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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Photo of Mr Robert Richards Mr Robert Richards , Wrexham

The policy of the Government as revealed in this Debate is spasmodic in its incidence. I think we all agree that if we are to have anything in the nature of a policy it should be upon a comprehensive basis. Successive Ministers of Agriculture have been impressed by the difficulties by certain aspects of the industry, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) pointed out, it is now time to deal with the industry in a thoroughly comprehensive fashion. It has also been pointed out that we already know a great deal about the difficulties and the needs of the industry and no further inquiry is necessary for us to get the information. I do not think I agree entirely with that view. The position of agriculture, like that of every other industry, is continually changing, and it is changing also, very rapidly in some cases, in relation to other industries. One of the prime difficulties which the Minister has is to correlate this important industry and other equally, or in some cases more, important industries.

It is satisfactory that so much attention is being paid to agriculture, but we must recognise that it is only one industry out of many. For a long time it was dis- regarded, unfortunately as I think, by this House. There was a real reason for the disregard, which was due to the fact that we had other industries which were more vitally important. Let us remember coal and iron. I am not exaggerating when I suggest that the economic position which was achieved by this country in the nineteenth century was due to the existence of those basic industries. They were the basis of our commercial and industrial supremacy. One very interesting result of that was that the standard of life of the people of this country, low as it is in many cases, was considerably raised; not through paying attention to agriculture, but through paying attention to those basic industries that enabled us to produce more cheaply than anybody else in the world, and to get from other countries at the same time the food and the raw material that we required.

We must recognise that that position has gone for ever. The supremacy of those industries in relation to agriculture will never return in the history of this country. Consequently, we have to try to place agriculture in its proper perspective, so to speak, in relation to the new and very important industries that we have here. That is a very difficult proposition. It is not difficult to encourage or to help an industry, provided you pour plenty of public money into it, but, as we have said already, we have to make the primary distinction as to whether an industry can justify that process. For example, if we had poured into the coal, iron or cotton industries the millions of money that have been poured into agriculture, we must admit that they would present a more favourable position than they do at the present time. This Committee has to consider not what we can do for agriculture, but whether we are justified in adopting a policy of helping agriculture and disregarding other industries that have been in the past and are in the present quite as important to this nation as agriculture.