council would necessarily play a very leading part, and I do not want to advance one step without saying how regrettable it is that at this moment we should have lost the services of Dr. Topley, the late secretary of the Agricultural Research Council. It seems only a short time since he was the secretary of the Scientific Advisory Council and I was the Chairman, and we delivered ourselves of an immense Report. I was working very closely with him, and among the subjects of the Report, as I duly reported to your Lordships at the time, was some reorganization of the Agricultural Research Council, and Dr. Topley, because of the work he had done on that, was appointed as secretary of the Agricultural Research Council, in which office he was doing the most splendid work, literally up to the moment of his death.

In rising to speak on a question like this, I do not pretend to speak as an expert. I have no broad acres, but in my own tiny patch of England it does happen that I have tried out for about seven years the methods of organic manures, and especially composts, which lie behind this Motion, and I have tried them out with very great success. But one swallow does not make a summer, and I am not attaching any importance whatsoever to that in what I have to say. I am rather one who is very much impressed, and rather disturbed, not only by the speeches made by Lord Teviot and others on October 26 last, but also by a great number of books and pamphlets and speeches which I have read, including one by my noble friend who introduced the Motion, which seems to necessitate inquiry. The point I wish to make is that the only demand here to-day, as I understand it, is for inquiry, which was supported in the last debate by a demand for experiment and research, even if it involved some years. On that question of years, when it is remembered that the researches of Hopkins and the Mellanbys and a great number of others which led to the discoveries on nutrition, took thirty years, we ought not to be dismayed if these researches should take, maybe, ten years. The noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, in the last debate said possibly twenty years. Until some of these experiments have been made, judgment can be suspended.

What I am going to appeal for to-day is that the two parties should get together as to the experiments which would certainly be required for the Royal Commission. If the parties could get together they would not have any difficulty in agreeing on the range of experiments. There is much more common ground to begin with in this matter than is generally realized. As I understand the case of Lord Teviot and his friends, at the bottom of it is the dependence of health on an adequate and well-balanced diet, including the necessary protective foodstuffs required for health. That is the accepted teaching of agricultural scientists and nutritional scientists. There is agreement there. Secondly, it was quite clear from what my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire said in the last debate that there is common ground as to the great importance of humus in the soil. There is common ground also that, whether you have artificials or not, you must have an adequate supply of organic fertilizers. Again, compost is admitted by the supporters of the chemicals to be a very valuable form of organic fertilizer. The composters place it much higher, but nobody denies that it is a valuable form of organic fertilizer. The composters quite agree that other forms of organic manures are of great value, such as farm manure, muck, sheep-folding, and so on. Some people think they do not, but in fact, unless I am greatly mistaken, in the Haughley experiments mentioned in Lady Eve Balfour's book they did use not only compost, but a great deal of these other organic manures.

Then there will be general agreement on the danger of erosion of the soil. Nobody could possibly doubt the danger if they did what I did. I went to Australia to see my father's sheep-run, which he had left somewhere in the 1870's, and it had simply gone, gone to the desert and to rabbits—erosion. There will be general agreement also that the worst offenders are those who, farming in neglect of scientific principles, destroy the fertility of the soil and render it liable to erosion. Then it would be agreed, though I am not quite so sure about this as about the other points, that municipal wastes for the purpose of manufacturing compost and manuring the land should be encouraged as much as possible. Even in that agreed range there is room for a lot of action to be initiated by a Royal Commission or an inquiry.

May I now come to the main items of disagreement? The first, and far the most important, is the use of some inorganic fertilizers, particularly sulphate of ammonia, which are anathema to the compost school. Running with that, some people have very strong suspicions of the mechanical tractors, which they think crush the earth worms which aerate the soil. The second doubt is as to whether, in fact, compost does give the additional resistance to disease in plants which is claimed. That is very much doubted by some people. The third point of difference—and this is a very important one—is with regard to the claims of the com-posters as to the additional value of food grown on compost and organic fertilizers as compared with the artificials. These, I believe, are the three great points of difference. Even on the most controversial question of all—the question of artificials—there are two points on which, I believe, there must be agreement. One is that artificials have, in fact, produced remarkable results in boosting food production in the present war and in the last war all over the world. The com-posters say the price paid is too high. Perhaps these artificials have been used in too great quantities, and have injured the soil, but they have, in the emergency, produced the goods. The second point is the vital importance of maintaining the chemical industry in the interests of Imperial defence and, some would say, in the interests of having the means of boosting the soil if another emergency should occur.

These are some points where there is probably agreement. I submit that when you think of the advantages obtainable from an inquiry on the agreed points, and of the immense desirability of testing out the very strong prima facie case made, there ought to be an inquiry and there ought also to be experiments. I am quite convinced, from personal investigation, that some of the experiments have already been initiated not as part of this theory, but as part of the general work of the Agricultural Research Council. I say so because I made some search in the White Paper on Agricultural Research in Great Britain (Cmd. 6421 of 1943). Scattered through that Paper there were many subjects, I noticed, which are mentioned in all the books on this matter. They would have to be, so to speak, put under one head, co-ordinated, brought together, to be of value, but a great deal of research has been made and is being made. My suggestion, whether the Motion is agreed to or not, is that as soon as possible after the return from his travels of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who is Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council, the parties should be got together, Lord Teviot and his friends should meet the representatives of the Agricultural Research Council and the Medical Research Council (and I hope some Minister would take a hand), and they should agree at any rate upon the first stage in the researches and the arrangements on which the last speaker laid considerable stress.


My Lords, I rise to support the demand put forward by Lord Teviot that, if possible, there should be associated with the work of the Royal Commission research into what is really the subject of the vitality and reproductive capacity of the men and women of the country in so far as that relates to food. The speech we have just heard from Lord Hankey covers a good deal of the ground on which I had intended to address your Lordships. There is no doubt whatever that you can produce from the fields a great quantity of food by the use of chemical fertilizers. That is undoubted. You can boost production, and that is what I think has blinded a great many people to the real problem. The food that we eat and the foodstuffs which we absorb into our body fluids, and through them into our tissues, are divided sharply into two parts, possibly more but certainly sharply into two parts—the part which is required as a fuel to provide the energy for movement, for all those activities in which we as men and women can indulge, and the part which is required to repair and replace and recreate our actual bodies themselves. Now it seems pretty clear that so far as the fuels are concerned they are not necessarily of such fine and precise composition in order to be useful to us as are those portions of our food which go to the building or rebuilding of our own bodies and tissues.

There is a very long history behind this controversy. It goes back for nearly a century and it has been made a very difficult controversy to follow by the dominance for so many years of the German school in connexion with biology. The German school—Virchow, Schwann, Liebig—laid the emphasis upon the cell out of which in their millions our bodies are created and they regarded food for the cell as all that was required. Apart from that, and really obliterated and eclipsed by the German school, very likely as a result of the Franco-Prussian War and the prestige the Germans got through that war, there was a French school of which Professor Béchamp was the leader working at Montpellier in the fifties of last century. This school had a quite different idea about the structure of the body and the vitality and vigour of the body, and I think it was a great pity that as a result of the Franco-Prussian War and various things that followed it in the 'seventies a great deal of the work of Professor Béchamp was entirely ignored and overlooked.

One of the great contributions he made, a contribution with which I have been familiar now for over thirty years, to the whole idea of life, was that the cell was not the unit of life, but that there was a much smaller, more minute unit of life which he called in his later reports to the Academy of Science the micro-zymases but which in his earlier reports he had always referred to as the "little bodies." They really are composed of little living bodies. No one knows very much about them although any competent microscopist is thoroughly familiar with them in the practical field of the microscope. These little living bodies, which exist in organic matter even long after it has been dead as an organism, have the power quite definitely (there is nothing mystical about them) of organizing life, because they are themselves alive. The only proof I can give you that they are alive is that you can kill them, and I do not think you could kill a thing that was not alive. These little living bodies are not present in the artificial chemical manures, and it may be that the German school, which we have in this country very largely followed in biology for many years, overlooked something of great importance, and it may be that it is necessary for our human bodies, if they are to maintain their full vitality, to be receiving in their food a continuous supply of these little living bodies.

We all get a certain number of them every day, but it may well be—and this is the point that is really at issue between the schools of thought—that because those little living bodies are not present in sufficient quantities in a man's or woman's food he or she begins to lose the physical capacity for vitality. And that is the point at issue. It is not really a matter of theory or mysticism at all. There is a real divergence of opinion between two schools which have existed for a long time, one of which has become dominant and out of whose practice and beliefs the whole of the chemical fertilizer industry has arisen, and has been able to show results of the most remarkable kind in boosting production in the plant's growth and those portions of the food which are required as fuels. It may well be that the composters have got hold—perhaps without knowing it—of the real source of vitality. They are the most extraordinary things, these little bodies. I do not know how many of your Lordships are accustomed to handle a microscope, but if you are and you can get in a dark field of illumination a drop of your own blood you can see them. They shine like stars. In the course of this week I have seen a great many drops of blood under the microscope and the difference between people fed in different ways and in different states of health is quite extraordinary. That is where this controversy really leads. It does not lead to differences on this point or that point or the other point in agriculture. It leads straight to one point, and one point only: Is the supply of these little living bodies in the food essential to the continued vitality of human beings or is it not? That is the research that is wanted and I cannot imagine that anybody dealing with the question of reproduction—it is a question of vitality—is going to overlook the fact that there is that great outstanding question in the pathological field.

A great many things have happened recently to shake the predominance of the German school. It no longer carries the full conviction which it did when I was a student forty-five years ago. Once again there is no proof at all, and I trust that nothing I have said will be taken as meaning that this thing is true; but there is undoubtedly the possibility, many think the extreme probability, that the presence of these little living bodies—micro-zymases, as Professor Béchamp called them—in the food is essential to vitality in health. They cannot come into the food grown on the fields unless there are a great many little living bodies of that sort in the soil, because they come from the soil. They cannot apparently get into the soil unless they come from living matter before. Whether they are things that can multiply I have not the slightest knowledge. You find them in the most antique remnants of life. You actually can find them still existing in the chalk which has been formed as a rock for millions of years. I do not know whether they are the original living bodies that were there when the marine animals were there or not, but it has been proved that we can actually use these little living bodies out of the chalk in a pure sugar solution, with every antiseptic precaution taken to prevent any inflow of other germs from outside, to start organization in a sugar solution which is sterile and dead. That, as I see it, is the problem. It is a purely scientific problem that is presented to us, and it is one which I believe can be answered with a combination of research by the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council and of observation carefully conducted and carefully checked on the people of the country fed on different foods. Right at the back of all this controversy that goes on there is this Franco-German evidence. If we can get that settled we shall know where we are.


My Lords, I hardly like to be silent on such a subject as that which has been raised by the noble Earl. I think the impression that all your Lordships must have derived from the very illuminating speeches to which we have listened is that there is a great mass of most important scientific research which ought to be carried out at the earliest possible moment in the best interests of human health. Whether this particular consideration—namely, the relation between what I prefer to call the morbid condition of soil, plant, animal and man—comes within the terms of reference, or can be brought within the terms of reference, of the Royal Commission over which I am glad to know the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack is going to preside, is, I think, matter of considerable doubt. Whether the terms of reference can be amplified, as I for one should like, in order to introduce this particular aspect of scientific inquiry which may or may not bear on the reduction of the birth-rate, is a question which the noble and learned Viscount is better qualified to answer than I am. But even if this particular inquiry cannot come properly within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, I think—here I follow in the trend of thought of the last two speakers—there ought to be an inquiry, which by the way can be rapidly pursued and the results of which might bear very considerably upon the important question with which the Royal Commission will be asked to deal.

After all, it was only just over one hundred years ago that our first agricultural research station, Rothamsted, was established in this country, largely if not entirely owing to the enterprise and vision of Sir John Bennet Lawes and his able colleague, Professor Joseph Henry Gilbert. At that time it was assumed that the only science which bore materially upon the nutrition of plants was chemistry. Since that date, and particularly during the last thirty years, we have realized more and more the mistake that was then made, and physics, bacteriology and micro-biology are known to have as much to do with the growth of plants, including, of course, food plants, as the science of chemistry. Therefore we ought to keep an open mind and be prepared if and when this further inquiry takes place to accept the theory that there is some inter-relation between soil, plant, animal and man which very materially affects the health of the last-named.

Reference has been made to the passing away of Dr. Topley. We must all seriously regret that. It is very remarkable that the number of scientific agriculturists or agricultural scientists who have during the past few years passed to their rest is so large. There is one whose name has not been mentioned, and that is the late Sir John Farmer. He was a great biologist and did perhaps more than any man in recent years to draw attention to the enormous importance that the science of biology enjoys or should enjoy in relation to the nutrition of plant and animals, if not of man.

I spent five years in a remarkably fertile country, the Dominion of New Zealand. In that country there are more serious soil and water deficiencies, so far as we know, than have been found in any other fertile country in the world. Now, there is no doubt whatever that, in that country, a certain number of ailments are deemed to be traceable to soil or water deficiencies, deficiencies, that is, in something essential to human health. But, so far as I know, with but a single exception, there are no instances in which it has been definitely and conclusively proved that such is the case, that cause and effect are at work in such matters. The one exception relates to the prevalence of goitre, which is traceable to lack of iodine. I suppose that in few countries in the world is there more goitre to be found than in a certain area in the north of the South Island of New Zealand, and there the artificial addition of iodine to table salt or to water has proved an absolutely certain preventive of the disease. If that is the case in regard to goitre, surely it is more than likely that something of the same kind applies to other soil deficiencies as producing a condition of human morbidity.

All I wish, really, to emphasize, in view of our having had two important debates in this House on the subject, and of the serious view which so many of our own experts here take in this matter, is that without delay there should be instituted some definite scientific inquiry into this question of the inter-relation of morbid conditions between the soil, plant, animal and man. I feel, for my own part, as the late very learned Sir Daniel Hall felt, that the case is not proven, and until the case is proven I cannot think that we are justified in asking the Royal Commission to pursue this particular line of inquiry unless and until their terms of reference are amplified so as to embrace it.

I must apologize to the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, for not being in my place when he opened this debate, because we always listen to him with very great interest. I may say that the agricultural community feels very greatly indebted to him in that he, among the younger practical agriculturists of this country, is taking such a very prominent interest in the welfare of agriculture, and in the relation of science to its well-being and progressive development. I venture to hope that this debate will not pass unnoticed, that the value of the arguments which have been put forward in the course of it will not be unrecognized by the noble Viscount who will preside— as we all feel assured—with great ability over this Royal Commission, and that, in one way or another, the considerations which have been raised will be taken into account.


My Lords, your Lordships will sympathize with the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, in the indisposition which has kept him away from your Lordships' House to-day. He would, I am sure, have returned with renewed enthusiasm to the subject which he raised on the 26th October last. But in the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, Lord Teviot found a worthy substitute, and the noble Earl and others who have spoken to-day have restated and extended the considerations which were advanced during the last debate in your Lordships' House. The contention was, and is, that the use of artificial fertilizers instead of natural humus is the cause of much of the prevalent disease in man, in animal and in plant. My noble friend Lord Geddes, on the last occasion, related faulty nutrition, through the poverty of the soil, to the loss of fertility in man and to the fall in the birth-rate. Well, that is a most important subject, and it requires close and, perhaps, prolonged study before a definite decision can be made upon it. But it is all to the good that groups of students should be examining this matter and that it should be considered by Parliament and other bodies.

Your Lordships will notice that, in the debate which has taken place to-day, there has been singularly little argument devoted to the contention that the problem should be referred to the Royal Commission. We have had a good deal of philosophy, medical and otherwise, but very little has been said in relation to that specific point which is the reason for the Motion being put upon the Order Paper. The noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, said that there was something faulty in our nutrition. Well, he is not the only person who, during the last four or five years, has said that with a certain amount of feeling. But, when the attempt is to relate malnutrition to lack of human fertility, I have in my mind the fact—at least I think it is the fact—that the largest families were always to be found in the poorer section of the community, that is in the section where malnutrition was greatest, and that in proportion as the standard of nutrition rose you got a reduction in the size of families. My noble friend Lord Geddes quite properly said that, in his judgment, this was a purely scientific problem, and the question that arises is whether a purely scientific problem can be dealt with by the Royal Commission which has been proposed.

The response of the Government to the arguments adduced on the last occasion was given by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, and I have nothing to add, really, to the statement which he then made. The Government reply, as stated by the noble Duke, was that the Minister of Health at that time had no evidence of ill-health in the community due to the use of artificial fertilizers in food production, and also that the scientific evidence available pointed to no antagonism in agriculture between artificial fertilizers and natural humus, but to the beneficial results of both in their proper place, at their proper time and in the right proportions. He added that the points raised in the debate would be brought to the notice of the Ministries concerned—the Ministries of Agriculture, of Health and of Food. That view of the Government still stands. I can repeat what the noble Duke said on the last occasion, and say that the arguments advanced to-day will be noted by the Departments concerned.

If I may be permitted to make a personal observation, it is this. The fall in the birth-rate may be due to many causes, of which that raised by the noble Earl to-day may well be one; but I suggest that it is unscientific, and perhaps unsafe, to attribute that fall in the birthrate to one cause alone. There may be, as I have said, many causes, and among them we may be sure that social considerations and reactions will count for a very great deal. For good or for ill—I am not here to say which—it is probable that the day of large families is over, at least for our time. Children may be and are a source of great joy, and of great consolation in old age, but the people of our time no longer believe with the Psalmist that that man is happy who has his quiver full of them. They have other views, right or wrong. Those factors have a great deal to do with fertility, and therefore it is probably unscientific, as I say, to associate the problem with one factor alone.

With regard to the Royal Commission, in drawing up the terms of reference, the Government were careful to make them so comprehensive as to exclude nothing which might have a bearing on the present trends of population. Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to remind you of those terms of reference: To examine the facts relating to the present population trends in Great Britain; to investigate the causes of those trends and to consider their probable consequences; to consider what measure, if any, should be taken in the national interest to influence the future trends of population; and to make recommendations. Your Lordships will note that the Commission is asked to investigate the causes of the present trends of population, and it may be that certain methods of soil cultivation are amongst those causes. If the Royal Commission so decides, it can under its terms of reference examine that question; but the Commission must be absolutely free to decide upon the scope of its inquiries, and it must itself determine the evidence which it shall receive.

It has been admitted over and over again in the debate to-day that the subject is complicated, and that it raises very obscure and remote questions. If the Report of the Royal Commission is to wait until there has been a thoroughgoing examination of all the problems concerned, we may have to wait a very considerable time for it. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, suggested that twenty years might be a reasonable time, and Lord Geddes suggested ten years. If my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor feels equal to sitting in the chair of the Royal Commission for the next twenty years, well and good; but the noble and learned Viscount has had the advantage of hearing what your Lordships have had to say, and he will have noted the various suggestions which have been made. The field of inquiry is a very large one, and, while excluding nothing that it would be helpful to examine, at the same time the Commission will have to see to it, as my noble friend Lord Addison said on the last occasion, that its inquiries are kept within the scope necessary to enable it to get on with its work with due rapidity.


My Lords, with your permission I should like to ask whether the noble Lord can add a word in reply to my appeal that he should get together those who have raised this question with the Government Departments and in particular the research departments concerned, with a view to starting the experiments and the tests.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I would recall to my noble friend Lord Hankey that I said hat the suggestions which have been made will be put before the Departments concerned and duly considered. I cannot, of course, answer his question.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Snell, who has just replied for the Government, has not ruled out the possibility of research, but on the side suggested by my noble friends Lord Hankey and Lord Bledisloe he has not given us much encouragement. I have forgotten which Governmental phrase it is—whether "active consideration" or "urgent consideration"—which means that something may happen, but I do hope that consideration of the priority kind will be given to this matter by the Departments concerned. If I may be allowed to correct one or two misapprehensions on the part of the noble Lord who has just replied, I do not think that any of my noble friends who have spoken on this Motion said that the use of artificial manures is the cause; we said that it may be a cause, and we want it investigated. Secondly, I should like to correct what seems to me a misinterpretation of the term "malnutrition." We realize that not only is there under-nutrition but there is also faulty nutrition or malnutrition. Under-nutrition is quite different from malnutrition. I do hope that this consideration will be active, not only from the noble and learned Viscount's point of view as Chairman of the Royal Commission, but from that of the scientific and research departments of the Government itself. I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.