§ [ADJOURNED DEBATE.]
§ [THIRD NIGHT.]
Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Main Question [15th August]—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament:"—
And which Amendment was, at the end of the Question, to add the words—
But we humbly beg to draw the attention of Your Majesty to the existing widespread depression in agriculture, and submit that it would be expedient to pass remedial measures during the present year."—(Mr. Price.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there added."—Debate resumed.
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.),
wished to express the satisfaction felt by agricultural Members on that side of the House at the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman to the Board of Agriculture. They were confident they would have from him firm, vigilant and clear-sighted administration, and that he would give fair consideration to the arguments of those who differed from him. He entirely agreed with what his right hon. Friend had said with regard to the importation of foreign cattle. He thought there would be great satisfaction in agricultural circles that the firm policy adopted by his Liberal predecessor would be fairly maintained in the future. It was not, as he understood it, a policy for the absolute exclusion of all cattle from abroad, but it was, he believed, a policy, that so long as there was the least chance of spreading disease amongst our cattle, the present position of affairs should be absolutely maintained. They were demanding an Autumn Session, and he would have been glad if his own Amendment could have been brought before the House, as it combined the two subjects which urgently claimed attention, the provision for the unemployed and the relief of agriculture. He usually listened with pleasure to his hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, who generally spoke with the moderation which gives weight, but he was bound to remark that his speech of last Friday was not a very happy one. He challenged the right of the Opposition to move this Amendment, because in the previous Parliament they had voted against similar Amendments which had been put down by the opposite side. But there was, he contended, an absolute gulf between the, Amendment moved by the Member for Hampshire, in February last, and that moved the other night by the Member for East Norfolk. The 303 reason why he and his friends voted against the Amendment of the Member for Hampshire was because it was a condemnation of the Liberal Ministry, and because it was based on the absolutely wrong and groundless argument that the Liberal Administration had done nothing and were then doing nothing for agriculture. He was astonished at what fell from the hon. Member the other night. He said that the Liberal Administration had done nothing for agriculture except to appoint a Royal Commission which was of no use. Would the two Members of the Government (Mr. Chaplin and Mr. Long) now sitting on the Treasury Bench say that that Royal Commission was of no value? In his view, it had collected evidence more complete and of higher value than any previous inquiry, and would be of the greatest use when presented to Parliament. His hon. friend must have spoken without recollecting the most important inquiry relating to dairy farming, initiated by the late Government into the working of the Margarine Act and the Food and Drugs Act, on a Motion made by him (Mr. Channing) when Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture. Its report would have been ready and would have done much good in the interests of dairy farmers, had it not been interrupted by the Dissolution. The Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Bill and the Swine Fever Bill, which meant a considerable money gain to agriculturists, and which the previous Tory Government had failed to deal with, had been carried into law. He was glad to hear the President of the present Board of Agriculture say that he intended to use the administrative powers of the Board, and hoped this would apply to the Act to give the Board of Agriculture the same power to prosecute as the Board of Trade possessed in the case of misrepresentation of foreign produce. Besides those matters, practically all farmers whose rents were under £487 were now freed from income tax, and by the exemption of 12½ per cent. in Schedule A, one step further was taken in relieving landowners also. He thought that amount insufficient to cover repairs and other outgoings, which could hardly be put at less than 20 per cent., but at any rate it was a step in the right direction. It was 304 not the fault of the late Government that a Light Railways Bill was not passed last Session, nor that the Agricultural Holdings Act was not amended. He hoped he misunderstood the President of the Board of Agriculture, when he was believed to have said that Members on that side had opposed agricultural reforms advanced from the other side of the House. If that was his impression, he would advise him to consult his hon. friend the Member for Evesham, who would not complain of want of help in carrying the Market Gardeners' Compensation Bill. He and his friends would have been voting that white was black if they had voted for the Amendment in February last. [Ministerial cheers.] No doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite had been talking to their constituents on the subject, but he ventured to assert that not one of those hon. Gentlemen would now get up and deny that the Liberal Government had done the good things for agriculture which he had briefly referred to. This was not an Amendment of condemnation; it was an invitation to the Government to give time at an early date for the urgent and pressing problem of the condition of agriculture in this country. He did not wish to introduce partizan arguments into the discussion, and he could assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that, so long as they obtained help, he did not mind from whom it came. He should always resist any attempt to obstruct or delay any practical measures for the benefit of agriculture. A lively expectation had been raised in the country during the Election by the speeches of hon. Members on the platform that agricultural questions would be promptly dealt with at the earliest moment by Her Majesty's Government. Many hon. Members opposite probably owed their seats to the expectation which had been raised among many of the voters. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, speaking at Donington, in the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire, on the 16th July, used these words:—They had no great sensational measures to bring forward, but their attention would be devoted to measures of social progress and reform for the improvement of the condition of the masses of the people, and it was imperative 305 that the question of the condition of agriculture should be quickly dealt with. There were vast districts in this country where the state of things had become so desperately bad that thousands of acres of land had gone out of cultivation altogether—farmhouses were abandoned, and cottages empty. That was a serious condition of affairs, which ought to command the attention of any British statesman.In the notable speech at Bradford, on the 23rd of May, Lord Salisbury made a striking and eloquent reference to the urgency of the questions of the unemployed and of agricultural depression. After dealing with the question of the unemployed, Lord Salisbury said:—Then look at the state of agriculture. Everywhere, especially in the eastern counties, you hear of farms being abandoned, lands uncultivated, labourers unemployed, poverty and misery increasing. Is that no subject for the consideration of Parliament?''He invited Her Majesty's Government to realise the expectations they had raised in the country. The late Government loyally tried to do their best in the interests of agriculture. They were denounced, and in repeated debates immediate measures were demanded. He would ask, was there any point in those incessant appeals, so frequently uttered in the past with thundering and passionate eloquence by the President of the Local Government Board and others, if there was no intention on the part of the present Government to deal promptly with this question? It was neither an unfair nor an unfriendly suggestion to make, that the Government should do so this autumn. There was a danger that they might become callous to the facts. In the speech to which he had referred, Lord Salisbury had said:—We do not take note, as this information flies rapidly under our eyes, of what misery, what despair to men, what utter despair to women and children, what physical suffering is involved in those frightful facts.Some of the reports sent in by the Assistant Commissioners on agricultural depression were of a most striking, if not ghastly, character. The report on Essex had been frequently brought before the House. The report of Mr. Hunter Pringle on Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, and Huntingdonshire also 306 showed a deplorable state of things. Mr. Pringle says:—The number of men whose affairs are altogether in disorder is very distressing. We feel that anything that is to be done should be done at once.The country immediately to the north of Welling borough, he said, had nearly all changed hands within the last 15 years, "many failed, and others left because of losses." Of the Rockingham district:—There is much land which the farmers have thrown aside, and allowed to grow thistles and rubbish. The last tenants were ruined, would not stop, and gave it up. The country is rapidly changing hands.In a parish in Hunts:—All the old tenants have gone since 1879, 12 of the principal farmers (farming three-quarters of the parish), have been partly or entirely ruined since 1875. Of the 12 nine are dead, one by suicide." "All save two were absolutely killed by agricultural depression.This was a sad picture, but it was not an exaggerated one, and it was not a question of the farmer only. The ruin of each farmer meant that many labourers lost work and were driven into the towns. He had last year visited a farm in Essex, which a north-country farmer was trying to cultivate with the work of his sons and occasional labour. Only a few years back that farm had not only brought four times the rent, but had given work to 12 labourers and their families. He did not condemn Her Majesty's Government for dealing with the evicted tenants in Ireland during the present short Session, but he would point out that, according to many hon. Members opposite, these evicted tenants were men who had broken the law. Surely the English farmers, who had suffered in silence, who had broken no law, and had striven to meet their obligations, were, if anything, more entitled to speedy consideration. Why should these men be put off for ten or twelve months longer? Mr. Pringle explained a great, deal of the deterioration of farming in Northamptonshire and elsewhere by saying that to a large extent rent was being paid out of capital. He said:—There has been either a melting away of the working capital represented by their stock, accompanied by increasing indebtedness to tradesmen, 307 dependence on dealers, and all-round deterioration of farming, and ultimately resulting in bankruptcy and abandonment, or the private banking account and investments have been drawn upon to meet liabilities.Speaking of Bedfordshire, Mr. Pringle said:—I am constrained to believe that of those who still remain as the remnant of the old stock farmers, a very large proportion have remained because they had some private means to fall back upon.In the report of Mr. Wilson Fox as to the condition of Suffolk there were some still more frightful pictures. Then Mr. Pringle in his report pointed out how enormous were the landlords' outgoings as compared with their gross rentals. He said that in Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire there were cases where the proportion of outgoings to rental had risen to 50 and 60 per cent. That state of things needed the prompt and careful attention of Parliament no less than the reduction of the capital of the tenants. Both were part of the same unfortunate natural law which was working itself out. Landlords were overburdened with charges upon their estates. They had not money enough to effect improvements or to grant necessary reductions of rent, and the farmers were paying high rents that the land did not earn. He had read with great pleasure a speech delivered the other day in Norfolk, by Mr. Clare Sewell Read, who said that farmers were largely paying out of their private incomes the wages of the labourers. Mr. Herman Biddell had made the same statement with respect to Suffolk. In Northamptonshire there were, to his knowledge, many farmers who were straining every nerve in the endeavour, and expending their own resources, to maintain the fertility and high standard of cultivation, and even the mere smartness of their farms. All honour to them for doing their duty by their landlords, their labourers and the land! The knowledge of these circumstances made one desire to do something promptly to relieve the agricultural distress. If there were grievances which could be quickly and quietly dealt with without arousing the miserable antagonism of party interests, it would be a scandal to postpone dealing with them for eight 308 or ten months longer. The supporters of the Amendment were willing to give up a portion of their holidays, and they asked Ministers and hon. Members opposite to make a similar sacrifice in order to deal with such portions of this great question as could be taken in hand without delay. It was true that a Royal Commission on Agriculture was sitting, and that argument was sometimes adduced that whilst a great inquiry was proceeding it was not expedient that Parliament should attempt to legislate on the subject committed to the consideration, of the Commission. To that doctrine he had never assented without qualification. On various occasions in the past two or three years he had maintained that the Government of the day would be quite right not to wait for a commission's or committee's report before dealing with questions ripe for settlement, such as the Amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act, the adulteration of food products, and other subjects in which a convergence of opinion and a concurrence of evidence could be shown to exist. It was perfectly true that the report of the Commission would be of the greatest value to Parliament and to the Government of this day. He regretted to be compelled once more to refer to the position of the Commission. In February a debate took place with respect to the Royal Commission. The Chairman of the Commission, and Lord Rosebery also, said in another place that it was a misfortune that the Report of the Commission had been delayed by proposals made by the present President of the Local Government Board. In the debate in February it was stated that the influence of the right hon. Gentleman had been used to prevent the interim report respecting the Agricultural Holdings Act from being presented, and also that the suggestion then made that there should be an extension of the evidence had resulted in delaying the proceedings of the Commission. The Commission had now obtained satisfactory evidence from Scotland, and also from many Welsh witnesses, and a short time ago all the Commissioners, he thought, were under the impression that the inquiry would terminate in the month of July.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
asked the Speaker whether it was convenient that they should discuss in the House the proceedings of the Commission upon the ex parte statements of one of its members, the Commission not having yet reported. He absolutely repudiated the statements of the hon. Member.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said that he understood the hon. Member to be referring to statements made in a debate in the previous Parliament, and not to anything that had taken place in the Commission. It could hardly be said that the hon. Member was out of order, but he might remind him that the question before the House was the expediency of passing remedial measures, and although it was, perhaps, difficult to avoid references to what occurred in the last Parliament, the hon. Member's allusions had not really much bearing on the question whether legislation was now required. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. CHANNING
explained that his observations were directed to this, that there had been a general expectation that the Commission would be in a position to present its report at the close of the present year. The Commission, however, had been placed in a difficulty, because at the last moment the right hon. Gentleman opposite had sprung new topics upon it.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said that it was unusual to refer in the House to the proceedings of a Commission before a report on the points raised had been published. He understood that no report had as yet been published respecting the particular fact alleged by the hon. Member, and further references to it would, therefore, be out of order.
§ MR. CHANNING
explained that he did not intend to carry the argument further than this, namely, that if the proceedings of the Commission, owing to what occurred last winter or to any other cause, had been and were likely to be greatly delayed, and if the action taken last winter by the President of the Local Government Board or other Gentlemen had conduced to that delay, a grave responsibility rested upon them. The mere fact that there had been delay and that a certain amount of responsibility for it did attach to the right hon. 310 Gentleman, ought to induce him to join with the supporters of the Amendment in trying to get carried through Parliament at the earliest possible moment some remedial measures for agriculture. The fact of the Report of the Commission being delayed, in the existing condition of agriculture, was a strong reason why the President of the Local Government Board should join hon. Members in urging upon his colleagues the necessity of adopting such reforms as might be usefully carried out at the present time. He might be asked to what reforms he alluded. Now, everyone who had studied the question would admit that there was no one measure which would be a panacea for agricultural distress; what was wanted was a considerable number of comparatively limited and special reforms, which collectively and severally would build up, little by little, slowly but surely, once more the prosperity of agriculture. It was primarily the duty of the Government of the day to say what measures should be applied, but he was not going therefore to excuse himself from the responsibility of stating what reforms he thought might be carried out. In the first place, there were at least two questions which might be dealt with during an Autumn Session—some change in the law as to preferential railway rates on foreign produce, on the lines which the recent decision in the South Western case had shown to be indispensable, and a strengthening of the law with regard to the adulteration of dairy produce, which had been made perfectly clear by the conclusive evidence of the Select Committee. But if he was asked his own opinion he would boldly go to the root of the matter. Protection was out of the question, and bimetallism if practicable would do little good, and that tardily. The present position of agriculture was governed by the question of money, pure and simple. As he had said before, the landlords and tenants had not sufficient money to keep up the equipment of their estates and farms, and to thoroughly carry out agricultural work. Another defect was the bad system of land tenure that existed, and the want of protection under which the tenant farmer suffered in respect of the money he laid out for improvements. For want of the 311 necessary capital farms were being depleted year by year. Those points alone should suffice to induce the Government to deal with the agricultural question in an Autumn Session. Moreover, he thought the Government might, as the hon. Member for Norfolk suggested on Friday night, give agriculturists a thoroughly sound and useful Agricultural Holdings Act. The Bill introduced last Session by the hon. Member for South Molton might require some amendment and expansion, but, after all, that Bill went to the real point, namely, to give the industrious tenant a fair chance of securing his capital, and of obtaining a fair rent which would not swallow up the capital. His object, and that of those who agreed with him, was to give encouragement to the men who worked on the land, and to encourage the free application of money to the land, which was indispensable for the future of agriculture. In a letter to The Times the other day, the hon. Member for Hampshire (Mr. Jeffreys) pointed out that there were many millions of money now idle which might be invested in the land, to its relief and advantage, if real security was given, and he was perfectly willing, for his own part, to see a system of loans to landlords, and, if possible, to landlords and tenants, initiated for the benefit of the agricultural classes on cheaper and easier terms, so as to facilitate the improvements necessary to restore the fertility of the soil. He had thus suggested four topics which would give some relief to the present state of things, and which, seeing that all parties and all classes were agreed that it was necessary something should be done, to relieve existing depression, might be advantageously dealt with by the Government in a short Autumn Session. And he thought he had fully made out a case for their doing so. The question of the readjustment of local and Imperial taxation as bearing on agricultural land was one of great importance, and deserved the gravest consideration, but its complexity demanded time, and it could not be entered on now. It had been said that in this matter there should be no sectional remedies, and he concurred. He would add that while there should be no sectional remedies, so there should be no remedies sectionally applied to one class as opposed to another. He should 312 be opposed to any readjustment of taxation on the land unless it was accompanied by such reforms as would guarantee, either by a division of the rates, or by some power to reduce rents, or both, that the relief proposed should not be given to one class only, but should be shared by the tenant farmers and by the labourers. The mere announcement of a policy, providing that the tenant farmer should henceforth have full security for the capital he invested, and that the State was willing to provide a system of loans at cheaper rates, would do a great deal at once to stimulate the hopes of agriculturists. He had endeavoured to point out certain remedies for the existing distress which, if promptly carried out, would, he was sure, confer much advantage upon agriculture during the coming year, and he thought it would be a great misfortune to the country, and would reflect little credit on the House and on Her Majesty's Government if an effort were not made to initiate, during the present year, some such reforms as he had indicated.
§ MR. A. M. BROOKFIELD (Sussex, Rye)
said, the hon. Member for East Northampton might be congratulated on the tone of his speech, and on his invitation to hon. Members to sink Party feeling on this particular question. He did not know, however, that he could congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment on the practical light they had thrown on this difficult problem. Now, on this question he was only entitled to speak on behalf of those who sent him to the House for that express purpose, and on behalf of his constituents he had to say two things. The first was, that this question of the wide-spread agricultural depression was not only one which interested them particularly, but one which painfully absorbed their whole attention at the present time. The other thing he had to say was, that they confidently looked—and, he believed, with justice—to the present Government to come to their rescue, not only as regarded good administration, which he thought they were sure to have, but also as regarded wise, timely legislation, about which he had some doubt. He thought there was a good deal of truth in what the hon. Member who had just sat down said, 313 when he reminded hon. Members on that side of the House how much they owed their present commanding position to hopes they had raised in the breasts of the farming community. The question arose whether those hopes were going to be realised. The hon. Member who proposed the Amendment seemed to consider that they would not be realised. He supposed they must all wait, though waiting was a tedious and exasperating process. Most of them could contribute individual tales confirming the general story of depression throughout the country. Even in the favoured part of the country in which he lived, the county of Sussex on the border of Kent, he had known within a few miles of his house quite recently, farms out of which men still living had made their fortunes, sold—that was the freehold—for £13 an acre; that record was beaten in other parts of the country where stiff clays and arable land prevailed He would content himself with quoting one instance of individual suffering that came to his notice. It was that of a farmer who a few years ago made his will, leaving, and being entitled to leave £30,000 to his family. When he died the other day, purely through his farming losses, his family had nothing, his widow was a candidate for relief from the Agricultural Benevolent Society, and his son was going out as a day labourer. The hon. Member who last addressed the House spoke sympathetically on the subject of dealing with local taxation and burdens on land, but he found on reference to the Journals of the House, that on 27th February, 1891, the hon. Member supported this Resolution—That in the opinion of the House the proportion of taxation that falls upon and is payable by land and its rentals is insufficient, and ought to be increased.Had the hon. Member, then, changed his mind on this subject?
§ MR. CHANNING
I am under the impression that the Motion in question referred not to agricultural but to urban land. It was in that sense I gave my vote.
§ MR. BROOKFIELD
That explanation will not hold water, for the Motion was a general one. It was supported not only by the right hon. Gentleman now 314 sitting on the Front Opposition Bench (Sir W. Harcourt) but by the Gentleman who was recently Minister for Agriculture, and who was raised to the peerage for his important services. It was difficult to believe that the Party who as a Party voted for that Resolution were quite sincere in their desire to free the land from undue taxation. The hon. Member for East Norfolk advocated good pure beer as one of the panaceas for agricultural distress, but there again he found the Journals of the House did him injustice apparently, because last Session, when he had an opportunity of supporting the demand for pure beer, he voted against the motion of the right hon. Member for Thanet.
§ MR. BROOKFIELD
I would ask the hon. Member what he has ever done to promote pure beer legislation?
§ MR. BROOKFIELD
And I am surprised at the hon. Member for East Norfolk having seconded any demand on the subject of pure beer; I should have thought his constituents, by their behaviour at the late Election, rather showed they would be better without any beer at all. The hon. Member also wished to place some restrictions on the sale of foreign meat.
But there again he was not exactly in agreement with the hon. Member for Leicester, who was a warm advocate for increasing the importation of Canadian cattle, and a warm advocate apparently of free trade in pleuro-pneumonia. He much preferred those blunt suggestions, however, whatever inconsistencies there might be in the movers, to no suggestions at all. But in his opinion they ought frankly to admit that as regarded the more drastic and effectual remedies, the Government had a very good case for demanding delay until the new financial year. For instance, as regarded a wide change in 315 the direction, of transferring local burdens to the Imperial charge, any great modification or alteration of the Finance Act, any extensive reform in connection with the revenue duties (and on the subject of pure beer), it was fair to wait until they could discuss them in connection with the new Budget. But none the less he regretted that two or three lines could not have been inserted in the Queen's Speech to express the sympathy of the Government with those who had done so much to place them in their present position. Though barren sympathy might not appear to her Majesty's Government a thing of much practical value, he could assure them that it would have been appreciated by large numbers of farmers and landowners throughout the couutry who, as it was, might be erroneously led to suppose that the Government took a greater interest in the sufferings of distant people like the Armenians than in those of people at home whose welfare should be their first care. ["Hear, hear!"] He wished, therefore, that a few words could have been inserted in the Gracious Speech to have given a little timely encouragement to the farming class, who were a well deserving, sorely-suffering, and marvellously patient section of her Majesty's subjects.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,
MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)
said, he would not have intervened in the Debate at all, but for the speech made by the President of the Board of Agriculture on Friday night. It had been his privilege in the last Parliament to listen to several speeches from the right hon. Gentleman, and he had come to the conclusion that, of all the Members of the House the right hon. Gentleman was probably one of those best acquainted with the condition of the agricultural interest, and best qualified to deal with the solution of the difficult problems that were presented by the existing agricultural depression. Perhaps that fact accentuated the disappointment he felt with the right hon. Gentleman's somewhat perfunctory performance on Friday night. He could not help contrasting the right hon. Gentleman's attitude, now that he 316 was in Office, with his attitude last year when he was in Opposition, when he supported the Motion, of the hon. Member for South Essex for the Adjournment of the House on the ground that the state of the agricultural industry was such as to be a matter of urgent public importance. In order to further emphasise that striking contrast he would call the attention of the House to the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, now President of the Local Government Board, spoken as recently as February of this year:—What did seem strange to him,said the right hon. Member for Sleaford on that occasion,when they remembered the deplorable condition the agricultural interest was now in; when they knew that so many other interests were greatly depressed; and that vast numbers of people were every day being put out of employment, the Government showed no adequate sense of the urgency and gravity of the situation. It was quite impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the agricultural situation. It was reported that in almost every district of the country it was steadily and rapidly growing worse.He (Mr. Brynmor Jones) ventured to repeat the words of the right hon. Gentleman and say, that the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was now a Member showed no adequate sense of the urgency and gravity of the situation. The Government could not put them off with the procrastinating platitudes of the President of the Board of Agriculture on Friday night, that he would honestly, sincerely, and straightforwardly do his duty—next year. He said so much in justice to his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, whose Motion had been denounced as having no sincerity behind it. But the more particular purpose for which he rose was to complain that the Minister for Agriculture had made no reference at all to the disastrous condition of things in the Principality of Wales. He had had ample opportunity as a Member of the Welsh Land Commission of gauging the extent of the agricultural depression in, the Welsh counties, and, without any polemical intent, but by way of appeal to the Minister for Agriculture, he declared that unless there was some great change in the economic situation, or 317 unless some remedial measures were introduced by the Government, then they were face to face with the bankruptcy in the Welsh Counties of one of the largest and most influential industrial classes in the community. As he was a Member of the Land Commission, which had not yet reported, he would not go into the question of the tenant-farmers, because to do so would necessarily involve his dealing with delicate questions between landlords and tenants which, for the present, he desired to avoid. But he desired to deal with the question of small freeholders, and he did so the more readily because public attention had been drawn to it by his hon. Friend and colleague on the Commission, the hon. Baronet who represented Swansea town, in a speech delivered in Wales some time ago. One of the peculiarities of the Welsh counties, so far as agriculture is concerned, is that tenants were chiefly members of families who had been connected with the same holding, or at any rate the same estate, not only from generation to generation, but in some cases from century to century. In support of that proposition he could refer to the evidence of Colonel Hughes of the Wynne estate—one of the largest in Wales—who said he could mention at least one case in which the same family had been farming the same holding for about one thousand years. It therefore happened that, when estates were broken up, those men paid extravagant prices for the farms with which their families had been so long connected. In nearly all instances they were unable to pay the purchase money down. They had to mortgage their holdings. They mortgaged them at a time when there was greater prosperity in trade and agriculture. Their condition now was that in a large number of cases they were face to face with bankruptcy and eviction, and they had to contemplate sinking down into the position of labourers, or else of going into the workhouse; because, for Welsh-speaking farmers, above middle age and without capital, migration to English towns or emigration to the Colonies was out of the question. The hon. Baronet who represented Swansea town drew attention to this question in a speech that had attracted a good deal of public notice. He did not say that the seats won by the Government in Wales were 318 due to the expectations, held out by the hon. Baronet. He made no point about that. But the hon. Baronet said it was quite possible for the State, by a simple financial operation which would involve no loss, to relieve those men. Whatever was done must be done quickly. Those men had to deal with mortgagees, who were more difficult persons to contend with than landlords. From a landlord a tenant might expect to receive consideration; but a mortgagee was in most cases only a trustee for persons who had no other connection with the district in which their money was invested. He brought forward the question new in the hope that the Government in considering the financial matters of next year would take into account the position of those small freeholders in Wales. He did not intend to labour the question or to go into details; but he should like to point out that Mr. Morgan Richardson offered a reasonable scheme for the relief of those freeholders, which he hoped the Minister for Agriculture would take into his consideration. Also he should like to hear something from the Government about Railway Rates in Wales. There, as in every part of the Kingdom, they had to complain of excessive rates on agricultural produce, and of undue preference given to the Irish over the Welsh farmer. The through rates of some railways operated to the disadvantage of the Welsh agriculturists. He hoped that some indication of the policy of the Government would be given. There was another important question with reference to Welsh agriculture. From its physical conditions, it was not a country where arable cultivation could prosper much, except in some of the valleys. It was upon dairy produce and sheep farming that Welsh farmers must mainly hope to prosper. Could the Government see their way to do what had been suggested from both sides of the House—namely, through the, local authorities, or otherwise, to encourage butter and cheese factories in Wales? As a Welsh Land Commissioner he was much struck with the fact that; wherever he went in Wales, it was not Welsh, but Devonshire or Danish butter that he got; and when he asked the; reason, he was told by many competent; witnesses that the Welsh farmers were not able to make the kind of butter 319 which the English visitor required. The establishment of butter factories had been suggested as one of the smaller remedies for relieving the agricultural situation in Wales. The farmers themselves had not sufficient capital among them to start these factories. He mentioned these facts to show that if the Government were in earnest in this matter they must act quickly, for the situation brooked no delay. If he were to speak as a party man, he could tell how the Unionist candidates throughout Wales went about saying that a Liberal Government spelt ruin for the farmers; but that a Unionist Government would mean big balances at the bank; silk dresses for the farmers wives; low rates; no cattle disease; a minimum of foreign competition; and, in fact, that a Unionist Government would "scatter plenty o'er a smiling land." [Ministerial cheers.] Then let them do it. [Opposition Cheers.] That was what they asked in moving this Amendment. The hon. Member for Hampshire (Mr. Jeffreys) said that the Amendment was a mere trick. It was not a trick of the Opposition. It was an opportunity for the Government. The hon. Member spoke with some trepidation and perturbation of spirit; because, if he voted with the Government on this Amendment—which offered the hon. Gentlemen opposite the sincerest flattery in the shape of imitation of their Motions in the last Parliament—he knew that it would be awkward for him in his constituency. And he would promise that he and his friends would pay a visit to the hon. Member's constituency in order that the plain and unvarnished truth about the hon. Member's vote might be known there. On this question, of all others, the Government ought not to put the House off with a speech like that of the President of the Board of Agriculture. Before the General Election Lord Salisbury said that the policy of his Party was Dissolution. Did the Government want the Opposition to tell the country now that the policy of Lord Salisbury's Party was Delay? If not, let them give a better answer to this Motion, for which he, at any rate, should vote.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said that he should go down to his constituents with a clear conscience after 320 having voted against this Amendment. They would not require much explanation, for they were intelligent people, and when they read this Debate they would understand for themselves. He should tell them that this was an Amendment which, when brought forward by the Unionist Party in Opposition, was invariably voted down by those who now proposed it. [Cheers.] He should tell them, as the hon. Member who last spoke had practically admitted, that it was a political dodge, with the object of putting the agricultural supporters of the Government in a difficulty. [Cheers.] He should further tell his constituents that when the Resolution was brought forward the front Opposition Bench was as empty as the Radical promises and as blank as their legislative record. [Cheers and laughter.] And by whom was this Amendment proposed? By the Representative of the wildest part of the British Empire—of the constituency inhabited by savages. [Cheers and laughter,]
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
said that it was a constituency which at the last Election showed a long series of political atrocities. [Ministerial cheers, and Opposition cries of "Question."]
§ MR. W. REES DAVIES (Pembrokeshire)
I rise to a point of order. I wish to ask, Sir, whether the hon. Gentleman is in order in casting gross imputations upon a constituency?
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE,
continuing, said that the attacks were made without respect of age or sex. He would read a passage from a newspaper to show that he did not exaggerate—[Opposition cries of "Question."]In East Norfolk, during- the excitement of an election, it is evidently almost as necessary to carry firearms for self-defence as in any quite uncivilised and savage country.[Cheers and laughter.] That was not from a Tory organ, but from one which generally supported the Opposition. Then the Resolution was seconded by a Gentleman (Mr. Broadhurst) who had been honourably connected with manual labour in early life, but who knew very 321 little of agriculture. The hon. Member had never turned his trowel into a ploughshare. [Laughter.] If he were to compare the Seconder of the Motion to a character in antiquity, he should liken him to Balbus, the friend of our youth, whose only exploit was to build a wall. If they were to go down to the hon. Member's pleasant retreat at Cromer—[Opposition cries of "Oh!" and "Question"]—and there were many hon. Members who would like to have a pleasant retreat at Cromer—they would probably find the hon. Member, with the late Home Secretary, conducting agricultural operations on the shore of that seaside resort. [Laughter.] The Amendment was supported by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing), whose acquaintance with agriculture was purely theoretical, being derived entirely from Blue-books; and who knew no more of agriculture practically than "the beasts which roam over the plain." [Laughter and cheers.] Indeed, not quite so much, because the beasts could distinguish between varieties in the vegetable world, and he doubted whether the hon. Member could. [Laughter.] No doubt a great deal ought to be done for agriculture; and at the last Election he and other Unionists promised to urge upon the Government the necessity of devoting much attention to agriculture. But this Amendment was not an honest attempt to bring the matter before the attention of the Government. [Cries of "Oh!" and cheers.] A Government which had just got into office could not be expected to bring forward mature proposals. He invited the House to give attention to the question of local taxation, stating that the land was burdened with a much heavier rate of taxation than it ought to be. The only way in which the farmer could be enabled to live was to cause him to make his business more profitable. The produce of English farmers was pure, genuine and cheap; but when it reached the consumer it was generally adulterated and dear. It was not legislation which they wanted so much to prevent existing evils, as enforcement of the law. Private individuals, however, would not take the initiative on their own behalf, and local authorities were lax in seeing the provisions of the law carried out. He should like to see a 322 Department of the State empowered to undertake inquiries on behalf of persons injured by preferential rates, and if a large portion of the canal system was acquired by the State, a method of competing against the high rates of the railway companies would be established to the benefit of agriculture. Much might also be done by the farmer in opening up new industries. He mentioned cider-making as a question in which he personally took great interest, and as an agricultural industry which he had striven greatly to foster among farmers. Twenty years ago, English farmers were warned by Professor Lloyd that if they did not take care and make their butter better and of uniform quality, they would be beaten by the foreigner. The English farmers paid no heed to that warning, and the foreigner appeared as a competitor in the butter market; and it would be very difficult to drive him out again.
§ MR. G. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said, the House had listened to a little political Billingsgate from the hon. Member. Although his language might be strong it would do little to relieve the agricultural depression of which he and other hon. Members complained. That an immediate remedy for agricultural depression was needed appeared to be proved by the fact that hon. Members were conscious of it last year and the year before. In 1893 and 1895 Amendments to the Address were moved, and in 1894 the Adjournment of the House was moved in order to call attention to the necessity of doing something for agriculture. If the subject was urgent in those years it was none the less urgent now. He thought he was justified in assuming that the Government, by their present attitude, had not that earnest desire to deal with this matter which they professed to have before the General Election. They were told last winter that there was great want of employment, and that the distress among the unemployed was very severe. A Member of the present Cabinet informed them then that the distress of the unemployed was due in a large degree to discharged agricultural labourers, but the Government now did not propose to do a single thing for agricultural labourers until next spring. They were going to leave all legislation for the farmers an 323 labourers until next year. The President of the Local Government Board made a very interesting contribution to the Debate of 1895. He said in very eloquent language, that they might conceive the pitiable condition of these men, unable to obtain the means of getting food or clothing or warmth. If that was true in February last, was it not true now, when crops were infinitely worse? The Member for Essex asked how were the children to be fed in the coming winter. Why not press that on the President of the Local Government Board, whose sympathy was so keen last February, but who now took himself anywhere but on the Government Bench to carry legislation. He remembered a cartoon published during the Elections; it showed by way of contrast the agricultural labourer under a Unionist Government and under a Radical Government. In the former there was a great joint of meat upon the table and a foaming tankard of beer. The scene under a Radical Government, showed a distracted wife, a despairing husband, and a hungry child. Well, what was the Government going to do to fill the stomachs of these starving persons? Let them do something to fill the cupboard if the Government was in earnest. For his part he did not wish to treat this subject in a controversial spirit. Legislation for the benefit of agriculturists should not be dealt with in a party spirit. Let them raise the question above that and give the farmer and labourer some encouragement. [Ironical cheers.] Yes, but what were the Government doing? Where were the three acres and a cow? as one of his friends near him suggested. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture had the interests of agriculture at heart, and recently he had said that he did not intend to reverse the position of the late Government with regard to cattle disease. The only indication he gave was that he intended to shut out lean cattle, but in that he was only following the example of the late Liberal Minister of Agriculture. Why should the right hon. Gentleman not show the country something more of his policy, instead of only carrying out the policy of his predecessor? They had heard a great deal about Railway Rates. It was a burning grievance amongst agriculturists that they were 324 charged more for conveying their produce over English railways than were the foreign competitors. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman was a Director; and, on the principle that an old poacher made a good game-keeper, the right hon. Gentleman might know something of the dark and devious ways of the railway companies. Was there a single measure introduced by any Unionist for the protection of tenants' improvements before his Bill was read a second time, although it had been again and again stated in the country that the Tory party were the only friends of the tenant farmer? He read the report of the Agricultural Union which had assembled in one of the rooms upstairs. When on the subject of pure beer, one of the Members said:—You must not talk of substitutes now in making beer, or you will offend the brewers.They used to he told that the Irish Party were the masters of the late Government; he hoped the masters of the Party opposite were not the brewers. Where was that remedy so often proclaimed, the reform of the currency? They had not heard much about that in the present Debate. There was another remedy, the duty on foreign barley. Where was that? Were they going to introduce that next year? They were told, too, that fair trade was the panacea for agricultural distress. Many advocated fair trade—protection in other words—as the cure for all the evils. But besides these remedies, there was another. He never could quite understand it, and he did not understand it yet. They were told that prosperity would come to the agricultural interest, owing to the confidence generated by the return of a Conservative Government. That seemed to be the latest phrase of the confidence trick. Why, wheat had gone down 2s. a quarter since the present Government came into office. He did not say they were responsible for it, but do not let them go about the country preaching that the return of a Conservative Government would alone bring a return of agricultural prosperity.
§ MR. JASPER MORE (Shropshire, Ludlow),
> reminded the hon. Member who had just spoken, and others, that the late Government, after they were 325 returned to power in 1892, remained for six months without doing anything. He had been associated with Mr. Clare Sewell Read and Mr. Pell, who were Members for Norfolk and Leicester in 1865. The latter signalised himself by a great meeting against cattle plague, and the former was associated with him in the repeal of the Malt Tax. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire would have set the other Members of the Royal Commission a better example if he had at once proceeded to the remedies. They had examined witness after witness, who said depression was owing to low prices and foreign competition. What remedy did they propose for that? As wheat and barley had not been mentioned, let them try if they could affect cereals without falling into any economic heresy. The first point he would suggest was, whether it might not be a convenient time now to carry out what the farmers of England had so long desired—namely, a uniform weight for corn. He had had the honour of being Chairman of a Committee which sat to consider that subject, and though some difficulty had been expressed in respect to the eastern counties, he had heard that Norfolk had changed its opinion on that subject, and he hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk might join in assisting the Government to do away with the barbarous system of maintaining about 200 different weights. With respect to the price of wheat, they had heard statements made in the House that the price was not regulated by the law of supply and demand, and that that law could be overridden by rings of speculators. He wished now to suggest, for the consideration of hon. Members and the Government, whether there would be any objection to England joining in the invitation of the representatives of the farmers of Germany, Belgium, and Hungary, in holding an inquiry together into the alleged manipulation of prices by rings of speculators. He understood that the Government were likely to consider the question of throwing more of the burden of the taxation on personal property. On that point he wished to make a suggestion. When he was first in the House he had the honour of presiding 326 over the first large meeting held on that subject in the town of Leicester, when the Royal Agricultural Society met there, and he then made the suggestion that it would be desirable to reprint the evidence of Sir George Cornewall Lewis, given on the subject before a Committee of the House of Lords which sat in 1850; and he would now urge that suggestion on the Government. He thought they might also, during the autumn, consider the evidence that had been laid before the House on the assistance given by Foreign Governments to light railways. As it was a private Committee which first set that question in motion, followed by an inquiry by the Board of Trade, he would suggest that that Committee should be reconstituted, with a view to giving the Government assistance in that direction. The farmers had, no doubt, had great influence in putting this Government into power. That he fully admitted, and he sincerely hoped that they would have no ground for disappointment. He remembered a celebrated speech of the late John Bright, in which he said he saw the dawning of better times for the nation and people he loved so well, and he believed that if they were sincere they might try this autumn to do something themselves to assist the Government in doing something for the farmers, in whom they were all so much interested.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said, he wished to associate himself with his hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire in urging the Government to state what they proposed to do for the crofters of the north-east of Scotland. The First Lord of the Treasury, speaking in the Debate on the Crofters' Bill last September, admitted very fully the claims of these industrious men to proper protection in their improvements. He thought this particular class had a special claim to consideration on the ground that their claim had already been recognised. Owing to the legislation begun in their behalf, these men had had their expectations raised more than any other class of the agricultural community. He believed that if the Opposition had allowed the Crofters' Act Amendment Bill to be referred to the Scotch Grand Committee last Session, 327 and if the Leader of the Opposition had given it his support in another place, these men would at this very moment have been enjoying the protection for their improvements which would be given by fair rents and fixity of tenure. He thought, therefore, that they had a particular claim on the Government of the present day; at any rate, they were entitled to know what it was proposed to do on their behalf. The only other point he wished to refer to was the remark of his hon. Friend the Seconder of the Amendment as to the farmers of the North East of Scotland being interested in the unrestricted importation of Canadian cattle. They were mostly breeders of cattle, and although they were perfectly prepared for free trade in cattle, they did not want free trade in disease. They were, therefore, strongly in favour of the enforcement of precautions against disease. They also did not wish to see free trade in fraud. They desired that it should not be possible for people to have an inferior kind of meat palmed off upon them, at an additional price, as prime Scotch. Those were the only two points with which he desired to trouble the House, and he would only make an appeal to the Government to state what they would do to protect the improvements of one of the most industrious classes in the country.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
This Debate has taken a somewhat peculiar line. Hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to me to have been occupying themselves much more in endeavouring to explain why they ought not to have been defeated at the General Election, and why the farmers ought to have been grateful to them for all they did for them in the last three years, instead of in making any practical suggestions for the future. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not think I should have risen to take any part in the Debate but for the speech of the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire. The hon. Member has adopted a peculiarly unusual course, and one which I hope will not be imitated in this House in the future. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman has referred to certain of the proceedings of 328 the Commission of which both he and I are Members. At one of the first meetings of that Commission it was decided that the sittings should not be open to the Press, and therefore, the proceedings were necessarily confidential. I have sat on many Commissions in the course of my life, and the course the hon. Member has pursued to-night is the gravest breach of propriety I ever recollect, not to attach any harsher name to it. [Hear, hear!]
§ MR. CHANNING
The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps allow me to state that the Chairman of the Commission took exactly the same course in February last.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
That is not an accurate statement. On that occasion, in consequence of certain statements about myself, made with equal impropriety, an attack was made upon me by the late Prime Minister in the House of Lords, and I was compelled to defend myself against untrue charges in the House of Commons. My object was simply to make a reply, the necessity for which I regretted, but which is forced upon me by the introduction of the name of Mr. Shaw Lefevre. The right hon. Gentleman spoke solely in reply to what I had said. The object of the hon. Member on this as on a former occasion has been to impute to me that I have been endeavouring to delay the proceedings of that Commission. On the former occasion, last winter, in this House, I answered the statements of the hon. Member, and absolutely refuted them; and if the hon. Member wished to do so, why did he not take the course that was open to him, and reply to me at once? It was because he knew well that he was powerless to do so. As to what happened last week, although I feel loth, even in self-defence, to follow the example of the hon. Member, I will say first that he has been sufficiently answered by the hon. Member for Swansea, who gave us most interesting information with regard to Wales, but complained that the Minister for Agriculture, in his speech of Friday last, made no reference to the condition of Wales. Well, Sir, at this moment we are examining Welsh witnesses, and the Welsh evidence is not completed, and if the motion made by the hon. Member last 329 week had been accepted by the Commission, we should have been quite unable to take further evidence.
§ *MR. CHANNING rose to order. He understood the Speaker to have ruled that it was not competent to hon. Members to refer to the private proceedings of the Commission, and, therefore, he abstained from pursuing his own argument. Was the right hon. Gentleman in order in referring to a motion made in the Commission?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I did not understand the right hon. Gentleman to do more than deny the statement which had escaped from the hon. Member before I interrupted him. I think the right hon. Member will be wrong in pursuing the matter further.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
At all events, the course adopted by the hon. Member and others, in first making charges against hon. Members and then seeking to prevent replies to them, is one which, I hope, will not be imported into the Debates of this House. The hon. Member observed that he did not wish to prolong the Session; but he made a wandering speech of an hour, the object of which I was at a loss to understand, until near the close he let out that what hon. Gentlemen opposite want for the relief of agriculture is an Autumn Session, for which the House should meet in November. We are near September already, and, if Debates are to be conducted as they have been this evening, it seems uncommonly likely that we shall have an Autumn Session to get the Estimates of the year passed. I put it to hon. Members opposite, is it really a practical proposal that we are to have an Autumn Session for considering measures for the relief of agriculture and the distress from want of employment? Is there the slightest chance of its being accepted by the House or by the Leaders of the Opposition? If the House meets in November, we are to be expected to produce our measures. [Opposition cheers.] How is it possible for us to prepare them? We want a little time to prepare our measures. It is idle and ridiculous to suppose that we can produce them, as certain generals are said to have summoned armed men, by a stamp of the foot. We have been in office barely three weeks, whilst Gentlemen opposite had 330 been in power three years. Why should we be called upon to do in three weeks what they have not been able to do in three years? It is an unreasonable demand, and I do not think a single farmer will be hoodwinked by it. [Cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
The speech which we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman is a singular comment upon the language which he and his hon. Friends have been holding throughout the country during the last three years. They have constantly imputed to the late Government that they were indifferent to the interests of agriculture, and that was a charge that was absolutely unfounded. The late Government never professed to be able to restore exceptional prosperity to the agricultural world by legislation; they left that to Gentlemen opposite, who declared that we did not understand the interests of agriculture and they did, and that, if they were only in our places, agriculture should be made prosperous at once. That was the language they held in this House and throughout the country. We made the contributions we were able to make towards the agricultural interest. ["Hear, hear!"] Gentlemen have denied these facts, but contrary to the truth. They know perfectly well that under the late Government the farmers were largely relieved in respect of income-tax. ["Hear, hear!"] They called upon us to make provision with reference to swine fever. Large sums were spent upon that head of agricultural distress. I wish I could say, from what I have learnt, that they had been more successful. Like many other remedies proposed, they have not had the results that they hoped and expected; but month after month and year after year Motions were made by Gentlemen who then sat on this side of the House calling on the Government to find remedies for agricultural distress. We ventured to ask these Gentlemen what they thought were remedies for agricultural distress. They said, "Only put us in Office and we will tell you at once." [Opposition laughter.] They are in office now and unable to tell us at once. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Give us time. We have only been a few weeks in office." But what had they been doing during the previous three years? I 331 supposed when they challenged us to bring forward measures they had some idea what were the measures they would bring forward, and now the right hon. Member for Sleaford, the President of the Local Government Board, wants time in order that he may consider what are the true remedies for agricultural distress and what are the measures which will restore agriculture to prosperity. I thought the right hon. Gentleman had the whole of his remedies at his fingers' ends. I thought his whole public life had been occupied in discovering what these remedies were and only desired an early opportunity to lay them on the table of the House of Commons. He wants six months to study the question of agricultural distress. He has had I do not know how many months on the Committee. I will not enter on the thorny subject of the Committee. At all events, I think I am betraying no secret when I say the right hon. Gentleman has not been extremely anxious to accelerate the conclusions of that Committee. Why? Because his education is not complete. [Laughter.] He wants the Report of the Committee. There are many subjects which the President of the Local Government Board has not yet studied. There is the question of rating as it affects the agricultural interest, and he wants six months more, perhaps twelve months, to enlighten him on the subject of the bearing of rates on the agricultural interest. He wants more information it appears on other subjects. Well, but how unreasonable it is that a right hon. Gentleman who is omniscient on agricultural distress wants so much time to inform himself what are the remedies for those disastrous evils, that for three years he denounced the late Government because they had not made up their minds, and has gone about denouncing them in the country because they did not discover themselves—what shall I call them?—remedies which he is not yet prepared to express an opinion upon himself! What is the position, and what are the expectations? We know the expectations the right hon. Gentleman has raised. What are the measures he is going to take to fulfil these expectations? We know these already. The Leader of the House 332 has told us that the first business of the Session is to be an Irish Land Act.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, but what becomes of Mr. Justice Bewley? [Cheers.] I am not going to expose myself to censure by commenting on the conduct of Mr. Justice Bewley? That is not the subject I desire to raise. But what is the position of the Government with reference to the confidential communication they have had with a Judge of the Supreme Court who is going to postpone all judgments in order that he may see what is the Land Act that is about to be produced for Ireland by the Government? It is rather a strong thing—what may be called a temporary suspension of justice. But at all events, when a responsible Government has entered into such a transaction with the Judicature of the realm the least they can do is to terminate that period of arranged suspension. Therefore, I take for granted that a Land Act which is to deal with evicted tenants in Ireland and judicial rents must be, from the very circumstances of the case, the first dish which the Government will offer to Parliament next year. Well, we have some experience of Irish Land Acts. They are not exactly "non-contentious measures"—[Laughter]—which lend themselves to brief procedure; and therefore, at all events, agricultural distress in England must wait until the Irish Land Act and other intricate problems have been settled. All this stands between the hopes of the agricultural interest in England and the fulfilment of the pledges the Government have given that agriculture is to be raised to its former prosperity at once? [Ministerial Cries of "Oh!"] But that is what you led the farmers to believe. [Cheers.] That is the language you have used, and those are the hopes you have raised in the agricultural interest; and when they are told you have not made up your minds, and that you want months to consider what are the remedies for all those evils, you may depend upon it they will say—That is not what you told us in July. We thought you know all about it. We did not know you wanted a Commission to teach you 333 what to do. We did not know you would come down to the House of Commons and make excuses for not bringing forward your remedies; that you had not made up your minds, and were not able to draw a Bill to carry out the remedies you promised.["No."] But that is the language you have held in the country. [An hon. MEMBER: "Name? Who held the language?"] You did. Go into the counties of England and ask who held the language.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I dare say. [Laughter.] No doubt the hon. Member was not returned so much upon any broad political principle as on his personal merits. I think if this Debate has answered no other purpose it will at least have opened the eyes of the farmers to the meaning of those promises which have been held forth by hon. Members opposite. Hon. Members opposite know that before long their constituents will know that they have been led to expect things which no Government could perform. Hon. Members opposite demanded from the late Government that which they knew the late Government could not perform, and now they are in our places they know that they themselves cannot perform their own promises. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government know that a great part of the agricultural distress is due to economical causes, for which no Government is more responsible than it is for the bad seasons which have been so great an element in agricultural distress. ["Hear, hear!"] This Debate has brought the matter to the test, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite who has always put himself forward as the great advocate for and export in agricultural remedies for agricultural distress will make farmers understand how hollow are the pretences by which they were deceived. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY,
who, on rising, was received with loud cheers, said,—There is no better debater than the right hon. Gentleman [cheers and counter cheers] when he is left not only to construct the reply but also to set forth the arguments against 334 which the reply is to be made [Cheers and laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman avails himself largely of those great imaginative gifts which enable him to put into the mouths of his opponents not what they have ever said, but what he chooses to think it convenient for Parliamentary or popular purposes to put into their mouths. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman had the courage to tell the House that every hon. Gentleman on this side has spent the last six weeks in assuring the farmers of this country that, if the Unionist Government were returned to power, agriculture would be restored to prosperity. ["Oh, oh!"] I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman was sufficiently occupied during those six weeks [cheers and laughter] in inventing fictions for himself [cheers and laughter] without gratuitously crediting his opponents with inventions for which they were never responsible. [Cheers and laughter.] As the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to say that everybody has made these statements, I should like to recall his attention to a speech which, from the occasion on which it was delivered and from the person who delivered it, should have some authority—namely, the speech of the present Prime Minister in the House of Lords on the very eve of the Election; and the criticism made upon it was that it made very scanty promises as to the effects which could be produced on the present state of English agriculture by any legislative action which this House could take. The language used by the Prime Minister on that occasion I myself have systematically used.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I am speaking on behalf of hon. Members who have stood for counties with a considerable measure of success. [Cheers.] I venture to say that the speeches delivered by Conservative candidates in the counties were as faithful a reflection of the general view of the Leader of the Unionist Party as—I will not say the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite were of the reflections and views of their Leaders—but as those speeches were the reflections of what ought to be the sober utterances of 335 any Leader. ["Hear, hear!"] I am not here to say that rash utterances, rash statements have not been made by hon. Members on this side of the House. I am not going to apportion praise and blame on this matter, but I boldly say that my hon. Friends have not made louder professions of their desire to see the agricultural interest raised than have hon. Members opposite, and the professions of the Unionist Party are much more likely to be followed by performance. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by a survey of what he and his Government have done for the farmer. That survey came to a rapid and untimely termination—it was finished almost in a sentence. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman said that he had made great reductions in the income-tax which farmers had to pay. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman raised the limit of exemption from £400 to £500, but, on the other hand, his Government put 2d. in the pound upon everybody above £500. [Cheers.] I confess that were I an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer claiming credit for benefits conferred upon the agricultural interest, I should not have alluded to the income-tax as a special boon to farmers. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman was very indignant with the President of the Local Government Board for having suggested that the Government might require time to prepare legislation which they intended to lay before Parliament. He said, "Tell us at once what you propose. You had all these years to consider it. Why are you not ready with your programme? "But it is one thing, as nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman, to be assured of the general principles upon which one means to carry out legislation, and another thing to prepare carefully with the aid of departmental advice and with the assistance of draughtsmen, measures which will stand the criticism of Parliament and will be calculated to carry out the objects the farmers have in view. ["Hear, hear!"] May I compare the action of the present Government and that of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was so distinguished an ornament? He also came into power in the month of August. He also repudiated an Autumn Session. He also deferred till 336 January or February calling Parliament together to discuss the measures which he and his Party desired to pass into Law. Were those measures, or the principal ones, so novel or strange in their character that they required six months of careful preparation? ["Hear, hear!"] Why, Sir, the main measure which the Government had in view was the Home Rule Bill. It had been brought into this House before; it had been discussed before in this House, the whole skill of the Government draftsmen had been expended upon it; and every clause of it might have been known. But so far from the fact that they had had six years to chew the cud over their intended measures being regarded by them as a reason for an Autumn Session, they deferred till the latest moment the privilege of laying their Bill before a grateful country. [Cheers and laughter.] Do not let us be told that the position of agriculture is pressing and that the position of Ireland was not pressing. All the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends pointed to the fact that, in their opinion, without Home Rule the government of Ireland was impossible. Were you going to defer unnecessarily and gratuitously for six months the good government of Ireland, knowing that without Home Rule good government in Ireland could not be produced? Were you going to leave the legislative joys with which we are apt to be provided within these walls, while you sought a brief autumn holiday in Scotland or elsewhere? [Cheers and laughter.] No, Sir; we ask no more for this Government than has been accorded to every Government which has come into existence under conditions similar to those under which this Government won the Election just completed. The precedent of 1886, the precedent of 1892, alike confirm us in the idea that it would be putting a most unreasonable demand upon any Party and upon any Government to ask them at a moment to frame great measures, to bring them in, and to pass them through Parliament. That task is impossible, and it ought not to be demanded of any Government, and, if demanded, no Government could possibly fulfil the promises of reforms that might be made by them. The last thing I expected this evening was to intervene in an agricultural Debate, but apparently 337 the right hon. Gentleman opposite could not forego the opportunity of trying, even at this late hour, to convince the farmers of England that their true friends are to be found amongst the supporters of the Party behind him. But one phrase which the right hon. Gentleman uttered during, I think, the Debate on the Address last Session will not be easily forgotten, and the meaning of that utterance every farmer in the land is capable of understanding, He said that one factor in the social prosperity in England was the reduction of agricultural prices.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I never said that, nor anything like it. I said that I did not think that, as a general principle, the low prices or the cheapness of agricultural produce were an evil to the community. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think that if the right hon. Gentleman will refer to the authentic records he will find that in an unfortunate moment, he appealed, not to the agricultural community but to the urban community, which he thought was deeply interested in the low prices of agricultural items. [Cheers.] I tell him that the party which holds that view, and which finds the right hon. Gentleman gifted with the power of epigrammatically expressing that view, is not ever likely to be considered by the fanners of this country as the party upon whom they can rely. [Cheers.]
§ MR. LOGAN
remarked that the Liberal Party never said that they possessed any scheme as a solution for agricultural depression. But, during the past three years, the party opposite had never wearied of pressing the late Government to bring forward a scheme which should be a panacea for the agricultural distress under which the country was suffering, and they would hardly have clamoured for that remedy unless they believed that such a remedy existed. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House did not fully realise what was the greatest burden on agriculture in this country. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke on behalf of the Government, the President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. Walter Long) said that when the proper time arrived he would be prepared with the proposed measures calculated to 338 remove agricultural distress, but he gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that the relief that he proposed Was to shift the burden of the rates, which were now nominally paid by the farmer, but were in reality paid by the landowner, from the shoulders of the farmer on to the shoulders of the general public. [Cheers.] He could only hope that the holders of house property in our towns and rural districts would be satisfied with such an arrangement, and he hoped that they would cheerfully pay that price which they would be called on to pay for the blessings of a Conservative or Unionist Government. ["Hear, hear!"] But he would go further, and would endeavour to show the farmers of this country in whose interest it was that the proposed alteration was suggested. He hoped that the farmers would remember, in the words of the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. Chaplin, Lincolnshire, Sleaford), that the effect on the owners was that if the rates were high they got less rent, and if they were low they got more rent, and the right hon. Gentleman maintained that it would not be difficult to show that ultimately the whole burden of the rates fell on the landowner and on nobody else. The greatest burden upon land was not the burden of rates but of rent. [Cheers.] The average rate per acre on the land of Great Britain to-day was not much more than 3s., whereas the average rental paid for agricultural land was 28s. per acre. [Cries of "No!"] According to the last income-tax return no less than £47,000,000 was paid by the farmers for the land, whereas the amount they were called upon to pay in rates did not exceed £5,000,000.
§ MR. LOGAN
said that was not so; the land was all agricultural. The Member for the West Derby division of Liverpool had said that he would see if it was not possible to relieve these burdens which pressed so heavily on agricultural land. It was very possible to do so, but he ventured to tell the farmers of this country that it was highly improbable that the present Government would do so. It was positively wicked to misdirect the attention of the farmer, and while ignoring the heavy burden of 28s. per acre rental, 339 which was weighing him down, and causing starvation to-day in thousands of agricultural labourers' homes, to call his attention to the light burden of the 3s. rate. They were told on all sides that to such a state was the condition of agriculture reduced that we were within measurable distance of a national calamity, and that, despite the fact that we had some of the very best land in the world, farmed by a race of men second to none, and surrounded by a dense and hungry population. It was not to be wondered at that foreigners living 10,000 or 12,000 miles away could undersell our own farmers when they remembered that land in the Argentine Republic could be obtained for about 2s. 6d. an acre. The farmer in this country would have to reduce his outgoings, and it was high time that some drastic remedy was applied. They had no reason whatever to anticipate any falling off in the competion from abroad, which would be keener in the future. After all it was not the foreigner who beat us, but our own kith and kin, for it was in English ships, provided by English enterprise, that the produce which competed with our own was brought to this country. The Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool was perfectly right, our men could not compete, but it was because the burdens on our land were too heavy. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite could propose a practical measure, a reduction in the rents, so that the farmers might be encouraged to stay upon the land. He held no brief for the farmers of this country, he looked at the matter from the agricultural labourers' point of view. Under the present system under which our land was farmed, all the best men were leaving our rural districts. Men would not stay upon the land to work for the miserable wages which farmers could pay. It was true that with that miserable wage the labourers were better off than they used to be, but that was because the purchasing power of money was now so much greater than formerly. But with education had come higher ideals of health and comfort, and nobler aspirations and hopes, and the men and women in rural districts were content no longer to live under the miserable conditions of old. He regarded 340 this question not only from the agricultural labourers' point of view, but also from the national point of view. The question of putting the land to its best use and getting from it the most it was capable of producing, vitally affected the interests of every man, woman and child in the community, and he looked forward hopefully to the day when the community would assert its right to participation in the management of the land of the country. He deplored the fact that they had received no guidance from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who during the late General Election made the whole country ring with their claims to be considered the special friends of the farmer and labourer. Their promises to give immediate attention to agricultural matters would not be forgotten by the too-confiding villagers.
§ MAJOR F. C. RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
wished to reply to the attack made upon him by the hon. Member for the South Moulton Division, and to say that he was absolutely consistent in voting for an Amendment like this six months ago, and in voting against it now. The hon. Member was quite correct when he said that he (Major Rasch) moved the adjournment of the House in order to call attention to the depression of agriculture, and the hon. Member would have been equally correct if he had added that he had opposed that and other Motions on the same subject. He had brought facts bearing on the question of the state of agriculture to the notice of the Government on Thursday last, and as a consequence the Board of Agriculture had sent an inspector into Essex to inquire and report. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire seemed to have the subject of rent upon the brain. The hon. Member had made a speech of a precisely similar character in February last. He could assure the hon. Member that it was no longer a question of rent. He had himself let a farm the other day rent free and tithe free. The thing to strive for was to prevent land from becoming derelict and going out of cultivation. He congratulated hon. Members opposite on the enlightened interest which they had taken that night in the agricultural labourer, but he regretted that they did not show the same interest when they sat on the right of the Chair. It was true that when he 341 and his Friends were in opposition they voted for amendments like that of the hon. Member for East Norfolk; but why did they do so? Because they could get no encouragement whatever from the late Government, who turned a deaf ear when appealed to on behalf of the agriculturists. Some two years ago he asked the late Chancellor of the Exchequer what he proposed to do in connection with the distress in agricultural districts, and the right hon. Gentleman replied: "Wait until the Parish Councils are developed, see what they will do for you." Then, by his Budget in 1894, the right hon. Gentleman did his best to crush the interests connected with land. The late Minister for Agriculture was asked in the Cattle Show week to do something for farmers, and all he could say was: "You should study botany, and strive after super-excellence." Lord Kimberley said that the farmers were to expect nothing from the Liberal Government. In fact the agricultural community asked for bread and were given a stone. But now very different declarations were made. The present Secretary of State for the Colonies had announced in Lancashire that agriculture was to receive the immediate attention of the Government The President of the Board of Agriculture, himself an expert and practical farmer, had said precisely the same thing The Leader of the House also had stated that agriculture would receive the attention which it deserved. Having these assurances from the Government, how could they vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Norfolk? He should like to refer for a moment to the extraordinary speech of the Seconder of the Amendment on Friday night. The hon. Member appeared to be desirous of reintroducing pleuro-pneumonia into this country. It used to be said that the only thing the Radical Government did for agriculture was to reintroduce foot-and-mouth disease, which cost the country several millions of money; and now the Seconder of the Amendment appeared to wish to do much the same thing The hon. Gentleman must have considered that he was addressing an audience of his own constituents on the subject of anti-vaccination and contagious disease, for that was a subject of great interest to the borough he represented. He thought that he had now made out his 342 point, which was this, that he was equally consistent in voting for the Amendment six months ago, and in voting against it that night.
§ MR. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
said, that what was done by the late Government with regard to the Income Tax was to put the assessment of the English farmers on the same basis as that of the Scotch and Irish farmers, and not only to raise the limit of exemption, as the first Lord of the Treasury seemed to suppose. Now, in regard to this question of agricultural distress, he had no wish unfairly or unduly to press on Her Majesty's Government that they should deal with it immediately. He was fully aware that it was a great and a difficult question, but the Government might have given the House some stronger assurance that they intended to legislate upon it. Though it might be impossible to deal with such a large subject this Session, yet those who represented agricultural constituencies had some reason to complain that the Government had not given a definite assurance in explicit terms, to the suffering agricultural classes, that the first Bill to be considered next Session should be one for the relief of agriculture. At least, if they could not give an Autumn Session to consider the matter, they might state that the first measure of importance next Session should be one dealing with an agricultural question, such as the great subject of local taxation, which now weighed as a great burden on the land. He ventured to hope, therefore, that before the Debate closed, the Government would declare, in plain terms, not merely that it was their intention to deal with the question some time or another during the present Parliament, but that next Session should be practically an Agricultural Session, and that the first measure of great importance introduced by them should be one affecting the agricultural interests of the country.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 105; Noes, 236.—(Division List No. 8.)
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
said, that considerable responsibility was incurred by a private Member who presumed to move an Amendment to the Address, 343 but he thought he was justified by the importance and urgency of the question which he desired to bring before the House, in moving the Amendment of which he had given notice. During the recent Election the promises of better employment and of higher wages were made by Gentlemen opposite with a recklessness which had never been surpassed, and with a unanimity which suggested a common plan of campaign emanating from a central office. The Secretary for India, in a speech delivered at Ealing, advised the supporters of the Government not to put their expectations too high. But the date of that speech was significant—it was the 2nd of August. Delivered when all the elections were practically over, he could only regard it as a masterpiece of humour, the possession of which by the noble Lord they had hardly suspected. The bills and cheques which were drawn so lavishly by hon. Gentlemen opposite had already been presented for payment to responsible Members of the Crown, and they had been returned with the endorsement which was not altogether unknown in other relations, "Refer to Drawer." The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said the Government could only recognise promises made by persons who were authorised to speak on their behalf. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman opposite said "hear, hear." He scarcely thought that would be good enough for the constituencies. If the promises were not fulfilled the result would be visited upon hon. Members. However, he was quite willing to take up the challenge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and confine himself to declarations made by Gentlemen occupying high positions in the councils of the Government. The Secretary for the Colonies, describing the policy of his party, said:—Legislation will improve trade, legislation will increase employment, and legislation will tend to sustain and even to increase wages.The right hon. Gentleman had said in the House of Commons that British industry was being destroyed, and that the ranks of the unemployed were being recruited, owing to the importation into this country of goods made in foreign prisons. The Secretary for the Colonies said this was a question of supreme political importance, and he proceeded to attack the then President of the 344 Board of Trade in a style which was almost truculent for so mild-mannered a man. The late President of the Board of Trade, replying to the right hon. Gentleman, said his officials could not distinguish between a brush made in a foreign prison and a brush made elsewhere. The Secretary for the Colonies said, in effect, that that was all nonsense. "Let the President of the Board of Trade resign," said the right hon. Gentleman:—We will find him a policy, but we are not going to lend him our prescription while he takes the fees.The right hon. Gentleman and his immediate dependents now took the fees to the tune of £9,000. He therefore asked the right hon. Gentleman what was the prescription? Were the Government going to exclude from our shores goods made in foreign prisons? But they knew the Government were not going to take that course, for during the present Session no legislation was to be proposed, and British industry, if the words of the right hon. Gentleman were to be believed, was to continue to be destroyed. Again, the gravity of the unemployed problem and the extreme urgency of the question had been painted by the Prime Minister himself in the most lurid colours, in a speech delivered on May 22nd last at Bradford. In that speech Lord Salisbury declared that they could not say that their consciences as Statesmen and politicians were discharged if they did not attempt, at all events, to solve the problem with the utmost despatch. The speech produced a great effect at Bradford, as no doubt it was intended and calculated to do. The Unionists swept Bradford; they captured all its seats. The bill had been already presented to Lord Salisbury for payment. A memorial, signed by the heads of University Settlements in London—persons, as they themselves declared, engaged in the social service of the poor of London, and belonging to different political parties—was presented to the Prime Minister, expressing the pleasure with which they had observed his speech at Bradford, and hoping that the exigencies of party conflicts, of the ordinary Government routine, would not delay the attempt to solve the problem of the unemployed on the earliest possible occasion. What was the reply of Lord 345 Salisbury to that memorial? "His lordship will give careful consideration to the views expressed in the memorial." why, the only views expressed in the memorial were Lord Salisbury's own views uttered at Bradford on the eve of the General Election, by the utterance of which he had secured seats there and throughout the country. He would have thought that the pitifulness of the problem would have saved it from being made the butt of Lord Salisbury's habitual cynicisn. The late Prime Minister also dealt with the question. In his speech at the Albert Hall, London, on July 5th, Lord Rosebery said:—The question of the enemployed is clamant in London, in Glasgow, and in all the great towns of tile United Kingdom; and we did not scruple to interrupt the business of Parliament to appoint a committee to inquire into it.And then Lord Rosebery proceeded to say:—We should not have hesitated, had we remained in office, to have interrupted the business of the House of Commons again to ask the House of Commons to consider the recommendations of that Committee.He had quoted two Prime Ministers, both of whom had recognised, not only the importance, but the urgency of this question. He would now refer to the Committee on the Unemployed, which made an interim report expressly in order that immediate action might be taken. Their Report stated:—''These particular points may affect the condition of matters, if next winter presents a renewal of the distress which prevailed this year, and on which the Committee have, therefore, felt it right to make recommendations which may be of immediate use.The first recommendation of the Committee was concerned with the present state of the law, the injustice of which was strongly impressed upon everybody last winter. At present, the receipt of the slightest public aid in the most exceptional circumstances disfranchised the recipient, even though he gave labour in exchange for the aid. From a return presented to the House, it appeared that during January and February in the present year, in certain selected unions, 14,832 men worked on a labour test, and were thereby rendered incapable of voting for 12 months. An utterly untenable distinction was made between the man who was forced by exceptional distress to have recourse to public relief, 346 and the holder of a political pension, who might not only vote, but might sit in the House of Commons.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
said that, if he were permitted, he would show, by reference to the Report of the Committee, that this question of the Franchise was very pertinent to the Amendment.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON rose to a point of Order. He said that, at the sittings of the Committee, the question of the Franchise was only brought up at the last moment, and was never really thrashed out.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL,
continuing, said that this was not merely a political question; it had a close connection with the question of relief. That was the point of view from which the first recommendation of the Committee was made. The Report said:—It is represented to your Committee that this (disfranchising) provision frequently prevents deserving men, who have been, through no fault of their own, temporarily thrown out of work, from seeking any relief, thus inflicting a great hardship upon them… In cases of exceptional distress, your Committee do not see why it should be difficult to discriminate between deserving men forced to claim aid, and the ordinary claimant for parish relief. Your Committee recommend that you would be wise to except the former class from disability in respect of the Franchise, local or Parliamentary.The second recommendation of the Committee was this:—Your Committee desire to point out that there exist statutory powers under which Boards of Guardians may set poor persons to work for wages; but that such powers cannot be used until rules are made, by the Local Government Board. Your committee think that the Local Government Board should consider the applications for such powers, and make rules for the use of Guardians in relation thereto.When this question was last before the House, strong opinions were expressed on both sides of the House in favour of allowing Boards of Guardians a certain latitude in order to make social experiments. The present Vice President of the Council spoke very strongly and admirably in that sense; but the Local Government Board had no sympathy with these experiments. It threw every obstacle in the way of Boards 347 of Guardians wishing to try such experiments; and if these Boards were pertinacious, the Local Government Board finally vetoed their schemes. In the Appendix to the Report would be found a statement forwarded to the Committee by the Guardians of Milden-hall. The Guardians hired a piece of land to be cultivated by spade husbandry, and men were employed. The Local Government Board declined to sanction the arrangement because they said the Guardians had exceeded their power. Again, the Poplar Board of Guardians had been energetic in devising schemes for the relief of the unemployed. They worked out in detail a plan for the establishment of a farm colony for the unemployed which was submitted for approval to the Local Government Board. But the scheme was vetoed, because it was said that it did not satisfy the words of the Act, which required that the land should be near to the Unions. They also said that the land proposed to be hired was in excess of the statutory maximum. In fact the Local Government Board was unsympathetic in its attitude, and it was necessary that the House should take action to bring pressure to bear on the Department. The third recommendation applied exclusively to London. It embodied the proposals which, early in the year, he submitted to the last Parliament. The scheme provided for the central direction of works to be carried out by the Vestry instead of by the Guardians, and it provided for the expense being largely defrayed out of funds levied equally on the whole of the Metropolis. Though those recommendations did not solve the unemployed problem they tended to mitigate distress, and it was only fair to suppose that when Lord Salisbury used at Bradford the language he had quoted, he meant something. Now that he had come into power with an overwhelming majority at his back, the Prime Minister was bound to do some thing at once.
§ MR. T. LOUGH
seconded the amendment. Owing to the efforts of the Committee appointed to consider the question of distress arising from want of employment, reports had been received from 1,514 different localities throughout Great Britain. These had a population of 26½ millions. From 920 districts with a population of 10 millions, the Committee received answers saying that 348 there was no exceptional distress last winter. He rejoiced in that as much as any hon. Member opposite, but from 475 districts, with a population of no less than 12 millions, the Committee received a report that very severe distress arising from the bad weather had prevailed. From 178 different localities with a population of 4¼ millions, the reports were that there was very considerable distress, not only owing to the severe weather, but also owing to bad trade. He said that, with facts of this kind before the House, it was impossible for any man to say that the subject was not worth the attention of the Government. There was no Member there who represented a London constituency who did not constantly hear of the suffering of men whom they knew from want of employment. He might read an extract from a letter written by a man whom he knew and could trust. The letter was dated August 11th, and it stated that the writer—was dismissed from his employment on the 8th of April. He had tried his utmost to get work, but all in vain. His wife was an invalid, and two little girls were depending upon him. On Saturday night last he was threatened with ejectment because he was unable to pay three weeks' rent, whereas he had hardly money for bread. I do not ask for charity, it is work I want, and then we shall soon get on square again.Those on the other side of the House were just as familiar with such appeals as he was, and all must admit that they had got a very serious evil to deal with. Towards this evil they must adopt one of two attitudes. They could let it severely alone, or they could try to grapple with it. It is quite impossible at this hour of the day to let this difficulty of the unemployed alone. He need not refer to the remarks of the Prime Minister. Every just and right feeling man would realise that something ought to be done to make an honest effort to deal with it. If they adopted the second alternative and try to grapple with it, the question arose, in what spirit should they grapple with it? It was said it was impossible to grapple with it unless they went down to the roots of their social system. He did not take that exaggerated view. They need not exaggerate. The only danger that they could fall into was the danger of neglecting the evil altogether. After listening to all that was said in the last 349 Parliament, he had come to the conclusion that it was not necessary to put the unemployed at more than 1in 15 of the population. It was quits worth while for the other 14, for their own sake and for their own happiness, to put the thing on no higher ground, to try to do something to meet this difficulty. They were asked what was the cause of want of employment? The cause was not far to seek. A great number of trades had sprung up in the country. Some were prosperous and some were in decay, and thus workmen were thrown out of employment, owing to the fluctuations which took place. The great thing that they ought to do was, when difficulties arose, to afford temporary aid so as to help the sufferers over their suffering. How could that temporary aid be given? He did not advocate any gigantic cure, but while they could not do anything drastic, a great, a fearful responsibility rested on them if they did not try to mitigate these temporary difficulties. Recommendations had been made by the Committee. They were entirely of a non-Party character. There were three recommendations, and two of them could be carried out without any legislation whatever, and the other by a very small Act. The Committee recognised that the principle of using the present local authorities was at the bottom of the question, and their first suggestion was that the local authorities should have power to employ the poor for wages. They could not do that unless rules were issued by the Local Government Board enabling them to do so, and he now asked the President of the Local Government Board to issue the necessary rules before the hard weather came in again. He looked with the greatest interest on the visit paid by the right hon. Gentleman to the East End of London a short time since. It was a good and kindly thing for him to go into that poor locality, and he only wished that the Heads of Departments acted more frequently in that way. Encouraged by the sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman had already, and not for the first time, displayed, he asked him to promise to issue these rules as soon as possible. The second suggestion of the Committee was that connected with the Franchise. He would not go into that beyond saying that the object of that recommendation seemed to be 350 misunderstood on the other side of the House. The only object the Committee had in view was to be practical. The First Lord of the Treasury had said that there might be no opportunity of voting during the winter. There might not, but, unfortunately, some men took such an honest pride in the power to exercise the Franchise that they would not accept relief. That was the basis on which the Committee founded their recommendation. Some men, perhaps too sensitive, would rather endure the sorest trials, than part with their Franchise even for a little time. Therefore, why should not this practical difficulty be swept away. This matter had a remarkable history. It was the Parliament of Canada that suggested to the House of Commons, in 1879 or 1880, that this Rule of Parliament, depriving people who received relief of the Franchise, should be departed from in Ireland, and that hint was adopted in Ireland by both political parties, at all events, for a time. Since then, in 1885, the principle had been adopted in Great Britain, so far as medical relief was concerned. The First Lord of the Treasury said that this was a contentious matter, but if the right hon. Gentleman insisted on that, why should not the other two recommendation be carried out. The third recommendation was one which would be found useful in London, because it would allow Boards of Guardians to combine with sanitary authorities in giving relief when distress arises. In the boroughs the Elections were fought more than anything else on this question of the unemployed. In Chelsea a placard was extensively posted which said, "if you want plenty of work, good wages, and freedom of contract, vote for Whitmore to-day." [Ministerial cheers.] Such Bills were not local to Chelsea, and it was in accordance with the plan on which Elections were fought everywhere. Were hon. Members opposite trifling with starving men? He did not blame them for fighting the Election on this question; it was to their honour to do it if they could do something for the working men, but to come into power on this pledge and then to do nothing would be a most dishonourable thing. He would rather be a Member of a defeated minority which spoke truthfully and cautiously on this difficult matter—[Ministerial laughter]—than of a large majority, which made these pledges and took the 351 first opportunity of repudiating them. [Opposition cheers].
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, the tone of the close of the hon. Member's speech differed from that of the opening; and he would rather refer to the earlier portion of it than to the later. All Members wherever they sat would agree with him, when he said it was their duty to do all that lay in their power to lighten and soften the lot of those who were suffering distress from want of employment. It was not only their duty, but it was one they would be anxious to perform; and, as far as the Government were concerned, there was no duty they would more earnestly seek to discharge. He could not congratulate the Mover of the Amendment upon the happy selection of the topics with which he commenced his remarks. He asked whether the Government were going to fulfil the promises they made, and would exclude at once, peremptorily if need be, the importation of prison-made brushes. When his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sheffield moved a Resolution on the subject the late Government refused to accept it, and tried to count out the House upon it. Beaten in both these attempts, they accepted it without daring to go to a Division. There they left it, and attempted nothing. Now that the hon. Gentleman challenged him, he had not the slightest objection to tell him what the Government had done already. The President of the Board of Trade had been in communication with the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who had communicated with foreign Governments, pressing upon them the views of the English Government, and doing everything that could legitimately be done to arrive at a common understanding on the point.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that if the hon. Member would give the President of the Board of Trade notice of the question it would be answered. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment was not much more happy in the terms of his Amendment than in his speech. The Amendment was not only unreasonable but inaccurate. The statement of the First Lord of the Treasury with regard to the unemployed ought to have shown the 352 hon. Member that his Amendment was inaccurate. He had stated that he was prepared to take steps to reappoint the Committee sitting on the question, whose labours and inquiries by their own avowal were absolutely incomplete. At the request of his right hon. Friend he had asked the Chairman of the Committee, a distinguished Member of the late Administration, whether any good purpose would be served by the immediate reappointment of the Committee, and whether he was willing to be again Chairman. The Government felt that they had already taken steps in this matter, and that they had given, pledges to deal with the subject, and yet the hon. Member opposite had placed upon the Paper an Amendment which indicated that the Government had not taken any steps whatever in the matter. The Government, on the contrary, had already; done all they possibly could towards dealing with the question. The Amendment was nothing more nor less than a Vote of Censure upon the Government. The Government had been in power barely for a month, and had only had a few days in which to consider the numerous very important questions which had been suddenly brought before them, and to master the details of the various Departments, and it was scarcely fair to call upon them at the present moment to announce their policy upon all these various questions at a moment's notice. It was quite true that the question of the unemployed was one of the most grave character, and demanded the most careful deliberation on the part of the Government before submitting proposals for dealing with it to Parliament. It was a question which appealed most deeply to the sympathy and to the warmest sentiments of hon. Members, because nothing could be more deplorable than the suffering caused to men, women, and children by want of employment, which was brought about over and over again through no fault of their own. If the hon. Gentleman thought that Her Majesty's Government were insensible to that suffering he did them a bitter wrong. [Cheers.] He himself recognised that there could be no higher aim to which Statesmanship could be devoted than to bring about if possible some material change which might diminish that suffering. ["Hear, hear!"] For 353 his own part he was ready to welcome any proposals for giving relief to these unfortunate and unhappy people if they could be carried out legitimately. The hon. Member had put a question with regard to the recommendations of the Committee which had recently been silting. There were three main recommendations of the Committee, but there was among them only one that did not require legislation to give it effect, and therefore that was the only one with which he need trouble himself at the present moment. That was a proposal which would have the effect of enabling Guardians to give relief in the form of employment for wages, and it was stated that this was impossible until regulations on the subject had been made by the Local Government Board. That statement, he believed, and he was advised, was not altogether accurate. It was not necessary that those regulations should be made beforehand. The powers which the Local Government Board had and would have to exercise were limiting and controlling powers, and were not empowering. The effect of these Acts, which had been obsolete for 50 years, might have been put into operation without the consent of the Local Government Board, although, no doubt, some controlling regulations in a particular case would have to be passed afterwards. He was, however, bound to add that this opened up a question of the gravest character. It would be an entire and complete departure from the principles by which the Poor Law and its principles had been guided for at least 50 years—[Radical cheers]; and so serious was this considered by the predecessors of the present Government that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolver-hampton (Sir H. Fowler), the late Secretary for India and, previously, President of the Local Government Board, stated that the question whether so grave a change in the policy of the Poor Law was desirable, and, if so, whether it should be made without legislative authority, were matters on which he could not express an opinion without the sanction of his colleagues. If that was the opinion of a gentleman who had enjoyed the advantage of being in the Government for some years, he thought he had not been treated fairly in being called upon to express an opinion after being a Member of the Government for 354 only one month. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the scheme which had been submitted to the Local Government Board and vetoed by them, that was a proposal by the Poplar Union to purchase 280 acres of land at a village in Essex, and it was vetoed by the Local Government Board, because they would have been exceeding their powers and going beyond the law if they had given their consent to the proposal. In order to show that the Government was not unreasonable, and desired to help those who needed relief, he would like to point out what was the kind of proposal that was made, and to ask the hon. Member if he thought it an altogether reasonable one. It was a proposal to purchase some 280 acres of land, the value of which was less than £11 an acre; from the best information he could obtain, to farm this land regardless of all expense would have entailed the labour of seven men and two boys. The guardians proposed to erect a building, the cost of which would have been £14,000, for 100 single men and 50 married couples. How these people would have been employed on the land he had never been able accurately to ascertain. Objections were raised to this proposal by the trustees of the Poplar parish and on behalf of the village and the neighbourhood where it was proposed to carry out this scheme. He should be perfectly ready to consider; any reasonable scheme, but he would; not have been unreasonable, even if it had been within his legal powers—which it was not—in rejecting such a scheme as this. Before it was possible to issue the regulations recommended by the Committee, they must know, he thought, the cases with which they had to deal. Those regulations would have to be made in each case as the scheme was proposed, and he could assure the Seconder of the Amendment that whenever a scheme of that description was placed before him it should have the most unbiassed and careful consideration on his part. With regard to removing the stigma of disfranchisement, as his right hon. Friend had already pointed out, that was not a question which they need consider on that occasion. It required legislation in the first place, and no cases, he understood, could arise before Parliament met again which legislation would in any way affect. 355 With reference to the quotation made by the Mover of the Amendment, from Lord Salisbury's speech at Bradford, which the hon. Member claimed was strongly in support of the views he advocated, he thought the hon. Member had misled himself and others by quoting one or two paragraphs entirely without the context. ["Hear, hear!"] What Lord Salisbury was doing on that occasion was to contrast the policy which he favoured himself with that which Her Majesty's Government were then pursuing. His words were:—If you perpetually deal in large organic questions which cannot be settled; if you perpetually raise controversies by which class is Set against class and creed against creed, all those things on which the daily life and welfare and happiness of the people depend, must be neglected and fall into the background.["Hear, hear!"] Having made that statement, Lord Salisbury went on to reinforce his argument by the words which the hon. Member had quoted. That speech was absolutely consistent with the attitude which the Government had assumed in the country, and with the attitude which they were holding towards the House of Commons that night. ["Hear, hear!"] In conclusion, he would promise the hon. Member who had seconded the Amendment—for whose kind references to himself he was very grateful—that any scheme that held out the smallest possibility of giving relief to the unemployed from the distress from which unhappily so many of them were suffering at present, would receive at all times his warmest and most sympathetic consideration, and if by any means it should be possible for him during his tenure of office to do anything in the way of real material help of their interests and requirements, no one would be more pleased or more thankful than himself. [Cheers.]
§ CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.) moved the Adjournment of the Debate, saying that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman had raised many themes admitting of controversy, and that it was now late to discuss them adequately.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said that he did not think the Motion should be put. The House had passed a Resolution suspending the Twelve o'clock Rule, and he thought it would be an abuse to the Rules of the House if at that hour he were to accept 356 a Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate. ["Hear, hear"!]
§ MR. KEARLEY
reminded the Leader of the House that he had said that the power of prolonging the Debate beyond Twelve o'clock, would not be unduly taken advantage of.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said that he was very unwilling to prolong the sitting unduly, but if the Debate were not disposed of that night, Supply could not be set up for to-morrow, and there would consequently be a serious loss of time.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said hon. Members on both sides of the House would recognise the spirit of the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman would doubtless acknowledge that the subject which had been brought before the House under the present Amendment was one of the most important questions that could possibly occupy the attention of Parliament at the present time. He would also admit, no doubt, that if there was one question which, more than another, occupied the attention of the constituencies, it was certainly that of the unemployed.
§ MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton) rose to a point of order. Was there any question before the House?
§ MR. DALZIEL
thought his hon. Friend, with his Parliamentary experience, ought to have known what was the question before the House. He desired to ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury whether he recognised that, apart from the present Amendment, there was another Amendment on the Paper dealing with the question of Chitral, which was an important matter and would raise a question of great Imperial importance, and which would—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he would point out to the hon. Gentleman that there would be legitimate opportunities for discussing the question then before the House, and the question of Chitral, during the latest stage of the Session.
§ MR. DALZIEL
thought they all knew what kind of discussion would be 357 possible, on the last day of the Session, on the Indian Budget. But, apart from that, he thought the Government would best consult the feeling of the House, and best show their interest in the unemployed, by consenting to the suggestion that had been made.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 7 9, Noes 211.—(Division List No. 9.)