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 William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

It must be obvious to the hon. Member that really what has caused the rise in the price of Argentine beef has been the improved demand. The disparity between that rise and the ad valorem incidence of the duty is clear enough evidence to dissociate the one from the other. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made a speech to which I listened with rapt attention, as I always do when he is speaking, and I should like to thank him for his friendly approach to the great problem of agriculture and the land. I detected in his speech some of that fervour which I, too, at times feel for the land. I think I can say of both of us that we are aborigines of these islands and have been here long enough to make those who came over with the Norman Conquest to look like the Coronation visitors of yesterday. It may be that by the influence of the northern latitudes from which my ancestors came I have acquired hardly such a sanguine view of the ease with which the obstacles of Nature can be overcome as has the right hon. Gentleman, whose ancestors were nurtured in the beautiful fertile valleys of Wales. I start at one with him in the desire that the great agricultural industry should be restored to as great a measure of prosperity as possible. I recognise, with him, that its significance for this country is far greater than its mere economic contribution. It has done much to mould the character of our people, and it would be a sad day for our people if its influ- ence for beauty and sanity were removed from our national life.

The right hon. Gentleman asked us what happened during the War. I agree with him that we ploughed up lands with no fertility, and that it was not until we were near the very close of the War and victory was in sight that the land began to pay tribute to any very increased degree. Why was that land infertile? Because, before the War, we took no care to see that the land was fertile enough to pay for farming. This Government, warned by the remissness of its predecessor before the War, has taken steps to increase the fertility of the land in peace time and to pursue a policy which will help the farmer. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the lime and slag proposals. I am glad to have the opinion which he expressed. I was interested to hear him say that such proposals were among certain projects which he had put before us for our consideration in the past. I make no claim, and I do not dispute the paternity of the right hon. Gentleman. We have no claim for originality at all. We are agreed that every farmer who has considered the land of this country has recognised the serious deficiency, and is encouraged to use his land to the best advantage. At any rate we are now going to do it. There is something in that much better than merely discussing it.

The right hon. Gentleman also drew attention to difficulties in regard to farm buildings, and he invited us to put that down to the inability of landlords to meet the cost. There was a great rural partnership which lasted us well in pre-War times and was gradually dissolved when rural economy was changed, but the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that, while I am all with him in desiring to have changes so as to improve the character of the land and the people, I am warned how much easier it is to destroy a rural economy than to build one up. After the War, there was the Corn Production Act, when we had in rural holdings a series of changes which was disastrous. Many a man to-day is burdened with a load of debt with which he would not have been saddled had he not been induced at one time to be so. The right hon. Gentleman and I have one aim and object which we pursue, but my admiration for the great and sweeping nature of his proposals in the past and in the present is tempered a little bit by caution, induced by the ill-luck which has attended him in the past.

Many hon. Members have raised the question of land reclamation and land settlement. Farming depends on a remunerative price and it is our duty to make sure that the men now on the land can get a decent living out of it before we induce people to go on to land where they cannot make a decent living out of it. I have a great dislike of putting men into a position where they can exist only by means of subsidies and grants and where they may not be able to maintain themselves in the end. If we can restore the prosperity of agriculture to a proper degree I have no doubt that there will be plenty of men settling themselves on the land and making a living out of it. If agriculture becomes again a profitable enterprise, as I hope it will, there will be not only land settlement but land reclarnation, bringing more land than ever under the plough. The hon. Members for Carmarthen (Mr. nopkin) and Tavistock (Mr. Patrick) made observations on the milk proposals, and I will gladly take them into consideration, and I thank them for their speeches. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) asked me how I was going to prevent a rise in the price of lime and slag. We have thought of that and I think that there will be arrangements which will prevent any improper exploitation.