§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Lieut.-Colonel COURTHOPE
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day three months."
In moving the rejection of this Bill, I am not actuated by any hostility to or of the Government in introducing the Bill, but I have serious quarrel with the form of the attempt which they have made to translate their laudable motive into Statute Law. We all agree that the desire to increase production and to reestablish, -if possible, a rural population, is a laudable one. In my humble opinion, however, this Bill will be an obstacle rather than an assistance to the furtherance of those laudable aims. I think that, were it not for the skill and tact displayed by my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary during the Committee and Report stages, un the Government would find a much greater opposition to the Bill than is likely to reveal itself during the Debate on the Third Reading. I think they owe it to him that the Bill is not likely to meet with the weight of opposition which, in my humble opinion, it deserves. I should like, if I may, to compliment my right hon. Friend upon the unfailing courtesy and good temper which he has displayed to us who are usually his colleagues, during the Debates which have taken place, and must have been somewhat trying to him.
I am sure that what is really required for agriculture, in order to remove unrest and doubt and to maintain food production at the highest level that can be expected, is confidence. You want confidence if the owner is to invest the capital that is required for the equipment of his land: you want confidence if the occupier, whether he be owner or tenant, is to throw the whole of his energy and resources into the cultivation of his farm; 694 and you want confidence if the correct friendly relationship is to be maintained either between master and man. This Bill, I believe, will tend to produce doubt and uncertainty rather than the contrary. It proposes to maintain in peace time the war policy of interference. It proposes to introduce, under certain circumstances, a third party between the contracting parties—between the owner and the tenant in matters of tenancy, and in certain other circumstances between master and man in the carrying out of their agreement. Further, it introduces fresh powers, and increases existing powers, for the expending of capital upon a man's estate against his will. It is true that these forms of interference may not be exercised very frequently. That point has quite properly been made over and over again by my right hon. Friend, and I admit it. But I would point out that, so far as I am aware, the sword of Damocles never fell, and yet it was quite sufficient to destroy the appetite of the unfortunate man who sat beneath it. That, I think, is the case with agriculture. If this Bill is passed in anything like its present form it will be a sword of Damocles—a fear of interference coming Heaven knows when or where—hanging over the whole agricultural community. It will tend to poison the relationship between a landowner and his tenants, and possibly to some extent also between employer and employed, although the latter is a small point compared with the former. I believe, therefore, that the Bill in this respect will do more harm than good.
It has been claimed on behalf of the Bill, and I have no doubt it will be claimed again to-day, that it has the general support of the farmers of the country. We were told a day or two ago that unanimous resolutions had been passed, first by the Committee of the National Farmers' Union, and secondly, on the following day, by the Council of the Union, in favour of the Bill. I want to point out, however, that the resolution in support of the Bill contains a most important proviso, and my information is that, unless that proviso is made effective, the opinion of those who passed the resolution will be very materially altered. The proviso is this:Provided the suggested new Clauses relating to tied cottages and repairs to service 695 cottages are modified, in the first place so that good husbandry is not prejudiced, and in the second place so that the liabilities of owners under tenancy agreements shall not be transferred to the tenants (namely, the employers).The second point, I admit, has been to some extent met—perhaps entirely—but the first point is not, in my opinion, met at all. On the question of the support which the farmers of this country are giving to this Bill, I should like to read a resolution which, probably, many hon. Members have received this morning. So far as I know, and I have made some inquiry, it is the only resolution which has been passed in the short space of time which has elapsed since the Report stage of the Bill was completed. It was passed unanimously by the Halstead branch of the Essex County Farmers' Union, and it is to this effect:That in the opinion of the farmers of the Halstead district the Agriculture Bill now before Parliament, if made law, will be detrimental to agriculture, and will not tend to the greater production of food, but will add to further taxation. What is required is decontrol and a free market.I do not pretend for a moment that this body is a very important section of the farmers of the country; I have no information on that subject; but I do know that at many of the agricultural gatherings which I myself have met during the last few months I have found a marked hostility to this Bill among those farmers who have studied it. It is true—I want to admit the other side of the case—that there is a very general feeling in favour of the Bill among those farmers who have not studied it; but I do not attach much importance to that. In moving the rejection of this Bill I do not pretend to voice the views of any body of opinion. I am speaking for myself, and I do not like opposing a big measure introduced by the Government which I support. I have, however, had some small experience in agricultural matters, as owner, as estate manager and as farmer. I do not wish to suggest that I am an expert; I am not; but my experience, for what it is worth, leads me to the firm conclusion that this Bill will have a bad effect. That being my feeling, I consider it to be my duty to state my objections to the Bill and to move its rejection on the Third Reading. Let me briefly mention two or three of the grounds on which I have formed this conclusion.
696 First of all, let me take Part I of the Bill, which continues the Corn Production Act of 1917. I may briefly summarise the purpose of Part I by stating that it provides for the continuance of guaranteed minimum prices for wheat and oats, and for the continuance of control of cultivation. Let us look at the guarantees and see what they are worth. In my opinion they are largely illusory, and I will try and justify that statement. In the first place, the purpose of these guarantees, and of the control of cultivation which, it is said, automatically accompanies them, is to maintain an increased acreage under wheat and oats, and particularly, at the present time, I take it, under wheat. Everyone who has done any farming knows that, in order to increase, or even to maintain, the present acreage under wheat, you have to keep under wheat cultivation a great deal of land which is not first-class wheat land. First-class wheat land will produce wheat under almost any circumstances; it is the second-class land which the Government wish, and quite naturally, to maintain to some extent under wheat, in order to keep up the food production of the country. My experience is that, although the minimum prices provided in this Bill are ample to provide a handsome profit to the wheat grower on the good wheat land, they are not enough to induce the occupier of second-rate wheat land—which may be, and probably is, first-rate land for some other form of cultivation—to abandon the cultivation which he has considered in the past to be economically sound, and to devote that land to wheat. I do not believe that they are adequate for that purpose. The Government must remember that, in considering these matters, they have to take into account not only the well-equipped large farm, which is large enough to justify every sort of up-to-date machinery. They have to consider the small man too—the man whose farm will not by itself carry a tractor, but who has to plough and cultivate his land by horse traction. Only last week-end I had the pleasure and privilege of walking with my right hon. Friend over some high Weald land—land which, if ploughed by horses at all, always require three, and sometimes four, heavy horses for an old-fashioned foot plough, which is the type of plough best suited to that heavy land. Anyone with any experience of farming costs knows'—and I am only 697 taking as an example land of which I have personal knowledge; the same thing applies to many other parts of the country—that cultivation of wheat on such soils is very costly. I maintain that, although the large farmer, with his tractors, and so on, may manage to do it profitably under these guaranteed prices, the small man cannot, and to that extent the guarantees will inevitably fail in their object.
Another objection to the guarantees is that no one quite knows how they are to be calculated. If they are to be effective, they will be effective through the confidence which they inspire in a farmer's mind as to the future. If he cannot calculate from the standard to any particular year, then to that extent confidence is impossible, and there is bound to be a feeling of uncertainty and doubt. To come to larger matters respecting guarantees, they have not been operative in the past, and, personally, I have grave doubts whether they will be operative in the near future. Let us assume for a moment that prices fall and the guarantees come off. If the amount paid in guarantees is small, it has, of course, a value, but it is a small one. If, on the other hand, it is large, I do not believe that it will be paid at all, whatever may be the intention of the Government. Let us consider what justification I have for saying that. During 1918 the acreage of the United Kingdom under wheat was over 2,750,000 acres, and under oats over 5,500,000 acres. In 1919 it had fallen somewhat, but still the wheat acreage was 2,372,000, and that of oats 5,143,000—that is to say, a total approaching 8,000,000 acres under the two crops which these guaranteed minimum prices concern. Let us suppose that there is a bad slump. Some people are talking about a return of the corn prices to which we were accustomed in the bad days. Some people think that they may return, although I myself do not. Suppose, however, that there is a slump to that extent. Then the guarantee might easily amount to £6 or even £10 an acre over the whole of that acreage, that is to say, it might require from £50,000,000 to £80,000,000 a year. Does anyone suppose, in a country in which at least seven-eighths of the population are urban rather than rural, that the taxpayers will tolerate taxation 698 to that extent in order to pay these guarantees? I do not believe it for a moment. I am certain that, if there were a bad slump in prices, these guarantees would not help the farmer at all, because the Government, whatever Government it might be, and however anxious it might be to act up to its obligations, would be forced to repeal this part of the Act. That is my principal reason for thinking that the guarantees are largely illusory.
Even supposing, however, that they have a value for the purpose of promoting confidence among farmers, what is the price that the farmer has to pay for that benefit? He has to submit to the continuation of what is called control of cultivation, which, from his point of view, means continuous and unknown liability to interference. As I have said, such interference may not take place very frequently, but he does not know that; he is always under the liability and the fear. I maintain that the statutory interference which was accepted during the emergency of War is absolutely intolerable as a permanent institution during peace. I do not believe that the farmers of the country who are asking for guaranteed prices, security of tenure, and so on, appreciate in the least what they have to submit to on the other hand in return for these doubtful benefits. Let me give a very common instance to show the kind of doubt that will exist in a farmer's mind. During the War, under the Cultivation Orders, a considerable acreage of fine old pasture of fatting value—everyone knows what I mean by that—was ploughed up and maintained for some two or three years as arable. Every farmer knows that, economically, the sound thing is to put that back under permanent pasture, and a great many are doing it. But let me ask, if a farmer realises that at any time he may be liable to be called upon to put that land back under the plough, is he going to the great expense and trouble of laying that land down properly? It is a very expensive and tedious matter to lay down land to permanent grass properly. It has to be cleaned; you must have the very finest seeds for the purpose or you will not get your result; and the outlay is only justified if you are going to get a return from that permanent pasture over a considerable period of years. The continu- 699 ance of the control of cultivation will make it exceedingly difficult for any farmer to lay down land to permanent pasture in the best way with any confidence that he will be able to keep it as grass. A great many of them, consequently, will skimp their expenditure, and the result will be grass which will not fat stock instead of grass that will.
There is another matter to which I should like to call my right hon. Friend's attention. In his very well meant effort to meet my friends and myself to some extent during the Report stage, he inserted a proviso to the effect that, although a farmer may be required to put land under arable cultivation, he will not have to submit to dictation as to what crop is grown. From the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman's own purpose, I must ask him to consider whether he might not just as well do away with the control of cultivation altogether. What it amounts to is that he will say to me, "You may not have your land under permanent pasture, but you may keep it under rotation grasses." I am to be put under no obligation to grow wheat or oats, but simply to keep the land under the plough. On many soils it will be much more profitable to the farmer at present prices to maintain a succession of rotation grasses and catch crops than to grow wheat or oats. Unless that is altered, the Clause might just as well come out altogether. It all really comes down to this, that you cannot permanently get away from economic considerations. Wheat will only be grown if it pays to grow wheat as well as it pays to grow other crops, or to have the land under grass and carry a larger head of stock.
There are many things which the Government are doing, or can do, which will encourage wheat production far more than any of the provisions of this Bill. For instance, there is the promotion of agricultural education and research, and facilitating the supply at reasonable prices of such artificial fertilisers as basic slag, kainit and muriate of potash. I should like to see large quantities of muriate of potash coming over from Germany under the Peace Treaty—perhaps we shall. Another matter in which the Government are already giving encouragement and which I think will do far more for wheat production than the 700 whole of this Bill put together, is the introduction of the sugar beet industry. Although the sugar beet industry appears, on the face of it, to be mainly a sugar consideration, yet the sugar is quite secondary in importance. It will be found, as it has been found in other countries, that you introduce a profitable cleaning crop into your rotation, and its principal effect, from the national point of view, is that it cheapens the price at which corn crops can be produced, because, as everyone knows, the farmer, in calculating the cost of his corn crop, cannot take the corn crop by itself, but has to allow for the loss which he usually sustains in cleaning his land in the rotation. In these three or four matters the Government are moving in the right direction, and can move still further; and I would humbly suggest to them that they should stick to those methods, rather than attempt to push wheat production along by such methods as those proposed in this Bill.
Let me now turn to Part II. of the Bill, which is the part amending and dealing generally with the Agricultural Holdings Act. The first Clause of Part II., namely, Clause 8—better known as Clause 7, as it was in the Bill until the Report stag? was completed—provides for compensation for disturbance. I am not going to say a word against the proposal to impose a tremendous fine on the landlord in the case of capricious disturbance, although four years gross rent is a tremendous penalty. Perhaps the House does not realise what an enormous difference there is between gross rent and net rent in the case of agricultural land. On the average, a year's gross rent is equivalent to something like four years' net rent. It is very seldom less than three years, and on some estates net rent is almost non-existent. I only mention that to show what a heavy penalty four years' gross rent is. I do not, however, object to that, but I do object most strongly to the proposal to give compensation to the extent of one year's gross rent in the case of disturbance which is not capricious, but is justifiable for good reasons. We all know and deplore the hardship which has fallen on many tenant farmers owing to the sale or break-up of estates. But the fact that a number of farmers have suffered hardship is no justification for imposing a hardship upon every owner of rural land, who has done nothing 701 to deserve it. Not only has he done nothing to deserve it, but he belongs to a class which above all others has been hard hit by the economic conditions which have arisen owing to the War. It may be said that this Bill will not affect most landlords, that most landlords do not want to disturb their tenants; but I am informed that eminent tenant right valuers estimate that the right of the tenant to this one year's gross rent as compensation in the case of disturbance transfers, or will transfer if it comes into force, 7 per cent, of the capital value of the farm from the landlord to the tenant. It means the transfer of capital value from the one to the other whether it is exercised or not. That is the view of the tenant right valuers, who are the best qualified to judge in these cases.
It is obviously bad for the landlord, and I ask whether it is good for the tenant. If this provision makes so much addition to the tenant right interests in the farm, is it not going to be a great hardship to the incoming tenant? I admit that you are conferring an advantage upon those who are tenants at the moment, but is that all you desire to do? Do you not want to help the farmer of the future as well as the farmer of the present? I submit that it will make it very hard for the incoming" tenant. I think it may do a greater injury than that to the tenants of the future, because I am afraid that if this Bill reaches the Statute Book it will create such a feeling of doubt and uncertainty in the minds of rural landowners that they will hesitate very much before they create new tenancies; that they will wait till each farm comes back into their own hands, and then, if they possibly can, they will either take it into their own occupation and farm it themselves, or they will sell it with vacant possession rather than run the risks to which a new tenancy will expose them. I am afraid that this may become very general, and that far from being assisted in his agricultural operations, and his position, by this Bill, the tenant farmer may find that he is being gradually brought to an end by the very measure which is designed to help him.
There is another point which makes for doubt and insecurity, not so much on the part of the landlord as on the part of the tenant, and that is that, quite naturally, the tenant is told that if he gets security of tenure in his farm he must give security of tenure to his labourers in their cottages.
702 I do not think it is practicable, hedge it round with provisos and safeguards as you will, to carry on a farm under the condition that you have to go to the District Wages Board to get permission to turn out an unsatisfactory servant. That is what it means. You may be compelled on a big sheep farm, for instance, to retain a shepherd who is causing you great loss, provided it is short of actual misconduct, through lack of efficiency or some other cause, and yet you cannot, without the permission of the District Wages Board, get rid of him. Farming under these conditions is going to be intolerable, and I hope the House will realise how serious this matter is, and will give me some support in opposing the Bill. The Bill extends the right to carry out capital improvements against the landlord's wish. It is true, again that an attempt has been made to provide safeguards, but I do not think the safeguards will suffice to remove the element of doubt which Clause 13 must introduce into the mind of every owner of land. Roughly speaking the provision is this: If a tenant thinks that the addition of buildings or works will be an improvement to his farm and his landlord does not think so, or has not money to carry them out, the tenant may, by getting the assent of the Agricultural Committee, carry the works out himself and on leaving he will have a right to claim against his landlord the value of those buildings or works to the incoming tenant.
That sounds all right, but let me examine it a little more closely in the light of what is actually happening to-day. At the present time hops are paying very well in some districts, and I know of several cases of occupiers of dairy farms and other farms of that nature who are not doing particularly well with their dairying who have applied to have hop kilns put up in order to turn their holdings into hop-producing holdings. The land may or may not be suitable for hops. In most cases it is not; but it is very difficult for anyone, however skilled, coming from outside to tell whether the land is suitable for hop cultivation. It has only been found out by experience of generations. One field will grow good hops, another field will not, and yet there is nothing apparent in their aspect, their soil or anything else to account for it. Yet one knows it by long experience. In these circumstances, and the present position of the hop trade, it is quite conceiv- 703 able that an agricultural committee might think that the growing of hops would be an improvement on the farm. They may say that hops are grown successfully on farms next door, north, south, east and west, perhaps, and great expense may take place in the building of cast houses, etc. It is a particularly costly equipment. The probability is that our forbears have been right in thinking that that particular farm was not best suited for hops, and the tenant, when he has put up the buildings, and probably crippled himself in doing so, will find that the farm is not suited for hop cultivation. When he leaves, although the buildings will be of no real value to the tenant of the future, do you imagine that any valuer would write them off as nothing at all? Of course not. They might not put the full cost value upon them, but they would put something substantial, and the landlord might easily find himself called upon to make a payment to his outgoing tenant of thousands of pounds which he could not recover either in the shape of capital or in the shape of interest from the future tenant. Every landlord will realise this, and will feel that it is a sword of Damocles hanging over his head, and it will create great lack of confidence and great hesitation in creating a new tenancy if by chance he gets a farm back into his own hands.
There are, of course, bad landlords and bad tenants, but I am confident that the bad landlord and the bad tenant is the exception rather than the rule, and it would be a deplorable mistake, as this Bill proposes to do, to provoke unrest among all alike, in order to coerce or control the few who are bad. It would be infinitely better to put up with the few bad landlords and the few bad tenants rather than to unsettle the whole industry. What the industry wants far more than a measure of this kind is freedom from control, freedom of contract and a free market. If you tore up this Bill, and washed out the rest of war control so far as it affects the agricultural industry, I believe you would be doing a far greater service to the farmer than you will by any measure of this kind. It is because I feel these things deeply, and am convinced that this Bill will do far more harm than good, that I move that 704 it be read a Third time upon this day three months.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to second the Amendment, and in doing so I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend upon the extremely businesslike and practical speech which he has delivered. It is a speech notable for the moderation of its tone, for the calmness of its language, and for the common sense which pervaded it from the moment he rose until the moment he sat down. I regret very much that there were not more Members in the House to hear it. I should also like to confirm what my hon. Friend said as to the way in which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen) has conducted the proceedings during the Report stage. I was not on the Committee, but I have been present throughout the whole of the Report stage, and I can testify to the courtesy, the good sense, and the ability which my right hon. Friend has shown. It is all the more marked because, although it is not a difficult thing to conduct a good Bill through the House, to conduct a bad Bill through the House requires great tact, great moderation, and a very considerable knowledge of the House, and ability. I object to this Bill on several grounds. First, I object to it on the ground that it breaks existing contracts. During the Report stage I observed that, if we are to remain a successful business nation, it is absolutely necessary, in my opinion, that the sanctity of contracts should be maintained, and a right hon. Friend of mine sitting near me observed that I thought I was living in the Victorian age. If he meant the precepts which were observed in the Victorian age, and which led to the great prosperity of this country—except perhaps during the Elizabethan age this country never experienced such prosperity or such freedom as during the Victorian age—I believe that now, under the circumstances of great difficulty with which this country is confronted, we ought to observe those tenets and those principles which conduced to the prosperity of the Victorian age. Having been for many years engaged in business in the City of London, I think I may claim to have some knowledge of what does and what does not make a prosperous business, and I venture to say, and I do not believe that it will be contradicted by any single individual who 705 has ever been engaged in trade or commerce, that unless you have security of contracts you cannot carry on successfully, and that must apply as much to farming as to any other business, if not more so. Farming is a very difficult and an exceptional business—it depends to a great extent on the weather—and unless people are certain when they enter into arrangements that these will be sacred, there will be no likelihood of the future of farming being as successful, even, as it was in the bad times beginning somewhere about the 'eighties. That is one reason why I object to this Bill. If there are any hon. Members who will vote for this Bill with a light heart—there are so few Members present that one might almost imagine the bulk of Members are not in favour of the Bill and do not intend to put in an appearance—I would remind them that if you are going to interfere between two sound Englishmen, or Scotsmen, or Welshmen, who have entered into a bargain, and to alter that bargain to the benefit of one and the detriment of the other, you will not stop there. That interference will be carried into many other walks of life.
I object to the Bill, also, on the ground that it imposes a burden on the State. I have been a Protectionist ever since I began to study politics, or knew anything about political economy. I was the first London Member to go down to his constituents and tell them that he intended to support the policy of the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. I have not changed my views in the least, and I have always held that of all forms of Protection the worst is a subsidy. I do not think I need enlarge upon this, except to say that, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, Protection means the imposition of a duty upon a certain article to encourage employment in this country and provide a certain revenue for the State. A. subsidy acts quite to the contrary. Instead of bringing money to the State, it takes money out of the pockets of a large majority of the people of the country and puts it into the pockets of a small minority, who benefit at the expense of the majority. I do not think there can be any sound arguments in favour of this. It is very easy to talk about providing subsidies, but when the time arrives for payment, the question will then arise as to where the money is coming from. My hon. Friend has made 706 a calculation, and I am content to accept his figures. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I think he said that, in his opinion—and he is a man who is able to give an opinion upon these matters—the subsidy might easily lead to an annual charge of something like £50,000,000. That is a very large amount.
When I first came into this House the annual expenditure of the country was something like £92,000,000 or £93,000,000, and I perfectly well remember Mr. Gladstone, speaking at the Box, saying that if the annual expenditure ever amounted to anything like £100,000,000 it would be extremely disastrous for the country. Now, in addition to the enormous burdens which are being imposed upon the taxpayer at the present time, we have the prospect of another £50,000,000 or so to be paid. Where can it come from? I see opposite my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Lambert), who has taken up the question of the national finances, and I would like to ask him, if he speaks, if he can show where you can get the money without increasing a burden which is already too great. I read in the papers this morning that the Prime Minister proposes to spend £100,000,000 upon the unemployed. It would not be in order for me to discuss that here, but we remember the hopes that the Government would reduce expenditure by £200,000,000 or £300,000,000, and now we find there is a prospect of expenditure being increased by something like £150,000,000. I voted against the Second Reading of the Corn Production Act on two grounds; one was the expense of the subsidy, and the other was that I did not like the interference of the State with the business of the farmer, or, indeed, with any business at all. My third objection to this Bill is that the State will interfere with a very highly technical business, and a very highly speculative business. I do not wish to cast any aspersions upon officials or State Departments generally, but I do say that it is quite impossible for any official, I do not care who he is, not even if he were my right hon. Friend himself or myself, sitting in Whitehall to manage a business in a distant part of the country. For one thing, we should not have the ordinary incentive which makes men successful in business and which makes men work. The majority of people in every rank of life would far rather not work than work. There are a 707 few people naturally inclined to be actively disposed, and, personally, I think they have a happier life than the person, who sits quietly at home; but that is a matter of opinion. It is quite certain, however, that without the incentive of gain you cannot make a business successful, and there is no incentive to a Government Department to make an enterprise which they undertake successful, that is to say, they do not lose by it.
I also think the result of interference by the State will not increase the production of food. There are not a very large number of Members of the Government on the Front Bench at the present moment, but I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Eyres-Monsell) whom I see there if he can name a single instance in which a Government Department has taken over the control of any industry and has brought it out as a commercial success? I do not believe he can. That being the case, it is perfectly self-evident that the result of this State control will in no wise do what we all desire. Next, I would like to draw attention to one or two small things in the Bill. Like all Bills of the present Government, this Bill begins by creating officials or providing work for officials. Clause 3 states:For the purpose of this part of this Act there shall be three Commissioners, one of whom shall be appointed by the Minister, the Board of Agriculture for Scotland and the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland.5.0 P.M.
These Commissioners are to find out what is the proper price to be fixed for the subsidy on corn, if it is necessary to provide sums to meet the guarantee. Then the Clause goes on to say that there shall be paid to the Commissioners such remuneration as the Treasury may determine, and it is to be defrayed out of monies provided by Parliament. Then it says further, that the Commissioners may by order require the production of any books or papers, and may order people to attend before them. The people whom they order to attend before them are the farmers of this country. The man with a farm of 250 acres does not want to kick his heels about an office while the Commissioners, paid out of money provided by Parliament, ask him all sorts of questions. We begin this Bill by setting up Commissioners, and we go on to provide work 708 for Agricultural Committees. These Committees will have paid officers. I think I am right in saying that already there are a large number of paid officers. I forget exactly the sum, but I think the salaries vary from £800 to £1,000, and all are provided with motor cars, and all have a large number of officials and clerks. In addition to all this, it is provided, in Clause 4, that the Minister, after consultation with the Agricultural Committee (if any) for the area in which the land is situated, may order the occupier of the land to execute certain repairs, and if he does not do them—and in this case, it must be remembered, the repairs have got to be paid for at once—the Minister may do the repairs and order the tenant to pay for them at once, or the owner, if he is the occupying owner. In Subsection (15) of Clause 4 there is a provision giving power to require the maintenance and clearing of drains, embankments and ditches, and the maintenance and proper repair of farm roads, fences, stone walls, gates and hedges. I am not quite sure what the ordinary farmer will say to that. In my part of the country hedges and ditches are in a very bad state, and I am told that is the case everywhere. On two occasions I got the hedges cut at very considerable expense, with the understanding that they should be cut every year; but it has never been done. There was always some excuse, and during the last six years the reasonable excuse was that labour could not be got. Not being a Minister, I looked the other way, but under this Bill the Minister can order the cutting of the hedges, and if it is not done, he can send down unemployed who will demand the trade union rate of wages. I agree with the remark that farmers who have not read the Bill are perhaps in favour of it. While the very few of them who have read it are strongly against it. Very few people understand the Bill with its extraordinary amount of references to past legislation. I am not, I think, exceptionally stupid in understanding Acts of Parliament and I have not been always able to understand the various references in this Bill without reading them several times. There is then the ploughing up provision, which I regard as the most serious part of the Bill. It is all very well for people who have had no experience of the land to talk about ploughing 709 up. I believe that during the War a large number of people in urban districts thought that if you ploughed a field immediately something grew and that the operations were finished. The ploughing up is a very small part of the operations necessary to produce a crop of wheat or anything else. Under this Bill the Government will have power, after consultation with the local committees, to order a farmer to plough up land. An hon. Member said that does not amount to much because the Government will not have the power to say what crops are to be grown. I do not know how long it will be before we have an amending Bill giving power of that kind.
By ploughing you may lose fattening pasture which is very difficult to obtain and very valuable when obtained and which can only be restored at great expense. The farmer may thus lose under this Bill some very valuable old pasture which was his sheet anchor in the days gone by. The ploughing-up orders made the great mistake of compelling each farmer to plough a certain percentage whether suitable or not. There is a very large quantity of land far more valuable for grass than arable, and a certain amount more valuable as arable than grass. Are they going to recognise that? They may send a practical farmer down, but I venture to say there are few practical men who, by merely looking at a grass field, can say what is the actual value of that field. You have got to put stock on it and see how they do in order to find out. I know a field which an ordinary person would not think very much of, and yet it is a very good field and would keep stock fat when, apparently, it was quite bare. Nobody could learn that unless by months of experience. That shows the absurdity of leaving the matter to people from a distance who have not got the time to go into all these things. Who is going to bear the loss which may result? There is a provision that an arbitrator may be appointed to consider whether or not there has been any loss. Surely in these days when one gets up and does not know what is going to happen, and when every day is as black as it can be, why inflict more legal expenses and more arbitrators upon an unfortunate long-suffering race of people. We come to the provision in Sub-section (9) of Clause 4 by which the 710 Minister can enter on another man's property and put a receiver in to manage it. Has anybody in their sound senses ever heard of such a Clause? Why should you do so? We will next have the Government taking over the trade unions and putting in a receiver to manage them.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think they do their business better than the Government. Words almost fail me to think that I should be standing in the English House of Commons objecting to a Bill brought in by a Government in which there are a good many Conservative Members and which says that a man's property is to be taken over from him and managed by the Government, and he apparently has nothing to say to it. Why, I would really sooner have the Labour party there.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I come to the Clause which gives compensation for disturbance. There, again, that is a provision which simply takes out of the pocket of one man something, and proposes to put it into the pocket of another. We have been told that this is rather an illusory Clause. I am going to endeavour to show that it is not only illusory, but also an extremely bad Clause. I think it is going to benefit the tenant farmer who has made up his mind to retire from business. He may be getting old, or for some other reason he may not wish to continue farming, and he retires, and is to get some vague unknown sum representing the difference between what he would have received if he had sold his stock at a certain time and what he did receive when he sold them at another time. Who is going to arrive at that figure I do not know.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Sir A. Boscawen)
Not if he retired of his own freewill, but only if he receives notice to quit.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
If he has made up his mind to go he will not go of his own accord, but will make some excuse by which he can apply to the Agricultural Committee and make out that the greedy grasping landlord has done something wrong and then he will get compensation. But suppose that that is not so. Suppose he receives notice to quit and, as he is becoming an old man, does not care to take another farm, he will get the un known amount of money in addition to the benefit ho would have received under the Agricultural Holdings Act and the one, or possibly up to four, years' rent. But if he wants another farm he will simply have to pay that back to the out going tenant of another farm. The result will be that the only persons who will benefit are the persons going out of business. Then there is the Clause about rent. Every year a tenant can demand an alteration—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
He can frequently give notice to the landlord requiring the rent to be settled by arbitration. I do not know where you are going to get all these arbitrators unless this is a Bill passed in the hope of obtaining popularity and that nothing will result from it. Personally I think that a great deal of unpleasantness will result from it. This is exactly the way in which the land legislation in Ireland started. It began in 1870 with Gladstone's Bill for compensation for disturbance. It extended to fixity of tenure, and that had to be abandoned and the state had to find large sums of money to buy out the landlord and re-sell to the tenant. Unless we are very careful the same result will happen here. I cannot understand how, after the experience of the Irish legislation, any Government can introduce a Bill of this sort which creates dual ownership and may eventually lead to nationalisation. Personally, I would sooner have nationalisation though I do not believe in it as it would not be good for the country. But if the majority of the people think that the nationalisation of any industry is right, and if they compensate the owners properly, there is nothing to be said against it except that it will end in disaster. At any rate, it is fair. But this Bill is not. During the Report stage—I have not had time to look up the OFFICIAL REPORT, 712 but I think I am correct in saying it—in the majority of Divisions the Government never have had a larger support than from 150 to 160 Members. If the Government, on an important Bill of this sort, out of a membership of something like 640—I am leaving out the Sinn Feiners—can only get 150 to support them, it means that the great majority of the House do not approve of the Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is a very serious state of things. Nobody can deny the importance of the Measure. It makes a very great change in the biggest industry of this country. Therefore, if it is to be passed, it ought to be supported by, at any rate, the majority of the Members of this House. I have been told—I have not had time to verify it, but my source of information is a good one—that in the old days, and up to within a comparatively recent period, nothing could be done in this House unless half the Members of the House plus one were present in a Division. If that Rule had been applied now, this Bill would not be passed. It is a very good Rule and ought to apply generally, and certainly to important measures of this kind. I have endeavoured to follow the example of my hon. Friend, and give calmly and dispassionately the reasons which actuate mo in voting against the Third Reading of this Bill. I hope that hon. Members will follow our example and show that in their belief this is an ill-digested, ill-considered measure which is not wanted by the majority of the people, and which if passed will lead not only to disastrous consequences in the industry which it is supposed to benefit, but in all the industries of the country.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES (Cirencester)
I am particularly anxious on this occasion to say a word in praise at any rate of one of the Clauses of this Bill, if not of more. For the first time what is known as the Evesham custom is being legalised by the Statute Law of the country. I think that in years to come the consequences of that will be such that everybody will bless this occasion. I may give an actual case. I could give many more. I am not an owner of any land. I do not farm any land. Therefore I can speak absolutely 713 independently. But I do know the case of a schoolboy, the son of a poor widow whose husband died when the boy was nine years old. That boy went to school until he was thirteen. He then went to work on the land for a farmer. When he was about eighteen he said, "I should like to have half-a-day a week off for some time to come." The farmer said, "Why?" The boy said, "Because I have got a small allotment, and I want to plant it with grass "—as they call it in our part of the country: asparagus. The farmer said, "Yes. You can go, Fred." Fred went. Next year he said, "I would like to have a day a week off for a bit." This went on. A little later on he got two days off, and then three days, and at last he went right off. That allotment started with twenty perches, and to-day that man has got about twenty acres of the best market-garden land in the Evesham district, and he drives a pony and trap about, and is doing remarkably well.
You want the landlord to let a man have market garden ground without any question of being afraid of any rent or any question of compensation, because under the Evesham custom what happens is this. A man goes to a landowner and says, "Will you let me have that field "— it may be five acres—" I want to use it for market gardening to grow strawberries or rhubarb, or put up a bit of glass?" The landlord says, "Very well, you know the conditions. You may do what you like with the land as long as you pay the agreed rent, but I shall not be responsible for any compensation for what you do to the land." Suppose this young fellow emigrates or gives up the land. Ho simply gets another man to take it off his hands, paying him full compensation for all his time and the trouble and expense he has gone to. He goes to the landlord, who concerns himself only with finding out whether the new man is a solvent tenant or not, and if satisfied accepts him. That has led in my own division to many men becoming market gardeners. Under this Bill that custom is legalised for the first time, and if there were nothing else in the Bill I would support it for that reason. We have got a belt of land from Tewkesbury to Stratford-on-Avon, 30 miles long, which is being developed year by year in this way, and is bringing a 714 much larger population on the land, and this population is paid much better than ordinary men. That is a part of the country where you are setting ex-service men on the land to their great benefit. I should be extremely sorry to see that dropped out of the Bill.
On the more general aspect of the Bill the hon. Members have indulged in a great deal of destructive criticism, but have contributed no constructive criticism. We have in this country an increasing population for a circumscribed area. As the population grows we have to get food from somewhere. During the late War we found that it would not do to trust altogether to imports. Towards the end of 1917 we were nearly cut off.
That being so, the Prime Minister in his Caxton Hall speech on 22nd October, pointed out that this kind of thing could not be allowed. Then the question came, how was he to encourage the agriculturists of this country to grow more wheat? You cannot by any Act of Parliament alter the natural advantages or disadvantages of different parts of the country. I should be very averse from putting the decision whether land should be ploughed or not into the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture in London. I do not believe that any one man sitting in London can direct the agriculture of a whole county or the whole country. Under the Bill that is not done. The Bill provides that in every county there shall be an agricultural committee, consisting partly of members nominated by the Minister and partly of members elected by the county council. They are local men, most of them engaged in agriculture and living amongst those whose land they will have to survey. While it is true that you must go in for a great deal of corn growing, and that may be possible in the East of England, there are many parts in the West that are not at all suited for corn because of climate and soil. The Bill makes provision for that kind of difference and states that the local committee shall carry out the directions that the people on the spot think are best to bring the land into proper cultivation. I have not heard from any critic of the Bill any other way of doing this than the plan in the Bill.
None of us like these ploughing-up Orders. Farmers do not like them and landowners do not like them, but if you are to carry out the pledge of the Prime Minister that more corn is to be grown, 715 there must be some kind of control. Owing to the Amendments that have been accepted by the Government, the sting has very largely been taken out of the compulsory Orders for the ploughing of land. The question of guaranteed prices seems to me a most debatable proposition. I have my doubts as to whether, when the country has to pay millions to keep food prices up to such a pitch as will enable farmers to grow corn, the ordinary population of the country will stand it. I have doubt also as to the solidarity of labour. The agricultural labourer's wages, as we know, are the poorest and lowest in the Kingdom. The labourer has had reason for years past to be dissatisfied. I am secretary of a big benefit society with something like 16,000 members, nearly all of whom are engaged in agriculture. We have branches in 71 villages in East Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties, hence my knowledge of the conditions in agriculture.
Let me give a concrete case. It is that of a labourer with three sons. I could give the name, if necessary. The boys were all over 21 years of age, and they all lived at home. One day one of the boys said, "I have had pretty well enough of this. I shall go to Gloucester and get into the police force, if I can." He was engaged as a police recruit, and started at £3 10s. a week. He had been earning £2 2s. a week on the land. Ho has the prospect of a good pension after 28 years' approved service, and he is supplied with uniform. He went home and said to his brothers, "I have been to the chief constable, and have been taken on at £3 10s. a week. You are working for £2 2s. Father has been a labourer all his life. How long will he have to go on if he is to get a pension? In 28 years' time, at the age of 52, I shall have a pension on which I can live. My father will go on to 70, and ho will get 10s. a week." The next boy tried to follow the lead of his brother, but he found that the Chief Constable of Gloucester had enough men. He then went on to the railway and got £3 3s. a week straight away. The third boy also went into the town and was engaged as a mason's labourer at £4 6s. a week. When I hear people say that the agricultural labourer is dissatisfied, I am inclined to reply that, taking him all the way round, he is a jolly good sort 716 of fellow. Is it any wonder that when men have left the land with these results, other young fellows get dissatisfied and want to go to the towns to obtain the same kind of work?
There will be a certain population left upon the land. Their wages now are fixed by the Agricultural Wages Board, under two conditions. The first condition relates to the general cost of living; the second condition is as to whether the agricultural industry can afford certain wages. It is not a bit of good fixing wages if people cannot pay them, and if the wages are to be kept up it can be done only out of the profits of the industry. Is the worker in the unions outside the agricultural labourer's union prepared to pay a bit more for his meat and bread so that the agricultural labourer shall have a decent wage? That is a question I would put to hon. Members of the Labour party. Is the solidarity of labour such that, if the pinch comes, they are prepared to pay 10d. for the loaf that might be sold for 8d. under unlimited competition? If so, the problem is very largely solved. If they are not so prepared, the guarantee and the whole system fall to the ground. The agricultural labourer may be amongst the poorest of workers, but he is also amongst the most loyal and honest and the most grateful when properly treated. I myself have worked upon the land from the time when I was a boy of 8. I have been able to milk, thatch, plough, and shear sheep. Anyone who knows what a Welsh farmer's boy is knows well that he has not a primrose path to tread. That being so, my sympathies are with these men, and always will be, and also with the small farmer, for I know what he has to bear. That is the problem which the Prime Minister put to the country—more food must be produced and agricultural wages must be made more equitable. The population of the country is growing, and must have food, and if you do not produce it in this country you must get it from abroad; and if you get it from abroad, you must send the money for it, because you have not the manufactures to send. The less the importation of food from abroad, the better for the country generally at the present time. The supporters of the Amendment have not told us of any alternatives to the Bill.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
I remember when some of the best wheat in this country was sold in the Cirencester market at eight bushels for a sovereign, and wages were 12s. to 14s. a week. I hope those days are gone, and gone for ever. But it is not a bit of good talking unless we do something. If we will not do the things that the Bill provides for, I do not know how we are going to get over the various difficulties I have mentioned. You can never satisfy extremists on either side. The great body of middle opinion think the Government have done the best that could be done in the circumstances. Take the question of compensation payable for the giving up of farms. Does anyone in his sober senses think that when a man has to leave a farm he is compensated adequately by receiving one year's rent, when possibly that man will not find another farm for two years and has to live on his capital in the meantime? The criticisms of the opponents of the Bill are mutually destructive. They say that the Bill is not wanted because of the good landlords and good tenants, and that the tenants will never leave. If that be so, where is compensation going to hurt the landlord? In my part of the country we have big landowners and big farmers on the higher land, and small men in the vale. I have been told by some of the biggest landowners in the county that the custom on their estates has been to have generation after generation of the same family occupying their farms over periods of 150 or 200 years. How is this Bill going to hurt those people? It is said, "You may have to pay two, three, or four years' compensation." Hon. Members do not say that two, three, or four years' compensation is given only because of capricious eviction.
If a bad landlord decides to turn out a good tenant for something of which he does not approve—possibly he does not vote blue or yellow, or does not go to the same church or chapel—why should he not pay compensation? I myself have been in a village when acting as a Conservative agent, and the man in the street to whom I have talked has said to me, "For Heaven's sake, do not talk to me in the street, or life will be a burden to me for the next six months." Do not run away with the idea that all these hard things come from the landlord or the tenant. The Labour party is often 718 just as bad. The good landlord and the good tenant have nothing to fear from this Bill, and they say so. Nobody has attempted to prove that that is not true. Both the landlord and the tenant have the power to go to an arbitrator if they think things are not right. That is one great thing that many landlords have welcomed. They said in the past they had not disturbed their tenants because of the nice feeling that had existed between landlord and tenant, but they said the tenants could afford to pay more rent, and they could have, although none of them ever offered to pay any more. In the future, instead of giving a man notice to quit because you want his rent raised, the landlord and the tenant get together, and if they can mutually agree as to what the rent shall be, that settles it. What is there wrong about that? [An HON. MEMBER: "It happens now."] Yes, it happens now, and it will happen under this Bill, so there is no harm done there. We will say they do not agree. The landlord may say, "You are not offering enough," and the tenant may say, "You are asking too much." What happens then? You simply go to an arbitrator. You agree upon an arbitrator and that his decision shall be final. The landlord may say, "The man will not pay the rent when the arbitrator has fixed it." If that is the case, he will have to leave without compensation. Suppose the landlord says, "The rent fixed is not enough for me," he has either to accept the rent or pay the man out, and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
I have been brought up on the land, and have always lived with agriculturists all my life. I have never lived in a town, except the small town of less than 8,000 inhabitants where I am at the present time, and all my constituents, without exception, are engaged in agriculture. We have not a manufacture in the whole of the Cirencester and Tewkesbury Division, unless, perhaps, they manufactured some very bad beer during the War, and, that being so, my whole interests are bound up with agriculture. I should like to say a word in regard to the question of agricultural labourers' cottages, which has given rise to a good deal of misconception. Customs vary in different parts of the country, and you cannot generalise from one particular place, but to show that this Section will 719 not hurt us in Gloucestershire, let me point out that we have two classes of workmen on our farms. There is the ordinary day man, who is engaged purely and simply by the week, although many of them have been on the same farm for forty or fifty years, or all their life. He rents a house in the village or the hamlet independently of the farmer, and if he leaves the farmer's work, he is not bound to leave his cottage. He can work and live where he likes. This Act does not touch the day man at all.
The next man is what we call the hired man. In our part of the country, being, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City might say—a very Conservative and old-fashioned lot—although I doubt whether he would think what I am saying now is very Conservative—while you have altered the date of Michaelmas to the 29th September, we still stick to the old date of the 11th October, and our hired men are hired from the 11th October of one year to the 11th October of the next year, and the hired man is the carter, or the shepherd, or the cowman. He has as part of his perquisites a cottage, and as a rule a 20-perch plot of potato land: that is to say, wherever the field has been cultivated the farmer ploughs and manures it, and all the hired man has to do is to plant his potatoes and so on and look after it. That hired man has his wages, he has a little plot of potato land, and he has a cottage found him. When the 11th October expires, if he has been there a year, he is free to go, and the landlord is free to resume possession of the cottage, and the Act does not apply at all. Supposing, however, you have got a man there and you find that he is a most incompetent workman. If you find that out during the first six weeks of his engagement, you can turn him out without compensation, and I do not think much of the farmer who takes on a man as a carter, a shepherd, or a cowman who is incompetent; why does he not use ordinary prudence and find out from somebody else whether he is competent or not before he employs him? There, again, with regard to these cottages, therefore, there is an enormous amount of misconception. If between the six weeks and the end of the year that man is guilty of misconduct, he still has to go without compensation, while if he has to have compensation it is just one year's rent, and I have already been told 720 by farmers that they see nothing to fear in that.
I freely admit that there are certain things in the Bill which we do not like, but, taking the Bill as a whole, I say it is a fair attempt on the part of the Government to meet the peculiar circumstances of the case. We have got peculiar difficulties in agriculture, and I venture to say, whether you take the landlord's, or the farmer's, or the labourer's, or the market gardener's point of view, here is an honest attempt to improve the condition of all four of those classes without, as far as possible, injuring any of the rest, and, that being so, I cannot give a silent vote. I cannot support my hon. Friends who are going to vote against the Bill, but I must give a vote for the Bill. Before I sit down may I make one appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary? There are references in this Bill to the Corn Production Act, 1917, and to the Act of 1908. It would be of the greatest benefit to us in an agricultural district to have one Consolidation Act putting them all into one measure. If that were done, I believe it would be a wonderfully good thing and would help us very materially indeed in carrying out the provisions of these measures. May I say, in conclusion, that in common, I believe, with every hon. Member in this House, I feel that we have had in the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture a most sympathetic man in this particular matter, a man with a perfectly open mind, and perfectly willing to listen to any suggestions to strengthen his Bill and make it better; I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman has added a big feather to his hat by the way in which he has carried this Bill through, and we hope one of these days he will rise still higher and be the Minister instead of the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My hon. Friend who has just sat down has made a most excellent speech, and I do not wonder that in the Cirencester Division they have elected him as their Member, because it is very delightful to listen to him. The principal reason for bringing in this Bill was that it would increase the arable area of the country, but I have not heard in all the Debates that have taken place that the proposals of this Bill will in fact increase that arable area and bring a larger amount of corn land into cultivation.
721 One of the ostensible reasons for the Bill is that we are to grow more food in this country to prepare for the next war. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not want any more wars."] I quite agree with my hon. Friend, but surely it has been stated over and over again that this is a measure of security against a future enemy in the case of a submarine campaign. All I have to say is that the Government have the poorest possible opinion of the gentlemen who made the Treaty of Versailles if they have to prepare for a future war at so early a date. In agriculture we are in a transitional stage. It is no use talking of what the future will be in five years' time any more than people could say five years ago what the present was going to be. We have had a wave of speculation and an orgy of expenditure, but those things are coming to an end, and I say to-day that it is absolutely impossible to forecast the future of agriculture, and that is why I do not hail with delight the Government bringing in a permanent policy to deal with agriculture for the future. They have, however, made their decision, and this Bill is animated with the very best of intentions to everybody. It is going to give a bit to everybody, so far as I can understand it, but unfortunately there is one person whom the Bill has left out of account altogether, and that is the British taxpayer.
We have got into the war habit, the habit which was engendered by the War, that wherever there was a difficulty you must meet it by a grant of public money. You have had subsidies in the coal industry and the railway industry, and they have all had to be stopped. The experience of these subsidies really has shown us that they are based upon fallacies and false economy. The taxpayer and the ratepayer are being bled white, and cannot go on tolerating these great burdens. To my hon. Friends of the Labour party, I say that their class will feel it more than any other; they are coming up against a great industrial crisis in this country, which is brought about by profligate and improvident finance. I ask to-day, where is the Chancellor of the Exchequer when such a Bill as this is being discussed? We have never heard one single word from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about this Bill, yet, for all that, this Bill may throw a great liability on the British 722 taxpayer. There are three Commissioners to fix the price of wheat and of oats, and I want the House really to grip this fact, that, assuming on the Ministry of Agriculture's own figures that wheat and oats are sold for Is. per quarter less than the minimum price fixed by these three Commissioners, that will involve the taxpayer in something like £1,750,000 a year. It may easily go to 10s. a quarter below.
§ 6 0 P.M.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am always moderate. If it goes to 10s. below, that will be £17,500,000, and if it went to 20s. below, that would be £35,000,000, and it can easily do that. Here is the reckless way in which the Government deal with finance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has never said one word upon a measure which may involve the taxpayers in the payment of something like £35,000,000 in one year to the growers of wheat and oats in the country, and to me, trained in the old traditions of Mr. Gladstone and old financiers of that type—if you like Mr. Goschen or Sir Michael Hicks-Beach—I say men like that would never place such liabilities as these upon the taxpayers. When I notice in these Debates the representatives of the large towns coming here and voting for this Bill, well, I am a pretty old Parliamentary hand now, and I know what will happen if they have to meet any such liability as I have mentioned to be paid to growers of wheat and oats. Why, there will be such an outcry in this country that I do not know how that subsidy will be paid. I honestly do not. I do not think you can dishonour the debt, but you will have the most tremendous outcry against the agriculturists of the country, there is not a shadow of doubt. And when you are voting here so eagerly and readily for these subsidies, remember there is a day coming when they may come about. It is easy enough to give out I.O.U's. Suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer has even to find £10,000,000 in his Budget. Will not that derange the Budget? We seem to have got out of the habit of thrifty finance; in fact, I do not know where we have got? We have no regard for millions. In the old days £100,000 was thought a good deal, but to-day you spend millions 723 with the same ease that in the old days thousands were spent. This subsidy may have to be paid to growers of two products alone in the agricultural industry— the growers of wheat and the growers of oats. Therefore the whole industry cannot share at all in these doles or subsidies, or whatever they may be called.
There is to be paid a Is. a quarter for every quarter of oats that is grown at less than the minimum price fixed by the Commissioners. The Government cannot, of course, say how many bushels per acre are going to be grown, but if they reckon that forty bushels, or five quarters, to the acre are going to be grown as an average crop, that means that for every Is. per quarter, 5s. per acre will have to be paid if the price goes below the minimum price fixed by the three Commissioners. Take the figures issued by the Board of Agriculture. In Ireland last year, 1,442,000 acres of oats were grown. Now Is. a quarter below the minimum price will entitle the Irish farmers to be paid £375,000 a year. Ten shillings would entitle them to be paid £3,750,000 a year. We have been told that the control of cultivation is a corollary of these guarantees. Can you control the cultivation of the Irish farmer? You cannot keep law and order in Ireland, and what is the good of talking about controlling the cultivation of the Irish farmer? You are going to pay the Irish farmer this enormous subsidy if the minimum price of oats goes below the price fixed by these Commissioners. You may in England control the cultivation of the land, but you know full well you cannot control the cultivation of the land in Ireland. Has this Bill been thought out with regard to the Government of Ireland Act which is now being discussed in another place? I ask these questions because I am really apprehensive of the future of the financial condition of this country. I honestly want to support the Government if they will let me, and if they will be economical I will support them, but I cannot in this reckless finance. My right hon. Friend—and I join in the eulogies which have been passed upon the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, who has conducted this Bill with extraordinary skill—my right hon. Friend has been asked how many officials will it take to carry out the provisions of 724 this Bill, and what will be the cost. Here is a typical case of Government slackness.No final decision has yet been arrived at as to the expenditure which will be necessary to check the accuracy of the claims made by farmers if ever the guaranteed prices become operativeis the official reply.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Last year we did have an elaborate check, and then we were very roundly abused by Members of this House for having done so.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That is perfectly true. Last year they had an elaborate check, and they had to come down to the House at once to present their Estimate for £10,000, I believe, and there was an awful row, a tremendous outcry. What will the outcry be when they come to present their next Estimate?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I seem to have heard that phrase before. Let me ask this question seriously of my right hon. Friend. How many officials will it take to check the claims for compensation or subsidy in the case of the Irish farmer? Can anybody say? You surely are not going to pay money out of the Treasury without checking the claims? Nobody knows how many officials you must have, and it drives me to despair that this is the kind of financial guidance that we get from the Government on these matters. I really feel I want to go out of politics altogether when the finances of the country are being treated so lightly. It makes one feel very sad, and, of course, the Nemesis will come. It is coming already. Go to the constituencies and see what they have to say about rates and taxes. The Prime Minister came in and made one of his delightful speeches on this Bill the other day. He said that it is no use having this Bill unless you increase the area of cultivation in this country. Is there a single practical farmer who has alleged that this Bill will increase the area of cultivation in this country? If there is I would like to hear him say so.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am very glad to hear that my hon. Friend is so sanguine. I say, and I do not believe it can be denied, 725 that the great bulk of the agricultural opinion of the country believed that this Bill will not increase arable cultivation. What is the Bill founded upon? The Selborne Report, on which the Bill is based, was signed in January, 1917, and it was full of assumptions which have been proved to be absolutely fallacious. The Selborne Report actually suggested that there should be a guaranteed price for wheat of 42s. a quarter. What have the Government brought in now? 81s. a quarter only three years after. For oats, the Selborne Report said that the guaranteed price should be 23s. a quarter. To-day the Bill says 53s. 4d. a quarter. That shows how little the eminent men who signed that Report could forecast the future. We have had a great deal of legislation. We have had the Corn Production Act passed. During the War, and since the Armistice, we have been scurrying Acts of Parliament through this House, the effect of which we have little understood. During the War we were passing Education Acts and other Acts about which we had very little notion, and really did not understand. Our minds were not fixed upon them. Our minds were fixed upon the War, which was a far greater matter. I will take the Selborne Report. But the Prime Minister and the Government have forgotten there has been another set of Commissioners appointed since the Selborne Report. I have here the Interim Report of the Agriculture Commission. The main Report was signed on 10th December, 1919. The Commission consisted of 23 members. It was very sharply divided upon the question of guaranteed prices. Of the 23 members, twelve were for these guaranteed prices, but of that twelve the hon. Member for East Grin-stead (Mr. Cautley) signed the Report recommending these guaranteed prices, subject to the proviso that he differs so fundamentally from the other eleven Commissioners that he sets out his objections in a separate Report. That is eleven, plus one. But there are eleven more, and they are absolutely against this system altogether. They say in the very first paragraph of their Report:For the reasons given below, we, the undersigned Commissioners, find ourselves unable to agree with our colleagues in recommending a continuance of the policy of guaranteed prices for cereals.726 So you have your Commissioners divided, and, as an hon. Friend reminds me, that was signed by the Labour Members.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
You do not trouble about your own people. My hon. Friend, I know, has been a great friend of the agricultural labourers, and I have a great respect for him, but I do say when Members of a party sign a Report it is assumed that they represent the policy of the party. If the contingency should arise that the Labour party is in power, their policy is in this Report, but they are going to vote with the Government to-night. I feel a little mixed about these things. Let us take this Majority Report. The basis of the minimum price, they state, upon which this Bill is based is the "average bare cost of production." Does anybody believe that you are going to get men to plough up land if they are only guaranteed the average bare cost of production? The 11 Members say in the first place not only that they are against this guaranteed price, but they add:We regret our colleagues have not set forth in detail their calculation and the basis on which it was made.That is the whole foundation of the Bill! Guaranteed prices, and nobody has been able to say yet upon what basis you fixed your figures. The Royal Commission does not give any basis. This is a very serious matter. It is coming on to the taxpayer. We shall have some trouble later. In face of this Commission, in face of the taxpayer rebelling, is anybody going to take steps to plough a large amount of land? What is the first essential? You must have labour, and labour requires cottages. Is there any private person who can build cottages to-day to compete with the Government? But so far are we apart, so far are we not having Government cooperation, that when the Government are building cottages they do not take into account the necessities of this Bill. We have an example in my village. There they are putting up six cottages. They are close to the village; they are not convenient for the land. I have always said in this matter—and I do not want to go into it now, for I think it would not be in order—if the condition of the agri- 727 cultural labourer is to be improved, he wants a cottage where he can get a bit of land with it. A few acres of land is a benefit to the agricultural labourer. He can cultivate it, and his wife can help him. Besides, I am not one of those who believe that a man, once an agricultural labourer, should always remain an agricultural labourer. Let industrious men have a chance of climbing the ladder of prosperity. You have not only to provide buildings, but you have to get proper implements in order to plough up more land.
There is another point which has been really overlooked of late, and that is the enormous increase in the rates. Can anybody tell me what the effect of the great increase of the rates is going to be on agricultural land? I do not know, but land may go out of cultivation because of it. The Government recognise, the Prime Minister recognises, that no person is going to plough up land for the guarantees offered under this Bill. So the right hon. Gentleman says, "I am going to compel them to do it." Here are his words:If you are going to carry out this Report you can only do so by means of Parliament saying that powers must be given under proper safeguards, under fair conditions, to compel the necessary cultivation such as you had in the course of the War."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1920, col. 1616, Vol. 134.]I candidly confess I do not like those words "compel" and "compulsion." But here is the recommendation of the minority 11 members of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, the Committee appointed to consider this very question:If the State is to possess power to ensure that the object for which the guarantees are given will be attained, the only way it can be done, under the guarantees imposed by our colleagues, is by giving the Board of Agriculture or the county committees power to enforce serious cultivation.That is what they say.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The Report adds:We do not believe such powers can be practically applied. We are of opinion it would be against the best interests of the industry to attempt to deal with farming in such a manner.That is the Minority Report of 11, There was only 12 on the other side, or 728 perhaps I should say 11 and a bit. Does anybody realise what the cost of all this machinery is going to be? Does anybody realise what the cost of these Agricultural Committees is going to be? There are the various expenses of the arbitrators, and travelling, and so on. It has been rightly said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that they wish to see justice done and that the arbitrator will prevent gross cases of injustice. That may be; but let us just consider where we are. The Minister has power to come down himself to me and tell me that I have got to plough up certain land, the Minister himself, by his fiat. I can appeal to the arbitrator, but what is going to be the expense? The cost would not fall on the Minister. I could probably fight the case, but what about the farmer? The whole machinery seems to me to be a hotchpotch of puzzle-headed officialism. I do not believe in it a bit. Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that I have one supporter in the Government, and I am glad to say that he is a very able one, one of the ablest. He is against all this reckless State action. He has said this:There is nothing more blighting to the prosperity of the country than Government control. There is nothing that was so weakening to initiative and enterprise as dependence upon the State.Splendid! These were the words of the President of the Board of Trade. I agree absolutely. But we are going to have Government control. We have to rely upon this Government control of which the President of the Board of Trade said there was nothing more blighting to the prosperity of the country! One does not understand it. One of the most illuminating remarks made in this Debate was made by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Ludlow, who said:We have been examining into the number of officials in the Board of Agriculture, and we find during the period 1914–20 they had increased by no less than 2,000 new individuals.New individuals, new officials! Two thousand more in the Board of Agriculture! Would it not be far better if these officials were put into small holdings themselves and cultivating a bit of land? Would we not get more food? But these 2,000 gentlemen must have something to do. Here is the Bill. They are going to have something to do under it, and will go on meddling until the country, in the 729 words of my old friend the late Lord Fisher, "Sacks the lot."
I am sorry to have been so critical in this matter. I really do it from the point of view of the taxpayer. I listened to the speeches about compensation to the farmer. 25 years ago I introduced a Bill to give compensation to the farmer. I was then opposed. I would like to have had such a speech delivered in my support as that delivered a little while ago from the opposite benches; in fact, I am not quite sure whether my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary did not in those days oppose me. He has been converted. I am very glad that the tenant farmer, especially the good tenant farmer, is going to get compensation. I would advocate all along the line that the good tenant farmer should have absolute security for all the capital he invests in the land. I am all in favour of that, but I do not know how this Bill is going to work. I do say here, speaking as one having knowledge of agriculture, that one of the greatest necessities to-day is to attract capital to the industry. Buildings have to be put up. That prospect has not been improved. Will this Bill tend to increase the number of buildings that are going to be built? We have been talking about the agricultural labourer. I am one of those who have been supported by the agricultural labourer. I know a great many of them, and I have always been an advocate that the agricultural labourer should be enabled to earn high wages, that he should be paid good, just, generous wages. Of course his wages must be; they would not be paid unless they were. I say to-day that the farmers have been very shortsighted. When they were making money very fast in the early part of the War they did not put up their labourers' wages. I am sorry for it. But as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has said, by the fixing of these prices and wages it has come about that the agricultural labourer gets 46s. a week while the miner gets £4 10s. There is no reason for that.
The agricultural labourer is quite as good a man. He has to work eight hours. I am one who wants to benefit the agricultural labourer not only in wages, but in giving him the opportunity of climbing the ladder of life. When I 730 criticise this Bill I am not criticising those provisions dealing with the labourer's wages. But I can have no part or lot in a measure which casts a quite unknown burden upon the taxpayer, and that will not yield a commensurate result in increasing the arable cultivation of the land. I cannot recognise, or be responsible for, a measure which will simply harass the industry through a horde of officials, and certainly will hamper, rather than encourage the production of food. I say that, in my judgment, when this subsidy comes to be paid, as it will very probably have to be paid, it will prejudice the agricultural industry and all those engaged in it in the eyes of the country at large, and therefore this measure will sow the seeds of future grave trouble for those engaged in the cultivation of the land.
§ Mr. GARDINER
Like other Members who have taken part in this discussion, I wish to compliment the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill on the fair and kindly spirit in which he bus conducted this measure through Committee and through the Report stage. It is quite true some of us did not get more than we desired in Committee, but we honour the right hon. Gentleman all the same, and we recognise the fact that he endeavoured to be absolutely impartial I do not propose to deal with the subject matter of the speech which has just been delivered by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lambert). He is well known wherever British agriculture is understood, and he has done much in the past to help agriculturists. I am exceedingly sorry he is so pessimistic about the Bill, and the position of agriculture to-day. May I ask why the Bill was introduced and for what purpose? Is it likely to accomplish the purpose for which it has been introduced?
We go back to October, 1919, and look back upon the past history of agriculture, and everyone of us is agreed that agriculture had been neglected for generations, and that nothing had been done by the Government of this country to give the encouragement that agriculturists ought to have received. It was quite an epoch when the Prime Minister made his Caxton Hall speech which has resulted in this Bill. I am not going to say that I love this Bill whole-heartedly, 731 and every detail in it. There are certain portions of it that some of us would rather have been left out. I want to look at the thing broadly and in a manner that will not be offensive to any section of the House. Although Part I of the Bill was not desired by Scottish agriculturists, they recognise that the Government in this Bill have endeavoured to the best of their ability to give effect to the promises that were made at Caxton Hall. He would have preferred a simple Bill without all these references, and I suppose Scottish Members would have preferred a Scottish Bill rather than one relating to the two countries.
I want to look at the Bill as we have it. In the first place it was to ensure an increased production. In reference to the guaranteed prices, although I do not accept everything which has been said from the Front Opposition Bench on this subject, I do not think they will induce the amount of extra cultivation which the Government expect. On the other hand, I want to point out that in my opinion, and I have carefully studied the position, I do not think there is much likelihood that the guaranteed prices will ever come into operation. I know that at present there is a tendency to lower prices in agricultural produce, and the price of cereals is lower than it was some time ago. There is a fall especially in oats. When we think of world conditions and the cost of production everywhere, including the cost of freights and other things that enter into the question of the price of foreign produce, and if as this Bill produces, as I think it will, intensive cultivation, I do not think the agriculturists of this country will ever require the subsidy, and they will be perfectly independent of it
So far as guaranteed prices are concerned, if ever the day comes when those prices come into operation and the industrial population refuses to support them, I would remind them of what happened during the War. They must remember the national necessity during the War. In the second place, let us remember that it is not the cost of production plus a fair and reasonable profit, but simply the cost of production that is guaranteed in the Bill. What I am more particular about is the question of the power to enforce proper cultivation.
732 During the War, there is no doubt at all that many things were done with regard to cultivation, by Orders and otherwise, that ought never to have been brought into being. We admit that frankly, and if these conditions are going to continue, I do not think there is an agriculturist in the country who would submit to them. In some quarters I know farmers have been told at meetings that they had not read the Bill or mastered its contents. In my view, very few ordinary farmers will be able to understand this Bill at all. When we find hon. and learned Members of this House confessing their ignorance of the provisions of this measure and acknowledging that they do not understand it, I think agriculturists may be excused for being ignorant on this subject. To go into a gathering of agriculturists and to state that this Bill to enforce cultivation is to be run by what they call whipper-snappers in breeches from Whitehall, is going beyond a reasonable statement.
I believe that some of my hon. Friends have had experience of somebody coming from Whitehall and overriding the decisions of the agricultural committee, and causing very foolish things to be done. No one can imagine that the agriculturists of this country, combined as they are now, would ever submit to such a course of procedure. With the local knowledge of the kind and standard of farming which is required in the district of any agricultural county, I cannot imagine for one moment that the things which were done during the War will ever be renewed. Some of my hon. Friends who opposed the cultivation part of this Bill very strenuously admit frankly that there is a considerable percentage of bad farming and that there are many bad farmers. I have heard it put by one hon. Member that 40 per cent, of the farming is not up to the requisite standard. If that is so, there must be a remedy. We can surely in this country never submit to 40 per cent., or even a lesser percentage, of the agricultural land of this country being under cultivation. The matter is of great national importance, and must be dealt with.
Under the old system of the old-fashioned landlord with the good relationship that existed between landlord and tenant things were different. A farmer was chosen simply because he was 733 honest and paid his rent regularly, and he was allowed to continue in occupancy of his farm year after year, and possibly his successors after him. The old system has been exceedingly detrimental, but with the new system the fact that a bad tenant is going to be turned out by the Agricultural Committee without compensation will cause every farmer to consider his position, and if he has been a slacker, then he will apply his mind and his muscle to a kind of cultivation that will be of some use to the country. The bad farmer must be cleared out, and we must have a higher standard of farming than ever we have had experience of in the past. I for one will never rest content if it can be said about the agriculture of this country that it is second to any other country in the world. I do not know of any reason for us occupying a position like that, but I think our agriculturists under this Bill will be placed in a position where the kind of farming which I have described will disappear, and something very much better will come into being. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether anybody approved of the ploughing up orders.
§ Mr. GARDINER
My war time experience was evidently different to that of my right hon. Friend. Not only was the area cultivated increased in my district, but the intensity of the cultivation was materially increased to the profit of the cultivator and the nation. This is borne out not only by myself as an individual agriculturist, but we have also a body like the National Farmers' Union agreeing absolutely and unanimously to the suggestions contained in the orders. These men quite recognise the fact that, if there is going to be a guarantee, there must be some control, and they favour it accordingly. Three or four days ago I had the privilege of visiting one of the great estates in England on which there was the most magnificent park that it has ever been my privilege to walk into. During the War the agricultural committee interfered with this park, and ordered it to be cultivated. The noble owner of that park did not like the process, but he told me on Saturday that, from the economical point of view, it had been the best thing that could have hap- 734 pened, and the quantity of produce raised from that park has been an encouragement to him, and now that he is left alone instead of putting that park back to grass, his intention is to cultivate a great portion of it intensely in the future. So much for the system I am assuming that these orders will be given in a reasonable way be men who really know their business, and that the ploughing up of unsuitable land would thereby disappear.
What is more important in my judgment in the Bill is Part 2. It is true some of us would have preferred simple security of tenure, but in this, as in other matters, I am going to admit again that the Government have, as far as lies in their power, endeavoured to give us security, if not of tenure, at least of capital, and it is quite possible that experience will produce some modifications in the direction I have suggested. Is security really needed? So far as I know, we are all agreed it is, because hon. Gentlemen opposite, who speak for agriculture in this House, have stated that it is essential, if the industry is to bring about the results we all expect from it. I have never said, and never will say either, that there are no good landlords, or that the great majority of landlords are not good. Neither will I ever say that all the farmers are good, because I know that some are very bad. Occasionally you have a really good landlord with a very bad agent, and many of the evictions that have taken place in our country have not been because of the bad landlords, but because of the bad factor, as the agent is called in Scotland.
The argument that the desire for security is of recent growth so far as my country is concerned is not well founded. We have had evictions very largely for political reasons. We have had evictions because the agent or landlord was opposed at a School Board election and did not win. I am stating what is absolutely true. I know what I am talking about. We have had many evictions as the hon. Member opposite stated, because the tenants prefer to go to a nonconformist chapel rather than to the parish church. More than that we have had evictions from mistaken views as to the welfare of the tenants. I do not suggest for a moment that the evictors desired anything but what was best for the persons evicted, but they were mistaken. We have had evictions for the sake of sport. I wish this 735 Bill could have gone further and dealt with the question not merely of cultivating the land but of the kind of stock permitted on the land. I dare to say in this House in regard to agriculture that it will never be secured in its proper position unless it is made impossible for any man to turn sheep stock off good sheep land and to substitute deer. We have in Scotland ruins in countless number, ruins of homesteads and cottages which were inhabited by men, women, boys and girls of great promise. Where are they? What became of them? They were turned adrift. I say it was a mistake. I do not suggest that noble owners of land who evicted tenants did not desire their welfare, and did not think that they would be better off in the Colonies, but if some hon. Members of this House here to-night had been present, as I have been when some of these families were being evicted, they would have realised that although it is quite true the home was simple, and the buildings not all that they ought to have been, and that the land was often poor and through lack of finance not well cultivated, yet their hearts and bawbees had been put into it, and to see men and women, especially big strong men. some of whom had fought for their country, and have been the mainstay of it, weeping bitter tears as they left the old home—scenes the like of which induced men like Burns to write "The Emigrant's Farewell" and other laments, I am quite sure it would make them agree that the desire for security is not of modern growth, but has been in the hearts of our people for generations.
I come next to the question of compensation. After all, is this talk about compensation really well-founded? I quite agree that under the Bill there is to be compensation for one year or for four years, as the case may be, but I suggest that in practice it will be very very seldom that this will come into effect. It will be very seldom that notice will be given. I quite agree that occasionally a landlord may be placed in the position where it would only be fair that he should be allowed to put his son or a friend into possession of a farm. These are hardships, but you can have no Act of Parliament that will not bring hardship to somebody. I submit that the average person is in favour of compensation as provided in the Bill. I want 736 once more to repeat what I said in the House on a former occasion, that if this Bill comes into operation in its present form, then instead of more changes of tenancy there will be far fewer, and the relationship between landlord and tenant will be quite as good and as well maintained as now. Instead of the Bill being detrimental to good landlords, or good tenants, it will, I believe, prove a blessing to both. In my opinion, too, increased production will come not so much from Part I of the Bill as from Part II. The security given in this Bill is not all that I would like it to be, but I suggest that agriculturists placed in possession will not be afraid to spend their money wisely on fertilisers and in other ways to improve their holdings. I wonder if hon. Members in this House have ever attempted to estimate what an increased production of one or two quarters per acre would mean, or what an addition of one or two tons of potatoes per acre would represent. Probably no one has. Are the averages of British agriculture satisfactory? They are not. If you can have a man growing 10 or 12 quarters of oats, why be content with the present average? If you can have a man growing from 12 to 16 tons of potatoes per acre, arc we going to be satisfied with the present average? I suggest that the security given by Part II of this Bill will induce increased intensive cultivation, and at least a considerable proportion of the £500,000,000 now spent yearly on imported food, will be saved.
There is one thing I approve of heartily, and that is the value given to continuous high farming. That is now admitted, and it will help to increase production more than some other parts of the Bill. Furthermore, the landlord is to be compensated for deterioration of a holding. I agree absolutely with that proposition. If there is to be benefit for the man who farms the land, there should also be compensation to the landlord in case a farmer farms badly. Now I come to the position of farm workers. What about the minimum wage? We know what it is. It is 50s. per week for labourers, but that is not the salary in my part of the country. We do not pay such low rates of wages, and I am glad to say that, notwithstanding the complaints made in some localities by some farmers, we have no 737 difficulty in paying a higher rate of wages than 50s. out of the extra profits of the industry. Naturally, anyone who has been born on the soil, as I have, anyone who, like the hon. Member who spoke just now, who has worked on the land from boyhood, anyone who has had to do with manual labour on the farm, sympathises with men who work thereon, and our desire is surely that it should be made possible for every man and woman who toils on the soil, not only to live by it and to live well, but to make progress and eventually to take bigger holdings. Then there is the housing problem. So far as housing is concerned, I may say that if ever there was a class in the community that required consideration in this direction, it is the agricultural labourer. They are just about the poorest housed of all classes, and, as has again and again been said in this House, they are one of the finest classes of the community; they are the backbone of the country. If there is anything in this Bill that is going to provide better housing conditions for them, I say I support it with all my heart, and I am quite sure that any right-thinking tenant farmer would say the same. My only regret is that the housing accommodation has been so poor in the past, but I am afraid there is nothing in the Rill that will give us the class of houses absolutely necessary to make the men and women engaged in the industry comfortable and contented.
Now for a few words as to the defects of the Bill. We fought hard on this side to secure for the widow and the children of the tenant farmer the compensation that would have gone to the tenant farmer had he lived. There is nothing that has taken place in connection with this Bill that has grieved me more than the refusal of those in charge of it to grant this concession. I quite admit that an able-bodied farmer who leaves his farm and may do so without compensation can secure in some shape or form employment at remunerative rates either in his own industry or otherwise. But if this Bill is going to secure the capital of the farmer and if in his lifetime he would have been entitled to receive it, surely the much more helpless widow and fatherless children ought to have it. I am glad that the care of these is in higher keeping than any Government or any Minister of the Government, and to that higher 738 power I respectfully commend the fatherless and the widow.
We are told that agriculturists do not desire the Bill and do not approve of it. Let me glance at the situation for a moment as it is in Scotland. There we have two principal bodies representing agriculture. There are three in fact, but only two of them take any interest in the details of legislative work, the one being the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, and the other the Scottish Farmers' National Union. One is composed entirely of farmers, and the other of landlords, agents, and farmers, and both have agreed that this Bill is a right Bill and have approved of it. That is as far as Scotland is concerned, and if I understand the position correctly, the Farm Servants' Union also approves, and the spokesmen in this House have spoken with approbation of the Bill. In England you have the National Farmers' Union agreeing to the Bill. When some people suggest that the National Farmers' Union is not agreed on this subject, I am rather surprised, because the figures of the Bristol meeting, which was held the other day, bear out the fact that the members of that Union are practically unanimous in their approval of the Bill. The figures show that 407 voted for approval, 40 approved with qualifications, and 17 opposed. In my country those who oppose the Bill do so because it does not go far enough. They desire something more drastic than anything which this Bill contains. Now about the farmers outside these bodies. The suggestion is sometimes made that the National Farmers' Union does not really represent the farmers of the country. Well, from my mode of life in the past, I came constantly into touch with farmers every day of my life in large numbers. I claim to know the life of the farmers of Scotland in a unique manner, and, except on tone occasion, I have never met a farmer who did not approve of this Bill. The one who did not approve said, "I have 19 years' lease; I want nothing more. I will go on farming well for 14 years, but I will take good care that everything that is in the farm shall be taken out in the concluding-years of the tenancy." It may be that he wanted to recompense himself, but he was doing so at the cost of the national 739 interest, and I am quite sure that no member of this House would agree with such a manner of looking at the question.
Supposing this Bill is rejected here, or supposing something happens in another place that will reduce its value to agriculturists. What will happen? I suggest to this House that no such moderate Bill as this will satisfy the agriculturists of Great Britain. The whole tendency— and it is a strange tendency, because agriculturists, above all men, were considered to be Conservative, and in the counties it was acknowledged that farmers would either vote Conservative or Unionist—has now changed. We have men who formerly were Conservatives and Unionists, men who think about the future as well as the present, saying that, if this Bill is not passed practically in its present form, they will not be satisfied, and will have to ask for something more drastic. I agree that there are things in the Bill which I do not like, but I do say that it is a fair and reasonable manner in which to fulfil the promises of the Prime Minister and of the Government, and I heartily support the Motion for the Third Reading.
§ Mr. GLANVILLE
I do not profess to pose as an authority on agriculture, but I want to say a word or two on behalf of the British taxpayer and of the British food consumer. During the last two years the latter, especially, seems to me to have been entirely forgotten. I have listened in this House time after time to agricultural Debates. The agricultural Members have said constantly, "What is the Government going to do for agriculture? They must do something for agriculture," which meant that the agriculturists wanted something for the time when the prices of agricultural produce would fall. Many of the provisions of this Bill are excellent, but it is the financial provisions and the circumstances connected with food prices to which I wish to refer. I should very much like to know what view the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes in regard to this subsidy, which I believe has now been altered to 81s. per quarter. That means that if the price of wheat falls below 81s. per quarter, the British taxpayer has got to step in. Here is the whole nation praying for a reduction of 740 prices, but if those prices commence to fall, and fall below 81s.—which they may do—the British taxpayer has got to hand the difference over to the agricultural interest, and the food consumer has to be made to pay. Even if he pay a little less on his food, he has got to pay the extra in taxes.
I wonder if hon. Members realise what has been going on in connection with the agricultural interest. This subsidy, as has already been pointed out during the Debate to-day, may cost the nation £40,000,000, or even £80,000,000 a year. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that is a way to solve the deficit, but it does not seem to me the practical way of doing it. What have agriculturists done to get this special treatment? They pay no Super-tax; plenty of them in the early days of the War made enormous sums of money. They pay no Excess Profits Duty, neither are they, even compelled to furnish accounts. I heard the then Chancellor of the Exchequer say about two years ago that if the farmers did furnish accounts, they had no staff available to investigate those accounts. They could not get men, but they can get plenty of men now. There are plenty of competent and educated ex-officers looking for employment, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer could easily find occupation for them if he compelled the farmer to toe the line like other people and to furnish accounts.
I want to say a word or two with regard to prices, which I think will astonish agriculturists. I have got the figures from the Board of Agriculture. The price of wheat before the War was 34s. 9d.; the price a few weeks ago was 90s. 7d. The difference in the quantity produced this year, as estimated by the Board of Agriculture for wheat alone, in price amounts to £19,750,000. Now I come to barley. The price of barley before the War was 25s. 2d.; four weeks ago it was 86s. The difference in this year's production in price was £23,000,000. Take oats, which have been the subject of so much discussion throughout this Bill. Before the War oats were 19s.; when I got this information, they stood at 56s. The difference in the total price for oats was £29,500,000. I am referring of course to British produce, not to Irish; I have left Ireland entirely out of my figures. Then I come to the next item. I have taken only 14 items produced on the land and the figures, as I say, will 741 be astonishing. Let us take beef, mutton, pork and bacon. Here I have estimated the increase in price, and I have not taken the figures of the Board of Agriculture, because taking the four different items makes the matter very complicated. The quantity produced in the British Isles was 1,050,000 tons. The Irish figures are not separate, but I have struck off about one-third for Ireland, and I think that hon. Members will agree that that is a fair estimate. That leaves about 700,000 tons of these four different kinds of meat, and the increase in the price was 11d. per lb. I think that no hon. Member can say that this is too high an estimate of the increased price in British-produced beef. This shows an increased price to the consumer in Great Britain of £70,000,000. I asked the President of the Board of Agriculture the other day what price we were paying for imported meat, and he said that nearly all the contracts had run out, that the final ones were running out this month, and that the other contracts from the Antipodes were in existence up to the end of last March. There has been no alteration here in the price fixed by the Food Controller for foreign meat for the consumer. The price which the Government was paying last March under contract was 5d. per lb., and that was free on board; 1½d. per lb. was about the freight—£14 a ton, which raised the price to 6½d. Why did not the Government insist that this meat should not be sold above 1s. a lb.? Would not that have left a sufficient margin of profit? The effect would have been, if they had done that, that the British farmer could not have got more than 1s. 2d. or 1s. 3d. per lb. for his British meat, instead of getting £70,000,000 a year out of the British consumer. In my opinion it is a shocking state of affairs.
Now let us take butter. The increased profit on butter during this year is £5,850,000. Now I come to cheese, a much smaller amount. The increased price on second quality cheese is £2,400,000. Potatoes—I have taken second quality potatoes because I did not wish to be charged with exaggeration, and the increased price on second quality potatoes is not so high as the increased price on first quality. The increased price here is £22,500,000. The potato grower pays no Excess Profits Duty and no Super-tax. Take eggs. The latest egg figures avail- 742 able at the Board of Agriculture—and I must say that they do not seem to be very up to date at the Board of Agriculture—are for the year 1908. Of course, every hon. Member is well aware that in the last three or four years the production of eggs in this country has gone up by leaps and bounds, but the quantity given me at the Board of Agriculture was 1,187,000,000 eggs, without turkeys' eggs or ducks' eggs. Rather than be charged with exaggeration. I will leave out the 87,000,000, and only take the 1,100,000,000. The increase in the price of eggs is another £12,500,000, and that the British consumer has to pay. I have heard a lot about the working man and what he is willing to do, and from what I know of his representatives in this House, they are very earnest and very sincere men, but when this system comes along they are very docile indeed, or they would never have stood this condition of affairs. But they have stood it, and they seem likely to stand it for some time to come. Now I come to milk. Hon. Members talk about the farmer giving up his grass land and ploughing it up. Is he likely to do that when he can make some £48,500,000 extra for his milk this year as compared with what he could have got for that milk in 1914—from 7⅓d. to 1s. 6½d.? Now I come to another item —hay. Hay does not require much labour or much manure The increased profit on hay is over £48,000,000. Now I come to another trivial item. The increased profit on straw was £22,500,000.
§ Mr. GLANVILLE
I am not talking about thousands. I am talking about millions. I can well understand hon. Members not liking to hear these figures read out. I have listened to these Debates for the last two years, and I have tried to ascertain from the various speeches what really was going on financially with regard to the food that was being produced. I noticed that every agriculturist who spoke was skilful enough to avoid dealing with any figures, and that is what made me take the trouble to ascertain the true position. That completes the list of the 14 items which I have collected produced by the agricultural interest. Of course, hops would 743 come in for a good deal and some other crops, but that completes that list, which shows a total of £304,500,000 extra—something like three times what it was before the War.
Now there is another item. "But look at the expense the farmer has. Look at the enormous expense he has to pay for his fertilisers. Look how the wages have gone up." Now we will deal with his wages. 600,000 labourers—and they are not all kept on permanently—at an increased pay of about 30s. a week equal £48,000,000. £48,000,000 from £304,000,000 leaves nearly £260,000,000 out of which the farmer has to pay for his fertiliser and any other extra expense as compared with pre-War. The farmer has been doing handsomely out of the nation. I do not know how long it is to go on. When the doles were being scattered about, when the working people had any amount of paper, I suppose it went on very quietly. We have got to an end of that, and now we have got to a condition of affairs when the nation has to settle down in sober earnest. I know the agricultural interest will come here next year and will say, "What about our barley? Are we to have anything for growing barley? Are we to have nothing for growing other produce?" and so pressure will be brought on the Government again and again, and the Government has got to give way. They cannot help themselves. They cannot stand without the agricultural interest. If they were to put up a fight against the agricultural interest, which in my opinion they are willing to do, they know very well it would be a very dangerous thing, and they are afraid the Government might topple. I had rather the Government toppled than that the nation toppled. What is an agricultural labourer getting now? 46s., 48s., 50s. a week. My hon. Friend is afraid that if a check is put on the present food prices the agricultural labourer will suffer for it. I do not know whether he will. I know he should not. I know that when this £250,000,000 a year is handed over to the agricultural interest there is plenty of money for the agricultural labourer who puts in a good day's work, or there ought to be.
I do not know, of course, what the agricultural interest thinks about it. Do they think the whole of the country exists for the purpose of making the fortune of 744 farmers and landowners? I do not think ultimately the farmer will get much of it. I do not think he will be allowed to. Pressure will be brought on him to purchase his farm. The operation has been going on, and many a farmer has bought, or agreed to buy, his farm, probably in excess, of the value of the whole amount he has been making and hopes to make in excess profits. I felt it my duty, in the interest of the British food consumer and of the nation, to give the House these figures. I should think no fair-minded men in the House—I give them all credit for being fair-minded—would resent my giving the figures as I have obtained them from one of our own Government Departments. I took the precaution of getting them to write them down for me on Government paper, so that in case I was questioned I should be able to produce the original information. But I think when we have had all these agricultural Debates for the last two years, and when we get them for the next year or two—and, I have no doubt, we are doomed to get them—it would have been much better and it would have been a little more candid if we had been favoured with accurate information as to the amount of money which the agricultural interest were putting in their pocket at the expense of the nation. I wish my voice would reach all over the country. I am sorry it will not. I do not suppose I shall even be reported, but I hope the information I have managed to get in tonight will bear good fruit, and perhaps produce a little more modesty in the demands of the agriculturists next year and the year after.
§ Major BARNSTON
I think the House will be grateful that the hon. Member has introduced a little unconscious humour into our discussions, which were somewhat dull. He told us he was not a practical agriculturist. As he went on to tell us that hay did not require much labour and manure we shall all endorse his statement. We have had some seven weeks in Committee, and we had a very prolonged Report stage. The Bill is practically the same Bill which my right hon. Friend introduced some weeks ago, and which passed the Second Reading without a Division. There have been a few alterations, to which I will call attention. I was very glad that Clause 16 of the old Bill, which dealt with the doing away with the penal Clauses and 745 the ploughing up of old pasture, was struck out in Committee. I think it might have led to great injustice to a landlord by a tenant, and, after all, these old pastures are in many cases a national asset. The question is not only one between the farmer and the landlord. Then the Government have put back the Clause dealing with control of cultivation, though I think now this is in a more limited and practical shape, and I cannot understand why some of my hon. Friends seem so absolutely to distrust these county Committees. One hon. Member, I think it was my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury)—at any rate, it sounds like his touch—spoke about agricultural committees doing things to spite their neighbours. Surely in our counties we have enough patriotic and public men who will work together not to spite their neighbours, but for the good of their counties and for the good of their country. In Cheshire our Agricultural Committee— and I believe it is the same nearly all over the country—is composed of the best landlords, the best farmers and the best land agents in the county, and I believe the only fear will be that they will not do too much, but will be apt to do too little. A new Clause has been added dealing with compensation for allotment holders on disturbance. I am very glad to know that the principle of compensation for disturbance of labourers occupying tied cottages has been recognised because in a matter of this sort we must see to it that we have security of rent. It is right for the farmer to have security, and it is right for the labourer to have security, and after all when a labourer lives in a cottage and a garden—and every man who lives in the country ought to have a bit of garden—that cottage and garden is probably as much to him as a farm of 200 or 300 acres is to a large farmer. Then if you add to that the Agricultural Wages Board, which so delighted hon. Members opposite, I think these are the main alterations in the Bill. Therefore, it is practically precisely the same Bill, with these few additions, that was passed by the House without a Division some few months ago.
Most people would admit that the Bill embodies in a legislative enactment the speech which the Prime Minister made at Caxton Hall some few months ago. I was rather surprised that my hon. Friend 746 (Lieut.-Colonel Courthope) moved its rejection. Like many other hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies, he has asked over and over again for an agricultural policy and a policy based on the Corn Production Act. I am not surprised that my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) also opposes the Bill because I have been in the House for 11 years and I have never known a private or a Government Bill, a small or a large Bill, which he did not tell us was practically the end of all things, and to-day he told us—a curious position for my right hon. Friend—that words had absolutely failed him.
§ Major BARNSTON
Except the Dogs Bill. I am glad my right hon. Friend who undoubtedly is one of the most popular Members in the House in spite of the iniquities of this terrible Government, never seems to get a day older and bears up in health extraordinarily well. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Colonel Courthope) rather endeavoured to prove that the farmers were opposed to the Bill and he quoted one branch of the National Farmers' Union in Essex which had apparently passed a resolution in opposition to it. I believe the Farmers' Union is composed of something like 600 branches and has approximately 100,000 members. This was not even a county branch and my hon. and gallant Friend brings that one small sub-branch as evidence that the farmers do not like the Bill. Really, we ought to have some better evidence and a stronger statement than that.
I support the Bill for certain main reasons which I will give to the House. In the first place, it does what my hon. Friends and I have asked for so long. It gives us an agricultural policy and it reconstructs and enlarges the Corn Production Act. That has been the main purport of nearly every speech we have heard from agricultural Members for the last two or three years. It gives security of capital to the tenant farmer. It gives compensation to labourers who occupy tied cottages. In the past the lot of these men has not always been a happy one. It gives, and I look upon this as one of the best Clauses in the Bill, an easy way of raising or decreasing rents, and a way that will cause the least friction. For myself, speaking as a land- 747 owner, I look upon that as one of the best provisions in the Bill. This Bill will kill the bad landlord and at the same time it will kill the rotten farmer. We must all admit that Acts of Parliament, however good, cannot do as much for the tenant as he can do for himself. He can do more for himself than any legislative enactment can do for him, and he can do it by his industry, his capacity and by putting his capital to the best advantage. Because I believe that in the main this Bill will be to the advantage not only of the tenant farmer but of the whole agricultural industry, I am delighted that We have got to the Third Reading, and I am sure we shall pass the Bill to-night.
We have had from the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken a very interesting speech, and, as we expected from the faithful and enthusiastic Boswell, a cordial support of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen). I should like to join in the tributes that have been paid regarding the consummate skill and unfailing courtesy which my right hon. Friend has displayed in the passage of this very highly technical and complex Bill through its various stages in the House, and also through twelve anxious and long days in Committee upstairs. Although I congratulate him on those qualities, I am afraid I cannot use equally complimentary language with regard to what I call the right hon. Gentleman's sporting proclivity. Upstairs we spent twelve days.
Upstairs we spent 13 days, a very unlucky and unfortunate number, in discussing this Bill. The Committee was probably the best and the most representative that this House ever appointed. The burden of the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down was that the Bill as we have it to-day is substantially, except for a few small details, the same Bill that was introduced into this House.
Yes, we have wasted our time. The right hon. Gentleman has not taken his beating in the sportsmanlike way that we expected of him.
In regard to the question of control, which is a very important matter; in fact, the most important matter in the Bill. I have been struck by one thing more than another in to-day's Debate, and it is this, that from all sides of the House, whether from opponents or supporters of the Bill, there has been complaint about the retention of the obnoxious Clause relating to the ploughing-up orders. Hon. Members hate, and I hate, State control. That matter was very carefully and seriously considered in Committee, and my complaint against the right hon. Gentleman is that he has reduced Committee work to a farce. We came deliberately to the conclusion that State control in regard to ploughing-up orders should be exercised from the Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman, I do not say offensively, has taken advantage of a tame and unquestioning majority in this House to override and defeat the Resolution come to by the Committee upstairs, after very careful, laborious, and detailed consideration.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I stated in Committee when that particular decision had been taken that the Government could not allow the Bill to remain in the state it then was.
I agree that my right hon. Friend did say that, but that makes no difference to my contention. I remember that on the Report stage of the Bill an hon. Gentleman suggested an Amendment, and the objection taken to it by my right hon. Friend was that the Government could not possibly accept the Amendment because it was considered in Committee upstairs and the Government felt bound by the decision of the Committee.
I am suggesting that the Government have gone back on an important decision taken upstairs. In regard to the question of control, the Committee came to one decision, and my right hon. Friend asked the House to reverse that decision, but in regard to other Amendments introduced and defeated upstairs, he said the Govern- 749 ment could not accept those Amendments because the Committee had considered them and they felt bound by the decision of the Committee. The decision come to by the Committee involved the question of State control. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who enjoys the distinction of representing a constituency contiguous to my own, referred to objections to State control. We have had State control in shipping, telephones, collieries, railways and in every direction where we have had State control there has been failure, chaos, and disaster, and I am rather afraid that now that we have State control over the greatest, the oldest, and, in many respects, the most important industry in this country, that of agriculture, that industry instead of thriving, will, like all other industries under State control, deteriorate, and that will have a very bad effect upon industry generally.
The right hon. Member for South Molton referred to the question of the expense that is going to be involved in this Bill. I do not know where he got his figures, but I put a question a few days ago to the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to the staff employed by the Ministry of Agriculture, and the cost, and the answer was that the full-time staff of the Ministry, including Kew Gardens, numbered 1,781, and the annual cost for salaries, as on 1st November, including war bonus, £573,480. The corresponding figures on the 1st August, 1914, were 659, and £132,921. That means that the State control of agriculture since 1914 has resulted in an increase in staff of 1,122 and an increase in cost of £440,559. If that has been the increase since 1914, one can readily imagine what an infinitely greater increase there will be in provisions under this Bill. Therefore, not only will State control in this respect seriously interfere with the industry and adversely affect agriculture generally, but it is going to be, apart from the question of guarantees, a very expensive luxury for the taxpayers.
We have heard a good deal about the Farmers' Union, and my hon. Friend who spoke last rather discountered the opinion of a branch of the Farmers' Union. I have noticed during these Debates that if it supports the Bill the Farmers' Union and its branches are regarded with particular favour, but if 750 their opinion is adverse to the Bill that opinion is very often discounted. The farmers of this country, while they want an agricultural policy, and whilst they support generally most of the provisions of this Bill, are certainly dead against the control of the industry so far as ploughing up is concerned. To-day I have received two very important resolutions from branches of the Farmers' Union, and being in Devon they are very important branches. My division is purely agricultural, and I think I can claim that I represent the best farms and the best farmers in the country. One resolution was passed by the Bideford Branch of the Farmers' Union, and in moving it, Alderman Metherell, the chairman, used very significant words. He called attention to the alteration— and this is what upsets the farmers generally—which has been made in the Agriculture Bill at the instigation of the Government, and so that compulsory powers had been given to the Government to make the farmers cultivate land as they might direct, as in war-time. He said that this was a most drastic change, and that, notwithstanding the efforts of their representatives, it was carried. They were quite agreeable to the Clause asking for good husbandry, but this they would never accept. They would be better off without the Bill than as at present proposed. Another tenant farmer said that the Bill was monstrously unfair to farmers and landlords. They would be absolutely under the heel of the county agricultural committees if the Bill was passed, and he protested against it. The following resolution was passed unanimously:That this meeting strongly protests against the action of the Government in again inserting the compulsory Clauses in the Agriculture Bill, and calls on the National Farmers' Union to get the Bill rejected unless these Clauses are removed.The next resolution comes from the South Devon Flock Book Association, held at Plymouth, and was passed yesterday:The meeting further protests against legislation that permanently endorses any system of control by non-practical officials, such that might be desirable in war time, but is utterly wrong in peace time.I will pass on these resolutions for what they are worth to my right hon. Friend. I will leave the sins of commission and deal with the sin of omission. The sin of omission amounts to a failure on the part 751 of the Government to redeem the definite pledge made by the Prime Minister at the Caxton Hall. A good deal has been said about that speech. I know how punctiliously careful the Government are to honour all their pledges, and how sensitive they are to suggestions that they are not redeeming their promises down to the smallest particular. Knowing their sensitiveness I endeavoured in Committee to give them every chance to honour their bond in regard to what was said by the Prime Minister at the Caxton Hall and I quoted the Prime Minister's speech. An extraordinary situation arose from that quotation. Having quoted the Prime Minister's words in regard to security of tenure, I was astonished to find my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood), who made most excellent contributions to our Debates, saying, "Do not take the Prime Minister's words too seriously." That speech originated in a Celtic imagination which found expression in exuberant language. My hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Daventry (Captain FitzRoy) when he answered an hon. Friend of mine from these Benches in regard to that speech said, "The Prime Minister at the time was very busy, he was very confused in his mind and he was badly coached." That is the purport of what he said. I am going to indicate what the Prime Minister meant in regard to this particular question. Another thing that amazed me in regard to this particular Bill was that an hon. Member introduced an Amendment and quoted in justification the Prime Minister's own words, and said that the Amendment contained the very words used by the Prime Minister which simply showed that the Prime Minister's speeches in one respect are very much like the Bible. They can be quoted either for or against any particular proposition with equal cogency and effect.
I accept my hon. Friend's assurance. The Parliamentary Secretary said this, "I claim that the Bill carries out in the spirit and almost to the letter every word addressed by the Prime Minister to the farmers at Caxton Hall last October." On Report stage he said: "We are giving security to the farmer." An hon. Member interjected, "No!" and the hon. Gentleman 752 said, "We will see that when we come to it." Unfortunately we never came to it, because my Amendment in regard to security of tenure was not ruled out of order, but was passed over by Mr. Speaker. Does this Bill carry out the promise contained in the Prime Minister's speech with regard to the security of tenure? I am going to answer by suggesting it certainly does not in. the most important particular as far as tenant farmers are concerned. A moment ago I was going to inform my hon. Friend as to how the Prime Minister was coached in regard to security of tenure and to prove to him that when he used the words he meant security of tenure and not compensation for disturbance as we have it in this Bill. At Caxton Hall he said three of several cases he dealt with were those in which when a tenant leaves he receives compensation under existing Acts of Parliament, and if those Acts are inadequate the Government was prepared to consider any matters where they are not satisfactory. In those three cases notice might be given to evict the tenant, but in two cases notice ought not to be given where the farm was sold over the tenant's head to another landowner who might want it himself or might want to sell it and make money out of it, where the farmer could not raise the somewhat extravagant price often asked at a resale, and where notice was given to raise the rent. In those cases the farmer needed protection, and he should get it, and it was important he should be secured in his tenure unless the land was sold either for public purposes or a case was made that he was a bad cultivator.
I referred to this in Committee upstairs that the right hon. Gentleman said "dual ownership." As the right hon. Gentleman had so much information as to the opinion of the Farmer's Union, I am going to quote from the headquarters of the Farmers' Union. They said that:The dual ownership bogey is only designed to frighten the unthinking, and any measure of security of tenure would obviously be a measure of dual ownership. Unless the landowners desired to perpetuate security of tenure dual ownership ought not to be quoted against the fulfilment of the Government's pledges.I am going to suggest to the Government that with regard to security of tenure they had not carried out the Government's policy. They had only given compensa- 753 tion for disturbance, and that is an entirely different matter. It has been said that the Prime Minister did not mean security of tenure in the way that those of us who have been advocating security of tenure for a good many years believe. In 1912 the Prime Minister himself appointed the Land Inquiry Committee, and the Minister of Pensions was a Member of that Committee, and an hon. Friend of mine who sits below me was a Member of that Committee, and this is the Report they made:It is suggested, however, that these reforms would be of comparatively little value if provision was not made for granting complete security of tenure to the tenant farmer subject to good farming. Without such security of tenure no proper remedy will be of any avail. We have, therefore, come to the conclusion that if complete justice and freedom are to be enjoyed by the tenant farmer, and if the land is to produce its full yield, the tenant farmer should have complete security of tenure, subject to necessary safeguards.They refer to the Agricultural Holdings Act, and say:It fails in that it does not give security of tenure, but merely compensation for disturbance.I respectfully suggest that when the Prime Minister made his speech in the Caxton Hall, promising the tenant farmers security of tenure, notwithstanding the interpretations based upon it by my hon. Friend opposite, he knew what he was saying when he promised security of tenure. Some years ago this Report was accepted by the Prime Minister and defended in this House. When he promised the country security of tenure they expected to get security of tenure and not merely compensation for disturbance, such as they are getting under this Bill. In conclusion, my own opinion, knowing farmers well, is that you will not get increased production unless you remove from the tenant farmers the menace of eviction. Under this Bill the very best farmer, the very best cultivator of any land, can be removed, subject to the payment of a certain sum of money in compensation. I am anxious to see the tenant farmer absolutely secured, and, although I have made these criticisms in regard to certain points of the Bill, I am certainly going to support it, for compensation for disturbance is certainly better than nothing at all.
§ Mr. GEORGE EDWARDS
In regard to this Bill, I hold no brief for the 754 farmer, but I am interested in what is fair and what is just, and because I believe the main provisions of this Bill will for the first time deal fairly and justly with agriculture, I want it to become law. Those who are opposing it would be well advised if they withdrew their opposition and do all that they can to bring it into law at the earliest possible moment. I support it because, after reading it through, listening to the Debate, and considering it specially in its now amended form, I am certain it will do two things. In spite of all the arguments that have been made during the Debate that it will not increase food production or lead at all to the better cultivation of the land, I am perfectly satisfied, when it becomes law and gets into work, it will do both these things. Although it is stated it does not give any security to the farmer, as my hon. Friend says, no one knows better than he does, that if you are going to give the farmer security of capital, then it is to all intents and purposes security of tenure.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
You may say No, but it does not alter the fact. If a landlord for any reason knows that if he turns a tenant out of his farm he is liable to pay compensation, then he will think twice before he takes such a course as that.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I did not catch the remark, so I cannot reply to it. Anyone who knows anything about agriculture at all knows that it was for want of security of capital that our land to-day is in the state of cultivation it is. It was because those who had the capital or those that took the land had not got sufficient capital and were not enabled to get it because there was no security given for the capital or security of tenure, whatever you like to call it. Now, for the first time in the history of this country, here is an honest attempt to deal with the great and important industry and to put it on a footing that will enable it to occupy its just position in the industries of this country. As far as the agricultural labourer is concerned, I am surprised at the interest manifested towards that particular class. I would like to know, especially from the 755 right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), when this new interest in the agricultural labourer had its commencement. I want to tell the House that the agricultural labourer is never going back again to his pre-War days, and this Bill will do something to increase his comfort and to lift him up higher in his social scale. Can anyone say that there is anything in that Clause that is not just, not fair? The man living in his tied cottage has been liable to be turned out at a week's notice, if there was a difference of opinion between him and his employer, with no compensation. Agricultural labourers are the most skilled class of workmen that we have. The Mover of the Rejection of this Bill said that the farmers did not want it. I am afraid he did not read the Report of the Farmers' Union, because if he had he would have known that the Farmers' Union is strongly in favour of it, and very anxious that it should be added to the Statute Book. The Mover also expressed the curious view that those in favour of the Bill were not experts. Surely the hon. Gentleman will not say that the leaders of the Farmers' Union are not experts. It has been my fortune as a member of the Wages Board for the last two years to meet a great many of those leaders, and, in my opinion, you could not find more able, more honest, or more expert men in any industry than you have in the leaders of the Farmers' Union. They come along and say they are anxious for this Bill, because it will for the first time give them security of capital so that they may carry on their work. Much has been said about control, and that seems to be the bugbear.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I am glad to hear that ironical "Hear, hear." I have come to the conclusion that what we want is not less but more control for this important industry, and if we are going, as I think we must, to give the farmer security for his capital, then we must have control. If the labourer is to have a living wage and the remuneration which is just, then you must put the farmer into a position which will enable him to pay it. We have had some figures given to us about the increase in cost, but we have not been told about the increased prices. If the 756 labourer is put where he ought to be as the first man on the soil, and if he is to be kept in comfort decently, and provided with a proper home, then you must put the industry in a way to do those things. As a direct representative of the agricultural labourer I support this Bill wholeheartedly, and I tell the House that the agricultural labourers demand it. If you want to abolish unrest, and keep this important class contented, then you must pass this Bill into law so that these men will get a proper place in the country. They demand that, and they ask that the Bill shall become law at the earliest possible moment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel JACKSON
As one who has the honour to represent a constituency where the agricultural industry largely predominates, I wish to intervene, but not to repeat to any extent the arguments already advanced. I have not taken an active part in the previous stages of this Bill, but it has been my good fortune to watch the efforts of my hon. Friends on these Benches, men who are thoroughly experienced and have real technical knowledge of agriculture in their persistent attempts to do what they could by amendment to improve the Bill, and to try and produce for the Government, and I would almost say in spite of the Government, a measure fair and just, and, above all things, workable and one which perhaps would be acceptable in the interests of agriculture and of the community generally. I am afraid however that their efforts have not met with all the success that they might have wished for. At the same time, I should like to join with those who have already spoken in expressing my admiration of the considerate way, and generous manner sometimes, in which the Parliamentary Secretary has conducted the Bill through the House. I have always had an admiration for him, and my admiration has grown more than ever by a kind of feeling that somehow or other he has an extraordinary power of self-conviction in the merits of this Bill, to have been able to have aroused enthusiasm in the way he has done against the onslaughts, and what appeared to be irresistible onslaughts from these Benches. When I first studied this Bill I felt somehow that there was a fundamental objection to it which I could never get over. I felt that underlying it was a principle which was altogether unsound and extremely dangerous. 757 I have never been able to have any confidence, and I do not think I ever shall be able to have any confidence, in a business which depends for its prosperity upon subsidies and which is therefore liable to the interference of Government control. I wonder how many Members of this House would really be prepared to invest in any sort of business which was founded and had to stand on such a foundation as subsidies and interference by Government control.
I admit, and I think we all must admit, that control by the Government must go with the guaranteed prices. If the agricultural community demand guarantees they must realise that they have got to have control, and very drastic control. So far as guaranteed prices are concerned, I personally have never been able to believe that they would give very much advantage to those to whom they are supposed to be a great encouragement. They have not been, so far as I know, of any advantage at all. If within the next two or three years, as is more than probable, a world shortage operates in this country, then there is not likely to be any advantage gained from the guaranteed prices during that period. Like many hon. Members who have spoken to-day, I have most serious misgivings as to what will happen in this country when the Government have to find the subsidy. It is not outside the range of possibility, if in a very few years the distraught countries, such as Russia, get going again, and grow corn very quickly, as they can, that in a very short time we shall have corn at 40s. knocking at our doors. That would necessarily mean that a good many millions would have to be paid in the way of subsidy. I can picture the concern of those responsible for the Government of the day, and they may not be the same individuals as now, and the anxiety of hon. Members from urban districts and our cities and towns struggling with their consciences as to whether they had to honour the bond being entered into now or whether they had reluctantly to come to the conclusion that the finances of the country would not stand it. Government control is, of course, the natural sequel to the subsidy. I think it is the nastiest pill of all we have to swallow in this Bill. I cannot imagine anyone of the agricultural community I know wishing to take one voluntarily. The provision in the Bill whereby it is 758 possible for an individual by order to come down and directly interfere with the legitimate business which a man is carrying on in his own way, and order him to do it according to his ideas, and in a way which, from past experience, the man knows to be wrong, is, I think, bound to prove in the shortest possible time quite intolerable, and will not be submitted to. I am not surprised that the Government insisted upon inserting that particular Clause about ploughing up in the Bill. The control is their quid against the very doubtful quo of the guarantees. No Government could feel justified in giving the one without imposing the other.
I do feel that in a very short time after the Bill has got working, the agricultural community will realise that the advantages which they are going to get by this Bill will be to a large extent smothered by the disadvantages which will accrue. I do not think it is possible for anyone, however experienced an agriculturist he may be, to be really able to judge as to what the effect of this Bill will be on agriculture until it really gets working and into practice. So much depends on how the powers under the Bill are exercised. There is great difference of opinion as to how the Bill will operate. I have heard those whose opinion on agriculture I respect very much. "Just see what may possibly happen under the powers which are given in such and such a Clause to the Minister or to the Committee to do this or that. If they are put into operation in such and such a way it is obvious that the position of the people directly interested will be impossible." On the other hand, I have heard men for whose opinion I have an equal respect say: "The provisions of this Bill are not likely to be imposed. If they are imposed, they are so hedged round that you can get out of the difficulty and the terrible effects which you anticipate will not take place." With this difference of opinion there is only one way of finding out the effect of the Bill and that is by putting it into operation.
There is one matter about which I am justified in having a certain amount of anxiety. I have asked many of my Friends, "What do you consider is likely to be the position of the landowners under this Bill?" I take the good landowner. I do not take the bad landowner, because if he is a bad landowner, and 759 the Bill operates to make him a good landowner, or to make him quit, so much the better. The answer I got in most instances was this: "The prudent landowner will take the first possible opportunity he can to get out. He cannot possibly afford to carry the risk of an unknown liability which he may incur under this Bill. He will be a wise man if he gets the opportunity of getting out to take that opportunity, and invest in something else where his money will be safe." That is a serious thing for agriculture, for agriculture at this moment requires, as much as any other business, as much capital as it can possibly get. If you get these landowners to go, you will cause capital to fly from the land and go elsewhere.
Many years, like the large majority of hon. Members of this House, I spent in business in the cities of this country. I knew very little of agriculture, and cared very little about it. I got the greatest fun in the world in one way out of agriculture. I rode and shot over the farmers' land, and thoroughly enjoyed it. That was all I knew about it. I often heard of the importance of agriculture, but never appreciated it thoroughly until I was fortunate enough to go to another portion of the county to which I belong, the East Riding, and to be elected to this House. I immediately got into touch, as I had not been before, with the agricultural community. I tried to take an intelligent interest in their concerns, and I am delighted to think that, having seen, I got my eyes opened and realised—I do not think anyone can realise more quickly than one whose eyes are opened like that—what the prosperity of agriculture means to the prosperity of this country. I do not think that I am overstating it when I say that the prosperity of the whole of this country depends to a great extent on the prosperity of agriculture. Upon it depends the health and vigour of our race and the security of our island home.
We are all agreed that any measure which will really help towards prosperity in agriculture should be welcomed, but we do not know what the result of this Bill will be. It is not easy to produce a measure that will meet with everybody's approval, and this Bill has proved emphatically that it is not easy to produce 760 one that meets with the universal approval of those of this House who represent agricultural constituencies or who know a great deal about agriculture. Is there not some hope, possibly, even from this Bill? I think that there is. One great hope we have is that this is a sign that the Government and Parliament and, I hope, the country, have wakened up to the fact that agriculture is of real importance and are determined to do all they possibly can, where they have neglected it in the past, to make up for lost time and promote its interests. What we want to do is to try to find out the right measure that will help it along. This is no doubt an honest effort on the part of the Government to do that, but whether after two or three years' working it will prove to be satisfactory has yet got to be seen. I am one of those who believe that we shall not know what it really means until it has been working for two or three years. It may possibly be, as many anticipate, that parts of it will be good, parts of it indifferent and parts very bad, and if the Government will be prepared carefully to watch this Bill and act upon-experience, keep the good parts, improve the indifferent and eradicate what prove to be bad, then I do think, in spite of all the dangers which I believe it contains, that eventually it may prove to be a satisfactory measure.
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken has very similar ideas to mine in some respects as regards this Bill. Like him, I am prepared to vote for the Bill in the hope that with experience we shall find what is good and what is bad, and what we can then reject. I can speak perhaps with more conviction as regards Part I of the Bill. The part of the North of England which I represent gets no benefit from the guarantee, and receives the handicap of the control which is tied up with that guarantee. In a district which raises cattle and sheep and which cannot produce much corn there can be no benefit from the guaranteed prices. What corn we produce we consume. Though we have every reason to object to Part I on that account, I do not think we would like to go so far as to oppose the Bill, for we recognise that we are a minority in the agricultural world, and we recognise the difficulties with which farmers in other parts of the country have to contend. Moreover, Part I of the Bill is temporary 761 and is only an experiment. I must reserve to myself complete freedom for the future, but for the moment, when farmers are asking that some greater security be given to them, I think it is reasonable that the Government should come forward and guarantee them against loss.
Part II of the Bill is far more important. It is permanent, and will have permanent effects. It is designed, I hope, to improve the relations of the agricultural industry for many years. The mortgages that exist on estates, I am told, are considerable. As the Defense of the Realm Act comes to an end these mortgages, which may have been at a low rate of interest, will become renewable at a higher rate. If that be so, land in many cases will be sold. There is every reason to give farmers some kind of security. We know that the amount of capital necessary in farming, or in engineering, or in any other business, has doubled or trebled in recent years. Surely the farmer has a right to demand greater security for the increased capital he must put into his farm. From inquiries I have made I find that most good landlords—the good landlord is one who resides on his estate, looks after things personally, knows his own farmers and probably has no agent—do not fear this Bill. For one thing they do not often change their tenants. Generation after generation of the same family occupies their farms. Where landlords have failed in the past it has been in the case of an old tenant whom they did not like to reprimand when he failed to trim his hedges or clean his ditches. To such a tenant they have been too kind. This Bill gives a good landlord of that type an easy way out of his difficulty. He can go to the county committee, and if he proves his case the committee will give him a certificate, and he can get rid of the bad farmer without a lot of trouble.
In one respect, perhaps, I take a peculiar view. That view is that this Bill is going to result in increased rent. It is only natural, as certain burdens and restrictions are placed on capital, that capital should demand in due course an increased reward. It will be found that capital will be a little more difficult to obtain, and where it is obtained it will demand a higher rate of interest. It means that the landlord will demand a little more rent. Look at it from 762 another point of view. If the position of the tenant farmer is made more attractive there will be more eagerness to join the ranks of the tenant farmers. If more people seek farms the landlord, very rightly, can put up his rent. There is a third way in which I believe rent will tend to rise. What happens when you go to arbitration? The arbitrator has in his mind's eye a good farm, highly cultivated, where good profits are being made, and he sets against this the farm on which he is called to arbitrate. He has to set a high standard in his mind before he can adjudicate, and the whole tendency must be a high standard of rent. As a practical result of these three factors operating, I think there will be a slightly higher rate of rent obtainable from agricultural holdings throughout the country. Again, there is the good old-fashioned labourer's argument, which is not too bad and has some truth in it, that the higher the farmer's rent the better he has got to do his land, the more he has got to plough, the more fertilisers he has got to put on his grass, and he says that that means the more labourers he will have to employ. High farming is very likely encouraged by a good rent, and it leads to plenty of employment in the countryside.
I seldom trouble the House with a speech, and I apologise for taking up so long a time, but I do want to say one word in conclusion, I hope without any offence to any hon. Member. I am a landlord. I am the younger son of one who was landlord of a big estate, and since then I have got a small estate of my own, and I speak from the landlord's point of view. I have heard the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) saying, for the labourers, "We demand our rights," and I have heard another hon. Member saying on behalf of the farmers that they wanted their rights, and I have heard my hon. Friends opposite talking of their rights as landlords. It makes me rather afraid when I hear demands of that description. In these days I do not believe rights exist; in their place there are only duties, and if we look after our duties our rights will take care of themselves. What is the demand by tenant farmers, who are not an unreasonable and greedy class of men on the whole, but an encroachment on the rights of landlords? Undoubtedly, this Bill does encroach on the rights of land- 763 lords, but I think we must admit that perhaps all the duties have not been performed as they should have been. I do not suggest what they are, but at the present moment, here in my place in the House of Commons, I thought perhaps, when we know there are many coming landlords, men with new-found wealth, seeking to secure all those rights and privileges which landlords think they should possess, it might be right perhaps to warn them that those rights and privileges depend purely and simply on the duties which they perform. If this Bill is going to be of any use in guiding us I would say, let us not put really any faith in the Bill, let us not put any faith in an amended Bill, be the compensation or fines double or treble what they are in this Bill, but let us tell those who own land in the country that their rights and their privileges depend, not on us here, but on themselves, and if in the country they will only perform the simple duties which appertain to English country gentlemen all those rights and privileges which they now demand will be freely and willingly accorded to them by everyone.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I am sure, every hon. Member who has listened to the last speech appreciates not only the tone but the modesty with which it was delivered, and I feel that if all landlords, whether young, middle-aged, or old, took up the same attitude and the same lofty sense of personal duty, then neither this Bill nor any other Bill could bring disaster to them. We have listened to a very interesting Debate. When the Bill was before the House on its Second Reading, I took exception to certain provisions of it. I felt that the agricultural question was the most important that we could discuss in this House. Knowing a little about Scotland, knowing also something about Wales, I felt that to tackle the question it would have been wise to have dealt with it in three Bills, because customs and conditions vary in the three countries. I might describe Wales as the country of small holdings. Farming as it is known in the Lowlands of Scotland and the greater part of England is practically unknown in Wales, and the difficulties of one set of farmers under varying conditions are totally different from those of another set of farmers. 764 But the Bill has gone through its Committee stage. I am glad my Welsh friends are more or less satisfied.
§ Mr. SEDDON
That is no reason why we should not give careful consideration to this question of agriculture. I was brought closely into association with this subject as a member of Lord Milner's Commission in 1915. I frankly admit that up till then I had not given very much attention to the agricultural question, but there we were in a difficulty. Something had to be done, and that Commission made its recommendations, one of which was a guaranteed price to the farmer for the produce that he gave to the country. Arising out of that inquiry, I was forced to this conclusion, not only that agriculture had been neglected in the past, but that unless something was done arising out of the panic to save it in the future, then at some distant date—and I hope it will be distant—when we might be faced with the same circumstances, we would be in exactly the same position or even worse, as we were in 1915. So I tried to devote what little intelligence I have as to the best way of dealing with this question. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) was in a very dolorous mood. He reminded me of the Children of Israel with their harps on the willows, and he seemed to have nothing to say for this particular Bill. Probably when he sees it in operation his courage may arise and his hopes be inspired that after all there is something even in this Bill, although it cuts across his pre-War ideas. But I was more forcibly struck with the community of interests expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Eddisbury (Major Barnston), the remarks of my hon. and esteemed Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), who represents the agricultural labourers, and also the remarks of my hon. Friend who spoke last (Captain Brown). All who know the hon. and gallant Member for Eddisbury know he stands high among the landlords of Cheshire and that his reputation is second to none, and he has accepted this 765 Bill as a landlord. He knows very well that something must be done for agriculture, and he has accepted it almost without reservation, and the same applies to my hon. Friend representing the agricultural labourers.
My hon. and learned Friend has convinced me there is something in what is said outside that you want in this House practical men, and not lawyers. His was a debating speech, and he based his remarks on some hole-and-corner meeting held in Devon, and with an assurance and assumption he informed the world and this House that the only good farmers and the best farmers came from that particular constituency which he happens at the moment to represent. I want to say that that hole-and-corner meeting, whether it was representative of all Devonshire or only a little part of it, sinks into insignificance when compared with the great mass of farmers who belong to the Farmers' Union. After all, these men have been joined together for a definite purpose. I am speaking, of course, of the English Farmers' Union. Theré is a membership of some 100,000, and they are the best farmers, because everybody knows that it is always the trouble with labour that it is the least efficient who are the last to come inside an organisation, and it is the same with the farmers. When you get the Farmers' Union representing all the best throughout the country in common agreement with the agricultural labourer and the enlightened landlord, then there is something more to be said for this Bill than mere Government expediency, or any other term which has been applied to this particular Bill.
My point goes a little further, and I want to emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend towards the end of his speech. The representative of the agricultural labourer said, "Make peace now if you want to prevent unrest among the agricultural labourers." You have got to give them some indication that there is going to be a standard of comfort approximating to what they have to-day, which has been gained through the strength of their organisation during the War. Exactly the same has been said by my hon. Friend who represents the farmers in Scotland. There you have a robust body of men whose ability at farming nobody can doubt. The Scottish Farmers' Union are 766 making exactly the same statement as the agricultural labourers—"Unless you pass this Bill, then our demands will become stronger, because we will know that the House of Commons is not prepared to give us even this act of justice which we were prepared to accept at this particular time." If you get the agricultural labourer and the farmer in that maelstrom of unrest and incipient revolt, where is your landlord to come in? It was said that the Bourbons were responsible for the downfall of the old French Monarchy, and I am convinced, with all due respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury)—we all know his honesty—that he has, like that ancient Royal Family, forgotten nothing and learnt nothing.
§ Mr. SEDDON
No, and it is not wise to stand up against the storm when you know the storm is going to engulf you. After all, the right hon. Baronet is such a charming Member of this House that no one can quarrel with him. I would like to call attention to a little incident in his past which robbed this House of his beaming presence and his undoubted ability and usefulness as a Member of this House. He opposed the popular will—
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Edwin
Cornwall): On the Third Reading you can only discuss what is in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman's past is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I beg pardon, but, looking at the right hon. Gentleman's smile, I thought I would remind him as an object lesson—
§ Mr. SEDDON
He is of the old guard who has fought against this Bill, and I would advise him and his friends who have conscientiously opposed this Bill to consider whether they are doing wise to the cause they represent, because I am convinced that if this Bill happens to be destroyed here or elsewhere, then the future of that class for whom they are supposed to speak, will be materially worsened. I support the Bill because I believe it is an honest attempt to solve, or at least put this great industry upon a more permanent footing than in the 767 past. Certainly it has got flaws in it. The time is far distant when the draughtsmen of this country will be able to draft a Bill to suit every Member of this House. That time will be the millennium, and will not come to pass so long as party divisions exist. The Bill, taken all in all, is not only an honest attempt, but I believe will be a successful attempt. At least, it is being blessed by those who will be more hurt or benefited by it, and that is the great farming community. They are giving it support. In my final word I want to join in the general chorus of appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill. Upstairs, his courtesy, his urbanity, and, I would say, his knowledge of agriculture, were a great asset. Since the Bill came down, he has shown all those delightful characteristics. I only hope he will be rewarded, not only by the success of this Bill, but that he will get that to which he is entitled—I hope in the dim and distant future—that call from above, Good and Faithful Servant, thou hast done well.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Seddon) for the kind references to the country which I represent. My hon. Friend knows a good deal about Wales, but on this occasion, I am afraid, he has misrepresented the views of a large section of the Welsh farmers when he says that they are satisfied with the Bill as it is at present. It is perfectly true that a concession was made to us in the form of a separate Wages Board, and for that I have already expressed my gratitude to my right hon. Friend, because, if we must have a Bill, we would prefer it with a separate Wages Board. But if there ever have been arguments in favour of devolution, the arguments on this Bill have been the strongest I have ever heard. I do not know of any arguments that have brought out the fundamental differences which exist between the four nations in the British Isles more clearly than the arguments which have been adduced for or against this Bill. We hear that the English National Farmers' Union are strongly in favour of fixed prices and of control. I agree at once that if you say you must have fixed prices, or if you accept the 768 principle of fixed prices, you must also accept the principle of control. One is a corollary of the other. I represent the Welsh National Farmers' Union in this matter; I am their accredited agent in this House, and I am entitled to speak for them. The Welsh Farmers' Union have considered this Bill carefully. We have a barrister as Secretary of that Union, and he has seen that the farmers have been properly instructed as to its Clauses, and as to the effect of those Clauses, Therefore the Welsh farmers do understand what this Bill means. What are the resolutions which they have passed and which they have asked me to defend in this House? The most important one of all is this: that they do not want to obtain their profits from the taxpayer of this country. There is a principle of free trade there. It is a principle which goes to the very root of the life of this country. Here you have a section of the community who would benefit—some hon. Gentleman said to-night that probably the farming community might have to draw on the Exchequer of this country for no less a sum than £50,000,000 a year. Here you have farmers deliberately meeting and passing a resolution that they object in principle to obtain their profits out of the taxpayers of the country. There you have the difference between England and Wales. England says: "Yes, we will have fixed prices and accept control." Wales, on the other hand, says: "We will not have fixed prices, and we will not have control." Therefore, the hon. Member for Hanley, when he stated that we should have had three separate Bills, stated the thing which is perfectly true, because we should not have had a Bill at all for Wales dealing with fixed prices and with control. We do not want either one or the other.
We want reforms, it is perfectly true, in agriculture. The Prime Minister, before he accepted office, in the year 1896, introduced a Land Court Bill for Wales. He was one of the strongest advocates of the Land Court. I brought in an Amendment to that effect in Committee on this Bill, and also in the House, and that Amendment was turned down. The farmers of Wales are amazed; they cannot understand why my right hon. Friend should in 1896 advocate a Land Court for Wales, and in the year of grace 1920 turn it down. We in Wales 769 ask for security of tenure, not for security of capital. The object of this Bill is not, as my hon. Friend below says, to have increased rents. The object of this Bill is to have increased production. The way to obtain increased production is to allow a nation to cultivate and carry on its interests in its own particular way. We in Wales are not a nation of grain-growers. The climate is against us. We cannot profitably grow wheat. We have never laid ourselves out so to do. The result is we have no granaries in Wales. What happened during the War? Small farmers were compelled to grow grain. They had no storage accommodation for it, and when the threshing, which they had to do to get the straw, took place, they were forced to put that grain on to the market, whether that market was a good or a bad one. Therefore, I say, to talk about enforcing cultivation and to enforce ploughing in Wales is perfectly ridiculous.
This Bill, so far as Wales is concerned, has no meaning. It will not be carried out. I tell my right hon. Friend now—he may not have known it—that the Welsh National Farmers' Union have passed a resolution that they will not carry out the Bill—because they cannot! It is impossible for the Welsh farmer to grow grain and make any sort of a living on his farm. The small farms in Wales are dairy farms, cattle-rearing farms, and if you are going to have a guaranteed price at all, why limit it to grain? Why not have prices for cattle, pigs and everything else? Why not have a guarantee all round? The fact is this—and I am pretty confident of it— this Agricultural Bill is the thin end of the wedge of a system of protection in this country. It has all the principles of protection. I for one am a convinced free trader, and will have nothing to do with it. Wales will have nothing to do with it. Wales will not have protection either in agriculture or anything else. Therefore I say, and emphatically say, that I shall vote with my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London against this Bill, not because we are not grateful for what the Parliamentary Secretary has done in giving us a separate Wages Board for Wales, for, as I said before, if we must have the Bill we would rather have this provision, but we do not want the Bill.
§ Mr. KIDD
It is common ground, I think, in the House that if this Bill works out so as to stimulate agriculture in the country, and to lead to increased prosperity, while at the same time adding to the remuneration and comfort of the men working on the land, it is a Bill that is entitled to our support. But we are not to be condemned if we, as some of us do, entertain that view not so confidently entertained by some, and believe that the Bill may result differently. I am bound to confess that I have very considerable sympathy with the attitude taken up on this occasion by the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). Listening to the discussion of the earlier stages of the Bill, one could not resist the feeling that the Bill was very often discussed a little too much from two standpoints only, the standpoint of the landowner, and the standpoint of the tenant farmer. There are those of us who neither rejoice in being a present landowner, or a pedigree landowner, while, on the other hand, we are not tenant farmers. Having, however, admiration for both these classes, we have intense sympathy with them, and on that account are very anxious to see that nothing in the Bill is likely to do damage to the agriculture of the country.
However, there are other interests besides that of landlord and tenant farmer to be taken into account. In the first place, there is the interest of the worker, that is the ploughman. In the second place, there is the interest of the ex-service man, who at the present time is undergoing training for agricultural pursuits; and thirdly, there is the national interest. If one looks at this Bill from the standpoint of the ploughman, one is rather surprised that the Bill should have received the support in any measure of the Labour party. I shall be glad to hear if any Member of that party is accredited or qualified to represent the ploughman, and can discover in this Bill anything that is likely to help the ploughman so far as his aspirations go to becoming a tenant farmer. Make no mistake about it. In imposing compensation upon the landowner as a condition of getting rid of a tenant, you are imposing payment for that compensation upon a class which is not a luxurious class. The only way that compensation can be paid is through the incoming tenant. I am speaking as one 771 who happens to have some acquaintance with tenant farmers. At the present time I am winding up the estate of one of the largest farmers in my own county. He began life as a ploughman, and afterwards acquired a small holding of 40 acres. He gradually increased that holding until he became one of the largest farmers in that particular district of Scotland. It has always been argued that we should provide the ploughman with a ladder of progress. Any man to-day with the will and ability in any industry, who is prepared to make some sacrifices, can find a ladder of progress which brings him to almost any point of his ambition. The difficulty in regard to the ploughman has always been that there is no such ladder of progress for him. In the past there has been a scarcity of small holdings and small farms. A ploughman has not the means to take a big farm, and however skilful and industrious he may be as a worker, or however prudent and willing to make sacrifices, or however ambitious, the ploughman, as compared with other workers, has not had the same opportunity of making good. Are you helping him? If access to the land has been difficult in the past it will be ten times more difficult after you have passed this Bill.
With regard to the ex-service man, what is the good of you and me pretending to have such an admiration for these men if after those protestations we proceed with legislation that is calculated to defeat their hopes and ambitions. Many ex-service men have discovered a taste for agriculture who had no such taste before. The Government is undertaking the training of these men. We all know that they are not men of means. They have served 4 or 5 years in the War and they have had 2 years' training in agriculture. Just as you are making access to the land impossible for the ploughman you are increasing the difficulties of the ex-service men. There is also the national interest. The intention of this Bill is by imposing a system of compensation to obtain security of tenure for the present generation of tenant farmers. Is it in the interests of agriculture to standardise the present mode of farming? I know that this compensation in its severest form is only payable in the event of some capricious dismissal of the tenant, but I wish to point out that by means 772 of this compensation Clause you are entrenching mediocrity. What is the stimulus for people in the world of industry except competition? Why is agriculture to be deprived of this stimulus? By these proposals you are directly putting a premium, if not on total incompetence, at least on mediocrity, and there fore the system of compensation is bad.
I wish to examine the contention of those who maintain that this Bill will give additional security to the tenant farmer. Many of us have seen the different conditions which have been maintained in the world of agriculture on the one hand and industry on the other. In the domain of industry we have tried to do everything by Act of Parliament, and have we prospered by that policy? In the domain of agriculture we have left everything to the personal relation, and what has been the result? The laws which have regulated succession from father to son in ownership have been largely reflected in tenancy. I can give a case in my own county where the present tenant farmer by himself and his forebears has occupied the land for 268 years. We have been told that in Scotland security of tenure is very bad for agriculture: but this Bill is intended to give security to the tenant farmer. In Scotland we are told that they have too much security. Do you think that the laird in Scotland who has given the tenant the security which he enjoys to-day has been moved by considerations of pounds, shillings and pence? Your profit and loss test is the test of commerce. The success of your land system in Scotland has been due to the fact that the relations between the laird and his tenants has been of a personal nature, and has not been based on pounds, shillings and pence. By this Bill you are going to interfere with those relations. Do you expect that the same relationship will exist when you have thrust in the crude hand of an Act of Parliament.
You cannot have it both ways. You must either have the land free and regulated with the warm, full co-partnership of proprietor and tenant or you must have it regulated by Act of Parliament. Let hon. Members opposite assume for a moment that the land is nationalised. Would they as owners agree to the compensation to the tenant farmers which is 773 provided by this Bill. Again I would say this to the tenant farmer. Would you with the land nationalised ever rejoice again in the privileges which you enjoy to-day under private ownership? Take it from any point of view you like, I say that the Labour party, if they be true to their own doctrines, are bound to condemn this Bill on all grounds. Under no system of nationalisation would the tenant farmer enjoy the privileges he has to-day, and so far as the land of this country is concerned, so far from improving the situation of the tenant farmer the Bill is going to destroy it. It has been suggested that every farmer in Scotland is in favour of the Bill. I have received letters, and I have spoken with scores of farmers, and I find there is a very widespread objection to this Bill.
One hon. Member moved the rejection of Clause 7, Sub-section (5). Had he succeeded in carrying that Amendment there would have been something to be said for security to the tenant farmer, as the object was to make the compensation payable to heirs also on the death of the present tenant. In other words, the hon. Member who moved the Amendment evidently had in view the creation of something in the nature of a fresh class of land-holder in this country, a class which was to have security not only for themselves but also for their successors. I grant, if the hon. Member had been able to obtain that, it would have given security to the farmer, but without it he has less security than he has hitherto enjoyed. As lease after lease falls in on death of tenant is it to be imagined that the leases will be renewed to heirs—son or widow? Just realise what will be the result if the present land system is turned down—a system under which the country has been so prosperous. What would happen as lease after lease falls in? No landowner will take upon himself the responsibility of continuing against his successor the menace of payment imposed by this Bill. He will not relet the land. He will do one of two things. There will for some years to come be an intensified demand for land, and as farm after farm becomes vacant the landowner will either take advantage of that intensified demand and sell the- land at a very high price or he will resume possession of it. Speaking as one with a very deep regard for agriculture, I hope the second method will be the one adopted, and when these farms fall in I 774 trust the lairds of the country will not dispose of them by sale.
I quite recognise the desire on the part of the men who during the War have made wealth far beyond the dreams of avarice to become proprietors of land. They may not have that social sense which the old laird had. Therefore, I hope that the land falling in will not be submitted for sale, but that the landowner will resume possession and, in co-operation with his ploughman, acting, perhaps, on co-operative lines, and sharing the profits, will remain on the land and, at the same time, put a premium on the excellent services of the ploughmen; in fact, the latter may then get back his own. This is our consolation, the consolation of those who take an interest in our land system. In a few years' time the tenant farmer of to-day, or his successor, will have lost the farm. The land will have passed into the hands of the landowner who will act in co-operation with the ploughman. The ploughman may not enjoy that independence which the present tenant farmer has, but his position will be largely improved. But what of those farmers who have strained themselves to have splendid farms which they may hand on to their sons and their grandsons? What is offered to those men in return for the withdrawal of that right of successorship which they have had for generations? Speaking as one who represents tenant farmers, I say that, although you are pretending that you are bringing to the tenant farmers greater security, you are, in fact, going to destroy the security he has, you will disappoint the hopes he has cherished, and you will destroy his main ambition.
§ Colonel Sir A. HOLBROOK
Representing an English agricultural constituency, I rise to speak in favour of this Bill. Some of the arguments used by the last speaker may be sound as regards Scotland, but I do not think they would have very much weight in any English constituency. When this Bill was brought up for Second Reading I discussed the matter with landowners, farmers and labourers in my constituency, and I found that the general opinion was—and I believe it is still to-day—that the Bill offers justice all round. At the time I ventured to assert it was a sound and honest attempt to meet the agricultural difficulty which was experienced when 775 the War broke out, and I still take that view. Of course there are many points in the Bill which everyone of us interested in agricultural matters think might be improved, but taken as a whole the measure will meet the difficulties under which the agricultural community has been suffering for many years past. An hon. Member who spoke earlier in the Debate (Mr. Glanville) quoted a lot of figures showing the great advance in recent years in the prices realised by agricultural produce. He was very careful to give the aggregate receipts, but he did not disclose any figures showing the reason for the increase. We all know that during the last three or four years prices have gone up in every direction and the farmer has been put to very much greater expense in connection with production, and he has been compelled, consequently, to demand higher prices in order to secure some small modicum of profit. His wages bill alone has trebled probably during the last three or four years, and it is therefore clear that the farmer cannot sell his produce or his stock at the same prices as hitherto. It has been suggested that the compensation of guaranteed prices in this Bill will be objected to because it will impose a very largo burden on the taxpayer. I suggest that the figure of £50,000,000, which has been mentioned, is ridiculously high and quite out of proportion to the real state of the case. I have gone into the the matter with some of my friends who are greater experts than myself, and I have come to the conclusion that the demand likely to be made in respect of these guaranteed prices is not going to be a very serious burden upon the taxpayers.
Supposing this guarantee were not given. Let me call the attention of hon. Members to the number of lean years which the farming community in this country suffered under prior to the War. It must be remembered that, for many years, the farmers were expected to produce wheat at prices which never gave them any profit. I come, personally, from a large industrial centre, but I do think that those who live in industrial centres have no right to expect to obtain cheap food at the expense of the agricultural community. We all want cheap food, particularly those of us blessed with large families, but, at the same time, we 776 cannot expect to obtain that cheap food at the expense of one class of the community. If the farmer is not to be assured that the wheat he grows is going to bring in some return, it is quite conceivable that ho is not going to interest himself very much in producing wheat. The one object of this Bill, I understand, is to increase the production of food, and to place this country in a position so that it will not be as it was when war broke out, growing only a very small proportion of the food required for its population. I know that in the compulsory ploughing which took place during the War many mistakes were made, but there were also many cases where ploughing proved to be beneficial. I was personally engaged on work on Salisbury Plain during the War, and in that district we ploughed up over 1,000 acres for the purpose of growing oats for Army horses, and we did so with enormous success. No one would have thought, before the War, that that land could be productive and, had it not been for the War, it would never have been discovered that that land could be productive. It is quite conceivable that, under this Bill, much of the land that will be brought under cultivation will materially increase the food of this country. The objection has been made that this ploughing up of land led to the destruction of good pasture land. I considered that question very closely during the Debate on that particular Clause, and I came to the conclusion that the safeguards given by the local agricultural committees would protect the farmers from any mistakes of that character. The members of the local agricultural committees are men of high experience, men of good local knowledge, and it is not at all likely that they would be led into the error of destroying land that is not suitable for arable cultivation, and I think that the safeguards afforded by this Bill in that direction wipe away most of the difficulties.
I deeply regret that this Amendment for the rejection of the Bill on the Third Reading has been brought before the House because it is quite conceivable that the discussion to-night may give a false lead when the Bill arrives at another place. I submit to hon. Members that if by any mischance this Bill does not pass the other House, and is thrown out, there 777 will be great disappointment in agricultural districts, and I think that we should be doing an enormous disadvantage to the proposal to increase production in this country if the Bill were rejected. The hon. Members who have opposed the Bill have put forward many arguments in favour of their contentions, and I think the arguments put forward from an hon. Member from Wales will not obtain much support. He distinctly says that they do not intend in Wales to convert any pasture land into arable land. I do not think that is an attitude which any district should take up. We have to look at this thing from the wider point of view. It is necessary that we should maintain home production and that we should increase the amount of corn which is now grown in this country. If some of the opponents of the Bill had been with me on Salisbury Plain I think we should not have heard the arguments put forward to-night that hay could be produced without much cost. The hon. Member who made that remark could have had no conception of the cost of cutting, trussing and transport of hay during the early years of the War. If he had he would have realised, as we know now, that hay went up three or four times above its price when war broke out, simply because of the labour necessary for the cutting, trussing and transport. Therefore I think arguments of that sort cannot be accepted as having any weight as opposition to the Bill. Taking it all round, I consider that this Bill is meeting a great difficulty in the agricultural districts, and it is generally approved by all classes—landlords, farmers and agricultural labourers—all of whom are getting some consideration under the various Clauses. Representing as I do a large agricultural district I feel that I ought not to give a silent vote on this occasion. I regret that the agricultural Members in this House have not seen their way to be unanimous in support of this Bill, which I think will do a great deal to improve the agricultural conditions of our land.
§ Mr. ROYCE
I do not want to detain the House many minutes, but I should like to say that I have been very much impressed by the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd). His very interesting speech shows that he is closely and intimately connected with agriculture and, in my opinion, he 778 touched what is perhaps the weakest spot of the Bill when he alluded to the ladder of progress and the difficulty that will be experienced under this Bill by the agricultural labourer in improving his condition and in acquiring land. I have frequently spoken on that subject and the only hope I have in that connection is that the concession that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has made in connection with the larger farms, although not anything like the amount of concession we ought to have had, is something, and I do hope that it will to some extent enable the agricultural labourer to progress by that ladder which has been so eloquently described by the hon. Member. Having said that, I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill for his great consideration. He has received showers of compliments to-night, but in the case of the Labour party, which I have the honour to represent, I can assure him of our gratitude in connection with the concession he has made with regard to the tied cottage system. That concession, for the first time gives something, not very much, but at all events something, in the nature of security to the roof-tree of the worker on the land. We are grateful for that, and our gratitude, which has generally been described as an anticipation of something more, in this instance is no exception. We want something more. It is not very much more that we want, but something was omitted in that connection. Clause 11 provides that a tenant having a lease must receive notice before the expiration of his lease—not more than two years and not less than one year. May I beg that in the instance of the agricultural labourer, whether he be engaged for six months of for twelve, it shall be incumbent on the part of the tenant who employs him that he should give him notice some short period before the expiration of his term of service as to whether he intends to continue it or not. That is a reasonable request if it can be put into the Bill, and I am sure it would be a very great advantage. It would not hurt the farmer and it would be of inestimable benefit to the labourer. May I also express gratitude to the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Fitzroy), who at the last moment last night moved an Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman accepted in connection with the 779 agricultural labourer's garden. It was a very important matter which had been overlooked, and it is of very great service that it has been included in the Bill. It is not much that the agricultural labourer gets.
I have heard a great deal to-day with regard to the question of the guarantees. We do not like guarantees and we do not like subsidies, but in this instance we accept the guarantee because we get something at the same time that is of very great advantage to the worker on the land. We get the continuance of the Wages Board. Some right hon. Gentlemen have not perhaps attached much importance to the Wages Board. I attach the utmost importance to its continuance. I hope the time is not far distant when something in the nature of Whitley Councils can be established in agriculture, but at present the agricultural labourer is not sufficiently advanced in his organisation to enable him to stand alone, and the Wages Board has been of immense benefit to him in improving his conditions. I am sure no one desires the agricultural labourer to go back to the conditions that existed in pre-War days, but that would be the effect if this subsidy was removed and there were that slump in prices which have been anticipated by so many speakers who are opposed to the Bill. I wonder, when these dreadful pictures are painted by opponents of the Bill of the possibility of having to provide large sums in payment of subsidies to the farmer, whether they remember that during the last three years he has been subsidising the food of the nation by receiving a very much smaller price for his produce than the world price. That has amounted to a very large sum, quite as high as the highest estimate that has been suggested this country might ever have to pay. He has subsidised the cereals of the nation to the extent of something like £40,000,000 a year in comparison with the world price, having received so much less. I hope that will not be forgotten. Reference has been made to the effect of the payment of a subsidy in future years. I hope the industrial element in this House and the country will realise that the agricultural labourer is largely dependent on such subsidies in the event—the remote event, I think—of any great slump in prices, and those who have his interests 780 at heart, I am sure, will never wish that he should go back to the conditions that existed in pre-War days.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Colonel Courthope) told us that the sword of Damocles hangs over the agricultural industry. He was careful to tell us that the sword did not fall, and I do not think it will fall in this instance. I think agriculture will survive even under the present conditions of this Bill. I think it will improve. The whole essence of the Bill seems to me to lie in the selection of the agricultural county committees, and if you have good county committees and good administration I do not believe there is any need on the part of the tenant farmer to fear that they will unduly interfere with methods of cultivation. And so far as the landlords are concerned, I think they in their turn will overcome all the difficulties that are presented by this Bill. It seems to me from the remarks which were made by the hon. Member (Mr. Kidd), who has evidently given the subject very considerable study, that he does not, even with the fears he entertains for the present, believe the Bill will work ultimate harm. I believe it will work a great deal of good. I believe it will improve the cultivation of the country. Someone has remarked of the various qualities of land that there were two qualities of land, and that it would not do to plough up the best pasture land. It will be very profitable to plough up good pasture land. It has always been said that the farmer grows rich who ploughs up grass land, and the farmer is ruined who lays down grass land. I do not believe that rule will be broken in connection with the present Bill. At any rate, we shall vote for the Bill in the full belief that it will not only benefit the agricultural labourer but also the tenant farmer. We believe it will confer great benefits, and so far as the fears that the country will be called upon to pay heavily in the shape of subsidies, I do not believe, if the country is called upon, the House will refuse to believe that the interests of the country are wrapped up in the sound condition of the agricultural industry. The fact that the countryside is contented and happy will have very great weight in the deliberations of the House, and if it is brought to the notice of the country in a fair manner they will realise that agriculture, during the period of our greatest 781 trial, has stood by the country, and I do not believe they will desert the industry if at any time the world production should render it a danger in this country. So I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on getting his Bill to its Third Reading. I notice that the amount of opposition, to judge from the Benches, is likely to be very small, and I hope he will have the same success in another place that he has achieved in this.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The last two or three speakers have raised the point of the supposed difficulty that this Bill is going to introduce with regard to settling ex-service men on the land. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Kidd), but I could not agree with him. Those who know anything about schemes for settling ex-service men will not agree with him either. It is not the price of the land that makes those schemes difficult, but the price of the equipment.
If you take an ordinary 20-acre holding at £40 an acre, the land will cost £800, and the equipment will cost at least £1,200—the house, and so on—and the stock a minimum of £500 or £600. Forty pounds out of that one year's extra purchase on the land is going to be neither here nor there. You cannot say that is going to make the settlement of ex-soldiers impossible, whereas before it was possible. It is the cost of the equipment which is the great obstacle at present, and, unfortunately, looks like continuing to be so. With regard to the Bill, there can be no suggestion that any of us have been speaking from the party point of view, or for party purposes, as was the case last night, or that we have been saying anything but what we all genuinely believe. On this subject we are not, in the words of the song, "Bound to leave our brains outside and do just as our leaders tell us to." The diversity of opinions amongst Conservative speakers is only exceeded by the diversity shown amongst Liberal speakers, and if more had spoken representing the Labour party no doubt there would have been the same diversity of opinion. The real difficulty is that hardly anyone, except the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) and possibly the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert)—upon whom the right hon. Baronet's mantle in this House is falling, although I hope the day may be long delayed—would say that 782 the Bill is wholly bad, and I do not think that any of us would say that the Bill is wholly good. Those whose lives bring them into close acquaintance with the industry of agriculture must find it most difficult to decide upon which side of the fence to come down in regard to this Bill. The Bill is an ingenious but rather complicated machine of checks and balances and compensations and conditions. The different parts of it are bound together, and it is very difficult to look at one without having the others closely in one's mind.
Let me look at the different inter-connections in the Bill. There is an interconnection that used to be urged a great deal in this House, but which we hear less of to-day, that because farmers are compelled, many of them perfectly willingly, under the machinery of the Wages Board to pay reasonable wages, they therefore have a right to guaranteed minimum prices. That argument is not used much now. I do not think it is sound; I do not think one can really recognise it. It ought to be required of every industry that they should pay reasonable wages, and no industry has on that account a claim for subsidies from the State. There is the further connection, that if you are going to have guaranteed minimum prices and greater security, you must couple with that some measure of control in the interests of increased agricultural production. That is a perfectly true connection between the different parts of the Bill. I believe the Bill is not only an attempt at a concordat and a new basis of harmony for persons inside the industry, but it is much more an attempt at something like a permanent arrangement between the industry and the general public outside. I believe it is quite vital that if guarantees are given, which may undoubtedly come to a considerable sum, the public ought to see steadily working some machinery under which our most important industry of agriculture will consistently, year after year, give a better return to the general public, of which it forms a part. In regard to the amount of the guarantee, no one can prophesy. I think the figures we have had given to us this evening, varying from £40,000,000 up to £80,000,000, are wild over-estimates of anything which is probable. You only tempt providence if you prophesy. I think it is possible, on oats, that we may 783 have to pay £6,000,000 or £8,000,000 within the next five years, but I would not put it higher than that, although it is an extremely difficult subject to prophesy about.
In this connection the giving of some sort of control in return for guaranteed prices, and in return for extra security of tenure, is nothing like so much against the grain of a very large proportion of farmers in this country as some hon. and right hon. Members would lead us to suppose. I believe the farmer has been painted by his friends very much blacker than he is. I believe the younger generation of farmers are far more advanced in this matter than those who speak for them, and that they have a great deal of public spirit in this matter, and are trying to give the public a better return than perhaps they gave before the War. I know that many of them welcomed the Ploughing Up Orders, and did their best under them, and incidentally made a good thing out of them. They made a very genuine attempt to do what they conceived—they got a new conception during the War—to be their national duty, and I believe they will go on doing so. During the year or so that I had the honour of being the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, I had to address farmers' meetings, and I got into the habit of beginning what I had to say—even then, before the great food scarcity, when we were trying to get the farmers to do better and produce more, in spite of their terrible difficulties—by remarking, "You have to remember that you are not the only pebbles on the beach." That sentiment was always as well received as anything I had to say.
Farmers have learned a great deal from the War. They have learned that unless we all hang together we shall very likely all hang separately, and they have learned that this country is no longer in the position, being as it is now a debtor nation, that she can cheerfully continue to import the main bulk of her food supplies year by year. In the great industry in which they are engaged, and in which, as the census of production before the War showed, there was a greater amount of production per person employed than in any other of our staple industries, the farmers realise that they must make a consistent and continuous effort for 784 greater production, and in that connection it is not unreasonable to make, as this Bill does make, provisions which will very often, perhaps, be kept in the background, but which will be there in cases of necessity for "driving the lazy ones on with a stick," so that they may assist in raising the general standard. Therefore, it is essential from the point of view of the community that there should be this measure of control, and it is not unwelcome to a very large number of the most thoughtful of the younger generation among the farmers.
There is this further link between the different parts of the Bill, and it is an important one, that if the State is going to take an active hand in stimulating production, the cultivator must have some greater security that he will enjoy the results of his industry. Therefore, the two parts of the Bill connect up We would all like to give that extra security in some way that would not bring hardship upon no one, but to-day there is no way of doing that except in some cases at the expense of the landowner. It is rather absurd that one cannot resume a home farm and one cannot cut off a piece of land for a smallholder without losing a year's gross rent, which is equal to about four years' net rent from the land which is affected. There is no other way, therefore the landlord has to put up with it, and to make the best of it, as he has done with so many other things, and to go on with that tremendously public spirited work which he does in the country.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I do not quite see the connection between reducing the educational rates and asking the landowner to give this extra compensation in the shape of rent. If I could see the connection I would deal with the point. Landowners as a whole realise that this Bill will accelerate the process rapidly going on, namely, their disappearance. Yet they are willing to do their best, because there is really no other way of giving that extra security to the farmer which is the essential part of any agricultural scheme. I have said enough to show there is this close connection between the 785 different parts of the Bill, and the important consequence is that you cannot very materially alter any parts of the Bill without spoiling its balance. Some of the speeches delivered this evening have been rather in the nature of signals as to what was desired should be done in another place. I hope that these signals will be disregarded, because it is certain that if material alterations are made in the main principles of the Bill, the Bill must be dropped and, on the whole, that would be disastrous. I would like to take the general view, and one's state of mind depends very much upon whether I am looking at the Bill as a Bill, or trying to take a general view, and looking on the general state of agriculture as it is likely to be in the next 20 years with the Bill or with no Bill at all, which is the only practical alternative. If I had to look only at the Bill I should vote against it, but if I had to take the longer view of the general effect on the whole agricultural position in the next 20 or 30 years, it is to the good.
May I refer first of all to a few provisions which all agree to be good and about which there is really very little controversy? Sub-section (4) of Clause 4 says that the owner must provide necessary works of maintenance on the farm. Surely that is good. Sub-section (7) of the same Clause says that an owner who neglects his estate may have that estate taken over. I think that is all to the good. Clause 9 is about allotments which as far as it goes is certainly an improvement. Clause 10 gives extra security to the worker in his cottage. Clause 13 gives power to prevent the owner unreasonably refusing his consent to improvements. Clauses 14 and 17 work in together and give compensation for continuous high farming or continuous low farming, and Clause 18 is a simplification of arbitration proceedings which it is very desirable to introduce. All those things are to the good, and we ask hon. Members to remember on this side that if this sort of Clause had to be introduced into a Liberal measure, they would have had little chance of surviving the ordeal they have to go through when they leave this House.
I come to the main provisions, the guarantees and the control and the compensation. Here there is a good deal to criticise. With regard to guarantees, I 786 do not think any industry, because it paid a very low rate of wages in many cases before the War, has a right to claim subsidies when the wages have been put on something like a reasonable basis. There is also this inherent in any system of subsidies—although the Government has done its best to make the system a stable one—that an industry, once it looks to this House for its prosperity, has been pushed on a very slippery slope. It is, in principle, the wrong thing to do. There will be a tendency for the leaders of the agricultural industry to say, if anything goes wrong with agriculture, that it will be quite all right if you only increase the subvention. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) said, there will undoubtedly in the years to come be a very great difficulty with regard to public expenditure. It is public expenditure that in the next 20 years is going to rule all our words, thoughts, and works. Of many things, however desirable they may be in themselves, we will say that we simply cannot afford to have them. That is the ruling spirit in which we will have to regard subjects of public expenditure. That being so, we have to look forward, and it is a very doubtful arid dangerous thing to have done. We will have, when this Bill passes, a certain liability whch may be a very heavy burden on the taxpayer.
That outcry and demand for guaranteed minimum prices was mainly expressed by a generation of farmers which is tending to pass away. The farmer who is coming along now has not had practical experience of the great drop in prices of the nineties. It is hearsay with him. He did not have to put up with them, but his father before him did. How quickly public opinion forgets with regard to a great event or a great man. In my short political career I can remember when a speaker first mentioned the name of Gladstone how the hall at once cheered. That was among Liberals. It was the same with Disraeli among the Conservatives. Now the name of Gladstone in a political speech is taken in the same way as the name of Peel or Pitt or Chatham. A few years makes all the difference between those who have personal recollection and those who only have hearsay. We are passing to a generation of farmers who only have the 787 hearsay recollection of the bad times of 30 years ago.
The second great principle is that of control. With regard to that, not certainly in the intentions of His Majesty's Government, nor in the fears of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but in fact, that control is going to be rather idle. We are exaggerating enormously when we talk about what will actually be done under control. It is purely chimerical to talk about armies of inspectors from Whitehall ordering farmers to plough up and to do this and that. No Ministry of Agriculture in a time of peace can work against the predominant feeling of the great agricultural community with which they live. I believe there will be a very small crop of definite orders to cultivate. I think it will be good in the background. When the general public asks what have they actually got in return for their guarantees, there will be very little overt proof of a definite quid pro quo for the guarantees. I believe the best definite effect on account of the compulsion you take will be to improve the general standard of public opinion and therefore of development and progress in these matters.
The compensation Clauses, of course, so called, are simply a half-way house and as such not a very secure dwelling-house. The compensation Clauses do not give, as we all know, real security to the farmer. Sales of land, I am afraid, are bound to continue. The burdens upon owners of agricultural land are bound to continue to be heavy. If we had what, in my opinion, would be the good sense to impose a capital levy in order to free ourselves of some of these charges, then obviously enormous pieces of estates must be sold at once. If we adopt what is, I think, the only possible alternative, the continuance and, I am afraid, the increase of the present scale of taxation, then clearly sales of land must go on sporadically, and of course large sales must take place whenever Death Duties have to be paid. The owner as a result of this Bill will get less for his land, but still the interest on the money that he gets from the land will be Very much greater than the net return which he gets from his farm at the present time. I found that in two estates I have to administer at the present time the net returns, without allowing anything for 788 Death Duties, were, on one estate, 5s. 2d., and on the other, 5s. 6d., after paying Income Tax, repairs and management, insurance and all those other things. On that sort of basis at present I could only expect a return of 5s., but I could sell for 20 years' purchase of the gross rent. Suppose that this Bill brings down the number of years' purchase to 17 years and that I can re-invest that at six per cent., that will give me a net return of 14s. in the pound, minus the 6s. Income Tax, against a return of only 5s. or 5s. 6d. So clearly if one is to make money it will still pay, and the only way will be to sell out agricultural land and invest the proceeds out of it. An hon. Member asks what about mortgages. I am only speaking of what I know and thank goodness I have no mortgages, though I daresay that affects the question very much. If an estate is clear you can make more by investing the money than by continuing to run it in the ordinary way. That must mean that sales will continue to take place. If that is so there cannot be anything like real security or fixity of tenure with the best will in the world, and men will find that their farms are sold, and though they get compensation under this Bill they will not get what they really want, which is a certainty of not having to go.
Having incidentally, I am afraid, condemned, or considerably criticised, the principal proposals of this Bill, why do I think that it should on the whole be supported? There is a saying that has always been in my mind, and which illustrates the general state of mind of many of us who are agriculturists and of the agricultural community. It was that of a farmer who on his way back from market after selling some stock was asked how the sales had gone. He said, "I did not get what I expected, I did not think I should." To put it in another way, a Scottish Member whom I asked this morning what he thought about the Bill in general said, "We do not like it, but we should be very disappointed if we did not get something of the sort." That is difficult to understand, but it is, I think, a very true observation. I think, taken altogether, the Bill provides something like a fairly stable basis for the future progress of the agricultural industry. Certainly if you look within the industry there will be, in my humble opinion, much more peace there than if 789 the Corn Production Act had just been allowed to expire. In that case you would have had no Wages Board, and the farmer would be at the mercy of the return of the prices of the nineties, and he would have had no extra compensation for disturbance, and you would have had no provision to induce landlords to keep their estates up to the highest mark of which they are capable, and you would have had no increased security for the tenant of the tied cottage. I believe, as I say, therefore that makes the Bill a better concordat between the different elements engaged in the industry, and I believe also it is the basis of a concordat between the agricultural community and the public outside. How often have we all heard about the neglect of agriculture by the State. The Prime Minister told us of it the other day and we heard it often before. Every president of a Chamber of Agriculture at the agricultural dinner has said it ad nauseam. Every landlord at the rent audit dinner has made it a commonplace. It is quite true that the agricultural industry may not have known what they wanted when they talked about the neglect of the community, and they may not quite like what they have got, but at any rate never again can they complain of being neglected. The general grievance in that matter is remedied even if minor ones have taken place in the shape of certain provisions in this Bill.
I feel, in summarising, that the Bill does give a greater feeling of all-round security. Say what you may like about some of its detailed provisions, there is a feeling secured by the Bill on which you may build wonderful things. I believe that very great developments are coming rapidly in our agriculture, and by rapidly I mean in the next 30, 40 or 50 years, which is rapid for an industry which hardly moves from century to century. I believe that one of the truest things ever said about agriculture was the saying of Sir Thomas Middleton, that far too large a proportion of the farms in this country are too big for a man to work with his hands and too small for a man to work with his head. I believe that gradually there will be a development away from that middle size of farm in the direction either of increased small holdings or an increased number of larger farms run on scientific industrial methods. I believe we shall also see con- 790 siderable development of the use of power for agricultural machinery and for transport, and, especially, that there will be a development of co-operation in conducting the business side of agriculture. That will have gradually the effect of providing for the consumer a better article at a more reasonable price, while still leaving the producer a reasonable profit. All this sort of internal development the industry must work out for itself, but I believe, if it can gain as a basis peace within itself, and peace, if possible, with its neighbours outside, it is much more likely to be able to tackle that task than if there was still the old chaos and the old feeling of neglect and lack of interest by the community in agriculture.
There are two small points which I wish to mention. I think that we shall have to go further on allotments. Members interested in allotments will, I feel sure, next Session have to press the Government to appoint something like a committee or commission to go around the county boroughs and the larger boroughs and inquire what land should be permanently dedicated to allotments and what measures are necessary to secure it. At present allotments are always being pushed further and further out. You want something like a permanent dedication, because of the great value which the allotments can be to the community. Increased compensation, as long as he is pushed further out every few years, will never give the allotment holder what he has a right to ask for. Then sooner or later, and I wish it had been done some years ago, the Government, after careful consideration, should lay down a standard of food production for the country at which it is reasonable to aim. It ought to be in a position to say what proportions in each county and each district it is reasonable to have kept under arable rotation and what standards of corn, milk, and meat production ought to be aimed at.
One thing that upsets agriculture more than anything else is the liability to be changed and upset when one Government succeeds another. If you were to lay down some standard to be aimed at, even if it were to take 10 or 20 years to attain, which would be accepted by successive Governments, would produce that element of stability which is the life 791 blood of real success in the agricultural industry. As a part of that process of laying down a standard of what the nation expects from the agricultural industry, you ought to have periodically every ten years or so, a survey, county by county, estate by estate, parish by parish, and apply it to what is really going on, as to whether in each parish or district there is a real chance for the small man, not only whether he is pulling his full weight with regard to food production, but what the conditions are with regard to home life, what are the restrictions on the labourer with regard to keeping poultry and pigs, what chance has a small man of getting up, and what chances there are of a full life in the highest sense of the term. I have said that frequently before, and I hope that some day the seed will not fall on barren ground.
I want to end on something on which we can all agree. I believe that in the first place if this Bill reaches the Statute Book the agricultural community will owe a great deal to Lord Selborne. It so happened that he became Chairman of the Agricultural Committee and I became Chairman of the Forestry Reconstruction Sub-committee—they were two sister reconstructions committees—on the same day. He did me the honour to ask me to take on the forestry work because I happened to be his Parliamentary Secretary. I steered the forestry ship into port last Session. I hope that he will now have the pleasure of seeing his ship reach a safe haven, because he has shown wonderful public spirit, vision and firmness of conviction in the work which he has done on behalf of the true interest of the agricultural community. Then we owe very much to the admirable good temper, and the great tenacity of purpose on material points which have characterised the handling of the Bill by my hon. Friend (Sir A. Boscawen) opposite. I believe that it will be in no small measure due to his work and his great gifts of character if the Bill becomes a success, as I for one most earnestly hope it will.
§ Colonel Sir A. SPROT
The objects of this Bill are certainly commendable. The question for us is whether the methods adopted will attain those objects. The objects aimed at are the production of food in this country to a greater extent 792 than formerly, and the employment of a larger number of people on the land. I was in France about a month ago, and while there I read an announcement in the newspapers to the effect that the French harvest for this year was sufficient to feed the whole of the French people without purchases from abroad. That is a very great achievement on the part of our Ally. I believe it is the case that up to the last year of war, or thereabouts, the price of bread never went up in France. That also was a great triumph for the French people and administration. Shall we ever be able to do anything of that sort in this country? Our conditions are entirely different. In France they have had protection for many years, they have a much greater diffusion of the ownership of the land, their country is larger than ours, and there is a great deal more agricultural land in proportion to the population. We live in a small group of islands, and we have an immense population, mostly employed in industrial pursuits. It is impossible for us to feed the whole of our people from the products of our own land. That is no reason why we should not attempt to feed as many of them as possible. I think the real solution of the food question for us is to get food from our colonies and to keep up our Navy. If we continue to do that, both in peace and in war, we shall continue to have our people fed. The great bulk of our population will be earning money by means of industrial pursuits to enable us to purchase the food we require. I shall be told, "We must consider the submarine boats." We had to meet that novel form of warfare during the War and we succeeded in doing so. If there are inventions which make submarines more formidable in future, other inventions will come which will enable us to meet the new peril. But we shall never be able to produce the whole of our food here; we shall always be obliged to get a great portion from abroad, and we shall have to meet that danger in the best way we can.
The method which is being adopted by this Bill is the fixing of guaranteed prices combined with Government control. I have never been able to get many people to agree that these methods will produce the effect desired. In my own constituency, at any rate, I find that the people 793 who ought to know are not of that opinion, and I represent the largest wheat-growing county in Scotland, a county in which agriculture is carried on on the very best and most scientific and up-to-date principles. I have made diligent inquiry, and I find that the farmers there are not at all enthusiastic about this Bill. They do not think that it will attain the objects which are aimed at, and they object very strongly to the idea of Government control. They think it is time that all control and Government interference were abolished. They were quite willing to submit to it during the War and for the purposes of the War, but now they consider that the time has arrived when it ought to be taken off, and they have called upon me to vote against the Third Reading of this Bill.
The arguments which I was going to use have been taken up very largely by other hon. Members, but I would first turn for one moment to a point with regard to the Third Reading, of the Bill. We have had a very long discussion on the Report stage. We did not have an opportunity, most of us, of discussing it in Committee, and very little was said about it on the Second Reading, because hon. Members had not then been able to take in the various details of the measure. What I have to say about the Bill as it now stands is that we brought forward certain exceptions with regard to the compensations which are proposed to be given in Part II, exceptions which we desired to see introduced into the Bill, all of which were, I think, reasonable and would, if accepted, have improved the Bill, such as the case of a man wishing to resume a farm in order to cultivate it himself, the case of resuming a home farm, the case of the multiple farmer called upon to give up one or more of the multiple farms which he was cultivating, the case of giving up land for small holdings, Government buildings, and for housing schemes. In all these cases we considered that there were reasonable exceptions which ought to have been introduced into the Clause which deals with compensation. We were not able to get any of those exceptions adopted by the Parliamentary Secretary, and I consider we might have given our support to the Bill, although disapproving of its main features, had we been able to introduce some of these things which I have mentioned. As it stands, 794 the Bill, to me and to those who support me, is not in such a form as to command our support, and therefore I am afraid I shall be obliged to go into the Lobby against it.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
We have reached the last stage of these lengthy proceedings in this House. I think this, including the days spent in Committee, is the twenty-sixth day on which the House has been, in one way or another, engaged on this Bill. I desire to say just a few words before the House goes to a Division on the Third Reading, but they will be few, partly because I have not much time, and partly because I have spoken frequently, and at such length, on so many occasions, that I really do not wish to inflict more than a few words on the House this evening. I feel I ought to begin by thanking many Members of the House for the exceedingly kind references they have made to the difficult work I have had to undertake in connection with this Bill. Really, my thanks are much more due to those Members, with some of whom, unhappily, I have frequently been in controversy, who throughout have carried on the controversy with the greatest kindness and good feeling. I feel I owe a great deal to many of my hon. Friends behind me on the Agriculture Committee. It has been a real regret to me that we have been at difference, but we have succeeded throughout in carrying on our difference in the best spirit. Then I owe a great deal to my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), who has spoken in these Debates with a knowledge and an administrative experience which I myself cannot pretend to have. I think, too, we owe a great deal in these Debates to members of the Labour party. I feel sure that we owe very much to the contributions to our Debates of the hon. Member for the Holland-with-Boston Division (Mr. Royce), and the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards), who has been honourably engaged in agriculture all his life, and who told us the other day that his college was the turnip-field.
I have sometimes been taunted by some of my friends that I have been trying to ram this Bill down their throats with the aid of Labour party votes, but really, if there ever were a Bill upon which the Labour party had the right to express their opinion, I think it is this Bill. After 795 all, the Labour party, like other Members, represent the interest of consumers, and they are also very direct representatives of the organisations of agricultural labourers. We must remember that when we talk about our rural population, which is all too small in my opinion, and I should like to see it very much larger, the agricultural labourers are the majority of that rural population, and an Agriculture Bill which did not deal with the problem of the agricultural labourer, which did not try to better his conditions so far as it could, would not be, in my opinion, an Agriculture Bill worth having. Perhaps we have not gone so far as some hon. Members would desire, but we have tried in this Bill to assist and improve the position of the agricultural labourer. We have made the Wages Board permanent. The Wages Board is riot a popular body with farmers, but, in my opinion, it has done most excellent work. It has undoubtedly improved the wages of agricultural labourers, and it has kept peace on the farm in a manner in which peace has not been preserved in any other industry. There have been few exceptions, and those only small and slight. Then we have tried to deal with the very difficult question of the tied cottage, and I think we have been able to bring forward a Clause which, with suitable safeguards against its abuse, with suitable safeguards which make it possible to do something for the labourer without doing anything against good cultivation, will really confer great benefits in the future.
When I am speaking of the efforts made to improve the condition of the agricultural labourer, I think it is sadly significant that this week, when we hope our plans are coming to fruition, there should have died one whom we all respected in this House, and who spent his life in trying to benefit the agricultural labourer—I mean the late Mr. Jesse Collings. I have said that the agricultural labourer forms a large majority of our rural population, which is too small. If it is to keep up its end, if it is to have its proper place in the councils of the nation and in this House, it is absolutely essential that everybody engaged in agriture should stand together. There has often been in the past far too much difference of opinion between landlord and tenant—on some if not every estate— 796 and there has often been far too much pulling in the opposite direction of the farmer and his men. I look forward to the time, and I hope this Bill may help to accomplish it, when everybody engaged in agriculture will recognise that they are engaged in one of the greatest of industries, that their interests are identical, and that, after all, and making all allowances, agriculture is one of the greatest, if not the most important one, of our national industries.
I thank my hon. Friends behind me for their kindness and consideration. At the same time I am not going to disguise the fact that I have some little complaint against them on their attitude to this Bill. It would be imagined from the speeches of hon. Friends behind me that an autocratic Government had forced this Bill upon them contrary to their wishes. The very opposite is the truth. They, have demanded this Bill.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
They have absolutely shouted for an agricultural Bill. Time after time they have demanded a Bill, and as I shall show, they have demanded a Bill based upon the principles of this Bill. Let us look at some of the facts. When first I became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, before I had been in office a fortnight, an Amendment was moved to the Address by my hon. and learned Friend, the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley). That Amendment regretted that in the King's Speech no announcement was made, no real provision, to meet' the needs of agricultural industry and population. My hon. Friend said:What I suggest to the Government is, and I do very strongly trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will see to it, that immediate steps should be taken to revise the Corn Production Act, and to revise the prices, otherwise the whole of the farmers of England and the whole of British agriculture are heading to catastrophe and disaster. Under the stimulus that has been applied land has been brought into cultivation which can never grow wheat economically. This applies to only a small portion, but a great deal that has been brought into cultivation could be kept in cultivation. We must grow wheat. We must grow for our 797 own protection. We must get men on the land.The hon. and learned Gentleman urged an extension of the Corn Production Act.
This Bill is nothing else but an extension of the Corn Production Act.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I am speaking now of Part I. I will come to Part II. What is the difference? If there is a difference between this Bill and the Corn Production Act the difference is this: The guaranteed prices are higher in this Bill and the control is less. That is the difference. Yet my hon. Friends now turn round and say that this is not the Bill required, and that Amendment was supported by various of the agricultural Members. On 4th March we had another Motion on the Consolidated Fund Bill. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cautley) then said:After the passage of the Corn Production Act agriculture became a subsidised industry, and the subsidy has got to be kept up if corn lands are to be cropped.I heard one of these hon. Members say the other day that he would never ask for guaranteed prices. But what did the hon. Member for Ludlow, or was it the hon. Member for Ripon, say? He said he hoped I would use all my influence to get agricultural prices fixed on the unimpeachable cost of production. That is exactly what we have done in this Bill, while the hon. Member for Faversham (Lieut.-Colonel Wheler) pressed for an immediate declaration of policy. On 20th March another Motion was moved by the hon. Member for Daventry, who said the agricultural labourer ought to have his wages increased until they were on a par with the rates paid in other industries in order to attract men back to the land and to safeguard agriculture. The Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox) pressed for a statement and complained that the Government were going back to the bad old days when the men struggled along as best they could, and yet to-night my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Rye (Lieut.-Colonel Courthope), asks the House to throw out this Bill in order that we may have de-control and a free market. Those are exactly the bad old days. What is the good of asking for a policy when all the policy you want is de-control and a free market? On that occasion the hon. and gallant Member for Stirling (Sir H. Hope) said:No bad farmer should be allowed to farm land, and farmers must have security.798 There is security in this Bill. The Government appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the method whereby guaranteed prices should be arrived at. A Motion was made in this House and on it the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) congratulated me upon the decision to hold an inquiry. Then we had a deputation to the Prime Minister introduced by the hon. Member for Daventry, and afterwards came the Caxton Hall speech. The hon. Member for Daventry moved a vote of thanks to the Prime Minister and he said:As the representative of the Agricultural Committee of the House of Commons composed of all shades of political opinion he could, to a certain extent, speak for agriculturists generally in this country, and on their behalf. He could say that the Prime Minister's speech would give a lively satisfaction to the agricultural community throughout the length and breadth of the land. They knew now definitely that the Prime Minister was the true friend of agriculture.Our Bill is based in its main principles upon the Caxton Hall speech of the Prime Minister. Following this there were repeated demands for the introduction of the Bill, and there were complaints that it had been delayed. Questions were put to me, and I was asked, "When is the Bill going to be introduced?" The Members for Daventry, Rye, Ripon (Mr. Wood), Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox), Newbury (Mr. Mount), and Tavistock (Lieut.-Commander Williams), and a great many others pressed me on this point. I said that it would be brought in "shortly." I was then asked to explain what "shortly" meant, and I said, "an early date." I was then asked what I meant by an early date, and I replied, "within a reasonable period." Finally, they gave me up, and turned their attention to the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. At last we brought in the Bill, and its terms became known. And then there occurred a positive transformation scene. The very people who had been loudly demanding and clamouring for the Bill immediately turned round and became its most damaging critics. I do not complain of that. They had a perfect right to criticise. They may say, "This is not the Bill we want." But curiously enough it is based on the principles they asked for. I have just this to say. They had no right to criticise a Bill brought in at their request 799 and demand unless they were prepared to bring forward some alternative policy. I have never heard, in the course of these long Debates, any suggestion of an alternative policy, and I say therefore we brought in this Bill at their request; it carries out their wishes, it holds the field, and we intend to pass it.
After all, what could the alternative policy be? We are agreed that we want increased production. We are agreed that increased production can only be obtained by means of the maintenance of more land under the plough. How is it to be done? It must be done by making the conditions of the farmer such that he will risk his capital on arable land without running grave danger of losing it. The conditions must be such as to pay the farmer. There are two ways of doing that. You can do it by guaranteed prices or by a protective tariff. Is a protective tariff the policy of my hon. Friends? I do not believe it is. I do not believe they think the country will ever agree to a protective tariff on foodstuffs, and therefore I am certain it is not their policy. If they believe in their principles, consequently, they are driven back to this, that they must agree to the principle of guaranteed prices, and that is the principle which underlies this Bill. If you guarantee prices, what follows? What follows is this. You must have a certain amount of control. The State has undertaken a big burden. We have been told that the amount of money that may be paid for guaranteed prices may mean a very big sum. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) made a great point of that. If the State is willing to undertake a big financial burden it has a right to see that the land is properly cultivated, and to see that there are no bad and indifferent farmers. There is no room for a bad farmer in this country. The land of this country is too small in extent and too valuable to allow it to be badly farmed. There is no place either for the bad landlord. We all agree that a bad landlord has no place in our country to-day any more than an indifferent farmer. Yet when we brought in a Clause based on the Selborne Report to say that where a landlord managed his estate so that the tenants could not properly farm their farms a manager or receiver should be put in, it was de- 800 nounced by many Members of this House as the most outrageous proposal ever put before the House of Commons. It may be said, "Oh, yes, we agree to enforcing good cultivation; we agree to suppressing the bad landlord, but that is enough, and you propose to go too far by insisting upon control of the actual nature of the cultivation." I do not think it is enough. Let me put one figure before the House. From 1873 to the year of the War, we lost no less than 3,000,000 acres of arable land in England and Wales. It is quite true that we have recovered a certain part of that during the War. Is that all to be lost again? Is it all to be allowed to be laid down, and to tumble down, to grass? If we give these guarantees, have we not the right to see that a sufficient amount of this land which is suitable for the plough is maintained under the plough? Does anyone tell me that the whole of those 3,000,000 acres that used to be under the plough cannot profitably be under the plough to-day? Surely that is a position which cannot be taken up, especially when we remember that there are adequate safeguards that there is to be no ploughing-up order, and no maintenance order under arable cultivation, if thereby the interests of the owner or occupier will be injuriously affected—in other words, if it is an uneconomic proposition. I say that that absolutely follows from the guaranteed prices, and that that is a part of the Bill upon which we are bound to insist.
As a matter of fact, I do not believe that the opposition to this Bill really proceeds half as much on the question of control as it does on the question of compensation for disturbance. In my opinion, we should have heard a great deal less about all this tenderness to the tenant farmer in the matter of control if we had not had Part II of the Bill. I am the last person to wish to hurt the landlord, and I have acknowledged over and over again that, under the old landlords on the old estates, there was, notwithstanding the fact that we had yearly tenancies in England and Wales, practical security of tenure. But that is all gone. These extensive sales have introduced the speculator and the new landlord, and have set up a condition of affairs quite different from anything that has gone before. There is now the greatest want of security; and security is necessary, as the Prime Minister said, if the tenant 801 farmer is to do his best with the land. Security is the best fertiliser of the soil. As that security which used to exist in practice has gone, we are bound in this Bill to deal with the matter, and to deal with it in an adequate manner. Therefore I say that these proposals are necessary, and I hold that they are moderate proposals. What is going to happen if they are not carried out? Does anyone suppose that we are going on as we were? Does anyone think that the tenant farmers are going to settle down, with the insecurity that prevails to-day, and ask for nothing more? I venture to say that, if this compensation for disturbance is not enacted in this Bill, or in some other Bill in the immediate future, we shall have an agitation either for complete fixity of tenure, with a Land Court, or else for nationalisation, to which the Government is opposed;. but which it will be very difficult to resist.
It has been said that the Bill is unjust, because, while it does something for the tenant farmer, something for the labourer, and a great deal for the State, it does nothing for the landowner. That, again, I do not think is just criticism. The landowner gains two points of great advantage by this Bill. He gains a ready and easy method of getting rid of a bad tenant. We all know that on the old estates tenants were often allowed to remain long after they were really cultivating properly. The landowner was most unwilling to get rid of a tenant, especially one whose family had been for years on the estate. That is bad for cultivation; it is bad for food production. Now you have a ready method, by means of the agricultural committee, of doing the unpopular thing in the national interest, which the landowner is often unwilling to do on his own initiative. Then there is the question of rent. I have always said, and I hold today, that one of our difficulties is that a great part of England and Wales is largely under-rented. Rents were brought down in the bad times, and they have never been put up since. The result is that it is impossible, with present taxation and the present cost of repairs, for the landlords in England and Wales properly to keep up the equipment of their estates.
Rents must be raised. There again the landlord could only raise rents unless agreement could be come to by the very difficult and unpleasant process of giving notice to quit. Now, by means of the arbitration Clause, all that need happen is that the landlord says, "I think my estate should be re-valued. I wish to have a fair increase of rent—fair having regard to the present value of money and the economic conditions. He goes to an arbitrator, the matter is settled without friction, and if the tenant refuses to pay he will have to go without getting a compensation for disturbance. Therefore, I maintain that the Bill deals fairly with all classes who are interested in the soil. I will quote a short statement made in a certain newspaper the other day not usually devoted to agriculture. It said:
The Government's Agriculture Bill now getting through the House of Commons is one of the great measures of the Coalition of which much will be heard. A prominent critic thus sums it up: 'It gives to the farmers a guarantee for prices which they can accept, links with this a guarantee of labourers' wages, a security for the tenant farmers, and gives a prospect of increased output, and a more fertile soil, with indirect benefits, in consequence, to the commercial classes. Thus it enables Liberals to do something for agriculture, as well as Conservatives.'
§ That is the Bill I ask the House of Commons, in the name of the Government, to give a Third Reading to, and I claim that it is the only measure which can be carried at the present moment to deal with our agricultural situation. The alternative is de-control and a free market; it is laissez faire; it is leaving the farmer to shift for himself. It is that disastrous policy which was adopted by the Manchester school, which deliberately sacrificed our agriculture to the needs and interests of the industrial towns and practically depleted our land, which drove thousands of our population off the broad acres of England and Wales into the great cities and jeopardised our food supply in time of war. That is the only alternative. That is an alternative that the Government are not prepared to accept.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 161; Noes, 12803
|Division No. 374.]||AYES.||[10.59 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. F. D.||Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James||Barlow, Sir Montague|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. C.||Amery, Lieut.-Col. Leopold C. M. S.||Barnett, Major R. W.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Barnston. Major Harry|
|Barrie, Charles Coupar||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormskirk)||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Pratt, John William|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Hirst, G. H.||Raeburn, Sir William H.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Rankin, Captain James S.|
|Boscawen. Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith.||Hurd, Percy A.||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Irving, Dan||Remer, J. R.|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bromfield, William||Jephcott, A. R.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Brown, Captain D. C.||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Cairns, John||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes., Stretford)|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Kenyon, Barnet||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Seddon, J. A.|
|Davidson, J. C.C.(Hemel Hempstead)||Lawson, John J.||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lloyd-Greame, Major Sir P.||Sexton, James|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Lorden, John William||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Lunn, William||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N' castle-on-T.)|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Mackinder, Sir H. J. (Camlachie)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)||Spencer, George A.|
|Falcon, Captain Michael||McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Finney, Samuel||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Flannery, Sir James Fortescue||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Swan, J. E.|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Taylor, J.|
|Foreman, Henry||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Mason, Robert||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Mildmay, Colonel Rt. Hon. F. B.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Ganzoni, Captain Francis John C.||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Vickers, Douglas|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Mosley, Oswald||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Whitla, Sir William|
|Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne)||Murchison, C. K.||Wignall, James|
|Greenwood, William (Stockport)||Murray, Major William (Dumfries)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Gregory, Holman||Myers, Thomas||Williams, Lieut.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Greig, Colonel James William||Neal, Arthur||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, West)|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Wise, Frederick|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||O'Neill, Major Hon. Robert W. H.||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Ormsby-Gore, Captain Hon. W.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Hanson, Sir Charles Augustin||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry|
|Hayday, Arthur||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Lord E. Talbot and Captain Guest.|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Kiley, James D.||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Bowerman. Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Wintringham, T.|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Hogge, James Myles||Thomas, Sir Robert J. (Wrexham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Thomas-Stanford, Charles||Lieut.-Colonel Courthope and Sir F.|
Question put, and agreed to.