§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said, that before the discussion closed he was anxious to refer to one paragraph in the Gracious Speech from the Throne to which he had heard no reference made by any of the Ministers. The paragraph to which he referred stated that "the prospects of commerce are more hopeful than they have been for many years past." Well, if that were so, no one would be more rejoiced to hear it than he was; but he confessed he had considerable doubts on the subject. He was very sceptical indeed as to the possibility of any material or permanent improvement occurring in their trade until they had, in the first place, a genuine revival in the agricultural prosperity of the country. He was sceptical for this reason, that other countries were becoming more and more surrounded by a wall of hostile tariffs, which absolutely prohibited English trade. If that were so, it seemed to him the only real improvement they could look for was in the increase of the purchasing power of the markets at home; and that, in his opinion, was to be found only in. a large increase in the agricultural productions of the country, and in the wealth which ought to be annually created by agricultural prosperity. Now, could this be done? Could any means be devised for bringing about this state of things? Why, English manufacturers would then have at their very doors the very best markets for their goods—markets far superior to those for which they were looking in vain abroad. Every additional quarter of wheat that would be grown in this country would provide an additional market to that extent for the goods the manufacturers desired to sell; but not one single quarter of wheat brought from America at the present moment provided the least additional market for British manufacturers, for 884 the simple reason that the Americans refused to purchase in return. How much they had lost in this way in the last few years could be shown by the simplest possible computation. If the House would allow him he would refer to the evidence given by Sir James Caird before Lord Iddesleigh's Commission. He should take only one paragraph from the Report—paragraph 73. He pointed out that as regarded the home markets there had been a serious loss in the purchasing powers by reason of the deficiency or decrease of the produce of the soil. That was what occurred in 1885; but matters had become considerably worse since then. Sir James Caird spoke of the loss in that year as £42,000,000 or more, and the loss in several of the preceding years must, no doubt, have been equal to or even greater than that. This amount had been lost to the markets in which it was formerly spent, and could not fail to have had an important influence upon the demand for manufactured goods. He would ask hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House whether that was not a lamentable state of things? But since 1885 matters had become considerably worse, and from later computations the loss could not now be put down at less than £50,000,000. Exports had diminished by something like a quarter. The exports of British and Irish manufactures for last year, given in the Official Returns, amounted to £220,000,000, and, according to the latest computation, the loss was equal literally to a quarter of the whole of their export trade. That was exactly what the depression in agriculture was costing at the present time; and it was literally nothing to what it would cost in the future if the present state of things continued. It was as certain as that he was speaking there that thousands on thousands of additional acres of land would go out of cultivation if the prices remained as they were. He wished to say a word upon the subject of land which had gone out of cultivation, for the latest Returns upon this subject had given, he believed, a totally false impression. In 1881 a special Return was made upon this point. It was called a Return of the acreage of unoccupied farms and plots of land available for cultivation. Under this head the quantity of unoccupied land was shown as 43,000 acres. No subsequent Return 885 of this kind was made again until last year. This showed it to be 25,000 acres, or apparently a diminution of 18,000 acres; and it was argued in consequence—and very naturally—that, as there had been a diminution of 18,000 acres in the area of uncultivated land, that betokened a considerable improvement in the agricultural position. He wished to examine this question a little more closely. Where did they find that the chief increase in the cultivated area was shown? It was shown under the head of permanent pasture. Arable land had fallen from 17,600,000 acres to 16,900,000 acres in round numbers since 1881. Permanent pasture, on the other hand, had during the same period increased from 14,600,000 acres to 15,600,000 acres. Now, he ventured to express the confident opinion that thousands of acres had gone out of cultivation between 1881 and 1887, of which we had no account whatever. What had happened had been this. A considerable proportion of the area which was now returned as permanent pasture, and which accounted for the large increase under that head, was simply land which had been left to go waste, and had what was called "laid itself down to grass," growing little but weeds and thistles, and little, if any, grass at all, and probably fit to feed nothing but a donkey. Borne of it, no doubt, had been let of late for whatever it would fetch, probably a shilling or two an acre, and consequently it was now returned as permanent pasture, and no longer reckoned as uncultivated land. That was the explanation of the apparent improvement under that head, and he should be much surprised if hon. Gentlemen well acquainted with agriculture did not agree with him. There was another aspect of the case which he desired to put before the House, which showed the remarkable result that, although there was so large a diminution in arable land and so growing an increase in permanent pasture within the last two years, although there had previously been an increase, there had been a considerable diminution of stock and a great falling-off both in cattle and sheep. Happily, however, in consequence of the good lambing season, there was last year a considerable increase in the number of lambs. But the most lamentable and painful feature connected with, the agricultural depres- 886 sion was the terrible number of labourers throughout the country who, in consequence of this depression, had been thrown out of work. There was an instructive Memorandum issued on this subject in The Board of Trade Journal of November last year, which referred to questions of labour and wages in the South-Eastern Counties. The interest of that Memorandum consisted in a comparison of the numbers of unemployed, and of the rate of wages at present as compared with 1880. From them it appeared that there were now many more labourers out of employment than there were seven years ago. It would also he seen that not only the rate of day wages, but those of piecework, had been materially reduced. On the first page he found such items as these with respect to piecework. In the first village mentioned in this Return the reduction was from 30 to 40 per cent; in another one-half; a little further one-third; and in others 25 per cent. Weekly wages had also fallen, but not so much. In the column which indicated the number of labourers out of employment he found that in one village the number was 20; in the next two-fifths of the total number; in others 15 and 40 or 50. All these were at places where in 1880 there was not a single man out of employment. In a large village with which he was personally acquainted he was told, to his great distress, that there were from 60 to 80 labouring men willing to work, but absolutely unable to obtain work the whole of the winter; and the most miserable part of the story was that those on whom those men had been previously dependent for employment were now, in consequence of the reduction of their own incomes, unable to provide work and wages. He was, however, glad to say that some alleviation had been found for these poor and deserving people in the increase of the number of allotments, the granting of which, he was happy to say, had been stimulated by the Bill of last year. But allotments were never intended to be, and could not be, regarded as a substitute for wages and employment, however desirable they might be as a supplement to them. What, then, was to be done? It was no use for these unhappy people to go into towns, where a similar state of things was already in existence. The number of artizans out of employment 887 was something of which few people had anything like an accurate conception. There was some remarkable evidence given by a man who was specially competent to speak on this question, and whoso statement had, within the last few hours, been laid on the Table of the House. He would venture to call the attention of hon. Members to it. This evidence was given by Mr. J. C. Fielden, a gentleman intimately acquainted with the condition of the working classes, and connected, as he said, with all the movements among the working classes in the cotton district since 1859, and the arbitrator for the operatives in all the great wage questions when the question had been settled by arbitration. His evidence came to this—that out of the total number of men, women, and children of the people employed in the country earning wages, no fewer than 700,000 were out of employment altogether, owing to the depression in trade and agriculture, and those that were in employment were receiving greatly reduced wages, and what was more in what was described as real wages. And this estimate, he told us, was put even higher, 200,000 higher, by the delegates representing all the principal trades at the Trades Conference at Wolverhampton. If that was anything like an approach to a true description of the present state of things—and there was every reason to believe that it was—it was not unnatural that he had taken a great interest in the paragraph of Her Majesty's Speech of which he had spoken. It deeply regretted that there should not be in agricultural matters a corresponding improvement to that in trade. It commended that industry to the care of the House, in the hope that means might be discovered to meet the difficulties under which it laboured. It was for no light reason that such a paragraph was inserted in the Speech. It indicated a very deep concern on the part of Her Majesty's Government for the condition of agriculture, and all classes connected with that industry would be proportionately grateful for that concern. But it would be more interesting to the House to know what was the view of the Government on the subject, and what were the means which they proposed to improve our position in that regard. He, of course, presumed that no return to Protection would be suggested. The speeches of Ministers 888 during the Recess had put that out of the question entirely, and so long as the exports of wheat from silver-using countries were stimulated as they were at present by the existing rate of exchange, which many competent authorities considered to amount to something like a bounty of 25 to 30 per cent upon every quarter of wheat sent to us from those countries, he confessed that he had come to the conclusion that Protection would not have the beneficial effects which were expected from it so far as the English producer of wheat was concerned. Several other measures were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. There was a Bill dealing with the question of railway rates, which he was glad was to be introduced again and hoped would be carried. But it would have to be considerably different from the Bill of last Session if it was to have the desired effect. He also rejoiced at the indication of an intention on the part of the Government to mitigate the burdens which now fell on the ratepayers of the country. But he, for one, could not think that these were all the measures which were in the minds of Ministers when that paragraph of the Speech to which he had referred was framed. If that were so, and the Government were able to give any hope or to throw any light on the present position of the agricultural interest, it would be matter of great encouragement at a time when encouragement was sorely needed. He did not think it was necessary for him on this occasion to suggest any remedy for agricultural depression, even if it were possible for him or anyone else to do so. His object was to ascertain from Her Majesty's Government what they were really to understand from the expressions contained in that paragraph of the Speech from the Throne. He thought any Member of the House was fully justified in pressing this question upon the attention of the Government. There were, it was true, more exciting questions, yet he was sure that the depression in trade and agriculture, with its results shown in thousands of people out of employment, was not a less important subject even than the Irish Question, of which, in his opinion, it formed a most material part. It formed, in his opinion, the gravest, most difficult, and, perhaps, the greatest problem for solu- 889 tion at the present time; and he was certain that any Government, whichever Party might be in power, would shortly have to deal with it.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Lord JOHN MANNERS) (Leicestershire, E.)
I am sure my right hon. Friend need not apologize for having brought this subject under the consideration of the House. No set of men can be more aware than Her Majesty's Ministers of the terrible depression from which the agricultural interest is, and has been, suffering. It is nearly 10 years since the agriculturists began to struggle with unabated energy and dauntless courage against the difficulties which threaten to overwhelm them. My right hon. Friend has divided his observations into two main heads. First, he made some observations upon that portion of the Queen's Speech which refers to the presumed revival of trade, and he assigns many reasons to show that that revival of trade does not really exist; and I think he went so far as to say that there could not be a revival of trade until agriculture was flourishing. To a certain extent I agree with him; but I would ask him whether the position might not be reversed, and whether we might not say that agriculture could not really flourish until trade revived? Her Majesty's Government do see some symptoms of a revival of trade—speaking generally, I am not asserting that in some trades there are not a great lack of employment and diminished profits; but, taking the trade of the Kingdom as a whole, we have reasons to believe that there are signs and symptoms of revival, and pro tanto I think those signs of revival of trade do augur well for the future of agriculture. My right hon. Friend went at some length into the statistics of unoccupied farms. I think that, on the whole, his explanation of what appears to be a discrepancy in these Returns is probably correct, and that certain farms after two or three years have managed to put forth a rough kind of grass upon them which produces a certain amount of revenue to the owners, so that the farms are not included in the Returns. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has seen a remarkable paper in The National Review by Mr. Harris, who gave chapter and verse as to two farms of his own 890 that were bringing in between £200 and £300 a-year each.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he thought the farms referred to by Mr. Harris had been laid down to grass, whereas he had spoken of farms which had laid themselves down.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
I am speaking from memory. My right hon. Friend drew a very sad picture indeed of the condition of the labourers. I know nothing more painful and nothing more sad than the facts to which my right hon. Friend has called attention. It is impossible to controvert them; but I should like anyone to point out how, under the circumstances, the case is to be remedied. I am afraid it will be a slow process before we can again see the agricultural labourers restored to their former position and employed at good wages. Then my right hon. Friend asked what the Government meant by the paragraph in the Queen's Speech, and what we meant to do in consequence of that paragraph. Those two questions are most reasonable, and the only purpose I have in rising is to explain what the Government intended by that paragraph, and how they propose to give effect to it. The paragraph is undoubtedly worded rather abnormally. It invites the attention of the House. We inserted that paragraph advisedly, as we wish to take the House fully into our confidence in regard to this subject, and to have the support of Gentlemen on both sides in endeavouring to palliate the disastrous situation described by my right hon. Friend. A great deal has been said about the character and composition of the Department with which I have the honour to be connected. A good deal of misconception has arisen on that subject; but I admit that the constitution of what is called the Committee of Agriculture is not what it ought to be, if agriculture is thought worthy to have a Department of its own. It is a misnomer; there is really no such thing as a Committee of Agriculture. There is a most admirable Department with two objects. The first is to make regulations with reference to the prevention of diseases among animals, and the regulation of the transport of animals to and from this country; the second, to obtain, tabulate, and publish agricultural statistics. In regard to these objects there cannot be a better 891 Department than that which exists at the present moment. It has so far worked admirably with the able assistance of Mr. Peel and Professor Brown, together with an excellent staff of Inspectors. Again, I think extremely well of the way in which the statistical branch is conducted. I see no reason to make any change in these two branches. But when I have said that I have said all. I have described the whole Agricultural Department. I am, however, glad to say, on behalf of the Government, that having regard to the great and unprecedented depression to which agriculture has so long been and is still subjected, we propose to introduce a Bill establishing an Agricultural Department. We think, however, it would be premature to describe at present the character of that measure; but I may mention that we propose to adopt several of the recommendations of the Committee on Agricultural Education and Dairy Schools. Another topic on which I desire to lay stress is the paragraph in the Queen's Speech referring to the readjustment of local and Imperial taxation. I must not anticipate what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to say on this interesting subject; but we hope that the measure we shall introduce will be a measure of sufficient magnitude and importance to make the agricultural world feel that a great operation is being performed, and that justice, which has been so long delayed, is now being tardily rendered to them. Then, Sir, my right hon. Friend has made some comments on the proposal to re-introduce the Railway Rates Bill. All I can say on that subject is that it will be introduced by Her Majesty's Government in the sincere hope and expectation that it will have a practical effect in the way of putting an end to the bounties which now exist upon the introduction of foreign produce, and that the agriculturists of the country will gain relief, at any rate, from that unjust burden. I am aware that any measure I may have indicated can have really but a small effect in diminishing the evil of which the agriculturists complain; but, at any rate, we will do all that it is possible for us to do within the limits of the existing fiscal system, and we shall make our proposals in the hope and expectation that by their agency the oldest, the greatest, and most important of all our 892 national industries may be fostered and preserved.
§ MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
said, the information which the noble Lord had been able to give as to the intention of the Government to create a Department of Agriculture was, doubtless, very interesting to the right hon. Gentleman who initiated the debate, but not so much interest to the remainder of the House; while that was the case he was willing to admit that some of the measures indicated in the Queen's Speech were of great importance to the agricultural community. The Railway Rates Bill was one which, if carried out in a proper spirit, would be a great benefit to the farmers of this country. He regretted that no legislation had been proposed in the interest of agricultural labourers, but trusted that if any was put forward by the Opposition the Government would not oppose it. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) make no reference to the Tithes Bill. He hoped the Tithes Bill of this Session would not be a sham one, as he regarded that of last year. He disagreed with hon. Gentlemen opposite on this question. The levying of tithes was neither a landlord's, a farmer's, nor a labourer's question in particular, but it was essentially a land question. In his opinion, though the State might do much for the agriculturist, it could not do everything. The key to the situation was the individual himself. Naturally, the first remedy that occurred to the farmer was a reduction of rent and in the cost of production; but he was certain that hon. Gentlemen would agree that the landlords of England, Scotland, and Wales had done their duty in this matter. ["Hear, hear!" and "No!"] The reductions of rent throughout the country had averaged something like 25 per cent. In trade and manufacture the energetic man met the situation by what was called a system of expansion. It was said that the farmer was not able to do that; but he thought he might meet the situation partially and improve his position materially by producing more largely such things as cheese, butter, and eggs, for all of which the demand was always great and a good price could always be obtained. The British farmer unfortunately had one fault, one inherent weakness, and that was a strong 893 hankering after the fleshpots of Protection. He was therefore very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite disavow any intention of supporting a protective system. It was a most delusive and unsettling notion to put into the heads of the farmers—namely, that their position could be alleviated by any return to a duty on corn. Yet some hon. Gentlemen and others were going about the country apparently preaching that doctrine. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division, who justly possessed such influence with the agricultural community, might do something to disabuse the minds of the farmers on this point; but now that he had given up the position of Leader of the Protection Party in the House, the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Howard Vincent) had stepped into his shoes. He hoped that the hon. Member would take this opportunity of explaining to the House what he meant by Fair Trade. A great deal of vague language was used by its advocates, but what they exactly meant it was difficult to discover. As one deeply interested in the agricultural community, he had to thank the right hon. Gentleman opposite for his speech, and to express the hope that Her Majesty's Government would bring forward real remedial measures. If they did he felt sure they would be heartily supported by the Agricultural Members on both sides of the House.
§ MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said, that with the permission of the House, and as a borough Member, he should like to say a few words upon that portion of the Most Gracious Speech from the Throne which had been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). He felt certain that the whole agricultural community would read with the greatest satisfaction the speech of the noble Lord the Member for East Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), who so ably represented the agricultural community in the House, and that they would be grateful for the indication afforded in Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech that speedy relief might probably be attainable. But he joined with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford in saying that it would have been far more satisfactory to the 894 unfortunate farmer and agricultural labourer if more precise information had been afforded to the House of Commons as to the measures to be adopted for the relief of the agricultural interest at the present day. The sympathy of Her Majesty's Government—and more especially the sympathy of the noble Lord—would be highly acceptable to the suffering and depressed agricultural interest; but he certainly thought that what was wanted was an early and thorough and practical remedy for a great and crying evil. He confessed he did not see, in the measures which had been foreshadowed in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, any great sign of a remedy for the agricultural depression at the present moment. The extension of local government was, no doubt, desirable; but he only hoped that it might be obtained without any increase of local burdens. Technical education had, no doubt, been scandalously neglected in the past; but he felt quite certain that any effort on the part of Her Majesty's Government to promote and encourage it would be received with ready favour by both sides of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division had given an indication that he thought the first remedy might be found in what was known as bi-metallism. The right hon. Gentleman's authority was great in the country—his experience in agricultural matters was unequalled—but he (Mr. Howard Vincent) ventured to think that the right hon. Gentleman would have some little difficulty in persuading the country of that fact. No doubt the hon. Baronet the Member for the Wells Division of Somerset (Sir Richard Paget) would hear with great satisfaction the statement of the noble Lord that it was in the contemplation of Her Majesty's Government to establish an Agricultural Department; but he (Mr. Howard Vincent) should like to say this—that, having acquired considerable knowledge of the feeling of the agricultural community in the country, he was in a position to state that they were not only anxious for men, but also for measures. One of the measures 'which would be most acceptable to them—in fact, the chief amongst those which they wanted—and he was not singular in this belief either in the House or in the country—was a measure which would stimu- 895 late British and Irish production, and which would give the British and Irish consumer a direct interest in the encouragement of the industry and labour of their fellow-countrymen. He had no intention of going at any length into this matter at the present time, in spite of the observations addressed to the House by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Saffron Walden Division of Essex (Mr. H. Gardner). Other opportunities would, he believed, occur during this Session, when he would be able more fully and thoroughly to gratify the hon. Member's curiosity, and when he would also be able, with the assistance of hon. Friends, to bring this matter before the House on an occasion when a more practical result would be obtainable than was possible this evening. No doubt, the hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division of Essex had noticed, in common with other hon. Members, that on the Order Book was his (Mr. Howard Vincent's) Motion on the subject, and similar Motions in the names of other hon. Members. Upon some of these Motions he trusted that they would be able to get the opinion of the House. Of course, the opinion of the House would only be taken provided it could be done without endangering the present patriotic Government, which nine commercial men out of every ten recognized as alone capable of bringing about any real revival of industry. Perhaps the House would allow him to say that in all parts of the country energetic men were actively at work in arousing public opinion upon this question, and he did not think there was any prospect of their relaxing their efforts until the interests of the masses of the whole population were regarded as more sacred than those of a small minority who produced nothing more deserving of legislative protection than the interests of the foreign importer and producer. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Mr. C. W. Gray) would corroborate the statement that the revival of agricultural industry was a matter of the greatest importance to the home population, and for this reason he asked for a few minutes. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire had remarked, the state of agriculture was terrible; numerous farms had been 896 deserted, and thousands of acres of arable land had been laid down in permanent pasture. The wages of the agricultural labourer had shrunk to 8s. or 9s. a-week, and many men with wives to maintain and children to support were unable to obtain employment. For the urban population the state of affairs was also very serious. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford did not refer to the influx from the unhappy country districts into the towns during the past few years, but it had been enormous, and amounted to hundreds of thousands of persons. With the depression in trade and the decreased purchasing power of the agricultural population, amounting—according to Sir James Caird—to over £42,000,000 a-year; with the increased and increasing taxation and increasing competition on the part of foreigners in the home market which had rendered employment in the towns scarcer and scarcer, it was no wonder then that the bitter cry of the unemployed became every day louder and louder. He was satisfied that the sights to be seen on the high roads of the country and at every street corner of London—a gaunt man, a miserable woman, and the famished children—must pierce the heart even of the most zealous member of the Cobden Club. The pauperism in London alone showed an increase of more than 10,000 persons in the first week of the present month, compared with the corresponding week in 1886. Thousands of persons were fed by charity, and it was stated by Mr. Shipton, of the London Trades Council, in a deputation which recently waited on the Prime Minister, that there were numbers of persons who would rather suffer martyrdom than let their sufferings be known outside the circle of their friends. In Sheffield and many other towns and villages numbers of deserving persons were altogether unable to obtain employment, and numerous unprofitable relief works had been undertaken in many parts of the country. A high authority—Mr. Francis—the Chairman of the London and County Bank, stated recently that the depression in agriculture amounted in the last 10 years in Great Britain to £10 an acre, with an addition of £2 per acre for the tenants' capital. If the land were to be realized now at the present prices there would be a loss in money of more than 897 £600,000,000 sterling. With these facts before them, he was justified in saying that the question was one which deserved attentive consideration. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) wrote a letter a few weeks ago in which he said that £50,000,000 sterling a-year, which might be applied to the encouragement of agriculture in this country, now went over to the foreigner in the trade of butter, cheese, poultry, eggs, vegetables, and bacon. He submitted that these were matters which deserved the close and speedy attention of Parliament. He was quite sure that neither he nor his hon. Friend the Member for the Maldon Division of Essex, nor any other Member of that House, intended to make any attack upon real Free Trade; but bearing in mind that this country raised a far larger revenue from import duties than any other country in Europe, his hon. Friends and himself intended to attack, singly and together, wherever and whenever they could, in that House and in the country, that unfair system of one-sided Free Trade which admitted the produce of the foreigner into the British markets, while the same privileges were rigidly denied to our produce in every quarter of the globe. They intended to assail, by every legitimate means the circumstances of the hour might justify, those abuses which the Prime Minister pointed out at Liverpool had crept in under the broad mantle of Free Trade. He felt convinced that the great body of public opinion was being aroused in this matter with a view of securing the legitimate defence of British industry. The struggle they had before them might be a long and difficult one; but they would not flinch from it, because they were of opinion that the welfare of the British producer and of the great masses of the community of the country rested upon the prosperity of British industry. They knew that on their side was ranged the opinion of every other nation, of every self-governing British Colony, and of every democracy in the world. They believed that they were working for the welfare of their own countrymen, and endeavouring to secure their industries from destruction at foreign hands; and, with all deference, he would remind their opponents of the well-known dictum pronounced at Manchester by the right 898 hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone)—It is in vain that you struggle against the opinion of civilized mankind. The judgment of the whole world continued and prolonged is never wrong.
§ MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
said, that judging from the speech of the hon. Member opposite who had just spoken (Mr. Howard Vincent), there would be no great result from his efforts on the question of Fair Trade if it were likely to interfere with the patriotic Government now sitting on the Treasury Bench. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) would, before long, drop his new nostrum of bi-metallism for agricultural distress, and go back to his old love, Protection. Whatever the landlords of Ireland and Scotland might have done in reducing rents—although in the latter country the Crofters' Commission had to lower them 40, 50, and 60 per cent—the majority of the Welsh landlords had not met their tenants fairly. The consequence was that thousands of tenant-farmers in Wales were on the verge of ruin. Landlords had been somewhat startled by the establishment of a Land League in the Principality. He did not then wish to discuss the rise of the League, or argue whether it was justified or not; but he would point to two counties in Wales where there was no Land League—namely, the counties of Anglesey and Montgomery. A short time ago, at the invitiation of the landlords, a conference of farmers was held in Anglesey to discuss the causes of agricultural depression and the best means of meeting it. The result of that conference was that the tenants came to the conclusion that unless the landlords met them more fairly than they had hitherto done, much of the land in that Island would fall out of cultivation, for this reason—that while the price of agricultural produce had fallen 30 per cent, the landlords had made only temporary reductions of 10 per cent in the rent. The farmers had year after year been paying rent out of their savings. Those savings had now gone; and they were now paying rent from loans obtained from the banks on the security of one another's credit, and everybody knew that a system of obtaining money from the banks on credit, with a falling market, must in the end land the farmers in 899 ruin. The same state of things existed in the county of Montgomery. The fall of prices there amounted to from 30 to 35 per cent, and only temporary abatements of 30 per cent had been made to meet this terrible fall. The farmers said that it was impossible to effect further economy either in labour or in manure, and if any reduction in labour were made the only result would be that the land would be deteriorated and go out of cultivation. The farmers further complained of unnecessarily restrictive covenants in regard to cropping' and gale of produce, which operated prejudicially in creating a feeling of distrust and insecurity among the peasantry. Whatever greater measure might be under consideration for the improvement of trade, they might give the farmers greater scope in cultivation and freedom of sale for their produce. The reforms which the farmers asked for were, that in connection with County Boards there should be a board of conciliation and valuers, who should settle disputes as to rent between landlords and tenants, that the farmers should have security of tenure so long as they paid their rents and complied with the clauses of their rents, so that they should not be liable to be turned out from their farms for taking part in political or religious combinations. Finally, they demanded that the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 should be strengthened by giving fuller and more ample compensation for the improvements the tenants had made. As yet the only indications the farmers had of any readiness to receive them was a threat from a land agent, who is a Welsh Tory Member, that he would make a clearance of all his tenants and resort to co-operative farming, while his antidote for Welsh agitation was the threat of a Coercion Bill for Wales. Another cause of the deepening dissatisfaction among the farmers in Wales was the method of collection and application of tithes in the Principality. It was a matter for regret that during the whole of last year the Government refused to give the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), or any other Member, an opportunity of bringing before the House their grievances as to tithes and the Church Establishment. The hon. Member for Swansea had obtained a favourable place in the ballot, but the Government refused to give him 900 the day he had secured. A still deeper cause for dissatisfaction was in the methods resorted to in the Principality for the collection of the tithe. Not only were Emergency men employed, but the police and military had been called upon the scene. He had no wish to refer to the condemnation which the Welsh people had passed repeatedly on the alien Establishment. At five General Elections the Welsh people had, by overwhelming majorities, condemned the continuance of this alien Establishment in their midst, and at their last Election they sent 28 Members out of 34 to vote for its discontinuance. Apart from that question he desired to enter a protest against the employment of emergency men and military in the collection of tithes in Wales. He admitted that in the earlier history of the movement there was a considerable amount of groaning at the bailiffs, clergymen, and others, who refused to make a reduction in the tithe, and that on one or two occasions the bailiffs were pelted. In the face of such manifestations it was right that the police should be in readiness to prevent injury to life and property. But he maintained that no cause had been shown for the employment of military for the collection of a debt, whether the debt belonged to a tradesman or the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It might be said that the state of feeling had been such as to justify the calling out of the military but he thought he should be able to show from the Report of Mr. Bridge—the Special Commissioner sent down to inquire into the matter—that there was no cause whatever for sending the military into Wales. Mr. Bridge said—The commencement of the disturbances, which have occurred in Wales, was contemporaneous with the agricultural depression, which became acute when the price of stock fell in the years 1885 and 1886. This took place after a long-continued fall in the price of wheat.Mr. Bridge went on to say—There existed in Wales from old times a strong feeling among the Nonconformists that the tithes were improperly claimed and taken by the Church of England, and a desire has grown up, not that the tithes should be abolished, but that they should be applied to some lay purpose for the benefit of the nation. This feeling has arisen from causes partly religious, partly social, partly national, and partly political, and, although it had formerly been to a great extent passive, it became active and aggressive when the demand of the farmers 901 for the reduction of the rent-charge had been refused.Mr. Bridge gave an account of all the disturbances which had taken place in Wales, and he said that—The first place where the police appeared to protect the bailiffs was at Llanorman, on the 26th of August, 1886. In this case a few stones were thrown at the police, but on the whole the proceedings were good-humoured and orderly.In another case the Report said—There was a very large number of people present; there was much pushing, yelling, and horse play, and in one place a large stone was thrown. This was the only violence, and a cry of 'Shame !' seems to have arisen from the mob at the throwing of the stone.Mr. Bridge said further, in reference to the most serious of all the tithe disturbances—that at Mochdre—It will also be seen that there was probably no intention on the part of the people to use force, and that but for the steepness of the lane the collision would not have occurred.This is the only case in which there was any excuse for employing a large force to collect the tithe. Mr. Bridge said that no blame attached to the people, and that there would have been no collision but for the steepness of the lane in which the people and the constabulary met. That was the only excuse of the so called riot at Mochdre. Whatever may be the sins of Welsh Nonconformists, it is not their faults that lanes on Welsh hillsides are steep. The only other serious riot was that at Llangwm. The auctioneer and the police refused to give notice of the day of sale. They instructed their men to go down on the dawn of day and sweep away the cattle of the peasantry. This cattle-lifting naturally irritated the peasantry, and the district became much disturbed. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners only took three policemen to this disturbed district, and there is no doubt but that the bailiffs and the myrmidons of the Commissioners were treated with some harshness, and some of them received injury. In Flintshire, the landlords had had to revert to the Emergency men, but he protested against the importation of such men into Wales, for they formed the most repulsive feature of the doomed system of Irish landlordism. They were dressed in a semi-military uniform, and armed with the new regulation police baton that did such execution in 902 Trafalgar Square. He did not know whether these men were sworn in as special constables, but if so he would ask the Government to confine them to the use of the police baton alone. He said this because the last few weeks they had been marching about the country armed now with cutlasses, and then with revolvers. He wished to give fair warning to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Matthews), who was responsible for the peace and order of the country, that he must not expect the peasantry to remain quiet and passive when such exasperating methods for collecting iniquitous imposts were resorted to. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman what justification he had for sending detachments of Cavalry into Wales in order to assist in the collection of debts, and he pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Government that, upon the evidence of their own Commissioner, the use of a military force was altogether unnecessary. Not only was it unnecessary, but it involved considerable cost, and was irritating and exasperating to the people. Although the military, each man armed with 20 rounds of ball cartridge, might overawe the people, still such a deep sense of dissatisfaction and exasperation was aroused that it will be difficult to make the peasantry submit peacefully to their grievances. He would ask the House to note the strange anomaly which existed in Wales at the present day. There they found the Church of the State supported by galling imposts levied by the use of the bayonet and the ball cartridge, whilst the religious and moral life of the people was fostered by Nonconformity, the adherents of which were worried from day to day by the presence and action of the emergency men and military. He (Mr. T. E. Ellis) asked the Government if it was not time that this system should end? His view and the view of the Welsh people was that the first charge on land and industry in the Principality ought to be devoted to some lay purpose that would be for the general good of the mass of the people. For years they had pressed both upon Liberal and Tory Governments the necessity of inaugurating a system of intermediate education for Wales. It was admitted on all hands that in the matter of intermediate education Wales 903 was absolutely starved. Last year the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) gave a promise that the question should be grappled with; but he now found the right hon. Gentleman promising in a hesitating sort of way that some measure should be introduced towards the middle or end of the Session. That was a mere mockery. If the Government would introduce their Bill at once, and allow it to go side by side with the Bills of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) and that of the Tory Members for Wales, it could be discussed by a Select Committee, a general agreement could be come to, and a measure could be passed this Session. He had only one other point. The new President of the Board of Trade, the ex-Member for Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), in a remarkable speech, made five or six weeks ago, said that one of the chief causes of the difficulty in Ireland was that this country had persistently refused to give to the Irish people the same respectful hearing and attention which they had given to the people of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that one of the chief causes of Irish discontent was that this country refused to listen to the expressed wishes of the majority of the Irish people, and he added that the first ray of hope and the best method of meeting the Irish difficulty would be to give to the Irish people and the Members for that country the same consideration which they gave to the Scotch people and the Scotch Members. He (Mr. Ellis) trusted that in future the Government would extend to Wales the same principle. It was certainly the best way of settling Welsh grievances, and of doing away with the rising irritation of the Welsh people. He maintained, and he appealed to the whole House, that Her Majesty's Government, whether it happened to be Liberal or Tory, should pay the same attention to the Welsh Members on exclusively Welsh questions as they now paid to Scotch Members on Scotch questions, and as would soon, he hoped, be paid to the Irish Members on Irish questions.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
said, he did not intend to follow the hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. T. E. Ellis). He would only ex- 904 press a hope that the good sense of the people in Wales would induce them to pay their debts like honest men. When they did that, there would be no necessity for taking the extraordinary precautions against which the hon. Member had protested. He trusted, further, that the good sense of the landlords of Wales would induce them to follow the example which had been set to them by the landlords of Ireland. Turning to the speech of the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy (Lord John Manners), he ventured to say that the little agricultural episode which had taken place would form by no means the least interesting part of the debate on Her Majesty's Speech. There was only one expression that fell from the noble Lord to which he would venture to take the slightest exception. He certainly could not feel the noble Lord's confidence that the present revival of trade pro tanto augured well for a corresponding revival of agriculture. He wished that he could entertain the same view. He saw little reason for believing that the increase of manufactures was likely to give to agriculture that which was necessary at this moment—namely, an interest in the value of produce. The real difficulty in agriculture was this—that the value of produce was so small that it was impossible to pay the necessary expenses of raising a crop in order to realize profit. The land was rapidly going out of cultivation. That was the real difficulty, and how was it to be remedied? To his mind there were but the four directions which had been indicated that night from which they could hope for assistance, and, of these, two had been mentioned in the Queen's Speech—namely, railway rates and the adjustment of taxation. He wished to say a word or two on the question of railway rates. With regard to that question, it was not apolitical one, but it was none the less one which had two sides to it. On the one side would be found those who were interested in railways, and on the other those, far less organized, who were interested in agricultural and commercial pursuits. The question of railway rates was one which largely affected agricultural difficulties. He would venture to put before the House one set of figures, and one only. Mr. Howard, formerly a Member of that House, had recently prepared a 905 careful estimate of the annual value of agricultural produce, not that which was merely moved from farm to farm, but that which found its way into the outer market—and he put it at no less than £216,000,000 sterling. He (Sir Richard Paget) would like to put side by side with those figures another sum of a very similar character—namely, a sum of £212,000,000, which represented the total value of their manufactured exports in the year 1886. So, consequently, the value of their agricultural produce was acknowledged to be more than that of the whole of their exports. Now, what became of this agricultural produce? It was sent all over the land, North, South, East, and West, mainly by railway; and if, through legislation or the action of the Railway Companies, they could get it carried at a lower rate—at a rate at all equal to that for which agricultural produce was carried in America—they would then have contributed materially to the revival of agriculture. There could be no doubt that at the present moment agriculture was heavily handicapped. What he wanted to see was not so much low rates for full truck-loads carried for long distances, but the charges reduced for short local traffic from station to station. It was the local traffic which handicapped agriculture. They were told that they ought to be Free Traders, and most of them were; but if they were to have Free Trade, let them have fair play also. He could not for the life of him call it fair play that a Company of Traders, or any member of a Company of private traders, who had been granted by statute, the practical monopolies of our highways, should be induced by any process to give preferential rates to foreigners and refuse them to the English producer. He would now pass from that question of railway rates, merely saying this—that he hoped the Government would take into consideration the opinions which had been expressed with regard to the Bill brought in in "another place" last year. He hoped that Bill would not be persisted in by Her Majesty's Government until it had undergone those material modifications which the farmers considered necessary for their own interests. With regard to the question of the re-adjustment of taxation, he ventured to say that there was nothing in the Queen's Speech 906 which was of greater importance. Of all the classes that suffered by the present depression in agriculture, none had suffered so bitterly as that class which they all professed to wish to retain—he meant those who were known as "statesmen" in the North of England, and as independent yeoman farmers in the South. They know only too well that the land which was the possession and the birth-right of these men had been depreciated in value to one-half of what it was formerly, and its produce in even a greater degree. He maintained that these men were burdened by an unjust amount of taxation. He therefore hailed with delight the announcement that there was to be a re-adjustment of the incidence of taxation, and he hoped that the re-adjustment would be made in a manner sufficiently broad and comprehensive to give complete satisfaction. He believed it was perfectly capable of proof that, taking Imperial taxation alone and leaving local taxation out of the question altogether, the burdens of taxation on real property far exceeded those on personal property. If the two were taken together, and local taxation added to Imperial taxation, the injustice and inequality were more distinctly marked. He would only allude briefly to two other points where he considered that injustice was done to agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had brought forward what he thought was absolutely necessary for the relief of agriculture; and the right hon. Gentleman said that nothing would do more good than largely to increase the produce of the land. What was wanted was to improve it both in quantity and in quality. To accomplish that, they must do what every other nation under the sun did—namely, provide agricultural education. They were told that enormous quantities of butter were annually introduced into England. Any hon. Member who would take the trouble to look into the figures would see how that arose. Look at the case of Denmark. That was a country which, a few years ago, was distinguished for the production of execrable butter; but the importations from Denmark had been increasing in value year by year, until last year they amounted to £2,600,000. Let them go behind the figures and see how this arose. It 907 would now be found that the Danish butter market had reached a high pitch of perfection; and why? Because a complete system of agricultural education had been established; dairy schools had been set up, and the immediate result had been an enormous increase in the production of butter. As a matter of fact, Denmark was supplying the butter which we ought to produce ourselves. The noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy had referred to the Royal Commission on Agriculture. He would not enter into the recommendations of that Commission, of which he had himself been a Member; but he learned with great satisfaction from the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government intended to act upon several of the recommendations of that Commission. One of the recommendations of the Commission was a novel one; because they suggested that State aid was necessary in order to set up those schools which they maintained it was absolutely requisite to establish. They hoped that in England and Ireland, too, there would he a multiplication of these schools. There was only one other matter upon which he would say a word, and it had reference to the formation of an Agricultural Department. He trusted that the Department would be on a footing worthy of the great industry it was to benefit. That it would be of substantial benefit to the country he could have no doubt whatever. The work which had already been done had an admittedly insufficient Department, and he hardly agreed with all the noble Lord had said; still, many things remained to be done, and he hoped that the new Department would be able to do substantial service to the country. Without detaining the House any longer, he would only say that out-of-doors there would be a general feeling of satisfaction at the announcement which had been made that evening on the part of Her Majesty's Government. After what had occurred in the debate since the speech of the noble Lord, there was every reason to expect that the subject would be approached from both sides of the House; not from the point of view of Party politics, but with an earnest desire to do something for the interests of agriculture. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would receive every assistance from both sides of the House in passing the measure 908 which had been announced. He also trusted that the Government would receive from hon. Members opposite reasonable aid in the legislation they were about to attempt; that no obstruction would be placed in the way of the rapid passing of the measure; but that, on the contrary, hon. Members would assist Her Majesty's Government in doing something for the industry which had been suffering so long, which had been well-nigh driven to despair, and which would be very grateful for the smallest measure of relief that Parliament could pass.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said, that during the debate several allusions had been made to the Welsh Tithe Question, and to the absence of any mention of Wales in the Queen's Speech; but he thought the House hardly appreciated the serious state of affairs that existed in the Principality. It was admitted that the people of Wales were among the loyal and law-abiding subjects; it had been stated in that House by a home Secretary that Wales gave him less trouble than any other part of the country; and the charges of Judges attested the comparative absence of crime in Wales, where crimes of violence were almost unknown. But, unfortunately, a change had occurred; their normal conditions of peacefulness had well-nigh come to an end, and something approaching to a state of civil war had been brought about. How was that? The reason was not far to seek. The Church was reduced to collecting its own tithes, and to do this it employed an army of bailiffs or emergency men, who had required the aid of a troop of Hussars, provided with 600 rounds of ball cartridge, to collect the sum of 12s. 6d., arrears of tithes from an old woman. He thought that operation beat the record of even the Irish Secretary. The revenue of the Church was collected exclusively from agricultural holdings—in other words, from that part of the population which was most thoroughly Nonconformist and which suffered most from agricultural depression. If the Church of England had made any progress in Wales, which he very much doubted, it was certain that that progress had been made in the towns and in what might be called the English colonies, and that in the agricultural 909 districts 19 out of 20, or 99 out of 100, of the ratepayers were Nonconformists. One man had told him that he had been compelled to pay £800 for the support of a Church which he had never entered for the last 30 years. The House was bound to recognize the serious dissatisfaction which prevailed, and, if possible, to remove it. As to the stock arguments that it was due to the efforts of interested agitators, he wondered that sensible men could be found to lend themselves to such absurdities. Why, they might as well blame the vanes of a weathercock for the violence of the storm. No agitation like this could flourish unless there was a substantial grievance to feed it. If the Tithe Bill referred to in the Queen's Speech were at all like that of last Session, it would be a most inadequate remedy, for its simple effect would be to shift the burden from the right shoulder to the left by transferring it from the occupier to the owner, and leaving the latter to recover it from the former as part of the rent. He wished the owner joy of the compromise, for there was little hope that when he had paid the tithe he would recover it from the rack-rented occupier. It seemed to be generally supposed that the great bulk of the farmers of Wales were tenant-farmers; but there were thousands of them who were small freeholders, and who therefore would not be benefited at all by the proposal to throw the burden upon owners. What they objected to was not the sources from which tithes were collected, but their application when collected. Let the Church of the rich minority be disestablished and disendowed, and let the tithes, which were national property, be applied to national purposes and readjusted to meet the justice of each case, and the poor Welsh farmers would make as honest a struggle to pay them as they now made to pay School Board rates. If the Government would not go so far, they might, at any rate, allow the subject to be discussed. Last year his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea Town (Mr. Dillwyn) had obtained the first place on the first working night of the Session for his Motion on Welsh Disestablishment. But his coign of vantage was filched from him by the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), supported by Members on that side who 910 should have known better, on the plea that not a single night could be spared from the discussion of Procedure Rules, which it took two months to pass, and which when passed had proved so worthless that they required to be retinkered on the first opportunity. Another ground of complaint was the indifference of the Government to the question of Intermediate Education, which was a burning question among all parties in Wales. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) had brought in a Bill on the subject; but with 50 or 60 Private Bills in front of him, what chance was there of his obtaining a second reading for it? Returning to the question of the Tithe Riots, he said that they could not dragoon people into an enthusiasm for an alien Church, and that the only result of the late high-handed proceedings was to quicken indifference into active hatred. If they wanted to have another Ireland in Wales, they were taking the best steps to get it. The Government were playing with fire, and he trusted that before it was too late they would remember that it was neither wise nor just to turn a stone deaf ear to the demands of the Representatives of 1,500,000 of Her Majestys subjects, who were easy enough to govern if treated with ordinary consideration, but who were quick to resent neglect and still quicker to resent injustice.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said, he did not think that the agricultural interest would suffer from the fact that some of the younger Members of the House had ventured to raise their voices in support of what had been said, and also to express their appreciation of the propositions likely to be made by the noble Lord (Lord John Manners). It was not his intention to attempt to elaborate any fresh propositions or to suggest any new plans beyond those which had been shadowed forth to the House; but he urged with all the power that belonged to any Member representing an almost entirely agricultural constituency that it was absolutely necessary and vital that the Government should not play with the measures they had promised to introduce—that the measures should be introduced in no niggardly spirit, but in such a manner as to satisfy the needs of the agricultural population, and not merely the ends of a political Party. He be- 911 lieved it was well known throughout the rank and file of the agricultural community that they had not for a long time had better friends to their cause than those now occupying the Front Bench in this House. They were grateful, and ought to be grateful for the measures introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year. Probably, the most important of these measures had not received that consideration at the hands of the agricultural community that it deserved. If the farmers had taken advantage of it throughout England, and had chosen to seek for the relief that measure afforded to them by coming under the Schedule for assessment, which was suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there would have been a much more widespread feeling of gratitude than even existed now. He (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney) was very glad indeed to notice the words which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) as to the necessities of the labouring portion of the community. It was very often forgotten by those who dealt with these subjects in the House of Commons that labourers formed an important element in the agricultural community, and that they were championed by the Conservative Party just as much as were the other classes connected with the land. The question of the condition of the landlord and farmer and the question of the condition of the labourer were essentially one and the same question. The questions could not be treated differently, but must be co-extensively and comprehensively dealt with. As to the table of wages referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, he might venture to assort that it would portray oven a more terrible state of things for the agricultural labourer, if it were not that so much land was now held in cultivation by the landowners themselves, or by gentlemen at large throughout the country, who had an old-fashioned and hereditary and worthy wish not to lessen wages so long as they could afford to pay them. Inasmuch as many farms had been given up, and labourers were now drawing their wages directly from the landowners, instead of from the occupiers, and drawing the same amount as before, he thought it could be proved 912 that the general run of wages was even worse than was stated by the right hon. Gentleman. He was most thankful to the Government for what they had promised to-night, and he hoped that what the Government proposed to give would not be in shadow, but in actual substance, and that it would be given promptly. It was certain that the heart of the agriculturist was getting sick with, deferred hope, and that he really wanted something which would make the coming year better than those which had gone before it. He understood that the two measures which the Government proposed were, one for the relief of local taxation and one dealing with railway rates. The agriculturists of the country were told again and again that they were wanting in energy, and were in fault in not adapting themselves to the necessities of life now-a-days. They were told that they did not bring themselves as producers sufficiently into contact with the great centres of consumption. He ventured to assert that that was exactly what agriculturists were longing to do, and were bending all their best efforts to do, but they were warded and fenced off by almost hopelessly heavy railway rates which were levelled against those who lived at any distance from the great centres. It was not for him to bring figures before the House, as statistics would come with much greater effect from those who were acknowledged authorities. Figures, however, were at hand with regard to this subject, and he believed it was utterly impossible to contest their correctness. These figures proved that it was almost impossible for agriculturists who lived any distance from the centres of consumption to bring their produce to those centres because of the large and prohibitive tariffs that were exacted from them. They had been told over and over again that they ought to try to help themselves first, and then to seek relief from the community at large and the Government that ruled over them. He did not think it could be charged on the landlord or tenant or labourer or farmer, that the class to which he belonged had been backward in trying to help themselves. They had, he thought, exhausted almost every means of helping themselves. They had drawn on all the funds at their disposal; they had drawn on their 913 savings; they had drawn on their capital; they had drawn on their industry; they had drawn on their labour; and now they came to those who led and guided them for that help which it was necessary they should give, and give freely and largely if they wished to step between the sufferers and a ruined industry. It would not be becoming in him (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney) to attempt to elaborate on this scheme. He would only now express his hearty thanks for that which had been promised to agriculturists, and for the hearty willingness of that section of the community to co-operate with hon. Gentlemen wherever they sat in that House in dealing with any measures which might be brought forward for the relief of agriculture, and a hope that, at last, they might see the dawn of brighter days for the agricultural community.
§ MR. MARUM (Kilkenny, N.)
said, he wished to say a few words on this subject as agriculture was a staple industry in Ireland, and there was a general opinion that the depression in that industry at the present time was unexampled in its severity. The agricultural industry in Ireland had of late years received great consideration from Parliament by reason of the fact he pointed out, and also by reason of another fact which he did not bring forward in an invidious manner—namely, that the absence of a commercial community in Ireland was owing to the direct interference of this country in preventing Irish manufactures. That Ireland was entitled to special consideration by reason of this interference on the part of England had been clearly shown in leaflets circulated during the General Election by English politicians; that even Mr. Cobden, in years gone by, had declared that the policy of this country had been directed incessantly to the destruction of the foreign trade of Ireland, whose industries had been mercilessly nipped in the bud. It was therefore especially necessary that Irish agriculture should receive attention at the hands of Parliament. He was glad to recognize the view which had been put forward with regard to the establishment of a Department of Agriculture, and he trusted a Minister of Agriculture would likewise be appointed. He regretted, that the terms of the 914 Queen's Speech were extremely vague. It struck him, that though there was a Department of Agriculture proposed, and that very likely a Minister of Agriculture would also be proposed, it was an abnegnation of duty on the part of Her Majesty's Government not to propose measures of relief. The mere creation of a Department would not mean that steps were being taken to relieve the industry, which was in a most distressed state. As showing the necessity for the establishment of some supervision or control over agriculture, he would refer to what had recently occurred. In connection with the Land Commission in Ireland a very singular thing had happened. The Land Commission had had entrusted to them the administration of a most serious part of the legislation of last year—namely, the clause enabling them to reduce the judicial rents. Upon that clause there had been considerable difference of opinion amongst the Commissioners. At the time the clause was passed it was declared that prices should regulate the reductions; but the Commissioners had made the reductions vary from 3 to 14 per cent, and they had made those reductions over extensive areas of Poor Law Unions. They had given, say, 10 or 11 per cent of reduction in a particular locality which was stretched over pasturage, feeding land, and tillage land, altogether irrespective of the fact that a 10 per cent reduction on feeding land was equal to 30 or 40 per cent reduction on tillage land. The Land Commission, however, had thrown indiscriminate reductions on all classes of property. That illustrated the necessity of having some agricultural supervision—of having some active Minister to supervize these matters. Something even beyond a mere Department of Agriculture was necessary. The agricultural loss last year, owing to the unfavourable season, had been enormous. Agricultural statistics had been published in Ireland which showed conclusively that the loss during the last season by the agricultural interest had been £6,000,000 sterling, and it would be seen how enormously this must affect the community when it was borne in mind that the agricultural valuation of that country was only between £10,000,000 and £11,000,000. It would be seen from this that some supervision of agriculture was asolutely necessary, and that it was 915 not by coercion that the Government would get rid of the causes which lay at the root of the distress of the Irish people.
§ COLONEL DAWNAY (York, N.E., Thirsk)
said, that the agricultural classes had reason to be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) for calling the attention of the Government to this subject, and also to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners) for the satisfactory statement he had made. One proposal for the relief of agriculture was to return to Protection; but that policy had to-night received its death blow, and he was glad that the Government had brought forward a scheme of their own to enable our greatest industry to adapt itself to the altered times in which we live. It was true that we did not hear so much about agricultural distress in England as we did in Ireland; but that was not because the distress did not exist, but because the English farmer knew how to suffer like an Englishman. He knew how to suffer without complaining, and to fight doggedly on when other people surrendered themselves to despair. There was no doubt about the facts of the case. According to the Earl of Derby, who could not be accused of making exaggerated statements, the loss of those who cultivated the land in England during the past 10 years was something like 30 per cent, and reckoning the value of the land at £1,000,000,000, that would make a loss to this country during the 10 years of something like £300,000,000, which did not of course include the largely increased burdens which had been imposed on the land during that period. Those who desire to see the extermination of the landlords, if they would only exercise a little patience, were likely to get what they wanted, without having recourse to anything in the way of heroic legislation. The condition of the farmer was even worse than that of the landowner. Thousands of people 10 years ago, who were making incomes out of farming, were now abandoning that industry, or pursuing it at a loss. Many of them had gone on hoping against hope for a turn of the tide. They had not only to contend with bad seasons, but they had to compete with Russia and America, and 916 now a new factor was brought in against them in India. The wheat supply of India was practically inexhaustible. The railways were opening up new tracts of that country. The Indian peasant did not live on wheat, but on cheaper kinds of grain, and he was an individual who could live, marry, and bring up his family on 1s. 6d. a-week. He wore no clothes to speak of, and could work on one meal of rice per day. This showed how terribly the English agriculturist was handicapped, seeing that he had to pay his labourers 2s. a day as against 3d. a day. The struggle was as futile as the well-known struggle of the old woman against the Atlantic ocean. What he would ask the House to consider was this—if wheat growing in this country was doomed to destruction, what was going to be the fate of the agricultural labourer? Up to the present time the agricultural depression had sat very lightly upon him. Parliament had set itself to work to improve his condition, and had thrust a large measure of political power into his hands; but in spite of this, the prospects of the agricultural labourer were never more gloomy that at the present moment. An allotment and a cow were very good things in their way; but they did not enable a man to keep a family without regular wages, and if we cannot grow wheat in this country except at a loss, clearly the occupation of the agricultural labourer was gone, and the consequence must be the depopulation of our rural districts. We were already face to face with this calamity. Our agricultural community was drifting into the great towns at the rate of 50,000 or 60,000 a year, to exchange a hard lot for one which was perfectly hopeless, and, as if this were not enough, we alone of all nations in the world were permitting the unrestricted immigration of pauper foreigners, who were pouring into the East End of London and elsewhere by thousands, burdening our rates, bringing down wages to starvation level, developing the sweating system, and swamping and overstocking the labour market, and depriving our own labourers of the last chance of obtaining a livelihood. For a great number of years the agriculturists had received little sympathy from any Government. Some sympathy was now being shown them by Her Majesty's present Advisers. He thanked 917 the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what he had done; and he trusted the Government would yet see their way to deal with the difficult problem before them, and to arrest the ruin which was now impending over the agricultural population, and save the country from a great national disaster.
§ SIR EDWARD BIRKBECK (Norfolk, E.)
said, he wished to express the feeling which he knew was uppermost in the minds of the tenant farmers of England, which was one of great satisfaction that Her Majesty's Government had recognized the gravity of the agricultural situation, find at their having referred in such important terms to it in the Queen's Speech. He agreed in the main with what had been said by other speakers; and there was, no doubt, gratitude due to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) for having given thorn an opportunity for having an agricultural discussion, and clearing up the somewhat dark terms of the allusion to agriculture in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech. The question of the remission, or rather of the transfer, of taxation from local to Imperial sources was one of the utmost importance, and was one which he knew would be deeply appreciated. With regard to the Railway Hates Bill, he trusted Her Majesty's Government would not be frightened by the opposition which had been, in part, brought forward by the Railway Companies; and they knew, from the speeches which had already been made by the Chairmen of some of the leading Railway Companies at the annual meetings, that there was a considerable amount of opposition in store for the Railway Rates Measure. He hoped the Government would make up their minds that the Bill was not to be a sham measure. He knew that those who represented the agricultural interest in this House would do their best to amend the Bill if it required amendment. The agricultural community would not be satisfied with the Bill brought in last Session; and he trusted that the one now brought in would be amended in the direction required. He did not think that any speaker this evening had referred to the extraordinary bad season that the country had just experienced. The year ending Michaelmas last was unqestion 918 ably the worst year for agricultural purposes that this country, or, at any rate, the Eastern counties, had experienced for the last 10 years. The Returns for Great Britain, published during the last month, showed that there had been a decrease in the number of bushels of barley and oats, as compared with the year 1886, of no less than 18,103,000. He was bound to say that there was a set-off against that in the shape of an increase of 12,855,000 bushels of wheat. The Return was important in another direction, because it clearly stated that the turnip, the mangold, the hay and the hop crops had largely decreased. With regard to the question of grazing stock, he supposed there was no district in England where there were more fat bullocks and fat sheep than in the Eastern counties. Well, the loss in grazing during the past year had been most serious, though he was bound to say that this was the only point in which he could see any hope of daylight for the future, because the tenant farmers had had an opportunity of buying their lean stock on more favourable terms. With regard to grain crops, he did not see how, under the present prices, they would ever be able to grow wheat, barley, or oats at any profit at all. It was just nine years ago that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) brought forward the question of the then agricultural depression, and asked the Government to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the then state of agriculture. He (Sir Edward Birkbeck) was quite convinced of this—that there had not, in the interval between 1879 and the present year, been one single good season, or one which the farmers could say was a favourable one to their pockets; and, in addition to that, prices had fallen every year, and had been going from bad to worse. What was even more unfortunate for the tenant farmers was that their capital had been gradually decreasing, and that many of them at the present time had no capital at all to farm with. With regard to the question of the labouring classes, there had been undoubtedly a large number of labourers out of employment in the last winter in the Eastern counties; but where they had good allotments or gar- 919 dens, they had been able to keep themselves alive. Allusion had been made to the question of allotments, and he might say that in his county of Norfolk, there had been undoubtedly a very strong expression of approval on the part of the labourers, and a sense of the benefits they were likely to derive from the Act passed by the right hon. Gentleman below him. There had been from time to time criticisms of the working of that Act; but he believed that there was ample proof already that in many districts excellent organizations had been put into force for carrying out the working of the measure. With regard to the poor landlords, it would, no doubt, astonish the House when he said that in his own county, at the present time, no less than 50 per cent of the larger class of landlords were no longer able to live in their own homes. They were obliged to desert them or let them, and if the times did not improve, in another two years 75 per cent of the landlords of Norfolk and Suffolk would have shut up their houses on account of the agricultural depression. He was glad that hon. Members had spoken out on this question of Protection, and he thought it was a most unfortunate thing that, either during the Recess or in the House, any hon. Members should in any way have misled the tenant farmers in England, by holding out to them the hope that there would be Protection in any sense of the term. He believed that his hon. Friend the Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Howard Vincent) had done more to bury Protection than any other man in England, and which he was sure the farmers were convinced they would never get. He hoped the Agricultural Department would not be a sham Department; and he laid a great deal of stress on the fact that, as he believed, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) would do all in his power, by giving a good Vote, to make it an enlarged, effective, and thoroughly useful Department, and one worthy of this country. He did not believe that without such aid as was given in America and other countries it would ever be effective. He hoped the Government would bring in a Bill to amend the present system of arriving at corn averages. The present system was most unsatisfactory. The averages were 920 taken when the corn had been sold and re-sold; expenses and profits were added, and the prices given did not represent those at which the farmers sold, or the actual prices in the Corn Market, and it must always be remembered that in some seasons half the crop is consumed for feeding purposes. He was confident that the farmers in barley-growing countries were now realizing the fact that the transfer, not the repeal, of the Malt Tax to a Beer Duty in 1880 was proved to be a failure. It enabled brewers to make beer from materials which the British public would far rather they did not use. The country had been led to believe that a repeal of the Malt Tax had taken place. It was nothing of the sort; but, as he had said, only a transfer. Whatever Her Majesty's Government were going to do with regard to the agricultural interest, he trusted they would do it quickly and effectively, and before it was too late for the long-suffering tenant farmer.
§ MR. MORE (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said, the farmers in his part of the country were suffering from the depression; but they were tired of giving expression to their feelings, and were anxiously looking to that House to suggest a remedy. The hon. Member for Merionethshire said that in the improbable contingency of the Government—which he called patriotic—changing their places, the right hon. Member for the Sleaford Division would again become a Protectionist. This insinuation must proceed from the assumption that an alliance had sprung up between Unionists and Parnellites, as the Leader of the Irish. Party had declared that if an Irish Parliament were established its first act would be to set up Protection. He did not think that sufficient importance was given in that House to the feeling, general throughout the country, that there was something more to be said for the idea of the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Howard Vincent), who had, as he said, taken Protection at his word and given Notice of a Bill on the subject. He thought it would give great satisfaction to the farmers of the country if a debate on the question were to take place in that House. The hon. Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. E. Ellis) had spoken of Montgomeryshire, and said that the farmers there had suggested 921 that their rents were not sufficiently reduced, and thought there ought to be an independent authority set up there as between landlords and tenants. He (Mr. More) wished to point out that the opinion of those gentlemen who went down to help the re-adjustment of the relations between the two classes was, that this would not in any way interfere with freedom of contract or diminish the interest of the landlords in their estates. He wished to state that the ad joining Shropshire farmers had no wish for any outside interference between them and their landlords. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) for the kind mention which he made of the Com mission of which he (Mr. More) had the honour to be a Member. He approved the decision to give a higher agricultural education; and in nothing was this so needed as in the manufacture of butter and cheese; and he thought that in this one possible relief for agricultural depression might be gained, for, as was well known, more butter was imported than was manufactured in the country. The programme of the Government was, as nearly as possible, the Mid Lothian Manifesto of 1885, which they were all returned to support on the Liberal side of the House in that Election. Turning to another subject relating to the introduction of two Bills of which Notice had been given to deal with the Law of Sunday Closing in Ireland, he said that no one could be in Ireland without being struck with the great necessity of amending the present law; and he pointed out that, while the Revenue from the Excise had in England fallen off, there had been in Ireland during the recent agitation a considerable rising in that branch—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that it is not competent for him now to discuss the question of Sunday Closing in Ireland.
§ MR. MORE
With regard to the question of tithes, he was sorry to infer that the Bill to deal with that was to be introduced in "another place," because when that was done last year it was not in unison with the feeling in the House of Commons. He was afraid the Government would have a great deal of trouble with the 922 subject during the present year; and, having spent part of the autumn in Wales, and carefully examined on the spot into the disturbances which had taken place, he could state that, in the opinion of the wisest and most experienced clergymen and churchmen in England and Wales, it would be more judicious if the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were to give the 10 per cent which the farmers asked for now than to introduce a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) stated the other night that the introduction of a Tithes Bill would raise the question as to whether the tithes belonged to the Church or the Nation, and he could not think it desirable that such a question should be raised. He had moved for a Return last Session as to the way in which the tithe was taken in Scotland, and he believed that if the same method were adopted here it would give satisfaction. In Scotland they appointed a Committee to assess the value of all sorts of corn in a county, which was done for the county for one year, and that year only. It was clear, however, that the farmers considered that they had a grievance with regard to the tithe, and, as he had said, ha thought it would be better to settle the question in that House rather than in the House of Lords.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
said, it was admitted on all sides that agriculture was in a most deplorable state; and as in the Gracious Speech from the Throne it was intimated that agriculture was to have some redress, he trusted that they might feel certain that Her Majesty's Government had determined to do all that was right, fair, and just with regard to this question, and that the long-deferred hope which made the heart sick would not be disappointed. It was perfectly true that this had been a most peculiar year, and that they had opportunities of cleaning the land which they had not had for some time past. That, notwithstanding the failure of certain crops, was a great advantage; but there was no man acquainted with agriculture who could not see that there was a great deterioration of the land in respect of cultivation, and which would not admit of the same crops being grown now as heretofore. Again, it would be found that 923 farms were not stocked as they used to be; many farms were stocked by jobbers and dealers. Farmers were taking in sheep, which, showed that they had not the money necessary to purchase them. They were delighted to hear the speech of the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners), because he had clearly stated certain things which the Government intended to do; and if he could draw one or two other promises from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) he should be still more pleased. The noble Lord said that a re-adjustment of Imperial and local taxation was to take place. That was a very important admission to make, and he himself had urged for many years that everything which tended in the direction of Imperial wants and needs that was now provided by local taxation ought to be paid for out of Imperial resources. Again, real property now paid the whole of this taxation, and his right hon. Friend had stated that personal property was to come in for its full share of the burden. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) hoped that the Government intended to introduce at once a more equitable system in that respect. They were now going to have another Local Government Bill. What might happen to that Bill he could not say; but he trusted that whatever might be the principle of election on which members were to serve on the Local Government Boards, there would be in the Bill some security that the resources of the ratepayers would not be wasted, and that they might find they had some power to prevent the gross and extraordinary extravagance which took place in the case of some school boards. Even on the supposition that the Bill did not pass, he hoped they would not be told that these things were only to be done provided that the Bill did pass. The noble Lord (Lord John Manners) had touched upon some points, but there were others about which he had said nothing. There was the question of indoor relief, referred to by the Duke of Richmond's Commission. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) cited that to his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench as one which touched them most keenly, and because there were grounds on which the recommendation of that Commission 924 should be accepted. Again, there was the important question as to the basis on which the rates were in future to be raised, and he laid it down as the starting point that they must have a new valuation throughout the country, because at present one Union was not rated like another, and, consequently, one Union was more heavily rated than another. They wanted a new assessment throughout the country, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree that all rates should be raised on the same principle, whether the county rate, the ordinary poor rate, or those rates which were raised for the purposes of Imperial taxation. They felt that they ought to know at the commencement of the year the amount of rating which they would have to bear. They had been suffering grievously, and in no respect more than in that of local traffic, which the hon. Baronet the Member for the Wells Division of Somerset (Sir Richard Paget) had referred to. The railway rates were so heavy that the farmers were handicapped. He would not go into the foreign produce question, but he was obliged to say that the present system offered a bonus to foreigners to compete with us. They were certainly unfairly treated as long as they were unable to send their goods into the market at the same cost as that which was borne by foreigners, and he trusted that the Bill to be introduced would meet this difficulty in a fair and reasonable manner. They all admitted that railways had been a great advantage to the country; but he repeated that they considered it most unfair that the Companies should charge far less to their foreign competitors than they were called upon to pay. With regard to the question of Free Trade and Protection, he thought it would be most unwise and impolitic to raise a question of that sort at the present time, which was one of peculiar difficulty, and to give hon. Gentlemen opposite an opportunity of saying—" This is a Tory cry; we have nothing to do with it." The question of Protection was one which had been considered by a large number of persons; it was idle to deny that there were many who thought it would be a panacea for all their ills, and it would be foolish, from the Government 925 point of view, to ignore the fact. It could not be denied that there was a large class of men in the country who had suffered most severely, and who still believed that Protection would be their saving, and the only thing that would save them at the present time. The working classes also were beginning to ask how it was that their wages were reduced, and that, instead of 14s., 15s., and 16s.,they were now getting only 10s., 11s., and 12s. a-week. The House might depend upon it that if the movement came strongly from below, and grew strong, hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite would change their views upon this question as quickly as they had done on a celebrated occasion which occurred a short time ago; they would say that the question was pressing on them more than any other, and that it was one which deserved earnest and serious consideration on the part of the Government, and be forthwith dealt with. The question would never be thoroughly taken up until it was taken up from below; and if the working classes realized the important practical issues which were involved in our fiscal policy, they would make their influence felt, and the policy which they desired, whether it was or was not Protection, would be carried out whatever Ministry happened to be in power. He thought he remembered the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying some time ago that the area of taxation was too limited, and he would ask him to consider that question most seriously. He laid down no proposition, nor did he state what ought to be done; but he said it was wise to be prepared in time and consider what in the circumstances might be done to relieve or content a large number of working men in the country. It need not be Protection, but something which would do something to help them in their difficult position He thanked the Government for what they had promised to do. The pledge they had given must be performed. He ventured to hope that, whatever might happen, those measures which they thought they could fairly and honestly give to the agricultural interest would be carried out. Having said this, he should leave it to the Government to carry out their pledges, which he believed would be for the benefit of the country.