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 have got my scheme, but I do not want to go into it too elaborately. I think the farmer has as much as he can do on his own farm. I know that I shall get into trouble for this, but in my own country I think he spends too much time in markets. That would be quite unnecessary if we had a good organised marketing system. He will produce the stuff. He is to choose what he produces. We are not to go to one man and say, "You have to produce that," and to another man, "You have to produce this." I would let each farmer produce what he liked. I would let him know exactly what the demand was in his particular area each night, and he would put his commodity, ready, at a particular point, and it would be picked up and carried up to market by the organisation. At the present time getting the stuff to market costs money. It needs labour to get it there, and there has to be an equipment of lorries. I have drawn beyond what I had intended to say, but I should be glad, if there were a commission of this kind, to put my proposals before them. I have some ideas.

This is the last point I want to make. For years I have been urging upon each successive Minister of Agriculture the need for a complete and thorough survey of the agricultural conditions and capabilities and facilities of this country. It will take time. One of the first Ministers I urged to undertake this task was Lord Halifax. It seemed to me at that time that he was listening to me—but I have made that mistake many a time. I will never make it again. He was doing it out of the courtesy for which he is famous. It was a hopeless task; the Government did not pretend to discuss it. A survey of that kind would include a report upon the lands which were going out of cultivation and needed reconditioning. You have only to take a drive across any part of England—I do not know quite so much about Scotland, on the whole I think the farming there is better, but even in Scotland it could be seen—and you can see the fields which have gone out of condition in the last 10, 15 or 20 years. You have only to look at the kind of weeds which are springing up, at the quality of the grass. If you had a thorough survey of that kind you would know your problems.

The right hon. Gentleman has not been long enough at the Ministry of Agriculture to know the whole problem, and I hope that he will examine it for himself. There are men who will have his ear who are quite convinced that what they have been doing is the right thing, and that every drastic change would be a condemnation of them for what they have failed to do. Any Minister who would succeed in doing really great things in his office must bear that in mind. Whether it is in agriculture, in education or in the Services, you will not get people who have been in their departments for years, and thinking they have done the very best, to turn round suddenly and say, "We were wrong and we must take a new course." It requires a pretty big man to do that. That is where a new Minister has a chance really to tackle the job. It is the biggest job to be tackled by this Government, and I hope the Government will do it.

People say, "A survey will take a long, long time." So it will. If my suggestion had been adopted at the time I pressed it on the Government, that survey would have been complete by now. But we need not wait until the survey is complete. There are things the Minister could get on with, which he has started doing now; there are parts of the country where the survey would be complete in a short time and he could proceed there. You need not wait for a complete survey of the whole country before beginning to do the job—the repairing of buildings, the reconditioning of land, the draining of swamps, the improving of waterlogged land and bringing the land of the country into new heart.

I would like to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a young Minister. I was charmed with the form and style of his speech. I listened to it with great delight. But clearly he has not yet made up his mind. I should not like to say that he does not quite realise the magnitude of his task, though he is beginning, I have no doubt, to appreciate its difficulties. I should like him to do more than that. If he will forgive me as an older man talking to a younger man, I should like him to realise the greatness of his opportunity, the immensity of the services he can render to this country. The agricultural labourer is leaving the land. He will not remain at the wages which have been paid to him. I know that. The farmer cannot pay him more under present conditions. That is where the Government could come in. If the right hon. Gentleman undertakes the task with the ability which we all know that he possesses, with the imagination which he ought to have inherited from his Celtic ancestors, and also with the audacity which they had in great causes that often appeared hopeless at the time, he will have done something which will make England really a green and pleasant land, something which, instead of leaving the countryside visibly decaying before our eyes, will make the country once more prosperous, healthy, happy and full of gaiety and of strength.