Orders of the Day — Agriculture.

– in the House of Commons on 20th December 1927.

Alert me about debates like this

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I beg to move, That this House calls the attention of His Majesty's Government to the grave position in which Agriculture is placed by the present depression, and deplores the failure of the Government to do anything effective towards helping to restore Agriculture as the essential balancing element in the economic and social life of the country. In rising to call the attention of the House to the terrible conditions which exist in the basic industry of agriculture, I should like to express my own personal feeling and the feeling of all Members in all parts of the House at the loss we have sustained in the death of Sir Granville Wheler. He presided with courtesy, ability and distinction over the non-party Agricultural Committee of the House of Commons, and on all occasions when the interests of agriculture, to which he had devoted his great gifts, were under discussion, he spoke in this House with knowledge and authority.

In discussing the question of agriculture to-day, I have no desire to serve any mere party aim or to press upon the attention of the House any particular solution of the problem. I feel that this Debate provides an opportunity for hon. Members in all parts of the House to tome together and bring home to the Government the serious condition of affairs in the industry, and to bring pressure upon them to take some action to remedy it. I do not want to sail under any false colours. I do not in the least want to make out that I am not going to attack the Government. I am going to attack them, and I hope they are going to be attacked from all quarters of the House. The Minister of Agriculture is the victim of a paralysing and insidious disease. It is a disease to which distinguished members of powerful Govern- ments are particularly prone—the disease of complacency, and unless we who represent agricultural constituencies can use this opportunity to shake the Government out of their complacency, nothing will be done for agriculture.

Facts must be faced. In successive Debates my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and other hon. Members on this side of the House have tried to bring out the facts and to bring them home to the Government, but the Minister of Agriculture has turned upon my right hon. Friend and strongly, even venomously, denounced him. Denounced him on what score? For alarming the country unnecessarily, unwarrantably and even mischievously. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite applaud that statement, but I would remind them that their own Amendments on the Order Paper to-day are sufficient to show what they feel about the condition of agriculture at the present time. Their Amendments show who was right, the Minister of Agriculture or my right hon. Friend when they were discussing the condition of the industry. In the White Paper which was issued by the predecessor of the present Minister of Agriculture there was reference to "weathering the storm," and the Minister of Agriculture himself last year said that agriculture had "turned the corner." Those faithful supporters of his who have put Amendments on the Paper do not seem to think that agriculture has turned the corner. This invincible optimism, this aversion from the truth, this shunning of the facts, this querulous complacency may explain partly but cannot excuse the inaction of the Government.

It cannot be disputed that the conditions are growing worse and increasingly bad in the industry. Each year we see more land laid down to grass, more grass land going back to prairie, more acres becoming waterlogged, more farmers being forced out of the industry and fewer workers being employed. We are down now to under 800,000 workers employed in the industry. The cultivated area in England and Wales is 800,000 acres down in 50 years. In Scotland the cultivated areas are down by 100,000 acres in 50 years. The arable land is down by 4,000,000 acres in the 50 years. In Scotland the arable acreage is down 400,000 acres in the 50 years. We have now reached the smallest arable acreage in the agricultural history of the country. Meanwhile, if you look abroad you see Germany, Holland, Denmark and Belgium going ahead and developing their land increasingly and rapidly. It is not a question of Free Trade and Protection. Holland is a Free Trade country as far as agriculture is concerned, Belgium is Free Trade as far as agriculture is concerned and Denmark is also Free Trade as far as agriculture is concerned.

4.0 p.m.

Another very important figure—a figure given in the report upon the agricultural output of this country—is that of the value of the meat products of British soil—17,600,000 tons in 1908–13, down to 14,900,000 tons in 1920–25, a fall of 15 per cent. in 12 years, and Mr. Thomson in his report makes the comment that this is a very striking decline, particularly when the potentialities of the whole market are taken into account. The Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation, appointed by Mr. Bonar Law's Government, says, There are 400,000 fewer workers on the soil now than there were 50 years ago. Those are some of the broader facts of the situation, but I want to come to some particular facts showing how serious is the situation at the present time, and we have got to bring this home to the Government. They talk of "turning the corner" and of "weathering the storm." Here is a letter in the "Times" of 29th November from a very well-known agriculturist, Mr. Hutchinson, late Bursar and Treasurer of Christ Church, Oxford. He says: The position of agriculture in this country is that it is bad and not likely to get better—possibly worse. Then I have here a report of a meeting of the Hampshire Farmers' Union at Winchester, at which Mr. Nicoll said that in his neighbourhood two farms had gone into the market this Michaelmas, and both had failed to find a tenant at rent, both upwards of 800 acres in extent. In the one case, after repeated failure to let the farm, which was a good barley farm and a very good sheep farm, the proprietor offered to lay down 200 acres to grass, fence it and lay the water on, and then to let it free for two years with a year's notice before any rent would be asked. Nobody would take it, and ultimately the proprietor had to appoint a, manager and farm it himself. In the case of the other farm, though it had been freely advertised, the owner had been unable to let it at a rent, but had been able to get a tenant to come in and sit rent free for the time being. At the same meeting, Mr. Thomson said that one farm in his neighbourhood had been taken at something like 50 per cent. of the rent asked. If you say these are black spots, which ought not to be taken—though I do not think Hampshire is a particularly black spot, as things go—let us take the East Riding of Yorkshire. The "Evening Telegram and Post," of 16th May last, says: The very serious state of farms in regard to East Riding agricultural conditions is shown by the number of farmers who have given notice not to renew their tenancies. In discussing the matter at an interview, a well known representative of the agricultural industry there who is also very much in touch with tenancy matters said that in approximately 30 years' experience he had never known so many notices to be given in as had been given in this year. … A number of what had always been regarded as good farms were being vacated …. An example was quoted of a …. good farm of approximately 800 acres which has been farmed by a well known farmer for many years. … It was offered to another tenant at 5s. an acre and refused, and then it was offered to another man for nothing if he would take it over for a few years and work it. That offer was similarly refused, and the last known of the farm was that the proprietor was not seriously proposing to work it himself but was contemplating putting a labourer into the farm house and giving him the assistance of a couple of boys… There were a number of other farms for which owners had not been able to find tenants… These were not bad farms, but good, well known properties. Take another part of the country. Take the Eastern Counties. Here is a letter from an Essex farmer, dated 8th November last, stating that: There were farms in Suffolk last week where the farmers might remain and pay no rent, only rates, hut that they would not accept the offer. There are farms close by here where the tenants pay no rent. The landlord lets them sit by paying rates. On the large farm of Castle Hedingham, there have been as many as 1,000 sheep, as well as bullocks, sows and pigs. Now there is not a beast—sheep or pig—except five or six cows, four or five horses, and a few fowls." The "Times" Agricultural Correspondent, on the 11th July last, quoted a statement from Sussex to the effect that "about one a month is the rate at which farmers are giving up in this district, and many more would give up if only someone could be found to take their farms off their hands. Then Mr. Hoskin, Secretary of the Devon Farmers' Union, in the "Western Morning News" of the 12th April last, says: Devon farmers are experiencing a very anxious time. For two or three years farmers, finding corn production unprofitable, have been letting the land go back to grass. There is a very interesting publication I have here, and of which I have made a short summary. It is a publication issued periodically by the Department of Agriculture of the University of Cambridge. This one was issued in last November, giving an economic and financial analysis of seven eastern counties' farms in 1926 and 1927. This is one of the most careful costing inquiries conducted in this country. No interest even on borrowed capital is allowed, and the actual manual work performed by the farmer is not charged for. The loss on these farms this year amounts to 2½ per cent. on the capital invested. Then I would refer to the opinion recently expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who is the Chairman of the Conservative Agricultural Committee of the House of Commons. I am sorry I do not see him in the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not see some of your people."] I refer to the fact because I am sorry, in his absence, to quote anything said by him, though I do not think there is anything in the quotation to which he would object. In referring to the small things which the Government had done for agriculture, he said that, in his opinion, they were insufficient to maintain food production and employment, and that further legislation of a far-reaching character was urgently required for this purpose.

Some people talk about this thing as though it were just a temporary matter—as if it were due to the action of the bad weather. We all know that the weather this year has been disastrous, but, after all, it is only an incident in the long history of British agriculture. It was a disastrous and calamitous incident, but the industry was getting into a bad way long before. Many of the quotations I have read from newspapers were published a long time before the harvest period. It is not merely a temporary thing. The effect of the bad weather has been to expose the weakness of the structure of the industry, but we shall not get out of our difficulty by a little temporary assistance to agriculture here and there. You have got to strengthen the structure of the agricultural system, and you have got to adopt bold, comprehensive measures to do it, and it is because we wish you to take those steps that we have come before the House with this Motion.

I hope that, in view of the facts I have quoted, the Minister on this occasion will not attempt, as he has attempted on nearly every occasion since he became Minister of Agriculture, to dispute the seriousness of the situation with which agriculture is faced. He attacks us on the ground that we are actuated, as he thinks, solely by party considerations. I do not think it does much good to take that line about agriculture. I take the view that when an hon. Member, in whatever part of the House he sits, gets up to speak, however mistaken his general view, he probably has something of importance to contribute which may be helpful to an industry which is in such a bad state as the agricultural industry to-day. For my own part, I should not think of questioning the good intention of the Minister of Agriculture. It is his competence and policy we are bringing in question to-day. It must be remembered that at the last Election the Prime Minister held out the highest hopes to the agricultural industry. This was his declaration in the Manifesto he issued just before the last Election: I regard it as vital that the great basic industry of agriculture should be not merely preserved, but restored to a more prosperous condition. and this is a, quotation we venture to insert in the Motion before the House to-day as an essential balancing element in the economic and social life of the country. The attitude, the aim of his party was to secure a just reward to all investors in the soil, whether it be of money, muscle or brains.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman kindly read the whole of the quotation? He has left out vital words which entirely alter it. I think we are entitled to hear the whole of the passage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read what is left out!"] It goes on to say that a conference should be called, and so on.

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I am going to refer to that. I am glad it is only that. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the House does not like long extracts from speeches and documents read out. I took what I believed to be a perfectly fair quotation of the relevant part of the subject, and I am relieved to know it is only the particular part to which the hon. Member refers that I left out.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

Excuse me for one moment, but this is very important. I think the hon. and gallant Member must know that the omission of this point has raised a question of acute controversy for six months in the Farmers' Union, who had done exactly what the hon. and gallant Member has done—picked out a certain portion of the Prime Minister's Election Address and put a wholly wrong construction upon it.

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I am glad that is the part to which the hon. Gentleman refers, because I am going to deal with that part, and, as a matter of fact, the hon. Member refers to attacks which have been made in certain parts of the country on the Prime Minister's personal honour—the suggestion that he deliberately deceived the country at the last Election. That is certainly no part of my case here to-day, or ever will be on any public platform. I believe absolutely in the honesty of the Prime Minister's intentions, and I am not for one moment going to suggest otherwise. But I do say, that when one disinters these promises which were made before the Election, they have a hollow ring in present conditions not because the Prime Minister's intentions were not absolutely honourable—I believe they were—but because the Government have wholly failed to fulfil them.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me, as I have now got it, to give the remainder of the quotation? He has disinterred a portion, and I would like to disinter the remainder. Under the heading "Agriculture," the Prime Minister said in his Election Address in October, 1924: I regard it as vital that the great basic industry of agriculture should be not merely preserved, but restored to a more prosperous condition as an essential balancing element in the economic and social life of the country. For a permanent solution of the agricultural problem, a common agreement between all parties is desirable; and the Unionist party, if returned to power, will summon a representative conference, in the hope of arriving at an agreed policy by which the arable acreage may be maintained and regular employment and adequate wages secured to the agricultural worker.

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I should like to say I am very much relieved to find that I did not leave out anything more important. I was afraid I might inadvertently have left out something which was, but did not strike me as being, important. In the quotation which the hon. Member has just read it was indicated that a conference would be called, yet, as a matter of fact, it is now admitted that no effort at all was made to call that conference. Certainly, in the rural constituencies the electors went to the poll on the understanding that that pledge would be honoured in the letter and spirit, but I understand that no invitation was received—I cannot speak for the Labour party—so far as the Liberal party is concerned to attend any such conference. In spite of that an attempt was made to call a conference of the representatives of the industry. I believe an effort was made in England and Wales, and it failed completely. Why it failed we shall probably hear from hon. Members opposite; at any rate, I do not intend to go into that.

A similar effort failed in Scotland because adequate representation was not given to the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, who refused to attend on that ground, and the Farm. Servants' Union supported them in their refusal unless the National Farmers' Union was given adequate representation. Still the Secretary of State for Scotland was successful in summoning a conference attended by farmers, smallholders, and farm servants, but it was not a representative conference, as the National Farmers' Union, which is a most representative body of farmers in Scotland, was not represented, or the Union of Farm Servants. As a matter of fact, the year 1925 was practically wasted, and conditions in the industry continued to be very parlous. In 1926 the now notorious White Paper saw the light. It contained a statement of policy which was greeted with incredulous derision by all who had studied the question of agriculture in this country. And this does not apply to opponents of the present Government, to Liberals and Socialists only; it applies also to the party opposite and to their Press, and, above all, to the Council of Agriculture. Let me take such a stalwart supporter of the present Government as the Sunday "Observer." They asked: Where is the incentive to increased production; to higher cultivation; to more efficient marketing; what benefit to the nation in increased food supplies? How is the landless labourer provided for? That is from one of the most famous supporters of the present Government in the Press. Take Sir Howard Frank. I do not know what his political opinions may be, but he belongs to a profession and occupies a position which should render him immune from any suspicion of radical tendencies. He wrote to the "Times" saying that this policy did not touch the, fringe of the question and suggested the appointment of a committee of practical men representing every shade of opinion to sit daily, if necessary, in order to report without a moment's delay. And this at the time when agriculture was said to be "weathering the storm." He said: Surely it is time that Parliament addressed itself seriously to the solution of these problems, which are of vital interest to the nation. Now I come to the Council of Agriculture, which is representative of the industry on the widest basis. Their meetings are held at the Ministry of Agriculture and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture presides over their deliberations. There he was able to stand up for his own policy. Yet the Council of Agriculture carried a resolution declaring that the White Paper contained nothing that would prevent the rapid conversion of arable land to grass and a consequent serious diminution of the labour employed on the land. What exactly did the White Paper contain? It is necessary to examine it because it is the only pronouncement we have had of the official policy of the Government towards agriculture, and in a recent speech the right hon. Gentleman himself said that it remains the only policy which the Government have for agriculture. The White Paper recommended 11 steps. Seven of them are to carry on and add to the administrative and executive measures they inherited from their predecessors, but the remaining four were promises of new departures in policy. There were to be credit schemes, land drainage schemes, the Merchandise Marks Act, and schemes for the improvement of rural cottages. The right hon. Gentleman was not Minister of Agriculture in those days, but nobody with any knowledge of agriculture will believe that this policy is sufficient to restore agriculture to the position of a balancing factor in the economic life of this country or secure to agriculture its just rewards.

The Government have shown little enthusiasm for their own policy. What did they say was in the forefront of their policy? They said most distinctly and explicitly that the provision of credits was in the forefront of their policy. That was two years ago, and still no legislation has been introduced, not even an approximate date has been assigned for legislation on this subject. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some information to the effect that we shall have this legislation at the beginning of next Session. Then there was the Merchandise Marks Act. It was passed; it was hailed with a great flourish of trumpets. What has been the result? Are the farmers grateful for that Act? On the contrary, every branch of the Farmers' Union is passing resolutions of protest against its futility. What is the attitude of our foreign competitors? Are they horrified and frightened and cringing at the threat to their competition? Not at all. They are marketing their stuff, and you can see great advertisements urging the people to buy Danish goods, to buy Danish butter. That sort of Act is not going to be of any real assistance to the farmers. Then there was the proposal for rural cottage schemes. The Government's policy for reconditioning and reconstructing rural cottages is being killed by the heavy burden it casts upon the ratepayers of the country.

There remains the most important point of all on which I desire to detain the House for a few moments, and that is the question of land drainage. The importance of this question has been pro- claimed by everybody. Every authority that has written on the question of agriculture has admitted that the situation is getting progressively worse. The Government appointed a Royal Commission—under the chairmanship of Lord Bledisloe, and they produced a, Report, a very striking document, which fully confirms the serious view of the situation held by the authorities to whom I have referred. It states that the flooded acreage in this country was 1,300,000 acres and the acreage which could be improved by additional drainage 500,000 acres. Lord Bledisloe expressed it in a very strong way when he said that this represented in food values a loss of £18,000,000 a year. That, he said, was what the country was losing by the flooding of these acres. This Committee arrived at some 28 conclusions, very interesting, very suggestive, and I dare say very useful conclusions, but they are all governed really by one; and that one conclusion I propose to read to the House. They say: We are, therefore, strongly of the opinion that until the State is prepared to accept due financial obligations with regard to such works as those above indicated very little progress can be made, even under the scehme we have adumbrated, towards the realisation of the ideal of an efficient system of arterial drainage. These conclusions can only be given strength and life by the action of the Government. I hope we shall learn to-day what attitude the Government propose to adopt. In the meantime, what are they doing? They have given £1,000,000 to be spread over five years; but that will not touch the fringe of the question. What have they spent this year? According to the latest figures, the right hon. Gentleman may have later information, they have only spent £136,000. The drainage of the Ouse alone was going to cost £2,500,000. What does the Government suppose they can do with £1,000,000 spread over five years, over the whole of the country? What has happened to the Ouse drainage scheme? Has it been withdrawn? Is it going to be carried out? [An HON. MEMBER: "It has oozed out!"] Is anything going to be substituted for it? And let me say that the need of Scotland in this respect is just as great as the need of England and Wales. The members of the conference which was convened in Scotland put drainage as the greatest need of Scottish agriculture. What steps have the Government taken to carry out the recommendation of that conference?

Let me tell the House what has been done for drainage in Scotland during the last six years. In 1922–23, £38,000 was spent, nearly £39,000. In 1923–24, £32,000; in 1924–25, £29,000; and then came the recommendation of the Scottish Agricultural Conference, that drainage was the most important thing for agriculture in Scotland. How did the Government respond to that recommendation? In 1925–26 they spent £9,109; in 1926–27, £13,551; and in 1927–28 it is proposed to spend £11,000. As a matter of fact, they have reduced by two-thirds the amount of money spent on drainage in Scotland. They have flouted the first recommendation of their own Committee and they are only making one-third of the effort made by their predecessors, the Coalition Government and the Labour Government. Then there is the question of the supply of lime; for drainage and lime go hand in hand. One is not of much use without the other. This was the second recommendation of the Scottish Agricultural Conference. They recommended that surveys should be made, that some effort should be made to exploit the natural resources of Scotland in lime. What action has the Government taken? None whatever! What are they waiting for. The same thing is true in England. In their Report they say: Soils are running dangerously short of the necessary lime. That is the report of the right hon. Gentleman's own Department; yet nothing is done. There never was a Government that was so prolific of Reports and White Papers, of tribunals and investigations. There was Mr. Thomson's Report on Agriculture, Mr. Wilkins's Report on Research, Reports upon marketing and credits, the Report of the Tribunal of Investigation—in fact, White Papers fall on us with the dreary and purposeless futility of the leaves of Vallambrosa. It is about time some action was taken by the Government. What of the seven lines of policy which they inherited from their predecessors? What are those lines of policy? I propose to say nothing to-day except on three of them, which will be held by common agreement to be the most important. Sugar beet for example. That is the one branch of policy which, I frankly concede, the right hon. Gentle- man has pursued with vigour. The subject was debated last week and I do not propose to go over the whole of that Debate again. There were, however, one or two salient figures to which I want to draw attention. It came out that we are spending £10,000,000 on this sugar-beet policy in four years. The Minister, however, said that he is not content with the spending of the £10,000,000, and that in 10 years the amount will be £24,000,000, as much, he boasted, as the Government had spent on the coal subsidy? What are we getting for it? After all, the greatest argument in favour of it was to increase population and employment on the land. A few more people have been employed, and two figures were given last week. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) had worked it out very carefully and he thought the total was 7,000. The Minister of Agriculture gave another figure. He did not give us the benefit of his method of calculation, but he worked it out at an average of 1,200 at each factory. It seems a funny sort of figure to have reached, but I dare say——

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

The figure of 1,200 was a figure relating to those estimated to be working on the land in production, apart from those in each factory.

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

Quite frankly, I am mainly interested in those employed on the land, and not so much in those who are employed in the factories. My argument now is devoted solely to those employed on the land. Take the figure of 1,200. It works out at something like 22,000 additional people who are employed on the land as a result of this subsidy. We are spending £10,000,000 in four years, and as a result we have actually increased the population working on the land by the astounding proportion of 2 per cent., if we accept the right hon. Gentleman's figures, or by less than 1 per cent. if we accept the figures of the right hon. Member for West Swansea. Let hon. Members picture to themselves the difference that could have been made to employment on the land if the £10,000,000 had been spent, say, as to £5,000,000 on land settlement, as to £2,000,000 on scientific research, and as to £3,000,000 on marketing. Such an expenditure would have changed the face of the countryside instead of increasing the number of employed by merely 22,000. Then there is research. Never was there a time when scientific research was of more importance for agriculture, or when farmers realised its importance more than they do now. When they are making excuses for their inactivity in other directions, Ministers actually expatiate on their keenness upon scientific research. When I sent for the figures the other day, so that I could ascertain what is spent and what effort the Government were making for scientific research, I was amazed to find that it is only about a 10 per cent. increase as measured by the additional resources which they have devoted to research.

Photo of Mr Francis Blundell Mr Francis Blundell , Ormskirk

Does the hon. Baronet estimate the value of research by the amount of money spent on it?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I certainly do not, but I think that the hon. Member will agree that as a rough indication of the sort of effort which is being made for research, the amount of money spent is a good test and about the only one that is open to us. Of course there are certain grants from the Empire Marketing Board. The largest is a grant to the Ministry itself for research into marketing. What is happening to that £40,000 a year? What are we getting for it? We are no further in co-operation or in improving the marketing in this country. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will tell us what we are getting for that £40,000 which goes to the Ministry of Agriculture to improve agricultural marketing. But there are other fields of research. In agricultural research we stand on the threshold of great discoveries. The right hon. Gentleman told us in one of his interesting speeches—it was a speech which in this respect was very unfairly criticised—how we are mobilising, in the campaign against destructive insects and pests, the useful and agriculturally harmless but voracious and combative insects which turn and rend the enemies of the farmer's crops. It is a very remarkable advance and a very hopeful advance by our scientists that is now being made.

Crop drying experiments have very nearly reached the practical stage. If the experiment had been carried out two or three years ago, it might have saved a great deal of damage and loss which has fallen on agriculture owing to the bad harvest this year. There are very important researches going on in the laboratories of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), and these may have a great effect on the stock carrying capacity of British pastures. One very important line which I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will take up is research to get an oat which will ripen ten days earlier than usual. That would be of infinite value to the Highlands of Scotland. On all these lines we are on the threshold of great discoveries. What are we to say of the vision and perspective of a Government which is willing to spend £24,000,000 in ten years on the sugar beet industry and is content with about £2,000,000 spent in the same period on the enormously important subject of scientific research?

Then there is the great problem of small holdings. That is, perhaps, the most important of all the lines of policy which the Government inherited and which they said they were going to pursue energetically. The Minister of Agriculture, however, has far too small a view of this question. He referred in one of his most recent speeches to the necessity of increasing the opportunities of advancement among the rural population by the provision of small holdings. Whether you view this question from the point of view of using the land for the greatest possible production of food, or from the point of view of keeping the greatest possible population in the countryside, the most hopeful line of advance is the development of small holdings. I have here an article written by Dr. Ruston, who is lecturer on agricultural economics at Leeds. He has drawn attention to Dr. Larsen's figures. I have only two sets of the figures here and I will quote them shortly. These are the average Danish results for 1917–23, showing the variation of gross output with size of farm: under 25 acres gross output £20 ls. an acre; from 25 to 50 acres £15 4s. an acre; from 50 to 75 acres gross output £15 3s. an acre; and so on steadily up the scale of acreage and down the scale of output till you come to over 250 acres, with £12 4s. gross output per acre. But take the other criterion, the criterion of the variation of the wages bill and the number of men employed. Under 25 acres you have, wages per acre £8 12s., and the number of men employed per 100 acres 11.3. From 25 to 50 acres the wages bill is £5 5s. per acre and the men employed 7.8. And so on until you get to over 100 acres, with the wages £4 2s. per acre and the men employed 5.4 per acre.

That shows that, whether you take the criterion of the amount of food produced or the population maintained on the soil, you get the greatest result by means of small holdings. Moreover, it is important to refer to the opinion of the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation. We know that the members of that body were divided in a great many of their views, but in what I am about to quote they spoke with an emphatic and united voice, and this is what they said: We have given close attention to the experience of this country in the provision of small holdings in the last fifteen years and the remarkable developments that have taken place and we wish to record our opinion that the movement is of the greatest value in maintaining an agricultural population, and that the time has come for renewed and vigorous effort to extend the establishment of small holdings on the land. That is the most clearly expressed and unanimous view of the tribunal of investigation. Yet the Government have failed to give effect to it. These results are confirmed by our experience in Scotland. I have here the Report of the Scottish Board of Agriculture for 1925. It gives the result of the carrying out of small holdings schemes on seven arable farms. The total population maintained before the scheme was 294, and after the scheme it was 682. The number of horses went up, dairy cattle went up largely, cattle other than dairy cattle went up, sheep and lambs went down, pigs went up, and poultry increased enormously. So in all these respects you see the immense development which comes as a result of land settlement. Then they took four pastoral farms. In this case the population went up from 97 to 545. The acreage under crops went up five times, hay went up, grazing went up. In every respect you see, as a result of these schemes, an increase in population and an increase in production.

Photo of Major Charles Price Major Charles Price , Pembrokeshire

Can the hon. Baronet give us the financial details?

5.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I have not got them. The Secretary of State for Scotland has himself said that he cannot give them at the present time. I have tried to get the financial details out of him and I have failed. He says he cannot get proper financial details, and he has appointed a committee to advise him on that very matter, and the committee is sitting now. There is, however, the fact that these two criteria remain. I can tell the hon. and gallant Member that the scheme certainly did not cost £10,000,000 in four years, and it will not cost £24,000,000 in 10 years. Whatever the cost is, it does result in enormously increasing the population on the land and the production of the soil. There is no lack of applicants. There are 10,000 unsatisfied applicants in Scotland. The latest figures for England are 16,000. Apart from that fact, there are lots of people who, if they knew a scheme was to be carried out in their vicinity, would come forward; there is a latent demand which is revealed only when a scheme is being carried out in a neighbourhood. What have the Government done to carry out this programme? They produced a Bill last year, and we were told it was to provide 2,000 holdings in a year. That hardly touches the fringe of what is necessary. There was a provision, which was believed by hon. Members opposite to be very popular, for cottage holdings. What has happened in the first year? The latest figures mention only 136 small holdings and only 16 cottage holdings.

Scotland has not been provided for at all; it has not had any legislation whatever on this subject. As a matter of fact all the Government have done is to cut down the provision made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who provided £3,500,000 for land settlement. In March, 1926, only £2,150,000 had been spent when the credit was cut off. The development of small holdings, which was one of the strong, unanimous recommendations of the tribunal of investigation, has in Scotland been slowly strangled. I can give the figures of the decline. In 1922, the last year for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was responsible, the total number of new holdings and enlargements was 737. In 1923 that figure had declined to 430; in 1924 to 395, in 1925 to 215, and in 1926 to 195, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture only estimates 138 this year. I therefore indict the small holdings policy of the Government, on the ground, first, that they are slowing down the development of small holdings instead of accelerating it; second, that they are failing to carry out the pledges given to the ex-service men that they should have land when they came back—because there are thousands of unsatisfied ex-service men still—and, third, that they are flouting the recommendations of their own tribunal.

There is another and a very important ground. The 1926 Act was too narrow. Every hon. Member knows that it is not enough merely to pass a Measure which gives you certain administrative powers, and a certain amount of public finance. You have to create the conditions in which these smallholders can be successful. Marketing and cooperation are vital. Transport is also vital, especially in the Western Highlands. Thanks to the tenacity and resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Livingstone) I believe the Lochboisdale Pier is in a very much better condition, and additional boats have been put on to the service, which should prove a real boon to the people of that district. But that is not enough. That only affects one district and the transport arrrangements in the Western Highlands are a tremendous handicap to smallholders in that area. Land settlement and transport react the one upon the other. If you settled that country properly and put settlements on these empty spaces you would then provide the traffic which would make it worth while for the transport companies to provide a better system. Another important point is that we have in Scotland for our smallholders, what you have not in England and Wales, namely, security of tenure, fair rents, and compensation for improvements.

These conditions are vital to the success of the smallholders. But the Government have no policy in regard to this matter. They have nothing to offer but minor palliatives. They ought to stop tinkering with agriculture and with small holdings and grapple with the problem, and attempt to deal with it on bold and comprehensive lines. Instead of doing so, the Government limps lamely along, the futile path traced out by the White Paper, and the condition of the industry grows worse. The worse it gets, the more optimism the Minister exudes, and the slower and the more hesitating the action of the Government becomes. In reply to a question put at the beginning of this Session by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) the Minister of Agriculture said the Government had four Bills in their programme, and the two most important were the Rabbits and Rooks Bill, and the Ouse Drainage Bill. My right hon. Friend was taken severely to task for venturing to disparage the importance of the Rabbits and Rooks Bill, but that Measure, unfortunately, I am afraid, has not left the seclusion of another place. As for the Ouse Drainage Bill, we had it on the Floor of this House, and it went upstairs. Somehow, it has been lost in the labyrinth on the next storey and the Government have not even troubled to despatch a search party to look for it. The fact is that they have no confidence in their own policy and no pride in their own offspring. I have dealt with the shortcomings and inadequacies of the Government's policy—with their sins of omission.

I do not propose to detain the House at great length on their sins of commission, but let me refer to some of them. There is the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925. Then we have the Tithes Act of 1925 and the Widows' and Orphans' Contributory Pensions Act of 1925. I am a supporter of that Act, however. It was a good Act on the whole, and I am not trying to criticise the Government about things in which I have supported them. But let us realise at once, that that Act, undoubtedly, placed an additional burden upon the farmers. Then there was the precipitate and untimely return to the gold standard, a thing which undoubtedly hit agriculture particularly hard, because it is an industry with a very long turnover period—with a very long gap between purchase and the realisation of its produce. Then there are the McKenna Duties, and the Safeguarding of Industries provisions. They put up the prices of things which the farmer has to buy. [HON. MEMBERS: "What things?"] All sorts of things. Motor tractors, chemical manures, pottery —many things which the farmer buys. Hon. Members opposite do not know about these matters.

Then there was the Economy Act which raided the funds of the approved societies and made it more difficult for them to give additional benefits—and one important aditional benefit which they might have been able to provide was a reduction of contribution. The farm servant who gets £40 a year in cash, as he does in some of the worst paid districts, finds it a very considerable thing to have to pay 19s. 6d. every half-year towards health insurance. Then there was the raid on the Road Fund, which has taken £26,500,000 which was available for expenditure at any one time, and left £4,000,000 a year less available for expenditure on the roads. If, in addition to a lack of positive policy, we consider the additional burdens which this Government has piled on the backs of the farmers, it is no wonder that the farmers have reacted somewhat violently and have attacked the Prime Minister, as I think somewhat unfairly in certain respects. I think it is quite clear that the Prime Minister in his declarations before the Election did not intend to suggest that there was any possibility of safeguarding the agricultural industry. If you read those declarations fairly and objectively, I think it is quite clear that no such implication was intended. I think it is very important that all of us should be quite clear on that point. The Minister of Agriculture has been very outspoken in regard to it. He said quite plainly: How can we hope to stand on an election platform and appeal to the people on a policy of dearer food for the benefit of one section of the community? Again he said at the Council of Agriculture: Under present conditions proposals for the protection of agriculture were not practical politics, and the Government could not afford to bring forward a scheme which meant political suicide to their party. He added that he had consulted the Prime Minister in making that declaration. The Prime Minister and other members of the Government have spoken in the same sense, and I hope the farmers will therefore give up following this will o' the wisp. It is not the right line to attack the Prime Minister on this question because he is invulnerable in that respect. The farmers will make no progress on that line, and it deflects them from the true line of considering what constructive measures are practicable for the benefit of the industry. The fact remains that the Conservative party did hold out very strong inducements to agriculturists to vote for them at the last election. There was the party conference pledge, to which reference has already been made, and there was the Prime Minister's speech at Taunton, which I think is very relevant to this discussion. At Taunton, in 1924, the right hon. Gentleman said: We should be agreed that unless something can be done, farming throughout Great Britain will become less. That will bring in its train two consequences that are really a danger to the country. One is a still further reduction in the amount of wheat grown—imperilling our position in time of war—the other the human peril. … Nothing can prevent many of the skilled labourers drifting to the towns— the most fatal and the most tragic thing that can possibly happen—competing with the labour there and swelling the ranks of unskilled and casual labourer. He went on: That is the problem which lies ahead. The right hon. Gentleman did not say that it was the farmers who had to solve the problem. He said: It is the problem which lies ahead of statesmanship in this country. It is time the statesmanship of this Government tried to tackle it. No doubt the Prime Minister was honest in his intention. I do not doubt it for a moment. I know he was, but he has failed, so far, to carry out his intentions. No honest man can be accused of dishonesty because he holds out expectations which are not fulfilled, but when he finds they are not fulfilled, surely it is up to him to make every effort to fulfil them as speedily as he can. The Minister of Agriculture cannot turn round to the farmers and say that it is up to them. No, the Prime Minister has said that this is a task for statesmanship, and it is a task which this Government has so far neglected.

What can be done? The Government have alternated between saying that nothing can be done and saying that they are doing a great deal. That is not soothing to the irritated feelings of people in the country districts, nor is it encouraging to those who have been bending their minds to a constructive solution of this problem. One thing that is of no use is any proposal for the artificial protection of agriculture. Whether that is good or not, it is impracticable in a country where only 10 per cent. of the people are employed on the soil. What can be done is to encourage and foster its natural development, and it is important to realise that side by side with the obvious decay in agriculture there exists the seeds of development and regeneration.

The Minister with that amazing disregard of the views of his opponents which sometimes characterises his methods of controversy, says it is unreasonable to criticise the farmers for changing their policy. But we do not criticise them for changing their policy. That is the one thing we have been preaching. We want to see them change so as to adapt agriculture to modern and changing conditions. We want to see that change fostered and accelerated, so that agriculture will be in a better position under modern conditions. The Minister speaking at the Farmers' Club on the 6th December said: We have to adapt agriculture to new conditions. We must meet the situation with a new solution. That is precisely what we have been saying from these benches in Debate after Debate for the last three years. Is Saul also among the prophets? If he is, it is the wrong place for him. He ought rather to be taking his place among the men of action.

It is time the Government acted in this matter. But the process of adaptation needs capital and one of the great difficulties of the industry at the present time is that it is starved for capital. It needs capital for land drainage and land reclamation and adaptation and from where is the capital to come? At present, apparently, the only idea is that it should come from the State. In the old days it used to come from the landlord. It was the function of the landlords to provide the necessary capital in the industry and the landlords did it very well. There is no doubt about it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who killed them?"] Never mind who killed them. I am not afraid to face that controversy, but obviously if I were to deal with that question it would take me much longer than the House would be prepared to listen to me. Besides, it is not an important point, but an academic point. What we have to do is to face conditions in agriculture as they are now. Landlords have not a double dose of original sin, as some hon. Members above the Gangway on this side seem to think. They have very much the sort of virtues and vices that tenants and farm servants and everybody else have, and on the whole they have done well in supplying the capital for agriculture at a very low rate of interest. That system is now breaking down. It is not only my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs who says it, it is not I who say it, but it is great authorities whom hon. Members opposite must surely recognise who say it. Lord Irwin, who was then Mr. Wood, Minister of Agriculture, speaking at Banbury, said: As a matter of fact, a great many of the difficulties, or a considerable part of them, were due to the fact that the landowning system was breaking down. He said the same thing at Borough-bridge in even stronger language, but I have quoted that in the House before, and I will not, use it now. An hon. Member below the Gangway also recently quoted it in this House. Lord Bledisloe, in his Presidential address to the agricultural section of the British Association in 1922, said: Landowners have ceased to lead. … Land to-day in the hands of British landowners is more than ever an amenity. Sir Daniel Hall, Parliamentary Secretary to Lord Bledisloe, commented on the English landlord, who so dreads the suggestion of dual ownership and the possible imposition upon the estate of a tenant whom he does not 'like,' that he has been content to forego the chance of development and of a considerable increase of rent in order to remain master on his own land. Lord Ernle commented as follows: They (the landlords) have not the money with which to make the necessary changes. To say this, however, is only to say that the modern system of farming has broken down in one of its most essential features. Messrs. Orwin and Peel, two very distinguished Conservative economists, say: Why should the State stand on one side and content itself with the contemplation of the steady deterioration of its greatest wealth-producing asset? Is not the more statesmanlike course to act at once, and instead of saying, 'We cannot watch this process going on,' to say, 'We will not allow it even to begin.' Then there is Lord Middleton, a very good Conservative, a true blue Conservative, who says: He did not know how much longer they could carry on, for the land was bringing in next to nothing. The Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation laid stress on precisely the same point. What do they find other countries have done? How have they got out of the difficulty? They show that other countries, even before the War, were "improving the general system of community organisation in support of agriculture," and that is a policy which our Government should try and pursue to-day. Here we have the deterioration of the land and its equipment, and the only policy suggested to us is State credits. We have the necessity for adapting agriculture to the changed conditions, and how are we going to get the money? State credits. We have drainage and land reclamation needed, and millions of pounds required to be spent, and where is the money coming from? State credits. Where are we going to get the money for housing? Again, State credits. Is it wise to try and bolster up a system, which, according to all these great Conservative authorities, is breaking down, with these State credits? Is that the way to organise a national effort? Can you expect tenants to throw themselves into this new development, this new adaptation, along progressive lines without security?

This question of tenure is fundamental. Unless the Government provide a firm foundation of security, they cannot rear an enduring superstructure of reform. For my part, I believe neither in short cuts nor in minor palliatives. I believe that a bold, comprehensive policy can be devised giving security of tenure, compensation for improvements, fair rents, a reform of the marketing arrangements on the lines of a valuable book which I recommend hon. Members to read, called "The Farmer and his Market," a resolute prosecution of scientific research, and, above all, a bold policy of land settlement. After all, we representatives of agricultural constituencies, whatever part of the House we sit in, are all in this mess together, and we have to try and find some way out. We have to try and get the Government, which are going to remain in office, I cheerfully admit, at any rate for another two years, or, say, 18 months, and, therefore, what we have to do is to try and shake them out of their complacency, to get, them to move and to give a lead to the country. Their existence is not at stake to-night. They have a mechanical majority of Members from urban constituencies who will flock into the Lobbies and save them, but if we representatives of agricultural constituencies will only tell the Government clearly and unmistakably, with no uncertain voice, that they have failed so far in their treatment of this problem, and call upon them to produce a helpful and workable policy, we shall have struck a blow in the interests of agriculture and for the regeneration of the countryside

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

I beg to second the Motion.

I have listened with a great deal of interest to some of the remarks that have fallen from hon. Members opposite while ray hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) was making his speech. It seems to be a general failing of the Government that they always seek to find a policy from somebody else, especially if it happens, as in the present case, that they have not got one of their own. It is not our duty to suggest a policy to the Government. The policy of the Liberal party is perfectly well known throughout the country, and the Government will find to their cost, sooner or later, that, that policy is being understood and appreciated by the country generally. It is idle for us to pretend for a minute that agriculture in this country is not in a serious state of depression, that that depression is not increasing constantly, and that that depression to-day is not very much worse than it was when the present Government came into office three years ago. Those are facts which every party in the House must face, and the people who should really face the question are the Government, but almost invariably they turn round and say, "What is your policy?"

When seeking the support of the country at the time of the General Election, the members of the present Government, from the Prime Minister downwards, without exception, expressed their deep interest in agriculture and deplored the depression in which it happened to be at the time. They recognised freely in their manifestoes, as my hon. and gallant, Friend read out, that agriculture plays a vital part as an essential element in the economic and social life of the country, and they were able to persuade the agriculturists of this country that they, and they alone, had the remedy for restoring agriculture to prosperity. Never have promises solemnly made been so flagrantly and wantonly broken. On the one hand, we get the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture plaintively complaining that nothing can be done, while others, on the other hand, claim loudly that much has been done, and that the Treasury has been extremely generous to agriculture. The truth of course is that much could have been done, but that very little has been done, and much of that which has been done would have been better left undone. The sins of omission on the part of the Government are as serious as the sins of commission.

Among the things that would have been better left undone is the return to the gold standard at a time when agriculture would be very hard hit. Farmers and economists and all who have given any careful study to this matter agree that the chief cause of the depression in agriculture is the generally low level of prices in comparison with the costs of production. That is really the essential cause of the depression in the industry to-day. Ever since the break in the boom conditions of the War period and the period immediately after the War, prices have fallen very much more rapidly than costs. Before the agricultural industry and other industries could adjust themselves to the new conditions a return was made to the gold standard. From the year 1921 to the year 1925 the pound sterling was rising gradually to its value in terms of gold, but the present Government were not satisfied with that gradual appreciation, and they introduced the gold standard artificially in order that trouble arising as between this country and the United States of America might be put right.

How did that affect the agricultural industry of this country? As all the Members of this House are aware, in the agricultural industry the turnover is a very slow one, and therefore the reintroduction of the gold standard hit it particularly hard, because while it raised the real value of money, it did, in fact, produce a general fall in the price level, and the farmer cannot sell his products under those conditions at a profit. For instance, during the long period of falling prices costs of production were being incurred by the farmer at a far higher level than those prevailing at the times when his produce came to be sold. That condition is still in existence. Further than that, the fall in the price level of the produce has taken place at a far steeper rate than the fall in the cost of the articles which the farmer requires for production.

I have had certain very interesting figures supplied to me by the National Farmers' Union of Carnarvonshire and Anglesey. Last month, a deputation from the Farmers' Union was received by the landowners of Carnarvonshire and Anglesey with a view to obtaining a reduction in rents. They produced certain figures in support of their case, and here are some of them. The comparative figures are taken for 1913 and 1927. The average prices ruling in 1913 are in each case based at 100. What are the figures for 1927? Sheep, 10 per cent. increase; cattle, 10 per cent. increase; pigs are practically the same as in 1913; horses, 25–30 per cent. decrease; corn, 20 per cent. increase; wool, 20 per cent. decrease; milk, 10 per cent. increase; butter, eggs and potatoes, practically parallel to 1913. Let us examine the cost of implements and other necessaries used by the farmer. Small implements as compared with 1913 show 100 per cent. increase; carts, 100 per cent. increase; mowing machines, 92 per cent. increase; ploughs, 125 per cent. increase; horse rakes, 160 per cent.; smithy, 300 per cent. increase; carpenters, 150 per cent. increase; artificial manures, 13 per cent. increase plus 6 per cent. railway rates; feeding stuffs, 25 per cent. increase plus 60 per cent, railway rates; wages, 110 per cent. increase; rates, 100 per cent. increase. Rents in the same period in a good many of the estates in Carnarvonshire and Anglesey had been increased from 15 to 30 per cent. I am not going to name the estates on which the increases had been made, but it will be observed from these figures that the percentage increase in cost still remains at an extraordinary high level without any immediate prospect of a reduction. On the other hand, the per- centage increase in prices of produce shows a very marked decline, with every prospect of a still further decline.

It is very often said that much of the depression in the agricultural industry is due to the inefficiency of the industry itself. In the case of the re-establishment of the gold standard we have an instance of a contributing cause entirely outside the control of the farmers. The lowering of the general price level which has resulted from it is entirely due to the monetary policy of the Government, a policy which, according to Lord Bledisloe, who is himself a Member of the Government, is the chief reason for agricultural depression. He points out that during the last three years, since the re-introduction of the gold standard, there has been a fall of no less than 22 per cent. in the average value of all agricultural produce. In other directions, also, the policy pursued by the Government has adversely affected agriculture. In this connection, it is not necessary for me to remind the House of the unwarrantable raid of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Road Fund.

I have on a previous occasion given figures illustrating how this is affecting rural district councils in my county, and figures given in a paper I have here corroborate that. Rates have gone up since 1913 by 100 per cent. That element enters very largely into the costs of production of the farmer, and that is entirely due to the policy pursued by the Government, rendering their margin of profit extremely small, and in many cases, impossible to attain. Further than that, the pursual of a safeguarding policy by the Government has also not directly, but, at any rate, indirectly, placed the farming industry at a disadvantage. The effect of the McKenna Duties and the takes imposed in the Budget has been to increase the general cost of living, and the farmer feels the weight of this in conjunction with the rest of the community. His commercial tractors, his commercial motors, and his various farm implements are dearer than they otherwise would be, but the Safeguarding Act explicitly excludes farm produce from its scope, and accordingly agriculture is faced with the fact that, while it suffers from the high prices of other commodities resulting from safeguarding, it can never hope itself for the smallest benefit under this Act.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman say that farm implements are safeguarded? He has quoted them to the House as having gone up in price owing to safeguarding.

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. If he had listened a little more carefully, he would have heard that in the list I gave I quoted the present prices of farm implements as compared with what they were in 1913. In referring to the safeguarding of industries, I mentioned that for certain articles which the farmer needs he has to pay more in conjunction with the rest of the community. I think that is quite clearly what I conveyed to the House.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

Which are these articles?

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

All those articles which have been included under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. Take tractors, take motor cars, motor covers and motor tyres.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

They have not gone up. Safeguarded articles are cheaper, and those which are not safeguarded have increased in price.

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

Let me give the example my hon. Friend gave. Many chemicals have been brought under the Safeguarding Act, and hon. Members will admit that manures to-day are more expensive than they were a few years ago. If safeguarding were a justifiable economic procedure, no industry would have a more just claim to benefit from it than agriculture, but agriculture is the one industry to which its warmest supporters will never apply it, and they know perfectly well that they dare not do so because the country would reject it at once.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Wells

Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that there is a duty on hops?

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

But is there a duty on wheat or on barley? Is there a duty on most of the other things that are produced by farmers?

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

The right hon. Gentleman refers to one article alone, the amount of which brought into the country is very small. By the way, the duty was not imposed by the Safeguarding of Industries Act; it is an old tax that has been in existence for years, and is a remnant of other taxes that have been eliminated.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Wells

It was put on two years ago by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

The reason for that was that it was put on to put hops out of control. The Prime Minister, in a speech at Lincoln, on 22nd July last, seemed to have been endeavouring to shelve the responsibility of the Government for the depression in agriculture by attributing it to a wide-world depression due to economic conditions. This is what he said: The experience of these foreign countries and of our Dominions is confirmed by the findings of a conference recently sitting in Geneva, a conference of agriculturists from all over the world. They reached the conclusion that the depression prevailing to-day in so many countries arises from the dis-equilibrium between the prices of agricultural products and of manufactured products. If the House will permit me, I would like to read what the report of the Economic Conference has to say on the matter. The report was issued in May last. The economic depression in agriculture is characterised by the dis-equilibrium which has arisen between the prices of agricultural products and those of manufactured products. As a result, agriculturists in a great number of countries no longer receive a sufficient return for their labour and on their capital. This depression is aggravated in many countries by the difficulty of obtaining credit on normal terms and by the great increase in fiscal charges. … The diminution in the purchasing power of the agricultural population has reacted upon industrial production, and is consequently one of the causes of unemployment, which in its turn reduces outlets for agricultural products. Unless practical measures are taken to restore the price equilibrium, it is to be feared that sooner or later there will be a diminution in agricultural production detrimental to the welfare of mankind. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, speaking in another place in the Debate on 3rd November last, emphatically denied that the findings of the Geneva Conference applied to British agriculture; and it is very interesting to refer to what he said. What I really want to point out to the Noble Lord and to the House is that, although this may be true, and undoubtedly is true of several countries, it is not true of Great Britain. At any rate, this so-called dis-equilibrium between agricultural and industrial prices has not been true of Great Britain until the last six months, and that document was issued at the end of May last. This dis-equilibrium is not the cause of the depression from which British agriculture has been suffering. Then he refers to a diagram which he has in his Department proving that this is not the case. If we are to take the facts and the figures as illustrated by that diagram, to which Lord Bledisloe refers, it is perfectly obvious that until recently the economic world causes which affected agriculture did not apply to this country, and that we must therefore look for another cause. The cause is not far to seek. It is undoubtedly largely due to the disparity between the prices the producer receives and the prices which the consumer has to pay for the produce. The problem, in fact, is a problem of prices, but the Government has done nothing to fill in the unjustifiable gap which exists between what the producer receives and what the consumer has to pay. That is one of the charges which we bring against the Government. As my hon. Friend said in his speech, admirable reports have been produced, one being on the marketing system, but that report has never been put into operation, and we call upon the Government to put these and other proposals as enunciated in these reports into operation, in order that the problem of prices may be solved, as it should be solved and can be solved.

There is one other point. Some time ago the Unionist party headquarters issued a leaflet or a broad sheet entitled "The Rural World and Countryside News." On page 1 appeared the statement that the Government have provided £30,000 a day for agriculture, or £10,992,000 a year. It is good enough to give details, and it is interesting to examine them, in order to realise the generosity of the Government. First £4,500,000 is said to have been allocated to the beet sugar industry. That, of course, is perfectly correct, but the paper takes very good care not to say what proportion of that amount goes into the pockets of the farmers, and anyone who knows anything of the beet sugar industry knows that the farmer does not get more than half of it, even if he gets that. An item of £3,600,000 is said to be paid to farmers in respect of agricultural rates. This is merely another example of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer would call a "terminological inexactitude." It is known to everybody that no farmer receives a penny of this money. It is paid to the local authorities to make up to them what they lose in consequence of a readjustment by a previous Government—not by the present Government. It is not the present Government, in any case, which is giving the money.

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

It is the result of an adjustment by a previous Government to make it more in accordance with the farmers' needs. The most astonishing item of all, however, is the last one: "General Expenses £700,000." If hon. Members would like to read the pamphlet they should, I think, read that item in conjunction with the article on page 3 of it entitled, "Liberal and Socialist Land Plans. Hordes of officials for the farmers to pay." Apparently, when money is provided by the Unionist Government to pay officials, the money, by some sleight-of-hand, goes into the pockets of the farmers and not into the pockets of officials. This is one of the cleverest juggling tricks ever performed by this or any Government. Unfortunately, however, when the farmer dips into his pocket for the money which is supposed to be there, he finds that his pocket is empty. The correction of these items alone will wipe out the greater part of the £10,992,000 given by the Government in their generosity to agriculture.

Of course, this financial statement in this pamphlet completely forgets the fact that in the meantime additional burdens have been placed upon the shoulders of the farmer. There is the Rating and Land Valuation Act, 1925, the Tithe Act, 1925, the Widows' and Orphans' Pension Act, 1925; and, further, this statement forgets what the farmer has to pay in the way of forced contributions to emigration for the development of agriculture abroad. The pamphlet forgets, also, the restrictions imposed by the Milk and Dairies Order, and it forgets the embargo on further long-term credits under the Agricultural Credits Act. I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but if we were to follow the whole sphere of the Department's activities we should find that wherever we touched it it failed to carry out any proposal which is of advantage and benefit to agriculture in general.

Photo of Mr Thomas Davies Mr Thomas Davies , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: while fully sympathising with the difficulties of agriculturists, recognises that the present depression is neither peculiar to this country nor removable by any direct Government action based on sound economic principles, deprecates revolutionary reform of our system of land tenure and unnecessary interference with cultivation, and urges the Government to continue in its policy of applying such measures as are likely to promote stability and continuity and to assist the industry to adapt itself to meet modern needs and conditions. Looking at the clock, I noticed that the first speaker took one hour and 17 minutes to say nothing—nothing practical, nothing whatever to give any help to any agriculturist. I am reminded of the Greek orator Demosthenes who, having listened to a man speaking for something like an hour and a quarter, said, "He talks, but he has not said anything." I was also reminded of an anecdote which I heard at the last meeting of the Farmers' Union which I attended, about a fortnight ago. A young courting couple were under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, at the entrance to New York harbour. The young man said. "Considering what a tremendous height it is, that is a very small light to you and to me." The young lady said, "Yes, it seems to me that the lesser the light the greater the liberty." In the case of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, it seems to me that the more he talked the less light he shone upon the topic which he got up to explain.

Let me take the next speaker first. I very much doubt whether he understood what he was saying about rates. Let me try to explain them. I would like to call the attention of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to the same matter, because I have not forgotten his Caxton Hall speech. I had hoped he would lead the Debate, in order that he might refer to the Caxton Hall speech, but as he has not opened the Debate I am not going to refer to that speech. Let me take the question of the rates. The Liberal Government of 1892 to 1895, finding a Great deal of agricultural depression, did exactly what one of those two gentlemen asked us to do just now, that is, they set up a Commission to inquire into the whys and wherefores of the subject. The Commission reported to the effect that the agricultural rates ought not to be borne by the land in the way in which they had been. Having got that report, what did the Liberal Government do? They put it in one of their pigeonholes and did absolutely nothing; and it was left to a Conservative Government in 1896 to put that important recommendation into force. The recommendation was not that they should pay half the rates, as some people seem to think and say; but they said that for a period of five years land should be assessed at half its value—a very different thing from paying half the rates—and a fixed sum should be given to make good the amount which would have been raised from this land if it had been assessed at its full value. The rates upon land at that time totalled £2,642,000. Half of that would be £1,321,000.

When people are talking outside the House they say that the Government pay three-quarters of the rates of the farmer. That is absolutely untrue from top to bottom, and I am going to prove it. It is quite true that in 1896 the Government did pay half the rates, that is £1,321,000. Since 1896 the rates upon agricultural land—I am not talking about the whole country but of the rates upon agricultural land—have increased from rather more than £2,500,000 to rather more than £12,500,000, but the original grant of £1,321,000 still stands and that does not pay half the rates as people seem to think.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

May I ask what proportion agricultural land now pays of that £12,500,000?

Photo of Mr Thomas Davies Mr Thomas Davies , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Certainly, if the hon. Member will have patience I will tell him exactly what is being paid, but let us first of all understand clearly that the Government are not paying half the rates but one-eighth of the rates. The hon. Member opposite asked me a question about the rates now. Here again it is not a Liberal Government or a Labour Government which acted. In 1923 a question cropped up as to the rates and what did this Conservative Government, which is supposed to have let the agricultural community down do on that occasion? They said "We have learned from experiment that it will not do to give a fixed grant in relief of rates." Therefore we are going to have a new system and they reduced the rates nominally from a half to a quarter. Here is the ridiculous thing about it. Whereas payment of half the rates was supposed to be represented by a grant of £1,321,000, a quarter of the rates actually represented then a grant of £3,161,000. When the hon. Member wants to know how much is paid, he should add those two sums together and he will find out that it is somewhere about £4,750,000 out of a total rate of £12,000,000.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

I understand that quite clearly, but what I asked was as to What the occupiers of agricultural land paid of that £12,000,000?

Photo of Mr Thomas Davies Mr Thomas Davies , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I have just pointed out that they have paid roughly £4,750,000 out of that sum on land alone. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, that is what the Government pays!"] The Government pays £4,450,000 leaving the deficiency to he made up by the farmers and the other ratepayers of the district. As far as rates are concerned any help has not come from the Liberal party. I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvonshire (Major Owen) will tell his people the facts as they are and not as he fancies they are.

Photo of Major Goronwy Owen Major Goronwy Owen , Caernarvonshire

If the hon. Member had listened to what I was saying he would have noticed that I was merely quoting figures given in a Report published by his party in which they stated that they were giving agriculture £3,600,000 in the shape of rates returned to them. That is the whole question.

Photo of Mr Thomas Davies Mr Thomas Davies , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I have already dealt with the question of rates. I come now to the question of roads. Reference has been made to the raids on the Road Fund. You are entitled to do that but do come into court with clean hands. What did your party do with the Road Fund?

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

This Debate is becoming a little personal.

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Davies Mr Thomas Davies , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I apologise, Sir; instead of speaking across the Floor of the House I will direct my remarks to you. The hon. Member's party say they created the Fund. Quite true, but what help did they give the rural districts from this Fund? Was a single penny piece ever paid to the rural districts for improvements to their roads or for the maintenance of their roads until the present Government came into existence? Not one penny piece. They put a burden on the motoring community but they did not give the proceeds to the places which were entitled to it. Therefore as far as the Road Board Fund is concerned, remember that the Government gave £1,300,000—and they were the first Government to do it—for the improvement of rural district roads, and that grant is still being continued. Not satisfied with that they have already got a grant of over £1,000,000 for the purpose of improving the roads in rural districts. What is the consequence? We have now in our rural districts for the first time 47,000 miles of rural district roads which get 25 per cent. of their cost of upkeep out of the Road Board Fund. This is the first time it has been done. It has been done by a Conservative Government and by no other Government. We are not content with that and we have done more. This very year we have increased the grants to our second-class roads from 25 per cent. to 33 per cent. In my own Division, which is a pure agricultural area in the county of Gloucester, the figures last year show for the first time that there has been given to the rural roads of the county of Gloucester £45,000 and the grant for the second-class roads amounts to £32,000. That is a very considerable relief thanks to the Conservative party, and no thanks to those who in the past talked so much about these things but never did any of them.

Let me point out some of the burdens which are now borne by agriculture. In addition to the roads since the Act of 1891 there has been thrown upon agriculture, in conjunction with other industries, the increased burden of the National Health Insurance Act which costs 4½d. per week for every insured man employed in agriculture. On the top of this came the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act, which placed another 4½d. per head on every insured person, which means 9d. for every man employed in agriculture. In addition to all these things you had the Agricultural Wages Act. I am not complaining of these Acts, but I am simply pointing out how they have added a burden to agriculture. Take the Agricultural Wages Act. It did two things. In the first place it shortened the hours of labour, and in the second place it gave the agricultural labourer at least a wage which in England and Wales does not fall below 30s. a week. I am, certain that there is no farmer in the Kingdom who wants to pay his men a less wage than 30s., but the farmers' complaint is that a statutory obligation has been imposed upon him to pay a certain wage, but there is no safeguard that the profits of the industry will enable him to pay that wage. That is the point in dispute.

Then we have the Summer Time Act, a most excellent piece of legislation, but you cannot shut your eyes to the fact that it hits the farmer in several ways. During the summer we have very heavy dews upon the cut grass, hay and the corn. The men have to start work at the time provided for under the Act of Parliament, with the result that they have to stand for one or two hours doing nothing in the early morning while the sun takes the dew off the grass or the corn. The result is that for those two or three hours they are doing practically nothing. If it is likely to be fine in the evening then the farmer says, "Let us put in two or three hours overtime." Therefore the farmer has to pay his men for the time they are standing idle in the early morning, and after 5 o'clock he has to pay them overtime rates. Of course there is no blame attached to the labourer. Therefore I say that while the Summer Time Act may benefit the community it must not be forgotten that it hits the farmer rather hardly. There were other Acts brought up in 1902 and 1911 and 1922 and they were postponed for two years and have been still further postponed since that period. These are Acts relating to the public health. In the interests of public health it is just as well that we should be satisfied that no germs or disease is conveyed to the public through the milk supply. While I think that the Milk and Dairies Act is one which ought to be carried out, I want to point out that it does impose an additional burden upon agriculture.

There is one thing which is seldom mentioned, and that is the great increase in the cost of providing insurance against accidents. That cost used to be about 4s. or 5s. for every £100, but it has now gone up to 10s. or 12s., and this burden has been increased by the greater risk involved through the use of motor cars and tractors. All these things, which are good in themselves, have imposed a burden upon agriculture, and the cumulative effect of those Acts has been to put a very heavy burden on the back of the farmer which he never had to bear in the old days. Let me go another step. We often hear our friends talking about what ought to be done for the farmer, but not one of them ever puts forward any suggestion to help the farmer. During this Debate not a single suggestion has been made in this direction by hon. Members opposite. I thought the last hon. Member who spoke was making a good Conservative speech when he pointed out some of the burdens which were resting on agriculture, but he did not say how they were to be relieved. Take the case of the Agricultural Holdings Acts. The Coalition Government passed the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1920 which incorporated the Corn Production Act under which they guaranteed the farmers that if he paid a certain wage he should receive sufficient profits to pay that wage. That was a perfectly fair proposal but what happened? At the end of six months the Government knocked that proposal on the head and the whole thing came to grief, so that the only thing which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has done, with the exception of his Caxton Hall speech, has been to let those down who are engaged in agriculture.

While this particular Act was in operation and for some time before the farmers were forced to buy their farms because syndicates were threatening to buy up all the large estates up and down the country. The result was that the landlords told the farmers, "You must pay an increased rent or buy your farm or out you go." The result was that many farmers, not having any other farms to go to, bought their farms at an enhanced figure, and to-day they are faced with two bad things which are acting very detrimentally. To purchase his farm the farmer had to borrow money at a high rate of interest and that is one bad thing. The other bad thing was that the farmer had to spend money on the purchase of his farm which would have been much better employed in the cultivation of his land and the purchase of stock. That was one of the results of the unfortunate Agricultural Holdings Act of 1920, and I think it is the duty of the Government to see that something should be done to help those men out of the difficulty in which they find themselves at the present moment, through no fault of their own. When the farmers took up this position they were encouraged to do so by the hope that after the promises made by the Government times were going to be much better.

We hear a good deal about the Agricultural Credits Bill. On this point I do not wish to lecture the House. I have had a good deal to do with the lending of money for the purchase of land amounting to a few hundreds of thousands of pounds. In many instances we find that money has been borrowed either through a solicitor at a high rate of interest or through a bank. The banks are now getting a little concerned owing to newspaper stunts, and the threats of confiscation of land. Under these conditions the banks are getting rather scared as to the value of the security they have in regard to the land, and many of them are calling in their investments. The farmer who has borrowed through a solicitor, a friend, or through a bank or some big syndicate finds that his money is being called in at a time when he cannot afford to raise a mortgage. What will agricultural credits do under these circumstances? They will not make a bad farmer into a good farmer, and they will not save a bankrupt farmer.

These agricultural credits will make the farmer feel that as long as he pays his principal and interest every half-year the mortgage will not be called in. I hope the Government will bring forward the Agricultural Credits proposal because it is a reform which has been long delayed, and it ought to have followed the passing of the Agricultural Holdings Act. What are the remedies? Hon. Members opposite have referred with a great deal of zeal to the fact that the Committee which investigated the problems of agriculture recommended certain things. That is quite true, but my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, the Member for Carnarvon, has been picking and choosing among those recommendations. He has told us that agriculture should be placed on a footing which would enable it to pay a fair rate of wages, but he omitted to state that one recommendation was that the only way of doing this was to adopt Protection, and my hon. Friend did not read out that recommendation.

Is there really a feeling in this House that agriculture is in a very bad way? Many hon. Members of this House speak to me privately on this question of agriculture and they say, "I do not think after all that the farmers have done so very badly. Remember the money they made during the War." It is a fact that many farmers cleared out altogether during the War, and the first year or two after the War very high prices ruled, and those who took their places on those farms had to pay an enhanced value. We have quite independent testimony on the question of the losses in regard to farming. It is well known that co-operative societies have had a good many farms for a number of years. As a matter of fact in 1917 the acreage rented and owned by co-operative societies was 25,000. In 1923 that acreage had increased to 75,000, and in 1926 it decreased to 67,000 acres. For the first three years, 1917, 1918 and 1919 they made a profit upon the whole lot of no less than £61,000. Since 1919, however, they have made a loss as they have shown in their books, of £1,304,000.

There you have independent testimony to the fact that agriculture is in a very bad way. There is no getting away from these figures. They are printed, and there would be no object in trying to cook them. They are not cooked, but they are, I believe, an exact representation of the actual facts. The same people give 13 reasons why these losses have been made. I am not going to read the whole 13, but should like to refer to some of them. They begin by saying that one of the reasons has been the generally unsatisfactory position of farming during recent years, and that, of course, in itself shows that agriculture is in rather a bad way. The next reason that they give is the purchase of farms when prices were at or near their highest point. That is exactly what I was speaking about just now; the farmers did this in the hope that the Act of 1920 was going to help them.

Then they refer to the difficulty of competing with farmers who, with their families, are willing to work long hours and at any time of the day or night that may be required in an emergency; and also to the difficulty of securing farm managers who are willing to work with the same zeal for a society as for themselves. I think I have heard statements from the Labour benches that men would be so altruistic that they would work much harder for the State than for anyone else, but, apparently, that does not happen in practice. Another of the reasons mentioned is one to which I should like to call the attention of my hon. Friends on the Liberal benches. I rather think that they believe in farming by big committees, but the co-operative people say that one of the causes of the depression is the undue participation by committees in the management of the farms, with the accompanying difficulty which committees experience in arriving at decisions. Both of these last reasons afford object-lessons for us. In the one case we have a contradiction of the Labour contention that men would work altruistically for the State; we are told that they will not; and the remark as to management by committees I would commend to my hon. Friends on the Liberal benches, who believe that by committees all the ills from which farming is suffering at the present moment may be cured. [Interruption.]

In the White Paper, certain remedies, or partial remedies, are suggested for some of these ills. I am not going to be content—I cannot be content, in the interests of my agricultural constituents—with simply what is in the White Paper, because the difficulties are so great that they cannot be cured by the means suggested in the White Paper. It is just as well that we should have the plain truth. I commend the Government for what they have done; I commend them for what they are doing, and for what they are proposing to do; but I say most emphatically that the carrying out of the whole of the suggestions in the White Paper will not save agriculture. Something more than that will be needed. As an increase in the prices of what the farmer produces is not allowed, it will be necessary in some way to get an equilibrium by lessening his expenses.

I know the state of agriculture from top to bottom, not only in my own county but in a good many other counties. I do not myself farm or own any land, but I am interested owing to the very large sums of money that we have advanced in order to enable people to buy their farms. It is not that we are afraid of losing our cash, because in every case we have been very conservative in our estimate of what the place is worth, and have not advanced more than one-third of the value, instead of two-thirds, as some others have. It is not possible to alter the wages in the wrong direction, and nobody wants to do that if it can be avoided; but in some way or other the costs must be lowered. What are the chief costs? They are rates, roads, and taxes. The rates we have already lowered, but I want them to be lowered still more. In my Election Address in 1924, I said that, if I had my way, I would clear all the rates off agricultural land, and I am not going to run away from my Election Address; I adhere to it, and I still hope that that will be done.

With regard to the next point, we have fought very hard in the Agricultural Committee to get money for our roads, and let me say that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has recognised our right to that, and the present Government have recognised our right to that when no other Government did. We want them, however, to go a little further in regard to the roads, and we ask that, where 25 per cent. is now being given for rural district roads, 33⅓ per cent. should be given; that, where 33⅓ per cent. is being given for second-class roads, 50 per cent. should be given; and where 50 per cent. is being given for main roads, we ask for 75 per cent. That will involve in a year's time no cost to the Exchequer, because the income of the Road Fund will be sufficient, even after these deductions and even after the raid of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to do these things. That will not be giving a subsidy, but it will be giving relief to the farmer in £ s. d. His rates will be paid for him instead of his having to pay them, and his roads will be largely maintained for him, instead of their being, as at the present moment, maintained largely at his expense. In moving this Amendment, I state frankly my belief that, in the present Government, we have a Government who wish above all things to do their best for agriculture, but they have been so hampered by want of money owing, I will not say to labour troubles, but owing to the troubles of the last two years, that it is not fair to blame them for not doing more than they have done. They have done what they could to the best of their ability, and I have every hope, faith and confidence that they will do it in the future.

Photo of Major Charles Price Major Charles Price , Pembrokeshire

I beg to second the Amendment.

We have heard a very lengthy argument from the Mover of the Vote of Censure on the Government—because that is what it amounts to—and an argument which was based largely upon the question of the Safeguarding of Industries from the Seconder of the Motion. I do not want to stand for long between them and the other Members for agricultural constituencies who desire to speak, but there are a few points in those two speeches with which I should like to deal. The Seconder of the Motion certainly hit the nail on the head when he said that it was a question of prices, but there was not one suggestion in the speech of either the Mover or the Seconder as to how the farmer was to obtain better prices for his goods, unless it was that co-operation was a panacea for low prices.

Photo of Major Charles Price Major Charles Price , Pembrokeshire

That, I think, was co-operative marketing. We are as keen on that as either the Liberal party or the Labour party. We have allocated a sum of £200,000 to the assistance of co-operative societies, but up to the present only £40,000 has been asked for. To impose upon farmers compulsory co-operation would naturally defeat its own object, and, when people talk glibly about co-operative marketing in this country, and at the same time give an example of co-operative marketing in other countries, they always forget the difficulty of co-operative marketing in the home market, where the farmer has a market of sorts at his door. Co-operative marketing in Canada or Denmark is marketing for export; if the farmer does not find a market overseas, he has no market for what he produces at home. I think, however, that the Government might go in for a little more energetic propaganda than heretofore with regard to co-operative marketing, because it is necessary to educate the farmer as to the advantage which he is going to obtain from joining and helping forward co-operative marketing societies. But it is very certain that, unless those who direct and manage these societies are fully equal in competence for that particular marketing business to the directors and managers of private enterprises, the cooperative marketing societies are bound to go down. This is the first and most necessary essential for a co-operative marketing society.

One of the arguments used by the Mover of the Motion was that farms were going out of cultivation, and he instanced many cases in Yorkshire, Devonshire and Hampshire where farms could not be let even though they were let rent-free. At the same time, however, he suggested that we were backward in launching huge, expensive schemes for the reclamation of more land. Surely, if the facts are as he stated, the first thing we have to do is to see that all land which is already properly equipped, as those farms were, is brought into cultivation. It is not want of land that we are suffering from, but want of paying prices for our farm produce. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment has already dealt with the question of rates, and I sincerely hope that the Government will take their courage in both hands and realise that the rates are one of the greatest overhead burdens that the farmer has to bear to-day. In addition to rates, there is, of course, the question of transport, to which some attention should be paid in order to see whether something cannot be done to reduce the very heavy railway charges that are at present made. These, undoubtedly, hit our farmers very badly. Alter all, we have only one market for agricultural produce. We cannot go overseas; our market is in this country, and our purchasers are our own people. If produce from overseas can be sent into great markets like London at something like a quarter of the rates that it cost to send it from the West of England, and certainly very much less than a quarter of what it costs to send it from Wales, it is a very heavy handicap, and I think that something might be done to reduce it.

It has been suggested, both by the Mover and by the Seconder of the Motion, that the farmer is handicapped by the Safeguarding of Industries and the McKenna Duties. I would remind them, however, that the people who buy what our farmers produce are the people of this country, and are mainly the workers of this country, and, unless we can get our workers fully employed at decent wages, the farmer is bound to suffer. He is suffering to-day from the effects of the depression in industry. With the McKenna Duties or the Safeguarding Duties in operation, and an extension of employment at better wages in the industries concerned, they are of assistance to the farmer to a far greater extent than will balance any little amount that he may have to pay for some specialised article which, it is suggested, he has to purchase. With regard to fertilisers, it was suggested that there were 150 or 550 different chemical items charged with duty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Five thousand!"] Whether it be 500 or 5,000, the fact remains that, according to the hon. Member's own figures, the prices of fertilisers have only gone up by 13 per cent. since 1913, and that was the only item on which, when they were closely questioned they could suggest that the farmer was really paying the duty. [Interruption.]

Both the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion were quite certain that the beet-sugar subsidy was wasted. How else do they suppose we are going to get arable land under cultivation? Would they be willing to give the same amount of subsidy to wheat? A subsidy was given to sugar beet in order that the industry might be built up and the subsidy gradually reduced until the industry was able to stand on its own feet. It is exactly on the same principle as safeguarding was to industry and the Films Bill was to British films, in order that the industry might be built up and have a permanent effect. To suggest that the capital expenditure should all be repaid in the first two years of the industry is ridiculous. The Seconder of the Resolution suggested that the money was going into someone else's pocket, but we must remember that, without the subsidy, there would not have been a single beet grown in the country. I do not say we have felt the real benefit of it yet. No one suggests that we have. I would ask the hon. Member to wait and see what the ultimate result is going to be before criticising us so severely.

The Proposer of the Resolution spoke for a very long time, and it was only in the last few minutes that he suggested any alternative, and the alternative was cultivating tenure, if it meant anything at all. I am certain he will agree with me that the only suggestion he had to make was the policy adumbrated in the Green Book. That is the policy of cultivating tenure—that after a certain date all the land in the Kingdom is to be taken over by a county agricultural authority [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] I presume the hon. Member is thinking of the amendment made by a certain Liberal Resolution, that all that we were going to take over was the land that was badly farmed and badly administered and land that came up for sale. [Interruption.] Then the hon. Member must be an authority on agriculture.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

Have you read the book?

Photo of Major Charles Price Major Charles Price , Pembrokeshire

I have read it, I dare say as many times as the hon. Member has read it.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

You cannot have digested it.

Photo of Major Charles Price Major Charles Price , Pembrokeshire

It will be as well for us to see what the book says itself. "All cultivable land should simultaneously pass into cultivated tenure." "A variety of tenures were suggested at the agricultural conference of the Liberal party." What those tenures are has not yet been made public. The Green Book says this: As from a date to he appointed, the State shall have the right to transfer any cultivable land to any person competent to use it to the advantage of the community. If that is not nationalisation of the land, I do not know what is. Having passed all this land into the control of the agricultural authorities, the next thing is to give it to someone who will use it. He comes before this agricultural authority and is approved by them as a tenant and is immediately put under the inspection of the local authority's officer, who will see that it is cultivated according to the most approved methods of husbandry as set forth by the agricultural authority. As to how it is suggested it is going to increase the price of what the farmer sells, which is the ill he is suffering from, the book is silent from beginning to end. The last words they use to sum up the whole thing, printed in big letters at the end of the book, are "The argument from Denmark is un- answerable." According to the book itself, the argument from Denmark is that 95 per cent, of the agriculturalists there are owners of their own farms. Our policy is not to set up tenants of small holdings but to follow Denmark and try to establish agriculturalists who own their own property.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the latest legislation in Denmark does not establish occupying owners, but leases the land?

Photo of Major Charles Price Major Charles Price , Pembrokeshire

You are really out of date, my friend. The latest from Denmark is that the proposal has gone overboard, because the Danish agriculturalists do not want it. What they want is small ownership, and that is what they are getting, even under the new proposals, which, after all, only touch about 1 per cent. of agricultural land, if that. The Dane is secure in his ownership, and our agricultural policy has been to give to the people of this country the right to ownership on the easiest possible terms. If they can buy their farms, we only ask for a deposit of 10 per cent. down. Surely that is better terms than they will ever get from any other party. The Labour party do not suggest that any man shall own anything—even a farm. The Liberal party suggest cultivating tenure under the officials who will be created by that body. To suggest that their scheme is not going to increase officialdom must be to belittle it, because the whole point is cultivating tenure under proper supervision to be exercised by the official agricultural authority. Imagine, if you can, the whole of the agricultural land of this country being officially inspected. You can only properly inspect agricultural land by investigating the soil of every field.

Another complaint is that we do not give enough to agricultural research work We have given more than any other Government has ever given and, as has been truly said, you cannot buy scientists in that way. Progress is being made in this country as great as in any country in the world. There should be a forward policy in agriculture. There should be a consensus of opinion in all parts of the House that research work should go forward and that assistance should be given for that object. Hon. Members are fond of saying they are not going to treat the agricultural question as a party question. What happened when we suggested that there should be a conference? The green book came out immediately. "There is our policy which we stand by." The Labour party proposals came out immediately. "There is our policy which we stand by." You must have a conference of those engaged in agriculture to try to find out what it is they want. To blame the Prime Minister for the absence of a conference is to try to shift the onus from themselves and put it on to other shoulders. The agricultural question is a very serious one and some day the country will wake up to the fact. The only practical way in which agriculture can be assisted is to prevent the unfair competition of the foreigner in our home market, which we have to pay for. After all, the farmers and our people pay for the upkeep of the market, and not the foreigner, and if he wants to come into our market, let him pay his due share of all the burden that our people have to shoulder. I believe it will come and will come sooner rather than later. I hope it will come in time to save agriculture from ruin.

Photo of Mr Noel Buxton Mr Noel Buxton , Norfolk Northern

I should like, first of all, to join in the expressions of deep regret which have been made in regard to the death of Sir Granville Wheler. We recognised in him an opponent who was worthy of great respect. We knew he was able, we found him fair, we found him, what was most important, sympathetic, and he is undoubtedly a great loss to the House. We support this Motion with strong convictions. It deplores the failure of the Government in regard to agriculture. It seems to me the hon. Member who moved the Amendment deplores the failure of the Government almost more strongly than the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion, but he will tamely support the Government when it comes to a Division. He seems to be willing to wound and not ready to strike. He represents, perhaps, the fixed kind of Toryism on which,, in the case of the farmers, the Government undoubtedly rely, as they have relied in the past, and possibly will some day rely too long.

The uppermost thought in all our minds at this moment ought it seems to me to be one of sympathy with those who are suffering very greatly in many parts of the agricultural field. Whether we agree with the "Daily Mail" view or the "Daily Express" view, no one denies that these are very sad times in certain parts of the country, both for the farmer and for the labourer. It appears to me that the really valuable thing is for us to search for some means to help these classes out of their distress. Let us frankly admit that no party can undertake that it will guarantee prices against a drop, though I agree with the charge that is made, that the Government by its undue haste in regard to the gold standard made things worse in regard to prices than they need have been. While I am on prices, I would ask the Minister to tell us why it is that while the Ministry continues to put out the most admirable and informing volumes on the marketing question and puts forward in several volumes very valuable suggestions, no notice appears to be taken of them.

The aim of us all is to find policies which will provide the best possible conditions in which crises like the present may be met. It seems to me profitable that we should apply this test to the policies that are before us to-day. What would be the state of things, how far would they be better for the farmer or for the labourer, if the system advocated either by the party opposite or the Liberal party or the Labour party were in force and had been in force for a sufficient time. Let me take the labourer first. Nothing has been said about the labourer yet but do not let us forget that, of the classes directly interested in agriculture, the labourers are the most numerous by far. The Conservative and the Liberal parties together did a great thing for the labourer by the corn production system, but they dropped it in a hurry. When we came into office in 1924 wages had fallen down the precipice. There were reported to the Ministry early in 1924 a great many cases where wages had dropped actually to £1 a week, wages, that is, for the whole week. We had only half a chance of carrying out the policy in which we believed, but we did something in regard to wages.

Is it not one of the few causes for thankfulness in the present situation that the labourer has the protection of the wage committee system in these days when the temptation would have been to beat down wages to the lowest possible point? If nothing had been done, if the Conservative Government had been in office right on and had been unable, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders), was unable in 1923, to set up any system for the regulation of wages, what situation should we be in now? I suppose it cannot be denied that there would be, all over the country, wages which had fallen in numerous cases to the deplorable level reached in 1924, and that there would have been a tendency in some counties to lower the very insufficient wages established by these committees in recent times. If it had not been for the existence of some system, undoubtedly, wages would have been lowered. Nothing in those low paid counties has kept the wage, even to the standard of 30 shillings which prevails in several counties, but the regulation system. I will mention the sugar beet subsidy as being another cause which has enabled wages to be maintained. I am quite certain that in East Anglia, if it had not been for the sugar subsidy, wages would have fallen.

I will be very definite as to what it is that we would propose to offer to meet the situation. In regard to the labourer, we should have provided the Central Wages Board, and something to relieve him of the terrible threat which hangs over vast numbers of labourers who live in tied houses. We should give him far greater security against capricious removal which too often harasses him. Then in regard to access to land, small holdings or allotments, we certainly should, by the nature of the authority which we would like to set up, give him sympathetic treatment which he too often fails to get now, owing to the nature of his local authority. Flight from the land has been too great. I maintain that it would not have been so great if our system had been in force. I had a letter from a Suffolk farmer only two days ago in which he said: The Wages Board has been a great blessing to the workers, and has saved a strike. Farmers who look at things in their proper light are willing to admit that that is the case, in many parts of the country.

To come to the interests of the farmer, which, up to now, have been almost exclusively discussed. We are criticising the Government for their lack of proposals in regard to the farmer. How would our system help to provide a living for the farmer and for the labourer who depends upon him? The Government's contribution has been—among their most important items—the Destructive Insects and Pests Bill, and we have had offered to us a credit proposal, merely adumbrated. But in the main the Minister frankly says that there is nothing important to be done. All I complain of, at the moment, about that is, why not have said so at the start? If would have been very much fairer if when the Government had come into office the arguments which appeared in the White Paper of 26th February had been made then. The farmers have had an added bitterness to their cup in the sense that they have been let down. The extraordinary thing, to my mind, is that all the time the Conservative party have shown in the past that they had a policy in which they believe. In 1920, they passed the Agriculture Act, which confirmed the methods in force during the War, which had done a great deal to improve production and consequently to maintain the numbers of men employed on the land. They passed the Agriculture Act, 1920, but in the following year they ran away from it. It may be said that the system depended on being combined with guaranteed prices, but guaranteed prices are quite irrelevant to the question as to whether the other parts of the Agriculture Act were a, valuable system. The guaranteed prices were merely a bribe to get the farmers to accept the other parts of the system.

I do not know that anything has occurred to alter the views of the Conservative party in regard to the value of such a supervision of cultivation as was represented by the Act of 1920. Consequently, the country, on their own showing, is losing what it might be gaining from that very system. We are accustomed to hear from the Conservative party that our policy might be compared to the burning down of a house in order to roast a pig, but the policy of the Conservative party is more like Nero fiddling while Rome is burning. Let us test the policy that we propose. Would the farmers, or would the labourers thank us if it was in force now? We must admit that when prices fall, the margin of cultivation recedes, but, roughly, the area of cultivation is not greatly different from what it was at the beginning of the War. If it were reduced to a smaller area, it would be all the more important that that area should be utilised to the full. The farmer in the main needs prices, but there are other things that he needs, whatever prices he gets. He needs, above all perhaps, equipment. He needs drainage, he needs good agency, he needs credit. It is on this question of equipment that, I think, the most interesting comparison is to be made between the policy of the Government and the policy that we on these benches believe in. With regard to equipment, you cannot reduce the thing to statistical evidence. You must rely on general knowledge and authority. Lord Irwin has been alluded to already by my hon. Friend who introduced the Motion. Lord Irwin went so far in deploring the decay of proper equipment, as to say that if things went on in that direction they would lead, in a short time, to nationalisation by a side wind. Another authority, whom my hon. Friend on the Liberal Benches will respect, Sir Francis Acland, says: It is fairly certain that farms to-day are generally not as well up to the standard of to-day's farming as were farms 30 or 60 years ago to the standard of those days. But both as regards drainage and as regards buildings and equipment the landlord is now a broken reed. That is not really denied on the benches opposite. We are all firmly agreed as to the deplorable position of farmers. I was speaking to a farmer only two days ago, and he told me that some of his farm buildings, that were of the Essex type of wooden buildings, were actually falling down. He had had no concession, no help whatever from his landlord. Not that his landlord could not afford to improve the buildings; he was simply not disposed to lay out any money on his landed property. Not that it would not have paid him to let out money, but he was not inclined to do so. You have in thousands of cases of that kind actual economic loss deliberately incurred. I know of a property where the owner—a very rich man owning a very large property—is inclined to favour larger farms rather than the little farms which prevail on part of his property. Therefore, in regard to those small farms, he says that he will lay out nothing, and he will grant no longer tenure than the ordinary annual tenancy. Farmers may take it or leave it. If they are rash enough to lay out money on the chance of being allowed to remain, the buildings stand. If they are not so rash as to do so, the buildings go. In that haphazard way the farms are gradually thrown into disuse.

It is not merely a matter of the decay of existing equipment. We live in times when equipment ought to be greater; not maintained, but ought to be improved. We have demands for a higher standard in connection with the Milk and Dairies Order. I heard of a Noble Lord the other day who boasted that he had received 17 notices in regard to his cowsheds, and he had ignored them all. Because of the inability of a great many owners to lay out money, you have an absolute failure to rise to the improved standards of these days. Cow-sheds are left unhygienic, dark and with sodden floors, and the Minister must be worried about them. How is he going to get the Milk and Dairies Order carried out? There are other spheres of farming in this country where we are far behind the equipment standard of the Continent. Take pig farming. Very interesting experiments are being made in pig farming, but we have no approach to the methods which in the North of Europe make pig farming successful. You have buildings there built for pigs equal in character to the best cow-sheds that we can see in this country. I have never seen a sty equal to the Danish type in this country except in research stations in one or two cases. How are you going to approach the foreign standard which makes several kinds of farming economic with the present system of provision of capital? Everyone knows that the care of stock is very largely a matter of equipment, but we are totally failing to meet the situation. There is one class of property on which equipment is not found deficient. There are big private estates on which equipment is good, but the only class of property on which it is always good, in my experience, are the properties on the Crown lands or on lands owned by some public bodies, such as some of the colleges and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Undoubtedly, the remedy for this disaster of decaying equipment is public ownership.

Photo of Mr Noel Buxton Mr Noel Buxton , Norfolk Northern

I think my hon. Friend's interjection is hardly to the point. The vital thing in regard to agriculture is, as the hon. Member will be the first to admit, that the buildings should not be let down.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

They have not the money with which to keep them up.

7.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Noel Buxton Mr Noel Buxton , Norfolk Northern

Our proposal that the land should be treated as the Crown lands are treated, is not a wild-cat proposal. It is a familiar plan and is in operation in many counties in England. We say that the land is skinned in far too large an area, There has been a Report on the subject of agriculture from a writer on the Conservative side, Sir William Beach Thomas, who says that: One man would rather make 5s. an acre profit off 10,000 acres than see 50 men, including himself, make £2 an acre on 200 acres each. If the nation thinks that it suffers the loss of £1 15s. per acre, that is the nation's lookout, not the farmers or the landowners. Unhappily, it is the labourer's lookout also, because he is turned off if we allow waste of the land and the reductions of staff which follow.

Will the Minister of Agriculture tell us whether he denies that there is waste and under-cultivation on a vast scale, and if he admits that, what does he propose to do about it? Surely he cannot defend a policy of leaving it alone. The hon. Member who moved the Motion, the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), made reference to drainage. He did not exaggerate the absolute loss of economic developments which we are incurring in regard to drainage. We have been accustomed in this House to talk about this subject from the point of view of the acres requiring to be drained. When I was at the Ministry of Agriculture the figure of one million acres was quoted as the amount of land requiring arterial drainage. Since the Royal Commission reported we learn that it is not. one million but over four million acres, 4,360,000 acres, or about one-seventh of the agricultural land in England and Wales which is in need of arterial drainage. Of these 1,500,000 acres are not under any drainage authority at the present time. The Ministry view now is that the arterial drainage of one and three quarter million acres is a matter of "immediate urgency," mostly outside any drainage area. That is quite apart from field drainage on which there is no definite available information. In regard to drainage however you are held up by the difficulty of assessment and the fact that private, properties have to be dealt with. The Ouse instance is only one which proves the extraordinary difficulty of dealing with this kind of equipment. You have the fundamental question before you whether you proceed on the principle of benefit or of taxation of the whole catchment area. A subsidy from the community is held out as absolutely necessary. You cannot then deny, as Mr. Orwin says in his book, that you are— conferring a present on private owners. What solution have you of this question except the general ownership of landed property. The case is overwhelming if only the Conservative mind was not fogged with prejudice and declined to consider even the possibility of dealing with the land on any other basis. If you really mean to put agriculture as a first class aim to be pursued; we fail to see how you can deal with it, taking this mere matter of equipment alone, without national ownership. Our Liberal friends have put forward proposals which deal with equipment, buildings, drainage and so on. I should like to see more clearly than I do how they would meet the case of a country which is left partly under public ownership and partly under private ownership? How would the drainage question be dealt with when on one side of the hedge you have land remaining on its present basis and on the other side of the hedge you have land belonging to the State, on a cultivating tenure, and near by you have land belonging to the county authority and let on a different system of tenure? It seems to me that the Liberal party proposals do not simplify the matter of allocating the cost of the general drainage system. They would be conferring benefits unjustly in all these cases whether the land is private or whether the rent is fixed. As I read their proposals they are proposing a fixed rent; therefore the public would object to their spending money for which no return to the public could he expected.

Take again the question of equipment. The farmer is to undertake the outlay on buildings. He is to be the virtual owner. If the occupying owner is not very successful, as he is not, in equipping his buildings, how does that proposal quite meet the need for large outlay on buildings? Very often, even where the outlay would be a good investment, the farmer has not the means to make it. He would be taking on the owner's liability, and I do not see that he is going to fulfil it. The Liberal proposals describe the lack of capital. On that point I support them, but do they show how to apply it? It seems to me that they leave it for the farmer and the owner to supply it to a degree which I think would render the system unsuccessful. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) would like something much more drastic. He would like to see the general acquisition of land, as we would. I was disappointed to see that his followers have compelled him to follow them. I trust that he will move nearer to us and get back to his first proposal and not fail to deal with the situation, but to tackle it thoroughly and not to perpetuate the ambiguities of the present state of things.

If we take the question of equipment alone and admit its urgency, nationalisation of the land, if hon. Members opposite would only look at it, is a desirable possibility. It is now supported by an authority who is in the eyes of hon. Members opposite one of the best authorities, Mr. Orwin, who, I believe, has been a good Conservative. He was the agent of a very large property, and he has come to the conclusion that: If the State were constituted universal landlord, it would be possible to define the conditions, subject to which the land is to be held, so as to maintain the maximum possible amount of cultivation. There we come to a subject which the Conservative party made part of its policy in 1920, namely, the prevention of under-cultivation. The matter is bound up with the question of agents. It will not be denied that Lord Ernle is an authority on this subject, and he says: Apathy is certainly visible in the management of many estates, A very interesting book appeared not long ago dealing with agriculture in Oxfordshire, by one of the Ministry's men at Oxford, Mr. Orr. He stated what is extremely to the point when you are looking at things from the point of view of the farmer, and considering how one system or another would make the farmer more prosperous and more comfortable. Mr. Orr said: The form of estate management which appeals strongly to tenants is that of the Colleges, Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Crown. These bodies have earned a reputation for reliable administration over a longer period than any private estate. Security is the condition which they seem to prize most and incorporations they obtain this in a satisfactory form. In districts where the estates of these bodies occupy the greater part of the area, the standard of farming is generally high. Could there be any stronger evidence that so long as we proceed without altering the system of private ownership we shall make no progress in cultivation. Under a system of State ownership our farmers would be in a far happier position than they are. The result of the chaotic condition in which agriculture is at the present time is that we have under-cultivation on an even larger scale than hitherto. Sir Daniel Hall estimated some years ago that there would be an increase of 20 per cent. in the value of agricultural produce in this country if only the indifferent farmers were levelled up to the average level, not that they were replaced by good farmers but that they became merely average farmers. In that event he estimated that there would be that enormous increase in production. He gave cases where different men had by their inclination turned to ranching in place of ordinary farming. He mentioned one case where one man controlled 8,600 acres, which was Worked as a vast sheep farm. The land was laid down to grass, the cottages, farmhouses and buildings had fallen into ruin, and two hamlets had been completely depopulated. These are cases of under-cultivation which under the system of the Conservative party's Agriculture Act would have been prevented. This means all the time a reduction in the number of farms and the driving of family after family into the towns, which are already full with unemployed.

In 1920, I am not sure whether the present Minister was then in office, the Minister of Agriculture came to the conclusion that something very forcible and drastic must be done to deal with the waste of land which was going on. It is almost incredible that the Act which was then passed by Conservatives and Liberals together not only demanded but by a system of orders enforced the carrying out of certain works, but it gave power to the Ministry to impose heavy fines and strictly to enforce certain measures. I have here the circular in which the Ministry informed the county authorities of the conditions they had to report. The Ministry was to take action to prevent foulness of the land, to deal with the repeated growth of white straw crops without proper measures to restore fertility; the excessive sales of hay, straw and root crops without suitable and adequate return of manurial values; land left uncultivated or uncropped for too long a period neglect of harrowing and rolling; general neglect in cultivation or the securing of crops; and, most extraordinary of all, it gave power to take over the management of whole properties and to insist upon totally different management—to take over from the landlords the management of the estates. Further powers were given to compel farmers to carry out effective manuring, and even such details as basic slag and lime were included. Farming was controlled, and we have too soon forgotten that only seven years ago that wartime system was made part, as was universally expected, of the permanent agricultural system of the country.

What does that prove? It proves that the Ministry of that day was convinced that there was such gross waste, that even in spite of the desire not to interfere with farmers in any way, the matter must be dealt with. That was not the fancy of urban Socialists, but was a system forced upon a Conservative Government by the conditions which reigned. Have those conditions altered and does the Minister think that the situation which compelled the Agriculture Act has remedied itself? On the contrary, it is probably much worse, and if that be the case, what is there to prevent his doing something of the kind now? Why does not he do so? Is it a fear that the farmers' votes will be lost? Perhaps that is a fear that is justified even without the Agriculture Act. On his own showing, the Minister is allowing this loss to take place on a great scale, alike to the farmer, the nation and the labourer, who, after all, is the most numerous and chief sufferer. Why must the Minister sit with folded hands when there is a remedy which, on the previous admission of his Government, is available? That seems to me to be conclusive in support of the Resolution and of the proposals which we on these benches are supporting. As things are, agriculture is being sacrificed and the national interest is being sacrificed to pure unreasoning Conservatism and vested interests.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir William Wayland Lieut-Colonel Sir William Wayland , Canterbury

I crave the indulgence which the House always gives to one who is making his maiden speech. I approach this subject from the point of view of the practical farmer, and as one who farms his own land, and I must say that, although I have listened for three hours to all these speeches, it appears to me that they have been skipping round the outside, and have left the centre untouched. The whole heart of the matter for the practical farmer is this: What are the causes of agriculture being in such a critical position, and what are the remedies? It is summed up in those two things. It is not a question of nationalisation. That is not going to put into the farmer's pocket an extra pound, and it is not going to put into the labourer's pocket an extra shilling a week. It is all theory, and it is not practical politics. What the farmer wants to know is how he is going to make a profit where now he is making a loss. The reason he is not making a profit is not due to the landowner. It has been proved by recent investigations into costs in the North of England, that the landowners in those districts are only getting 2½ per cent. as a return on their investments, out of which they have to pay taxes and keep in repair the buildings of the farm. It is not because the farm worker is getting excessive wages, because he certainly is worthy of his hire. It is not because the farmer is a lazy man or a man without brains.

We must go to another cause, and the fundamental cause is an economic one. Great Britain to-day is the dumping ground for the whole world, whether it be wheat, oats, barley, butter or cheese. The farmer is up against this dumping proposition, that he has to compete against the world. It is not that his rent is too high or that he is paying too much for labour, but that he has got to compete with those surpluses which may come one year from America, or another year from the Argentine, or another year from Canada or from Europe. As long as he is in that situation he is not as well-off as the farmer in France or in the United States who is protected. What are the remedies? The first and the principal one is one which, unfortunately, cannot be adopted, and that is protection for his industry, or a bounty on what he produces. The other things which have been mentioned are, to my mind, mere fringes of the subject. If the farmer is not going to be protected against dumped goods, then he is not in a position to compete with the other man, and that is the position to-day.

The present Government have been severely criticised by speakers this afternoon and by the farmers for not doing as much as, in their opinion, they should have done, but the farmers in my district are now asking themselves the question, "What can any Government do short of Protection or a bounty? They cannot meet the situation unless the farmer is going to be protected." Or perhaps the farmer must wait, as he did in the eighties for a better time to come, when prices would be higher, and he would be able to reduce the costs of production, and do what he is unable in the majority of cases to do to-day, namely, make both ends meet. In the Canterbury Division during the election we heard a great deal about the Green Book, and a good many of the farmers at the commencement were rather in favour of the proposals in that book, as were, the farm workers, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that the revised version of that Green Bible does not at present appeal to them at all.

I would like to put to the Ministry this point, and it is an important point. It is in connection with poultry breeding. The propaganda of the Ministry has done a great deal of good. Leaflets issued by the Ministry have been very well received by those farmers who have sent for them. The poultry industry is one of growing importance. It is going to be the saving clause for the farmer who sees that it is a much more important means for making a profit than he ever thought before. Many fail, and the reason they fail is because they have not sufficient experience. They do not know that the Ministry in every county has appointed a poultry expert to advise them, and I think the Ministry should issue a pamphlet to every poultry farmer in this country, as well as to every other farmer, calling attention to the fact that they are out to help them with advice—not when the farmer is on the verge of bankruptcy or has made a failure of poultry farming owing to inexperience, but when he commences. The tragedy of the ex-officer poultry farmer is due in the main to want of experience. That man, with the best intentions, and with plenty of pluck, had invested his all in the poultry industry, and in 70 or 80 per cent. of cases has made a failure of it. The failure was not due to the fact that poultry cannot be made to pay, for it can be made to pay on scientific and up-to-date lines, but it cannot be made to pay by any inexperienced man.

Therefore I appeal to the Minister that although we think they have been of great help to us not only on the scientific side, but also in connection with the reduction of rates—of which we hope to be entirely relieved in the near future—we further hope the Minister will also remember that in regard to farm roads, at the present time the farmer has to pay for the upkeep of roads which are used very largely by motorists from a distance. That is the complaint of the farmer. He does not mind pulling his weight but he declines to pull the weight of others. What I hope for, and what every other farmer hopes for, is that agriculture will be lifted from the mud of party politics, and when that happens agriculture will come into its own.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

I am sure we have all listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member who has two special qualifications. Firstly he is, as he told us, a practical farmer, and secondly he has been recently in close touch with the agriculturists in, his own district and has come fresh from the polls. He has shown us that we are all agreed as to the difficulties that confront the farmer, and he has brought us back to what is really the issue of the Debate, namely, that no one so far has proposed anything which is practicable and which would prove a short cut to agricultural prosperity. We have listened with great interest to his first contribution and we look forward to hearing him on future occasions when we are discussing agriculture. Personally, in spite of what the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has said, I have never for one moment minimised the difficulties which confront the industry. In the by-election which I fought two or three years ago, I told the agriculturists in the arable districts of East Anglia that in my opinion they were faced with the most serious crisis in living memory, and it is rather amazing to me to hear it suggested that I have in any way minimised the difficulties which confront the industry.

Where I differ from hon. Members opposite is in their explanation of the trouble. They have laid stress upon alleged reductions in productivity. We have been told by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that the British farmer is inefficient, and we were told the same thing just now by the right hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. N. Buxton). He said that if the inefficient farmer could be brought up to the average that 20 per cent. would be added to the output. I believe that would apply to almost any industry. Under a system of private enterprise, some outstrip the average, and others fall below it. Although I agree that the position is very serious, I do not agree with what the right hon. Member for Norfolk, North said, that there has been waste and under-cultivation of large tracts of land. That is a misleading generalisation.

Photo of Mr Noel Buxton Mr Noel Buxton , Norfolk Northern

How does the right. hon. Gentleman explain the bringing into force of the Agriculture Act in order to remedy it?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

Under the Agriculture Act a guaranteed price was given and very properly, when the farmer was getting this subsidy from the taxpayer, it was reasonable to lay down certain conditions, and certain qualifications which should entitle him to this subsidy. The position is now entirely transformed. No money is being given in the form of a subsidy on cereal products and under those conditions the control which was applied to agriculture, to the exclusion of other industries, is no longer in our opinion justified. My reason for saying that agriculture is not deserving of the condemnation which it meets from hon. Members opposite is that we have the evidence of many experts, including the Agricultural Tribunal, that in spite of our difficulties wages in this country are high in comparison with those paid in any other country; that the yield of our crops compares favourably with the yield in any other country, and that the decline of our agricultural population has been nothing like so rapid as in other European countries.

Though our production has been good, it has too often been carried on at a loss, and the farmer has put up a most gallant fight under adverse conditions. He has been driven by the pressure of economic forces from one position to another. He has not let down his cultivation; he has changed it. If he has been driven from one line of defence, he has dug himself in on a second line of defence. Hon. Members talk about the reduction in the arable area. It is quite true that in 1927 compared with 1913 we are 6.8 per cent. down; that the land under wheat is 3.8 per cent. down. But the farmer is adapting himself; and he has taken up new lines of production. He has developed his fruit-growing, his market gardening, and his live-stock industry. He has increased his cattle, as compared with before the War, by nearly 10 per cent. He has increased his pigs, as compared with 1913, by nearly 30 per cent., increased his production of potatoes by nearly 16 per cent., and his poultry by 34 per cent. The figures produced by hon. Members opposite are misleading because they do not take a general view of the situation. They pick out sections of the industry which, owing to world conditions, are necessarily restricted in their development, and they neglect to look at the increases which have enabled us, in spite of the changes and depression of recent years, to keep up our production, measured by pre-War money values, over the long period between the two agricultural censuses,, before the War and after the War.

There is strong evidence that our depression is not due to inefficiency on the part of our farmers. The House will have read about the position in France and the drastic remedies which the French Government are taking in the form of increased protection. I was recently sent a lecture delivered by a distinguished economist at the Institute of Politics, Williamstown, Massachussetts, last August. He said: The evidence of agricultural depression is so abundant that it need not be martialled in detail. Farm values have fallen heavily from the peak in 1920, and are below their pre-War value in terms of purchasing power. Farm mortgage debt has risen greatly, and represents a much larger proportion of farm values than before the War. Prices of farm products, in general and as a whole, have for several years been below their pre-War ratio to the general level of prices. Farm incomes, as a whole, have been relatively low in terms of purchasing power, whether in comparison with pre-War farm incomes or with incomes of other classes, The burden of interest and taxes has been heavy. Bankruptcies among farmers have run abnormally high, and yet represent only a fraction of the losses on farms by operating owners. A terrifically high movement from the farms to the cities has taken place. That is an account of the conditions in the United States, where the population living on farms has fallen from 32,000,000 in 1910 to less than 28,000,000 in 1921. In comparison with that our experience has been very favourable. The explanation of this fall in the population on the farms is no doubt, that the level of wages has improved and the standard of life greatly raised. Under those conditions, unless you have a big increase of output, some decline of the population to compensate for changed methods is inevitable. As against a drop in the United States farming population of 4,000,000, between the years 1910 and 1927, we have had a drop of 44,000, that is between the census of 1911 and the post-War census of 1921, and that decline in our population is offset by an increase in the, number of farmers and smallholders of about 42,000. Since the census our agricultural population has been practically stationary. On the 4th June we get, as hon. Members know, a return from those who cultivate the land. From 1925 to 1927 the number of the workers on the land has actually increased. It has gone up by 10 per cent. The casual workers seem to have dropped considerably, but it must be remembered that these casual workers depend on the state of the season. This year we have had a very backward season, and, therefore, you cannot get the same accurate comparison as to the number of casual workers on the 4th June which you get in the case of the regular workers. I think it is very remarkable, in view of the experience of foreign countries, which I do not want to repeat now as I have referred to it previously, that we have been able to maintain our population on the land as well as we have. In Denmark there has been a very serious agricultural depression, and the authority which was quoted by the right hon. Member for Norfolk North just now stated at a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts a few months ago that the Dane had succeeded simply on account of his lower standard of living. He said: There are no competing industries in Denmark, and if people do not farm in Denmark their only alternative is to starve. If there is such an easy solution for this world-wide agricultural depression, why is it that no other country has found it, or applied it? The Resolution which has been moved assumes that there is some satisfactory remedy within the control of the Government which would give prosperity to agriculture. Clearly, if there is not any such remedy to be found, it would be unreasonable to condemn the Government in the way that is suggested. The hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland found his chief cause of complaint in our failure to spend more money. He complained that when I referred to the success of the sugar-beet industry I measured it in terms of the subsidy, yet at the same time he lectured us because we were not spending more money in the various directions he mentioned. There is no doubt that a great many people do imagine that there is some measure within our control which would bring prosperity to the industry in its present difficulty. The hon. and gallant Gentleman borrowed his wording from a form of propaganda. which is now very popular with the National Farmers' Union. It is suggested that we could bring prosperity to the farmer by safe guarding his industry.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

The hon. and gallant Member very fairly said that in his reading of the election address there was no foundation for the suggestion that any such promise had been made, but undoubtedly there are a great many people in the country who believe that we can assure the improved condition of our agriculture by a method of tariff protection. We do not believe that that method would be either efficient or suitable. We believe that agricultural conditions are entirely different from the conditions in our great manufacturing industries. The industrial demand in this country is for a market. If manufacturers can be assured of a market they can often cheapen production by increasing the scale of output. In other words, the increase of output will often bring about a reduction in the unit cost. But agriculture is different. Much sooner than in the case of manufacturing industries, the law of diminishing returns begins to operate, and to double agricultural output at unremunerative prices too often would merely mean to double losses. Agriculture already has a market; all its products can find purchasers. The trouble is that the market is not a profitable one.

It is true that in the case of motor cars, which have been so often mentioned this afternoon, safeguarding has been applied without raising the price, but safeguarding on those terms would be absolutely useless to the farmer. The only assistance which tariff protection could give to the agriculturists would be in the form of higher prices. I am not going to argue whether or not tariff protection would raise agricultural prices, but either it would or it would not. If it would, protection of foodstuffs would be unacceptable to the consumer. If it would not, if it failed to bring any increased return to the farmer, it would be absolutely without effect in his present difficulty. For those reasons we consider that any such method is absolutely out of the question. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs says that we have flagrantly broken our promises, that we have incited expectations and have failed to bring about the agricultural conference which was suggested. The correspondence which took place just after the last General Election with the leaders of the National Farmers' Union shows that that suggestion is without foundation. The Prime Minister never promised prosperity to agriculture, He stated, and I think all sides of the House will agree, that it was vital to the economic and social life of this country that agriculture should be restored to prosperity, and he proposed to call a conference to explore the method by which, with common consent, that end might be achieved.

That conference was to have been called without any kind of pledge as to subsidies or protection. The conference was not merely to consider State action; it was to consider action by the farmers themselves. It was not merely the matter of the Prime Minister's Election Address. It had been first proposed in a Conservative pamphlet, published six months before the General Election, which was known as "Looking Ahead"; and after the election, at the end of November, the Government published in the Press the terms of reference to that Conference as being a conference to consider what measures, if any, were necessary either by the State or by the industry itself or by both in concert, to improve the condition of agriculture. In response to that invitation, Mr. Rylands, who was then President of the National Farmers' Union, showed that he had no expectations such as those which have been suggested. He said: The National Farmers' Union have not at any time asked either for subsidies or protection. They consistently adhere to the view that it is the nation's business to say what is expected of home food production, and the farmer's business, under equitable conditions, to adapt its enterprise to national requirements. My predecessor made it clear that the Government were not in any way committed to any form of direct assistance, and said that if definite recommendations were made by the conference involving State action, it would then be the duty of the Government to take such steps as they thought advisable to ascertain the views of the various political parties. There was no suggestion that the political conference should have come first, or that it should be held regardless of agreement among the various parties to the industry. Mr. Rylands answered definitely. He said: As I understand the position, the Prime Minister is debarred by his election pledges from introducing tariff protection in order to promote home food production. I cannot resist the conclusion that, even if any subsidy were ever given to the industry, it is probable that the subsidy would be accompanied by control, which would remain after the subsidy had been withdrawn as a result of political changes. Mr. Rylands went on to suggest that consequently the conference should begin by exploring the possibility of improving the position, by action on the part of the industry itself, without State aid. As we know, the conference failed to meet, but that correspondence is of interest to-day, in view of the contentions which are being pressed that the voters in agricultural districts were "taken in" at the election. It clearly shows that, in the mind of the National Farmers' Union at least, there was no idea that the Prime Minister had offered any direct assistance to agriculture or that agriculturists claimed any measure analogous to safeguarding assistance, such as has been given to other industries. The National Farmers' Union has lately been condemning the Government on the ground that it is unfair to expect farmers, without some State assistance, to pay wages fixed by the county committees, and Mr. Baxter, who is now the President of the National Farmers' Union, stated yesterday——

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman quite apprehended the point put by my hon. and gallant Friend. My hon. and gallant Friend quoted the Prime Minister as promising a conference of political parties with a view to ensuring agreement amongst them. That conference was never summoned. At any rate no invitation was addressed to this quarter of the House, and I understand that no invitation was addressed to other quarters of the House.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

There were many different references to it and the conference was described in various terms. In some cases a conference of the industry was put in front of a conference of political parties, and in other cases——

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

I do not think there is any particular importance in the order. The great thing was to secure agreement, and, if the industry was not agreed as to any method which should be adopted, it was clearly idle to summon political parties to try to find a solution. We might find that solution to-day if there were any indication of agreement on a practicable policy, but we have been told by the Tribunal of economists Which inquired into it that without a direct subsidy there is no possibility of maintaining arable production. The industry did not ask for that subsidy at the time of the conference, and, even if it had, financial conditions are so changed that it would now be absolutely out of the question. In view of the policies that have been published by hon. Members of both parties opposite, it would be a waste of time to ask them to meet to discuss proposals for direct assistance to agriculture. Do I understand that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is in favour of direct assistance by means of subsidy?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

The right hon. Gentleman asks me that question now, but I intend to speak later in the Debate. He asks me whether I am in favour of the State assisting agriculture. I certainly am, and I do believe it would be possible. I have my own way of doing it. The question put to me is whether I am in favour of State assistance of agriculture. I hold the view that it will be impossible to extricate agriculture from its present position without the State coming to its aid.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

The right hon. Gentleman shook his head when I said that it would be idle to ask political parties, in view of their commitments since the General Election, to discuss the application of direct methods of subsidy to agriculture. That was what I understood the right hon. Gentleman's dissent to mean. Of course, we are well aware of the policies of hon. Members opposite, and we do not believe that either of those policies would achieve the end of keeping our land in arable cultivation. Neither of those policies carries out the advice which has been given by the Agricultural Tribunal, that short of some method of direct assistance, this object is unattainable under present conditions.

I was just dealing with the question of wages. We are being attacked in certain quarters for maintaining the system of agricultural wages boards without at the same time enabling the farmer by direct financial assistance to pay the wages. In a speech made by the President of the National Farmers' Union last Saturday, he said we should not maintain a form of wage which the industry could no longer afford to pay, while at the same time leaving the in- dustry to the merciless competition of cempetitors who are not under a similar disability. That is a very serious statement on the part of Mr. Baxter. It is a statement that he wishes to scrap the wages Committees unless he can obtain that assistance which no Government under present conditions can possibly afford. Personally, I very much regret that he should have reached this conclusion, because I think it is generally realised that agricultural workers are not being paid an excessive rate, and so far, speaking generally, the agricultural wages Committees have worked with common agreement. After all, it is not without precedent for industries which have no strong trade union machinery to have wages fixed for them in this way. We have between 40 and 50 industries subject to trade boards, and as far as I know, it is not alleged that any of these industries have been ruined by the operation of that method.

We have examined carefully the proposals of the parties opposite and we cannot agree that they would solve the difficulties which now threaten the agricultural industry. We do not merely differ from them as to their remedies. We also differ as to the causes of the present depression. We believe that the main cause is to be found in the fall of prices. Ever since the peak was reached, in 1920, there has been a succession of years in which the price has steadily tended downwards. This is quite beyond our control. As has been mentioned this afternoon, this tendency was referred to at the Geneva Conference, and the Geneva Conference also pointed out that, between 1913 and 1925, while the population of the countries represented had grown by 5 per cent., the output of food and raw material had grown by from 16 to 18 per cent. Their solution was not a system of subsidies, nor a system of protection, but, on the contrary, the removal of tariff barriers so that the demand of the manufacturing communities—who in many cases are debarred from effective competition for agricultural supplies in the world market—should be made more effective.

There is no doubt that the present trouble is due to the fact that the farmer's receipts too often fall below his costs and we believe that to transform our system of land tenure or to control culti- vation would in no way help him to solve that problem. It is curious that this afternoon we have heard little about the proposals put forward in the green book as to land nationalisation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton), as a later convert to land nationalisation, who has not had time to develop doubts, showed a greater courage, but we had practically nothing from the Liberal Benches. We do not believe there is any occasion for such a proposal. The last vestige of insecurity was removed by the Agriculture Act of 1920, and that part of the Act has been retained in force. The Liberal party have proposed to sweep away the landlord and they make out that he is a most rapacious person. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well it is laid down that he is a burden on the industry and that he ought to be abolished. The fact of the matter is, that the landlord in this country has been pouring money into the land for over a century and his gross income from the land remains the same to-day as it was in 1800. It seems to me a most wasteful proposal that a class which has done so much for the land should be bought out, according to the proposal of the Liberal party, at a price below the market value.

We have not been given any estimate of the cost by the Liberal party. The details of their valuation proposals have, so far, been left indefinite, but we had a pamphlet recently from the Labour party, showing that the cost of nationalising the land would work out at about £740,000,000. We believe that if the State were to assume that burden, it would, in no way, be to the advantage of cultivation. The Liberals would set up a class of privileged cultivating tenants who would be in a very happy position. They would be secured against any rise in rents, and in times of depression it would be in their power, by giving notice, to force down rents. I cannot imagine a more wasteful financial method in the interest of the State, but it is curious that the Liberals, not only on the evidence of their silence this afternoon, but on the evidence of their more recent book, seem to have lost faith in the cure. In the original book the purchase of land was to be applied to the whole country, and it is set out at the beginning of Division 7 of Part IV of the book that the change of tenure must be universal: We are definitely of the opinion, arrived at after very considerable discussion of alternatives, that the new system of tenure must be universal and its application must be simultaneous on all estates. On the next page it states: If one exception were allowed, exemptions would be frequent, and the result would be an unworkable patchwork between new and old. That is a very definite statement, but there were second thoughts when the revised green book was issued, and it was then stated that simultaneous and universal reform would be a colossal undertaking. The Liberal party have, therefore, decided in favour of applying reform gradually. They have decided in favour of retaining four different kinds of land tenure, namely, landlord tenancy, occupying ownership, tenancy with a county authority as landlord, and cultivating tenancies. Either land nationalisation is going to be a cure or it is not. If it is going to be a cure, surely it ought to be applied at once. If it is not, the sooner the Liberal party drop it definitely, and stop deluding town audiences, the better. We believe the best system is for the farmer to hold his land under a good owner. We do not want to uproot that system, but where, owing to the pressure of taxes, a change has to take place, we want to give the tenant a chance of becoming the occupying owner. We believe and hope that the change will be gradual, and we propose to facilitate it by bringing in our scheme of long-term credits next Session, not to uproot the existing system, but to enable it to be adapted, where necessary, to an increased application of occupying ownership.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northern Norfold, advocated the policy which was also proposed in the Green Book of controlling cultivation. That again, was not dealt with very much by speakers on the Liberal benches. We believe that the control of cultivation by county committees would be a retrograde step. Freedom of cropping was given to the tenant by the Agricultural Holdings Act before the War. It was argued at that time, that the landlord should not have this power of interference, but, having removed this control from the landlord, who, after all, knows the peculiarities of his land, it is now to be given to the county committees. It is a curious doctrine that farmers who, according to the Liberal party are inefficient in running their own farms, should, if placed on a committee, be found capable of running other people's farms, and are to be inspired to a greater wisdom than their neighbours. Of course, this system would really be run by the officials. It would be very much like what we had during the War when county committees lost £400,000 in farming 37,000 acres. The contribution, therefore, of the Liberal party to the agricultural depression is to come to these men who are struggling with adversity and to dictate to them their methods of cultivation under penalty of eviction. The farmers put up with this system of fines and evictions during the War, but I do not believe they would readily stand it under present conditions, and I think it is based on the fallacy that our agriculture is at present inefficiently carried on. As an industry, it needs help. It is worked under varying conditions, which are difficult to standardise, but it certainly does not stand in need of coercion, although it does stand in need of skilled advice and assistance arising out of the research which is being carried on. The Liberal party have probably discovered that the nationalisation of land and control of farmers is not a popular policy, and they have, therefore, discovered what, to them, is a new solution, namely, marketing. In the second Green Book, they state, on page 53: A living wage for the landworker and a fair profit for the farmer depend almost entirely on organised marketing of produce. 8.0 p.m.

If that is so, why should we trouble to spend £700,000,000 or £800,000,000 on nationalising the land or imposing control on farmers? They have further examined the problem of marketing in a new book which they have issued, called "The Farmer and his Market." A lot of this book is admirable, because it is copied from the Orange Books which have recently been issued by the Ministry of Agriculture as a result of very careful research into the conditions of production and marketing, but the new Green Book does not deal with the difficulties of cooperation in this country. We have quite a different problem from that which the Danes have. They can induce their producers to join co-operative societies, because it is through these societies that they are allowed the benefit of using the Lur brand which is a guarantee of quality for Danish exports. They started also with a clean slate and without the organised system of distribution which has grown up to deal with production in this country. Our development has been very different. Our distributors are very strong, and it has always been a difficulty with co-operation that those who have joined the societies have been so much in the habit of dealing with other channels that they have often broken away and sold to the middleman when tempted by slightly better prices.

We cannot hope to bring about co-operation by coercion. The folly and the disaster of that were shown by the fate of the Agricultural Wholesale Society and by the small support which the Agricultural Organisation Society received, but the Liberals do not seem to have learned that lesson. They still maintain their mania for bureaucracy. They wish to superimpose on the method of gradual development of co-operation an inevitable board of five supermen. They imagine that this large organisation will be able to solve, as it were by magic, the difficulties which have so far beset the cooperative movement in this country. We are convinced that co-operation must be voluntary and that it must grow up, and that if there is an attempt to force the pace, it must mean disaster.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me what we were proposing to do as the next step after the publication of our Orange Book. Our Orange Books are the results of investigation. They put forward proposals as to standardisation, grading, and organisation. The next step is to bring those proposals before the public by means of demonstrations and propaganda and then before an Advisory Committee, representing, not theorists, not supermen, who are not in touch with the industry, but all sections concerned in the business. We have got two Committees recently formed with that object, namely, the Poultry Advisory Committee and the Pig Industry Committee, and we hope that those Committees, having examined the ground which has been prepared for them by the Orange Book, and having worked out their scheme of grading and marketing, will be able, with their expert knowledge, to get a great movement on foot among the co-operative societies; and we believe that it is in marketing that the best chance of improvement now lies. We believe it lies much more in that direction than in that of direct State action, and that is the view also of the Economic Conference at Geneva, which has been quoted this afternoon. They passed a Resolution as follows: The improvement of agriculture must, in the first place, be the work of agriculturists themselves. The general adoption of technical improvements, the scientific organisation of production and stock breeding, the campaign against the diseases and the enemies of plants and animals, of marketing, of the standardisation of agricultural products in the interests both of the producers and consumers, of the search for outlets, and of credits and insurance, will permit agriculturists to reduce their costs of production. No better summary could have been written of the Government's policy. We do not believe that there is any short cut to agricultural prosperity by State action, but we have taken action on every one of these specific proposals which were put before the country in the Prime Minister's Election Address. We have assisted arable agriculture by the sugar subsidy, and we believe that if it had not been for that step, the position in East Anglia would be far blacker than it is even to-day. It is quite true that the whole of this subsidy has not gone into the pockets of the farmers, but the object of the subsidy was to enable factories to be established and to give a return on the necessary capital. I do not think the subsidy has been framed on too extravagant a basis, judging by the difficulties which the companies have met in finding the necessary support from investors.

We have taken steps to maintain the productivity of the land by making money available for drainage schemes. The hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate mentioned the sum which we have spent this Session, but he forgot to mention the very large sum of £1,250,000 under the Ouse Drainage Bill. It is not our fault that that Bill was thrown out by a Joint Committee of this House and another place, but we have to deal with this question, and we shall probably have to bring in another Bill next Session, because the condition of the Ouse area is such that a remedy must, be found without delay. We certainly hope to deal with drainage throughout the country, and we have shown our zeal in this cause by setting up a Royal Commission with a request that they would report without delay. We got the Report within nine months of setting them up, and we are examining that Report with a view to taking action.

We believe that, in spite of the hon. and gallant Member's criticism, that we are not spending enough on research, the research which we are carrying out is helping the farmer in his production and in his marketing, and we have helped his marketing by a series of Acts dealing with certain disabilities and which are designed to remove the opportunities for unfair dealing. By research, legislation, and administration, and by the embargo on fresh Continental meat we have defended British agriculture from animal and plant diseases. We have helped to make agriculture attractive by improving the conditions and the openings for those who live on the land, by restarting the provision of small holdings, and by improving the housing conditions of agricultural workers; we have discriminated in favour of the agriculturist in taxation; we have lightened the burdens which were pressing on him in his rates; and I think our record has shown that we are in the fullest sympathy with the demand for a further lightening of his burdens from the Road Fund and the rates generally as and when our financial position allows.

Obviously, I cannot go into details on that subject to-night—that is a matter which must be considered by the Government and is more suitable to a Budget discussion—but next year we are going to bring forward our credit proposals, and we believe that they will strengthen the weak places in the industry at the present time. The Debate to-day so far has not produced any proposals for the help of agriculture which we believe to be efficient beyond those which we have already applied, and I would again remind the House that neither in the Prime Minister's Election Address nor at any other time have we said that we could restore prosperity to agriculture by direct action on the part of the State. What we do say is that we have given the maximum of help to the industry within our power consistently with our pledges and with due regard to other interests.

Photo of Mr Thomas Fenby Mr Thomas Fenby , Bradford East

I must congratulate the Minister on skating so very skilfully round this very difficult subject. The Liberal party has been criticised for not doing anything useful by this Debate, and we have been told that we have not exhibited much light. There has been a good deal of heat on the Government side, almost verging upon ill-temper now and again, and I think we can claim something else. The Liberal party to-day has given the Government supporters an opportunity of discussing agriculture, which they would not have had had the Liberal party not taken this very important subject for the Debate to-day. Every Member who has studied the history of legislation during the last 20 years knows that the Liberal party, by its land legislation in the Parliament between 1906 and 1909, put the most constructive, useful, and financially sound land legislation upon the Statute Book that has been put upon it during this generation. It has done what the Minister has failed to do by his legislation. Take the last thing that he mentioned in his speech. The Government have passed legislation with regard to small holdings, but it is not working, nor is it likely to work until there is a more sympathetic attitude on the part of the Minister and his Department and the Government with regard to the problem. The right hon. Gentleman courteously enough gave me in advance the answer to a question which. I had on the Order Paper to-day. Even in that answer my point is emphasised, because he said that in the amount of post-War expenditure by the Government and county councils on land settlement, I am not to include the small figure that has been expended by county authorities under the Act of 1926. Why? Because it is not working; and yet he knows that, in order to revive agriculture, we must get more men on the land who will be cultivating in an intensive fashion and helping to increase food production, and that we shall do more to improve agriculture by an extension of the small holdings movement than by any other proposal that has been discussed.

I am sorry that the Mover of the Amendment, the Member for Cirencester (Sir T. Davies), is not in his place, because I wanted to suggest to him that evidently what is good for his constituency is not good for Parliament. It is very significant that the Amendment, which was chosen by the Government, says nothing whatever about agricultural land and buildings being relieved of rates altogether, for the other two Amendments on the Order Paper, put down by supporters of the Government, do definitely suggest that one of the best ways in which the Government can help agriculture is by relieving it of rates on buildings and land. The Mover of the Amendment, I observe, does not include that in his Amendment, but he tells us that in his election address, and in his constituency when fighting the election, he advocated the exemption of agricultural land and buildings from rates. Why not be honest about it? If this thing is good enough for the constituency when you are wanting votes, why is it not good enough for the House of Commons when you have got the votes?

The hon. Member had a good deal to say about the Liberal party, but people who live in glass houses should pull down the blinds. May I assure the right hon. Gentleman and his Department that I know something about the need and the number of people to-day who are seeking an opportunity to get upon the land. While it may be a problem for a landlord to let a farm of from 300 to 500 acres, it is a problem, with regard to the farm of 100 or 150 acres in extent, to make a selection out of the large number of prospective tenants. Where you have a small holding of 50 acres to let in my part of the country, at any rate, there is a very large number of people who want it, and some of them have by their own thrift and industry, even when working as employés, been able to save sufficient money to go upon a 50 acre holding. Yet they are not provided, and the Minister is not altogether absolved from the charge that his crime is complacency. He is too content to leave things as they are. There is not sufficient drive behind him. Whether it is small holdings, or whatever the problem is, there does not seem to be any drive behind the right hon. Gentleman and his Department. May I make this very human appeal to him, that he will cause inquiries to be made, not only into the number of people who are applying for holdings, but into the nature and class of applicants who are applying.

Take my experience during the last two or three weeks. A public authority, of which I am a member, had a 50-acre holding to let, and 25 people applied for it. Two-thirds of them would have been suitable, but they had to be cut down to two people, neither of whom had yet had a chance of cultivating his own holding. There was between them an equality of ability and experience, and the only test that could be applied in order to be anything like fair was to take a man of 45 years of age and let a man of 27 lose the opportunity of getting the holding, because we thought the man of 45 ought to have it. There are those great human problems associated with agriculture. They are very real, and the Minister is doing very little to give these people an opportunity of getting on the land. Take marketing. It is all very fine referring to the book of the Liberal party. It might be worth the study of the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers. What is the problem? We have heard of it as a question of price, and it is a question of price; but it is not always a question of raising prices in order to make profit.

In September, a friend of mine went to the greengrocer and bought a quarter of a stone of potatoes, for which he was charged 6d., and he said to the man, "Do you know how much that is a ton?" The man said, "No, I have not reckoned it up." Then my friend told him that it was £16 a ton, and that he had just sold railway truckloads of potatoes for 65s. a ton. The real problem of marketing is how to bridge the gap between the £16 a ton that the retailer has to pay and the 65s. that the producer gets. It is really a question of reducing the cost of living. The farmer's cost of production figures out at, something like 110, and his receipts at about 90, so that he is always on the wrong side. I have yet to be convinced that there is not sufficient business, commercial, and technical ability among the business men of this country to bridge that gap. If the gap were bridged, it would enable the producer to receive more; he would be able to pay more to the men he employs, and everyone would be a little better off. That is the problem which the Government have altogether neglected. May I sum up what I have been trying to say? First, we want to get more people on the land, which is the human problem; and, second, there is the commercial problem of enabling the farmers to get a bigger share of the financial transactions that take place when his produce reaches the consumer.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Wells

I am sure that everyone of us, whether he agrees or not with what has been said, will thank hon. Gentlemen opposite for bringing this important question before the House. We should have been even more grateful to them if their speeches had been a little more helpful towards the solution of what we all realise to be a very real problem. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who opened this Debate, spoke at very great length of the difficulties in which agriculture finds itself. He spoke to the converted. No one denies those difficulties for a moment. But he left the remedies to the very end of his speech, and we only had some two or three minutes, out of over an hour, devoted to a very brief extract from what are known as the Green Book proposals. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has not even indulged in a reference to the Green Book at all. He has, however, given us two matters on which he thinks that action ought to be taken. One of these is small-holdings. As far as the machinery exists, and as far as the Government can do anything, there is every facility for getting small-holdings at the present time. The real reason why small-holdings are not more generally got at the present time is that they are not an economic proposition. When the last Bill for small-holdings was brought in, it only professed to deal with them by means of Government subsidies. You refuse subsides for one part of agriculture, and you cannot apply them to a very large extent for bolstering up an artificial system which cannot otherwise exist.

The other part of the hon. Gentleman's remedies referred to marketing. I sympathise deeply with his aspirations. The argument about what the consumer pays and what the producer gets is not a new one; it has come forcibly before every one of us over and over again. I think a great many of us on this side have done what they could both by their work, and by their assistance, to bolster up agricultural co-operative societies. I wonder how many of us have lost money by it; I myself am one who has suffered. You cannot expect people who wish to help agriculture to go on doing that indefinitely. The fact is that agricultural co-operation in England is a most excellent thing in theory, but in 99 cases out of 100 it breaks down in practice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?'] I do not know that I need go into the reasons. The principal reason is that the farmers who take part in it do not really see it through, and it is partly that they do not put the most efficient managers in. The Proposer of the Motion claimed that the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was popular. That I must say is not the evidence that comes to me from my part of the country. I was looking only this week at the report of a farmers' dinner, and the speaker who responded to the toast of "Agriculture," a considerable farmer, after abusing the Government as hard as he could, said: None at them liked Lloyd George's proposals, and the Socialist proposal, which was nationalisation, was little better than highway robbery. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs will press his policy in every way, especially in the West Country, because I can assure him that when things are rather difficult for the Conservative party, they have no greater asset than the land policy of the right hon. Gentleman. It has seemed to me that the mistake that is made so often in dealing with agriculture is to attempt to impose a policy from above. My own opinion is that, if you want to find out what is needed for the industry, the best thing is to ask those who are engaged in it what they want and what they think will meet their difficulties. During the last few months I have made a point of meeting various organisations of farmers in my part of the world, and not putting up to them what I think are the best ideas as to future policy, but asking them what they have to suggest. If the Minister of Agriculture were present, I should ask him to notice what the farmers themselves are asking for. In this connection I would like to refer to the question of the sale of beef to the Army and the Air Force. In this case it was looked upon as the last straw that the last time these contracts were sent out the contractors were not asked to tender for British beef. I am informed that the difference in cost between supplying the Army with British beef and with Colonial beef is about £350,000 a year. I know a sum of money like that might cause a great deal of trouble between different Departments, such as the Board of Agriculture and the War Office, and no doubt the Treasury would have something to say in regard to it, whatever happened. Of course, those troubles can easily be got over if there is the will to do it. In regard to the contracts to which I have just alluded, by the expenditure of an extra £350,000 a year I believe that you would get, through the advantage you give to agriculture and the promotion of good will amongst the farmers, something of far more value than even that large sum of money.

The next thing brought home very forcibly in my part of the country is the matter of condensed skimmed milk, which is considered to be a very great grievance amongst the farmers. I do not quite see how the Government can take any further action in regard to this matter. The report on eggs that has been made by the Committee appointed under the Merchandise Marks Act has been a bombshell to the Agricultural interests. There were not many specific promises made in the Prime Minister's Address at the General Election, but one was that everything practical should be done to ensure the marking of agricultural produce coming into this country. I think that is a promise by which the Government ought to stand. This matter wants looking into, and probably there are practical steps which can be taken to deal with this matter.

Another question to which I want to allude is the importation of foreign cider. The Government put an import duty on every sort of spirituous liquor that comes into the country, and why is cider the one article left alone? It might bring in a certain amount of money to the Government, and I cannot see that anyone would be any the worse off if the Government put a tax on foreign cider. Cider is not far removed from beer, and that brings me to the vexed question of malting barley. I am very glad the Government has seen its way to publish the Report of the Committee on this subject. I am very sorry that the Government have arrived at the conclusion which is absolutely adverse to the Report of that Committee. I know that my name has been associated with this proposal in regard to malting barley, because I happened to be the mouthpiece of the Government which brought it forward. I have no personal interest in it whatever, but I was impressed in 1923 with the fact that the farmers of the Eastern Counties are convinced that such a duty would be a very great advantage to them. On the whole, the farmers of the Eastern Counties are the people who are hit very badly by the present practice, and in many cases they have not the alternative advocated by Lord Bledisloe, the other day, of turning their land down to grass.

I am sure the Minister of Agriculture is anxious to help them. It is perfectly true that they can sell their very best barley now, and it is also true that a large quantity of Californian barley is necessary for the best class of beer, and that will be imported whether there is a duty or not. I am told that the real competition is between English malting barley that is not absolutely first class and European barley which is of much the same quality and which is used for ordinary public-house beer. It is there that such a duty would really help. The objection raised in the White Paper is not one of policy but of administration. Personally, I do not believe the difficulties are so great that they cannot be surmounted, and I do not envy the task of the Minister of Agriculture in explaining to the people of East Anglia why these difficulties are insuperable. I thought it was my duty to advocate a, scheme which, I think, would materially help to ease the situation in that part of the country. I shall not do anything further to increase the difficulties of the Minister in giving that explanation, great as I think his difficulties will be. Another question that has been brought before me pretty frequently is the lack of telephones in country districts. I am told that the farmer has to pay an extra rate for the use of the telephone, while the private resident is able to get his telephone at a specially reduced rate. The farmer who is sending a business message about the removal of his cattle, has to pay more than the gentleman who wants to arrange a lawn tennis match or a bridge party, or a person who wants to know where the hounds are going to meet. That kind of thing is being done by the Postmaster-General because he wishes to get a larger number of subscribers. I think that is open to grave objection, and it is one of the little points which the farmers bring up as a real grievance.

Another grievance that has been brought before me is the taxation of motor lorries. Farmers used to have a horse and cart for use in farming without a licence, but now, largely by the action of the Ministry of Transport, the roads are made in such a way that it is hardly safe for a horse and cart to get about them. Farmers, therefore, have to use mechanical transport instead, and mechanical transport has to pay a tax of anything between £10 and £20. The Road Fund is doing very well, and it seems to me that there is a real grievance here, which my right hon. Friend might well press on the attention of the Ministry of Transport. The next thing that has been urged upon me is one with which I need hardly deal, because it is brought forward over and over again, but I always thought that the objections to it might be stated a little more publicly than they are. The Ministry of Agriculture have pretty cogent reasons against it, but I think they might be stated rather more publicly. I refer to the question of the exclusion of foreign flour. It is brought up again and again at agricultural and political meetings, and I think that a further statement as to the difficulties in connection with it would certainly do good in the country. Then there is the Rabbits and Rooks Bill. That is brought up again and again, and I hope that next Session the Minister will see that it is got through in some way or other.

The last question to which I desire to refer is one which is brought forward again and again, and will continue to be brought forward as long as it exists, namely, the question of rates. I hope it will be possible to deal with it before the end of this Parliament. To free farm land of rates would really do more to satisfy people in all parts of the country than any other Measure that the Government could bring in, because, while these various other questions to which I have alluded belong, some to one part of England and some to another, the question of agricultural rates affects every district and every farmstead. In that case, a Government grant would be necessary. I do not know how soon the Government will find the national finances in a state that will enable them to give such a grant, but I think that the agricultural interest has an even stronger claim than it had before, on account of the provision which was put into the Valuation Bill two years ago, exempting machinery from rating. I do not know whether land can be called machinery; it is more the raw material of the agricultural industry. There is no other industry in the country in which the raw material has to bear taxes for local purposes, and I am inclined to think——

Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

The farmer's ploughs and other machinery are not rated, any more than a manufacturer's machinery is rated.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Wells

You do not rate a wagon or a machine, of course, but the machinery that was rated in factories was only fixed machinery, and not movable machinery. The factories have had that taken off. Whatever the case is about machinery, I think that the farmers have an undeniable case for even further relief from rates on what is the raw material of their industry, and I believe that, if the Government can see their way altogether to exempt the land from local taxation, they will be doing, on the whole, the most useful thing that they could possibly do for agriculture.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

Before making some reference to the speech of the Minister of Agriculture, I want to make one or two references to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders). He told us that small holdings were not an economic proposition. I have here an instance of a small holding in Scotland, quoted from a Government return by an ex-Member of this House, in July of the present year. He quotes, from the Report of the Scottish Board of Agriculture on the economic effects of the small holdings scheme, a holding of 150 acres three miles from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. In 1916, that holding, worked by one farmer, yielded produce of a total value of £800 a year. In 1922, the same holding, worked by eight men, produced a total value of £8,000 a year. That was sent to me by Mr. Climie as a sample of what could be done if the people had access to the soil. A second instance, during the War period in this city of London, was that of an allotment owned by Mr. George Moore, in, I believe, Kennington, which is described in his book, "The Wonder Plot." On that allotment, he produced foodstuffs at the rate of £1,200 per acre. Surely, if these statements are correct, it is hardly accurate for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells to say that small holdings and allotments are not an economic proposition.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Wells

I did not say allotments.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

No, but the right hon. Gentleman did say small holdings, so we will leave it at small holdings, and I think he has his answer so far as small holdings are concerned. Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to marketing, and the difficulties in connection with it. He said that it is very excellent in theory, but breaks down in practice. I would remind him that, when the Prime Minister came back from his recent tour in Canada, the one thing that he stressed in particular was the co-operation of the Canadian farmers in their system of pooling their wheat. He stressed that very strongly in his speech at Douglas, in Lanarkshire. Co-operative production does not always break down; it is not merely excellent in theory, but is excellent in practice, and it has brought a very large measure of success to farmers in various parts of the world, not entirely outside this country. I will give an instance in point. Some 12 years ago, in the Lothians, I was shown over a farm of some 200 to 300 acres owned by the Tranent Co-operative Society. They farmed it extremely successfully. There is another little co-operative society in the Border district at Walkerburn, which has carried on farming as part of its establishment for the last 30 or 35 years with very great success; and many other instances might be quoted where co-operative farming has succeeded.

Then the right hon. Gentleman quoted a statement by some unknown person at a farmers' dinner, with regard to the Socialist proposals for nationalisation, which he said were little better than highway robbery. That may, of course, suit a farmers' dinner, when people have been well fed and well wined. That is a kind of claptrap that appeals to a certain type of people, but, surely, it is not serious politics. The people have the right to carry on their industries on any system that they desire. As a matter of fact, society frames the laws and rules which shall obtain, and may, if it chooses, adopt a Socialist philosophy and practice so far as industry is concerned. No one serious believes that if the Socialist movement intends to compensate landlords there will be any more highway robbery than if they compensate the railways or some other department of life. Surely, that is a false position to take up, and it is quite time our opponents got rid of that kind of ridiculous nonsense and got down to our serious proposals.

Another matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was the theory with regard to a policy from above. He has been meeting a number of organisations of farmers lately in his part of the country, but he made no reference to agricultural labourers. Apparently, the farmers are the only people who carry on the agricultural industry in Somerset. I do not know whether that is so or not, but it is significant that it is largely in agreement with the theory of the Prime Minister himself, because in his two speeches in July and August, in Lincolnshire and in Lanarkshire—I read them carefully in the newspaper reports that came my way—there was throughout no reference whatever to the labourers, so that apparently they do not count. It is only the landlord and the farmer, in the judgment of the Conservative party, that count so far as agriculture is concerned. [Interruption.] There is something in that idea that it accounts for it going wrong. On 3rd October, 1923, when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Agriculture in a Conservative Government, he expressed the opinion that there was too much wheat grown. That is an extraordinary statement about a nation of between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 who are growing at present, and for the last six or seven years have grown, only one-fifth of their requirements of wheat and who are dependent for 40 out of 52 weeks in the year on imported wheatstuffs. The right hon. Gentleman expressed the opinion that we are already growing too much wheat.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Wells

Where did the hon. Member get all this?

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

It may be a surprise packet for the right hon. Gentleman. It is reported in the "Star" newspaper. I will pass it over if the right hon. Gentleman cares to see it.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Wells

I attach no importance to anything that appears in the "Star."

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

It is an easy way of getting out of a difficulty to say that you attach no importance to the people who report your speeches. It seems to me that is a very unwise policy for an ex-Minister of Agriculture to pursue. I will leave the right hon. Gentleman and turn to the Minister of Agriculture himself. I have always wondered how members of the Conservative Cabinet obtain their positions. I am a bit puzzled about it. There seems to be some theory that a man will get promotion, if he is Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the most important of the Under-Secretaries, to the next office in the Cabinet whether he has any qualifications or not. I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman has no qualifications at all. He has been complaining to-night with regard to our criticism and says that we have not made any of our points. I have taken a few notes. The first point is the question of waste.There is an enormous amount of waste so far as agriculture is concerned. Take the raw material itself, the land. I presume the right hon. Gentleman knows that four distinguished landlords asked for an inquiry in 1872 as to the amount of land in use, and, as the result of that inquiry, it was stated that out of 20,000,000 acres only 3,000,000, as yet, had been adequately drained, and that only another fifth of all that land was producing any- thing like up to its capacity. Therefore, it is true to say that there is a very great deal of under-cultivation.

I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of another fact. Much turns on the problem of wheat, because, if we could produce our own wheat supply, we could produce virtually all the food supplies which we require. The position in Denmark and here some 35 or 40 years ago was that we were producing from 28 to 30 bushels an acre, and we are now producing some 32 bushels an acre on an average, one year with another, but Denmark has increased her yield to from 45 to 50 bushels an acre, and in one particular year up to 57 bushels. It is an extraordinary statement to say that we are still getting the best of what might be done. As a matter of fact, there is a, very considerable amount of yield below the 32 bushels. If 32 bushels is the average, and in some cases you get up to 80 and 90 and 96 bushels, it is obvious that there must be a very great deal below the yield of 32. What applies to wheat applies to other commodities.

One of the defects of the whole system is that we have no standard of agriculture at all. Whether you take milk, meat, wheat or eggs, there is absolutely no standard. This higgledy-piggledy, go-as-you-please system may suit the landlord and the farmer, but it does not suit the agricultural labourer or the community, who have to pay for this low standard of yield. One indictment of the Government lies on these lines, that while you have a standard to which railways must conform and a standard for the police force, for the Army, for weights and measures and for other things, you have no standard for agriculture, and, if we had, we should be in a much better position than we are in to-day.

Photo of Brigadier-General John Charteris Brigadier-General John Charteris , Dumfriesshire

How can you get a standard for land? Land is of different values.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

The yield of wheat for the last 100 years has constantly increased. I do not say that you can bring all land up to that standard. Much, of course, depends on the quality of the land, and whether it is being drained and manured and limed. My point is that the Government ought to have a standard and not allow to fall out of cultivation some land which might be producing 50 or 100 bushels per acre. That is a reasonable proposition to make. As a matter of fact, much land within the last 50 years has declined in yield, as probably the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. At any rate, I read a letter in the "Times" not very long ago from a gentleman, I think, at Oxford who has been farming for the last 40 years, and he declared that the yield of wheat had gone down something like, if I remember rightly, 50 per cent. during the last 30 years. I once travelled to the South-west of England with an old parish priest, and he told me that 50 years ago a considerable amount of grain was produced on the wheat land in that particular area. The land is now all gone down to dairy farming. Probably, from the point of view of the farmer, that was a necessary thing, but it is very important from the point of view of the nation. Being an island nation and only producing one-fifth of our wheat supplies, we ought to increase that amount.

Take another question as an indictment against the Government. It is the use of sewage. It is a well known fact that Sir William Crookes, at the British Association in 1898 in the city of Bristol, declared that we were within measurable distance of famine in this country due to the lack of fertilisers, and that we were actually throwing into our rivers valuable fertilising matter to the value of something like £20,000,000 to £25,000,000. And that is continuing. As a matter of fact, nothing has been done in the interval, and it is probable that from £30,000,000 to £35,000,000 in value is going to waste from the great centres of population in this country. Where sewage is being used, it is producing enormous crops. What population could this nation sustain? I heard two gentlemen the other evening in this House, one a member of the Conservative party and the other an ex-Liberal Cabinet Minister, discussing this question, and one of them expressed the view that it could not maintain more than from 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 people. The ex-Liberal Cabinet Minister, while he did not give a figure, probably agreed largely with that view. I do not say that any person can say precisely what amount of population the land of this nation can sustain, but I venture to express the opinion that that is an under-statement of the facts. Some men believe that it can sustain 30,000,000 people. Some may think it can maintain 40,000,000 people. I believe that under the system of Socialism which I advocate as a member of the Labour party, with the nationalisation of the land, and the control of the rivers and the control of the hills, with scientific agriculture, with the best available knowledge, with the best available machinery, with the best available seeds, with the best types of cattle and fertilisers, we could probably provide foodstuffs for not less than 50,000,000 people.

Perhaps some hon. Members will be a little doubtful. Some of my friends outside are doubtful. I would say in answer to that, that I know in Norfolk a gentleman who, at the present time, from 25 acres of land, with the use of sewage, obtains five crops per annum,, and is feeding 100 people, or four persons per acre. If all the available land in this country was used as this is being used, and was brought up to that particular standard of cultivation, we should be able to sustain 200,000,000 people, and find work for 8,000,000 or 10,000,000. [Interruption]. At any rate, these arguments have to be met. If they are not sound, surely that is the way to deal with them. But, as a matter of fact, we have a number of other instances. I am one of those Members to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers, probably, as an outsider, who is not engaged in the industry. It does not at all follow that because a man is an outsider he has no knowledge of agriculture. I would remind him that one of the greatest authorities in agriculture that this country ever had, the late Alderman Mechi, who, in the middle of the last century farmed in the south of England, made a fortune from cutlery in the city of Sheffield, and took up agriculture as a side line. And he tested the results of what he obtained by his method of cultivation with those in general use in the country, and he said that if all the land available in this country were cultivated as his land was cultivated, it would produce some £450,000,000 in value more year by year than is being done at the present time.

I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of one other instance, because facts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) will readily agree are "chiels that winna ding." There is an instance in the Lothians of the 8th Marquess of Tweeddale who returned from India and took over 1,200 acres of land in the Lothians. He adopted a new method of agriculture, and at the end of a few years he was producing, by a system of deep cultivation, four times the actual foodstuffs from those 1,200 acres that were produced under the old system of cultivation. I take one other point with regard to the question raised by the Minister. There is the question of potatoes. He said that they were doing all that was possible. Our average yield of potatoes is about six tons to the acre, but in 1807, in Essex, there was a farmer who produced potatoes at the rate of 10 tons per acre on 300 acres; 3,000 tons of potatoes upon 300 acres of land. And here, in 1927, 120 years later, our average yield is six tons to the acre. Some hon. Gentlemen seem to think it is not necessary to have a standard of cultivation. There are many similar instances of a higher yield per acre than this. Take, for instance, Craigentinny where they use the sewage and get five crops per annum from the land, or the city of Milan where they get similar results, or the city of Berlin, where the use of sewage from that city produces potatoes at the rate of 40 tons per acre. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members always wonder when somebody gives them facts with regard to what can be done showing their inability and incapacity——

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

Does the hon. Member think that sewage will be available on this scale throughout the country?

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

I do not say that it would be available throughout the country, but I do say we are not making any use of it. That is the point. It is there to be used, and it ought to be used to a much greater extent.

Photo of Mr Ernest Shepperson Mr Ernest Shepperson , Leominster

Did I understand the hon. Member to say 40 tons per acre?

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

Yes, I said so on the statement published in a report sent from Berlin to a gentleman, a well-known Socialist advocate, James Leatham. It is published in a little book called "Let Glasgow Flourish." If you do not accept the statement, you must have it out with the gentleman who published the book. [Interruption.] I want to have the attention of hon. Gentlemen, because we are discussing an important question. We must not forget that we have over a million men unemployed in this country at the present time, and that fact has a great bearing on this question. If you put land down to grass, you have a comparatively small requirement for labour. If you cultivate under intensive cultivation you have a corresponding requirement as far as labour is concerned.

Sixty years ago there were nearly 4,000,000 acres under wheat in this country. At the present time only about 1¾ million acres are under wheat, while the population has doubled in the intervening years. Surely, it is a question of vital importance not necessarily for the landlord and not necessarily to the farmer that we should face this question. We hear a great deal about losses but very little about gains, and very little about the fortunes which have been made out of farming from time to time. We are told very little about the many different aspects of farming. It is more than a question of merely ploughing the land and reaping the harvest. It is a very complicated industry, and requires many qualifications, and men who are capable of farming are not necessarily capable of marketing the produce. It is not necessary for the farmer to spend four or five days a week at different markets, travelling backwards and forwards and spending £1 or 30s. a day in attending the market. That time is wasted in so far as the supervision of the farm is concerned.

We are told by the Minister that farming is carried on at a loss. At a loss to whom? It is not carried on at a loss to the landlord who receives from £1 to 30s. per acre from 1,000 to 2,000 acres, for which he has given nothing in return. [Laughter.] It is nothing to laugh at. It is a well known fact, and hon. Members opposite who laugh know it as well as I know it. In regard to the question of pigs, we are told that there has been an increase in the number of pigs by 30 per cent. Does the Minister know that the number of pigs in this country is something like the figure of 50 years ago; about 2¼ millions? Small countries like Denmark and Belgium are supplying this country with a vast amount of pig products, bacon, ham, pork and so on, and we are being fed in this way although we have some of the best land in the world and some of the best farmers and agricultural labourers in the world who have set an example to farmers in different parts of the world, as far as stock is concerned. We are so absolutely incompetent in the use of the land and material which we have that we cannot feed our own people more than six months out of the 12. In every town and city we find all kinds of foreign products being exposed for sale, while we have millions of acres out of cultivation, and millions more that have never been cultivated at all and are in the same position that they were in the days of Julius Cæsar. One hon. Member opposite suggests that I do not know what I am talking about. I will give an instance of what I mean. Take the New Forest. Very much of the New Forest is in the condition in which it was when Julius Cæsar came.

Photo of Mr Francis Blundell Mr Francis Blundell , Ormskirk

Is the hon. Member aware that the New Forest was planted by one of the Norman Kings?

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

Yes, I am aware of that, but that does not alter the fact that parts of the forest are in the condition that they were in at the period to which I have referred. It is a well known fact that vast quantities of land in Scotland are in the same condition.

Photo of Mr David Kirkwood Mr David Kirkwood , Dumbarton District of Burghs

Was not the New Forest planted by Henry VIII so that he and his wives should play hide-and-seek.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

I must ask hon. Members to allow the hon. Member to proceed without interruption.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

I have here a statement made by a very distinguished agriculturist, Mr. Christopher Tumor, who, in a recent issue of the "Nineteenth Century," declared that we were producing less food in this country in 1912 than in 1812, and that at the heyday of agriculture, about 1850, we were producing considerably more foodstuffs than we were producing in 1912. We must either produce our own foodstuffs or import them. If we import foodstuff to an extent which requires the labour of 1,000,000 men, it means that while we are missing the opportunity of finding employment for 1,000,000 men in this country, we are finding employment for 1,000,000 men in some other part of the world. I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite will like what I am about to say. There is considerable loss to agriculture as a result of fox hunting. Many farmers in this country are very much annoyed at the amount of damage done to their crops year after year by fox hunting.

Photo of Major Sir Derrick Gunston Major Sir Derrick Gunston , Thornbury

Can the hon. Member mention any crop that a fox has ever eaten?

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

I can tell the hon. and gallant Member an instance from my own experience as a boy on the land. It was quite a common thing for the hunt of Lord Fitzwilliam in South Yorkshire to gallop over growing crops. That happened when I was a boy working on a farm. I know of one farmer in South Lincolnshire who threatened, and threatened successfully, to shoot the first man who galloped over his land, and after that threat they did not gallop over his land. Another great loss to agriculture in this country is caused by the fact that we import eggs to the value of £19,000,000 per annum. That means an enormous loss to the small farmer and the small poultry farmer. What an enormous trade it wolld mean to these men if we obtained our eggs from them instead of importing eggs from Canada, China, and distant parts of the world, some of which were stamped as fresh eggs six months previously. Let me take another aspect of the question.

I presume the Minister of Agriculture is aware of the fact that there is a considerable amount of a very poor type of wheat produced in this country. Has he ever heard of bunted wheat? Has he heard that Professor Biffen has declared that from the reports of millers 90 per cent. of the wheat grown in this country is bunted wheat? I do not know whether hon. or right hon. Members opposite have ever tested bunted wheat and compared it with excellent white wheat. I have had it under the microscope, and I have here some specimens of bunted wheat. This has a very important bearing upon the question of health, because Mr. John Hepburn, a farmer in the county of Essex, has declared, and he is supported by medical evidence, that there is very close relationship between bunted wheat and cancer. There is an enormous and increasing death-rate from cancer in this country.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look into this question. If he cares to put bunted wheat under a microscope, he will find that, while the pure wheat will show as a pure white commodity, this wheat will reveal, as it were, little gunshot pebbles which are very disastrous to health. I hope he will look into it, because at the present time there are 10,000 children dying from tuberculosis. While I believe that the death rate from that cause is declining, the death rate from cancer is enormously on the increase.

What is the root trouble of the land problem in this country? The hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) suggested that Members on these benches were of opinion that landlords have a double dose of original sin. I have never expressed any such view and never intend to do so. In our judgment, disregarding all the subsidiary causes, the prime root of the problem of the agricultural industry in this country lies in the fact of the private ownership of land. No man ever made the land, and no man ever made very much of the fertility of the land. All men require access to the land, and that which all men require access to ought not to be the private property of the individual. There is not only the land, but there is the question of the atmosphere and of the nitrogen and bacteria in the air. If you allow private property in land, a landowner can control a hundred thousand acres of land and the valuable minerals underneath it, and even the valuable frost which is falling now. Some people may not like it, but it is a very valuable thing for land. Land which has been lying fallow and which was ploughed in the autumn derives great benefit from it. From the point of view of the land, the private owner controls all these atmospheric conditions.

On the 19th of February, 1872, a, return was moved for by the Earl of Derby as to the ownership of land in this country. The total area of England and Wales was given, after deducting the area within the metropolitan district, as 37,243,859 acres. How was this divided among the inhabitants, Sixty-six persons owned 1,917,076 acres; 100 persons owned 3,917,641 acres; less than 280 persons owned 5,425,000 acres, or one-sixth of the enclosed land of England and Wales; 523 persons owned one-fifth of England and Wales; 710 persons owned one-quarter of England and Wales; 875 persons, or a little more than the membership of this House, owned 9,276,000 acres. One Englishman owned 186,397 acres, another 132,500 acres and a third over 102,575 acres.

That is bad enough for England and Wales, but what do you find when you come to Scotland, in which I am more particularly interested? I am a Scottish Member, representing a constituency in Lanarkshire, where we have an appalling problem of destitution. This is a very serious matter where people live in a climate so severe that it comes down to 26 degrees of frost, as at present, and where some of them have been in semi-starvation for years. I have known people actually starving but for an odd half-crown given to them, to assist them not for a day but for a week. I say that private ownership in land is one of the serious causes of what is going on there. The results in Scotland given in that return are most startling. The total area of Scotland is 18,546,994 acres. One owner owned 1,326,000 acres and also 32,000 acres in England, making a total of 1,358,000 acres. Twelve owners owned over 4,339,000 acres, or nearly a quarter of the whole of Scotland, equal to the whole area of Wales or eight English counties. Twenty owners owned 120,000 acres each; 70 owners owned about 9,400,000 acres, or more than a half of the whole: 171 owners owned 11,029,000 acres, while nine-tenths of the whole of Scotland belonged to fewer than 1,700 persons.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

If the hon. Member had been paying attention to what I said, he would have heard me say that it was asked for by the Earl of Derby in 1872 and the return was given in 1874. It has been constantly demanded since then, and we have never been able to get a return. Hon. Members know perfectly well that if an adequate return was allowed for all lands paid for in this country and compensation given, not on the basis of paying for land given by the King at various times hut for land actually bought, there would be very little to be paid for. There is the secret of the crisis in this country. You could solve the whole of your unemployment problem next year if you had access to the land. You could solve the whole of your poverty problem if you had access to the land. When a man can produce, on the evidence of Sir Daniel Hall, in the "Edinburgh Quarterly Review" of October of last year, 1,500 bushels of wheat in Australia with one year's labour and nearly 1,000 bushels in this country, there is no reason for starvation or poverty for any man who actually works with his hands as a good many hon. Members on this side have done. Of course, you cannot have hand labour without brain labour.

There is no need for poverty. There is no need for destitution. There is no need for slums. There is no need for the terrible conditions imposed upon one of the finest races the world has ever known, the aged workers of this country. There is no need why hundreds and thousands of children should be condemned to an untimely grave by the abominable conditions which exist in this country at the present moment, due to private property in land and your capitalist system of society. The sooner we face these facts, the better. No one desires a peaceful solution of these problems more than I. But what led to the French Revolution—starvation.

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

On a point of Order. Does not the Motion deal only with the present state of agriculture and not with the date of the French Revolution?

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

The hon. and learned Member must exercise some discretion, and I must allow the hon. Member to develop his argument.

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

The reason for my objection is that we have had a speech of one hour and 17 minutes from one party and another speech of half-an-hour from another, and as the question does concern the present deplorable conditions of agriculture, I thought my objection was reasonable.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

I cannot say that theoretically the hon. Member is out of order, and I have no power to settle the length of speeches.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

May I turn aside for a moment from my main argument in order to reply to the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley)? I have sat on these benches since four o'clock this afternoon and I am the second speaker on this side of the House. In addition to that, I very seldom speak in the House, and perhaps if I spoke oftener it might not be altogether agreeable to some hon. Members opposite. I know as much about agriculture as the average hon. Member on the other side. I am much older than many of them. I began work on the land at 10 years of age, and if I am out of order it is for Mr. Deputy-Speaker to call me to order. My point with regard to agriculture is this, that we are in very grave danger of a physical force revolution in this country which I do not want to see. I stand for peace in all departments of life, but I can see that some of the forces which were important factors in bringing about the French Revolution are at work in this country. We have the same conditions which helped to bring about the Revolution in Russia a few years ago. Up to a certain limit man is a very patient animal, but he reaches a time, sooner or later, when, in the words of a former Member of this House, "There is a limit to human endurance." Does anyone imagine that the intelligent and capable working men of this country, who have been out of work for the last four years——

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

The hon. Member is now making a speech which would be more appropriate to a Debate on unemployment than to to-day's Debate.

Photo of Mr William Wright Mr William Wright , Rutherglen

It has a bearing on the question of agriculture. I submit that the fact that there are only 750,000 people working on the land, while it is capable of employing 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 people, has a bearing on the question. However, I defer to your judgment. I have taken more time than I usually do because the question merits a rather exhaustive reply, and the speech of the Minister of Agriculture could not be possibly answered by the right hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Noel Buxton) because he preceded the Minister of Agriculture. I have made my reply, and I shall be glad to hear what the Minister of Agriculture has to say to my observations.

Photo of Sir Harry Hope Sir Harry Hope , Forfarshire

The agricultural industry is in such a depressed and critical condition, and is of such vital importance to the welfare of the country, that I am glad the topic has been discussed to-day. What are the actual facts of the position? At the present time farmers, especially of arable land, are losing money, and land is going out of cultivation. The acreage now under cultivation is less than it was in 1870. Our population in the rural districts is dwindling and men are going into neighbouring towns, where the labour position is already congested. Therefore, I say that this problem is not merely an agricultural problem, it is a civic problem, a national problem. In discussing this question to-night, I do so in no party spirit whatever. I have had a lifelong connection with agriculture, although I have now no direct personal connection with it. We hear criticisms as to how farmers conduct the industry, and I have heard it said that what is urgently needed is that farmers should organise. I believe farmers could bring improvements into their methods by more organisation, but there is another party interested which also must organise its action, and that party is the State.

The agricultural industry has been neglected for many years by all political parties, and it is time, when the industry is in this critical condition, that we gave it our earnest attention and co-operated with the farmers in trying to bring about success. When I say that farmers might improve their methods by further organisation, I think we can all recognise that, so far as production is concerned, improvements could be brought about. We are importing something like £50,000,000 of bacon, and the success which Denmark has made in sending bacon into this country is largely because they have bred what might be called a standard type of pig. They have entered our markets very largely by this method, and I have no doubt that our own farmers could advance their business if they adopted similar methods, and then went in for co-operative factories. But all that sort of work has been kept back in the past. Again, as regards egg production, we know that our competitors have graded their eggs and packed them under improved conditions. I have no doubt that if our farmers were to adopt progressive methods of that kind they would be able to achieve more success.

It has been said that we ought to adopt different methods in grain growing, and the procedure which is followed in Canada has been held up as that which we should follow. I know Canada and I know that in the large wheat-producing area from Winnipeg to the base of the Rocky Mountains, a distance of 900 miles, and from the American border northward, they have a vast wheat-producing area. But they have a uniform climate and that gives them a uniform quality of grain. No doubt there are some parts of the country where there are different conditions, but generally speaking that wheat-producing area of Canada is not comparable with our own grain-producing districts in this country. We all know how climate varies between the East and the West in this country. Even within a distance of 50 miles there are different climates and different soils, and these things result in totally different qualities and samples of grain. Therefore the procedure which has been adopted with success in Canada does not indicate that we could get equally good results from following it. I think farmers might be able to improve their methods by going in for the production of what is called younger beef and mutton and by changes in other directions.

Though we can see that it is possible for farmers to bring about improvements in their business in these directions, yet we can see also that the State should co-operate in the work. In the first place, consider how fraudulently foreign produce is sold in the British market as British produce. The Merchandise Marks Act, which was recently passed, is an absolutely ineffective Measure, and I only hope that my right hon. Friend, before he leaves office, will do something to make it of some practical service to the agricultural industry. There is one other very important direction in which the State can organise to help the farmer. Take, for instance, the question of foot-and-mouth disease amongst cattle. We know the enormous expense to which this country is put by the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease. A year ago the National Exchequer had to pay something like £4,000,000 in compensation. We had the whole movement of stock interrupted and enormous damage resulted to our farmers.

When we see how agriculture suffers in this way, surely we might recognise that when foot-and-mouth disease is rampant on the Continent it is pretty sure to come from that source. The introduction of meat carcases from Holland was prohibited, but while that was done we saw packing materials, in the shape of hay and straw, coming into this country, and it undoubtedly had the effect of carrying the disease into this country. My right hon. Friend may say that the Government have imposed restrictions on imports from abroad. Restrictions are all very well, but they are not always carried out. When we see the damage that this disease does and the cost to our farmers, it is only right that the Minister of Agriculture should say, "You must send over those articles packed in a different material from hay and straw which comes from farms where disease is rampant." If the right hon. Gentleman did that we should immediately find that a substitute packing would be introduced.

Many restrictions have been placed on farmers as regards potato growing. Farmers are restricted as to the varieties they should grow and as to when they should grow them, and yet we take no effective means to check the introduction of that very serious disease, wart disease, from abroad. There was held in Glasgow in 1923 a combined conference of agriculturists of Scotland, and it passed the following resolution: The prevalence of the wart disease and mosaic disease in countries from which supplies are imported is a menace to the homegrown crop, and we recommend that imports of foreign potatoes be permitted only under general licence of the President of the Board of Trade after consultation with the Minister of Agriculture as to the extent of home supplies and the freedom from disease of foreign imports. As regards our importation of condensed milk, we have another direction in which more might be done by the Ministry of Agriculture. Considerable and costly restrictions are put upon producers of milk at the present time. At the same time enormous imports of condensed milk are coming from abroad, and in regard to them similar safeguards are not enforced. The Minister of Agriculture might say, "Yes, but I sent out a committee of inquiry to Denmark and Holland to see how their milk was produced, and I have from them a very favourable report." I am not satisfied with that statement, because there was no practical agriculturist from this country on that committee of investigation. I am sure that, had there been on the committee such an agriculturist who could have inspected same of the work that was going on in those countries, the committee would not have produced such a white-washing report.

Then if the Ministry were organised to the best advantage it might take into consideration the question of the railway rates upon foreign produce after it has landed in this country. If the matter of the rates on agricultural produce on our own railways were looked after, we would be doing something to help the prosperity of this industry. Reference has been made to the enormous burden upon agriculture in the shape of local rates, such as education rates and road rates. I hope the Minister will recognise that feeling on this side of the House is very strongly in favour of a concession in that direction. I feel sure that if the State would organise where it can organise, and if the farmers would organise where they can organise, we could bring prosperity to this old industry. I have sometimes thought that the right hon. Gentleman, in answering questions put to him from representative agricultural bodies, has taken up too much of a negative position and that, even when giving negative answers to their requests—which perhaps he has to do—that he might clothe his answers in a slightly more sympathetic form. I only hope we may see amends made in that direction. If our two Ministers of Agriculture—and we have two in the persons of the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Scotland—could appoint a small representative committee representative of the agricultural interest, I think they would be able to get advice from such a body which would assist them in their administrative work and help to organise the activities of the State so that the organisation of the farmers would, in turn, be implemented and brought to a full measure of success.

I am not a pessimist with regard to agriculture. It is not our land system which has broken down. The landowners of this country have provided capital for the industry at a lower rate of interest than any business or any commercial or national body could do. They have acted a patriotic and useful part. They have enabled money to be obtained for improvements which have helped to place the agricultural industry of this country ahead of the agriculture of other nations. It is all nonsense for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) to be so pessimistic as regards the future. British agriculture is not decaying. I have known it for 40 years and I say that farming in this country, certainly in Scotland, is better now than it was before. The farmers have taken up the benefits of research work and the money spent in that direction has been wisely spent. They have reaped the advantage of that work, and I feel sure that if they were only organised, if improved methods were introduced—and there is no business in which methods cannot be improved—and if the State were to do its part, we would, under the present system, be able to carry on this industry in a way which would be the pride of our people and the envy of other nations.

10.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

The case has been presented so fully and with such force by my hon. Friends on this side that I do not propose to occupy much of the time of the House. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has been good enough to assure us that there is no reason why we should be pessimistic about agriculture. He takes a rather cheerful view of its present position. All I can say is that judging by what is said by all the organisations which represent agriculture, both here and in Scotland, they seem to take a very hopeless view of the present position of things. I think the hon. Gentleman is about the only one who has ever expressed such a very cheerful view of the present condition of agriculture. Even he, in spite of the very optimistic outlook which he has taken of the prospects of agriculture, has condemned the negative character of the answers given by the Minister of Agriculture. At any rate, he pleaded that the Minister's negatives should be more sympathetic. The hon. Gentleman does not ask that anything should be done. All he asks is that there should be a sympathetic "No." I do not think the farmers of this country will be quite satisfied with that.

This Debate was initiated with a view to eliciting from the Government a statement of what they propose to do with regard to agriculture. There is no doubt at all as to the position of agriculture. Bad harvests have simply aggravated, as the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) pointed out, a condition of things which was growing worse. Here you have, in spite of the figures which the Minister quoted, an increased import of agricultural produce from abroad and in some respects a very considerable decrease in the output of agriculture at home. You have the admission of the right hon. Gentleman's immediate predecessor, who undoubtedly understood the agricultural problem. He was a practical agriculturist and, without making any invidious comparisons, I have never ceased to regret that the Government in the interests of a great Dependency found it necessary to transfer him to the post which he now holds. He was giving intelligent consideration to the whole problem. I felt, whenever I was addressing observations to him on questions of agriculture, that though he might not agree with me and did not agree with me, at any rate he had a real understanding of the problem. When one put a case to him or an argument to him, he understood thoroughly what was meant and I have no doubt that had he remained in office something would have been done by now.

What is it the Minister has told us? We all know the position of agriculture. It is quite unnecessary in a House where the Members very largely represent agricultural constituencies to dwell upon it. What has the right hon. Gentleman said? He first criticised very severely some proposals made by hon. Members on this side of the House. That is not the problem. The problem is: What do the Government propose to do? They are in charge of the affairs of this country and by the Constitution they will be in charge for another two Years—two very fateful years for agriculture, which is the first basic industry of the country. Is there any hon. Member, on either side of the House, who can tell us after listening to the right hon. Gentleman what is the policy of the Government? He had some very ill-informed criticism of the Green Book. which made it quite clear that he had never read anything in it, except passages which had been blue-pencilled for him by somebody else. I will give him two or three illustrations. He said, first of all, that we have attacked the landlords of this country as a rapacious class.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

I did not say the Green Book. The right hon. Gentleman's record in attacking the landlords is well known to the House.

HON. MEMBERS:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I observe that the right hon. Gentleman's ignorance is shared by hon. Members behind him. [Interruption.] I challenge the hon. Member to produce a single passage in any speech I ever delivered in this House or out of it, or any letter I ever wrote, in which I ever denounced the rural landlords of this country us rapacious—one single sentence—and he ought, as a gentleman, to apologise. I was largely responsible—[HON. MEMBERS: "Limehouse!"] There was not a single word in that speech which referred to the rural landlords at all. I was referring to the owners of slums in London, and every word I said about them I stand by to-day. I was largely responsible——

Sir REGINALD NEVILLE rose.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I did not challenge the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sir Reginald Neville Sir Reginald Neville , Norfolk Eastern

If my recollection is right, in one of your Limehouse speeches you distinguished between those on your side as "souls," and the rural landlords, on the other side, to whom you referred as "sods."

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I object to being criticised by people who have never read a line of those speeches. Those two words are not even used in the Lime-house speech, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman if he will just send me one word out of that speech in which I referred to rural landlords in those terms, and if he does not I shall expect an apology from him to-morrow.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

Does the right hon. Gentleman forget the speech which he made in connection with the original Rates Relief Act, and how he attacked the then Minister responsible and said it was entirely in his own interests that he was supporting this Measure and for his own purposes? Does he forget that he said: The landlords said they were not asking relief for themselves. It was the old professional beggars' trick, when they pretended to beg for others, and the moment the charitable person's back was turned, the stalwart ruffians spent the money"—— [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted a speech which I delivered, it is perfectly true, 31 years ago in respect of a particular proposition, where I pointed out that the relief which was given then was relief which would go directly into the pockets of the landlords; and so it did. That is not the proposition which I am answering now. The proposition I am answering now is that I denounced the rural landlords of this country as a rapacious class that ought to be abolished. I ask him to point out a single sentence in the Green Book or otherwise in which I said so. On the contrary——

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

Will the right hon. Gentleman deny this quotation: After having bled the farmer of the last drop of his blood, the landowners were now seeking to bleed the taxpayer.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

May I ask for the date of that speech?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

I do not think the date matters. The right hon. Gentleman chose to——

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I asked for the date, and unless the right hon. Gentleman can give it, I shall not give way to him.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

The right hon. Gentleman accused me——

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make a second speech. I am asking him for the date of that quotation.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

The right hon. Gentleman has to go back to a speech which I delivered 31 years ago in respect of a proposal which I regarded as a land- lords' endowment proposition, and upon a speech which I delivered 31 years ago he makes a charge that I accused the landlords of being a rapacious body. That shows the style of controversy adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was it true?"] With regard to the endowment of the landlords, it was perfectly true.

Photo of Mr John Grace Mr John Grace , Wirral

You are a landlord yourself.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

That is just like the rest of the statements of the hon. Gentleman; it is absolutely untrue, and not merely is it untrue, but he has not taken the trouble to find out whether it is true or false, and it makes no difference to him. In the Green Book which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, we made exactly the same statement as the right hon. Gentleman made to-night, that the rural landlord was incapacitated, by reason of the fact that the taxes and the rates had gone up during the War, to give the same relief to agriculture, to finance agriculture, as he used to do in the past. Hon. Members smile, but they are hon. Members who never read a line of the Green Book. So that the first statement made by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the Green Book is absolutely inaccurate.

What is the second statement that he made? The second statement he made was that we proposed to give directions to farmers how they are to cultivate the land. If he had read that book, he would have known that that was untrue. We do not propose in that book to give any directions to farmers. All that we do is that we propose that there shall be the same condition with regard to farming in future as there is incorporated at the present moment in every Crown estate agreement——[An HON. MEMBER: "And every ordinary agreement!"]—and every ordinary agreement as well. What is it? It is that the land shall be well cultivated, that it shall be a condition of the tenancy that the land shall be well cultivated. At the present moment you have 1,000,000 acres of this country that are nationalised. You talk as if nationalisation with regard to the ownership of land were some wild chimera, but at the present moment you have it in respect to 1,000,000 acres in this country. In the case not only of the Crown estates, but of estates of the county councils, in every agreement there is a condition that the land must be well cultivated, and officials of the county councils and of the Crown enforce those conditions. All we propose is, not that you should go to the farmer and say, "Here you must sow wheat, and there you must grow grass." The only condition we propose is the condition that you have in every great estate in the country, that the land must be well cultivated; otherwise, the tenant can be evicted. There is no difference in the proposal we make in the Green Book and the conditions which are made on every great estate in this country at the present moment, and if the right hon. Gentleman, instead of taking leaflets on the subject issued by the Conservative office, had read the Green Book, he would have known that. what he said was untrue. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

This is supposed to be a Debate, not a conversazione.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

Here is another misstatement, which is not so important. He said that we had expounded the doctrine to town audiences. As a matter of fact, if he had only known it, the whole of the agitation up to the present has been in country villages, and it is only now that we propose, for his benefit, to extend it to the towns as well. But that will be in regard to town landlords. Up to the present, almost the whole of the agitation has been in the country, and no one knows that better than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland), who made an admirable speech to-night. I congratulate him on his maiden speech, but he has rather under-estimated the effect of the Green Book, because no one knows better than he does that the Conservative majority came down by 6,000 in that constituency. As he knows very well, up to the present the Green Book has been preached in rural districts where farmers, and I am glad to say landlords, have attended, as well as land agents and farm labourers, and we have had questions put to us and speeches delivered by them, and up to the present it has been exclusively in rural areas where we have preached the Green Book. So when the right hon. Gentleman said that it is an agricultural policy which we have propounded in the towns, he is not approximately near the truth, but he is as near the truth as he is with regard to the rest of his speech.

I come to the actual constructive proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. What are they? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I have no doubt that was a cheer of derision. I join in it. It was a perfect exposition of the policy of the Government in substance and in style—ineffective, halting, futile. Did anyone feel, listening to that hour's exposition of the policy of the Government, that at last we had someone who understood the problem, who gripped the problem, who had the capacity to deal with the problem? Can one man on the other side say that from his heart? On the contrary, what was it? There were some girlish gibes at the Green Book. That did not help very much. There was an indication that the farmers would be all right when prices improve—when they would be either dead or bankrupt. He promised next year to have another dive into the Ouse; he is going to have another attempt next year to deal with that question. When it came to marketing he asked: "What are the Government going to do?" He said the Government could do nothing, that they could only leave it to the farmers themselves, and that it was all in the Orange Book!

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness Lieut-Colonel Walter Guinness , Bury St Edmunds

The right hon. Gentleman really left the House before I dealt with it. I answered the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) about the advisory committees being set up.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

Advisory committees! And that is about all. Then the Orange Book—just a little orangeade to cheer us up. There was no proposal. Everybody knows that if we are going to deal with the marketing question, the Government must take it in hand themselves. One of the greatest farmers in the County of Essex said to me the other day: "When you come to deal with marketing, it is no use leaving it to the farmers themselves. It is not that they are incompetent. It is purely because it is very difficult to organise the farmers of the country for a purpose of that kind." Everybody knows it. In Denmark, the Government took the organisation of marketing into its own hands very largely, and promoted it. It is a question of transport; it is a question of collection; it is a question of improving the roads and of expending money. You must spend money to start it. I said so in reply to an interruption of the right hon. Gentleman. I never thought that you can extricate agriculture from its present position, unless the Government are prepared, in the first instance, to spend a considerable sum of money in order to make up the deficiencies of the past. I say so here, and I am prepared to say it on any platform in the country. I am certain that you have to do it, and when you come to marketing it has to be done. But it is no use saying: "We have an Orange Book; we will give you a copy, and this will show you how it is to be done." It is absolutely no use.

The right hon. Gentleman says that there is depression all over the world in agriculture. So there is. But has he read those very remarkable letters in the "Daily Telegraph," which is not a Radical paper, and I commend, with all respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, a perusal of those very able articles on agriculture in Denmark, which are written. certainly with no bias towards the Green Book or towards anybody who is on this side of the House, but written from the Conservative point of view. There the writer enters into what the Government have done for agriculture in Denmark. What does he point out? He says that the farmer in Denmark is suffering, like anybody else, from the drop in world prices. That is inevitable. But he is making a living even if he is not making money. I ask any hon. Gentleman who represents an agricultural constituency how many farmers in his district would be able to say the same thing during the last two years? I met a farmer the other day—a Scottish farmer, who was farming in the county of Surrey. There is no better farmer than the Scottish farmer. Many a time after the depression of 1878, 1879 and 1880 there were derelict farms in Essex and Kent which were taken up by Scottish farmers. I remember going down into Kent, and young Mr. Bunyard said, "You see that valley there. remember it perfectly derelict, and a number of Scottish farmers came there and took it up, and they are now thriving." This Scottish farmer said that during the last two or three years he had lost money. How many farmers would be able to say in any county in England, at any rate, in most counties in England, that they are making a living even if they are not making money? I will not say most of them, but a very high proportion of them have lost money during the last year or two. Why have they lost money? The whole of agriculture in Denmark has been organised perfectly. I will take another case. This expert went round the Southern Counties as well as some of the Northern Counties, and then he said: We have no land in Denmark which is comparable to your land. There is first-class, second-class and third-class land. Your first-class land is well cultivated. I never said that all the farmers in this country were inefficient. This Danish expert said: The first-class land is farmed in a first-class way. That is the opinion of one of the experts of the Danish Government. He said: The second-class land is not well cultivated, and the third-class land is not cultivated at all. In Denmark, your second-class land is our first-class, and your third-elms is our second-class land. These people who are cultivating second-class land will find in the article in the "Daily Telegraph" a reference to that in which it is stated that the soil was well cultivated, was inferior compared with ours, and yet those farmers to-day, in spite of failing prices and the universal depression in agriculture throughout the world, are able to say that if they are not making money, they are making a living.

Photo of Viscount  Apsley Viscount Apsley , Southampton

Is the right hon. Gentleman talking about arable or dairy farming land?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

It is mostly arable even in the case of the dairy farmers.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

My hon. Friend says it is 80 per cent. Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk as if I only started investigating this question to-day, but I have been doing it all my life, and I was brought up in a rural area. No less than 80 per cent. of the land of Denmark is arable. It is used for dairying purposes, and that accounts for the difference in the quality of the farming.

Photo of Viscount  Apsley Viscount Apsley , Southampton

Is not dairy farming the primary object, arable farming being only secondary to dairying?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

Yes, the primary object is dairying, and that is their method. I am not going to express an opinion upon that point, as I do not profess to be sufficiently expert upon it. All I know is that in Denmark not only have they not diminished the area of arable land, but they have increased it during the years we have decreased it, and they are producing more milk per acre by that method.

I am very glad that the Prime Minister is here. We have had two discussions recently upon basic industries in this country, the one on agriculture and the other on mining. I say now what I said in the previous discussion, namely, that it is only the head of the Government who can really declare a policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is not, without any disrespect to him, in a position to do so. He has to deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he is not quite up to that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a very formidable antagonist indeed, and you cannot deal with agriculture without dealing first of all with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a consensus of opinion in this Debate, on both sides, that you cannot have subsidies, and you cannot have Protection. With regard to the latter, the overwhelming mass of the people earn their living at other trades and industries, I agree with the remarks of the Minister of Agriculture in regard to that, and they were, if I may say so, the best part of his speech. Protection is no use to the farmer unless it puts up prices. If prices are put up, that increases the cost of living for 90 per cent. of the population, and I do not believe that any Government can face that.

The ablest democratic leader that I have seen in this House in my day, with the possible exception of Mr. Gladstone, was Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. There was no man who had such a gift of putting a, proposition to a popular jury. I have always said—if I may digress a little from the course of my argument—that the way in which he put his tariff proposals in 1903 was a model of exposition of difficult proposals to a, popular audience. But still, with all his great powers of popular exposition, which were incomparable, with all his great powers of popular appeal, with all his vital energy and his undoubted patriotism, he was unable to persuade the people of this country to accept, I think it was, a 2s. duty on corn and meat, even with a preference for the Colonies. Therefore, I think it is almost an impossible proposition for any Government, in the present condition of things, to induce the people of this country to agree to Protection, and I agree with what the Minister of Agriculture said about that.

When you come to subsidies, they are very difficult. We discovered that when we were a Coalition Government, including Liberals, Labour Members and Conservatives. I am quite willing to take my share of the responsibility for whatever happened, but only my share. There were Conservatives in that Government. The Minister of Agriculture and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were Conservatives. They were not to blame; I was just as much to blame as they were, and I am not in the least trying to get out of it. At any rate, however, we found that a policy of subsidies was impossible, because of the tremendous fluctuations in prices. For instance, in a single year we lost, I think, £20,000,000—I am now simply recalling the facts from memory —not on wheat, but on oats. I am not sure that barley even came into it. And then came this difficulty, that, if you give a subsidy on wheat alone, which is quite a possible proposition, you find that various parts of the country are not in the least interested in it. Take the Western counties; there is not very much wheat grown there; in Scotland it was no use, and it was no use in the North of Ireland either. They said, therefore, that a subsidy on wheat was merely a subsidy for the Eastern and South-Eastern counties of England, and they asked, why should they face a loss of millions of pounds per annum in order to subsidise one particular brand of agriculture, while the rest of the country got nothing at all? On the other hand, believe me, if you subsidise all round it is bound to break down. We found that. We could not face it and we had to bring the thing to an end. Therefore, I agree with the decision of the Government that both Protection and subsidies are an impossible policy.

But that does not mean that the State ought not to come in with its researches to pick agriculture up. Let us be quite frank. Agriculture has undoubtedly been more neglected in this country than in any other civilised country in the world. All parties must take the blame. Let us take that fact to begin with. We have spent less on helping agriculture than either France or Germany. It is no use quoting Denmark, Holland and the rest, because there the State has done gigantic things. We have done less than the United States, with its vast virgin territories. I am not sure that we have not done less than Canada. The Prime Minister would know that. He is the most recent import from that district. Not only have we done less, but we have done nothing to encourage it, and where we have done it we have done it unintelligently. I am not now going back on the right hon. Gentleman because of his quotations about 1896. If that money had been spent intelligently on helping agriculture by research, by model farms, and other methods, there is no doubt at all that £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 a year would have made a vast difference in the condition of agriculture to-day. We have not helped agriculture. The country has prospered greatly by its ether industries, prospered in a way with which no other country can compare. Now we are face to face with the fact that we begin to realise what we have lost by it. We knew in the War what it meant—that agriculture meant not merely keeping a healthy population on the land, but it meant the security of the country, and may do so yet.

I am sorry the Prime Minister did not stand by the proposition which he made in his manifesto, and also in his Taunton speech. I am not charging him with breach of faith, because the explanation of the Minister of Agriculture is that he thought, instead of calling the parties together to see whether we could have a common policy, it would be better in the first instance to see whether you could not get the interests together. I think it was a mistake. You never could get the interests together, in my judgment, they are so diverse. Even when you come to the farming community there are conflicting interests—the interests of the great farmers, the interests of the small farmers, the interests of the small holders, the interests of the pastural, the interests of those who grow beet, the interests of the market gardener, and then there is the agricultural labourer. I do not think it would be possible to get the interests together, but if the Prime Minister invited the parties to come together, it would be a different thing. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying, "How can we reconcile your proposals with ours?" You can reconcile no proposals when you enter into a conference. I have never seen a confernece yet, whether an industrial or an international conference, where the propositions on both sides were not completely irreconcilable. But that is the object of the conference, and if we had come together to consult and to confer in the common interests of the most important industry of the country, I believe honestly we could have propounded something that would have been acceptable to the whole community and would have enabled the Government to call upon the resources of this country for the purpose of putting agriculture out of its present difficulties.

It is no use pretending it is a question whether the landlord is a good landlord or not. The landlord system is bankrupt. The landlord is the prime capitalist. He is the man who has the obligation to find the money for drainage, for building, for repairs, for the building of cottages. He has not got the money. You may say, Who is to blame? The War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly, if you look at the taxation before the War. It is no use pretending. When Mr. Bonar Law was Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was part of his duty to increase enormously the burden upon agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to do exactly the same thing. So had Mr. McKenna. Everybody had to do it. You cannot put high taxes on other people, and not have a specially high tax for landlords. By so doing you drain the resources that the landlord has for discharging his traditional function in agriculture. He can no longer do so. Everybody who has studied the problem knows that very well. Take the very Drainage Commission which has been appointed by the right hon. Gentleman. It is a complete acknowledgment that the landlord has not at his disposal the resources to enable him to discharge that function. [Interruption]. Does anyone deny that? If this be the case, is it to be left undone? The farmer cannot do it, the landlord cannot do it, and, of course, the labourer cannot do it. These are the three partners in agriculture. If the three partners in agriculture cannot do it, who will do it, unless the State comes in and does it, as it is doing it in every other country of the world?

Mr. GRACE rose——

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I am trying to deal with the matter quite uncontroversially. The State has to come in in two ways. The State has to come in exactly as it did in housing. There was an acknowledgment on the part of the State in 1919, and every Government that followed has adopted that policy, that it was quite impossible to build houses in this country without the State coming in to help. The same thing will apply to agriculture. [An HON. MEMBER: "What, a subsidy?"] Certainly. A grant for the purpose of—you can call it anything you like; if you prefer the word "subsidy," I am not in the least afraid of it. I will certainly say that the State has to assist with regard to drainage in exactly the same way as the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do with regard to the woods. [An HON. MEMBER: "You said a subsidy was impossible!"] The hon. Member, as a rule, is a very fair controversialist, and I am certain that if I point it out to him, he will acknowledge that he is in error. I pointed out that a subsidy with regard to corn was impossible because of the fluctuation of prices.

I have said constantly, and in reply to the right hon. Gentleman when he challenged me across the Floor of the House, that I have no doubt the State will have to come in to assist. I have shown him in what respect, first of all, with regard to drainage. I think you will have to provide cheaper transport for the agricultural community. You will have to do it in regard to roads. You will have to do it with regard to the organisation of the means of collecting produce. The third thing the Government have to do, and I have no doubt at all, is to organise the railway system of this country—instead of it being organised as it is at the present moment to give cheap transport to foreign produce in this country—to give cheaper transport for the produce of our own agriculture.

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

Are not all these subsidies?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

If the hon. and learned member likes to call them subsidies, I am not in the least frightened by a name. I am perfectly certain that the State has to come in and help. You must get State credit for the purpose of financing the farmer. I expected to hear something from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to financing him in his business. At the present time, as anybody who knows the farming community knows, one of the difficulties of the farmer is that he is entirely in the hands of the middleman for credit. What does that mean? I know, as a matter of fact, that it means that he has to sell at a time that suits the middleman, and cannot hold up his produce until the time when he can get the best price for it. That makes the difference of a very considerable sum of money to him every year. These are the facts, and I very much regret that the Minister of Agriculture has not been able to put forward any scheme to-day. The Prime Minister has said that this was the task of statesmanship. This is the statesmanship which we have heard to-day, and there is the statesman. Is that all he has to say to agriculture? Is this his last word to them? This Debate has revealed to us that the Government when they come to deal with the primary industry of this country, which is in a worse condition than it has been in for 40 years, have no policy and no purpose of any kind.

Photo of Mr Francis Blundell Mr Francis Blundell , Ormskirk

In the very few minutes that remain I should like to make one or two observations. When the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) opened this Debate I thought that, at last, the Liberal party were going to work as a team. I thought that my hon. and gallant Friend was going to draw a very dark and gloomy picture, which he proceeded to do, and that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) would come along and sweep the clouds away and tell us what was to be done to assist the industry, whose unfortunate position we all know. Member after Member from all parts of the House has told us of the critical condition of the agricultural industry. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has told us that there is nothing to be done except to persevere with the White Paper policy of the Government. He has told us that whatever may have been his views about landlords some years ago, he has now changed those views and that, owing to the unfortunate intervention of the War, he has been obliged to eat the words which he spoke with so much enthusiasm some years ago. He told us that the landlords whom he had damned before the War because they were too rich are now to be faintly praised because they are too poor. He tells us that the elaborate policy which has been set out in the Liberal Green Book, of I forget how many pages, which I can assure him I have read, means no more than enforcing the Clause in favour of good cultivation which is to be found in the agreement of every landowner at the present time. If I am not correct, I shall be glad to give way to him.

He told us—and I cordially agree with him—that protection for agriculture is out of the question. He told us that subsidies in a large sense, in the sense of the Agriculture Act, are also out of the question, and that is pointed out with great clearness by the Government in their White Paper policy. What does he say we have got to do? He says the State has got to assist with land drainage. I did not hear my right hon. Friend deny that. The Report of the Royal Commission has only been out for about a week and many of us on this side of the House, and indeed Members in all parts of the House, are of opinion that the Government will, and ought to act upon the Report of the Commission, and will and ought to assist land drainage. But I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, in placing the duty of carrying out arterial drainage on landowners, he was placing a burden on them which they have never borne at any time in this country. Arterial drainage has never been a landowner's job; his job has been the smaller drains, the field drains. The operations contemplated by the Royal Commission are certainly not jobs that ever fell upon the landowner's shoulders, whether he was rich or poor.

Another of his misconceptions was when he referred to Denmark. Speaking for myself, I am sick and tired of hearing about Denmark. We have a very great deal to learn from Denmark. [Interruption.] I have learned things from people that I have been sick and tired of. It is not always the most entertaining speakers who are the most instructive. While I thoroughly enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I must confess that I did not derive very much instruction from it.

Apropos of Denmark, the point I wish to make is that he attributed the success of co-operation in Denmark to State action. The right hon. Gentleman is quite in error in saying that. The co-operative movement in Denmark was a purely spontaneous and voluntary movement, and the State did not come in until the movement was well established. It did come in later and assist the movement. The co-operative movement there was spontaneous, and as much the result of one or two enthusiastic individuals as the industrial co-operative movement in this country. The State only assisted it afterwards.

The right hon. Gentleman told us that protection and subsidies on a big scale were out of the question, and he indicated that the salvation for agriculture was to be found in State assistance in various ways to help the better organisation of the industry. That is exactly what the State is doing at the present time, and it is the policy set out in the Government's White Paper. I myself am an unrepentant supporter of the White Paper policy of the Government. That policy is to stimulate the good movements in agriculture, and to try to eliminate the bad ones, and one of the movements to be eliminated is the curious suggestion thrown out by the two parties opposite, that some good can be done for the farmer and the labourer by changing the ownership of the land. I can never understand why a farmer, burdened with sinking fund as well as his ordinary rent, and buying the land not for himself but for the State, is supposed to be in a better position to market his produce.

All parties in the House are agreed that the reorganisation of the marketing arrangements is an absolute essential for agriculture in this country. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has produced a new book on the subject, which I am looking forward to reading. He says: How are we going to enforce the need for organisation? Surely, it is by education and by trying to help the farmer, as the Ministry of Agriculture are doing at the present time. Already we have the economic series, which gives the farmer all the information he requires about markets. The right bon. Gentleman may sneer at these orange books, but they contain all the information which is contained in his own green book; and a good deal more. There are, moreover, demonstrations at agricultural shows as to the best method of grading and putting up for markets. I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman proposes that this Government, or any other, should force farmers to standardise their products, unless he proposes to say, as is being done in the purely exporting countries, that only certain grades of produce shall be sold on the market. I do not think the British farmer is ready to respond to that kind of treatment.

In my view the business of the Government is to think ahead of public opinion, but if they try to act ahead of public opinion then they are sure to get into trouble. When public opinion, as in this case, comes from the people who are engaged in the oldest industry in the world, and who perhaps are the most obstinate people in the world, I think the Government would find, if they endeavoured to enforce somebody else's ideas on those engaged in agriculture, the most obstinate and most stubborn resistance and the position of the industry would be worse than it is at present. I venture to say to the right hon.

Gentleman that if he comes into office and tries to force on the agricultural community methods which they do not want he will find it an extremely difficult job to carry out. We are on the right lines in trying to carry out the policy of the White Paper. I believe we can educate and teach the farmer, give him practical demonstrations of the improved methods which will help him, but I do not believe that by any of the proposals which have been made by hon. Members opposite we are going to assist the farmers in any way. I conclude as I began, that I think the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is nothing more or less than a complete endorsement of the White Paper policy of the Government.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

It seems to me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]—that only representatives of agricultural constituencies are taking part in this Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I represent a constituency which is suffering very severely through the depression in agriculture, and I have listened to the Debate without finding in any speech from any hon. Member of the Liberal or Conservative party any policy that would deal with the present trouble in agriculture. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] It is not peculiar to this country. The present trouble in agriculture is the same in every country that has suffered from the same conditions as obtain in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] It is true of Europe, and of United States.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 107; Noes, 258.

Division No. 485.]AYES.[11.0 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)Day, Colonel HarryHall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')Dennlson, R.Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)
Ammon, Charles GeorgeDuncan, C.Hardle, George D.
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)Dunnlco, H.Harris, Percy A.
Barr, J.Edge, Sir WilliamHayday, Arthur
Batey, JosephEdwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)Hayes, John Henry
Bondfield, MargaretEvans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.Forrest, W.Henderson, T. (Glasgow)
Bromley, JGarro-Jones, Captain G. M.Hirst, G. H.
Brown, Ernest (Leith)George, Rt. Hon. David LloydHirst, W. (Bradford, South)
Buchanan, G.Gillett, George M.Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)
Buxton, Rt. Hon. NoelGosling, HarryJenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)
Charleton, H. C.Greenall, T.John, William (Rhondda, West)
Clowes, S.Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)
Compton, JosephGrenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)Kennedy, T.
Connolly, M.Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.
Crawfurd, H. E.Grundy, T. W.Kirkwood, D.
Dalton, HughHall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)Lansbury, George
Lawrence, SusanRobinson, W. C. (Yorks.W.R., Eiland)Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Lindley F. W.Runclman, Rt. Hon. WalterWatts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D.(Rhondda)
Livingstone, A. M.Sakiatvala, ShapurjiWellock, Wilfred
Lowth, T.Salter, Dr. AlfredWelsh, J. C.
Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)Scurr, JohnWestwood, J
Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)Whiteley, W.
March, S.Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)Wiggins, William Martin
Montague, FrederickSnell, HarryWilkinson, Ellen C.
Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)Snowden, Rt. Hon. PhilipWilliams, David (Swansea, East)
Naylor, T. E.Stephen, CampbellWilliams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)
Owen, Major G.Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Palln, John HenryStrauss, E. A.Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Paling, W.Sutton, J. E.Windsor, Walter
Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)Wright, W.
Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.Tinker, John JosephYoung, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Potts, John S.Townend, A. E.
Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Riley, BenVarley, Frank B.Sir Robert Hutchison and Mr. Fenby.
Ritson, J.Viant, S. P.
NOES.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-ColonelCourthope, Colonel Sir G. L.Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.
Agg-Gardner. Rt. Hon. Sir James T.Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)
Alnsworth, Major CharlesCrookshank,Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)Hills, Major John Waller
Albery, Irving JamesCunliffe, Sir HerbertHoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.
Applin, Colonel R. V. K.Curzon, Captain ViscountHogg, Rt. Hon.Sir D. (St. Marylebone)
Apsley, LordDalkeith, Earl ofHolbrook, Sir Arthur Richard
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)Homan, C. W. J.
Atkinson, C.Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. StanleyDavies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)Hopkins. J. W. W.
Balfour, George (Hampstead)Davies, Dr. VernonHopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)
Balniel, LordDawson, Sir PhilipHopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)
Banks, Reginald MitchellDean, Arthur WellesleyHorlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.
Barclay-Harvey, C. M.Dixey, A. C.Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.Drewe, C.Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'and, Whiteh'n)
Bennett, A. J.Eden, Captain AnthonyHume, Sir G. H.
Berry, Sir George,Edmondson, Major A. J.Huntingfield, Lord
Betterton, Henry B.Ellis, R. G.Iliffe, Sir Edward M.
Birchall, Major J. DearmanErskine Lord (Somerset Weston-s.-M.)Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.
Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)Erskine, James Malcolm MonteithIveagh, Countess of
Blades, Sir George RowlandEverard, W. LindsayJackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)
Blundell, F. N.Fairfax, Captain J. G.Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William
Boothby, R. J. G.Falle, Sir Bertram G.Kindersley, Major Guy M.
Bourne, Captain Robert CroftFleiden, E. B.King. Commodore Henry Douglas
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.Forestier-Walker, Sir L.Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Boyd-Carpenter. Major Sir A. B.Foster, Sir Harry S.Lamb, J. Q.
Braithwaite, Major A. N.Foxcroft, Captain C. T.Little, Dr. E. Graham
Brassey, Sir LeonardFraser, Captain IanLocker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)
Briggs, J. HaroldFremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.Looker, Herbert William
Briscoe, Richard GeorgeGalbraith, J. F. W.Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere
Brittain, sir HarryGanzonl, Sir JohnLuce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman
Brocklebank, C. E. R.Gates, PercyLumley, L. R.
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew HamiltonLynn, Sir R. J.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks,Newb'y)Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George AbrahamMacAndrew, Major Charles Glen
Buchan, JohnGilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir JohnMacDonald, R. (Glasgow, Catheart)
Buckingham, Sir H.Glyn, Major R. G. C.McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus
Burton, Colonel H. W.Goff, Sir ParkMcLean. Major A.
Butt, Sir AlfredGower, Sir RobertMacmillan, Captain H.
Caine, Gordon HallGrace, JohnMacnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm
Campbell. E. T.Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)Macquisten, F. A.
Carver, Major W. H.Greaves-Lord, Sir WalterMaitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-
Cassels, J. D.Greene, W. P. CrawfordMakins, Brigadier-General E.
Cautley, Sir Henry S.Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (W'th's'w, E.)Malone, Major P. B.
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. JohnManningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Cazalet, Captain Victor A.Grotrian, H. BrentMargesson, Captain D.
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)Gunston, Captain D.Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.
Chadwick, Sir Robert BurtonHall, Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)Meller, R. J.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)Merriman, F. B.
Charteris, Brigadier-General J.Hammersley, S. S.Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)
Chilcott, Sir WardenHanbury, C.Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.
Christle. J. A.Hannon, Patrick Joseph HenryMoore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R. (Ayr)
Churchman, Sir Arthur C.Harrison, G. J. C.Meore, Sir Newton J.
Clarry, Reginald GeorgeHartington, Marquess ofMoore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.
Clayton, G. C.Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive
Cobb, Sir CyrilHarvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)Murchison, Sir Kenneth
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.Haslam, Henry C.Neville, Sir Reginald J.
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir GeorgeHawke, John AnthonyNicholson, O. (Westminster)
Colman, N. C. D.Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrst'ld.)
Cooper, A. DuffHenderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert
Cope, Major WilliamHenderson, Lt.-Col. Sir V. L. (Bootle)O'Connor. T. J. (Bedford, Luton)
Couper, J. B.Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Courtauld, Major J. S.Henn, Sir Sydney H.Ormsby.-Gore, Rt. Hon. William
Penny, Frederick GeorgeSanderson, Sir FrankWard, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)Sandon, LordWarner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Perkins, Colonel E. K.Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.Warrender, Sir Victor
Perring, Sir William GeorgeSavery, S. S.Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barrtstaple)Sheffield, Sir BerkeleyWatson, Rt. Hon W. (Carllsle)
Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)Shepperson, E. W.Watts, Dr. T.
Philipson, MabelSmith-Carington, Neville W.Wayland, Sir William A.
Plicher, G.Smithers, WaldronWells, S. R.
Pilditch, Sir PhilipSomerville, A. A. (Windsor)White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple
Power, Sir John CecilSprot, Sir AlexanderWilliams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Pownall, Sir AsshetonStanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Price, Major C. W. M.Stanley, Lord (Fylde)Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Radford. E. A.Storry-Deans. R.Winby, Colonel L. P.
Raine, Sir WalterStott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Ramsden, E.Streatfeild, Captain S. R.Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Rawson, Sir CooperStuart, Crichton-, Lord C.Wolmer, Viscount
Remer, J. R.Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Rentoul, G. S.Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray FraserWood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)
Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.Sugden, Sir WilfridWood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)
Rice, Sir FrederickSykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.Wragg, Herbert
Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)Tasker, R. Inigo.Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Rye, F. G.Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
Salmon, Major I.Tinne, J. A.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.Mr. F. C. Thomson and Major the
Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)Wailace, Captain D. E.Marquess of Titchfield.
Sanders, Sir Robert A.

Words added. Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, while fully sympathising with the difficulties of agriculturists, recognises that the present depression is neither peculiar to this country nor removable by any direct Government action based on sound economic principles, deprecates revolutionary reform of our system of land tenure and unnecessary interference with cultivation, and urges the Government to continue in its policy of applying such measures as are likely to promote stability and continuity and to assist the industry to adapt itself to meet modern needs and conditions.