Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,203,863, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Expenses under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924, a Grant under the Agricultural Credits Act, 1928, Loans to Co-operative Marketing Societies, Grants for Agricultural Education and Research, Grants for Eradication of Tuberculosis in Cattle, Grants for Land Drainage, Grants-in-Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and certain other Grants-in-Aid; and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew."—[NOTE.—£1,750,000 has been voted on account.]
It is three years since I have had an opportunity of explaining in detail the agricultural estimates, and, glad as I am that hon. Members opposite have not found it necessary to put down this Vote and to criticise the work in detail, I welcome, even at this eleventh hour in the life of this Parliament, the opportunity of saying something as to the objects and results of our administration. The industry has been confronted in the last four and a half years with many and heavy difficulties, and, in common with every industry in the trough of depression, it has naturally looked to the Government to give whatever help was possible. Although we have had many remedies pressed upon us which it was not within our power to adopt, and although many people no doubt hoped that we could achieve more than was possible, I say with confidence that those who looked to us for assistance have not looked in vain, and that we have done everything possible to help the industry through its difficult time.
Before I give a short account of our administration, I ought perhaps to present a review of the position. The monthly index figures of the general level of agricultural prices enable us to get some measure of the position of the industry. At the end of 1924 and the beginning of 1925 the general index number for agricultural produce varied between 65 and 71. There was a continuous decline until the last part of 1927, when the figure was as low as 40. Last year there was some revival, but even the improvement of the last few months has not brought the figure higher than 46. On the other side of the farmer's accounts the cost of his labour is greatly increased; his feeding stuffs, at 45, about balance the general agricultural price level; fertilisers are much cheaper, being only two points above the pre-War level; and arable rents have greatly fallen and in some cases are reported to be below what they were in 1914. The serious depression is mainly to be found in the arable areas of the East and South. In the Western and Northern districts, areas where stock raising, milk production and other side lines have been developed, and where there is a certain natural protection, things are not quite so bad.
There is one feature which distinguishes agricultural depression from the depression in other industries, and that is that there is very little unemployment. This feature is not due to any big migration from the country to the town. From 1924 to 1928 there was a decline of 33,000 in the figures of those employed, and all of those were among the ranks of casual labour. Regular men, women, boys and girls increased by 7,000, and it is important to bear this in mind, in view of the suggestion which is now being pressed in certain quarters that we should extend unemployment insurance to the agricultural industry. The Committee may remember that we recently had a Depart-mental Inquiry on the subject, and the Committee recommended that no such scheme should be applied to Scotland, but by means of Scottish votes they carried by one vote a report that a special scheme should be applied to England and Wales. The objection, of course, to any scheme of agricultural unemployment insurance is that if it is put aside from the general scheme, it involves very great difficulty and disadvantages.
If you once begin picking out industries for special treatment on lower con tributary terms, it is difficult to see how you could stop, and how you could avoid breaking up the definite, established scheme of insurance, and, obviously, it would be to the disadvantage of agriculture to come into the general scheme, because the agricultural worker, owing to his low incidence of unemployment, would take out far less than he would pay in. I think that many of those who suggest the extension of unemployment insurance to agriculture do not realise that it means a burden of 8d. on the employer and 7d. on the employed, in return for very little benefit. It was, no doubt, because of the very bad bargain which it would mean for agriculturists, that the Blanesburgh Committee reported that in this matter they were in favour of leaving things as they are.
Of the many industries which are included under the name of agriculture, all are not depressed, but the industry is certainly as a whole not in a flourishing condition, and the Government have been facing the problem of how they can assist it to greater prosperity. Our attempts at reaching a political agreement having failed, we produced our own policy, which we thought to be the highest common measure of agreement, in the White Paper which we published in February, 1926. That programme ruled out protective duties and subsidies, and we concentrated on three objects—to strengthen the economic position of agriculture, to assist the producer by lowering his costs, and also to help him by improving his markets.
For all these objects much has been done and will be done by research and education. It is impossible to exaggerate the immense value of this form of help, even though it is slow to reach fruition, and only shows itself in a marked degree over a considerable period. At the end of 1927 we held an Imperial Agricultural Research Conference in this country, and that has greatly stimulated agricultural research throughout the Empire. Owing to this development, we are losing some of the cream of our research workers, who are being attracted to other parts of the Empire. We are now spending on research and education the very large sum of £585,000. In the matter of research, we shall have to face increasing expenditure if we are to keep the excellent men who have been trained in this country, and we shall also have to develop what has been done in the way of agricultural education. The experiments in the matter of scholarships have been thoroughly justified. They have gone on long enough now to have been proved by the test of competition in after life, and many of those who got these scholarships are now in good positions. Undoubtedly, the agricultural education which has been developed in recent times is doing much to increase the technical efficiency of the industry.
To help the economic position, we have passed several Measures. Last Session we passed the Agricultural Credits Act. The Committee is aware of the need of new capital in the industry and is familiar with the way in which we dealt with this matter. I am glad to say to-day that the system has got very well under way. The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation have advanced loans up to £1,250,000 already, although they only started work at the beginning of the year. These loans are being distributed widely throughout the agricultural districts. The Corporation is further examining applications for other loans to the extent of another £2,250,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the rate of interest?"] The rates vary according to the objects, and according to whether it is immediate credit or long term credit. Long-term credit is 5½ per cent. to cover all charges, including sinking fund and interest. The short-term system has also made a good start, and 1,200 agricultural charges have now been registered. This transition, obviously, could not take place suddenly. It would have been very mischievous and disturbing to the industry if it had; but there is no doubt that it is being gradually brought in with the co-operation of producers and traders, and in time it promises to achieve a revolution which should be of immense benefit to agricultural finance.
I am afraid I have not got that. We only get the figures from the Land Registry. The number of charges are distinguished there according to whether they are fixed charges or floating charges, but I do not think we have the figures of the actual amount advanced. I think the right hon. Gentleman will see how difficult it would be to get such figures, because often where there is a floating charge the amount advanced is complicated. It is the maximum, and may not be drawn to the full immediately.
Efforts have been made, not only by us but by our predecessors in some degree, to modify the economic structure of the industry by the provision of small holdings. The Committee will notice in the Estimates a very large increase in the Vote under this heading, but the increase of £845,000 as compared with the previous year is due to the automatic operation of a postponement which we passed in 1925, and we are this year paying two years' charges under the Land Settlement Facilities (Amendment) Act, 1925, towards the final financial liquidation of our obligation to local authorities. The House has sometimes shown considerable interest in the number of applications which are registered for small holdings. I have never felt very confident of the accuracy of the figure we were able to give. I think the old figure was about 13,000, but recently we have got fresh returns from the local authorities, and it is evident that they were carrying on their lists many applications which were no longer effective. They have recently overhauled their lists, and considerable weeding out has taken place, so that at the end of last year the number of applications was 3,000. I should remind the Committee that the number of statutory small holders in the country is something over 30,000. The response to the Act of 1926 on the part of local authorities has been very disappointing. The State provides 75 per cent. of the loss involved in the provision of smallholdings, but the local authorities have not found it possible to take great advantage of these generous terms. The difficulties are not far to seek. The capital outlay which is necessary for building, owing to the greatly increased cost of bricks and mortar nowadays, is at least 50 per cent. higher than it was before the War. Interest charges are 5 per cent. as against 3½ per cent. under which the great provision of small holdings took place in the pre-War period.
I am informed that it did go up to 6½ per cent. in 1920, but, at any rate, I am considering the present position, and the discouragement which undoubtedly exists to the provision of further holdings. Loan charges under present conditions for these inevitable outlays are now double what they used to be before the War, and the costs of repairs and management have gone up in about the same proportion. It is clear that new holdings can pay their way only if the rent is doubled. That, as the Committee will recognise, is out of the question. Rents, clearly, can be paid only at about the same level as before the War. It is difficult to see how we can quicken up the provision of these holdings. It is essential that administration should be local. We have had very sad experience of the results of trying to run small holdings from London, and if the administration is local it is essential that the local authorities should have some financial stake. Twenty-five per cent. is not a very big stake, and although only 30 councils so far have found it possible to work under this new scheme, I hope that the figure may gradually increase and that more confidence may grow up and enable them to launch out more boldly.
On the economic side, what we have done is to help the farmer by relieving him of his rates. I know hon. Members opposite do not think that will do much good, and I also am aware that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) has said that rates as such are no burden on the industry at all. We believe that rates are a burden on the land, and we believe that the removal of this burden will have a very stimulating effect upon the industry.
We are trying to help the productive side of the industry by improving land drainage. A great deal of our land is waterlogged, and we have continued the long-standing system of devoting any available State assistance to arterial drainage through the statutory authorities instead of to field drainage. In the year 1926 we undertook a programme of land drainage which included a large part of the necessary provision for schemes which were in contemplation, such as the Ouse drainage scheme. Since the Select Committee threw out the proposals for the Ouse settlement in 1927, some of that expenditure has fallen into abeyance, but no fewer than 63 schemes have been accepted at a total cost to the State of £420,000. All that was done under the original system of helping the authorities in regard to works of a permanent nature.
At the end of last year we initiated another scheme to use these land drainage works for the advantage of transferred mining and other unemployed labour. A condition of grants under this new system was that 50 per cent. of unemployed from those particular depressed areas should be employed. There are two methods of finance in regard to these schemes. The Ministry in some cases helps directly by a 50 per cent. grant where the local body's quota is raised out of revenue, and that is an explanation of some of the increases in our land drainage appropriation. The alternative method is for assistance through the Unemployment Grants Committee, and under that scheme the Government's share takes the form of a percentage on the Sinking Fund charges. Already for these transference drainage schemes, £550,000 of expenditure has been approved, and several others, some of them very large schemes, are still in prospect. Apart from these major works the county councils have been doing a good deal of useful small scale work under the Act of 1926. There is no doubt that there has been a gradual improvement in recent years in the condition of the land.
I am using that word in the sense of national land from which all our agricultural crops are raised. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. Mac-Laren) seems very jealous on this matter, and he is afraid lest the owner of the land may get some benefit. I can assure him that the benefit of these works does not go to the landlord. After all, it is the landowner who pays rates for keeping up these works, and they would not be done for the benefit of the occupier unless the State came in and made such works financially possible.
It is very difficult to give the figure, but these schemes are entirely secured on the credit of the ratepayers, and as the landowners pay their share of the rates, they are responsible through the rates for the upkeep of these works and for financing their share which may be as much as two-thirds of the capital value. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has recently published a statement that the Government has done practically nothing in the way of land drainage, and the right hon. Gentleman has made proposals for very large and spectacular increases. If the right hon. Gentleman really gets down to the administration of his scheme, he will find that any large scale development in drainage is impossible unless practically the whole of the cost is borne by the State which is contrary to the principle of our long standing legislation on the subject, and it is also contrary to the principle which we have endorsed in our administration. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs will find it impossible to carry out the scheme he has suggested on the basis laid down, because he himself has admitted that those who get the benefit are to make a contribution to the cost. Under those conditions he will find, as we have found, that the local drainage authorities are not able to start these schemes at any greater rate than at the present time. Their financial position is such that the burden of existing schemes, the difficulty of financing the interest charges in view of the very heavy rates now borne by the land for drainage would make it quite impossible, provided the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs carried out his undertaking, for the occupiers and those who benefit to pay anything to the scheme, and he would find that it would be quite impossible to carry out his programme on the lines which he has outlined.
We had recently a Report from a Royal Commission on land drainage which was set up two years ago, and that Commission recommended a fundamental alteration in the system of rating and also a general revision of our drainage law. Of course that would involve very complicated and difficult legislation, and that is the explanation of why we cannot go further with that question. We cannot tackle some of the bigger schemes like that of the Ouse area until we get new and comprehensive drainage authorities. As hon. Members know, we are pressing on with the necessary surveys in certain areas which must be the foundation for this new legislation.
I will now deal with the question of the sugar-beet industry. A subsidy to that industry was the first action we took as soon as the present Government assumed office. In granting that subsidy we felt that we were justified in making an exception to the general rejection of subsidies, seéing that it was for a temporary purpose and was intended to assist those areas which were most seriously depressed. I think that legislation has been most fully justified. Before that legislation was passed there were only three factories in existence, which produced in 1924 13,200 tons of sugar on 16,900 acres of land. Last year we had 19 factories in operation, and instead of 13,200 tons of sugar being produced, we produced 195,000 tons. Instead of having 16,900 acres of land under beet, last year we had over 178,000 acres. Last year was a very critical time, because the previous season had been very depressing to the farmers owing to the fact that there had been a drop in the subsidy which had caused a chill on the part of the producer. I am glad to say that now we seem to have surmounted that crisis, and, as compared with 178,000 acres under beet last year, the contracts which have been made by the factories this year amount to 231,700 acres.
There is no doubt that this new industry has proved a Godsend, and I am glad to say that any possible injury which may have been done to the old and valuable sugar-refining industry in this country has now been entirely removed owing to the steps which were taken in the Budget of last year. The result has been that the refineries have more than recovered their old level of output. Whereas the sugar refineries of this country were producing 64 per cent. of the total consumption of refined sugar before the subsidy was given, last year they had recovered most of the lost ground and they achieved the figure of 70 per cent. of the total consumption. We are working hard in order to try to improve the methods of the industry. Experiments are going on to find the best method of manuring, the best type of seed and the best system of growing, and so forth, and we are hoping that the industry may not merely assist the arable farmer who at present is having such a bad time, but may establish itself as a permanent and valuable part of British agriculture.
One of the most encouraging sides of agricultural production in these years of difficulty has been that of milk production. It has had the advantage of being free from foreign competition, except in the matter of condensed and dried milk. I feel sure that it is not only to the benefit of agriculture, but to the advantage of the nation as a whole, that the dairying industry should be developed. The Committee are aware of the result of recent experiments in regard to the health of school children who were fed on milk, and a good deal has been done to encourage the demand in various directions. The freight rebate which took effect last year will in some degree help the producers, but consumption remains far below what it is in foreign countries, and much below what it ought to be in this country. We believe that the best way to encourage greater consumption is to reassure the public as to the purity of the supplies. A vast amount has been done by the industry itself in that direction, and the Government, by means of clean milk competitions, have done a good deal to assist in this movement. The distributors are taking up the effort, and are giving special payments for high quality and cleanliness of milk in London, Birmingham and elsewhere.
The Diseases of Animals Act, which we passed in 1925, enabled us to give compensation for cows that were slaughtered on account of certain forms of tuberculosis. The figures which we have now compiled, after more than three years' working of that Act, are very reassuring. 700,000 cows were examined between September, 1925, and the end of last year. These cows and heifers were all suspect; they were not taken at random, but were cases in which the milk had been found to be impure, or in which notification had been given by the local sanitary or veterinary authorities and by the farmers themselves, who are called upon to notify any suspected case of this serious disease of tuberculosis as a condition of getting compensation, and are also subject to penalties if they are in default. Of these 700,000 suspected cows on suspected premises that were examined, 8.4 per cent. were found to be affected with scheduled forms of tuberculosis; but of that 8.4 per cent. only a very small proportion were giving tuberculous milk, and the figures and alleged facts which are so often published are grossly misleading. Of those 700,000 suspected cows and heifers, only 1.3 per cent. were giving tuberculous milk or suffering from tuberculosis of the udder. I would emphasize that this small result was found on this large number of suspected premises, and that these very satisfactory figures give the public ground for increased confidence in the purity of the milk supplies as a whole.
We are also at work trying to reduce the farmers' losses in connection with foot-and-mouth disease. It is not, perhaps, always realised that, although the farmer gets compensation for cattle and stock seized and destroyed in connection with outbreaks, that does not see him through his indirect losses, and the amount paid by the State is only a small proportion of the loss borne by the industry in connection with foot-and-mouth disease. I am glad to say that there has been a steady reduction in the number of outbreaks. In 192–1 there were 1,440; last year there were 138. In the first four months of this year there have been 20 outbreaks, and I am glad to say that since the 24th March we have not had any outbreak, and the country is now for the moment clear; I do not know how long it will last. We certainly have had more periods of freedom in recent times than for many years past. This result is remarkable, considering that the disease continues to rage on the Continent. Last year Holland had 19,700 outbreaks, and France had 11,000 outbreaks.
The reason for our comparative freedom is that our organisation for dealing with the problem has been greatly improved, and, I think I may say, is now nearly perfect. This is very largely the result of the advice of the Pretyman Committee, which reported in February, 1925. It is due, firstly, to improved organisation, and, secondly, to greater vigilance on the part of the farmers, who have realised that the failure of one man to give quick notification may cause a widespread disaster. One instance of careless ness or lack of knowledge or lack of notification may cause an agricultural disaster, just as one match thrown down during the recent drought could damage great tracts of fertile land and forest. Thirdly, we have been able to reduce the risk of infection by the embargo on continental meat which we imposed in 1926, and which was immediately followed by a very large drop in the number of outbreaks. Fourthly, we have been able to negotiate for very drastic arrangements in South America to see that no animal infected by foot and mouth disease, or in the incubation period of that disease, can reach the killing floor for export to this country. Lord Bledisloe negotiated these agreements in the first instance at the beginning of last year, and his work was followed by a delegation which visited the Argentine recently, and which included two hon. Members of this House, the hon. and gallant Member for North Cumberland (Mr. F. Graham) and the hon. Member for North West Camberwell (Mr. Campbell). They report that these South American States are doing everything that they possibly can to prevent the risk of export of infected carcasses to this country, because to them it is all-important that this trade should be allowed to continue, and they agree that we must insist on absolute safeguards. The fifth measure which we have enforced was an Order for the boiling of swill. I will not make any comment on that. We are very often pressed to relax the regulations which we have felt it necessary to impose, but the time for that is very far off, and under present conditions, it is absolutely essential that we should retain the full restrictions of our regulations.
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman before he leaves the subject of foot and mouth disease? He alluded a few minutes ago to compensation for the indirect losses of farmers, but he did not follow that up.
Perhaps I did not make myself plain. I said that farmers suffered much more, in the way of indirect losses for which they get no compensation, than the State suffers financially by payment of compensation for the stock which are seized. I certainly do not wish to be understood to say that the farmer gets any compensation whatever for his indirect losses; those losses are borne by him without any compensation.
The last way in which our administration has been trying to help the agricultural industry is by the improvement of marketing. We believe that there is no form of assistance within the power of the Government which is of greater value than this. We hear very much nowadays about the rationalisation of industry. The problems of rationalisation vary according to the type of industry. In agriculture the greatest need is probably for standardisation, and that, quite obviously, is far more difficult with natural products of the soil than with factory products. The success of imported supplies in our markets shows the advantage of standardisation. Of course, when products go through the bottle-neck of an export trade, it is easy to insist upon a high quality, a well defined grade and standard, and satisfactory packing, and we have to try to build up for the British farmer the benefit of this system which has been so long enjoyed by his foreign competitors. The hall-mark of quality is the sign of England and the Union Jack—what is now widely known as the National Mark. Our text is, "Empire Buying Begins at Home."
We started to work a few years ago with a grant of £40,000 a year from the Empire Marketing Board, which appears among our appropriations-in-aid, and it has been so fruitful a means of assisting the industry that we are now making it a permanent feature. Farmers are taking up the movement with great interest and enthusiasm. Of course, the Ministry cannot possibly move in advance of the speed at which the farmers are prepared to go. We work by co-operaiton and consultation with the industries concerned. We normally begin by investigation, and we have published a series of Economic Reports, the orange covers of which are familiar to hon. Members, and of which we have sold 70,000 copies. [Interruption.]They are much more valuable than the smaller and newer Orange Book to which the hon. Member refers. We show in those reports what sells best and why it sells best. We are trying to discover and apply methods for making our own produce as easy to handle and to sell as imported produce. We work out the next stage of our operations in consultation with special committees—the Poultry Advisory Committee, the Pig Industry Council, the Potatoes Committee of the National Farmers' Union and the distributive trades—and we have also had discussions about marketing meat with the National Farmers' Union and the National Federation of Meat Traders. Then we have also a National Food Canning Council, by the assistance of which we have been able, in little more than two years, to start a very promising home canning industry. We only set up this Council in 1926—
Fruit and vegetables, and we hope shortly, if we can get the necessary regularity of supplies, to begin canning fish, and to compete with fish which is caught in the same waters and canned on the other side of the North Sea. We have now 30 factories at work on fruit and vegetables, and this movement will not only help agriculture, but will also help the tinplate industry. When a product gets to the final stage, of not merely grading but of adopting a national mark, we have the advantage of administration by the National Mark Committee, presided over by Lord Darling. We have now applied this national mark to apples, pears, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers and a few less important vegetables.
I hesitate to mention broccoli, because I know the unwholesome excitement which that excellent vegetable causes on the benches opposite. It seems to sit as heavy on their political digestion as the pre-War mangel-wurzel. At the same time, it is a very enlightening example of what can be done by educational work on the part of the Ministry and the initiative of the local grower. In 1923, the broccoli producer was suffering very much from French competition. The French had the advantage of a better type of seed and better methods of packing. We sent over officers to learn the local methods, we imported some seed from Roxoff, in Brittany, and we educated the farmers in certain favoured areas as to the method of growing, and now in Cornwall alone there are 500 acres under that crop making a very good profit. It is uniformly graded and attractively packed and easily finds its market, and it is very satisfactory that, where the industry was very depressed a few years ago, it is now flourishing. Of course, the home market is the most important, but it is remarkable that, after having been overwhelmed for years by the rising tide of imports, we are now, not only holding our own, but are beginning a very profitable export. It is admittedly in its early stages, but we have every hope that the movement will extend.
We know that some truckloads have gone, and we know that they have been graded and packed under the national mark. We know that the farmer has been getting very good prices, and I can assure hon. Members opposite that we have had a good deal of correspondence on the subject from disgusted farmers who read the very contemptuous reference that has been made to this subject.
Yes. I might be able to give it later in the Debate. Broccoli is extremely profitable. Of course, it has been a year of high prices and, as the Cornish producer escaped the blackening of the crops by frost, he reaped a large financial benefit when he was able to put it on the market in Northern Europe, where there was a shortage.
The hon. Baronet is entirely wrong. If he will read what the Prime Minister said, instead of inventing words and putting them in his mouth, he will find that there was nothing about a large export. He mentioned that this was a development in agricultural marketing, and the longer the Opposition below the Gangway go on talking about broccoli, the more valuable it will be for us, because I am certain there is no more valuable political education for the farmer than the ridicule which hon. Members opposite have thrown on this very valuable movement which he has taken up for himself.
This is a very good example of the contrast between the attitude of hon. Members opposite and the Conservative party. We believe in giving practical assistance to the agricultural industry. The Opposition believe in spectacular changes. We believe what the farmer wants is to be able to make a profit. Hon. Members opposite think what is needed is that we should transform land tenure, control cultivation, and expel the farmers of whom they do not approve.
Really, I cannot keep track of it. The lack of enthusiasm in its reception has now produced a complete repudiation of the Green Book. If so, I must congratulate the hon. Baronet on having been freed from that incubus. If he does not mean control, why was there all this bother, why was there all this output of ink and paper on the subject of the inefficiency of the British farmer and the necessity of having committees? It may be that it has been thrown over, but that was certainly the policy that was placed before the country.
I can only go by the published programme. The whole argument of hon. Members opposite for years past has been that the British farmer is incompetent, and is getting a miserably low yield from his land, and they produce certain absolutely fallacious figures of comparison with foreign countries where conditions are different. The whole object to which that argument leads up, in innumerable speeches and publications, is that the farmer must be taught his job by the State, and, if he does not do it properly, he must lose his farm. We believe such convulsions in our system would only injure him, and our present administration and our future efforts will be concentrated on the practical needs of the industry. We shall go on strengthening weak places in technical equipment and in business organisation, and we shall seek to do so by co-operation and helpful advice, and not by methods of compulsion.
The speech that has just been delivered was a survey of the whole position of agriculture, which we regret the right hon. Gentleman has not had an opportunity to make for such a long period as three years. The survey was a very interesting one, in spite of the misrepresentations of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I do not know that it could be fairly represented as pouring contempt on the Cornish farmers We are not sorry to see that the Cornish farmers are prosperous as the result of their export of broccoli. That is a very desirable thing. But broccoli was instanced in the Prime Minister's speech as one way of meeting the unemployment of 1,250,000 people.
That is exactly the position. The speech referred only to the question of unemployment. There is one other point in the Minister's speech with which I fully agree. He emphasised the desirability of extending agricultural research work throughout the country. Agricultural research stands on a very different footing from research in connection with other industries. It is on a different footing from manufactures, because of the nature of the industry itself. It is not easy for the scientific development or advancement of the age to make itself felt in agriculture as quickly as in the industrial field. The farmers are more scattered, they are not so easily got at, and the work is necessarily a much slower process than it is in a purely manufacturing business. But a great deal of work is being done. The farmer himself is naturally of a conservative temperament. He pursues the older methods. The method of agricultural education is most effective, as far as I have been able to observe, where agricultural colleges have been set up, and where the lecturer, or professor, has been able to make himself part and parcel of the community in which the college is founded. Where that has taken place, the college has made a profound impression upon the agriculturists in the surrounding district. But there is another and more interesting development going on alongside that, where the son of a farmer is sent for two or three years training and goes back home to work upon the farm. He is in a position to do very much more for farming by getting his father and the surrounding farmer to adopt new methods. There is the psychological factor which operates in that way, producing a far greater advancement than could be secured in any other way. Whether the right hon. Gentleman has done all that can be done in this direction is another matter, but that he is giving his whole-hearted support to it he has shown to-day, and that is something for which we may be thankful.
Having said that, what are the reasons which he is putting forward to-day to justify the giving of assistance to this industry during the last four or five years? He surveyed the condition of agriculture during the past four years. There is one thing with which I can agree. He spoke about the efficiency of farming in this country being comparable with the efficiency shown in any other country in Europe. It has been the verdict of competent observers that farming in this country is as efficient as the farming in any other country in the world. Cases can be made out, no doubt, where farmers here and there are inefficient, but one cannot judge the industry upon that basis. Taking the industry as a whole, it is efficiently carried on, and, despite the period of depression, the figures of production in the country amply prove that. The average yield per acre is the test of efficient farming. The average yield of wheat in 1927 was 17.5, which was almost the same as the 1913 figure. The average yield of barley was 16.4, which was slightly higher than the 1913 figure, and the average yield of oats was 14.8, which was higher than the 1913 figure. That shows that if the yield per acre is a fair index the efficiency of farming is being maintained notwithstanding the very difficult times through which the farmer has passed.
The farmer has passed through very serious difficulties, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, because prices have been coming down. Prices affect him in two ways. They affect him not only in regard to general marketing, but in a way in which other industries cannot be affected. It may be that the fanner sows his seeds at a higher level of cost than he is able to obtain when he sells his crops later on. Depression in prices often takes place between sowing and selling, and that makes his market an uncertain market. The drop in prices during the last few years provides an interesting study. The average price of wheat dropped from 18s. 10d. per cwt, in 1920 to 11s. 6d. in 1927. I have not the figures for 1928. Barley dropped from 25s. in 1920 to 11s. 9d. in 1927. Oats dropped from 12s. 3d. to 9s. 1d. These prices to some extent indicate the difficulties through which farmers have passed during the last ten years.
What does the right hon. Gentleman say is the solution of the difficulty? What assistance have the Government given to try and meet that situation? The Prime Minister, speaking at Drury Lane, ruled out protection and subsidies. The right hon. Gentleman to-day has ruled out both those considerations. A logical case can be made out for granting protection and subsidies to agriculture if one takes the view that agriculture is not an ordinary industry and that it is vital for the preservation of the national character, or necessary for the preservation of the national safety. I do not accept that argument. I am merely saying that a case can be made out for it. I do not accept the argument from the point of view of national safety. Take the period of the War. This country was the only country during the War which was not rationed for bread. We should have had little if any food shortage if we had not had to divert our supplies in order to assist the Allies. During time of war we take away the able-bodied men who in normal times would be engaged in producing food. The argument is not a valid argument. You cannot treat agriculture from that point of view. Neither do I believe that the preservation of the national character is dependent upon agriculture. I know of no evidence at the moment which shows that deterioration takes place in the national character when a country becomes largely industrialised as this country has become. While I disagree with these arguments, I can understand a logical case being made out on that basis for protecting and subsidising the agricultural industry so as to enable it to hold its own in the home market.
I can understand the position which to some extent is taken up by the right hon. Gentleman—and with which I agree—that you have to treat the industry of agriculture as you would all your other industries. Countries abroad send foodstuffs here because they want manufactured goods, and we send manufactured goods in return. If you take that view, agriculture can only be carried on in this country to the margin that is permissible as a counter-balance to your great manufacturing industries. You must treat it as one industry and treat it in the same way as you treat all other industries. That is the position which, I understand, is taken up by the right hon. Gentleman. He is not going to grant protection or a subsidy. If you take up that position, you must also be careful that, while you are not granting protection or subsidies, you do not penalise it by placing some of the other industries in a more favoured position. The right hon. Gentleman agrees with that. The unfortunate thing from his point of view is that he belongs to a Government which is safeguarding some of the other industries and thereby placing them in a privileged position.
I cannot accept as an argument that the safeguarded article has not risen in price. Unless you are safeguarding these industries against foreign competition, which I understand is the basic argument in favour of safeguarding, what is the object of safeguarding? We are putting certain industries in a privileged position not only in regard to the foreign competitor, but as regards other industries in this country as well, one of these being the depressed industry of agriculture I can understand treating agriculture in the same way as other industries, but I do not understand the position of a Government which treats agriculture from one point of view one moment and penalises it the next moment. That is the position which the Government have taken up. "Oh," said the right hon. Gentleman, "we have assisted agriculture in other ways." They have brought in an Agricultural Credits Measure. The most effective criticism of the long-term credits Measure came from one of the supporters of the Government—the hon. and learned Member for East Grin-stead (Sir H. Cautley)—while it was going through its various stages in this House. The right hon. Gentleman to-day said that the amount of money that has been advanced by the Mortgage Corporation is £1,250,000. The capital engaged in agriculture is estimated at something like £365,000,000. I do not know what proportion of that sum is borrowed capital. Agriculture does not get its capital in the same way as other industries do. Other industries get their capital by way of public subscription. That does not obtain in agriculture at all. It gets its capital by credit. What proportion of the £365,000,000 represents credit advanced to agriculture and what proportion does this sum of £1,250,000 bear to the amount advanced?
I quite follow the distinction. I want to know what proportion the £1,250,000 of borrowed capital on land is of the whole of the money on mortgage. I want to know the proportion in order to see how really effective is this Mortgage Corporation. The land charges amount to some 5½ per cent., and that gives no advantage to the farmer. The Government have brought in a derating Measure freeing agriculture from the burden of rates. The amount given back to agriculture by the additional relief of the burden of rates is about £3,500,000.
Oh! no. I take the figures of the Minister of Health. If you collect the whole of the rates on agriculture they amount to £12,400,000. That was the figure given by the Minister of Health You have already de-rated land to the extent of three-quarters. That is, to the extent of some £9,000,000. There remains £3,500,000. If the right hon. Gentleman challenges that figure, he is challenging the figure of the Minister of Health.
I have not the figures but the Supplementary Estimate for this amounts to £4,100,000. I cannot give the actual figures here, but certainly £3,500,000 is too small.
I am dealing with agricultural land only. The estimate for buildings is an additional £1,000,000. The turnover from the agricultural industry is estimated at something like £250,000,000 a year, and £3,000,000 is not going to make much difference, assuming that they get the full benefit of it. That assumption is fallacious. Although the Act of 1926 and the Act of 1923 are both repealed by the Local Government Act, the provisions of those two Acts as far as the distribution of the money to the county councils is concerned still remain, and there is a deficiency under those Acts that will amount later on to nearly £7,000,000 or £8,000,000. With the increased assesments, consequent upon the increased services that are bound to take place, especially in the sphere of education and the sphere of the Home Office Vote the farmer, in the next ten years, will find himself called upon to bear a burden quite as heavy as, if not heavier than, he is bearing to-day, notwithstanding the abolition of the rates.
He has not. He is still paying rates upon his house. The house is assessed. Under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1928, we have a position, first, where the assessment list is divided. There is a separate assessment for land and buildings and a separate assessment for the house. That assessment remains. There will be a reassessment upon both land and buildings, and they will remain in the assessment list. So far as rate paying is concerned, if the Act of 1896 had not been on the Statute Book the Local Government Act would have wiped out the whole of the farmer's liabilities in regard to rates. I am talking of land alone, for the moment. The Act of 1896 leaves a deficiency at the present moment of £5,000,000. The grant paid by the Treasury is £4,720,000, to meet the three-fourths de-rating. The full sum is over £9,000,000. There is an existing deficiency of £5,000,000 upon the land. The Treasury are not going to meet that. They are not meeting it to-day and they will not meet it under the Local Government Act.
The guarantee does not affect it. A Clause in the Act lays it down specifically how the money is to be paid, and it is to be paid exactly on the basis of the grants that are now being made. Therefore, in respect of the deficiency that remains upon the land, the farmer will have to bear his share in the assessment for rates upon his house.
If the cost of the educational service increases and if the assessment on the land goes up in value, there will be an increase in the deficiency. The deficiency will go up pro rata. The farmer is certainly not out of the wood so far as rates are concerned. I am speaking of land alone; I have not yet touched the buildings.
No. The hon. Baronet does not follow my argument. In form, I agree that the rate on the land has disappeared, but because of the deficiency upon the land, under the Act of 1896, that deficiency has to be met, not from the coffers of the Treasury—the Treasury does not contribute one penny-piece—but it will have to be found by the county authority from its own ratepayers.
I agree that, in form, they do not get it from the land. Take my own Division. The deficiency there represents a rate of 1s. 7d. in the pound. The farmer is not going to get away from that deficiency: he will continue to pay, although he pays it upon his house. He pays it upon his house because it is a deficiency upon his land. That is the point that I am making.
What we have said is, that we have taken the rates completely off the land and farm buildings. That is the position. Assuming that the hon. Member is correct when he says that there is this deficiency because the re-grant from the Treasury has never been what it ought to have been, that does not alter the position adversely to the farmer. It puts the farmer in an infinitely better position than before.
I am not concerned with whether or not the Government have done it. There is an assessment upon the land. The land will still have to be assessed. Buildings will still have to be assessed. Those assessments will go on, apart from the house.
Certainly, it does. The next position relates to the buildings. There is a deficiency, also, in regard to that. That deficiency will fall this year, for the first time, upon the local authorities. There will be no compensating grant in this Bill in respect of that.
No. The definition Clause precludes that. The definition Clause defines what is a reduced rateable value, and the formula makes it impossible to calculate on the 1st October an item which is already reduced from the 1st April That is the position under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. Therefore, the local authorities will have to find from their own [...]offers the deficiency upon the land and the deficiency relating to three-fourths upon the buildings themselves. What is the assistance that is being given? It is £3,000,000, with an additional one-fourth of one million pounds, namely, £250,000. Let us say that it may be £4,000,000, all told. What do the farmers say in regard to it? Naturally, they axe thankful for getting £4,000,000. Some of them are expressing their thanks, but they go a good deal further than merely expressing their thanks. After the speech delivered by the Prime Minister at Drury Lane Theatre, on the 18th April, the Secretary of the National Farmers' Union addressed a letter to the Prime Minister. After stating their thanks for the relief that had been granted in respect of rates, the letter says:
At the same time, we feel in duty bound to express the hope that further consideration will be given by the Government to the deplorable position of arable agriculture. The persistent decline in the area of land under arable cultivation has been a matter which has caused the Union the greatest anxiety for several years past, and it is our earnest hope that if returned to power the Government will take active measures to arrest that decline, which can only be arrested by measures on a larger scale than those, welcome as they are, which you mentioned in your speech yesterday.
While they are thankful in one respect, they protest in another.
Certainly, it refers to the rating position. It refers to the Bill that was introduced by the Minister of Health last week, bringing forward the date, 1st of October, to the 1st April. They acknowledge that, and they say: "Thank you for the additional sum which will come to us." But having said that, they proceed with the second paragraph, which I have read.
I said nothing of the sort. If I conveyed that impression, I did not intend to do so. I did not wish to convey any false impression. They say: "Thank you for what you have done in bringing forward the date," but, having said that, they are dissatisfied with the other measures which the Government have taken to assist them.
I have said so. They say "Thanks," but at the same time they say: "This and kindred Measures are not Measures that will do much good to us, and we hope that you will do something substantial if you are returned at the Election."
Has the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) read the Debate preceding the sending of the letter, in which the Secretary of the Farmers' Union said that they had been put into a very difficult position, and he would try to work something into the letter?
Does the hon. Baronet want me to recite what the Farmers' Union has said about this Government at different times? It would be very interesting reading, but I do not desire to do that to-day. The Minister of Agriculture and other members of the Government have ridiculed the unemployment policy of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is quite competent to defend himself. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has ridiculed the whole of that policy. He treated it largely as if it was merely concerned with roads. It is not merely concerned with roads. I was interested in looking up an answer which was given by the Minister of Agriculture to my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Sir E. Thomas) in regard to land drainage in Wales. The hon. Baronet had asked what acreage of agricultural land in Wales was capable of being drained. I forget the exact figure mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman in his answer, but he did say that there were 115,000 acres in urgent need of drainage. The figure of the total acreage requiring drainage was much larger. My point is, that 115,000 acres were mentioned as being in urgent need of land drainage. That is a complete justification of that part of the scheme of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, especially at a time when there is a good deal of unemployment, even in rural areas. There is a good deal of unemployment in my own Division, although it is purely a rural division. It is idle for the Government to treat the scheme of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs as if it were a scheme merely to put people upon the roads. To that extent they are misrepresenting the scheme. It is much wider than that. The speech of the Minister of Agriculture today has shown us quite clearly that there is ample room for agricultural development, but the Government have not taken any steps to deal with it at any period. They have taken no step to satisfy the Farmers' Union or those engaged in agriculture. Take the list of prices for the years in which the Government have been in office, they have been going down steadily because the Government by their policy of safeguarding other industries has placed agriculture in a very unsatisfactory position.
Is not the hon. Member aware that prices have gone down all over the world, and unless he is prepared to adopt some policy of protection we cannot possibly avoid a reflection of world prices in the matter of British agriculture.
I do not want to impose protective tariffs upon other industries and place agriculture in an unsatisfactory position. That is the position of the Government, and the rural districts are not likely to support them at the next election. In 1923, the Government offered the farming community a bribe of £1 per acre on agricultural land. The party opposite talk about the purity of their election cries, but if there is a party which is capable of offering a bribe it is the party of hon. Members opposite. They offered a bribe of £1 per acre in 1923, which not only the country but the farmers themselves turned down and repudiated with scorn. They will repudiate it again. The Prime Minister has said that Protection is not possible and that he is opposed to subsidies; that is because he knows the farmers will turn them down again. What the farmers want is an opportunity to carry on their business at a reasonable rate of profit, and the Government by their tariff policy are depriving them of that opportunity.
I was asking the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) whether he was aware that the is one agricultural article upon which there is already a tariff, and whether he wishes to withdraw that tariff?
I am fully aware that there is a tariff upon hops, and I am in favour of withdrawing it. The Minister of Agriculture in his speech referred to the question of marketing. What has the Government done to assist farmers to market their produce? What have they done to assist them to eliminate the margin, the great margin, between the price the farmer gets for his produce and the price which the consumer pays? There is an opportunity for the Government to assist agriculture. If you take the figures given in the Report of the Linlithgow Committee there is a difference of £750,000,000 a year between the price which the farmer obtains and the price which the consumer pays. I do not suggest that you can eliminate all the middle men, as a large number of them perform a useful and necessary service, but, if you eliminated 10 per cent. that would give the farming community £75,000,000 a year more than they get to-day. What have the Government done to explore this avenue of assistance? There is more hope of assisting agriculture in this direction than by subsidies or Protection. The farmer wants to be able to run his business independent of Government control. I fully agree that no man knows more about the business of agriculture than the man actually engaged in it. They never asked for derating, and the only reason why they asked for de-rating now is because the Government by their tariff policy of the last four years have weighted the scales against them to such an extent that the farmers said that the Government must give them some countervailing advantages.
The position at the moment is that argriculture has suffered through the legislation of the Government and they are entitled to the benefit of de-rating. What you do in the future has nothing to do with the losses already sustained. One thing the Government should do and that is to leave agriculture alone and at the same time take care not to interfere with other industries so as to make it impossible for the farmer to make a living on the land.
With regard to what the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) has said, I should like to put this point to him; that Safeguarding, as applied to other industries, has not in any single case been detrimental to the agricultural industry.
I am referring to the Safeguarding of Industries, and I submit that the Petrol Duty has nothing whatever to do with the Safeguarding of Industries. The hon. Member has suggested that the Government have done nothing during the last four years to increase the receipts of farmers. May I put it to him that in regard to research and in education the Government has, by the attention they have given to these matters, increased the receipts of farmers. The result of education and research has led to an increase in the yield of crops, and if you increase the yield per acre you are increasing the receipts of the farmers without in any way increasing the cost of production. Research has made this possible in the case of many agri-Cultural products.
I am aware that the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) will always draw the inference that if you increase the farmer's receipts, it will eventually find its way into the pocket of the landlord. I do not agree with him. Then there is the point referred to by the Minister of Agriculture; the help which the Government has given to the sugar beet industry. I come from that part of England, the Eastern counties, which has been practically saved from ruin during the last two or three years by the establishment of this industry. It has been said by hon. Members opposite in a certain pamphlet that the whole of this money is going into the pockets of the sugar beet manufacturers and will do no good either to the farmer or the labourer engaged in agricultural operations. They are absolutely wrong. I am not concerned so much as to the proportion which goes into the pockets of the agriculturist and into the pockets of the manufacturers. What I am concerned with is that the establishment of this industry has assisted agriculture to an enormous extent in the Eastern counties and saved a great many farmers from ruin during the last two or three years.
It has also been a very great help to the agricultural labourer. The industry of sugar beet growing makes a great demand upon labour. The estimated value of labour on an acre of land devoted to sugar beet growing is between £8 and £10, and hon. Members will appreciate the importance of this when they realise that land under grass only absorbs something like 10s. in labour per acre, whereas the same acre under sugar beet will absorb £10 in labour. If this fact is realised it will be seen how valuable the sugar beet industry is to the labouring section of the agricultural community. I should like to add my appreciation to the action the Minister of Agriculture has taken in regard to land drainage. I have had practical experience of the help which the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give towards the drainage of our lowlands in North Cambridgeshire, and we are making use of that assistance and also of the opportunity given us for the employment of ex-miners. It has been a great help to that part of the country.
The only other matter to which I want to refer is the question of marketing. British agriculturists have always suffered from the fact that they only get a small proportion of the amount the consumer pays when he buys agricultural products in our various towns, and any method by which we can get more of the money which the consumer pays for agricultural products into the pockets of the agricultural producer will be a direct step towards increasing the receipts of the farmers. The marketing arrangements are, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, a practical step by which more of the money paid by consumers will find its way directly into the pockets of the producers. It has been successful in the case of eggs and fruit and I am confident that the agricultural community will apply it to other products as well, because it is a definite method by which an increase in the receipts of farmers is made possible.
Not only has the Minister taken practical steps to increase the farmers' receipts in that way, but at the same time he has decreased the farmers' cost of production by such methods as a reduction of railway transport charges under the derating proposals, and the relief of rates on agricultural land. It is possible that all these steps may not be enough to bridge the gap, but I am an optimist with regard to the future of British agriculture, and I am confident that the practicable proposals for increasing the receipts of farmers which the Prime Minister put before the country only a few days ago are going to be a definite help, so that that gap may be bridged. I feel as an agriculturist that we can express our gratitude to the Government for what they have done during the past four years, and I am satisfied with the proposals with which we shall go to the country in a few weeks, because I have the knowledge that we shall have at the back of us the agricultural community of the country.
The Minister of Agriculture called attention to several items of satisfactory progress, milk and others, on which we may congratulate the country, but he very adroitly kept our attention from wandering too often to the great depression which prevails in farming. The right hon. Gentleman would be the last, I think, to say that the crisis in agriculture is soluble by such means as those which he described. Indeed he did not claim them as a solution. While progress is to be noted in various directions, it is roughly true that the Minister has not succeeded in meeting the crisis or at all events in satisfying the farmers. We cannot forget, unless deluded by the brilliant picture that the Minister gave of certain items, that the depression is much worse now than it was when he first came into office. Whereas 4½ years ago our eyes were dazzled by the picture drawn by his predecessor, of a further million acres of arable land, we have had to deplore a great decrease.
We have been told that heroic remedies would be of no use. It is obvious that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have not had a free hand to bring forward measures of a drastic kind. If we consider in a broad view what the crisis consists of we find that it is a crisis, first, in world prices. But no one will deny that it is a crisis due largely to the deterioration of our farm lands. To balance these movements what can we recall in the way of progress? The Ministry is fighting against the world depression of prices, in the first place by education. We are all agreed about that and I should hope that we are safe, whatever party is in office, from such disasters as the Geddes Axe in regard to agricultural education. Secondly, the Government might deal with the crisis by such means as the better equipment of land. In regard to that I see no means of counteracting the failure of owners to maintain and improve the equipment of the land, other than by an extension of public control. Thirdly, it is necessary to recognise the fact that a large proportion of our land is very slackly farmed. The Minister is attempting to deal with that by means of an extension of bankers' credit. He shrinks from adopting any measure of control.
There is, fourthly, a means by which he might shorten the time of depression, and that is by improvement in marketing. As to that he has told us what interesting things he is doing. Grading is a method which, I hope, has the ardent support of the whole House, as it certainly has of the party for which I speak. But there is another method by which marketing might be improved, and that is in the promotion of farmers' combinations and co-operative societies. The right hon. Gentleman shrinks from giving that method governmental support. The Ministry of Agriculture offers information but not by way of definite advocacy of those methods of combination which in almost all parts of the agricultural world have been the main means of improved marketing. In short the Minister shrinks from greater control of the land by means of acquisition—he shrinks from control by county committees, for instance, and has even denounced it—and he shrinks from the definite advocacy of co-operation. We can imagine that there are interests which would stand in his way if he attempted to do so. What he has done in the way of promoting credits and drainage is entirely to the good, but at least he ought to have done those things and not to have left the others undone.
Can it be said that, on the whole, satisfactory progress is being made in face of the evils of falling prices and the deterioration of farms? It seems to me that the interests of agriculture are like a boat seeking to make progress against the stream. It is a pair-oared boat. One oar is represented by such things as education and improved grading, and that oar is well worked. But the other oar ought to keep time. It represents the equipment of the farm and the assurance that the farms are in the hands of men who are making the best of them; in fact that we have good estate agency. That oar is not working in time and with similar force to the other. The result is a great measure of failure. That can be proved, I believe, by the Report of the Drainage Commission and many other evidences. If not, I hope the Minister can give us proof that our agriculture is keeping pace with the improvements in agriculture abroad.
I must say a word on the Minister's indignation against the proposals for control. If I am not mistaken, it was a Conservative Minister, Lord Lee, who proposed that the control established during the War should be made a permanent and general element in our agriculture. I do not know why the Minister should be so indignant as to wax eloquent against it. Is it because the Minister was in a rather peculiar position of a party kind when he came into office? Ardent hope was roused in the farming community at the last Election. That was followed by keen disappointment, represented by the running of candidates, including, I believe, a candidate against the Minister himself. There was a sort of debt owing to the farmers on account of those disappointed hopes. What is that which precluded the Minister from going back to such proposals as those of Lord Lee? An hon. Member who has spoken from the Liberal Benches to-day has said that the farmer has a further grievance in that a measure of Protection was given to other industries, but that that it was of no advantage to agriculture. I wonder how the Minister can go on platforms and argue that the protection, for instance, of the motor-car industry has been of necessity followed by a fall in prices, and that the same argument ought not to apply to other trades, including agriculture? It is a very natural grievance of the farmers.
Something drastic had to be done; some gifts had to be made in order, if possible, to secure the farmers' votes, and the last possible gift which was readily accessible has just been given to the farmer in the shape of immediate de-rating benefit. It is interesting to speculate as to what will happen next time, when further encouragement is needed and special and, as I think, non-agricultural gifts are necessary to encourage the farmers' support. What will there be to give them? It is hard to tell. The national wealth in agricultural resources has not, of course, been affected by the de-rating proposals. If the Government were debarred from large and real remedies, which ought to have been very much larger, indeed, and on a different scale from that undertaken, the Minister would admit that among the aims which must be accomplished are these: The resources of the country must be maintained, the population on the land must, if possible, be increased, and the standard of life of those who live on the land must be maintained and increased too.
The Ministry with which we are concerned to-day has itself furnished fresh evidence of the urgency of the needs which I have been indicating. The Royal Commission on Drainage which the Government appointed has shown the facts—more serious even than the country had thought—about the extent of the acreage of our agricultural land which is badly in need of drainage. Turning to the question of equipment of land in other respects, not long ago Sir Henry Rew—whose loss we all deplore—pointed out how owners were increasingly unwilling or unable properly to maintain farm buildings, and every one knows how there are, on the one hand, many excellent farmers unable to obtain farms, and, on the other hand, farms potentially excellent which are not occupied by men who are making the best of them. It is very strange, indeed, that when I turn to great authorities on agriculture, I always find that the one with whom I agree is an eminent Conservative. Lord Selborne, when he was Minister, appointed a committee which, among its main proposals, advocated a rigid survey of the whole of our agricultural land and the institution of control of an organised and systematic kind. There followed later the tribunal, and I would ask the Minister to tell us something about the progress of an experiment of which the tribunal made a great deal, namely, the proposed further trial of arable stock farming. It was a surprising proposal but one of cardinal importance. The Ministry as far back as my own time was instituting experiments, and it would be interesting to know the results of those experiments.
We had another inquiry, also Conservative in origin, namely, the Linlithgow inquiry, and it indicated, as we have already heard to-day, many fields of production in which much better profits should be secured. For instance, in many classes of vegetables, if we could dispose of our surplus, according to the Linlithgow Committee we could easily make the cultivation so profitable that we would supply the whole of our vegetable needs. In connection with that point, perhaps the Minister will tell us what progress has been made, as a result of bringing together the organised consumers, represented by the co-operative bodies and the Co-operative Wholesale Society, and the representatives of the farmers co-operative bodies. I think that one of the most hopeful means of securing an improved market for the farmers is for them to get in touch with the consumers who are organised on such a gigantic scale in the co-operative movement. It is a notable fact, in these days, in connection with marketing that the National Farmers' Union has taken up the promotion of co-operative societies, and I should like to know how far in the view of the Ministry that movement has gone.
The Ministry has no general report of its proceedings, and we are therefore limited to these occasions for opportunities of acquiring information, so that we are compelled to ask a good many questions. The Minister told us something about drainage, and mentioned that the grants had amounted to £420,000, but I notice that two years ago, in answer to a question, he told us they were then £340,000 odd. How is it that the increase in the last two years has been so small? Has there not been greater urgency for encouraging drainage authorities by grants in these last two years than there was in the preceding year and a half? The Minister might also tell us if the county councils are exercising the powers of control—none too great—which they possess already. In the suppression of noxious weeds, for instance, are they using their powers in anything like an adequate manner, as represented by convictions, and is the Minister encouraging them to use those powers? There were a few counties not so long ago which still had no institutes. Is it the case that, by this time, all the counties have insti- tutes of some kind? In regard to small holdings, the Minister said that the results of the 1926 Act had been disappointing, but perhaps he will give us particulars as to the allocation of land. I remember that, two years or 18 months ago, he told us that the number of approved applicants was then 194, but when the Measure was passed into law, the expectation was held out that it would lead to the creation of 2,000 holdings per annum. Everyone is interested in knowing what has been done in the actual creation of holdings.
In regard to grading, I should like to ask—because it is only decorous that in every speech to-day some reference should be made to broccoli—how far the Minister can regard that foreign trade as being established on a business footing. He may not be able to give figures, but we should like to know if it is to be regarded as more than an experiment, because it is more or less as an experiment that it is described in the Journal of the Ministry. In connection with grading, too, the development of the egg industry is of extraordinary value, and I think the right hon. Gentleman might have told us more about it. I am a little disappointed that among the packing stations there are not more co-operative stations, and I should like to know if there is any prospect of encouraging cooperation in connection with the packing stations for eggs. Nothing has yet been said about the Election proposal to feed the Army and Navy for a certain time on home-grown meat and flour. In reply to a question on that subject at the Agricultural Council not long ago, the Minister said that the proposal was most unlikely to be realised because it would cost, in regard to meat alone, £640,000 a year—I think that was the sum named—and that was a prohibitive price. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us some of the factors in that cost, and some details as to what is involved.
In connection with sugar beet, I felt myself when I first brought forward the proposal, which was exactly the same as that adopted by the Government, that its main justification and value would lie in education and in the improved methods that farmers would be led to adopt by the fact that it paid them to grow sugar beet. That view has to a great extent been confirmed. There has been a great change in methods over large areas of land, and if the Minister has any evidence to give on that subject it would be of very great interest. Perhaps he can tell us something about the prospect of success of the desiccation system, which perhaps is destined to prove the solution of the whole question. One further subject on which I desire to question the Minister is that of wages regulation. There is a great deal of anxiety in many quarters as to whether the Act is being duly enforced, and certain facts in this connection are notable and call for further inquiry. In 1926 there were 688 test inspections, and in 659 cases it was found that a wage less than the minimum had been paid. Things ought to have been improved since then. In 1927 there were 1,988 complaints compared with only 1,626 in the previous year. These figures call for an explanation. The arrears recovered in 1926 were, I think, £1,600 odd and in 1927, that had risen to £2,280. The Committee ought to have the latest facts and figures in regard to this matter, and I hope the Minister can disprove the charge and allay the fear that there is rather widespread evasion of the Act. I have no further points to raise, but I think that this matter of the enforcement of the wage regulation is surely the most obvious duty of the Minister in the whole sphere of his administration.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken gave us a very interesting analysis of the causes of some of the difficulties in which the farmer finds himself to-day, but I think he omitted several important factors in that analysis. Although I did not catch everything he said, I listened carefully to his speech, and I think I do him no injustice when I say that he omitted from his analysis the effect of the new wages paid to the farm workers. Surely one of the chief causes of the farmers' difficulties is the agricultural wages rate. You cannot arbitrarily increase the major factor in the cost of production and in price, while putting nothing on the other side to counterbalance that effect and to help the farmer to compete with the foreigner, without producing some tremendous economic dislocation. I am not advocating, and never would advocate, a reduction of farm workers wages to the pre-War level. I have no desire that we should return to the terrible state of affairs then existing, but we cannot make a comprehensive and satisfactory analysis of these difficulties and leave that factor completely out of account.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned some other causes of depression to which allusion might be made. There has been during the past four or five years a tremendous influx of South American meat due to causes which could not have been foreseen a few years ago. One of those causes is the exclusion of that meat from the American market. With the passing of that cause, it is possible that we shall get better meat prices and so gradually come to slightly better conditions for the agricultural producer. Another factor is the increased purchasing value of sterling, and yet another, of course, is the increasing application of science to agriculture overseas. Last year in Canada I studied, rather hurriedly, certainly, but at sufficiently close quarters to realise what it meant, the evolution of that wonderful combine or combination which is now being used in the production of wheat on the Canadian prairies, a machine which can be used in those vast territories and which carries out the whole thing, from cutting to bagging, all in a single operation, which must seriously affect our markets on this side.
But the chief factor in our distress at the present time is the high cost of production, mainly due to the higher wages fixed under the Agricultural Wages Act. The only complete corrective for that would be the protection of the farmer against the foreign producer, against low foreign prices, and that is out of the question, mainly because the town population of this country will not accept even the temporary set-back in its standard of living that might be involved in higher prices for foodstuffs, although ultimately everybody would be better off for the change. But the Government were precluded and have always been precluded from adopting that particular remedy. It seems to me, however, that almost everything else that the Government could have done to assist the farmer they have done. If you cannot reduce that major factor in the high cost of production, high wages and high prices, which are the real causes of the farmers' dis- tress,you have to go to the minor factors, and to attack them one by one, which the Government certainly have done.
It is the fashion of the two Opposition parties to treat de-rating as a dodge for getting the farmers' vote, but it is nothing of the kind. Rates are the one big factor in the farmers' overhead charges, and that is the single big factor which could be and has been attacked. It has been said sometimes, although not to-day, by Liberal speakers, in defiance of history, that all that relief will go into the landowners' pockets. We have the authority of Sir Josiah Stamp, who carefully analysed the aggregate rents in the pre-War period between 1896 and 1914, for the statement that the aggregate rents after that first measure of rating relief from that period to the outbreak of the War fell by £2,000,000, and that the aggregate of rents received in a year three or four years after the War was only 13 per cent. above the 1914 figure. That rating relief is a genuine relief to the farmer.
One of the right hon. Gentleman's remedies was that of greater control of the farmer, but I should have been very interested indeed to hear any concrete case in which control anywhere in the world has helped the farmer. There is no control at all in France, which has perhaps the best agriculture in the world. The amazing renascence of Denmark since its war with Germany has been brought about by peasant co-operation, completely independent of Government control from first to last, except perhaps in the sphere of education, and there their Government have helped the Danish producers. I see no hope whatever from greater control of the farmer in this country, but there are other ways in which the Government have helped the farmer.
I am sure that all of us, on this side, appreciated what the right hon. Gentleman said in praise of the Government's grading and marking Measures, because those two little Acts, the Merchandise Marks Act and the Grading of Agricultural Produce Act, have always seemed to me to be two of the most important Acts of the past generation in relation to the farmer. The fact that the Government have passed those two Acts and begun to put them into force in relation to so many products surely belies the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Minister of Agriculture is opposed to the encouragement of co-operation. Co-operation must be and is being encouraged by the enforcement of the marking and grading Acts, which depend for their success on co-operation. Wherever they have been applied they have produced co-operation, and they are producing very good results and a great deal of prosperity to the farmer. Incidentally, too, it seems to me that the adoption and working of those Acts belies the statement made by a Liberal speaker behind me when he suggested that the Government had done nothing to reduce the difference in prices between the actual agricultural producer and the ultimate purchaser. The whole of the grading and marking Acts and the scheme of co-operative distribution are intended to cut out, and succeed in cutting out, a good many of the distributors between the producer and the ultimate consumer.
In all these ways the Government have carried out a perfectly astonishing programme during the past four or five years, a programme the achievement of which explains the appreciation of Conservative work by agriculturists all over the country, but the fact that they have done so much makes it the more exasperating that their work should be so misunderstood, as it often is; and here I am going to refer to the almost inevitable commodity, broccoli. Surely it is exasperating when, on the Liberal and Labour benches, we hear the suggestion that practical work must be done to assist the farmer in producing more cheaply, in distributing better, and in cutting out the middlemen's waste, to hear that sort of criticism; and it is more exasperating still to hear this sort of sneer, because when we suggested that the Leader of the Liberal party sneered at this particular experiment in grading and marking, we were told that nothing was said at all derogatory to the broccoli trade. This is what actually was said by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George):
The Germans found their broccoli withered, and they began to think of some more equable climate.
That is not a terminological inexactitude; it is a barefaced untruth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Whatever is Parliamentary language, I should like to use about it. There is not a word of truth in it. It is not true that the
initiative in this work of encouraging the broccoli producer came from Germany, from the frost in Germany, or from conditions there at all. It is the result of three or four years of careful, cumulative, constructive, thoughtful work by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the agricultural committee of the Cornwall County Council. This criticism went on:
They heard that in Cornwall broccoli still grew, so they ordered a few. The Prime Minister says trade is reviving.
This is the comment of the right hon. Gentleman:
What a programme! A few hampers of broccoli for frost-bitten Germans!
Very complimentary to the Germans, and quite an inaccurate analysis of what actually happened.
I have already, in an interpolation, told the Committee that the value this year of that trade to Cornwall, a county with a population of less than 320,000, is nearly £250,000.
I cannot give the precise value of the export, but it amounted, at any rate, to a very considerable number of complete truck loads which have gone to Brussels and Cologne.
I was at the Penzance Exhibition, where I saw some of this broccoli in the new crates which have been evolved as a result of the Department's help. I heard an agricultural expert sent down by the Minister to that exhibition, and I have his speech here, in which he discussed the whole procedure and congratulated the county of Cornwall and the broccoli growers on what they had done. This frost, which is supposed to have suggested to the German mind that they might possibly find a few hampers of broccoli in Cornwall, was, in point of fact, a very disturbing element. It upset the plans of the Ministry and of the local people there, who would have sold possibly several complete train loads of trucks into Germany if it had not been for that very devastating cold and frost, which ruined the white head of the broccoli and spoiled the product. This policy has been in operation for three or four years past. The suggestion did not come from Germany, and the frost was a factor against the success of the experiment. The actual sales to Brussels and Cologne were quite satisfactory and were very considerable in volume, and I submit that even if the experiment is small, all experiments must begin in a small way.
At the present time we buy £30,000,000 of foreign eggs and consume them in this country, and it is scandalous that we should do such a thing when every one of those eggs could be produced in this country. They are sent in by other States, which, in a particularly careful manner, started co-operative movements to produce the sort of eggs most likely to be consumed, and to grade them and sell them in those markets, and ultimately they projected their selling organisations into this country. Unless we begin in a small way, we shall never take advantage of our opportunities, we shall never make good, and we shall never resist this enormous inflow of vegetables and other products which makes agriculture unsuccessful in this country. Last year we imported something like £13,000,000 worth of vegetables, practically all of which could be produced in this country if we only turned our minds to it and went on the lines followed by the Minister and his advisers and the expert committee of the county of Cornwall in the case of broccoli.
May I call the attention of my right hon. Friend to one other sphere in which already his own Department and other Departments have done something to assist that particular county in the West and also the bulb-growing counties in the East of England? have here figures showing the increase in the importation of foreign bulbs in recent years. In 1925 we took 254,000,000 foreign bulbs, and in 1927 we took 384,000,000 foreign bulbs; and as the result of a question that I put on the Paper, I learned that the total value of the importation of flowers and bulbs into this country is now well up in the second million sterling. The whole of that work, I am certain, could be done in this country. We have recently made a beginning in the right direction through the Empire Marketing Board by photographing and putting up coloured pictures of English bulbs actually growing and flowering in this country, and I believe that those placards have done a great deal of good, but I would like to suggest to the Minister that that bit of work should not be allowed simply to die away and fall fallow.
The bulb producers know that they have a chance, and that the interest of the people all over the country in English bulbs has been stirred. Most of the bulb selling is done by catalogues, and they find the production of catalogues extremely difficult in the teeth of the intense Dutch competition. They want help from the Empire Marketing Board and from the Ministry of Agriculture in the work of classifying and grading bulbs for the market. The Ministry have done much in other directions, and in the case of eggs there are 150 grading stations, and I want to see the work go on. In the climate of the western counties we have such a valuable asset that if the Minister will continue giving the growers encouragement, big results will accrue from that small experiment which has been slighted, unfortunately, by a political leader of one of the parties.
It is with considerable diffidence that I rise as a new Member to continue the Debate on this great subject of agriculture. I am conscious, as every other Member of the House at some time has been, of being a new Member, and I trust that the Committee will therefore give me a sympathetic hearing. I want to say a few things with regard to the excellent statement that has been made by the Minister of Agriculture. He is the representative of the Government for the greatest basic industry of this country, and he has given an indication to-day that there is full justification for what is known as the agricultural unrest of the present time. Perhaps one of the outstanding indications of that unrest is the fact that I am here. If I wish to have justification for that unrest, surely I cannot seek it in a better place than in the words of the Minister himself, for he had to admit that it is three years since he was placed in the position of having to explain details with regard to his Department. No greater censure could be placed upon the Government than the fact that the House has passed through a period of three years without a discussion upon the country's greatest industry.
I was going on to say that if I am in any sense responsible for bringing forward this discussion today, I am gratified for that action on my part. The Minister also stated that his Department had done everything possible to help the industry. It is my privilege to bring to the attention of the Minister certain directions in which he has not helped agriculture in general. He has not helped agriculture by not standing up to his colleagues in other Departments when they have brought in measures or done things which were a menace to agriculture. A great deal has been said this afternoon about the derating scheme. The Chancellor of the Exchequer produced a scheme by which he was going to restore industry by changing the incidence of rating. To a very large extent I agree with some of the principles underlying that scheme, but in no circumstances will it be possible to enrich people by taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another.
What has astonished me in the discussion on the subject this afternoon was not the very able contribution that we heard on this side of the Committee on the application of the De-rating Act, but the fact that we did not get from the Minister any revelation as to the amount of money which was taken from agriculture and from the farmers individually, through the Petrol Duty and in one way or another, out of one pocket and returned to them in another pocket. If we had the returns, we should find that directly or indirectly the agriculturist is paying in tax as much as, and in many cases more than, he has returned to him by de-rating. I had made some inquiries into this matter, and this morning I had a letter from a Northern agriculturist who is responsible for two farms. I asked him whether he could give me any figures which would indicate what was the incidence of de-rating on his farms as compared with the increased cost to him of petrol by way of tax and increased transport. He very candidly said that one of his farms paid a great deal more in tax than it got back in derating, and that the other farm had a substantial amount returned by de-rating; so that, taking the two farms together, they pretty well balanced each other. If that is the best that the Government have done for agriculture, they have not done a great deal up to the present.
The other point to which I wish particularly to draw the attention of the Committee is the inaction of the Minister with regard to the attacks made upon this industry by other Departments. A comparatively sound place in agriculture has been dairying, and that part of the country for which I happen to sit is peculiarly responsible for that branch of agriculture. Eddisbury and the centre of Cheshire are taken up by dairying, and the industry there, compared with many other parts of the country, has been perhaps in a good position. A year or two ago, however, the Minister of Health issued an Order against the use of preservatives in food. That Order was the outcome of inquiries conducted by specialists for the Ministry of Health, and, in consequence of their inquiries, cream was brought under it. I have read with great interest all the reports of these specialists, and I find that while they are filled with probabilities, surmises and suggestions, there is little or no evidence that the small trace of preservative, which it would be necessary to use in cream sent out from the farms or from the country dairies into the towns, is harmful. In spite of that, the Minister applied the Order to that commodity.
What has been the result of the application of that Order? I asked the Minister of Agriculture the other day if he had kept in touch with this industry in order to see what was the effect of the Order. He told me that he had no figures, and that no figures were available. He may, perhaps, be interested to know that in one dairy alone there has been a shrinkage in demand of over 350,000 gallons of whole milk. In another dairy there was a shrinkage in demand of over £1,000 worth a month in the demand for cream. When one recognises that this is-the outcome of reports of specialists, one wonders whether the Minister has resisted, as he ought to have resisted, the action of other Departments, and defended those who are under the direction of his own Department. I have spent most of my time with specialists, and I think that this would be a fair description of them as far as their administrative capacity goes—that they are at all times men with a very large amount of specialised sense, but very often an almost complete absence of the common variety. Yet we have their word taken and put into operation, with the result that they have practically destroyed, or are rapidly destroying, an industry of such importance as this.
I want to safeguard myself against an attack that might come from the other side. I do not suggest that it is wrong to do what we can to protect in all circumstances the food of the people from contamination. What had to be considered in coming to a decision with regard to cream? On the one hand the cream, which has one of the highest food values possible, was being contaminated with 4 per cent. of boric acid; on the other side there was the high food value of cream. The high food value has been ignored, and the low percentge of preservative has been the ruling factor. That is not where it finishes, because, as the result of this Order, the use and preparation of synthetic cream have grown up throughout the country. It is difficult to control, and the Government have done very little to control it. We have, therefore, the position that the Government have, by an action of the Ministry of Health, interfered with a very valuable industry and stopped the output of a large amount of food product; they have, at the same time, by no desire of their own, encouraged the making of a synthetic article of which the food value is not as high as real cream.
Members are well aware that a very considerable amount of Dutch cheese is brought into this country. Representations have been made along certain lines with regard to the action of the retailers of this commodity. It comes into the country marked according to its quality. If it is Dutch half-meal cheese, which is stamped with its butter fat percentage, the wholesaler knows what he is buying and the retailer knows what he is buying, but the consumer does not. Pressure has been brought upon the various Departments to take action and see that, as far as possible, the consumer, equally with the wholesaler and the retailer shall know what is the commodity he is buying, but the Departments have done nothing along those lines.
There are many defects in administration. The Department has failed from time to time to protect the agriculturist against disease. I was glad to hear the Minister's account of the improvements which have taken place in regard to foot-and-mouth disease. It was time there were such improvements. It fell to my lot to pass through that great plague of foot-and-mouth disease which occurred in the centre of Cheshire in 1924 and spread throughout the country. I never knew more defective administrative machinery than was in operation at that time.
Yes, it was in 1924, and I want to congratulate the present Minister on the progress which has taken place. At that time the condition of affairs was phenomenal as regards laxity of administration. I was on one of the farms, and close to another farm, where the first outbreak occurred, and after a week or a fortnight spent in watching what took place upon that farm, I went home and declared that Cheshire was in for the greatest outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease which it had probably ever known. I said that because of the lax administration that one saw at the time. It is encouraging to know that since then there has been a tightening-up of the administrative machinery and that things are better than they were, but are we satisfied with present conditions? Take the question of tuberculosis, of infective abortion, and Johne's disease. Are we satisfied with what is being done at the present time? If you ask the dairying industry throughout the country, I certainly think you will get a negative reply. They are not satisfied. There is enormous loss taking place in the dairy industry as a result of these diseases, and much more needs to be done. But there is always a danger that in the work we are doing we may forget the end which we seek. The end is not a perfect laboratory; the end is an efficient farm. I am afraid that sometimes our administrative Departments forget the link, which ought to be so strong, between themselves and those whom they are supposed to serve.
I turn aside to another point. We prohibit the use of even a trace of preservative in cream, but what about the unhealthy cowsheds to be found throughout the country? We all know that there are cowsheds which are a menace not only to the cow but to the cowman. What are we doing to secure that our buildings shall be brought up to the high standard which they ought to attain? I shall be reminded of the Agricultural Credits Bill. All I say on that for the moment is that there is plenty of machinery, but not quite as much money as there ought to be, and I hope that efforts will be made to stimulate the improvement of the cowsheds of the country, so that the farmer will be able to provide that high-grade milk which we all desire he should furnish, for the sake of the children and others in the country. The fact of the matter is, there has been a danger of our looking upon agriculture from two points of view. We have looked at it, on the one hand, from the point of view of the amenities of ownership and sporting proclivities, and, on the other hand, consideration for party politics has too often ruled our actions.
The strange thing to me is that we keep on discussing agriculture instead of trying to come to some basic unity in order to try to carry it on. For too long the farmer has said to the Conservative party: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him"—and very often we have come very near to slaying him. In a speech in 1924 the Prime Minister made a remarkable statement, one with which I, at all events, agree right up to the hilt. He said:
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 arable acreage may be maintained and regular employment and adequate wages secured to the agricultural worker.
I am quoting from the National Farmers' Union Year Book. The passage is marked with a star, and at the end we find this comment by the Union:
No attempt has ever been made to convene that conference of the political parties.
Why has it not been done? We shall never solve our problems until we lift the question of agriculture to a higher plane. The Minister has a great task before him, and we ought to encourage him—at all events I want to do so. I am not here to criticise for the mere sake of criticising. We go through our country and we see its beauty and its delights, and it is dear to us sentimentally, but underneath those sentiments there is an anxiety and very often a tragedy which must, which should and which can be removed. The question is, when are we going to quit fooling and remove it?
I am no pessimist in regard to agriculture. I agree with the hon. Member opposite who said he was an optimist. I believe that with the restoration of industrial prosperity there will come an increased prosperity on our farms, but, meanwhile, we can be doing a great deal by securing efficiency on those farms. The Ministry of Agriculture has too long waited upon the other Ministries in all matters relating to the countryside, and what I want to suggest is that the Minister occupies such a position that in all questions relating to the countryside his voice should be paramount. When education is under consideration, he should be able to say to the Board of Education; "You are wrong in your attitude towards elementary education in the elementary schools in the country, and you ought to bring those schools more into accord with the work they have to do." When housing is being discussed, he ought to take a stronger line than he does. Far too long has the farmer rested his meekness on the controlling influences that are about him. He is learning at last to stand on his feet, and the Minister needs to do something of the same thing. Recognising how much the Ministry of Agriculture can do and should do to stimulate agriculture in this country, I, for one, hope that every effort will be made by co-operation, by sympathy, by instruction, by research—
—to back up the efforts of those who are engaged on the land to bring back to it that prosperity which we all know can be brought back, and which we all desire should be brought back.
I am sure I shall be expressing the feelings of the Committee in congratulating the hon. Member who has just sat down on his contribution to our discussion this afternoon. He has brought a great knowledge of agriculture with him to this House, and we shall always look forward to any contributions he may make on this subject. He spoke of raising the question of agriculture out of party politics, and quoted a passage from the Prime Minister's last Election address, but put upon it an interpretation which, I think, it does not bear. I think if he reads that passage more carefully he will see that whereas the Prime Minister did hope to be able to get a conference of all parties, the conference of which he spoke in the latter part of the quotation was a conference of those interested in agriculture to try to get an agreed policy which could then be put before a conference of the three political parties. That was not carried out because, as we all know, one of the parties, that is to say, the party representing Labour, would not come to the conference. Nobody regretted that more than myself, for I had advocated that policy in my constituency and it had received the very widest support. Ultimately we must come to that if we are going to do anything effective for agriculture.
I am now going to express what is purely my own view. I know the policy I am going to advocate is not the policy of any particular party, including my own, but my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Pilcher) hit the nail on the head when he said that the principal factor in the troubles of agriculture to-day is the artificially fixed agricultural wage. Wages are the chief element in the cost of production. There is no man, on this side of the Committee certainly, who thinks agricultural wages ought to be lowered, and I should like to see them higher, but, at the same time, we have to recognise the fact that with wheat at its present price that wage is an absolutely uneconomic one. What is happening is that the nation is saying: "Our consciences do not allow us to pay less than 30s. a week." The nation has no right to satisfy its conscience at the expense of the farmer, for that is what it means. The economic wage to-day is something like 22s. Those who pay the higher wage are largely out of pocket. That is the situation, and it is no good blinking at it. It has to be faced. One hon. Member has stated, and I agree, that Protection is ruled out, but there is another policy besides Protection which would not raise the price to the consumer. I refer to subsidies. There is the case of sugar beet, but that was a new industry. I think that if we are going to look at this question as it ought to be looked at, that is to say, from the national standpoint, then a case can be made out for a subsidy on wheat, because wheat is the key of the situation. The nation has got to consider and to make up its mind whether it wishes to see arable farming continue to decline, labourers thrown out of work and all the social and political evils that arise from such a state of affairs. Is it in the interests of the nation that arable farming should be maintained? That is the first thing to be considered. If you say that in the national interest arable farming should be maintained, then you have a case for giving a subsidy to wheat in some form or other. The form I suggest would be to fix an economic price, and for the Government to find the difference between that price and the market price of the day. If that is done, and the market price rises, then the Government will have to pay less; if it falls, they will have to pay more.
I do not think it is of the least use playing with this matter, and pretending that by small measures we can restore agriculture. Unless we are prepared to do something to make the simple crop, wheat, which is the key of the situation, a paying thing to grow, then I see no hope for arable agriculture. The nation may say: "We do not mind." Well and good, but they must make up their mind, for I cannot see how one can expect anything but a general decline on the present basis. I know that that is not a policy of any political party, and I am merely expressing my own view, as I have a right to do, whether it coincides with that of my own party for the time being or not. It is one, however, that has got considerable support outside this House. It had the support of the conference held at the Mansion House the other day. It was a representative conference on this question. I do not know whether such a policy would have the support of the National Farmers' Union; I am inclined to doubt it. The difficulty is to find something which will get the support of farmers all over the country. That is a problem. Therefore, if one is to put forward a policy of agriculture, we must not go round asking people what they think is right, but we must have one and tell them it is our policy, and that they must take it or leave it. Otherwise, you will get nothing done. For my part, although I do not know whether this policy will be adopted, I have come to the conclusion that it is useless pretending that arable land can be put on a paying basis by any lesser measure, and I propose, both inside and outside of this House, to advocate the policy I have indicated.
It has interested me to listen to this Debate. I was the more encouraged to do so when I heard the opening speech of the Minister of Agriculture. One of the most touching and moving passages in his speech was when he asked us to drink more milk. I think it most appropriate that he of all men, with the name he has, should ask us to take more milk, because outside, on the hoardings, he is telling us something else in pictorial form. That apart, I want to say how much I enjoyed his speech this afternoon, although there were many points from which I differed. After listening to the Debate this afternoon, I find myself in a bit of a mix-up. Some Members have told us during the Debate that the farmers want to be left entirely alone. That was an expression of opinion which found much approval on the other side of the Committee. They wanted freedom. I will frankly admit that I believe in the ideal state of society where we shall all be free. I do not like being kept on a sucking-bottle supplied with milk from Whitehall. I hate it, and I admire men who come here and say they want more freedom.
I confess, however, that I cannot understand many who have taken part in this Debate. They want freedom to throw off the shackles of State control. They want to be free to govern their own affairs, free to grow bulbs or broccoli, yet they have been asking for what? The Minister in his speech told us that local authorities, the farmers and the associations combined could not possibly pay for the-draining of the land. Public money was required. The draining of the land has been made possible by public money. Then we have small holdings and the putting of men on the land, and the State has had to pay 75 per cent. of the cost. In fact, it is being borne in on my mind that the farmer is becoming the spoilt child of Parliament, is being spoon-fed, and since this party came into power he has got more than his share. I put it to the farmers; how, in the name of justice or in the name of heaven, can they claim absolute freedom and no Governmental control, and yet be constantly on the doorstep of Parliament begging for more doles? If you are going to have public money, then you must put up with public interference, public inspection, public control. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) said he wanted Governmental control, and could not understand why the Government rejected it. I agree. If you are going to have all this money, then you must take Governmental control. The Danish farmers have a voluntary system; they have co-operation because the Danish farmer is not a lazy and suspicious chap who watches his neighbour over the hedge.
No; that is leading me into a trap which will get me into trouble in my own division. But I would say to the hon. Member that if he remembers a private conversation we have had together, then his question is answered; and I will not tell the Committee what he said to me. But it is commonly understood by any one who understands the British farmer that he will not co-operate; he is suspicious of his fellow. He is never making money, but I recall being in the hon. Member's division, and on entering the market square of a town there, I was nearly run over by limousines and Daimlers. I said: "Who are these people who are coming here?" and I was told they were farmers. The poor farmers! I advised them that the next time they intend coming for help to do it properly, to come in Fords and not these expensive cars, or they would spoil the game. It is the poor, wretched farmers who ask for no Government control. I think the term is "No State control in agriculture." No, but plenty of State money if you please. The Danish people have none of this State control; they have a voluntary system from the planting of the seed to the distribution of the produce to the consumer. The English farmers, however, wave the Union Jack, and say they want no Socialism.
Let us have another look at this strange individual that is well down in John Bull's pockets. What has been done for him this year? There is sugar beet—£3,000,000 for that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who brought it in?"] I agree that it was originated in another place, but it was the party opposite who brought it in. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, your own party."] In any case I do not care who brought it in; whoever it was ought to be ashamed of himself. I am not able to apologise for nonsense. I am here to oppose it. £3,000,000 for sugar beet this year! That is part of the little drop of £20,000,000. Then as to education. We are told by an hon. Member opposite that agricultural education is aiding agriculturists to bring the best out of the soil and he said it would add to its value. £585,000 a year for education; land drainage and settlement, £1,891,300; marketing, £20,000; cost of administration and other items, £15,000. These are just a few of the little items this year for these independent men who do not want State control, the men who have come to the State and into whose pockets the State has dropped £5,511,485. Again, these free independent individualistic farmers and agriculturists have had their little advantage anticipated, and they will receive de-rating.
Hon. Members know perfectly well what I mean. I am speaking now about the nominal recipients of these benefits, and I am referring to the farmer. By de-rating and all these other little items the sum of about £16,000,000 will be handed to the farmers, and I will not mention the other chaps. The farmers are getting £16,000,000 of public money, and they do not want State control or State interference. If I were a farmer, neither should I, but I say to the farmers and agriculturists, "If you do not wish State interference, do not beg for State money, but put your own brains in your industry, and market your own goods." When one listens to a Debate on agriculture in this House, you could almost imagine you were in a provision store. One hon. Member asks, "How are you going to mark ham?" Another hon. Member has been dealing with bulbs, and another hon. Member has been making apologies for broccoli. What a falling off there is in this House when hon. Members have to ask questions about bulbs and broccoli instead of dealing seriously with agriculture!
I am afraid I have treated this subject with a little levity, but that is about all it is worth. If the farmers of England put their brains into their industry, and exhibited as much administratve ability in the agricultural business as the Danes; if they spent less time in market towns and more on their farms; if they combined more among themselves and less in the Farmers' Union, which is simply the cat's-paw of the landlord; if they looked after their own interests as the Danes have done, and kept free from State charity, then I would support them in their demand to be free from State control; in fact, I do not know that I would not become a farmer myself instead of a half-baked Member of Parliament. If the farmers would do that, they would be able to make out a far more commendable case. What do we do in this House for the farmers? We simply lull them to sleep with more subsidies.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell), in his most interesting maiden speech, made one or two remarks which seem to me to need an answer. The hon. Member criticised the Government for not having given the House an opportunity of discussing the question of agricultural subsidies. It would be very unfair if that reflection on the Government were allowed to be repeated, because the Government do not control these matters. It is well known that the choosing of the Supply Vote for discussion is in the hands of the Opposition. It is also within the memory of hon. Members that, although we have not had Debates on the details of the Agricultural Estimates, we have had Debates on agriculture, on the Consolidated Fund Bill, the Supplementary Estimates, and upon other occasions.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury referred to the subject of preservatives in cream, but that is a matter which must be left to the Minister of Health. The hon. Member would naturally wish to see a different scheme in operation, but, when the medical authorities say that small doses of boric acid are likely to produce in some people a form of disease, I am afraid it is impossible for the agriculturist to expect his own convenience to weigh against the public health. I would like to remind the hon. Member that when preservatives were forbidden in the case of milk the same objections were raised as have been raised in the case of cream. A man who treats his cream on modern lines at the present time is well able to carry on without boric acid, and the forbidding of that preservative will be just as much for the benefit of the cream producer as it has been in the case of the milk producer.
The hon. Member also made some criticisms about synthetic cream, but I think he was probably referring to reconstituted cream. Personally, I deplore the production of reconstituted cream, which is made and sold at a very low price, because the raw material is practically a waste product from certain specialised agricultural industries in other parts of the world. I agree with the hon. Member that it is undesirable to form a substitute for the fresh materials of new cream. I had samples of that stuff brought to me long before the boric acid Order was issued, and I am convinced that there is no way of dealing with this difficulty except to ensure that there is no misrepresentation, and to see that this stuff is sold as such and not as cream. We are trying to deal with this question in another place to-day by the Reconstituted Cream Bill, which I hope will be passed. If the public choose to have this stuff instead of cream, they cannot be pre- vented, but we must see that when they ask for real cream they are not put off with a faked substitute.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury spoke in favour of better cowsheds. There have been many complaints that local authorities in same cases are unduly severe about cowsheds, but I do not think that so far there has been any real grievance. I would like to say to the hon. Member that our experience in connection with clean milk has shown to my absolute conviction that you can produce clean milk in very poor buildings, and that the men and their methods matter very much more than the cowsheds. A good many questions were put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton). One question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman was in reference to arable dairy farms. I am sorry to say that the results of the research devoted to that question were disappointing, and, at the suggestion of the Institute of Research in Agricultural Economics at Oxford, further experiments were dropped. It has been proposed, however, that we should continue our inquiry as to the best methods of stock raising on arable farms by means of a survey of dairy holdings. I have been asked a question about co-operation. We have done a great deal in that respect, and we have given much information in our series of economic books. We have also provided loans and grants to enable co-operative societies to undertake experimental forms of marketing. Another question was put to me about the National Farmers' Union and co-operation. In the matter of co-operative wool marketing and hop marketing, we have made great progress, and nearly 90 per cent. of the hop growers are within the cooperative scheme.
I have been asked what can be done to reduce the spread in prices between the producer and the consumer. I do not think that a remedy is to be found by doing away with any part of the chain of distribution. The remedy is standardisation, and that is just the kind of work we are doing in our marketing effort. We want to get production and distribution more efficient. If we cut out the expense to which the middleman is now put by fragmentary and bad organisation and get the whole operation on a more efficient basis, we shall be able to cut out the middleman's costs, and in that way reduce the spread to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk has referred. I have been asked what can be done with regard to linking up producers and co-operative societies, but suggestions in that direction should come from within the society itself. I am very glad to notice that the Co-operative Wholesale Society is now coming under our great scheme. It has been said that what we require is an annual report of this work, but unfortunately our work is very sectional, and, if we were to have a report to cover all the sections, it would be very voluminous, because we have six or seven different sections. I am afraid my time is now up, and I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk will not think that I have been discourteous because I have not answered all his questions.