Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,711,605, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, including Grants for Agricultural Education and Training, a Grant-in-Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and certain other Grants-in-Aid; of the Agricultural Wages Board, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew."—[Note: £1,500,000 has been voted on account.]
I should like to make two preliminary observations before describing the work of the Ministry for the last year. Those observations relate to the nature of the Estimates presented to-day. In the first instance, the expenditure has been entirely re-classified. We have re-arranged the Votes BO as to make them far more convenient, and easy to understand. We have entirely separated the Fisheries. Last year I gave a promise that the Fisheries Vote should be entirely separated, so that Members might see what was really being spent upon the Fisheries Services. Therefore, we have cut off the Fisheries Vote altogether, and everything which properly falls under the head of Fisheries, including salaries and travelling allowances, is now shown separately. We have, indeed, divided the Vote into three main heads:—first, agricultural and general services; secondly, fisheries services, and, thirdly, services arising out of the War. In addition, we have given sub-heads relating to the various departments of the work, as for instance: F. I to F.7, agricultural education and research, G.1 to G.5, livestock, animal diseases, etc., H.1 to H.7, land department. Members therefore may readily see what is being spent under each of the activities of the Ministry.
The Vote shows a very large net increase compared with last year, amounting to no less than £2,156,107, or 40 per cent., which is a very large proportional decrease, probably larger than that which has occurred in any other Department. I do not wish, however, to claim any particular virtue which does not appertain to the Ministry, and I will say at once that 75 per cent, of the decrease is due to services arising out of the War which have diminished. The herring fishery guarantee which was given for two years in order to enable the herring trade to tide over a difficult period arising out of the War, and which last year amounted to £1,120,000, is not to be continued. There is also a saving of £405,000 in the training in agriculture of ex-service men. That work has been largely completed, and many of the training centres are being closed down. On the ordinary services there is a decrease of £623,000, of which £494,000 is due to land settlement. We are not proposing to buy any more land ourselves for the Ministry's farm settlement. On the contrary, we propose rather to sell some of the land bought some years ago which has proved to be unsuitable.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
The Committee may be amused, but I think we are quite right if there be a loss to cut the loss. That is the policy which I have decided to adopt. Leaving that out of account, there is a decrease of £129,000 on the ordinary services. We have endeavoured to economise in every possible direction. Following the reports that have been made by a Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Sir B. Stanier), the Public Accounts Committee, and the National Expenditure Committee, we have closed down the Rural Industries Branch of the Ministry and also the Branch of the Woman Adviser, and we have cut down the services wherever we can, provided always that we maintain efficiency. That is not all. We have had to refuse to authorise a number of new services and experiments which would have been very desirable, but which I think must wait for the time when we can better afford them. Our principle has been that whereas we can cut off nothing that is necessary, we must not embark on new services which are not absolutely necessary, but must postpone them until we can better afford them. We have done this in many directions. We have had to go slow with the starting of farm institutes. I regret that very much. I am sure that the farm institutes are a very valuable part of the Ministry's work, but we cannot afford to start new farm institutes at the present time. We have reduced, or rather we have refused, to make certain grants to agricultural colleges which otherwise we should have made, and it will cause great disappointment, because I thought we could not undertake a new grant of that sort. We were intending to start ten experimental farms demonstrating the possibilities of arable dairying. I have reduced these to the three which were already equipped and practically in operation. We have been obliged to refuse to make a large contribution, amounting to 75 per cent. of the cost, to the proposed new Poultry Institute, and I am afraid, therefore, that the Poultry Institute will have to be postponed. It is a misfortune. The Poultry Institute would have provided efficient training for poultry instructors and would have been of the greatest service to the poultry industry. Last year we imported £35,000,000 worth of eggs and poultry, and, realising that home production could be very vastly increased, I regret the decision, but, again, it is not, I hope, put an end to altogether, but merely postponed to a more favourable period. The same applies to the Fisheries. We have one Fisheries research vessel which is doing very good work. We had intended to have two Fisheries research vessels, but we have agreed for the present to confine ourselves to one, for the same reason that we felt that we could not afford either the initial expense or the cost of running a second vessel at the present time
The work of the Ministry is really so vast and its ramifications are so great that I hardly know which particular points to bring before the Committee. I do not know whether the Committee realises the ramifications of the work of the Ministry. We are responsible for agricultural education and research, probably the most important work which we do, because, given the best possible legislation and the best administration, I believe that we can help agriculture more by obtaining the latest scientific discoveries and disseminating the knowledge among farmers than by any other means. In fact, I hold that the future of British agriculture depends principally upon knowledge. Then we are responsible for the improvement of livestock, for milk recording, for dealing with and combating animal and plant diseases, insect pests—a terrible catalogue we have of them—foot and mouth disease, rabies, glanders, swine fever, epizootic abortion, warble fly, gooseberry mildew, big bud, silver leaf, and many others. Then we are the principal agency for the destruction of rats and for the production of sugar beet. We look after poultry, rabbits, and small livestock generally. We are responsible for land improvement, drainage, and reclamation. We help Oxford and Cambridge Colleges to manage their estates, and we redeem the Tithe Rent Charge of the clergy. We are responsible for the very important work of Land Settlement of ex-service men and for allotments. We look after institutions so diverse as Kew Gardens, Ordnance Survey, and the National Stud. We train ex-service men in agriculture, and the expenses of the Wages Board are borne upon our Votes, though we cannot, and we do not wish in any way to influence their decision. Generally, by advice, we try to be guide, philosopher, and friend to all agriculturists, and I think it is recognised that our efforts are helpful. Last summer I was paid what I thought was a very great compliment, coming from the quarter from which it came. A farmer at an agricultural show said to me: "Things are bad enough with the Ministry of Agriculture, but I really think that they would be worse without it." I have a. great opinion of the farmer, and I know that in paying compliments they are, as a class, cautious. Coming from that source, I took it as a great compliment of the work of the Ministry.
The same with fisheries. Our duties are multifarious. We instal motors in fishing boats for inshore fishermen, and we try to assist owners of trawlers in their great industry. We conduct research, such as the measurement of plaice, and we combat fishery pests, as I stated last year, by turning slipper limpets on oysters into innocuous and useful poultry food. We purify mussels, arid catch elvers, and distribute them over the rivers of the country in order to supply eel food for the people. So that, in every way, our duties are wide and various, and it is difficult to know which particular points the Committee would wish me to speak about this afternoon. I will, however, select one or two points and deal with them, and I have no doubt in the course of the Debate many questions will be raised, and many other points will be mentioned, and I shall have the opportunity, no doubt, Sir, of replying to these other matters which hon. Members may wish to raise.
The first thing I would like to speak about is land settlement. That is a matter that interests practically every Member. The promise was made during the War, and was confirmed at the General Election, that an opportunity should be given to enable ex-service men, who were suitable and had a little capital, to cultivate a bit of the land for which they fought, and therefore, under the provisions of the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, passed a year and a half ago, we have had the duty put upon us of fulfilling this promise. It is a difficult task. It is a task that cannot be done in a hurry. It is an expensive task; it is going to cost the country a good deal of money, as I shall show in a moment, but I hope the result will be well worth the money expended. Of course, "Small Holdings" is a very convenient expression, but it means a great variety of things. In some cases a very small piece of bare land is sufficient to maintain a man and his family. For example, in the strawberry lands of Hampshire, or the gooseberry and currant country near Cambridge, or that wonderful plum district of Worcestershire, two or three acres of bare land, without the necessity of constructing buildings or cottages—because in most cases those who take this bare land live in the villages, and walk or cycle to their work every day—small holdings are comparatively easy, and I hope they will be very successful. Then, when you come to the Fen district, you will get a small holding of from five to ten acres, on which are grown potatoes, carrots, celery and green vegetables, and that, again, without any elaborate equipment will keep a man and his family. But from those easy beginnings in some cases, you have to consider also the miniature mixed farm of 20, 30 or 40 acres, or where you get to a dairying county like Cheshire, or some parts of Cornwall and other counties, it may be a regular dairy farm of 50 acres, with a full range of buildings, a large cottage and a dairy attached, all of which, of course, is very expensive, and all of which takes much time to arrange for.
The result is that the small holding varies, and we endeavour to make it vary according to the knowledge and capabilities of the men. A man will naturally wish to carry on the form of cultivation in which he has been bred and born, and small holdings, in consequence, must vary in different districts according to the desires and capabilities of the men. And, of course, the expense varies enormously, and the time needed to provide them varies enormously. Two or three acres of bare land can very often be obtained readily, and at a cost, it may be, of not more than £100, or thereabouts. On the other hand, your small dairy holding in Cheshire will take a long time to set up. You have got to get the land divided by fencing it, and, it may be, drained. You have got to build a cottage and a dairy, and a whole range of buildings. That will take time, and it may cost a great deal of money. In the early days, before we realised how costly buildings were going to be, some schemes were started which will cost, approximately, £5,000 per owner. We have now a general rule that no single holding is to cost more than £2,500. But when hon. Members complain that ex-service men are kept waiting, that the thing is not being attended to, and so on, I would point out to them the great difficulty, and the inevitable delays of this settlement. I would like to say that, speaking generally, the county councils have undertaken their work with a splendid spirit, and carried it out most efficiently. That is shown by one item in the Vote to-day. Last year we put down a large sum of money—I think £250,000—for acting, as we have the power to do under the Act—I will not say exactly in default, but rather in place of the county councils, if they did not do it efficiently. We have put down practically nothing this year, because all the county councils are carrying out their work. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the progress that has been made, I think, on the whole, is
not bad. In order that the Committee may know precisely what has been done, I will venture to read a short extract from a Report:
The total number of applications received from ex-service men who applied before 1st December was 48,580. Of these, 13,975 have been rejected as unsuitable or have withdrawn their applications; 6,791 are waiting interview, or their applications are standing over; 16,741 have been approved after interview, and have not yet been provided with holdings. Since the inception of the Government Land Settlement Scheme, councils have acquired 249,985 acres, and have actually settled 12,658 applicants, of whom 11,104 are ex-service men, and the remainder civilians. But to those you must add an additional 650 ex-service men settled on the Ministry's farm settlements, farm colonies, and 136 civilians, bringing up the total of ex-service men to 11,754, and of civilians to 1,690. It is estimated that the effective persistent applicants will number 30,000, or even less if agricultural conditions should develop unfavourably.
We have settled, roughly, 12,000. We think the entire scheme will mean 30,000. 'That means we have already accomplished about two-fifths of the work, and, having regard to the fact that the Act giving us powers was only passed last August, I do not think that is a bad record:
Land has already been acquired and will come into hand for division by the end of this year or later to settle approximately 6,400 more applicants, and it may be, therefore, that we shall have to acquire from now onwards about 160,000 acres in order to satisfy a balance of 12,600 applications. When the task is finished, we shall therefore have acquired about 410,000 acres, or, to put it another way, 640 square miles.
That is the problem, and that is the extent to which it has been carried out so far, and I am very hopeful we shall be able to accomplish it in the near future. Of course, there are going to be losses. We have anticipated that from the beginning. It was laid down in the Act that the rents charged were to be such as the smallholder could be reasonably expected to pay, and not what actually represented the actual cost of the holding, and we anticipate that the losses will amount to about 40 per cent. Every year, for the first seven years, the losses will be made good to the county councils by the State. At the end of seven years the capital value will be written down at the then market value, and the holdings will be handed over on a self-supporting basis to the councils. Of course, it is regrettable that there should be this loss, but it was anticipated from the beginning. It is
greater than was originally expected, owing to two reasons, first of all the fact that loan charges now amount to 6½ per cent., and, secondly, the cost of building has been a good deal larger than was originally expected. But notwithstanding this loss, which the House anticipated when the Bill was passed, and which has been foreseen all through, I think the work is worth doing, and if we settle 30,000 ex-service men upon the land, the great majority of whom, I have every reason to believe, will succeed, I think we shall make a very valuable addition to our country population, which will be an element of stability in the country. So much for land settlement.
I would like to say a word about foot-and-mouth disease. We have been troubled, unfortunately, during the past year with a series of outbreaks. For many years we were practically immune, but in the last year, I think undoubtedly because it is rife on the Continent, especially in Northern France and Belgium, we have had these outbreaks. The baffling part of it is that we have never been able to discover how the infection is brought, notwithstanding all the efforts of our scientific staff. We have now got a very highly scientific expert committee inquiring into that problem, and if they can find the explanation it will greatly facilitate things in the future. For the time being, we have had to put up with a series of sporadic outbreaks, apparently with very little, or, in most cases, no connection with each other, in different parts of the country, of a most baffling description. There were no fewer than 94 such outbreaks in 1920. One, a very serious case, took place in East Norfolk, where sheep were driven from one end of the county to the other without notification, and the disease consequently spread throughout the district. That, of course, was a case of gross carelessness, and the owner of the sheep was prosecuted and was fined £525, which, I hope, will be a deterrent to other people who are not inclined to notify the disease at once. Our policy, of course, is well known. As soon as the disease breaks out we stamp it out by slaughter. We stop it at once. We do not allow it to extend. Last year we slaughtered 2,374 cattle, 8,373 sheep, 992 swine, and 8 goats. We had to pay in compensation the gross amount of £154,000 and in salvage £39,000, leaving the net compensation at £115,000. I mention this because I know there is a tendency in some quarters to criticise our policy and to say we are on the wrong lines. There are some hon. Members who say: "Why, instead of this slaughter do you not try to isolate and cure?" We all know that foot-and-mouth disease is curable. We have been criticised for adopting this expensive and destructive method of slaughter instead of trying to isolate and cure, as is done in some other countries. I have very carefully considered the whole position, and the more I think about it the more I am convinced we are absolutely right.
Our flocks and herds are the most valuable in the world, and we dare not afford to take such risks in isolation and cure as suggested. People tell us that the compensation we pay is gigantic and that by slaughtering we are depleting our flocks and herds. That argument is supposed to be conclusive. The compensation paid last year was £115,000, and this amounted only to .03 of the total value of the herds of the country. The percentage annually slaughtered is as follows:—.03 of the cattle, .04 of the sheep, .04 of the pigs. Therefore, the cattle slaughtered, whether reckoned in numbers or value, is a mere bagatelle compared with the number of animals in the country. Let me instance as an example of the two different policies the experience of the United States and France. The United States a few years ago had a very serious outbreak. They spent no less than £500,000 in one year in stamping out the disease by slaughter. They stamped it out successfully, and came to the conclusion that it was money very well spent indeed.
Take the contrast in France. France adopts the cure and isolation policy, and does not slaughter. It is reckoned that in the year 1919–20 she lost in the value of the animals affected no less than £5,000,000, and no less than 855,161 cattle were affected in France in that one year. I put it to the Committee that under these circumstances, having regard to these facts, that our policy is the right policy, and that for us who are practically the stud farmers of the world, whose export of cattle in this respect is a most valuable industry in this country, to allow, or to adopt, or to take any steps that would permit the disease to become rife in this country as in France would be a most unwise proceeding. Nobody regrets more than I do the necessity for slaughter, the expense it involves, and the loss of valuable animals. I am perfectly convinced, however, that the good sense of the Committee will agree that we are proceeding on the right lines.
I will pass now to another troublesome thing—rabies. Here again we have been immune for many years. During the War, in consequence of the relaxation of Regulations owing to the depletion of the police force, and so on, rabies reappeared. Up to 11th August, 1920, we had in two years 257 outbreaks. In addition to that we had 940 reports which were unconfirmed. On 11th August of last year we were free, and I really thought we had come to the end of our troubles. Unfortunately fresh outbreaks occurred at Wilton, Reading, and Acton, and then as late as 23rd March, at Southampton. Except for the Southampton case last month there has been no new outbreak for eight or nine weeks. I earnestly hope, therefore, we may be able to free the country from the Muzzling Orders except possibly Southampton in the next few months, if there be no more outbreaks. We are dependent upon that.
Here, again, our policy has been criticised. Hon. Members have often asked me questions: "Why do you not muzzle the whole country?" Well, in the first place a muzzling order can only be effective if the public co-operate to carry it out, but because you have got rabies at Southampton, to put a general muzzling order on various southern counties, or even as far north as Lancashire, Durham and Yorkshire would be a proposal the public would never support, and it would be quite ineffective. I am told the reason people ask for general muzzling is they do not object so much to the muzzling, but they do object to restriction on the movement of the animals. This latter, however, is far more effective than the muzzling. The muzzling does very little except to enable the police to round up the dogs which are not muzzled, but the restriction of movement is really an effective way to prevent the spread of a disease, just like the prevention of the movement of cattle is the most effective way to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth or other cattle disease. Even if, therefore, we had universal muzzling, it would still be necessary in areas which were seriously affected not to allow any movement so long as the infection remained serious in those districts. Here, again, I think, after much consideration, the policy we adopt is the right policy, and I hope the Committee will support it.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
The explanation is quite simple. A case occurs, say, in any neighbourhood where a dog appears to be in a bad state or queer, and immediately people jump to the conclusion, or at all events are afraid, that the dog has rabies. They accordingly make a report. In many cases it is found that there is nothing in it whatever, and therefore that report is an unconfirmed report. From rabies I pass to rats. The Committee will remember that a year and a half ago we passed a measure called the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act. This Act has proved very effective. The very passing of it created what I may call the necessary anti-rat atmosphere. The local authorities are becoming aware of their duties and the most effective methods are being taken to stamp out the rat pest all over the country. We have had rat weeks with immense casualties. I have not been able to ascertain the entire casualty list, but it is very long. We have been able through our technical staff to give advice to private individuals and to local authorities and have accomplished a great deal. In addition to that we have got our own rat bait factory at a place called Mount Pleasant. [Laughter.]
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I can tell hon. Members what the factory does. It manufactures destructive media for use in Government offices, because, I am sorry to say that our Government offices are infested with rats. [Laughter.] The Ministry of Agriculture has not got any. They do not go there. But there are rats in most Government offices. We are hunting them out as quickly as possible. What about sugar beet? Last year there was an item in our Vote of £250,000 subscription by the Government, by the taxpayer, towards the capital of a company called Home Grown Sugar, Limited. This company has acquired, under Govern- ment auspices, an estate in Nottinghamshire, that is at Kelham, Newark-on-Trent, and erected a sugar mill. I hope that this year they will be actually at work, producing sugar from sugar beet. They are growing a good deal of sugar beet on their own estate, and getting other from farmers in the neighbourhood. This year I am going to ask the House for a further sum of £125,000 to take the shape of a loan and as a second mortgage on the assets of the company, in order that they may complete their undertaking.
The cost of erecting the mill will be more than was anticipated owing to the cost of building, and so on. It was estimated at £300,000 with the railways, wharves, and all the necessary appurtenances, but it will cost nearly £500,000. Therefore £200,000 additional capital is required in order that the building of the mill may be completed. An arrangement has been made with the Treasury to provide capital. The company will raise £75,000 as a first mortgage, while the Treasury will lend £125,000 as a second mortgage. It is most important that this experiment should be carried through. It is most important that the mill should be completed this year in time to deal with the crop. From what I have seen of the undertaking, I am convinced that it is going to be a success. It is, of course, an experiment, and the Government is showing an example, or rather assisting a company to show an example. If we find that we can successfully make sugar on commercial lines out of sugar beet grown in this country, well and good. I think it will introduce a big change here and one greatly to the advantage of the consumer generally, and it will also introduce a new crop which will be beneficial to the agricultural community and to the consumers as well. I hope, therefore, the House will agree to this proposition in order that the experiment may have a fair chance.
There are two other matters I should like to mention on the agricultural side, matters of development in which I take a particular interest. The first is the milk-recording scheme. The advantages of milk recording is that it enables the dairy farmer to ascertain what his stock is doing. He can find out those animals which are consuming more than they are producing. Also milk-recording certificates which are given by the Ministry on recorded animals possess great intrinsic value. They add largely to the value of the animal, and I find that last year a good many non-pedigree milking cows with milk-recording certificates fetched as much as £120, and some of them a great deal more. This scheme is growing by degrees although not as fast as I should like, but the progress is not bad. It was started before the War, which has interfered with its progress. In 1916, 13,000 cows were recorded; in 1917, 20,000; in 1918, 38,000, and last year 60,000 cows. I feel certain that if dairy farmers would only realise the great advantage of this scheme they will take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Ministry, and then I feel sure there will be a substantial improvement in the milk supply of the country.
Another important matter is the growth of co-operative cheese schools. About 1916, during the War, we started travelling cheese schools in order to make the best possible use of our milk supply. During the flush period in the summer, in order that the milk supply should be put to the best advantage, we started cheese-making in a great many counties, including North Wales, Cornwall, Hereford and other counties. We got on extraordinarily well, the travelling cheese school developed into co-operative societies, which means that when once the farmers in the neighbourhood have realised the advantage of sending their milk in to be made into cheese day by day, a co-operative cheese school is established, a very valuable and useful thing in the neighbourhood. Last year we had 44 of these cheese schools and no less than 35 societies were established. I think that is a scheme that we ought to try and further develop. It means that in summer cheese is produced in this country—we do not produce half as much as we consume here. It means a better milk supply in the winter because it means more cows. Wherever this scheme has been established the number of cows in milk has been increased from 10 to something like 100 per cent. Whatever we spend upon a scheme of that sort I think the Committee will feel is well spent, and likely to be to the advantage of the consumers and the agricultural community generally.
I must say a word about the duties that have fallen to us in the working of the two Acts of Parliament which have recently been passed. I mean the Ministry of Agriculture Act, 1919, and the Agriculture Act, 1920. Under the first Act, councils of agriculture for England and Wales have been established, one for England and one for Wales, and also an Agricultural Advisory Committee to the Ministry. They are all functioning, and they are very useful. The councils for England and Wales are really agricultural parliaments. They represent the agricultural committees of the various counties, and all questions of importance are fully discussed by them. They have absolute freedom and liberty. The Minister is not even a member, and goes there on sufferance. They can even censure the Minister if they wish, but I do not think they will, and I do not think that I should resign if they did. Still, they have freedom to take whatever course they like. With regard to the Agricultural Advisory Committee, it is largely representative of those agricultural councils. It meets regularly once a month at the Ministry, and is very valuable in the advice it gives to the Ministry and its staff. All through the country we have these county agricultural committees established which, with their sub-committees, are carrying on the work of agriculture. There is the small holdings sub-committee, the settlements and allotments sub-committee, the cultivation sub-committee, and so on. The cultivation sub-committee takes the place of the old agricultural executive committees, which exercised very large control during the War. The control they can exercise now under the Agricultural Act is very limited, and as far as I am concerned I wish them to have as little as possible, especially from Whitehall. We can, of course, insist upon good cultivation, but I think all those powers should be decentralised, and I have taken the necessary steps to delegate most of those powers to the local committees, who can carry them out with more local knowledge than we can be expected to have at headquarters.
With regard to the working of the Agriculture Act, generally my impression is that the new Clauses dealing with compensation are giving satisfaction, and are giving a greater feeling of security both to the tenant on his farm and the labourer in his cottage. There is no doubt that the guaranteed prices for wheat and oats have had an effect in checking the tendency to lay down land to grass.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
That would be perfectly impossible now, because the Act was only passed just before Christmas, and I cannot give the statistics since then. I can say, however, that between 1914 and 1918 the amount of land under the plough increased by 1,401,000 acres. Between 1918 and 1920 we have lost 379,000 of those acres. I do not mean by that that they went out of cultivation. Roughly speaking, we still have rather more than 1,000,000 more acres under the plough than we had in 1914. What has been the effect of the Agriculture Act? It is impossible to give the actual figures, because we do not get them from the various areas until the 4ith June, but, judging from such indications as I have been able to get, it appears to me that the process of seeding down has been, to some extent, stopped. The best test is that trade in grass seed this spring has been normal, and there has been no exceptional buying.
My view is that the effect of the Agriculture Act has not been to increase the amount under the plough; we never expected that it would, because we had largely increased that acreage during the War, and we never expected to increase it still more by the effect of the Act. We did hope, however, that it would put a stop to the tendency to lay down grass which had been going on for the past two years. I think that has been the effect, although I cannot give any very accurate statistics at the present time. If that is so, the effect is very satisfactory, all the more so as farmers are undoubtedly going through very trying times to-day, because prices have been falling very rapidly. They do not know how much lower they will fall, and they have had to make large sacrifices in the value of their stock. Undoubtedly they will have to write down the value of animals and everything else very much, and there is a general feeling of uncertainty. If during that general feeling of uncertainty we can give them some confidence to maintain land under the plough, then I think the Act will not have been passed in vain, and we shall be able to maintain a larger arable area then we had before the War, which will be a great advantage to the nation
I must say a few words about fisheries. I am sorry to say that the present position of the fishery industry is discouraging and there is great depression; in fact, I have never known a greater depression in the fishery industry. It is quite true that as regards the catch there has been a great recovery since the War; in fact, the landings of wet fish last year were higher than in any previous years except 1913. The value of the landing was £21,000,000, which is the highest ever recorded. That is a little fictitious owing to the great change in the value of money. Nevertheless, the amount is a record all but one year, and the value was a record one. As against that the costs have enormously increased, and there can be no doubt that most of our trawlers are running at a loss at the present time. As far as I can ascertain, the value of the fish landed, the price has gone up just under 100 per cent, as compared with the period just before the War. On the other hand, the costs have gone up 150 per cent. All other industries are suffering in the same way but the fishery business suffers most because of its perishable character. You cannot manufacture the stock, and it has to be sold immediately, with the exception of that portion which has to be cured, and the difficulties of the industry are very great indeed now. The chief increase in the cost of the industry is coal, and £1 a ton in the price of coal would make all the difference between running the trawlers at a loss and running them at a fair profit. Unless something is done in this direction I am afraid the Ministry is powerless. There is really nothing we can do to improve the situation except giving such assistance by advice as we can, and so on; but I am afraid that the fishery industry is bound to go through the same bad times as other industries.
With regard to our other work, we had hoped to undertake a rather more expensive programme of research. We intended to have two research vessels, one in the North Sea and one in the South-West, but the one in the South-West we had to abandon owing to the necessity for economy. The "George Blight" has made her maiden voyage and we believe she may be available for the new fishing bank—Lousy Bank. That sort of work is very valuable. With regard to shell fisheries, we are still carrying on the mussel cleaning work at Conway. It has been quite a success. It has put about £5,000 a year into the pockets of the fishermen, and it is now self-supporting. My hon. and gallant Friend recently called attention to the fact that it had been run at a slight loss, but it has now become self-supporting. We are making experiments on similar lines at Conway in connection with oysters, and we are attempting to carry out on the river Exe similar measures for the purification of mussels to those which have proved very successful at Conway.
With regard to the inshore fishermen, our motor loan scheme has been a great success. We have installed 506 motor engines on fishing vessels, thereby practically revolutionising inshore fishing. The fishing boat is now practically independent of the wind. Fishermen can do their work in about half the time which it formerly occupied and they can work in conditions which formerly were impossible. The scheme has been carried out by means of loans. The fishermen are very thrifty and pay off their loans quickly, and out of the money expended only about 3½ per cent, is in arrears. With regard to the elvers distribution scheme, I may explain that the Germans had got possession of this station on the Severn where they caught the elvers that came down the river, took them over to Germany, distributed them among their rivers and later on re-exported eels to us for consumption by our people. We commandeered that station during the War. It was placed in the hands of the Public Trustee. It has now been sold to the Ministry and we are distributing these elvers all over the country. I hope it will result in our producing more eels at home, as we used to import no less than 60,000 tons of eels every year. I should like to mention in relation to our fishery work the reorganisation of the Coastal staff. We have now got fishery officers in practically every port, and from the information I have received, they have proved to be very useful, and do their work most efficiently. They are general advisers and helpers to the industry. They assist in distribution, and there has been great difficulty occasionally in that matter in the last year. They look after such things as coal supplies when they run short, and in this regard I am sure they will prove very useful at the present moment. They advise and assist the whole industry generally, they examine trawling gear in cases where it has been damaged by cables, and in every kind of way they are the guides, philosophers, and friends of fishermen. I think the industry generally appreciates their work, and I only regret that the powers which the Ministry possesses with regard to fisheries, both sea and inshore, are so limited. I had hoped to bring in a Bill this Session securing wider powers, but I am very much afraid that owing to the necessity for economy, and also the shortness of time, it will be impossible to carry any really large effective measure in the present Session. I hope I have not unduly worried the Committee.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I am quite aware of that, and I shall do all I can in the matter, but there are great difficulties in the way. Speaking generally, I have given an account of some, but by no means all, of the activities of the Ministry. I have tried to select some of the most salient points in our work. It is a great, most important, and interesting work. I hope the Committee will recognise that, notwithstanding the great difficulties in our way, we are endeavouring to carry it out efficiently, and at the same time we have not been forgetful of the urgent need for national economy at the present moment.
I should like to make some comments on the actual figures of the Estimates. If I may offer one general observation it would be that, very interesting as the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has been, it has not touched quite so much as we should have liked on the question of what the policy of the Ministry is going to be in the year to which the Estimate relates. I notice, for instance, that the Minister made no reference to the considerable increase under the head of Salaries. It is really rather interesting to observe that there is an increase under the sub-heads A and C, dealing with Salaries and Special Services, of £94,000, which is exactly equivalent to the decrease under two subheads dealing with Agricultural Education and Research, which also add up to £94,000. I am bound to say I would have been better pleased if that had been a decrease of £94,000 on Salaries, &c., and an increase on what is called Education and Research rather than the other way about. Coming to the scheme of Small Holdings Settlement, again I should like to have had, if I may say so without seeming to complain, a little more frankness as to the real position in the matter. It is, as the Minister said, a very difficult question and a very expensive matter to settle these men on the land. I entirely agree that it is a very desirable thing to do in spite of the expense, but did not the Minister in his statement really rather conceal what is happening—and it may be rightly happening—in this connection? Let me just recall to him his own figures as proof of that. He showed us that 12,000 men had been settled on about 250,000 acres, and he estimated that there was a total of something like 30,000 men still to be settled, and that he would require for that purpose 410,000 acres. He is allowing therefore for very much more than double the number of settlers but for nothing like double the amount of land which is to be provided.
Does not that indicate what, I think, we might have been told more clearly, that the Ministry is really pulling in its horns a good deal, it may be owing to the pressure of expenditure, and that the ex-soldiers who still remain to be settled —16,500 of them whom are approved, and 7,000 waiting for an interview—cannot expect, to put it frankly, the same amount or degree or character of assistance as has been given to those who have had the good fortune to have their cases taken first. I should like to have known, for instance, the typical finance of the typical holder. Take the fact that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the maximum to be spent on equipping a holding has been cut down to £2,500. What does that represent? What sort of holding is it? I assume one must have, in order to cover that sort of expenditure for the equipment of the land, something like £200,000, at 8 per cent., for interest, sinking fund and repairs. What sort of rent is a man willing to give for a holding on which £2,500 has been spent on equipment? Would I be right in suggesting that the sort of equipment on an average 25 or 30-acre holding would be such that the holder would only be willing to give £50 or £60, or at the most £70 as rent, and that the remainder of the balance between the £50 or £70 received as rent and the money required to replace expenditure on equipment is to be found by the taxpayer? I think it would have been better if the House could have been given some sort of estimate—none was given at all—of the probable cost to the ratepayer or taxpayer of this scheme when it is completed. My right hon. Friend had in his mind the total number of men to be settled, and the total number of acres to be secured for them. I think it would have been well if he had also had in his mind figures showing the total cost of the scheme and the total amount likely to be recovered annually in rent from the men who are actually settled under the scheme.
Ought not something have been said with regard to the change in the expectations or probabilities or possibilities of these small holdings at the present time? Have not people been a little too inclined to run away with the idea that if a man only got a few acres of land and put upon it a few pigs and poultry his income would be assured? Is there not a great danger that a very large proportion of the men who have been settled—outside those in specially favoured districts where they grow small fruit and undertake special vegetable culture—will really not be able to make a success of their holdings unless they have got holdings which can reasonably be called "small farms," on which they can keep cows and go in for dairying with the help of their families, working long hours, so as to make a success of it? Should not a warning be issued to these people, particularly when eggs are coming down to 2d. each, and when there is to be a big fall in the price of pigs, against entertaining the idea that a man is going to make a really good living from pigs and poultry on a few acres of land? I am afraid we are only laying up trouble for ourselves in encouraging men to go in for holdings of that kind. It seems to me clear that the intention of the Board to limit in future very considerably the area for each holding and bring it down below what the average area has been for the holdings set up in the past. I am not quite sure whether that policy takes account of the tendency which I have suggested, namely, that the small holdings, the ex-soldier settlement holdings, will only pay if either they are something like the size of a small farm, or, alternatively, are situated in some specially favoured district where people can go in for the cultivation of small fruit or something of that kind. The ordinary little pig and poultry holding that every ex-service man has tried to get in our villages up and down the country, is not going to support him unless he is pretty certain of having a really adequate Government pension behind him.
Then I would like seriously to press the question with regard to sugar beet. I hope that the House of Commons will not be asked to approve of this loan simply on the Estimate, without any further figures. I have no doubt that the scheme is perfectly sound, and I have great hopes that it will be successful and that the nation will get its money back, but I humbly suggest that the figures which the Minister gave us are not enough by themselves to justify the Committee in passing this loan. The right Ion. Gentleman said, for instance, that the cost of the factory is £500,000, or thereabouts. During this year and last year, however, according to the figures on the Estimates, £385,000 will have been spent—£250,000 last year and £135,000 this year; and I think that most ordinary business Members of the House would say that, if the taxpayer's money is wanted to give this industry a start and to help with the factory, it would be behaving very generously to lend on the pound for pound basis, and not in such a large proportion as £385,000 towards the £500,000 which the factory will cost. At any rate, I feel certain that the Committee ought to require, and I think it will require, fuller figures. Doubtless, we shall get them in the course of the Debate, but I think we ought to have them from the Minister in charge.
That is quite true, but what we did last year hardly justifies a loan of another £100,000 without quite clear figures. I should like to see on what this second mortgage is going to be secured.
We are now extracting figures which we had not before us at first. Although we have not a valuation of the total property, we do know now that the first mortgage is only £75,000.
I beg, pardon. I do not think, however, having had, as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, some experience of how these things ultimately turn out, that we can well be too careful before passing a Vote of this kind. Could the Minister, when he comes to reply, tell the Committee a little more about one of the things on which he was most interesting, namely, cheese schools? How much is being devoted to the encouragement of these co-operative cheese schools, which turn into co-operative cheese factories, this year as compared with last year? From his description it seemed to be one of the activities which the Committee might well desire to see encouraged. With regard to a quite different subject, namely, that of the slipper limpet, I should like to know something, because, when I was Parliamentary Secretary, I had some little experience in regard to this elusive creature. The question was, how to clean the limpets off the oysters without loss, and my experience was less happy than that of the right hon. Gentleman. It was characteristic of the attitude of British business firms towards their Government, that when we asked three or four important firms on what terms they would dispose of the grit which is made by grinding up these limpet shells, and which forms a valuable poultry food, they made different replies so far as the figures were concerned. All the replies, however, when boiled down to their substance, came to this, that the firms would be delighted to undertake it on the condition that if there were any loss it should fall on the Government, and if there were any profit it should go to themselves. I have frequently repeated that example as showing the very indifferent attitude of the ordinary British firm, at that time at any rate, in regard to doing any service for the Government, as compared with the attitude of business firms in other countries towards their Governments. I am glad to hear that that difficulty has been overcome.
Going back to one of the figures of the Estimate, I would venture to express my disappointment that there has been an increase in salaries and a decrease in the expenditure on education and research, instead of the other way about. There is a similar decrease, about which I also feel bound to express regret, in Sub-Head H, which relates to expenditure tending to improve the cultivation of land—land drainage, reclamation and improvement of cultivation of land, including grants-in-aid. On this Sub-Head important and heavy cuts have been made, amounting to £119,000 this year. That should be taken in connection with the figure under Sub-Head N, showing a further cut of £100,000 in similar services by the Development Commission. That is a total cut, on the work of improvement of land reclamation, drainage, and other services of that nature, of something like £220,000. That leads me to the main point that I want to make, namely, that, the Agriculture Act now being on the Statute Book, the House of Commons will require, when the Annual Agriculture Estimates are brought before it in future, something much more like a justification for the great burden which the taxpayer has taken upon himself in consenting to the guarantees contained in that measure. I feel certain that that will be, for many years to come, the forefront and centre of agricultural politics, and although now it is only a few months since the Bill was passed, and although, that being so, it may be fairly reasonable to give practically no account of anything that has been done to give the nation any quid pro quo for the large guarantees that the taxpayer will be called upon to find, yet I was sorry that more reference was not made to that subject. I have said before, and I say again now, that the taxpayers will have to find, as the result of the harvest of this year, quite considerable sums of money to meet the guarantee, at any rate on oats, and possibly also on wheat. Immediately that happens, people will ask, and they will be entirely justified in asking, what real return are they getting for that in the raising of the standard of agriculture in the country—what increased production is there, and what improvements are taking place in the way in which the farmers are handling their business.
What, people will ask, are these county agricultural committees really doing? I welcome as much as anyone the Minister's statement that on the whole he was not. in favour of strong centralised control, and did not wish to interfere with these committees too much from Whitehall. But I do warn him definitely that more and more in the future, as the taxpayer has to pay the bill, he will ask what he is getting in return for what he has to pay, and the matter will centre upon this question as to what these agricultural committees are actually doing to improve the agriculture and to improve the production in their areas. The answer, so far as the Minister has given it to-day, is, "Nothing." He did not tell us one single thing that is being done, or that is in the mind of the Ministry of Agriculture and is being placed before these county committees for their consideration, which would in any single way improve the standard of production in this country. He went through a great many excellent things that the Ministry was doing on its. own account with regard to education, research, and so on, and, as I have said, I am sorry that they have had to be so much cut down. On that central point, however, namely, the bargain which the taxpayer made with the agricultural community under that Act, we have had no information, bad or good, at all. It is right that the Ministry should not be standing over these county agricultural committees with a big stick, but I do think that the presentation of Estimates ought to be made the occasion for a review of what the Ministry hope-will be done, what they are encouraging these committees to do, and what pro- gress has really been made by the committees in their work. I was, of course, one of those who were sorry that in another place the control of cultivation was cut out, but there is plenty to be done under the Act without requiring arable cultivation. I should like to know whether any plans have yet been made for securing the improvement—as to which there is a great deal to be done—of grass land and whether the committees have yet begun to turn their attention to that matter. If the Act of last year is to stand—and I was one of the friends of the Act until it was spoilt at the last moment in another place—more and more the country will want to know what they are getting in return for it. May I conclude by heartily congratulating my right hon. Friend on his recent return to the House on his appointment as Minister? I believe that the whole agricultural community looks forward eagerly to his occupation of the office, because they have had experience of the very considerate and careful treatment that he has always given to all agricultural questions.
May I express, on behalf of myself and my friends, the same sentiments with regard to the Minister which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down? May I also say that, with him, I much regret, in connection with the Agriculture Act, that those provisions which gave compulsory powers to the Ministry to enforce cultivation were not retained in the Bill? It will be very natural for the country to ask, if there is no increase in the area of arable land, "Why are we guaranteeing prices for wheat and oats?" I am afraid that the omission of that Clause will be a source of considerable trouble in the future, and that it will militate against agriculture as an industry, because the people of the country will say that, while they are guaranteeing prices for wheat and oats, they are getting no extra quantity of wheat and oats produced. My object in rising, however, was to speak of the Land Settlement Scheme, and I am sure that the Minister will believe me when I say that I am very heartily in sympathy with, and desire, so far as I possibly can, to forward, that scheme in every possible direction. I should like, however, to draw the atten- tion of the Ministry to the danger at present existing of the whole scheme collapsing, owing to the fact that the Ministry are trying to take, perhaps, too much out of the settlers. I allude more especially to these land settlement schemes in the county in which I am particularly interested. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) said that under special and favoured circumstances the soldier settlers may be able to make a success of their holdings. The land I refer to is among the best in England, and the circumstances generally are more favourable than in any other districts with which I am acquainted. But the charges are so great that I fear the men, in some instances not too well experienced in agriculture, will get their hearts broken before they have an opportunity of showing their mettle in the very first year of their effort, and so it will bring the scheme to a disastrous failure. My object in speaking in special reference to this is to beg the Minister to take the matter into his most serious consideration, and to cause an investigation to be made at once into the rents and charges to which these soldier settlers are subjected, and to take such steps as will, give them at any rate an ordinary chance of making their holdings a success.
I should like to speak with special reference to the settlement at Sutton Bridge. This land has been taken over from Guy's Hospital, and I hope the Government has made sufficiently good terms in connection therewith. There are very serious charges to which the Government are subjected, both in the raising of loans and in the cost of buildings, but I want to impress upon them that the scheme was started with the view, not of requiring the soldier settlers to pay a higher rent than they could reasonably be expected to pay, and they are being asked to pay higher rents than they can be reasonably expected to pay. Take the case of one holding that is between five and six acres in extent. The total amount, including rates, that the tenant will have to pay on this very small area is, I am informed, £72 per annum. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks under the present circumstances of agriculture a man, in a situation such as I have attempted to describe, can pay on that something like £72 per annum? I think he will regard it as being a hopeless problem. The rents, so far as the soldier settlers on this estate are concerned, vary from £6 to £8 per acre. In addition they have a charge on their houses and on their farm buildings which represents something like £20 per annum. Further they are very heavily rated. Eating alone is a very serious problem so far as land settlement is concerned. The rates in that area are 16s. in the £. It brings the whole rent of the buildings alone up to 10s. a week, including rates, so I think the Minister will agree that even at the present price of agricultural produce, and with the prospect of a considerable reduction in the near future, he is not justified in charging these rents. I know there will be a very heavy loss, but the Government expected that loss in the first instance, and to attempt to make the scheme anything like an economical scheme is to foredoom it to failure. I beg that the right hon. Gentleman will take the matter into his most serious consideration and so save these men from the sure fate which will await them if the Government persists in charging these very high rates. Government officials, anxious to save all they possibly can, will make representations to the Ministry with a view to saving when pressure is brought to bear upon them. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is in perfect sympathy with these ventures, and I have personal knowledge of his very great interest, and I hope he will take this matter into consideration, and face the matter boldly. I am prepared to admit that the promise to these men in the first instance was an injudicious one, but having made that promise you should see that the conditions you impose are not too onerous for the men to carry out, and that so far as you possibly can, by giving them the greatest possible consideration in the matter of their rent, you do not preclude them from making a success of their settlement upon the land.
A rural rate. The houses are assessed, I understand, for assessment purposes, at £8 per year, and the rent I have mentioned is consequently upon the rent of the land and local rates. I should like to say one or two words with regard to another matter the right hon. Gentleman asserted the Ministry is interested in and responsible for, and that is the question of land reclamation. The Ministry was concerned in the scheme of land reclamation, I believe, very much against its will. I believe it had no special facilities for proceeding with it, but the fact that it undertook it has, I am afraid, prejudiced the scheme that some of us thought might be brought into operation. It was a most unfortunate venture at Wainfleet, from an economic point of view, that the Ministry undertook, but if the right hon. Gentleman regards land reclamation as one of the duties of the Ministry over which he presides, I hope he will see that some effort is made in suitable localities that work shall be proceeded with. I am convinced that even under present circumstances land can be reclaimed on the shores of the Wash economically if it is properly administered, and I think it would be very much better, although I have failed up till now to bring that to the consciousness of the Government, if you paid even a little more and got something than to pay unemployed donations and get nothing. So I hope it is not yet too late for the Government to take this matter into consideration. We are not out of the wood so far as regards unemployment; and I hope, with the summer coming and favourable conditions prevailing, the question of land reclamation may again receive consideration, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will press this upon the Government.
I have a request from my constituency to bring forward the question of the importation of Canadian cattle. [Interruption.] I will pass over that subject, and I will come to the question of the guaranteed price for wheat. The Government have made ample provision, I understand, to pay for all corn which was sold before 5th March, but since 5th March considerable difficulties have arisen in connection with the guaranteed price, and, though the Government pay the millers 25s. for every quarter of British wheat milled, I understand the millers are only prepared to pay from 70s. to 75s. a quarter for English wheat. I do not know how that arises except it be an arrangement on the part of the millers. They know quite well that the farmer must sell his wheat now, and they are taking advantage of that circumstance. I do not think it ought to be beyond the wit of a highly competent Ministry to devise some scheme by which the miller shall not be able to avail himself of the opportunity of pocketing a profit at the expense of the State and at the same time at the expense of the British producer. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take that matter into his serious consideration.
Another matter I should like to bring before the right hon. Gentleman's notice is the matter of land acquisition. Provision has been made for the panels of arbitrators who will adjudicate on this subject, but the experience of councils in the matter of the awards which have been given by arbitrators is exceedingly unsatisfactory from their point of view, and so far from facilitating the acquisition of land, awards have been given in so many instances that public bodies are fighting shy of employing arbitrators under any circumstances. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to one arbitration award which was given in connection with what was known as the Wellington allotments at Skirbeck, Boston, in which the arbitrators' award, including rates and expenses, involved a charge of £16 per acre on the land so acquired, a sum very much in addition to that which was asked by the owner himself. This sort of arbitration must be surely a farce, and there must be some means by which suitable arbitrators can be appointed. Knowing the interest the right hon. Gentleman has in the promotion of allotments and smallholdings, I feel fully justified in bringing the matter to his notice, and I would ask that when arbitrators are appointed, he will see that they have—I am sure the parties concerned want nothing but justice—some knowledge of local conditions and local values. I am confident that that cannot be the case where the arbitrator gives an award very considerably in excess of the amount claimed by the owner of the land. I hope I have not detained the House too long on subjects in which, generally speaking, except that of land settlement, they have no special interest, but I do not speak more often than I feel my duty requires me to do, and if I have transgressed in time I hope the House will excuse me.
I am sorry that the Minister is not in the House, because I was very anxious to ask him some questions regarding the report of the Committee, to which he called attention, with respect to the investigation of the staffing and methods of work of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, of which Committee I had the honour of being chairman. We went into many questions which the Ministry has to look after, and sat through the whole of August and September, when hon. and right hon. Members were enjoying themselves elsewhere. It was really most interesting, and we found that, though the staff from the top to the bottom were all working for the good of the Ministry, and we had praise to give to them, we found that the management of the Ministry of Agriculture was not carried out according to the ways and thoughts of business men. One of the gentlemen associated with me on the Committee was a past manager of one of the big railways, and he was very familiar with the management of a big establishment and of largo numbers of clerks. We found that in many cases the business habit was totally lost sight of. I was very pleased to hear that some of the points we brought forward have borne fruit. We were told that the Mersea Shell Crushing Station and the Purification of Mussels Station at Conway had been put on a more satisfactory basis.
What we complained about was that if a Government Department, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, takes up trading concerns, as they have taken up definite trading concerns, they should do it in a business-like way and not try to cut out the trader of the country by doing it. That was the line of thought that we followed in all our investigations, and I am pleased to hear about the two cases that were mentioned by the Minister. We found in regard to the Mersea Shell Crushing Station that, as the salaries and wages of those who worked in the factory had gone on rising and rising, the Department had never thought of increasing the cost of the article that they sold, which was manufactured there. They had gone on like that for a considerable time. Hon. Members may perhaps ask whether there was a demand for the article. My reply is that there was plenty of demand. The price could have been raised quite easily, and the whole thing put on a business footing and the management made self-supporting. Take also the insurance of fishing boats. The Ministry of Agriculture, quite rightly, seeing that they look after the fishing industry, thought fit to create an insurance for the fishing fleet. They set about it by, I suppose, asking one or two of the tariff insurance companies what they would do it for. They found out, and then thought about it a bit. Meanwhile, prices kept rising in the insurance offices and tariffs were raised; but the Ministry did not raise their tariff, and the consequence was that the private insurance companies could not insure the boats of the fleet for anything like the sum the Ministry did. It was found that the Ministry were losing money. That is not business. Either it ought not to have been touched or, if it had to be touched, it ought to have been dealt with in a businesslike way. We have also been told about the loans that were created to enable fishermen to put motors in their boats—a most admirable thing to do, because it enabled many men to go out when they would not have been able to do and to bring back large quantities of fish which were very much required. Again, that ought to have been done on a businesslike footing.
These are the sort of things that we had to complain about. We thought that the Ministry should have dealt with these matters more on a business footing, and as the cost of the salaries and wages increased, that the article manufactured should be brought up in price, provided that it did not stop the sale of the article, and we found in many cases that it would not have done so. There is also the question of seed testing. There has been legislation on this question. We all know how very valuable it is that the seed testing should be done by a Government Department, if possible, so that there is no doubt about the genuineness of the Report which is made. Here, again, we found that wages went up, and for nearly three years there had been no difference in the charge made for testing the seeds. We found that the price that was being charged was so small that in some cases abroad they were charging 9 times 10 times, and even 12 times the amount that our Government Department were charging for the same work. Hon. Members may say that this was helping the farmer. It was not helping the farmer directly, because in a great many cases the testing of these seeds was for the great seed merchants of the country, who have been very careful to raise their prices to enable them to cover all their new costs. I acknowledge that the fees have been increased, but it was not done for nearly three years after the expenses had increased. The consequence was that in 1920 there was a loss of £4,000 in this connection. There was no need for any loss. We have had a statement that it is only to cost about £400 this year. I do not think it ought to cost even that.
We also found that the Ministry had no fewer than five different officials on transport work. I should like to ask the Minister where those officials have gone to-day. The work that they were put to do is non-existent in the Ministry of Agriculture at the present time, because there is no transport work being carried on. Then there is the question of architects. Hon. Members would think that the question of architects belonged to the Office of Works. My Committee were informed in the autumn that the Office of Works did half the architectural work of the settlements, and that they could do it cheaper than the Ministry. We have been told that the maximum of the work has been done, that it is now a diminishing quantity, and that the number of architects could be reduced. These facts were given to my Committee when we sat last autumn; yet the present Estimates show that the number of architects is not diminishing. I would ask the Minister why he is usurping the function of the Office of Works, and increasing his architects by no fewer than four compared with last year. Last year he had 14 architects and this year he has 18 and 5 draughtsmen; yet we are told that the work is diminishing and that the number could be reduced. I think I have shown that there is still room for economy.
No one was more pleased than I was to hear the statement of the Minister. I am glad that he has come back into the Chamber, because I have made some pretty straight points against him. I gave him full warning that I should do so. In my own county, not only in the county council but in meetings up and down the county, a great attack has been made upon this Ministry on the subject of economy, and it has been made by a Noble Lord who is just as able as I am to get information if he wishes to do so. It is a great pity that he has exaggerated the work of the different officials who go about the country advocating the schemes which the Minister has before him. Making that excuse to start with, I do think that there is room for further economy in cutting down the number of the officials of the Ministry who go round our districts professing to advise on this and that. There was a very admirable lady who went round the country. When we sat last autumn we found that she had a small staff under her, but we could not find that she was doing anything. Nevertheless, if you go to the county you find that the Women's Institute is still there, although she is not required and the work could be done by the county council and through the local people. One final point, a very admirable journal is brought out by the Ministry containing admirable articles well worth reading. Anybody who has read one of the articles would not mind paying for the magazine. What we complained about was the very large number of these magazines that were distributed free. I am told that 2,400 of these magazines were distributed throughout the country free of charge. When I asked to see the list of those magazines I was told that they were most carefully scrutinised and were sent to the proper places, but the most unfortunate part was that on the first page I turned over I found that three magazines were going in three different parcels to the same place. There is a leakage. Another leakage in the magazine is that I think more could be done in the way of collecting advertisement for the magazine. We all know that magazines to-day do not pay for themselves. They pay because of the advertisements put in them. Something more ought to be done in that way. I regret to trouble the Committee with so many subjects, but they are of importance, especially on a Vote of this description. The Minister was glorying in what has been done with regard to the milk record. It is very valuable work. No doubt it teaches a great deal, sometimes, to the farmer who does not understand his work, but in these days, when we are preaching economy, this also should be brought back on a self-supporting basis. I ask the Minister when he means to do it, because he has no right to go on doing this by giving grants and subsidies?
I pass to a question on which the Minister touched lightly and on which many Members are anxious to get in- formation. That is the great question of the foot-and-mouth disease. At present, especially in my part of the country, we are very anxious to buy the store cattle now to put on our pastures and we find that one of our big markets, Ireland, has been cut off from us on account of foot-and-mouth disease. Could not the Minister have told us about this foot-and-mouth disease, whether it broke out on this side of the channel or the other side, and, if on the other side, where are the outbreaks in Ireland? Surely, the Department of Agriculture in Ireland ought to be able to give the Minister the information. This has happened at one of the most disastrous periods of the whole year, just when the store stock ought to be coming in very large numbers, and it is only right that we should have a little more information on this subject. I am one of those who backed him up, and I believe that the Committee to a man will back him up in the continuation of slaughtering out whenever any of these outbreaks occur. It is a very instructive thing to learn the percentage of the animals slaughtered in this country which he has worked out and which has at last been given. I hope that when he speaks again he will give us more information about this. I would also like a little more information about the rat poison. If this valuable rat bait is being manufactured by the Government, for use in Government buildings, have they ever thought of being able to put it on the market so that the country as a whole may avail itself of it? It ought to be thought of seriously. I do not wish to cut out the other rat poison traders, but if it is such a wonderful thing as he has told us this afternoon, we should hear a little more about it. I would also ask him, can he account for the tremendous increase in the cost of the Agricultural Wages Board? It is absolutely wrong that this year it should cost £69,398, which is an increase of £20,783 over last year, when there was an increase over the year before. We should have some explanation regarding this enormous cost.
An hon. Member on the other side would have liked some information on the question of the sugar beet factory at Kelham. I was the chairman of the company when it start d and I was the chairman up to a short time ago and I am still one of the directors. The increased cost of the factory is only the normal increased cost of everything in this country. The labour to remove the soil and make the foundations at the beginning of the War, when we made a start, was about 1s. 3d. an hour, and we immediately went up to 1s. 11½d. an hour. Then the cost of material has gone up and everything has gone up, but what the right hon. Gentleman also forgot was that we bought this estate, which was valued then at £150,000, and it has increased in value to a considerable extent. There is another £50,000 also in live stock on the estate—horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and other things. The consequence is that there is ample margin for the first and the second mortgage that is proposed at this moment. If I had lots of money myself I would lend it, I know, for that purpose. I have asked one of my best friends to lend the money and he has lent the money and I consider to the best of my knowledge that there is a perfect margin of security for what is asked. The factory is growing very rapidly and I believe that it will be ready before the time when the sugar beet is ready to take. We have got an ample area growing sugar beet to-day and a very large quantity of it is sown and we have even had to refuse a large area because we have sufficient so as not to overload the factory in the first year. We have every reason to believe that this is a flourishing concern and I only hope that the Members of this House will shortly visit the factory and see it for themselves, and then they will realise what a wonderful asset has been given to the country.
Little did I think when my right hon. Friend conducted the Agriculture Bill of last year with so much ability and courtesy through the House that I should be able to welcome him now, on his appearance as Minister of Agriculture, as a near neighbour of myself in the West of England. The West of England has given him a refuge. He represents a very beautiful part of the country, and I wish him all success. My hon. Friend (Sir B. Stanier) who has just sat down must have a very simple mind if he expected to find business habits in a Government Department. Business habits had been lost sight of in the Board of Agriculture when he inquired into it as chairman of a committee appointed for the purpose. One complaint that I make is that we have got too much officialdom in the present Ministry of Agriculture. I have taken the trouble to look up the Estimates for 1913/14 and compare them with those for this year. In 1913/14 the Estimates were £319,000. The Estimates for 1921/22 which we are now asked to vote amount to £3,211,000, or ten times the former figure. I know that there are some new expenditures, such as land settlement and smallholdings, but these do not account for this enormous difference. Take the increase in the item for salaries and wages since 1913/14. Then it was a Board of Agriculture. Now it is a Ministry and as a Ministry it is so much more important. In 1913/14 the salaries and wages of the Board were £121,000, which included the Fisheries as they are included at present. The amount for salaries and allowances of officials for 1921/22 is £618,000. If we add travelling expenses we have a total of £158,000 for 1913/14 and of £713,000 for 1921/22. We do not want this great salary list at the Ministry of Agriculture nor in the other Government Departments. My right hon. Friend said that some farmer had given him some qualified praise—"things were bad enough with the Ministry of Agriculture but might be worse without it."
Would be worse; well, I am not so sure. There was one little thing which my right hon. Friend mentioned when discussing that destructive rodent, the rat. Here again my view is that you must put it upon the individual to destroy his own rats. Really and truly, for the Ministry of Agriculture to be meddling up and down the country rat hunting is not business. Put the police on the malefactors.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
My right hon. Friend does not realise that that is precisely what the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act does. Where individuals will not kill the rats and mice, the local authorities can act on their behalf and recover the cost, and where the local authorities will not do it we can do so. That is all we do.
Then I agree with my right hon. Friend. I say put it on the individual himself, and if he does not do it prosecute him. I think my right hon. Friend said he had a manufactory for some poison, a destructive medium which was to be used in Government offices. We do not want a destructive medium. We want a ferret to make the rats bolt, but not from one Department into another. I regard the activities of these officials with a good deal of suspicion. Officialdom might be a necessary evil during a war, but it becomes a desolating curse in industry and in agriculture. You must depend upon the native genius of the farmers and the cultivators of the land. The Ministry should be encouraged to develop education and research and to stamp out disease, but further than that let them confine their activities within the smallest possible limits. I know that I am one rather crying in the wilderness, but I believe that when the Government blossom out into these huge flowers of great Departments they are doing a wrong thing for the nation. We cannot afford so many officials; they really are luxuries, and we must do without them. My right hon. Friend has great powers under this Bill. I think one of my hon. Friends lamented that the compulsory powers were taken out. I am very glad they are taken out. I ask my right hon. Friend to go gently with the agricultural committees. The first thing that an agricultural committee is asked to do is to appoint another official, at about £1,000 a year, I suppose. Some of them have objected to it, and rightly so. I would be a passive register myself. The farmers may be fools, but they are not such great fools at farming as are county committees of Ministry of Agriculture officials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are they?"] Something like the Cabinet. Cabinets, I have often thought, are composed of very eminent men with great natural ability, but when they come together they make the most inconceivable blunders. So the agricultural councils, when they come together, are not much good.
My right hon. Friend alluded to some enterprises of the Ministry. He did not allude to one, the Flax Production Branch. I have here a pamphlet. I daresay I am behind the times, but I see it was published in 1921, and it gives a very valuable lesson in Government activities. It shows that the expenditure of the Flax Production Branch from 1st January, 1918, to 30th November, 1920, was £2,342,000, and that the income was £1,170,000. There was a loss of exactly a similar amount, £1,172,000. That is our experience of a Government Depart-
ment entering industry; it loses just half of what it spends. I have read the report with interest. This is the kind of official excuse given. One gentleman says:
I have been handling and sowing flax for over 30 years, and I am convinced that I know nothing about it and not many people know much more.
Not many people would know much more if they lost half of their expended capital in about 22 months. We have got exactly the same thing with regard to sugar beet. It stands no chance of success here unless conducted by private enterprise. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will not interfere at all with the operations of those who are in charge of the experiment. I hope the experiment will be a great success. Far be it from me to cast cold water upon it. I do not know, but after I have seen the work on the Continent, I am not so sure that the industry will be suitable to the British climate and British labour. The right hon. Gentleman touched upon land settlement and said that probably promises had been made which were a little too rosy. I agree. I am not sure that it is the best time to start farming. Prices are on the down grade, and the cost is very high. My right hon. Friend said he had limited the cost of the holdings to £2,500. What rent does he expect to get for this expenditure?
I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the cost of equipping the holdings was limited to £2,500. Does that mean equipping only, or the total cost, including the land?
About what rent is expected from the holdings? As far as I understand, my right hon. Friend expects there will be a 40 per cent. loss. I have seen many of these small holdings, and they have been equipped rather expen- sively. I would much rather let a man have a holding at a lesser rent, give him a small grant and let him equip it himself. I am certain that the man would do it much more cheaply than the Government or the County Council. Has my right hon. Friend any estimate of the financial effect of the settlement on small holdings? Can he tell us what is likely to fall upon the taxpayer and what upon the ratepayer? After all, we have got out of the glowing days of artificial prosperity, when money was no object. We have now to get back to economic facts. These holdings are to be handed over to the county councils in six years' time. Are they to be handed over so that the county councils will be able to let them at an economic rent, or is there to be an extra sum to be charged upon the rates?
Sir A. B0SCAWEN:
I am afraid I did not make myself clear. For the first seven years we shall pay the annual deficit. At the end of seven years the capital value will be written down to what is then the market value, and they will be handed over to the county councils on what should be a self-supporting basis. Of course, if the county councils choose to let them for less than what is then the market value there will be a loss to be met out of the rates. That will be in the hands of the county councils.
I understand they are to be handed over to the county councils so that the county councils, if they like to let the holding at an economic rent, will not suffer any loss?
We must wait until it comes. All of us have the greatest possible sympathy with the ex-soldier, but do not let us lose sight of the agricultural labourer. Most of the young agricultural labourers have been in the Army. I feel very strongly that by our legislation and administration we ought to encourage the agricultural labourer to rise from being a labourer to becoming a smallholder, and thus becoming his own master. I believe in that policy far more than in the nostrums for limiting hours and wages. Let a man work as hard as he can and endeavour to raise himself in the social scale. I want to put a few questions about what may be far and away the most serious liability of the Government as regards agriculture, and that is the passage of the Agriculture Act of last year. What is the Minister doing to carry out the administrative duties that fall upon him in regard to that Act? The financial liabilities under the Act are very considerable, and nobody can estimate what they are to be. They will not fall upon this year's Budget, but they will fall upon next year's Budget. If oats and wheat fall Is. per quartern below the minimum price fixed by the Commissioners it will involve the Treasury in the payment of £1,400,000 a year. If they fall 10s. a quarter it would be £14,000,000 a year—a very large sum indeed. What preparation is being made for such a contingency? Corn may very likely fall 10s. a quarter from somewhere about the 80s. a quarter which, I believe, is promised in the Act of last year.
It is a gigantic sum, and I do not think the House realised what it was when it passed this Act. It may even come to £30,000,000 a year if corn goes down £1 a quarter. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend have Commissioners been appointed to ascertain the cost of production, because these Commissioners will have to ascertain the cost of production over and above that of the standard year of 1919, and it is a very serious duty which they will have to undertake. I am not sure that it is not an almost impossible task. Therefore I wish to know what action has been taken in regard to ascertaining the cost of production to-day, or has any action at all been taken. It is a serious liability, and the Government must take it seriously into account. It is a liability which they will probably have to meet next year, and there is no use in postponing these things.
There is also the question of the check of the acreages. You are now going to touch something like 6,000,000 acres of corn, wheat and oats, and it is quite incredible that the Treasury will pay out money without the most complete check. How do you propose to check the growth of corn on 6,000,000 acres? What administrative machinery do you propose to set up, and what is going to be the cost? That of course is a detail in these matters, but the machinery has got to be set up somehow. You cannot anticipate a liability of anything from £1,500,000 to £30,000,000 per year without very strict and complete administrative machinery. I am amazed that the House passed this so easily last year, but having passed the Act they will have to foot the bill. The regulations for checking these acreages are to be made, as I understand, by the Board of Agriculture. That is laid down under the Corn Production Act of 1917. Dealing with 6,000,000 acres of corn in Great Britain is not a simple matter. It will be no use to say next year that we did not anticipate) the results of our own Act of Parliament. You have got to meet that point, because the taxpayer will have to meet it next year, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some information regarding it. I wish to ask him another question. There is a subsidy I believe this year of 5s. per quarter to guarantee the price of wheat. Where is that money coming from? Is there to be a Supplementary Estimate? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Then I do not know where we are coming to. I presume there will be a payment to the farmers of the difference between the price they were told they would get by the Government and the actual market price. I presume there must be a Supplementary Estimate for it, and I would like to ask when the Supplementary Estimate is coming. I would conclude upon this note, that if agriculture is to prosper it will have to prosper by the individual enterprise of those engaged in the industry and not by the meddlesome officialdom of Government Departments.
I am sure everyone in the House will join in the good wishes which have been expressed towards the Minister of Agriculture and in recognition of the fact that he has the interests of the whole of the industry at heart. I think he will want all his ability and all the industry of his Department to tide agriculture through the next 12 months, because we have a very difficult time ahead of us. We are suffering like every other industry in the country from the one simple trouble, of want of money on a falling market. I am bound to say that I agree very largely with the criticism that the expenditure on a large staff in the Department of Agriculture—who no doubt may in the future benefit the in- dustry by their work—is not justified now because it really cannot be afforded. People cannot pay their taxes and rates out of what is produced in the industries for which they are responsible. That is the root of the whole trouble. The same money cannot be paid in rates and taxes and also paid in wages, and the result is that the primary trouble of these bad times in agriculture will very shortly fall upon the agricultural labourer. He will suffer the only primary trouble a man can suffer in bad times: that is, he will, through unemployment, actually go short of the food and sustenance which he requires to maintain himself. The employer will suffer the secondary trouble, that is, he will lose his profits and be put into great straits. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should turn his attention to this fact, and in his work in the Cabinet and in his negotiations with the Treasury he should leave no stone unturned to ease, to some extent, the burden on the struggling farmers, especially those on the poorer lands of this country in the arable districts. I submit, with full knowledge, that in the arable districts, particularly in East Anglia, the costs of farming to-day, owing to the restrictions imposed by the Wages Board and for other reasons, are so very heavy that they cannot possibly be met for many months longer at the same rate. That is a problem which the Minister will have to meet, because the Government has committed itself definitely to taking such steps as will in the national interests keep the land of this country in cultivation. Reference has been made to those guarantees by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and I fully endorse his request that the Minister should explain how the machinery for putting these guarantees into force is going to be worked. Last year we had a Supplementary Estimate for £100,000, to pay inspectors who had been appointed to inspect the crops on which it was anticipated the guarantee might possibly be payable.
The year before last. Well, no guarantee was payable because prices were rising. I do not know whether similar machinery is now going to be set to work, or whether the agricultural committees will remain responsible for recording the acreage. I understand these committees will in some way become responsible for that, and I think probably it is the best way of doing it. I also agree it is very desirable that the House should realise what a very large sum of money we may be liable for. It is quite impossible to give any forecast of what prices may be, but it is possible to say to-day that the price of oats, as recorded on the table of averages published in the Press by the Board of Agriculture, is now in the neighbourhood of 35s. a quarter. It is also easy to see the price of 46s. calculated on the cost of cultivation of the 1919 harvest. It must be remembered, however, that during the growth of that crop wages were somewhere about 30s., and as they are now in the neighbourhood of 50s. it looks as though the guaranteed price might work out, on the cost of production of the 1921 harvest, at anywhere between 50s. and 60s. Those are the figures we know, and anyone may draw whatever deduction he likes from them, but the deduction, which I think we certainly must draw, is that there is the possibility and even the probability of a very heavy liability upon the taxpayer. So far as the farmer is concerned he cannot live on futures. He has got to pay his wages from week to week, and he is now-paying the heavy cost of growing the 1921 crop, but not one single penny will he get of guarantee until at the earliest the month of April, and probably it may be May or June. Therefore he has for twelve months to go on under the extremely heavy cost of his farm and his very heavy burden as a taxpayer, and I do not believe he has the resources to meet that strain. Thus we have difficulties at both ends, with regard to this system of guarantee. I hope the Cabinet will turn their attention to these in time because there is no use in postponing the difficulties until it is too late. For land to go out of cultivation and labourers to be thrown out of employment for want of money which would be payable in six months' time, or ten months' time, or twelve months' time would be most unfortunate and disastrous. When land has once gone out of cultivation it is a very laborious and expensive process to bring it back.
So far as the acreage under cultivation is concerned, I can tell my right hoi). Friend that in the poor light arable dis- tricts of this country land is now going out of cultivation in large quantities, and this is land which was cultivated without loss even through the eighties and nineties, when agriculture was at its very lowest ebb. It cannot be cultivated now, though it could be cultivated then, because the costs are so excessively and impossibly high that the money cannot be found. In those days we were absolutely free. There was no control of any kind and every district was worked under its own conditions. I cannot express any opinion more strongly than this, that I believe that in every industry one of the most important and vital factors of success is that you should be able to take advantage of the natural advantages which your particular situation confers upon you. On the other hand, you will have in every situation some disadvantages, but the curse of Government control and of flat rates of every description is that they absolutely deprive every person responsible for an industry of the natural advantages when he has to put up with, the natural disadvantages. In poor light land, in places where living was cheap, you could give a man as much land as he wanted to cultivate for himself at a nominal rent. He had practically no rent to pay except a trifle for his house. The trouble now is that you cannot get the quantities of money required. You can get a certain amount of produce, but it is small in quantity. It suffers from droughts and other drawbacks, and if the cost of cultivation is kept high by flat rates and Government Regulations, it puts that land out of cultivation, and no man in England can cultivate it because he is deprived of the use of the natural advantages and prevented from making those local arrangements with his men which are outside the present flat rate, but under which that land could be kept in cultivation and grow food both for the benefit of the farmer and of the labourer.
I would like now to say a word about land settlement, and I hoped my right hon. Friend would tell us about what we are really interested in on this question. It is not even how much money we are spending, or how much is allowed to equip a particular holding. The real thing is, are these men who are occupying these settlements and smallholdings making them a success? Are they getting a living? Are they satisfied? Do they feel, whether they are doing well at this moment or not, that they really have a prospect? Are they feeling encouraged or discouraged by their present experience? I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will tell the Committee these things. I believe the country will not grudge the expenditure, whatever it may be, on the provision of land and equipment for ex-soldiers, provided it is satisfied that these men are happy and are making them a success. I should like to re-enforce what was put forward by the hon. Member for Holland (Mr. Royce) and by my right hon. Friend who spoke last (Mr. Lambert), that you really must look at it from that point of view, and as we have got to spend money, it is no use attempting to make what is uneconomic look more economic than it is; it is no use unless you are prepared to charge these men a rent at which they can make the holding go, provided they work hard. It is no use spending all this money on holdings, and then for the sake of getting an extra £1 or 10s. an acre, make the man a slave and have to give the holding up. I hope my right hon. Friend will look at the question from that point of view. We have sunk our money, and we must take the consequences and make the thing go if we possibly can.
I should like now to refer to the question of drainage. I suppose there is nothing which is more harmful to keeping land in a productive state than when it gets waterlogged, and there are an enormous number of small rivers and watercourses throughout this country where there are a large number of different owners concerned, and everybody who knows anything about land knows very well that if you are going to clean out a ditch or a watercourse, you must begin at the bottom and work upwards, because until you have done it, it is no use the man upstream cleaning out his watercourse, because there will not be a clear road for the water down below. If you have a small watercourse, six or seven miles long, draining into an estuary or into a larger river, it would be draining several thousand acres of land, and you may have on the course of that stream one or two people who, as are found in every community, will never trouble themselves to do anything unless they are absolutely obliged. If a person like that is occupying or owning land on the lower portion of such a stream, it is useless for all the proprietors higher up to spend money on cleaning out the course, because the water cannot get away, and thousands of acres of land will remain waterlogged through one recalcitrant person.
There is, in the Drainage Act, to meet that difficulty, a provision that in cases of that kind the agricultural committee may take on the work and employ men—and at this time, when there is so much unemployment, it is a favourable moment for getting men to do that kind of work—and may afterwards recover from every owner the whole cost of the work executed within his boundaries. All that is necessary is that the Treasury should make a preliminary grant to the agricultural committees to enable them to carry out the work. Under the Clause of the Act to which I refer—I think it is Clause 16—the limit of money which may be advanced for any one scheme is £5,000. When we see the figures which have been quoted in these Estimates of the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on additional staff at the Ministry of Agriculture, I really suggest to my right hon. Friend that to do as the Treasury have done, and as he appears to have acquiesced in them doing, that is, to have absolutely shut the door down on all these grants, is a very grave error, an administrative error of a most unfortunate kind. I think also it is unfortunate to discourage agricultural committees at the present time from doing the one thing which they really can do with advantage to agriculture, and without quarrelling with anybody. I strongly press my right hon. Friend, in the interests of agriculture, to go to the Treasury again, and ask the Treasury, where he is satisfied that a particular drainage scheme of a watercourse within the £5,000 limit is really necessary to bring that land in cultivation and prevent it being waterlogged, to advance that money, every penny of which will be repaid after the work has been done.
May I point out that some agricultural committees are issuing orders which are quite unnecessary and which will have no good effect at all, and therefore if my right hon. Friend's suggestion is to be carried out, it must be carried out with very great caution on the part of the Treasury.
I said "where the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the work is really necessary," and I know of my own knowledge that there are such cases, and subject to his being satisfied on that, I hope there will not be an absolute refusal of these grants. I shall have no more to say on the agricultural side of the question, but I wish to say a word about fisheries. I want to ask my right hon. Friend, in the first instance, what arrangements are now made in his Department as to a Deputy Minister of Fisheries. He will remember that there has been a very serious complaint made by the fishing industry that they have no representative in Parliament to whom they can go and who will mother them and look after them and be responsible for their interests. They are tacked on to agriculture, which, of course, occupies the major attention of the Minister of Agriculture, and I think it is not perhaps sufficiently recognised in a time such as this, when we want to get back to production as quickly as possible, what an enormous advantage the sea fishing industry has over every other industry in the country. You have not got to produce anything. Nature does it for you. The fish are there in the sea, and all that is required is that there should be proper arrangements, first, for catching them, and, secondly, for distributing them and placing them on the market; and also, as is in the mind of every hon. Member, if there is an industry to which this country is deeply indebted for War services, it is the fishing industry. My right hon. Friend below me referred with some interest to a Fresh Water Fisheries Bill, and I should like to support him in his desire for such a Bill, but I would point out that in the matter of fresh water fisheries there is in a sense the minimum of output with the maximum of contention, because you have the most difficult questions of pollution, you have all kinds of adverse interests fighting against one another, and I can imagine no more difficult subject for this House to consider than a Fresh Water Fisheries Bill covering all the contentious points that will be affected; and the amount of food actually produced in fresh water in this country is very limited.
When, on the other hand, you come to the sea fishing industry, you come to an enormous and most vitally important source of food supply for the whole nation and to a much less contentious area in the matter of urgently required legislation. My right hon. Friend has given a definite promise for the last two Sessions that we were going to have a Fisheries Bill, but he now again finds it necessary to postpone that Bill. That announcement will be received by the sea fishing industry with very great disappointment, and I would press my right hon. Friend at least to produce his Bill, to submit it to the fishing industry, and if it can be regarded as an agreed Bill, if the sea fishing industry, who are now very much united and who have a representative body which is capable of speaking for the whole of them, can agree with his Bill, I feel sure the House will be willing to pass an agreed Bill without a great deal of discussion if it is really necessary for the industry. I press my right hon. Friend really to make some move which will show the industry that that Bill is likely to be introduced and passed at an early date. At the present time we have not even got a Bill printed, and we do not know what its provisions are going to be.
Then there is another point, which I do not think can be exactly dealt with by a Bill, but which is at present a matter of administration alone, and that is the question which is exemplified by the trouble in the Moray Firth. There we have an area which is supposed to be a nursery for small fish, and because it is supposed to be a nursery for small fish, the Government of this country says that no British fishermen, English, Scottish, or Irish, shall fish in that area, but it is outside territorial waters, and therefore any foreign fishermen can fish there as much as they like, and they do come and fish there constantly. The result of that is that the fish are not preserved, and our fishermen are kept from fishing in what are practically their own waters, which are nevertheless free to the foreigner. That cannot be a satisfactory state of things, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the Government must do one of two things. If there is to be a principle of sanctuary—and it is by no means certain that that principle is sound—it is obvious that it can only be carried out by international agreement, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend—and I think it is a most urgent matter—that he should either withdraw the Regulations prohibiting trawling and fishing in the Moray Firth by British fishermen, or else that he should immediately initiate international negotiations, so that these waters cannot be fished by anyone at all. It should be either one thing or the other. The Government's attention was called to this matter by the Fishery Association immediately after the War, when the time for international agreement was particularly favourable, and the consultations were going on in Paris. They were particularly pressed to have this matter settled, in the interests of the fishing industry of the whole of Europe. So far as I can discover, nothing whatever has been done, and we have got back again into the old groove, with the old trouble that British fishermen are being kept out of their own waters and the foreigners are allowed to fish there.
I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one or two points in the Estimates themselves. First, may I thank him for having adopted the suggestion, which I ventured to make last year, of putting a separate heading for the whole of the Fisheries Department and staff. That is a great improvement in the Estimate, and we now know exactly what the fisheries portion of the Board of Agriculture costs. Last year there were 61 clerks and typists in the Fisheries Department, with a total salary list of £9,504. This year there are 89 clerks and typists, with salaries amounting to £13,650. So far as the fishing industry is concerned, they do not really know what advantage they have gained by that. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us why it has been necessary to make such a very large increase, something like 50 per cent., in the salaries of the Fisheries Department. There has been no Bill passed, and there are no more powers than previously. Yet you get this constantly increased staff and constantly increasing salary list. Another small point is that of the Chief Inspector, whose salary is £1,000. I believe the Chief Inspector is a very able man, in whom the industry has very great confidence. I see, however, that he is only down here for £200, and there is a note that his salary is sanctioned for part of the year only. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether that means that this Chief Inspector's services are to be lost to the industry, and, if not, if we are to have a Supplementary Estimate to pay the rest of his salary? It does not say that he is not going to be employed, but only that his salary is sanctioned for part of the year. That is rather a curious entry in the Estimates, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will explain.
There are a large number of officers appointed in his Department. There are 13 assistant naturalists and a good many other research officers. I agree that the research work which they are doing, both in agriculture and in fishery, is really the most important that can be done. I agree very strongly with my right hon. Friend opposite that if less money could be spent on staff, for controlling the industry and for controlling those who are running the industry, and if more could be spent on research work, and in providing them with information which they can use in their own way, under the conditions which they know in their own particular ambit of work, then the Board would be doing much more valuable work. What is really wanted is a more definite and scientific line as to where the work of a Government Department should begin and end. We are now in a sort of shifting condition between war time, when a Government Department is everything, and peace time when a Government Department is really nothing so far as production is concerned. I am bound to say I think the Department is much too slow in getting back, and in realising that so far as controlling the working of an industry, whether fisheries or agriculture, is concerned, they have to get out of the way, and particularly in this country. I am prefectly certain, such is the genius of the Britisher, that if you give him more responsibility and freedom he will do the very best work and get better results than the inhabitants of any other country. The moment his responsibility is taken away and he ceases to be a free agent and loses that initiative which is a natural gift and which is taken from him by a Government Department, then, instead of trying how much he can do—in some extraordinary way, it is a psychological fact which I cannot explain—when he is interfered with and is up against a Government Department, he often tries how little he can do. That must be reckoned with, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will put all he can into research and give all the information and help he can in that direction, and get his control down to an absolute minimum. A lot of this staff looks as if it had been added to the Ministry for the purpose of carrying out some of the work which we hope will be given under the Bill—work such as they can help in in assisting in distribution.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
There has really been no increase in the staff at all, or to be accurate only an increase of two. The increased expense that accrues for the staff is simply due to War bonuses and larger bonuses on Civil Service salaries, and to the natural augmentation which goes on in salaries. As a matter of fact, this agricultural staff is down by 39. The fishery staff is up by 41, but that increase is almost entirely in the coastal staff, coastal inspectors, working under the Chief Inspector and authorised last year, and in the scientific staff for the express purpose of that research which the right hon. Gentleman is wishing for.
That is satisfactory. I will only add that my right hon. Friend was perfectly justified in saying that the fishing industry is now in a most parlous condition. I believe every trawler—and that is the most important branch of our sea fishing industry—is being run at a loss at the present time. The men have met the employers most fairly, and have accepted a lower rate of wage, knowing perfectly well that there is a loss. The men cannot blame the employers, and the employers cannot blame the men. There are two main causes for this. The primary and principal one is the cost of coal, which is absolutely prohibitive to the fishing industry at the price obtaining. Another detriment is the loss of export trade, which is largely due to the foreign exchange and the difficulty of payment, particularly in the East of Europe. That particularly affects the herring industry, which is in a most parlous state. The Government subsidy has been withdrawn, and I am very anxious as to what may happen to it this year. I do not know if my right hon. Friend can tell us something about that, whether he has any hope, and any information that the market is at all likely to be restored to them. As things are now the outlook of the fishing industry is a very black one. The question of distribution is of very great importance. It is quite certain that a much larger market for fish would be available in this country if better arrangements could be made for distribution. Unfortunately, the coal difficulty comes in there, because just as the cost of coal is prohibitive for bunkers for trawlers, so its cost and other increasing costs have put up railway freights and made railway transport very much more expensive and difficult than it used to be. Where the Fisheries Department and my right hon. Friend could really serve both the country and the industry in a most valuable direction would be, to make arrangements, through the fishery officials, so that as fish is; landed at the ports, contact could be obtained with the large centres of population inland in order that the fish might be rapidly and easily despatched, and' made available in those large centres. This cannot be done by the fishing-industry itself. There must be co-operation between it and the producers and the consumers in the centres of population, and with the transport agencies. That would not be interfering with the industry, but assisting it to obtain facilities where it is in contact with somebody else. If the right hon. Gentleman can do that, and if he will, at the earliest possible' date, introduce the Bill, which will' greatly facilitate that particular work, he will earn the gratitude of the industry and the approval of this Committee.
I should like to associate myself with the observations made as to the interest which the Minister who introduced these Estimates has always displayed in the important industry of agriculture. I do not know whether one can altogether accept the suggestion he put forward that the Agriculture Act is already showing its effects by virtue of the fact that the amount of land going back to grass has come practically to a standstill. The amount of land that was-ploughed up during the War, which was practically useless for arable cultivation, has already reverted, and there is not any more to go back to pasture as distinct from arable cultivation. I should like to refer to the loan being made for the purpose of cultivation of sugar beet. It would be much more desirable if the explanation, which was only forthcoming after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) had raised the matter, as to the exact position of the company and the relationship of the Government towards it, had been obtained direct from the Minister rather than from persons connected with the company. It is an important venture when a Government seeks to lend money to a private concern, and the fullest information ought to be given to the Committee by the Minister concerned when the Estimates are being presented.
There is the question of land settlement as far as ex-service men are concerned. Speaking on this matter two years ago, I expressed some doubt whether or not it would be so completely successful as was then indicated by those who were enthusiastic in its support. I realised that it would not be an easy task to place on the land men, many of whom had lacked previous experience in agriculture. Although that may be so, I do associate myself with the observations of the hon. Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce) when he urged that these men, now that they have been placed upon the land, should be given a reasonable chance of achieving success, and that every obstacle that may operate against them may be removed from their path. In that respect I want to raise the question as to how far, in regard to those colonies for which the Government are primarily responsible, they are adding unnecessarily to the cost. I am informed that at one colony of 6,000 acres, of which less than one-fourth of it is in hand, there are eight residential officials on the colony, including a major, a captain, an architect, etc., and it is affirmed, locally, that three men come from London every week to ascertain how much is being paid in wages, and that these overhead charges on the estate are in the aggregate rather large and, in many respects, totally unjustifiable. If these colonies are being worked in that way, and the rent is being fixed with some regard to this expenditure, then, I think, it is easy to see that the burden which is being put upon the occupant is higher than he ought to be called upon to bear, and in so far as these things do obtain, I think we are justified in asking for a review of this matter, whereby all these unnecessary barriers, which now stand between the occupant and success, may be removed.
The Minister stated that knowledge must very largely be the basis of the industry for the future, and a great deal has been said in the discussion with regard to the future and some doubts have been expressed in relation to it. I think it is most regrettable, following upon the statement I have quoted, that the amount of money that is being expended by the Ministry in regard to education and research should have been reduced by over £100,000. The total figures under that heading are £222,000, but out of that one has to allow for the sum of £115,000 in regard to the cultivation of sugar beet, and the net balance, after deducting those figures, is £107,000. When one hears the statement that knowledge is to be very largely the basis for the future of the industry, one is somewhat alarmed to have to realise that the Ministry is economising on education and research.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
The figure which the hon. Gentleman has given is not at all accurate. We are spending very nearly £500,000 on agricultural education and research at the present time. That compares with £98,000 that was spent in the year 1914–15, so I think he will see there has been a very large increase. It is quite true we have had to make a few comparatively small reductions this year. The total figure is £1,079,310 of which £511,500 is for training ex-service men. The rest is for agricultural education and research.
I was not comparing the position as between 1914 and now, but rather this year with last year, and I think the Minister, in addressing the Committee, emphasised, or, at any rate, drew attention to the fact that in many respects, so far as research and education were concerned, he had been compelled to conomise, and it is that form of economy of which I am complaining.
What I want to say in that respect is this. If the Ministry could, in reviewing its work, concentrate its efforts, and give as much attention and the service of money as possible in helping the industry upon that side, I agree with previous speakers that that would be a much better procedure than spending this money on the provision of officials, who, after all, add very little to the productivity of the industry itself. I am a little bit concerned about the County Committees. I would like to know whether they are meeting the purpose for which they were formed, and whether or not they are possessed of sufficient powers to carry out their work. I notice that the amount allocated to them is £160,000, and I would like to ask whether, in regard to the cultivation of land, they are being so successful as it was hoped they might be, because that is one of the primary and most important functions they have to carry out. Only in so far as they are able to help in the better cultivation of the land, whereby the yield from the soil may be higher than it was previously, will they be serving any material or useful purpose, and I would like to ask whether or not the Minister is assured that they have sufficient powers, more especially in regard to cases where land has been acquired by what may be termed land speculators. I am informed of the case of Dorset, where land, which had been bought by speculators, was reported to the Agricultural Executive Committee as not being in a proper state of cultivation so far back os November, 1918. I am informed also that, notwithstanding a great deal of correspondence and investigation, and official visiting, and doing all they can, this land is still very largely uncultivated at the present moment, merely because of the difficulty of finding out exactly who is the person upon whom the responsibility rests. I feel certain this Committee will agree that it is most undesirable that any quantity of land should be left in a more or less derelict condition, and no powers exercised to compel the proper cultivation merely because it is in the hands of speculators who do not want to see the land used for productive purposes, but only hold it or manipulate the situation with a view to getting some better return upon their investment.
I believe this matter has been reported to the Ministry, and I am assured that the County Committee in the area are very greatly disturbed that despite all the efforts they keep putting forward, and however energetic and desirous they may be of getting this land under proper cultivation, there are hundreds of acres in that county, which, owing to circumstances of this description, they are unable to touch, while, side by side with that, the farmer is compelled to do what the law requires of him through the activities of the County Committee. In regard to the complaint that has been raised about the Wages Board and the increase of expenditure under that heading, I think if the figures are referred to, it will be seen that, out of that amount, £5,000 is due to the bonus scheme of wages, and not to any extra expenditure. But I would like to make a suggestion, and that is that if any of my hon. Friends who referred to this matter have any influence with the farmers, they ought to persuade them to carry out the orders of the Board better than they do, and then the inspectors might be reduced, and economy effected in that direction, for when I see that, through the activities of the Board and the inspectors, over £30,000 has been recovered in back wages, which the farmers have withheld from the labourers, then I think the hon. Gentleman who raised this question would not desire to see the expenditure even on inspectors reduced if it meant that the labourer had to go short to that extent of a wage to which he is entitled under the Orders of the Wages Board. Greater loyalty in that respect might be the means of reduced expenditure under that particular heading.
I would like to endorse the application that has been made to the Minister for some information with regard to this question of determining the guarantee. I think this Committee ought to be told exactly what steps are to be taken in order to give effect to it. Is it contemplated bringing forward any Supplementary Estimate whereby the House will be given a chance of discussing' it, because it is quite easy to see how this can involve a very large amount of expenditure, unless the greatest care is taken in fixing up the machinery for that purpose. The measurement of the fields, and all that kind of thing, can easily be the means of employing a large staff, and I think it would be very useful if the Committee could have some information as to what the proposals of the Ministry are in that respect. Is this a matter that is going to be allocated to a large extent to the county committees? Will the Ordnance Survey measurements be taken for the fields, or have they all got to be measured up; and, if so, what is the staff that is likely to be appointed in order to give effect to it? I raise this point, and emphasise it, because I agree entirely with one of the previous speakers, that if the carrying out of this guarantee is going to result in a very heavy expenditure of money, at once you will have an agitation Started that will be difficult to resist, and it is going to place the whole industry in jeopardy. It seems to me a great danger to give encouragement to the industry to develop and build up on the basis of guarantees, and then to have the expenditure under that head used as the very means of removing it, and making very great difficulty in the future. I think it will be very useful for the Committee to have the information as to how far the Government intend to go, or what steps they intend to take so far as fixing, not merely the amount of the guarantee per acre, but of ascertaining the amount due to the respective farmers in different parts of the country.
There is one other point I would like to raise. I do not know whether the Minister can give us any information under this heading. When we were considering the questions that were before the Royal Commission, it was said that one of the greatest barriers to the industry was the question of transport, and one very prominent man connected with the organisation that caters for the interests of farmers made the statement that a large amount of produce was wasted every year because of the difficulty of getting it to market. That seems to me to be a channel through which the Ministry might at least give some assistance or advice. Have any steps been taken by the Ministry to ascertain how far the industry can be helped by means of better and more adequate transport? Because it is useless even finding out, from the point of view of scientific research, how much better results we can get from the land, and all that kind of thing, unless at the other end we remove, so far as possible, the difficulties of getting the produce to market in order that the best returns may be obtained.
The question was raised with regard to the fisheries, and one quite readily agrees that there must have been an enormous amount of waste so far as fish is concerned due to the absence of adequate means of conveying it inland where there would be, a very ready market for it. Seeing how much applies in that direction, and the need of assistance from the point of view of agriculture, it might be possible to consider the two sections together, and thus give help and assistance to the industries to market their products. I hope the Minister will give consideration to this question by not cutting down, in the first place, the amount spent on education and research. None of us wants to see a greater staff of officials, they are unproductive in the industry than is necessary, but I do not look upon education and research as unproductive elements. The more knowledge that is obtained, the more useful information that can be conveyed to farmers, the more likely is the industry to become self-supporting and as one desires to see it, placed upon a basis free from the necessity of guarantees. I am looking to education and research as an important factor in that direction. I do hope the Minister will not starve the Department in that respect, but rather will give the necessary and desirable facilities and opportunities.
I am one of those who is anxious for the Ministry to put an end to its farming operations, and with a view to elucidating some information from the right hon. Gentleman as to the course he is going to pursue, I desire to call the attention of the Committee to the administration of the Department of the Small Holding Colonies Act, 1916, and the Report made thereon under Section 10 of the Amending Act of 1918 by Sir Lawrence Weaver. A more damning document I have never react on any subject. The Committee will remember that under the Small Holdings Colonies Act, 1916, power was given to the Ministry to acquire land up to 6,000 acres for the purpose of land settlement by ex-soldiers. I ought to preface my observation with this, that in anything I say here I do not imply any criticism whatever of the administration or the provisions of small holdings by the county councils, because it is by them that I think the whole of the land settlement ought to be done. My criticism is directed towards the abolition of the Ministry of Agriculture's operations as directed from Whitehall.
In 1918 the power was extended from 6,000 acres to the taking up of 60,000. In carrying out the Acts the Ministry of Agriculture have acquired 25,294 acres. They have run these in 14 separate propositions. In two of them they have small holdings now, and that alone, six of them they are running as small holdings with a central farm. These eight amount to 13,372 acres. The other six estates, comprising 11,822 acres, are being run as farms on a profit-sharing basis. The object and idea of the first class was, that the smallholders might be supplied from a central farm with horse-labour and the use of machinery at economic rates and cheaply, and that they might work at times on the central farm and learn agricultural methods where they were not sufficiently versed in them. This sounded well enough in theory. In practice, however, Sir Lawrence Weaver—who is Director-General Land and Supplies Department and a most practical person—in his Report says that after 15 month' experience of this farm administration that it is an entire failure; the result is this: that the smallholders in being dry nursed in this way have lost all sense of self-reliance and independence which is absolutely vital to their success. Secondly, he finds that they have been brought up to depend upon the director of the central farm, and have expected to have, and indeed have insisted upon having, horse-labour and machinery at uneconomic rates, and have also expected to be found work on the central farm when there was no work on their own farm, and when no work was wanted on the central farm.
As to the second class, that is the profit-sharing farms, the results, I think, have been even more disastrous, except in one instance. What has happened has been this; the men have not been able to do the work, seeing they are not skilled agriculturists, and in a great number of cases civilians have had to be brought in to do the actual work. It also has meant that the provision of the farm colony and its staff has required the Ministry to spend an enormous capital sum in the provision of houses for a number of ex-service men to work on these farms and share the profits, and that they have provided houses for the number of men on the farm employed at a time when most required, and the greatest number had to be made provision for, with the result that the number of men employed in the slack times of farming has been excessive, and when no work could be found for them. The result has been disastrous.
In other words, as a practical farming proposition the director of these farms has not been able to avail himself, as every other farmer has to do, of the surplus labour which moves from south to north, following the hay, corn, and potato harvests, but has had to maintain the maximum amount of labour required, with the result that these people have had to be kept during slack time with disastrous results. The total result, we find from this report, is that there has been a loss up to 31st March, 1920—that is the last date of which we have any report—the total loss has been £39,261. Out of the whole 14 estates only one has made any profit at all. That was on a farm called Amesbury. There, Sir Lawrence Weaver very straightforwardly reports, it is due to the fact that the bulk of the men employed on the colony were civilians, and not ex-service men at all. They could not get expert horsemen, shepherds, or cowmen. They had to rely on civilians, and this is the only case where there was any sort of success.
There is one particular colony which I myself have been personally interested in because I am well acquainted with it. It illustrates to the Committee how these Acts have been worked. The Ministry were given by the Department of Woods and Forests an estate of about 2,363 acres at Patrington in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It was occupied by four farmers, two of which were the best that could be found in any farming district in England. The Woods and Forests handed them over to the Ministry of Agriculture who proceeded to turn out the farmers. I know one of them had 200 acres of land under wheat that in 1916 produced over 6½ quarters of wheat per acre. It is most fertile land, but most difficult to manage. It has to be taken at the right season. Anybody who knew it knew that it was land that was in the least degree likely to be suitable for small holdings. It is 20 miles from Hull, very near to Spurn Head, in a most desolate part of the country, roads leading to nowhere, no market, and no population. The Government obtained possession in 1917. They had issued a prospectus saying they were going to divide it into 62 small holdings of 35 acres each, with separate houses to be built for each man. They got possession on Lady Day, 6th April, 1917. In February, 1918, in answer to a question put in this House, Lord Ernie, who was then Minister of Agriculture, announced that the Department had quite abandoned the scheme of small holdings as the land was not suitable, and they were going to run it as a colony for ex-service men who were to work there at the standard rate of wages and were to share the profits. Shortly afterwards I made a speech about it, and I said it would never succeed, one way or the other. I begged him then not to spend more money on this scheme, but to go somewhere else and get out of it; to go where land was more suitable and where there was a better chance of success.
The Ministry persisted in its scheme. In the following year, 1919, they had only 29 ex-service men on the land. They had built 34 houses and they appeared to be then farming at a profit. That profit was made by taking in two harvests and 18 months' expenses. The result during the next 18 months was a loss of £11,000. They have spent on these holdings, I do not know how much money, but each house has cost from £1,000 to £1,200. The men—I am quite certain the right hon. Gentleman will bear me out—I went all over the place only at Easter—
I am sorry we did not meet. It has a very healthy climate and that is a good point about it. The men employed would not work, though they were to share the profits. They said they would have their share of the profits then. They were helping themselves to the grain to keep their pigs and their poultry—that is grain that belonged to the Government. I was informed, and I am certain it is true, that the men never stayed there more than four or six months upon this outlandish property. The Ministry also bought another 503 acres, making 2,866 acres of the most fertile land which was then under cultivation. It is now producing little and is being run at a steadily increasing loss. There are only about 29 ex-service men there even now. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman what action he is going
to take on Sir Lawrence Weaver's report, because this is what it says:
The main consideration which has. prompted me to lay these proposals before you is the belief forced upon me by my experience of the last 15 months that a commercial undertaking such as farming, cannot conveniently be managed from Whitehall.
The right hon. Gentleman's Department was advised to that effect some two or three years ago. Sir Lawrence Weaver in; his report proceeds to recommend the-transfer of the management of such estates to the councils of the counties in which they are situated. That, again, has my support as being a practical measure for getting rid of these estates. If the right hon. Gentleman accedes to-this suggestion then the Government will' get out of a very costly adventure. I hope county councils will not be forced' to carry on such enterprises against their will. I had some idea that the right hon. Gentleman might try some experiment of getting the county councils to carry out his schemes as his agents. I have mentioned this instance at Patrington. I know that the East Riding County Council have been the most successful in the provision and management of small holdings of any county councils in the country. The clerk of that council is very efficient and takes a great interest in the work, and the same can be said of the committee who manage it. The land has been purchased with due consideration to the rights of other farmers and economy in purchase, and with a view to giving the smallholders a fair chance of success. I shall be much surprised if the county council takes over this land, but if the price is fair, and the Government stand the loss already incurred something may be made of it. I rather gather that the right hon. Gentleman is going to accept the report to which I have alluded.
There is another matter which affects my local constituency in Sussex. I wish to refer to the present position of the milk industry. During the War a combine of the very worst kind has been allowed to grow up between the retailers and the purveyors of milk particularly in the metropolitan area. The United Dairies Company have been allowed to purchase and buy up most of the milk-retailing businesses in this area, with the result that there is practically only one buyer of milk from all the farmers who supply London and the metropolitan area. Naturally what follows if the producer does not take the price offered is that he has no other means of disposing of his milk. This has grown up under the eyes of the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not quite sure what the functions of the Ministry of Agriculture are, whether the interests of agriculturists or the interests of the public are to prevail, but in this particular case both the interests of the producer and the public are suffering by reason of this powerful trust and combine.
I will give one illustration showing the extent of the injury that is being done both to the public and to the producer. The price offered in Sussex for May and June milk is 1s. 2d. per gallon, or 3d. per quart. The price at which it is retailed in London and the metropolitan area is 8d. per quart. In other words, they are paying 3½d. per quart and they are obtaining 8d. per quart, because the producer but of the 3½d. has to pay the cost of carriage. I say that a monstrous profit of 4½d. per quart ought not to be allowed to the distributor, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will tell us if he has taken or will take any steps to deal with this matter.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of once more addressing the Minister for Agriculture, because on the last occasion that we occupied practically the same place we were discussing the Agriculture Bill of 1920, and some people suggested that that was a Bill that would do absolutely no good and that no fruit would result from it. I am exceedingly glad that one bit of fruit is going to result and that some of those who helped to produce this Bill will be more closely allied in the future. I would like to support the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman who first spoke from this side of the House in reference to the Ministry.
We have been told that 40 per cent, of the cost of the Ministry has disappeared, and that the Minister has his eyes strictly fixed upon economy. I think the Committee will agree that that is a most likely position because when a man passes through a fiery furnace and is thoroughly tested he generally benefits therefrom. I should be extremely surprised if the right hon. Gentleman did not know one or two things about agri- culture that he did not know the last time he occupied his present position. Someone organised a campaign in the Press about an article that we are not permitted to refer to this evening, and I do suggest that whatever the result of that importation might be we should not see the public receiving beef 6d. per lb. cheaper. On this question in my own constituency we are practically equally divided, and I must hold a very even mind and be well balanced until the Commission has reported. So far as the consumer is concerned he may benefit but not to the extent of 6d. per lb. The agitation possibly served a purpose, but it was not the one the Press had in view.
With regard to the Agriculture Act, 1920, When the Bill was passed through this House I did not support Part I. I do not congratulate myself upon any foresight upon that occasion, but I remember very well suggesting that, although the Bill came into operation and Part I was to many the essential part of the measure, that no guarantee would come into operation for many years. It. is always a dangerous thing to prophesy and to tell what is going to happen a year or two afterwards, but in agriculture it is not only dangerous but an almost impossible task. The result is that if the Bill had been in operation now very large sums of money would have been necessary from the Treasury to meet the guaranteed prices. The Minister has, been asked what he proposes to do to ascertain the acreage and what is to be the administration in regard to the compensation payable, if any, to those who farm. I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman, who may not have had as intimate a relationship with farming as I have had, that the manner and method of payment when a farmer puts his produce on rails is that he says to the merchant, on the first market day, "Did you receive my oats," or whatever it is, the implication being, "The sooner I am paid the better." They are paid each week, but I do not think the Government will adopt an arrangement of that sort but one of a more cautious nature.
I am afraid the prices of some farm produce will be very much reduced in the near future, but at least wheat and oats, will come under the guarantee, and a substantial sum may be required. Therefore I am exceedingly sorry that some of the control that the Minister was entitled to under this Bill was not retained, but was eliminated in another place, if we are not going to have better farming in the future. I notice that quite, a number of hon. Members always emphasise the number of acres. This is important, but it is far more important in my judgment to see that each acre produces the greatest possible quantity rather than to have a very large area of poor land under cultivation. Unless the Bill brings about something of that kind it will practically have been passed in vain. We have heard something about the cost of production. I do not know the method that is going to be brought into being, but if the Minister of Agriculture would be good enough to help the agricultural community in one or two directions it would certainly lessen the cost of production, and thereby lessen the liability of the nation in regard to guaranteed prices. Take the question of artificial manures. The cost of these this season is simply out of all proportion to the benefits to be derived from them, and the most expert and scientific agriculturists in the country, instead of advising farmers to put in the greatest quantity possible of manures, are advising them this year to use limited quantities in the hope that there may be a reduction of prices next season. Then the railway carriage of agricultural produce has become a serious problem, and will be more so in the future. Already a big handicap has been placed on the movement of agricultural produce, and every time there is added £1 or £2 per ton to the cost of carrying seed or manure for the farmer, there is an addition to the cost of production and to the charges which will ultimately be passed on to the consumer wherever it is possible. I am more interested at the moment in the question of land settlement. In regard to that we have two things to think about: first, the promise, and then the performance. A promise was made by the Government that ex-service men should have the option of acquiring smallholdings. We have heard this evening that there are 16,000 applicants for holdings still unsatisfied, although they have 'been passed as being suitable for the purpose. I ventured a year ago to suggest that a man who was waiting for a smallholding, although he might have his patience exhausted, would find that economically it was not bad for him to wait, and I think that forecast was correct, because we have bad such a fall in values since the 1st August last, that the men who went in a year ago must be facing loss and disaster with very sad hearts.
I suggest that before another year comes to an end other commodities will fall in value. I am thinking particularly of beef and mutton, and those who have holdings will find them very difficult indeed to run economically. There are many men who are waiting for smallholdings who may yet discover it will be of the greatest benefit to them if they never receive one. There are men specially adapted for smallholdings, whose education and whole upbringing equip them for this particular form of industry, and they will probably be a great success, but I am quite certain that a number of men who are applying for these smallholdings will find, after one year's trial, that they have made the great mistake of their lives and will be only too willing to leave the holdings. Still, the promise was made to them, and it must be fulfilled. They must be given an opportunity, although it may prove disastrous to them. I notice that the grant for the training of officers has been very materially reduced, possibly because there are not now so many officers in training. But I do trust that the Ministry will never put men into smallholdings without some knowledge of the industry, and of the difficulties which they will have to face through working sometimes unsuitable land at unsuitable times. Why are so many men really fit for smallholdings not obtaining them? Why was the land not secured earlier, and possibly on better terms? It is suggested by many that the reason was that we had no Land Acquisition Bill which enabled us to take the land necessary for the purpose. To some extent this is true, but with a Land Acquisition Bill in being I trust that every effort possible will be made to provide as many holdings as possible.
I come next to the question of sugar beet. I profess to have no special knowledge on this particular subject, and my reason for making reference to it is this. I notice we are asked to give £200,000 additional to this particular undertaking. I quite understand that the undertaking is being organised by honourable and capable men engaged in agriculture, and I earnestly hope that the new venture will be the success they anticipate, and that it will justify itself. But may I point out that another industry was organised on similar lines in which agriculture is very closely interested, although the venture was not made by the Ministry of Agriculture, but by the Ministry of Food. I am referring to Farina Mills, which were to be utilised to provide farina and other products from potatoes. A private company provided £20,000 for the purpose, and invited the Ministry to back them up to the extent of £250,000 in providing mills, my information being that the conditions were that in the event of the industry proving a success, the promoters were to receive the property at half its cost, while if it proved a failure the Ministry were to run all the risk. It did prove a failure, and I believe one of the mills was sold the other day for £18,000, although it cost between £80,000 and £90,000, and I venture to think the whole transaction is one on which the Government will eventually lose at least £150,000 and yet the promoters were paid in full. I hope the Government will be quite sure, in regard to the sugar-beet industry, that no like risk shall be run by it. I make no charge whatsoever against those who are promoting it. I believe they are going on sound lines. I come to the question of research. Some people wonder why practical agriculturists are so shy of scientific gentlemen who call upon them occasionally and give them a hint that may or may not prove exceedingly useful. Most of us who have lived a considerable time in agriculture are well aware that many scientific gentlemen have very little practical knowledge. We have had so many foolish, propositions put before us in the past, so many promises given that were falsified, that one can quite understand many farmers who are now rather sceptical. Still, I am sure that the research being carried on by the Ministry at the present time is on the right lines, and will bring to the agriculture of this country possibilities in the future of a prosperity greater than it has hitherto enjoyed. The Ministry is engaged in raising new breeds of wheat and seed potatoes for agriculturists, and so far they have succeeded in evolving one or two most useful new wheats and new breeds of potatoes.
One of the special things they are doing is that they are experimenting with the wart disease. We have ascertained that certain classes of potatoes are immune from wart disease, and money is being spent freely and wisely in this direction. What do we find? Potatoes are coming into this country from countries where wart disease is very prevalent, and they are being allowed to come in without any examination or certificate. Nothing is being done to protect this country from the disease which is so prevalent abroad. In the course of his speech the Minister referred to the fact that the Continent of Europe was simply full of foot-and-mouth disease, and he gave that as a possible reason for the many outbreaks in this country. Will the right hon. Gentleman not be warned by that fact and take steps to prevent the importation here of wart disease through the large quantities of potatoes which are now being brought over from the Continent and dumped down in this country. I am not putting this forward from the point of view either of Free Trade or Protection. The country is being ravaged with disease, and an effort should be made to keep it clean. Money is being freely and wisely spent for that purpose, and I would like to pay a tribute to Sir Lawrence Weaver and those associated with him. He is one of the most energetic and capable men called upon to direct research in any country in the world.
I asked a question about Pirbright to-day, but I did not get the information I wanted. I hold in my hand at the present moment correspondence which has taken place between the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and a gentleman in the West of England who sent a Devon heifer to Pirbright to be tested. The heifer was intended for export. She was an in-calf heifer, and was consigned to South Africa. The consignee expected to receive an in-calf heifer. The owner of it in this country sent it for trial and test to Pirbright. All he knew was that she had gone through the usual test—the tuberculin test—and had passed it, and had been sent to South Africa. After the heifer arrived there, she was found not to be an in-calf heifer, but a heifer giving milk, and then the fat was in the fire. Inquiries were instituted, and after weeks of fruitless inquiry the Pirbright authorities, through the Ministry of Agri-
culture, remaining silent, the consignor received this letter from the Ministry:
Jan. 19th, 1921.
I am directed to refer to your letter of the 6th instant, addressed to the Ministry's laboratory, on the subject of your Devon heifer shipped on the 19th October last, and in reply to acquaint you that this heifer aborted on the 12th September last. As, however, the High Commissioner for the Union had no objection to offer to the shipment to South Africa of the animal in question, the original arrangements for its despatch were adhered to. Moreover, I am to say that the Ministry has been informed by the South African Government, through the High Commissioner in London, that contagious abortion has been removed from the schedule.
If that heifer was sent to South Africa in that condition without the knowledge of the consignee, the fewer animals that reach Pirbright the better for all concerned. The Ministry resisted the claim for loss on this particular animal, but ultimately paid it. Hon. Members who know anything about animals, and know about contagious abortion, will know that it was one of the vilest things we could possibly do to allow such an animal to go to one of our Colonies. I do not know what the result has been, but the gentleman who exported the animal is afraid of the consequences. Altogether it is a very sad story. If you look at the cost of Pirbright and the cost of administration, and calculate how much it costs to test each animal sent there, any practical man will agree that a remedy is needed for such a state of things. It is the desire of the Ministry that all animals should be tested there, and they encourage the Colonies not to receive animals unless they have been tested at that particular station. The charge for sending an animal to be tested is £10 or £12. If it fails it costs another £10 or £12 for its return journey, and there is the possibility that on the journey it may contract some contagious disease and bring it home to our own herds. It is necessary to apply the tuberculin test, and we should be as particular about our own herds as about the herds of our Colonies or of foreign nations. The hon. Member on the other side of the House who stated that the flocks and herds of Great Britain are the finest in the world was quite correct. I suggest, in order to keep our own herds clean, that all animals should be tested on the farms where they are at the time of sale, and also that no tuberculin should
be sold to anyone but a qualified veterinary surgeon, and that only qualified veterinary surgeons should be allowed to apply the test. The suggestion has been made that owners of animals or their servants might defeat the tuberculin test if they had tuberculin in their possession, because those who understand the matter know that if tuberculin has been applied a few days, or perhaps a week, prior to the official test, the animal will not react. Altogether I think that Pirbright was a huge mistake, and that the sooner the Ministry face this problem the better for themselves and for agriculture.
There is one grant made by the Ministry which I should not like to see diminished, namely, the grant for the improvement of livestock. We may quarrel about the expenditure on wages boards and other things, but if there is one thing more than another that the Ministry of Agriculture has done to help agriculture, it has been the making of this grant for the improvement of livestock. As a result we stand, probably, at the head of the nations in regard to the horses, cattle and many of the breeds of sheep that we produce. My earnest hope is that our new Minister of Agriculture will wisely guide the ship in the days ahead. They will be days of stress and storm, but I believe that with his good common sense, his courtesy and his desire to do the best for the Ministry and the country, he will succeed.
I am not going to criticise the Ministry of Agriculture in respect of what the Act of 1920 has done or has not done. I supported that measure from its first Clause to its last when it was passing through the House of Commons, because I saw that if it became law it could not fail to put agriculture on to a very much better footing than before. If it did not give the tenant farmer security of tenure, it at any rate gave him a certain amount of security for the capital he invested. I am one of those interested in agriculture who believe that it is in the interest of this country that this great key industry should be put on a firm footing, and, if possible, made to prosper. If it does not prosper, the agricultural labourers will be the very first to suffer. Instead of wishing for less control, I regret that those Clauses were not kept in the Bill which would have given the Minister of Agriculture, and through him the Agricultural Councils, more control over a certain part of agriculture, that is to say, would have given the power to insist upon proper and good husbandry. The point upon which I am about to criticise the Ministry of Agriculture is the land settlement part of the Act, about which we hear a good deal. My great objection to it is that it has not done for the ex-service men what we had been led to believe it would do, and what the ex-service men were promised that it would do. The Minister of Agriculture appeared to be somewhat proud of the fact that since it had been in force something like 11,000 men had been put on to the land, although I question the conditions on which they were put on. There are, however, at this moment over 21,000 ex-service men who are waiting to get on to the land. A large sum of money has been spent in training a number of these men—I mean the ex-officers. They had a little capital at their disposal and they were encouraged to go into training with the direct promise that when their training was ended there was the land provided for them, and they could cultivate it and produce the food of the people and get their own living. In my own county we have 500 ex-service men waiting for small holdings who, if they could get land on reasonable terms, would be able to make it pay and to get a living. Nearly 150 in this county are ex-officers who have been trained for agriculture, have finished their training and are waiting for land, and there is no prospect whatever of getting it. In answer to a question that was asked whose fault it was these men were not getting the land was laid upon the county councils. As a member of that particular county council I repudiate the suggestion. We were only allowed to invest a certain amount of money and being a progressive council, anxious to do our best for the ex-service men, we spent perhaps rather more lavishly than some county councils have done. Therefore we have spent to our limit. Here are these 500 ex-service men, trained, many of them wasting the little capital they have, and now they are receiving out-of-work pay, waiting to get on the land, and the county council is helpless.
I should like the Minister for Agriculture to tell us what he is going to do to enable the local authorities to assist these men who have fought our battles, risked their lives, and wrecked their health. I find in these Estimates there is a decrease of something over £4000,000, so that less instead of more money is going to be spent. We have heard a good deal about wasters. I am not afraid, of the waster, but there is such a thing as false economy. I am not going to criticise the amount of money that is spent in this great industry if you are going to make it prosperous and if it is going to benefit these men who richly deserve to be cared for. Who deserves to be looked after so well as the man who has risked his all for this country of ours and is now to be thrown on the scrap heap? It is a scandal to the country. £400,000 less is to be spent in placing these men on the land. It would be far better to increase it. If you had spent double what you have spent it would have been money well invested, and I hope the Minister of Agriculture will hold out some hope that we shall be able to deal successfully with these men. So far as allotments and smallholdings are concerned, I am not pessimistic about them. In my own county it has been a success. We have already got 22,000, and there is not one failure. All we want is to get the land on reasonable conditions. That is what we have not been able to do under this precious Land Settlement Act. We were compelled to go into the market knowing we were going to borrow money at 6½ per cent. I should like to know if it is true that when seven years are up, before a certain amount of the capital is going to be written off, we have to pool the value of our land that we bought at a cheaper rate prior to the War or to increase the rents of those who have got them. If that report be true, I see no hope of the rent of the smallholder being reduced, who is paying a far greater rent than the farmers by the side of him who farms more land than he does. Apart from this reduction, I am very pleased with the Estimates, especially in the matter of research. I cannot make out why the farmers are afraid of it. The time is coming when, if this industry is to prosper and to march side by side with other industries, science will have to play a far greater part that it has done in the past.
The right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Estimates gave us a very interesting account of the activi- ties of his Board. While undoubtedly there is a wide field of work on the part of the Board of Agriculture, yet it would be well always to remember that the main prosperity of agriculture will come from the industry, enterprise and energy of our countrymen. It is all very well for the Government to carry on spoon-fed work for it, but there is no industry that depends more upon the intelligence, skill and energy of its workers than agriculture. I entirely agree that the farmers require to take the fullest possible advantage of science and research work. Undoubtedly there is no work which can be more helped by research than agriculture because it means carrying on work in line with the action of nature. We never can acquire too much knowledge of the working of nature. Our research and scientific work can do a very great deal indeed to enable farmers first of all to find out what nature wants and then to conform to its needs. In carrying on this beneficent work of research, which I hope the Board will always keep in the forefront of its activities, it would be well advised to carry it on in touch with and in accordance with agricultural opinion. We have now very valuable bodies in the form of the agricultural councils, the advisory committees and the county agricultural committees. I do not think that anybody who knows anything about agriculture will ever want to belittle the great use and advantage which may come from such bodies. The Minister will make the most of his Department's activities if he keeps in touch and carries on his work in accordance with the opinions of the practical men who constitute those useful bodies.
I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said as regards foot-and-mouth disease, and I was rather disappointed. I thought he hardly seemed to realise the gravity of the present position. I come from Scotland, where I have had a practical connection with agriculture, and I know that at the present time, owing to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in various parts of England, and owing to the outbreak in Ireland, we in Scotland have been prevented from getting what we absolutely require, namely, store cattle and dairy cows. As regards the latter, the public in Scotland are not at the present time getting their full supply of milk or at as cheap a rate as they would get it if we could get the importation of dairy cows from the north of England and from Ireland. That is a very serious state of affairs for the public generally. As regards store cattle, I cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman realises what it means to have a shortage. We have heard in the past what the bad effect of a shortage of imported cattle means. Unless we have a sufficient supply of store cattle the agricultural industry cannot be carried on to the advantage either of the industry or of the community. When the recent Agriculture Act was passed the hope was expressed that increased cultivation of grain would result from that measure.
That was the intention of the measure, and that was why the House passed it. What is the effect of the shortage of store cattle? Unless you have store cattle you cannot grow the root crops, because you have no stock to consume those root crops, and without root crops you cannot grow corn, because, as any practical agriculturist knows, to grow corn crops consecutively on the same land is ruination to the land and also to the farmer. In fact, under leases in the past there has always been a Clause to prevent two white crops, that is, corn crops, being grown consecutively on the same land. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative if we are to obtain value from our land that we should grow an adequate quantity of wheat and corn crops and alternatively root crops; but those root crops cannot be grown unless you have store cattle to consume them. When the right hon. Gentleman gave a short passing reference to the outbreak of foot-and-' mouth disease, he could not really have understood all the consequences which come from the shortage of store cattle which those outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease cause.
It would be out of place for me to say anything about the importation of cattle from Canada, but could his Department not have done something to relieve the present situation? Considering that something like 1,000,000 young calves are slaughtered annually, could not his Department have taken steps to prevent the slaughter of those immature calves. The public advantage would have been very great. He might have taken steps in the first place to prevent the slaughter of all heifer calves. Then he might have taken steps to prevent the slaughter of all the immature calves of the beef breeds. That would have had an important effect upon the question of store cattle. I do not suggest that he should perpetuate the bull calves of breeds such as the Ayrshire and Holsteins and such breeds, but the shorthorn bull calves, of the shorthorn Angus, Devon, Hereford, and other English breeds. If he had prevented the calves of those breeds from being prematurely slaughtered we could have built up a large stock of cattle in this country which would have given us not only milk cows for dairy purposes but store cattle for the essential purpose of consuming our root crops. I only hope that he will take steps to do something to relieve the situation which, unfortunately, is very grave. In Scotland we are grievously suffering owing to the shortage of store cattle, and not being able to get them from England or Ireland. If we do not get a clean bill of health in England and Ireland soon I do not know what is to become of Scotland in the autumn months, if store cattle cannot be got. We shall have a most serious situation before us. Some people might think of getting them from Canada, but all that we could get from Canada would be a bagatelle towards meeting the deficiency from which we should be suffering.
The Minister showed a lack of appreciation of practical points when he told us about the killing of rats in Government offices. He rather gave himself away when he came down to the level of rats in Government offices. Our industry is far too important to this country to be linked up with the subject of rats in Government offices. We want the Department of Agriculture to consider practical things, and not to go into nonsense of that sort. If he had told us something of what his Department was doing with regard to getting the farmers adequate and cheap supplies of fertilisers he would have done some good; but he never mentioned the word fertiliser. There is nothing that has helped farming more in the last 20 years than a greater knowledge of and a better use being made of fertilisers. Up to the War we had a continuous sequence of causes which detrimentally affected agriculture, but the one point which helped agriculture in those years was the increased knowledge of and the better use of fertilisers. When we got that knowledge we were better able to get the fertilisers that we wanted instead of having palmed off on to us, as our forefathers had, useless articles.
He should have told us what steps had been taken to get, say, the best phosphates from Algiers instead of bringing over second and third rate phosphate rock from America. He gave us no information as to this phosphate rock. He told us nothing about the export of sulphate of ammonia. At present farmers have to pay £24 10s. a ton for sulphate of ammonia, yet I am told that the export price for sulphate which goes abroad is only about £10. In other words, the farmer at home is being charged under controlled price more than double what the makers can get for it when exported. That is a handicap on the home farmer. In all those practical matters our Government Departments can do far more good work for our industry than if they went off their heads about killing rats. I hope throughout this year's activities that the Minister of Agriculture, whom everyone is pleased to see having the appointment, will keep in touch with our agricultural advisory councils and the practical men, including-our agricultural committees, and will do-something to improve the policy of his Department so that really good practical work will be done for the industry which is not only the largest industry in the country but is so intimately connected with the well-being of the community.
I do not intend to go into all the ills from which agriculture suffers or all the shortcomings of the Minister or of his Department. I intend as far as possible to confine myself to the Estimates. When I opened the Estimates and found that there was a reduction of from £3,500,000 to £2,750,000, I thought at last we had a Minister who is; studying economy in the proper manner, but on going through the Estimates carefully I son afraid that I cannot agree that his economy is the economy that will be beneficial to the industry of agriculture. As has been said by other speakers, he has made increases in all those services, of his Department which, to my mind, will be of no benefit as far as agriculture is concerned. We want a certain number of officers, and must pay certain salaries, but it appears to be an insane idea that the Ministry can improve agriculture by putting on more officers and giving them higher salaries. The services which, to my mind, are, and have been, and would be, productive of benefit to agriculture are being cut down considerably, in some cases by 50 per cent., and in some cases more. Take, in the first place, scientific research. As a practical farmer I say, without fear of contradiction, that during the last 30 or 40 years practical farming has received more assistance from the scientists of this country than from anyone else. Not that the scientist is the best man to farm land, because he has no practical knowledge, but when he has made a scientific discovery, and the Ministry provides money by which it can be distributed all over the country and put into the hands of farmers, the practical farmer can bring his practical knowledge to bear on the scientific knowledge to improve agriculture and increase the prosperity of the industry.
For instance, we have the discovery of the new varieties of wheat. I have grown several of them myself, and they are a great improvement on the old varieties, hut we cannot stop there. We must go on. We are suffering at present in my part of the country because we have not got a wheat that is suitable to the land. I could grow two quarters, if not three quarters per acre more if I could only get a wheat that could stand up against the bad weather. I can grow wheat from 4½ up to 5½ quarters if I get one of our strong wheats, but I could grow six and seven and even 7½ quarters if I could only get a wheat that would stand up against the bad weather. It is only the scientists by making continuous experiments who can give us this wheat. I regret very much that the Minister has cut down the money necessary to enable the scientists to carry out experiments and find out those varieties, not only of wheat, but of oats and other corn, to give the best return. Then as regards manures. We have been told that a man should not grow two white straws in succession. That was in the old days when science had not come to our assistance. Now science has come to our assistance, and there is no farmer who cannot grow two or three white straws in succession, and still grow good clover or sanfoin, or even good root crops afterwards, if he is assisted properly with manures, the use of which is explained by someone who understands them thoroughly. Therefore I regret very much that in those services which I consider would be more productive in the future even than they have been in the past the Minister has thought it necessary to cut down, while at the same time wasting money upon services which are not productive.
You see the same thing not only in research but in agricultural education. If there is one thing that we have suffered from as a class it is the want of a better agricultural education. I am disappointed to see that those services are being cut down. Then take drainage. There is a great part of our land, heavy land and low-lying land, which it is impossible to cultivate if the drainage is not looked after. That is cut down and less work is to be done. Then as to the higher land, there is no provision by which the owners of land or the tenants of land can come to the Ministry for assistance to drain the land to grow better crops while employing a great deal of labour and helping to solve the unemployment problem. The Minister surprised me in the early part of his speech when he said that we could not afford however much he would like to have more experimental farms, and therefore they were cut down. It is an astonishing admission for the Minister to make, that we are not to have these farms where experiments can be carried out and future farmers can be trained for the profession, while at the same time Estimates are put forward for huge increases of salaries for clerks and others in the Ministry.
As a farmer I agree with all that fell from the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), especially with reference to the settlement of ex-soldiers on the land. In my experience in my own district, as a member of the county council and the agricultural committee, very great mistakes have been made in putting these men on unsuitable land. Those mistakes have been caused principally by the interference of the people in London, not the interference of the Minister himself, but of some of the officers of his Department who have very little or no knowledge of agriculture. At any rate, if they have any knowledge they do not know how to express it, and they have not shown it in choosing land for the ex-soldiers. We expected failures. I ask the Minister not to be too particular from the pounds, shillings, and pence point of view, as far as these men are concerned. I ask him not to be in too much of a hurry. A very big mistake has been made elsewhere in being in too much of a hurry to get the thing on an economic basis. If the Minister hastens unduly to get these soldiers on their holdings at economic rents, he will destroy the ex-soldiers' prospects and also the settlements. When these men answered the call of their country they made great sacrifices. They did not stop to consider pounds, shillings, and pence, nor ask how much they would make. We made a promise to them—I did in 1918—that we would do all we could to put them on the land under the most favourable conditions. Although it may not be for the benefit of the taxpayers if there is a delay in getting these ex-soldiers' settlements upon an economic basis, I think the burden is one which the taxpayer would bear very cheerfully.
We have not gone very far in getting ex-soldiers on the land, as far as one can judge from the Minister's statement. He told us that they had had about 48,000 applications, of which from 10,000 to 12,000 were turned down as not suitable. That would leave about 36,000, and of these they have settled fewer than 12,000. There must, therefore, be 22,000 or 23,000 ex-soldiers suitable for the land still awaiting settlement. I am afraid it is a sad reflection on us, 2½ years after the end of the War. In nine cases out of ten the blame must be laid at the door of the Ministry of Agriculture and not upon the county councils. There may be cases in which county councils have been very slow In doing their duty, but I have not yet heard of any case where the Ministry has found it necessary to take up the duties of the county councils in expediting the settlement of these men on the land. I would beg the Minister; to get out of his mind the idea that he will benefit agriculture by continuously increasing the number of officials in Whitehall or in any other of the Ministry's offices. Very few of the officials know much about agriculture. Some of them, no doubt, are scientists and know the scientific side of the question, and they are the sort I like to meet, for I can get scientific information from them and add it to my own practical knowledge. But the vast majority of the men know nothing about agriculture, on the scientific or the practical side, and the increase of the number of such men and the raising of their salaries are of no use to agriculture. In fact, it is a great drain upon agriculture, for we find that simultaneously with the increasing of these salaries, there is a cutting down of those services which would be productive of good if more money could be spent on them.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY:
I am glad to see the Secretary for Scotland on the Front Bench, as I want to speak about the needs of our common country, which he so ably represents in the Government. I wish to endorse what was said by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) with regard to the fishing industry. That industry is in a parlous state. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford urged the Minister to introduce a Bill—I believe he has it on the stocks—to aid the fishing industry in the crisis through which it is passing. My right hon. Friend hit the nail on the head when he said that the two most important needs at the moment were to find new markets not only in this country but overseas, and to render more efficient the methods for the distribution of fish from the ports to inland towns. I hope that on that subject the Minister of Agriculture is in consultation with the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade. Last year I addressed questions to the Department of Overseas Trade asking whether efforts were being made, through the Department, to find new markets for cured herrings in America, Canada, and elsewhere, and I was informed that every effort would be made in that direction through the consular officers on the spot. I wish also to endorse the remarks of the right hon. Member for Chelmsford in relation to fishing in the Moray Firth. The right hon. Member stated that representations have recently been made to the Government in this matter. I recollect the story of the Moray Firth going back year after year for many years before the War. I remember making my maiden speech on the question 13 or 14 years ago. We urged the Government then to approach foreign Governments with a view to arriving at an international agreement, but nothing has been done. We are never given any reason. There was, of course, a period of five years during the War when nothing could be done, but nothing was done before the War and nothing has been done since. I urge my right hon. Friends—both the Secretary for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture are concerned in the matter—to take up the question. The Secretary for Scotland knows how irritating it is, not only in that part of Scotland but to every fisherman, to see foreign trawlers fishing in the Moray Firth whereas British trawlers are not allowed to trawl in those waters.
I pass to the question of agriculture. In the course of this Debate various suggestions have been put forward as to the manner in which the agriculture of this country can be benefited either by Acts of Parliament such as the 1920 Act or by other means. It is no use, I submit, introducing better methods of production with the one hand if with the other you proceed to destroy the good effects. It is no good, for instance, trying to increase the grain crop, if by the introduction of the Summer-Time-Order you proceed to do great damage to the agricultural industry. The position of the farming community—certainly of the farming community in Scotland—on the Summer-Time-Order is not based merely on sentiment or prejudice. The farmers in Scotland know how injuriously it is acting in regard to the gathering in of the grain crops. I venture to suggest that a very good compromise which has been urged on the Ministry of Agriculture, is that the Summer-time-Order should operate only as from May to the end of August. If that had been seriously considered both by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Agriculture in Scotland, I venture to think that much of the damage that was done last harvest—and which will be repeated next harvest—could have been avoided. The objection of the farmers in this matter is not one to be dismissed by a wave of the hand, and I hope serious attention will be given to the suggestion that a compromise should be arrived at in this respect.
Another question which has been referred to in the course of the Debate is the administration of the Diseases of Animals Acts. The Minister for Agriculture, I think, passed somewhat lightly over the serious nature of the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease which have been taking place within the last year or two. I think it should be possible for some further steps to be taken by the Ministry of Agriculture to ascertain the real cause and origin of these outbreaks.
That may be so, but I can recall a Debate which took place in the year 1912 when the first really serious outbreak took place in Ireland, and we were then told that a Committee had just been appointed to inquire into the question. That is eight years ago, and now the right hon. Gentleman informs us in the same sense. I venture to suggest that during those eight years some further progress should have been made in this subject. The right hon. Gentleman has said there were 94 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease last year, all of which outbreaks I presume were in England. There have been none in Scotland, and I think this disease-free record is one upon which we can congratulate ourselves. There are difficulties in the administration of the Diseases of Animals Acts, so far as Scot-laud is concerned, which might be remedied. In what I am about to say, I do not suggest that I speak for the whole of the agricultural community of Scotland, because I know there are differences of opinion. I wish, however, to help the Secretary for Scotland out of the difficulty I know he is in, regarding this matter. Without going outside the bounds of order I may say that the National Farmers' Union of Scotland have suggested that a Bill which I introduced last year transferring the administration of the Acts from England to Scotland should be supported by the Government. A considerable bulk of the Scottish farming community is in favour of that proposal. Foot-and-mouth disease is the only disease, or at any rate the main one, with which we are dealing at the moment, and at the present time, when an outbreak occurs in England, it is left to individual county authorities in Scotland to do what each thinks fit in regard to the prevention of entry of infected animals from England into its particular area. It would be much more satisfactory and businesslike if there were one national authority in Scotland to make rules in this matter. I suggest that the Secretary for Scotland, who will have to find a way out of this difficulty, could do so by setting up a Departmental inquiry to find out whether the bulk of Scottish agriculture opinion is not in favour of this proposal, and, at any rate, to give us some concise and clear reason why it should not be carried out. That has never been done yet; when I bring my Bill along the Minister or his representatives oppose it, but never give any reason why it should be opposed. They pay no attention at all to the arguments that are brought forward, and I venture to hope that to-night, in his reply, the Minister for Agriculture will be able to announce that he is willing to set up an inquiry in order to investigate this matter.
If the hon. Member is displeased with what I have said, I will now venture to make a few remarks which I do not think even he will ask to be ruled out of order. I desire to say one or two things in connection with a White Paper issued by the Minister of Agriculture yesterday, a "Report on the Condition of Horses shipped to the Continent." The Committee will forgive me, I hope, in making these remarks, seeing that before the War I was the parent of a Bill which reached the Statute Book in 1914, namely, the Exportation of Horses Bill. I am not going to deal at any great length with this Report. We must be grateful, those of us who are interested in this matter, that the Minister sent his veterinary inspector, Mr. Peacey, to investigate the conditions that obtained on the Continent in the places to which these horses are shipped, and that he has presented this Report to the House. I suggest to the Minister that it shows a lamentable state of affairs. It talks of the condition of horses landed at Antwerp. This gentleman went out in February, and he points out that the majority were in good condition and capable of doing a fair day's work—and I ask attention to those words "a fair day's work"—but he regrets to say there were a number lame from Hull and Goole, and he points out that there were horses from Grimsby and Goole which should have been rejected. In regard to Rotterdam, it appears that about eighteen months ago, when the trade with horses was resumed, a higher standard of fitness was enforced than at present; that is to say, that immediately after the War a higher standard of fitness was imposed than at the present time. The point I want to make is this. Those of us who were responsible for the Act of 1914 thought it really would, to a great extent, put an end to the sufferings and the cruelty entailed by this traffic, but I am afraid our hopes have been very largely disappointed by reason of the fact that the inspectors appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture have not been fulfilling their duties under the Act. I am glad to say that, as a result of representations that have been made, inspection has been and will be tightened up, and that cases of cruelty will not occur to the same extent as they have in the past; but may I make this further point?
There have been various other remedies suggested for putting an end to this traffic. It has been suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should impose a tax of £15 per head on horses exported. I do not agree with that, as I do not think it is the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to impose taxes for anything but revenue purposes, and that would obviously be for a purpose other than for obtaining revenue, but there is another method—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman this evening will be able to tell us a little about it—and that is, that the horses should be slaughtered on this side. Looking through this Report, I find that in the case of horses landed at Rotterdam it is estimated that only about 5 to 10 per cent, imported from England are kept for work, and the remainder are slaughtered for food. In the case of horses landed in Belgium, 75 per cent, are distributed throughout Belgium for slaughter for food, and those who have investigated this traffic know the cruel conditions under which those horses are slaughtered. We desire to put an end to that once and for all. Therefore, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should do everything that lies in his power, and by every means at his disposal—and I believe he has already taken initial steps, in this particular regard—to ensure that the bulk of these horses, which admittedly, on the face of his own report, are exported for consumption, should be slaughtered on this side instead of being allowed to undergo cruelty on the other side.
Lieut.-Colonel W. GUINNESS:
Certain hon. Members have spoken about the future of corn growing, but very little has been said about the present unsatisfactory position of the British farmer who is trying to sell his wheat. The present situation is not altogether the fault of the Government. I admit that they appear to have done their best to carry out their pledge that the farmer should receive 95s. for the 1920 crop, but they have failed so far to deal satisfactorily with the complexities of the problem, not perhaps from a lack of generosity, but from the imperfection of their method. They promised that the British farmer would get the average c.i.f. cost estimated on all milling wheat imported in the previous two months, together with the actual and anticipated arrivals in the United Kingdom for the current month, and at the moment the price works out to 95s., but it will not necessarily remain at that figure. Up to the 5th March, that guarantee was made quite effective. Claim forms certified by the miller enabled the farmer, or the merchant who sold to the miller, to obtain from the Government the difference between the price received and the guarantee to which the farmer had a claim, but after decontrol a new complication arose, because if under those conditions the Government had continued to pay the farmer the difference between the sale price and the guaranteed price, it would have been an invitation to the miller to buy wheat cheap and to refer the farmer to the Government to make up the price to the guaranteed level. Such a system would obviously have been unfair to the Government and to the public, because while there was control it made no difference to the State whether the guaranteed price was paid to the farmer wholly in the original transaction or partly in the original transaction and partly in the form of an additional payment from the Government. Now, however, that the miller is no longer an agent for the Government but is trading at his own risk to a great extent, if the Government were to make up the price to an uncertain amount out of public funds they would obviously put money directly into the miller's pocket. That no doubt, is the reason why the Government have dropped the idea of carrying out directly the guarantee to the farmer. They are trying to give the farmer what they promised indirectly by making it worth while to the miller to buy English wheat. The way this is done is that the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies makes a payment to the miller on every quarter of British wheat that he mills. The miller has to keep a grist book and he can claim week by week the authorised amount which is fixed in relation to the monthly guaranteed price for the previous month of British wheat. Now the miller can claim a certain sum which has been fixed in relation to the price of 95s. which was advertised about the 20th of last month, and no doubt there will be very shortly a figure issued for the next month.
In effect, this system is not working out well. In some markets for many weeks past nothing like 95s. has been offered for British wheat. I asked a question about this matter yesterday, and I mentioned figures to show that a smaller quantity of British wheat had been sold this year than in the corresponding period of the previous season. I brought these figures to the notice of the Board of Agriculture to show that it was not fair to say that farmers were forcing an undue quantity of wheat upon the market. The right hon. Gentleman, in his answer, pointed out that it was perfectly true that a smaller amount of wheat had been sold in the last few months than in corresponding months of the previous season, but he added that owing to the, smaller crop there was actually a larger proportion of the total sold this year than last. I want to point out to him that that is not really a relevant consideration. Surely what governs the possibility of consuming British wheat is the amount of foreign wheat that is milled with which it can be mixed. Unless the consumption of flour has fallen off and therefore the miller cannot take as much foreign wheat as he did in the previous season, he is in just as good a position to take British wheat as he was before, and the governing factor is not the size of the British wheat crop but the demand for flour into which it can be mixed. As it is the function of the right hon. Gentleman to see that point, I hope he will not ride off by saying that the sale of a larger proportion of a smaller crop has really anything to do with it.
The position is very acute in the Eastern Counties. It was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, in reply to a question, that for several weeks past in Bury St. Edmunds market the farmer has not been able to get as much as 90s. It has been the same in Ipswich, and at Norwich the maximum price last Saturday was 90s. No doubt, in the West of England the position may be better, because the harvest was smaller, but in East Anglia, where the harvest was large, there is a considerable stock of wheat, and the millers are refusing to pay anything like the price to which the farmers are entitled under the Prime Minister's pledge. This has put farmers in a very great difficulty. They cannot afford to keep indefinitely off the market, because they must have money to pay their wages. They are necessarily alarmed as to whether the condition may worsen. The East Anglian millers are telling the farmers that they only know for certain that this payment per quarter will continue for this month's milling, and they cannot take risks of stocks for future use because they say the subsidy may be removed, they have no promise about it, and they may no longer find that the milling of British wheat compares profitably with the milling of foreign wheat on a falling market. One way to get out of the difficulty would be to make this payment to the miller conditional on his certifying a statement that he has paid the guaranteed price to the British farmer. I will not take up time by going into the objections to that. I think it is too complicated, and might tend to make the sales even slower than they are. The right hon. Gentleman can get over the difficulty, to a certain extent, if he will make a statement to-night to create confidence, and if he can show the miller and the farmer that the miller will receive a sweetener on the purchase price of all British wheat which he may mill until the end of the present season. That is not in any sense a subsidy, for this reason, that if the farmer had been allowed the full play of the market up to 31st December last, he would have made £4,000,000 more in selling his wheat than he actually did. Therefore the State has in its pocket a very considerable credit drawn from the farmer in the first few months of his sales with which to make up the payment to the miller to sweeten the transactions at the present time. I therefore beg the right hon. Gentleman to promise that the present arrangement of payment to the miller for British wheat will continue for the whole of the present season. In that way I believe milliers may buy much more than they are taking at present, and the anxieties of farmers in this respect will be much relieved.
I should like to associate myself with several hon. Members who have spoken in expressing the welcome which we give to the right hon. Gentleman in occupying the position of Minister of Agriculture. Those of us who take an interest in agriculture and represent agricultural constituencies will give him all the assistance we can to make his term of office very successful. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentle man in having to explain these Estimates. I do not think there are any other Estimates presented to Parliament which range over such a large variety of different subjects, and that makes it almost impossible for any Minister, however willing and able he may be, to do thorough justice to the Estimates in a single sitting.
Before making a few remarks on one or two aspects of the Estimates, I wish to enforce what several other hon. Gentlemen have said with regard to the necessity for the right hon. Gentleman giving us some explanation as to how Part I of the Agriculture Bill is going to operate this year. It is important, not only that this Committee, but this country should know how the guarantees, for instance, are going to be administered. I have heard' it rumoured, as regards estimating the-acreage of the different cereal crops that will be affected by the guarantee, that the Agricultural Committees and the county councils are going to do that work. I think that probably it will be very-suitable to them to take up that duty. No doubt they will do it very well, but I do not think that is by any means the main difficulty of administering the guarantee. It is quite possible that a very large demand may be made upon the taxpayer for giving these guarantees, and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, is there going to be any sort of Estimate given in the Budget as to the expense to which the country may be put. It is quite obvious that it is almost impossible at this particular date to say what sum of money may be required to meet these guarantees. All I ask him to tell us is what the Government propose to do in that respect, because it would obviously be very unsatisfactory if this time next year the House were called upon to vote a very large Supplementary Estimate to meet this expenditure. There is no doubt that that would give great dissatisfaction throughout the country, and would jeopardise very largely the success of his Agriculture Bill.
There are one or two things which call for comment arising out of these Estimates, and from the speech of my right hon. Friend, which are not at all satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech, made it clear that we cannot consider the land settlement of ex-soldiers and the creation of small holdings as entirely satisfactory. I have not been one of those who have ever been very sanguine as to the success, from the economic point of view, of the settlement of ex-soldiers and others on the land, but, still, I have welcomed any attempt in that direction more from the point of view of the value it will be to this country. I cannot imagine anything of greater value in the way of giving stability to the population than the settling of a very much larger number of men on the land than there are now on it. If we consider for a moment the comparatively small stake in the country which the great majority of the people have at the present moment, I am sure we should welcome anything which would give them a larger stake in the country. The stake of the ordinary working man in the country is the weekly wage he receives for his work in the factory or coal mine, or some occupation of that nature. There is no doubt whatever that he would feel that he had a much greater stake in the country, and it would give far more stability to the population, if many more of them had a real interest in the land.
From an economic point of view, I must say that the prospects of the smallholder are not very promising, but I wonder whether the Government could not consider the possibility of giving workers in the town a sort of half-time interest in the land surrounding the large towns. There are many men, especially in these days of short hours, who perhaps would not be able to give all the attention necessary to a large small holding, but if they had a small portion of land—I do not mean an allotment, but something larger than that—to which they could devote whatever time was over after they had done their work, or perhaps devote their attention on Saturdays, that in itself would be a move in the right direction, and I wonder whether the Government would consider some suggestion with a view to extending their operations in a small-holding way.
I was very gratified to learn from the observations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman that he intends, so long as he is Minister of Agriculture, to continue the slaughter of animals as a prevention of the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. During the past twelve months we have suffered from, I think I might almost say, larger outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in this country than we have for a great number of years, and it must bring home to those who are engaged in the agricultural industry, and indeed to many others who are interested financially in the price of agricultural commodities, such as meat, the dire necessity of maintaining this country as free from disease as possible. I know there have been some who have advocated, not the slaughter of animals, but isolation and remedies being applied for keeping the animals alive. Those who make that suggestion cannot have considered the question really in all its aspects. Those of us who are interested in the export trade of live cattle from this country know quite well the difficulties that there are when there are cases of foot-and-mouth disease in different parts of the country. The regulations which are made by foreign countries—the Argentine, for instance—which necessitate, I think, the freedom of a county for three months from any case of disease within that county, make it difficult enough, but if you were to start isolation, and attempted to cure animals which have foot-and-mouth disease, that would extend the period certainly to six months. That goes to show how necessary it is to continue the practice, which has been long since adopted by the Board of Agriculture, that in cases of foot-and-mouth disease there should be the slaughter of those animals that are affected, and of animals that have been in contact with them.
There are one or two other things to which I should like to make a passing reference. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of milk recording, and he quite rightly said what an important thing it was, and how glad he was that the number of cases that had been recorded during the last few years had increased enormously. I should like to give him one word of advice on this subject. This matter of milk recording was started first—I think I am right in saying—by different breed societies, and since then it has been taken up by the Ministry of Agriculture, and they grant certificates to cows which have given more than a certain amount of milk during their lactation period. Naturally it is of great value to the owner to have a certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture, and it increases the value of his cows. When the Government Department steps in and does this kind of thing, it always requires an enormous amount of filling up of forms and officialdom, and the argument which has been used against adopting the system of milk recording by farmers to whom I have spoken on the question is, that it gives them such a lot of trouble, and it is quite true that, since the Ministry took this up, it has given a great deal more trouble, because there are such a multitude of different forms to be filled up, and so many Regulations to be carried out. I quite realise that the Ministry, to protect themselves and the public, must guard themselves against the possibility of any fraud in this direction. Still, I would ask them to take care that this work of milk recording is made as easy as possible, and not give the farmers any extra or unnecessary labour. If they do so, I feel sure they will be successful with a great many farmers, who will see to it that their animals are recorded, and will realise the value of this to themselves. But if the Ministry lays down too many Regulations and necessitates too much work on the part of the farmers in carrying out their instructions they will defeat their own ends, because they will not get the men to do this extra work.
There is only one other subject to which I should like to refer, and which these Estimates give me the opportunity to refer to. I am very sorry that the Government—I do not think it can only be the fault of the Ministry—have decided not to continue the loans which they made for the purpose of land drainage. Last Session we were engaged in passing the Agriculture Act in order to increase production from the land of this country. A good many of us were not very well satisfied that that Bill in itself would bring about the result at which we are aiming. One thing I am certain of, and that is if there is one thing in the world which retards production on arable land it is the lack of means of proper drainage. There is nothing which prevents proper cultivation, or discourages the growing of wheat and diminishes the yield per acre upon the land of this country than the lack of drain age. I take this opportunity of enforcing what my right hon. Friend (Mr. Pretyman) has said in this respect, and I hope the Ministry will use every effort to try to induce the Treasury—I suppose it is the Treasury—to give them back those powers they had in the matter of helping land drainage. It is not, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, as if they were called upon to spend money without any prospect of getting it back again. It is only in the nature of a loan which can be applied by the Ministry of Agriculture or the county councils, and shall not exceed in any one instance £5,000, and shall be repaid in a very few years. I urge my right hon. Friend to do what he can to induce the Government, or the Treasury, to reconsider their decision upon this question. I do not propose to take up now more than my share of the time of the Committee, but I regret the vast numbers of subjects with which these Estimates deal, and that we should not have another opportunity of raising some of these questions unless, of course, the Vote is" not granted to the Government to-night. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will reply satisfactorily to the few points which I have called to his attention, particularly the last point relating to land drainage.
I desire to refer to a subject which has already been raised by my right hon. Friend behind me—the question of the traffic in the exportation
of worn-out horses to the Continent. This matter has very deeply stirred the mind of the country, and, I think, a great many hon. Members here. In referring to it I do not in any way desire to offer hostile criticism to the Minister of Agriculture, because he has already shown us by his answers in the House and otherwise that upon this matter we are speaking to a sympathetic listener. I doubt not the right hon. Gentleman will do everything in his power to help us to carry out our object. The Report which has been recently published of the inspectors who went abroad on behalf of the Ministry is a very sad and gloomy bit of reading. It shows there are grave abuses in this matter. I am confident that the Minister for Agriculture will do his very utmost to remove those abuses. I want to call attention to one or two points in the Report. It says, in the first place, that a very considerable number of horses have been exported which were wholly unfit for working, and in breach of the Act of Parliament. There is this rather painful statement in the first page of the Report:
Making allowance for kicks and accidents on board ship it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that most of the unfit animals were suffering from old standing lameness of a character so evident that they might have been substitutes for animate actually passed at the port of embarkation.ߪ
How is it that these unfortunate worn-out animals, wholly unfit for exportation, come to be substituted for animals which have been passed for exportation? There must have been some grave negligence on the part of the inspectors. I would ask my right hon. Friend to give special instructions that nothing of that character shall occur in the future, that is, the substitution of wholly unfit animals for animals partly fit for embarkation. Another thing appears from the Report. The number of horses slaughtered when they get over to Belgium and Holland is perfectly enormous. Horses which are passed—mark you—as fit for work—otherwise ought not to go out—are slaughtered by the Dutch and Belgians, and the figures are perfectly amazing. We find from the Report of the animals landed at Rotterdam from England that something like 95 per cent, are slaughtered when they get across. From the same Report we find that something like 84 per cent, of the animals landed at Antwerp
were slaughtered in the same way. Why? If they were fit for work is it likely, or possible, that the foreigners who bought them would slaughter them? Is not the inevitable inference that these horses, from 84 per cent, to 95 per cent., certified to be fit for exportation and for work, must be fit for nothing but slaughter—otherwise they would not be slaughtered. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should instruct his inspectors—and I am glad to know that at last we are going to have some full-time inspectors, not casual persons—to instruct the new inspectors to be excessively anxious before they pass these animals as fit for work. There I think we shall find that the animals rejected here will not be slaughtered in such large numbers when they get across the water.
I should like to join in the request that all these animals not fit for real substantial work should be slaughtered in this country before they go abroad. The slaughtering abroad is even a more important matter I have seen reports from persons, whom I regard as trustworthy, showing that the conditions of slaughter abroad are of the most appalling character. Miss Cole, whom we all believe has devoted her life to humanitarian purposes and who would not pledge her word to any statement on these matters unless she had taken trouble to verify the facts, states in her evidence that there are only three places in Belgium where the slaughtering of horses is carried out by humane killers, and that in all the other places they are killed under conditions which are almost revolting to contemplate. Either they are stabbed in the chest with a knife, hit upon the head with a hammer, or destroyed by a pole-axe. We all know what that means. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should request the Belgian Government to allow a British inspector to go into the slaughter-houses in Belgium in order to see the conditions under which the horses are killed. Of course, if that is refused, the right hon. Gentleman can find some other means of acting. I hope, however, that he will take that initial step, and go to the very small expense of sending out an inspector and ascertain, upon his own official report, whether the conditions of slaughtering these horses have been truly described or not.
I did not mention them because it would not have been in order, but perhaps I may be allowed to say that one means is legislation. If the Belgian Government refuse us the opportunity for inquiring into the conditions under which these horses are slaughtered, it would be easy to bring in legislation refusing the exportation of horses to Belgium at all. My last point is in reference to a letter written to the daily papers by Miss Cole, and it really is a most grave and serious matter. She says:
Small pit ponies, worn out and not worth much, are supplied to the Veterinary College at Brussels for vivisection.
She also says:
I have the name of the butcher who supplies them.
Of course, I have no means of verifying that statement, but I ask my right hon. Friend to verify it. He can inquire of the Belgian Government whether there is any truth in it, and I have no doubt that they will let us know. If it is untrue, then you will have dispelled a most terrible and saddening report. If it is true, again I say my right hon. Friend can very properly put an end to it. I do not ask the Minister of Agriculture to reply in any detail as to the steps he will take, but I ask him to take this matter into his sympathetic consideration, and in due time and at the earliest possible moment take the necessary steps which will mitigate and, as far as possible, entirely remove these appalling cruelties which have so deeply stirred the national mind.
It reflects favourably on the Minister of Agriculture that I for want of time am notable to put a case strong enough to move a reduction on this Vote. All I can do is to throw a bouquet across the floor and add my tribute to his ability and wish him good luck in his Department. I think, as there is not much time, that I had better proceed by way of interrogatories. I thought the right hon. Gentleman rather shifted his ground on the question of guarantees in relation to arable land, and he said there would be great difficulties in the future. The right hon. Gentleman finds himself sitting on the same Treasury Bench from which it is fashionable to denounce both control and guarantees, and I find myself quite willing to sympathise with him because in the next accounting period he will have very serious amounts to account for. I understand that the bargain, as explained by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture, was that the arable ground should be so increased as to safeguard us against the next war. I want the Minister to make the position clear to us whether the guarantees will achieve that purpose. I think it is idle to say that the Minister should be satisfied with the statement that arable ground is not returning to seed, because he wants sufficient to safeguard this country against war. That is a futile request and something that cannot be given, but that was the basis on which guarantees were granted. I want to ask, in relation to the Corn Production Act, if the Estimates provide for the Commissioners, for the arbitrators, and for all the paraphernalia of control, including committees. I want also to ask someone to make clear a point with regard to the beet industry in Nottinghamshire. Perhaps the Committee, will turn to the figures on page 100 of the Estimate, which have already been explained by the Minister. I am not sure from the answer the right hon. Gentleman gave when I interjected whether the Government hold the first mortgage, or whether that is held by a private individual, and the Government come second after the first mortgage of £75,000. I should be pleased to have an answer on that point. The right hon. Gentleman poses as the guide, philosopher, and friend of agriculture, but he is more than that. His Department is a partner in trading enterprises, and I entirely protest against the expansion of the activities of the Ministry in trading of this sort. If there is anything in it it ought to be done by private enterprise, and it is simply sprawling on the part of the Department to go into all these adventures, whether it be beet growing or in a much less degree some bait for rat-catching. There is so much done by pressure on the Ministry that its essential services to agriculture are apt very largely to be overladen by these excresences which are not only superfluous but extremely costly. I have no time to contrast the enormous expense of the Ministry to-day with its pre-War expense. I think the Estimates in 1914–15 for the whole of the services, including Fisheries, was £344,000, or not more than one-seventh of what they cost to-day. I submit that we cannot afford these enormous Estimates.
That brings me to another Department—the Fisheries Department. Reference has already been made to the fishing industry in several speeches, and I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the very serious condition of the industry. In addition to the difficulty regarding coal, other expenses show a great increase. But you have one curious factor which has not been mentioned and it is that, in addition to the large number of trawlers which have been put out of commission, you have in the Port of Grimsby a large flotilla of trawlers which have come from Germany under the Reparation Scheme. I want to know how many of these are unsold. I urge that the Ministry should dispose of them as soon as possible, because they are deteriorating very rapidly, and they might be got rid of even to an enemy national rather than continue to depress an already depressed industry in Grimsby. My time is up, my speech has been very truncated, but I would like to point out that the expenses of every Department react on all industry, and I think that the Government should consider the condition of industry and should save as much as possible, in order that industry may recover and that the prospects of taxation falling may be improved.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I will endeavour to answer the greater number of the queries which have been put to me. I would like, first, to thank the Committee for the very kind reception given to this Vote and also to me personally, and I would like specially to thank the last speaker for having been so good as to rather truncate his speech in order that I might have a full opportunity of replying to the questions asked. My right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) complained, and no doubt he has a right to do so, that looking at the Estimates it appeared that we had spent more money on staff and salary and less on research. I agree that at first sight that seems a very serious criticism, but I should like to point out that there is practically no increase in the staff. The actual increase is two. There has been a decrease of 39 on the agricultural side and an increase of 41 on the fisheries side. The increase in the amount of money, £102,000, is entirely due to the Civil Service bonus and to the natural augmentation of salary which goes on as people remain in the service. There has been really no extension of the staff, excepting in regard to the Fisheries Branch, and the increase there is principally in the coastal officers, whose appointment was authorised before last year, and in the research staff, the scientific staff, which is engaged on the very work of research that we have been asked to extend.
As regards the decrease in the Estimate for agricultural research, it is not due to any decrease in the work of research, it is a mere decrease in the capital expenditure for what I may call new ventures. We have put off capital expenditure in respect of certain buildings and colleges, in respect of farm institutes, and in respect of dairy farms, and so forth, but there is no decrease at all in the working expenditure of the Service, and I may tell the Committee that, so long as I remain in my present position, I shall always put education and research in the forefront, as I believe it is the most important part of the work we have to do.
With regard to the question of sugar beet. I will now explain more fully than I did in my opening speech what has taken place. I would have gone more fully into the figures, but I made a very full explanation last year, and I thought that it would only be necessary this year to mention the alterations that have been made since then. The company started last year with a capital of £500,000, of which £250,000 was subscribed by the Government and £250,000 by the public. This year we are asking for another £200,000, of which £75,000 is to be raised as a first mortgage by the company, and £125,000 as a second mortgage by loan from the Government. I think it was said that the public should pay £ for £, and it is very nearly that. It works out at £375,000 Government money and £325,000 raised from the general public. I agree that it is wrong that such things should be managed by the Government, but this is managed by a private company. It is true that part of the company's capital has been subscribed by the Government, and that the Government is represented on the Board; but, beyond appointing one director to see that the money is not improperly spent, we do not intend to interfere. Having regard to the importance of the experiment, and to the fact that, but for the Government coming in, the experiment probably would never have been made, my own view is that the intervention of the Government has been entirely justifiable, and at this stage, when the Government has already advanced as much as £250,000 of the capital, it would be a great pity if the Committee were to refuse this loan of £200,000, without which it will be impossible to complete the erection of the sugar mill. If that is not done now, we shall not be able to take advantage of the beet which is being grown this year, both on the Kelham estate and by farmers under contract in the neighbourhood, and the experiment will have to be put off until next year, with a large loss of money to the public and to the Government itself.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I think we are, except for interest. The Government guarantee interest at the rate of five per cent, upon the proportion of the capital subscribed by the public. I may point out that, unless we get to work this year, the Government will have to pay more, because the sooner we get to work the sooner the enterprise will be placed on a profitable basis, and therefore it will only be a waste of Government money, having regard to that guarantee of interest, if we do not make the loan now and enable the company to get to work this year.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
For 10 years. My right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Acland) asked about the co-operative cheese schools. He agreed that they were likely to be successful, and asked to what extent they were likely to be carried out this year. I cannot give him the figures, because they are carried out by the county agricultural education committees, and will come out of the sum allocated to the county committees. I have not been able to get any exact analysis of how that particular sum will be allocated, but I believe that the work will be carried on this year to very much the same extent as last year. My right hon. Friend also asked what the county committees were doing, and whether they were doing anything about exercising good cultivation and control, and such matters as the improvement of grass land. The county committees at present are getting to work on the survey of the state of cultivations which were made during the War, and they have received instructions from us as to the manner in which they are to enforce the rules of good husbandry. In addition to that a series of lectures on the improvement of grass lands have been carried out all through the counties with the knowledge and assent of the educational committees, and a great deal of good work has resulted from those lectures.
The hon. Member (Mr. Royce) asked about the rents of smallholders at Sutton Bridge. I have never heard any complaint that the rents were too high. What we have done in every single case is to see that rents are charged which are comparable with the ordinary rents that rule in the neighbourhood.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I never heard of these complaints before. If the hon. Member will bring a specific complaint before me, I will certainly have it investigated. The ex-service holders are mostly very capable people, quite able to look after themselves, and I think it will be found, generally speaking, that they are not being charged too high rents—far from it—and we should not get the smallholders if we attempted to do anything of the kind. A question was asked as to what the chances were of the smallholder succeeding. All I can say is that the smallholders settled by the old Act before the War as a general rule proved a success. Only about 1 per cent, per annum came to grief. We are told by our Commissioners that the class of men who have been settled under this new scheme are mostly very knowledgable people. They have been very carefully selected. They are not townsmen who have no previous knowledge of agriculture, but are nearly all countrymen, and we have no reason to believe there is likely to be any higher percentage of failures among the new holders than there was among the old. Of course, it is much too early yet to be able to give any kind of figures, but with ordinary luck I see no reason why they should not succeed, and certainly nothing will be done by the Ministry to impede their success. My hon. Friend asked what the rents would be on a holding that cost £2,500. There, again, I cannot give him a definite answer. It will depend upon the character of the holding, upon the character of the soil, upon the nature of the equipment, and upon the rents that rule in the particular neighbourhood. Generally speaking, they have been fixed with regard to the circumstances of the locality and on the principle that they are not to be an economic rent justified by the cost of the holding, but such a rent as a smallholder can reasonably be expected to pay.
The hon. Member then asked me about land reclamation. I should very much like to undertake land reclamation if we could do it on any economic basis, but so far our experience is that the cost of reclamation is generally a great deal more than the value of the land when reclaimed. That was our experience at Wainfleet. I ask the House not to regard it as an example of the muddling of my Ministry. We were practically ordered to undertake it in order to find work for unemployed men. We did that, but when I am told that a great deal more can be done, both in the matter of reclamation and big drainage schemes, to employ unemployed men, let me point out that the unemployed men are not found in any quantities in the country districts. You have to take them out of the towns. That means setting up big hutment camps, and moving the men from the towns to the district where you want the reclamation or the drainage work to be done. That alone is a very uneconomic proposition, although we are prepared, if necessary, to carry out schemes of that sort in order to meet the dreadful condition of unemployment in the towns. I cannot pretend that they would ever be economic, although some advantage may result; in fact, great advantage would result, certainly from drainage schemes, and in some cases from schemes of reclamation.
I was asked about the wheat and oats guarantee under the Agriculture Act, and how we are going to deal with it. Let me, first of all, point out that what has to be done is laid down in the Act of Parliament. If the guaranteed prices in the Act are going to be a heavy burden, Parliament passed the Act with its eyes open, and so far as we are concerned we can only administer the Act. We cannot, without an amending Act, alter the Act in the slightest degree. Of course, we have to take certain steps for administrative purposes. We have to appoint a Commissioner, in conjunction with the Scottish Office, who will be one of the three Commissioners to represent the agricultural interests, to decide, having regard to the cost of production, what the guaranteed price of wheat and oats is to be for this current year. I am at the present moment in consultation with my right hon. Friend, the Secretary for Scotland, on that point. The Commissioners will be appointed very shortly, because before many more months are over they will have to get to work. With regard to checking the cultivation we propose to do that entirely through the agency of the county agricultural committees. We have issued to the county agricultural committees a circular, a copy of which I have here, explaining precisely what their duties are. Notices will be sent out to all farmers at the beginning of June to fill in a return of their acreage in wheat and oats. These notices will be returned to the Ministry and they will then be sent to the appropriate county committee. The county committees have been asked to take careful steps to check the returns, not a general check, but a test check wherever they have reason to think there has been any attempt to mislead the Government.
The Committee have to consider what land actually is planted with wheat and oats, how much of it may be subject to negligent cultivation, or how much of it has been scratched up with a view to obtaining the guarantee, and not for producing any crop. They have to consider other cases of that sort. Their work is facilitated by this fact that each cultivator is obliged in his return to state not only the amount but the actual fields according to the number in the survey. In addition, there are very severe penalties under the Act for any attempt at fraud. We think that by doing the work through the county agricultural committees we shall, without the appointment of any additional inspectors of our own, be able to get a sufficient check. When that is done, and when the guaranteed prices have been ascertained, payment will be made, but there will be no payment whatever this year. Payments cannot be made until after the 31st March next year, and whatever sum there be, if there be any sum to be paid, it will be in the next year's Budget and not in the present year's Budget.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
Yes. I only deal with England and Wales. I have no jurisdiction whatever in Scotland. In respect to the method adopted in Scotland, my hon. Friend should put a question to the Secretary for Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Sir B. Stanier) raised several points as to how far the recommendations of the Committee over which he presided have been carried out. I could go through all the recommendations and show that they have practically all been carried out. We thought his Report a most admirable one, and have endeavoured to carry out his recommendations all through. For example, with regard to the insuring of fishing vessels, we propose to make a change, raising the premiums very much on the lines he suggests. It cannot be done until June, because the present premiums do not expire until then.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I cannot say. But there will be a considerable rise. Then as regards the publications, the free list publication has been reduced from 3,000 to about 1,000, confined almost entirely to officials, inspectors, and others connected with the Ministry. It was suggested that the rural industries branch should be terminated, and it has been terminated. The hon. Member suggested that the fees for testing seeds of grasses, etc., should be 5s. per sample, and that in all other cases the fees should be doubled. We have doubled all the fees, making them 4s. We have not gone as high as 5s., because we thought that if we did the result would be to set up a number of private seed testing stations, where the work would be less efficaciously carried out. So on right through the list. We appreciate all the recommendations, and are carrying them out. My hon. Friend asked why we appointed more architects. The Committee, with the sanction of the Treasury, advised us to appoint more architects, because our architects have to go through the plans of county committees for buildings in connection with land settlement, and they have saved a great deal of money, and what we have done is for the express purpose of saving money.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I will let my hon. Friend know afterwards. Then he raised the important point of the shortage of stores and the restrictions that have been put on the importation of stores from Ireland. That is a very important problem. I have been fighting the Irish Department on this matter for the last week, but I am obliged to take steps to safeguard our flocks and herds at home from the possibility of the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease from Ireland. There was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the county Wicklow in January. We therefore closed the ports against fat cattle and stores from Ireland. No further outbreak took place and on the 5th March we re-admitted stores. On the 25th March certain cattle which had been imported from Ireland were found to be suffering from foot-and-mouth disease which developed four days after landing. On the 26th March an animal from Ireland in the lairage at Birkenhead was showing suspicious symptoms. Subsequently four of the animals were similarly affected. In those cases the foot-and-mouth disease was discovered four days after they had left Dublin. Again, on 2nd April, one animal in a batch of ten was found affected at Holyhead. These ten animals had left Dublin on the afternoon of the 24th; that is to say, within nine days of leaving Ireland the disease was found. The average period of incubation is about five or six days, but it may be as long as ten to fourteen days. The Irish Department say they have searched the whole of Ireland and can find no trace of foot-and-mouth disease, but, in view of the fact that all these animals had come from Ireland, I felt bound to close the ports. The very fact that the Irish say that they cannot find the disease makes the case stronger from our point of view, for if they could have drawn a ring fence round an affected area I could have admitted animals from other parts of Ireland. As they cannot say where the disease came from, I cannot allow store cattle to come into this country without requiring a period of detention in quarantine, and I therefore decided that all Irish stores for the next month must be detained 14 days at the port.
The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) complained of the great increase of the Estimates since 1913–14. I admit there is a large increase, but I would point out that a great deal has happened since 1913–14, and that we have to undertake duties now that were quite unknown at that time. We are undertaking land settlement for ex-service men; we are training ex-service men, and our educational research Vote has risen from £100,000 to about £500,000. Take those three items and the change in the value of money, and I do not think it can reasonably be said that the Department has been extravagant. At all events, I do not think a fair or true comparison can be made with a year like 1913–14. One or two fishery questions were raised by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman). He asked about the administrative officials and he wanted to know who was now Deputy-Minister. I was Deputy-Minister until I became Minister. My Noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is now Deputy-Minister, but there is just this difference: I endeavoured to administer fishery business, as far as I was able, during the time I was Parliamentary Secretary. There was a general desire, I believe, on the part of fishery people that I should continue to keep that work in my own hands. I am, therefore, doing that, and I have handed over part of the agricultural work to my Noble Friend, who has great knowledge of agriculture and will be of great assistance to me. It is a re-arrangement which I hope will be beneficial. My right hon. Friend complained—it is a perfectly fair complaint looking at the Estimates as they appear—that there appeared to be a large increase in the number of second-class clerks in the Fishery Department. That is a mere book entry, due to the fact that we have now separated all fishery work from the agricultural work. Before the change the statistical branch of the Fisheries Department was lumped together with the agricultural statistics work. The increase in the numbers is due to the fact that all these clerks are now definitely put down as engaged in fishery work. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the Chief Inspector. It is a temporary appointment, and has been carried on from June to June. He is not an established civil servant. The appointment certainly will not come to an end this June. The rest of 'his salary beyond June, I have no doubt, we shall be able to provide by effecting a sufficient saving on other items. My right hon. Friend also spoke about distribution of fish. Our principal officers have taken a great part in assisting in that very important matter, and I would also remind the Committee that last year a Joint Committee of this Ministry and the Ministry of Transport was formed in order to try to meet the difficulties of distribution. Since that Committee took the matter in hand we have had practically no complaints of the service given by the railway companies, and I believe the distribution is now very much better than it was.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I can only say I am going very carefully into the matter. Hon. Members know that circumstances over which I had no control prevented me from being here until a week ago, and I have had very little time to look into this question. If there is any way possible of bringing forward a Bill this Session, I shall certainly see what can be done to press it forward.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
That would include not only sea fisheries but also inland fisheries. Reference has also been made to the report of Sir Lawrence Weaver, the second Secretary of the Ministry, with regard to the farm settlements. I agree with every word of that report, and as a matter of fact I have conducted some investigations myself personally into some of these estates. With great regret I am bound to say the profit-sharing idea seems to have broken down. It does not work in practice, and I am more convinced than ever of the difficulties of what I may call farming from Whitehall. Similarly, in regard to the central farms, although they have been useful in helping smallholders, they have not quite fulfilled the object for which they were intended. As far as I am concerned, I am prepared to carry out Sir Lawrence Weaver's recommendation as far as possible. I think wherever we find we have made a mistake by far the most honest and most economical course is to make a clean breast of it. We do not wish to reflect in any way upon what our predecessors have done in totally different circumstances, but I want to get out whenever I can. Even now it may entail a certain loss, but it is far better than going on and throwing good money after bad.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
The combine is a private concern and it could not be interfered with or its activities limited unless by the exercise of some species of Government control which I am not prepared to do. I would be rather surprised if my hon. Friend asked me to re-impose control. In regard to wart disease, I do not think there is much danger of it being brought into this country by imported potatoes, because they are brought in as ware and are rarely used for seed, but I am anxious to take every possible precaution, and I am considering issuing an order dealing with the importation of potatoes and plants generally, requiring a certificate of health, and so on, from the country of origin. I should like to go further, but I am limited by financial considerations, but if we can do anything effective without causing additional cost in the way of inspection, I am prepared to issue an Order upon those lines. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) regretted that we were spending less on small holdings. That, I think I explained, is more apparent than real. The county councils are not spending less; it is only the Ministry who are spending less. The reduction that appears does not affect what is being spent on the ex-service men, because the capital sum spent by the county councils for setting up small holdings does not appear on these Votes at all. It is in the nature of loans from the Public Works Loans Commissioners, which are carried out under the provisions of the Land Settlement Act. What appears on this Vote, this reduction of £450,000, is due to the fact that the Ministry is not buying more land for its farm colonies, and we have not made provision for acting in default of county councils. I do not think it is true that the county councils have come to the end of their resources.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
Yes, they have come to an end of the original grant, but since then the Treasury have sanctioned a further £4,000,000 to be issued to the counties under certain conditions, which are these: that the land is to be acquired either by leasing or by annuities or by capital raised locally. Subject to these conditions another £4,000,000 will be available for the counties of England and Wales for land settlement, and Norfolk will have its fair share of that amount.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I do not know-that I have anything more to say than I said this afternoon. If my hon. Friend thinks I am incorrect I must look the matter up, and I will give him an answer in the course of a day or two. The hon. Member for Stirling (Sir H. Hope) spoke about the slaughter of calves. That was very serious during the War, and it was due to War conditions. It was due largely to this, that owing to the absence of feeding stuffs the milk supply per cow diminished, and the owners of dairy herds naturally wanted their milk to sell, and could not afford to feed the calves. In addition to that, the flat rate for meat made it far more profitable to slaughter the calves than to rear them. That is, I am glad to say, all being altered now, and the slaughter of calves has diminished by 55 per cent, in the last few months, and I am not in the least apprehensive as to the maintenance of our stock in the near future. Something was said by several hon. Members, including the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardine (Lieut.-Colonel A. Murray) and the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) about the export of horses. I entirely sympathise with their views. I was fankly horrified when I read the report of my inspector, and I took immediate steps to put on one side those veterinary surgeons who had been so careless, in my opinion, in their examination, and to replace them, as I am doing, by whole-time officers. I further have had arrangements made whereby, as far as France is concerned, animals taken for slaughter for food must be slaughtered on this side. I am trying to make similar arrangements with regard to Belgium and Holland. Of course, I cannot give any guarantee that some of the horses will still not be slaughtered on the other side. In so far as the horses are exported for the purposes of food, if we can make arrangements by the erection of abattoirs and so on on this side with the Governments concerned to see that, as a general rule, they should be slaughtered on this side, a great deal of this cruelty would be done away with. I will ask the House before pressing for further legislation to see how the arrangements work. If they do not work, I shall not be behindhand either in pressing for further adminis- trative action or for legislation. With regard to the story of an hon. Member that pit ponies were exported for vivisection, that is a new point, which I have never heard before, and I will certainly have the matter investigated.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Wintringham) asked about the trawlers that were sold. It is quite true that under the Reparations we have received a number of trawlers—24—from Germany, and a number of Admiralty trawlers have been placed on the market. With regard to the German trawlers, we have sold two, and 22 are unsold. The selling is not carried out by us; we are merely responsible for their maintenance pending sale, which is carried out by a Disposal Board. We are anxious to dispose of them as quickly as possible.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, can he answer the point which I raised about the difficulty of farmers in the Eastern Counties getting a guaranteed price for wheat, and whether the payment per quarter for British wheat milled will continue throughout the present season?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
I am just coming to that. When we had to make that arrangement originally, we only undertook that the British farmer should get 95s. until there was decontrol. Up to the time of decontrol we could compel the miller to pay that price, but now we can only act by way of inducement. We can only really meet our undertaking to the farmer by extending this beyond decontrol. We have agreed to extend it to 13th August and up to that date we shall pay either 25s. or an appropriate figure will be given to the miller.
With regard to land drainage, I agree that I have had to turn down a certain number of schemes and to lay down that no schemes should be undertaken except those already initiated, and not in regard to drainage only. I would therefore limit the undertakings that we are going to carry out to such schemes, and to others where real questions of safety are involved, and where we may be able to employ a number of unemployed men. I do not think I can go beyond that at this moment. At the same time, I realise, as much as anybody, the great importance of land drainage, and wherever possible I will try and see what can be done.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY:
There is one point that I put to the right hon. Gentleman which is of some importance from the Scottish point of view. Would he consult with his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, with a view to having an inquiry into the removal of the Diseases of Animals Act in Scotland?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN:
It is not a charge upon public funds but on the trading account of the Wheat Commission, and if now the British farmer is getting more, for a great many months, in fact for more than a year, he was getting a great deal less. In other words, the Wheat Commission up to date has made a very good thing out of the British farmer, and this particular charge will not fall upon public funds in the sense that it will not fall on any Vote but on the trading account of the Wheat Commission. I would ask the Committee to give me this particular Vote for one particular reason. I am most anxious that this sugar mill and this experiment in beet-sugar should be carried out satisfactorily, and I am most anxious therefore to get the Vote in Committee to-night. I understand the £125,000 cannot be issued unless I get this Vote. There is still, of course, the Report stage, but if I can get the Vote in Committee to-night, and £125,000 can be issued immediately, we can get on with the completion of the Kelham scheme, and I hope it will be successful during the present year.