I must apologise to the House for the length of the reply to this Question, but the importance of the matter will, I think, be a sufficient justification.
In view of the depression which exists in certain branches of the agricultural industry, and the urgent need for reform in methods both of marketing and production in order to take advantage of our valuable home market, the Government have given anxious consideration to the agricultural problem, with especial regard to the desirability of increasing employment on the land with good standards of living, recognising that this can only be assured through prosperity in the industry.
Proposals will be submitted for making land more freely available for small cultivators and affording them adequate security of tenure. Local authorities will be stimulated to meet the large and unsatisfied demand for small holdings, cottage holdings and allotments. In addition, the Minister of Agriculture will be given powers to acquire and manage land for these purposes, so as to supplement, but in no way to supplant, local authorities that are active. Powers to provide cottage holdings will be extended to County Borough Councils, and these holdings will be made available for letting as well as sale and for a wider class of applicant.
A scheme will be undertaken whereby a contribution may be made to the mitigation of unemployment by the creation of a special class of allotments and of market garden and poultry holdings up to five acres for suitable unemployed workers.
An Agricultural Land Utilisation Corporation will be established to conduct, on the one hand, large-scale farming, managed on business principles, with the utmost possible application of improved methods and the best machinery, with the particular object of affording to agriculturists a practical training in business management; and on the other hand, additional Demonstration Farms of various types in different parts of the country, designed to secure the quicker and more general adoption of every agricultural improvement.
In Scotland, the Department of Agriculture will make every effort to increase the number of small holdings available. At the same time, investigations will be set on foot for improving certain large tracts of barren and moss land and for reclamation works. Arrangements are under consideration for the extension of the Agricultural Credits Act, 1928, to Scotland.
The critical position of cereal farmers demands the earliest possible attention. The question of the condition of this class of agriculturists in different parts of the Empire will be discussed at the forthcoming Imperial Conference, with special reference to Bulk Purchase, Import Boards and Stabilisation of Prices. In view of this, and of the possibility that the conclusions of the Conference on this matter may materially change the practical problem of dealing with cereal farming, the Government is not in a position at present to formulate comprehensive proposals for this part of the agricultural situation beyond the plans outlined in this statement for improved methods of cultivation, the better organisation and marketing of produce, education and research, and improved credit facilities. But as soon as the conclusions of the Imperial Conference are known, the Government will undertake whatever practicable steps can be devised to put cereal growing in this country on an economic foundation.
It is an urgent necessity to give our home producers opportunities of orderly and better marketing in our industrial market. A Bill is being introduced forthwith for purposes of criticism and comment, which offers certain powers to large-scale commodity organisations initiated by producers themselves for the marketing of home-produced agricultural products, and protects such organisations from the disruptive action of minorities. There are precedents for legislation of a similar kind in overseas parts of the Empire. The Bill contemplates organisations of two distinct types, though combinations of both are possible. First, there is the older and better-known pool type, which is well adapted for products in respect of which we are largely self-supporting, and of which the market may be disturbed by recurring surpluses. The Bill also provides for organisations of the regulatory type, which are concerned more with the craft of marketing than with the physical control and handling of the product, and which, after the manner of a board of directors, would formulate a coherent marketing policy for the home product and carry it into effect. Financial assistance by way of both long and short term loans will be available for these commodity marketing boards. Care has been taken to provide safeguards for the great body of consumers and for other affected interests.
The erection of publicly-owned abattoirs by local authorities for the centralised slaughtering of livestock will be encouraged.
The development of agricultural education will also form an important part of our policy. An Agricultural Research Council is being constituted to secure improved co-ordination and extension of agricultural research throughout the United Kingdom. In view of the great losses incurred through disease, among the first subjects to receive attention will be contagious abortion, tuberculosis, and swine fever.
Legislation will be introduced to regulate the use and import of bulls, with a view to improving the standard of our livestock.
Apart from the increased provision for access to land for their own cultivation that the policy affords to suitable workers, it is important that agricultural workers should share in any added prosperity which may accrue to the industry, and the working of the existing machinery for regulating wages will be carefully watched with this object in view.
The present Housing Bill contains provisions which should mitigate the evil of the tied cottage, to which we attach great importance, and it is the intention of the Government to take special steps to stimulate the provision of improved housing in rural areas under the powers therein provided. Further, a Committee which is to be appointed to consider the Rent Restriction Act will include within its purview the special position of the "tied cottage," with a view to providing a remedy against any unfair use of this system.
The Government is convinced that by a sustained and well-directed effort designed to evoke the co-operation of the industry itself it should be possible to arrest the decline of employment on the land and to foster, by taking advantage of modern developments and facilities, specialised and improved methods of production which should result in a great increase in our home-produced food supplies and bring back prosperity to our countryside. We believe that our proposals will have the effect of inspiring in all sections of the farming community that confidence which is so essential to its progress and welfare, and will promote the sound development of our great agricultural industry.
Will the right hon. Gentleman state how many new officials it is estimated will have to be set up, and will he also tell us what is the position of the co-operative movement in connection with this great programme?
I do not see very much relevance to the statement I have read in the questions of the right hon. Gentleman who, as he represents Woolwich, has, I suppose, a very special interest in it. I do not anticipate that there will be a very great increase in the number of officials who will administer these new plans, but I am sure, whatever number may be necessary, they will do a great deal more than repay their extra cost. In regard to the second question, I do not think it calls for a reply.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that throughout the whole of this long statement there is not one grain of hope of immediate relief for cereal agriculture? All that we can hope for from the statement is further discussion at a very late period, but absolutely no immediate help for those who are undoubtedly in the most dire necessity.
We are giving consideration to that subject, but at the moment I am not able to make any announcement upon it. In regard to the remarks of the hon. Member above the Gangway, this is, of course, a very long statement and I cannot expect that its full import can have been grasped. I certainly would suggest that any comments or criticisms might wait until hon. Members have had an opportunity of studying it.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware, in regard to smaller agricultural and horticultural production, that what the industry is suffering from is the dumping of the surplus products of foreign markets? Is there anything in his statement which will deal with that?
There is no direct reference to this subject, but there is a good deal in the statement which will in an indirect way deal with that problem by improving the methods of production in this country and thereby improving the competitive position of British agriculture. This will also be assisted by the proposals for marketing in the Bill which has just been introduced.
With reference to my right hon. Friend's answer to the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, are we to understand that the matter concerning unemployment insurance for agricultural workers is still under consideration; and will the Departmental Committee which is looking into the whole question of unemployment insurance also include the rural districts within its scope?
No, I do not suppose that its terms of reference will cover the question of the insurance of agricultural workers. All that I can say, is to repeat what I have said, in reply to the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway that at the present time I have nothing to say with regard to that matter.
The right hon. Gentleman has quoted considerable advantages to be granted to new allotment holders and smallholders, and I should like to ask whether these advantages will be extended to the present allotment holders and smallholders, and, if not, will it not put the latter at a disadvantage in competition?
I do not think so. It is, of course, impossible in reply to questions, to give an answer to everything that enters into the imagination or the mind of hon. Members, but the purpose of our proposals with regard to allotments, a matter in which I am personally very deeply interested—I should like to see every encouragement given to the extension of allotments—is to encourage the use of allotments.