Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 7th June 1937.

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Mr. Lloyd George:

I rise to make a few observations, which will be very much on the lines of those which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg). I thought his contribution was a very valuable one. He introduced an element of independence and of freshness into the examination of this problem, which has become rather stale and, unfortunately for the farmer, unprofitable. I would urge the Government to consider the suggestion which he made that the time has come for a reexamination of the whole of the problem of agriculture. The situation is far from satisfactory. I am not going to criticise the late Minister of Agriculture. He worked hard at the problem, and he showed very considerable courage. I do not personally approve of a great many of the suggestions which he put into operation, but he made a real effort. We have had subsidies which in the aggregate come to £30,000,000 a year; we have got seven boards, three Commissions, one or two Councils and no end of Committees, all set up in the last few years to deal with the problem of agriculture. I remember perfectly well that when, some years ago, I put forward certain proposals with regard to the land, they were condemned on the ground that they involved a horde of officials. No proposals that I ever put forward would have employed anything like the officials, numerous as the sands of the sea, who have been appointed under the various proposals which have been carried through in recent years.

But in spite of that, in spite of all these efforts, what is the present position? My hon. Friend said that the people are leaving the land. Just before I came in someone put into my hands some figures showing what the position is. In 1881 we had 12.5 per cent. of the total occupied population on the soil, but in the last census that came down to 5.7 per cent. Since then we have had a much more thorough and accurate test in the extension of unemployment insurance to the agricultural labourer, and now every agricultural labourer between 16 and 65 is registered. The figures show that the agricultural population now is not 5.7 per cent. but 4.7 per cent. of the population.