§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Edward Wood)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, to leave out the word "thereon" and to insert instead thereof the words "on the land."
This is a purely drafting Amendment. It will be observed that the Clause, as it stands, might be read as enabling the Minister to require the return of livestock on grazing or fallow land only. That is not the intention of the Bill, and those who are interested can see that the Amendment, which immediately follows and completes the small drafting change that I propose, will make the whole Clause read as it is designed to read, and I hope, therefore, that the House will accept the Amendments.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 1, line 17, leave out the words "on the land," and insert instead thereof the word "thereon."—[Mr. E. Wood.]
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I beg to move, in page 2, lines 19 and 20, to leave out the words "includes land used," and to insert instead thereof the wordsmeans land which is or has at any time been capable of being used as arable or.This Amendment is moved in no spirit of hostility to the Bill. On the contrary, I think Members in all parts of the House and people engaged in every part of the industry of agriculture have paid tribute to the importance of the objects which this Bill is designed to achieve. These agricultural statistics are now collected in nearly every country in the world, and there is an international institute which exists for the collection of these statistics from the various countries of the world, their collation, and their comparison, and the importance of them, of course, is that they enable the food productive capacity of the countries to be accurately ascertained. Surely, there never was a time when it was so important as it is at 2276 the present juncture to take stock of our agricultural resources. We have 1,200,000 men and women out of work at the present time, or 130,000 more than were out of work this time last year, and there is no immediate prospect, as was proved in the Debate in which prominent Members of all parties took part about a week ago, of such a revival of foreign trade as will enable a large proportion of these men and women to be absorbed in the manufacturing trades.
What contribution can rural Britain make towards the solution of this problem? What contribution is it making? At present, it is making no contribution at all. On the contrary, men are flowing from rural Britain into the towns and big cities, increasing the glut in the labour market in those towns and cities, and aggravating, instead of contributing to the solution of, the problem of unemployment. It is due mainly to the fact that, instead of more land coming into cultivation at the present time, the whole tendency is for land to go out of cultivation. Yet, as a matter of fact, while all this is going on, we are importing, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) pointed out in the Second Reading Debate on this Bill, £350,000,000 worth of those kinds of food which we could grow in this country. How much of that we could grow I do not know. Many hon. Members say—in fact, the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright) the other day said—that we could grow the whole of it. Perhaps that is an overestimate.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. Member says, "Hear, hear," but he does not know, and it is in order to ascertain the full extent of our agricultural resources, and, therefore, to improve this Bill, that I am venturing to submit this Amendment to the House. Take the case of Scotland. If you take the acreage of arable land in Scotland, the acreage of pasture land, and the acreage of rough hill grazing land and add them together and subtract that figure from the total acreage of Scotland, you will find that there is a gap of about four million acres, representing 25 per cent. of the whole of the land of Scotland, which is unaccounted for in these 2277 agricultural returns. Some hon. Members above the Gangway say that the whole of that 25 per cent.—perhaps not the whole, but by far the greater proportion, 80 or 90 per cent.—is being wantonly wasted for sport. Hon. Members on the other side of the House would say that that is an absurd and an absolutely exaggerated statement, and that hardly any of it is really available for productive purposes. I do not want to exaggerate; I want to get at the facts, and I submit that every honest controversialist on this question, and everybody who wants to help the country at the present time, and believes that agriculture could make a contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problem, must want to get at the facts, and ought, therefore, to support the Amendment which I am venturing to move.
In the United States of America they have the best agricultural statistics of any country in the world. The Assistant-Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Thompson) made a very interesting speech to the Statistical Society of this country in January, in which he ponted out that in America they get from the farmers returns of all the unimproved as well as the improved value of the land. It is with that object that I am moving this Amendment. I do not aspire to win from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill recognition for my Amendment as a masterpiece of Parliamentary drafting. I only claim for it that it is an honest and sincere effort to obtain information which he himself in the Committee upstairs declared that it was his desire to obtain. The Minister possesses resources of technical and legal advice which are not at the disposal of a private Member, and if he has any form of words which he proposes and which are different from the form which I have brought forward, I should be delighted to accept them. If he would give us an undertaking that he would institute a survey of land in this country, I would accept that and withdraw my Amendment on that assurance.
If we can have a survey of the whole of the land of this country, showing not only the land that is now under cultivation, but the land that is at present out of cultivation, it would be of 2278 inestimable value as a stocktaking of our whole agricultural resources. Because I believe that agriculture can make a substantial contribution to the solution of the unemployment problem, because I believe that on these lines we can stem the tide of emigration, which is draining the best blood from our rural districts at the present time, and because food production is now neglected, and is, perhaps, the most urgent aspect of our national economy at the present time, I consider it necessary and urgent to take full stock of our whole agricultural resources, actual and potential.
§ Mr. ERNEST EVANS
I have great pleasure in seconding the Amendment, and I hope we shall have the sympathy and support of the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Agriculture. I do not know whether I am of too optimistic a nature, but I entertain that hope in view of the speech which he made in commending the Second Reading of the Bill to the House. He emphasised, quite properly, the desirability of securing statistics of the character provided for in the Bill, by reason of their general interest to all who are concerned in the agricultural life of the country. But he did not confine his support of the Bill to that object. He said that he wanted statistics which would be of practical value in connection with the framing of a general agricultural policy. I am sure that he has the support of Members from all quarters of the House in seeking information and statistics which will enable him, or a successor in office, to frame what is sadly needed at the present time, a general comprehensive policy for dealing with the industry of agriculture.
Since that is his object. I cannot conceive that he can have any objection to incorporating in the Bill this Amendment, because the value of the returns will be greatly enhanced if he obtains the information which is sought for in the Amendment respecting land which is capable of being used as arable land or which has been capable in the past of being used for that purpose. I imagine that any general agricultural policy will cover a very wide variety of subjects, and there is no doubt that one of the most important subjects which must figure in any agricultural policy is the one covered by the Amendment. The 2279 Mover of the Amendment has reminded the House of the very great amount of produce which we import into this country from abroad, and he has stated that a proportion of that, without specifying how much, because we do not know, is capable of being produced at home. It is obvious that that is one of the main subjects which any Minister of Agriculture must take into account in framing a general agricultural policy.
It is from that point of view that it seems to me the statistics which we suggest the Minister should ask for will be of value to him in enabling him to deal with one of the most vital elements in the agricultural policy, an element with which he cannot hope to deal successfully unless he is in possession of the knowledge which we suggest by this Amendment he should ask for. I do not think there will be any difference of opinion upon this, that the definition of agricultural land in this Bill is unnecessarily limited in scope. The amount of land which is being used for arable purposes and the amount of land which could be used for those purposes are obviously statistics which we ought to know before we can hope successfully to frame a policy governing the industry.
Apart from their value from that point of view, there is a further consideration, which was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend, and that is that it is obvious, with the state of the country as it is at the present time, that one of the primary considerations of any Government should be to make a thorough and exhaustive examination into our own resources at home. It is as a step in that direction, apart from the other considerations which I have mentioned, that it seems to me that this Amendment is valuable. It cannot be said that it is going to add very much to the difficulties of drawing up the return. I imagine that a good many farmers object to making this return at all, but seeing that they are to be called upon in this Bill to make returns of the character prescribed, to add this further one will be a very little addition to the difficulties with which they will be confronted. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to accept the Amendment, which will give us information of a very valuable character. The Minister of Agriculture, if he accepts 2280 the Amendment, will be ensuring the receipt of statistics which will be of great interest and of great practical value both now and in the future.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
I hope that everybody will agree with the object which the hon. and gallant Member has in view in moving this Amendment. I hope the Minister of Agriculture does. I am in agree aunt with the aim of the Amendment, for the reason that I think there is nothing more serious in the whole agricultural field, and perhaps in the general field of public activity, than the need of stimulating good cultivation. This Amendment aims at that, and I only wish that it were an effective way of getting at that problem. The best authorities hold that at least 20 per cent. of agricultural land in England is not farmed as it should be. There is not only the matter of unfarmed land, but there is also another question which we ought to get at, and that is the amount of land unfarmed because it is in parks. Parks are returned as grazing land, whereas a very large number of parks—one is familiar with many in Scotland—lie upon land which is first-class arable land, and adjacent to some of the best arable land in the country, very highly rented. We do not even know me area of parks in this country, but we may judge of their extent by the fact that I remember during the War, when I was interested in the question of fresh water fish supply, a figure was ascertained that we have 60,000 acres of ornamental waters on land in parks in this country. That indicates that the figure is a very formidable one.
What we do need, and this is the occasion to urge it upon the Minister, is a genuine survey. I have urged upon the Minister the importance of using any powers that he has already in that direction, and if they are not adequate that he should get further powers for a survey. The Ministry has not the right to enter upon land. It does require legislation to get an adequate survey such as my hon. and gallant Friend has in view in moving the Amendment. Unfortunately, the machinery of this Bill does not provide the means. That is why when the Labour Government was in office we introduced this Bill as it is now. We had not a majority in this House for any 2281 drastic Measures. This Bill is the same Bill as was introduced last year in the House of Lords. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will be the first to realise that we have not had the experience now for four years of the working which would have followed on the continuance of the Agriculture Act, if it had been decided to leave that Act on the Statute Book. We had there great powers of stimulating good farming and squeezing out the slack farmer. I hope the Minister will bear in mind the urgent need, in view of the national difficulties in regard to employment, of a survey; but I am afraid this is not the occasion. We must urge that he will introduce a Bill for the purpose.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I would urge the Government to give consideration to the idea which underlies this Amendment. It is not for me to express an opinion as to whether it quite carries out the whole of the intentions of my hon. and gallant Friend. The Government, with the help of their advisers, can certainly frame something which will enable them to get the information. I agree with my right hon. Friend who has just spoken that it is vital that we should get a survey of the agricultural possibilities of this country. I cannot conceive a more important matter for the Government, at the beginning of their life, than that they should get full information upon that subject.
I have seen this Bill referred to in the Press as though it were an insignificant Departmental Bill. I do not know of more important Bill that the Government have introduced up to the present moment. It is a Bill which is capable of being of extraordinary value in the solution of out industrial difficulties. We want accurate information as to whether it is possible to make better use of the land of this country. There are many people who say, many people who understand the land problem, I mean practical farmers, that we could double the produce of the land in this country. If that is true, that is a matter of first class importance for a Government confronted with the gravest industrial prospect that any Government has ever been faced with. We have not merely 1,200,000 unemployed, but from the information which I have as far as the North East Coast is 2282 concerned there does not seem to be any immediate prospect of improvement. A man of very great authority told me last week that things were looking very much worse. It would be a mistake for any Government to depend in the future upon the possibility of our maintaining our position as what is known as the workshop of the world: a very fatal error.
Therefore I should have thought that this is a matter in which it was the duty of the Government to have a careful survey as to the possibilities of the soil. One night last week I had the privilege of being present at a discussion by a number of experts, some of the most eminent experts in this country, on the question of agriculture. There was a Member of the Government present and he took part in the debate. They were discussing the future of agriculture in this country and whether anything more could be done, with or without the help of the Government, to increase the yield of the soil. What struck me very much was the meagreness of the official information which was available. There were learned professors of all kinds and very distinguished agriculturists, including landlords and farmers, men of undoubted standing in the agricultural world, and when they came to quote statistics, though it is perfectly certain that being students of the problem, if statistics were available, they would have produced them, they were not there, and one learned professor quoted certain statistics, and the others contradicted him, but all these statistics were very meagre. They had some which were issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and some which were contained in a small pamphlet. As far as I can see there was nothing else that would help as a substantial contribution to any discussion of this problem. I agree with my right hon. Friend who has just sat down that the time has come for a survey to see whether we can do more to increase the yield of the soil.
If Members of this House will look at the annual Trade and Navigation Returns issued by the Board of Trade, and if they will figure out the produce which this country is capable of raising from the point of view of climate—whether you have the acreage, whether you have enough land for the purpose, is a matter for discussion—they will see that from the point of view 2283 of climate, leaving out sugar, we imported last year £387,000,000 worth of food, of the quality which this country is capable of raising from the point of view of climate. It may be said that we have not enough land for this purpose. That is exactly what we want to ascertain, to see if there are any means of doing it. We have tests in Europe of what can be done with the kind of land which is regarded here as derelict and as impossible of cultivation, and we have tests of what can be done with good soil, in the way of doubling and trebling the yield. Denmark may be mentioned. Whenever you mention it people sniff at it. Why is that? It is because the illustration has been used so often. They say, "Oh, that is Denmark." But there is no happier peasantry in Europe than the Danish peasantry. There is no peasantry in Europe among whom there is so little drudgery. I am not arguing in favour of what happens among the small peasantry in Belgium, Germany, or France. I know that a great deal has been said about the drudgery of the women on the land there, in doing the work of beasts of burden and all that. I am not arguing about that, but in Denmark that is not the case.
You have there a free, independent, happy, prosperous peasantry and a very cultured peasantry. They spend every year about a fortnight or three weeks of their holiday in centres where they attend lectures. I do not say that they learn very much in the course of that time, but it stimulates their interest and gives them directions as to what they are to learn in their studies during the rest of the period. I should have thought that that was a precedent worth copying. A Dane who knows both Danish and English agriculture, because he took up a farm here and in a short time doubled and trebled the produce of that farm, said to me the other day that the qualities of English soil are infinitely superior to those of Danish soils, and he said, "In my judgment you could be self-supporting in this island." I am not saying that that is the case, but I do say this, that it is for the Government to take the necessary steps to find out. I am very sorry that my right hon. Friend, when he had the opportunity, did not introduce a more drastic Bill. He could have done so. He says that he would not have had the support. I do 2284 not agree with him. He would have had the support of hon. Members here, who were more numerous in the last Parliament than they are in this, and they would have put him in a position to enable him to carry his Bill. I believe also that he would have had the support of a great many hon. Members on the opposite side, who are just as anxious to get this information as any of the hon. Members above the Gangway are.
I may refer to one or two figures. After all we are on a statistical Bill and therefore figures matter. If in this country you had the same population on the soil as you have in Denmark, where the peasants are doing well and living well, you would have a population of something like seven millions cultivating the land. If you take those who are indirectly concerned with agriculture in Denmark, in the work of distribution through the creameries and all the rest, you would have between 13 and 14 million people in agriculture directly and indirectly in this country. You may say that the land of this country will not enable you to do that. That is what we want to find out. I am not making any statement, but I do say that it is so important that it is worth investigating and it is worth having a survey.
The soil in Denmark is not good soil on the whole. There is a great deal of land which would be regarded as impossible of cultivation in this country. There are immense sand dunes and there are large tracts of swamp and sand but this is what has happened in that country. Between 1866 and 1919, which represents the period of agricultural development, the agricultural area was increased by nearly 900,000 acres. If you multiply that by the size of this country, as compared with Denmark, it would represent over 5,000,000 acres in this country. In addition to that the forest area was increased by 250,000 acres. Take Belgium. The figures there show that in 1846 they had 810,000 acres of uncultivated land. By 1923 that had been reduced to 252,000 acres. What can be done by Danes and Belgians can be done by people here, especially as we have over 1,000,000 people here who have nothing whatever to do, and Heaven alone knows when they are going to get jobs. You cannot tell.
I was very much impressed by the speech delivered recently by the hon. 2285 Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) upon this subject. It shows that those who have examined the unemployment problem for years, as he has done, have come to the conclusion that it is better, even for those who have not been engaged in the cultivation of the soil, to take up that work, and that the time has come when you must say to them, "You have got a certain period to get a job in your own line, and if you cannot get it then you must turn on to something which will help both yourself and your family, and will enable you to serve the community instead of destroying yourselves and doing harm to the community." That is the sort of problem which I would like to see the Government facing now. It is very difficult to ask the Minister of Agriculture to accept an Amendment in this form, but what I would ask him to do—and I am very glad that the Prime Minister is here because he has taken a very special interest in this matter: the Minister of Agriculture could not go on without his authority as the head of the Government—is this: could he not promise between this and the House of Lords stage of the Bill to consider whether it is not possible to introduce words in another place which will enable the Government to get a real survey of the possibilities of the land in this country? I am sure that they will be able to do it.
I do not know what the trade balance in this country is. It is not what it was before the War. The trade balance with visible and invisible exports then, in spite of the fact that we were buying food at a very considerably increased rate, enabled us to invest £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 yearly abroad. I met a great authority on this subject the other day, and he had come to the conclusion that, even with the invisible exports, the balance is against us at present. I am not expressing any opinion, but it is a matter which we should endeavour to work out, and it is very difficult to argue it without looking into the matter. Meantime we are purchasing abroad £387,000,000 worth of food, a large percentage of which can be produced by the soil of this country. Nobody doubts that. The Ministry of Agriculture have the figures at their disposal and they are available to everybody. All we have to do is to take a country like Belgium, or Denmark, or Germany, and see the 2286 cattle, the pigs, the poultry, the corn which are produced in those countries and compare them with what is done in this country.
Compare the use which is made of poor soil in the way of the improvement of cultivation, and of soils like those which we have in the North of Scotland and in my part of the country, North Wales, which formerly were clad to their summits with forests. A great deal of the Navy of Charles II was built of the old oak cut in the forests of Snowdonia. The oak of England was the oak of Wales and the hearts of oak were Welsh hearts. Where are those forests now? They have vanished. There are one or two gnarled specimens left. What they could produce 300 years ago they could produce again. Go to Norway. You get there timber grown on very high land, and gradually you can force it higher and higher, but you must first of all have a survey to see what the possibilities are. Mere statistics, when farmers send in an account of what they are actually doing, are not enough. The Government itself ought to undertake a survey as to whether they think the best use is made of the land. My right hon. Friend the late Minister of Agriculture said that there was 20 per cent. of even the cultivated land of this country which was under-cultivated. That is more or less the figure which I have also. It is under-cultivated. I should probably put it very much higher from the information at my disposal. In addition to that we have got millions of acres which are not cultivated at all. The Government ought to undertake this survey. They ought to undertake it at the outset of their career. I do not see how the Minister of Agriculture is going to handle this valuation unless he gets the facts. It is all very well to get farmers and landlords and agricultural labourers together to discuss things. It is not their problem. You have first of all to take it in hand from the point of view of the community, and in order to do so to get at the facts by a bold and searching inquiry.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
I am sure that the House will have no complaint to make that hon. Gentlemen opposite have used this opportunity to introduce a subject which, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) 2287 said, yields in importance to no other. I certainly welcome any opportunity, and the Government welcomes any opportunity, that this House may take of evincing its interest in what is the foundation problem of English national life. I therefore welcome warmly the opportunity of devoting an hour or two of our time to these matters. Before I deal with some of the rather wider questions that have been raised, I wish to say a word or two about the Amendment before the House. My hon. Friend who moved it is one of the most persuasive Members of a persuasive assembly. He never fails to charm the House with his eloquence and his arguments, and I sometimes think that the more uncertain he is of his arguments the greater is the draught that he is able to make upon his powers of charm and persuasion. I think that he, indeed, had need of some such extra draught on his powers this afternoon, in submitting this Amendment. I say that for reasons which I will endeavour to give. I am not quite sure what the hon. Member meant by the Amendment. He was rather modest in what he claimed for it. He said that he was not at all sanguine that he had chosen the right form of words for the object that he had at heart. He said he thought I might do better—a very modest attribution of superior skill to a Government Department that, on behalf of my Department, I welcome while I hesitate to accept. But, while he was thus modest, he went on to say that what he really meant me to ascertain was something quite different from that which the Amendment in terms demanded.
What does the Amendment ask? It asks that we shall obtain a return of land which is, or has at any time been, capable of being used as arable. In so far as it is being used as arable to-day, it is already in. Therefore that part of the Amendment is unnecessary. With regard to the second part, "has at any time been capable of being used as arable," I give full rein to my imagination in allowing myself to think what land, under that definition, could conceivably be excluded. Forty or 50 or 70 years ago I believe that those of our grandparents who lived in London and were fond of shooting might have shot snipe in Eaton Square. All the land of England at some 2288 moment, no doubt, was capable of being used as arable. I heard a friend of mine just now mention London. Obviously all the buildings of England are built upon land that was at some time capable of being used at arable. But, of course, my hon. Friend did not mean that. I make that plain to the House only in order to show what is the difficulty that he is up against when he comes down and tries to draft an Amendment that is to do what he wants to do, or what I think he wants to do, which is to ascertain what land in England to-day is being badly cultivated.
§ Mr. WOOD
Being badly cultivated, under-cultivated, or uncultivated. That is a definite objective that we may set before us. Therefore, let me at once address myself to that more general question. I do not suppose that there is anyone who goes about the country to-day with his or her eyes open who is not conscious of a not altogether pleasant feeling of anxiety and a feeling even stronger than that. I do not quarrel for a moment with my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, or with the Seconder, who laid stress rightly upon the importance of the reaction between the agricultural and the industrial employment problem as it exists to-day. Incidentally, however, let us make our speeches on that subject with a little caution, because the actual figures last year of those employed on the land, oddly enough, went up.
§ Mr. WOOD
I am talking about England and Wales. When we make general statements about the population flowing into the towns off the land it is well to check those statements by actual facts. But that does not affect the intimate reaction between the two. Nor do I quarrel with those who say that land is limited in amount, and that, therefore, it is not in the national interest that anything but the best use should be made of it. I would accept that quite simply. But there is a difficulty there which you must face. Do not make the mistake of supposing that you can judge this question purely on a statistical basis of acreage. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs made a very powerful appeal to us to recognise the seriousness of the position, 2289 in which we had a large number of acres at present not doing their full work in the national system. He went on to say that he thought their full work was to produce a great many things, a great chunk of that £350,000,000 worth of goods that we at present import—if it could be done. I agree most heartily with him. I wish only to emphasise this: The problem is dependent not only upon figures of acreage. You have not done your problem if you have been over England and picked out a certain amount of land uncultivated, under-cultivated, and so on, and have produced an acreage that is under-cultivated or uncultivated. Why is land under-cultivated or uncultivated? The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do. If you want to make a party point you might say that it is due to landlords. You would not know what everybody else would know, that that was not true, or, at any rate, on examination you would come to know that it was not true. What is the reason?
§ Mr. WOOD
I have raised it now in order to put it out of the way and to prevent its being raised later. I am not saying anything in a controversial spirit, not at all. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will be quite entitled to criticise me when I say anything controversial. The reason why that land is not cultivated is that, in the main, competitive conditions do not allow of its cultivation. I know you may qualify that by saying that we have not applied education and science sufficiently to the problem. That is quite true. But I happen to live in the country, where I see derelict cottages also, away up on hills and hillsides, and the reason for their condition is that the land has gone out of cultivation owing to the termination of the period of high prices on which it came into cultivation at the time of the Napoleonic Wars—and to some extent during the last War. My own land went out of cultivation, or part of it, and houses ceased to be lived in when the Napoleonic War crisis came to an end. The right hon. Gentleman says, "You can grow a lot more of what you want to eat in England on your own soil." I agree with him. It can be done, at a price. You may be able to improve your methods by this or that 2290 or the other improvement, but when you have done that it comes down to the question, "Can you do it at the price?"
As the right hon. Gentleman knows well, that is a question on which the great industrial population of the country has a final and decisive voice. When he preaches that gospel with all his eloquence and persuasiveness to the House, what he is really doing is to invite the House and, through the House, the country, to reconsider the deliberate policy that it has pursued for 60 or 70 years past, a policy which, as he now sees, and, indeed, as all men now see, has brought agriculture and the men and women who live by agriculture, who live on the land, into a position of straitened circumstances. Therefore, as I am one of those who have always held that view, as I would like to see agriculture pro-clueing much more and believe that it could produce much more if it secured the sympathy and the support of the great industrial population, I welcome the support of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends opposite in an appeal to the country to approach the whole problem with open minds and without prejudice. That I most warmly welcome. But it is not only that.
The right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech here a week or two ago in which he said that on the advice that he had received he thought that England was the worst farmed country in the world. That suggestion I most heartily deny and contest. It is not true on the face of it. It would be quite possible, indeed, to prove the exact opposite on the much quoted pamphlet of Sir Thomas Middleton. We have had the comparisons with Denmark. I shall not weary the House with the figures now, but hon. Members may take it from me that, so far from that statement being true, one reason why British agriculture in the last century has found it difficult to compete with imports from abroad was that we were farming too high for competition against imports that were making their way in the world as a result of the ability to farm cheaply, to farm low, and to get a very low yield out of an almost illimitable number of acres. Therefore, I submit that it is not a question of arable acreage, nor of rather ill-founded attacks based upon unfamiliarity with 2291 the problem. May I ask one other question? What is your test of efficiency in farming? Most people say they want to see farming carried on efficiently. Is your object a system by which you can produce what you want to get out of the land as efficiently and as cheaply as you can? If that be your object, you will go in for all sorts of machinery and for the development of labour-saving devices. The more you develop towards that ideal, the more you will find the population on the land going down. It is not my ideal. My ideal is a form of agriculture which, while being well carried on, will strike a balance, with the balance slightly tilted, or a good deal tilted, in favour of keeping on the land the maximum population which the land will support. That is the ideal at which we should all aim, for a great many reasons with which I do not weary the House, but which are largely common to us all.
What is the relevance of these general considerations to the points which have been urged? Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen say: "Let us have the facts. We want accurate statistics so that we may know where we are in this matter." I agree, but you are not going to get accurate statistics of the sort you want, and the sort I want, out of the occupiers and the farmers on the soil. The right hon. Gentleman opposite is quite right in that respect. What he really wants, and what I should like, would be really reliable information as to how much could be grown on the land in England, and at what price. That is not a question for the occupier. It is a question for agricultural and statistical experts. If you go to the ordinary farmer and ask him how much of his land could be made arable, what answer can the poor man possibly give you? It is obviously impossible for him to give you an answer, and you would be merely wasting his time and your own by asking. If you could get full information as to the actual condition of English land, the different categories of English land, and the possibilities of production from English land—at a price—then you would indeed secure a great deal of valuable information.
That brings me to what was said by the Mover and Seconder of the Amend- 2292 ment, as well as by the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me in my present office, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, on the question of a survey. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs asked the Prime Minister if it would be possible to give an undertaking that we would consider the question of a general survey between now and the arrival of the Bill in another place with a view to the inclusion of some such provision if it were found possible at that stage. I do not speak with final and decided judgment on the point, but I am inclined to doubt whether this Bill, which is designed for annual returns, is a Bill in which any such provision as that which I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite has in mind could rightly be incorporated. This Bill deals entirely with the provision of returns annually for the sake of the annual stocktaking. I have in mind, if it could be achieved, something quite different. I would like to get a national record of the state and possible productivity of English land, and, therefore, while I will certainly consider what has been suggested on this point, I am inclined to doubt whether this Bill is the Bill in which such a proposal should be carried out.
I have been for some time past turning over in my mind the question of how I could achieve the object of a survey such as the right hon. Gentleman opposite alluded to this afternoon. It is not a very easy problem. It is quite easy to draw tip a form. It is quite easy to send out forms broadcast all over the country. It is also quite easy for that form to come back containing information which is valueless. The right hon. Gentleman is not without experience as to the relative values of forms, and of the information which may be returned on them. The point to which I am trying to apply my mind, and to which the Government are devoting their attention, is in what way it might be possible either to utilise existing powers, or, if need be, take more powers, in order to place themselves in a position to get information of a reliable character which they could place before this House and either ask it to support any policy which they recommended, or afford it an opportunity of discussing any proposition which the House itself might desire to make. I do not differ from hon. 2293 Members opposite in the object which they seek to serve. I do not think the means they have in view are right, and I hope I have given reasons for thinking that this Amendment in any case will not do. I can assure those who have moved in this matter that I am not losing sight of the desirability of placing ourselves in a position to get as reliable information as we can, in order that the country as a whole may be in a position to draw reliable conclusions from it.
I am not an agriculturist, as everybody knows, but there is a great deal of information already at the disposal of the Board of Agriculture as to the use of the land. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister really intends to do in regard to this survey, but when he says that he is not quite sure how much land is available which could be profitably used, I think he should inquire as to how some land, even in the towns, was used during the War. He will find that out of what appeared to be most hopeless soil very large crops were obtained by the men and women who worked allotments. I served on a committee for about four years during the War, and I can say from experience that we were amazed at what was produced by London women and children and old men out of plots which at first seemed to consist almost entirely of bricks and refuse. No one who took any part in local government at that time, and who had to deal with the cultivation of vacant land, could fail to observe that all the theories about what could be produced from the land were being knocked on the head by the actual results obtained through sheer practice. When we hear about the amount of land that is out of cultivation, and consider the multitude of men and women who are out of work, it seems to be simply playing with the question to get away from it again this afternoon with a promise that if possible some very nebulous scheme may be put into the Bill. If the form of words proposed by the Mover of the Amendment is not right, then another form of words should be found to carry out this purpose.
Of course the right hon. Gentleman knows much more about agriculture than I do, and he should therefore be aware of the reason why people gave up cultivating land at the end of the Napoleonic wars. 2294 The industrial revolution was just then beginning, and as the industrial revolution went on, people found they could get more money and better returns out of industry than out of agriculture. That happened 70 years or more ago, and you are now up against the fact that you are, as it were, at the end of that industrial cycle. You cannot now do what was possible during its first 50 years when practically all the markets of the world were at the feet of England. Those who have been your customers are now your competitors, and you have now to face the fact, as we were told the other night in a Committee Room upstairs, that many other nations which did not formerly use wheat are now using it, and there is likely to be, in a short time, a real shortage of wheat. It is an appalling thing that with nearly 2,000,000 people out of work, bread has been 10d. and 11d. a quartern loaf. At the risk of being thought an impudent townsman, I say that for us to be paying that price when large areas of our own land, the best wheatbearing land in the world, are out of cultivation, is a scandal to any Ministry of Agriculture, whether Labour, Tory or Liberal. The question has been raised of whether or not it would pay. Again at the risk of being considered impudent, I wish to say that I go about England a great deal, and not being too big or too ignorant to try to learn, and meeting with farmers of all sorts, I know that there is a great diversity of ability and efficiency in the cultivation of land. I know a farmer in Berkshire who gets much more out of the land than the man next door to him, and when I am told that it is all a question of price, I deny that proposition.
I say it is very largely a question of effete methods and downright inefficiency. Again I am going to say what I know. I have seen townsmen taken on the land and turn heavy, clayey Essex soil into a French garden of the very best description, and if the right hon. Gentleman wants to see it, I can take him or any other Member of this House to see it. It is all a question of whether you are prepared to use the proper methods of cultivating the soil. The apples that won the prize for Empire apples given by the late Lord Northcliffe, when he held his show, were grown from trees planted by London unemployed men at Hollesley Bay, and to tell me, at this time of day, 2295 that it is a question of whether the land will pay is beside the point. I yield to the right hon. Gentleman opposite and to many other hon. and right hon. Members about agriculture, except when it comes to facts. They will not deny that the land on the other side of the North Sea is more sour and unkind than the land of Norfolk and Suffolk. Yet Denmark is the classic example of a nation that was ruined, almost down and out, 70 years ago. Then its Government took in hand the organisation of education and of co-operation, and at the end made Denmark the richest country agriculturally in Europe. That has been done, not by protective tariffs but by efficient co-operative organisation and by the Government doing another thing which ought to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We, in this country, have never begun to think what is the proper method of education for children in country districts, and I should like to send every Minister of Education across to Denmark to learn from them how to get children to love the soil and to be able to get their living off the soil. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Why say. "Hear, hear!" and not do it? What earthly use is it?
Here we are, talking very solemnly. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has spoken to-day, as he has spoken in this House at least a dozen times during the last couple of years, and he is cheered. Members of the Government get up and say they quite agree that it is a very grave and menacing situation, and then we go home, and nothing is done. Everything anyone proposes is the wrong way. Then, for God's sake, tell us the right way. To me it is a most maddening thing to sit here and listen to good-intentioned people, who forget that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and who forget altogether that nations go to Hell in just, the same way as individuals. Here we are up against this question, with miles of land in England. I ride in railway trains and along the roads in this country thousands of miles in the course of a month, and there are hundreds of miles of land, and I will not believe that it is beyond the wit of Englishmen to organise labour on that land if they give them the opportunity. Further, it is very much a question of men being able to get to 2296 the land. What I would like this survey to tell us is, why it was that during the War we could have many acres of land thrown open to us for cultivation, but we cannot have it now. Even the public parks during the War were turned up and crops were put in, and we demonstrated what men could do. Why cannot that be done now for the unemployed? What a relief it would be for the unemployed of every town.
It is no good saying there is not the land, because we found it during the War in London. It was a wonderful thing how much vacant land you could find in London when you wanted to find it, but the whole of those activities have been shut clown since the War. They have been discontinued, and people have been pushed off. I am saying this because I am certain that a big bulk of the unemployed, in spite of the fact that they have not had any training, could earn a very considerable amount by doing a little digging on the land. I want to know why the land cannot be made available for them. The Minister of Agriculture said he did not want to be controversial, though he rather threw it at us that we might say it was landlordism that prevented it. To a very large extent that is so, because there are people who say: "If you pay so much, you can come on to this piece of land," and there are other people who say: "Under no circumstances will we allow you to have this land." It is the business of the Ministry of Agriculture, whatever stands in the way, to get that barrier removed, and unless you do, I am certain of this, that one day we shall sit in this House, and there will be a mob outside waiting to know where their next day's food is to come from. You will shoot them down with aeroplane bombs and so on.
The right hon. Gentleman will not deny that the consumption of wheat is going up and that the production of wheat is going down. If the President of the Board of Trade were here, he would not deny, either, that the markets for our manufactured articles are getting scarcer and scarcer. The things that you want to exchange with the wheat are wanted by the people who are producing the wheat. It is said from the benches opposite: "Lot us send people to Australia or to Canada to clear away the 2297 waste places of the earth, to put in seed, and to grow food, so that they may take our manufactured articles." What I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, as Minister of Agriculture, is why we should send thousands of men out of the country when we have got land here waiting for them to till. Is it reasonable to tell men to go sixteen thousand miles to do the very thing that men can do here under your nose? When I am told that it will not pay, and that Protection is wanted—because that was the inference from the right hon. Gentleman's speech—I say, first of all, that we want the land freed from the incubus of landlordism; we then want the very highest and most skilful organisation of labour on the land; and then we want that there shall be no middlemen interfering with the marketing of the products from the producer to the consumer. Then we want another thing done. After we have got the land properly organised and properly cultivated, with no one making profits in between, we will join with you in the prevention of any low-paid labour outside pulling down the standard of labour here, but we are not going to vote for protective tariffs to protect fox hunting, grouse shooting, and all the other occupations in which many people engage.
It is all very well for an hon. Member opposite to shake his head. I will take him to another place in Suffolk, just outside Woodbridge, where there are miles and miles of land used for nothing but game preserves—an Indian Rajah used to own most of it—and I will show him where portions of that land have been made by unemployed labour to grow good food for any people who need good food. It was said at the beginning by experts, very much like hon. and right hon. Members opposite, who think they know all about the land, that we would never grow anything there, but we have grown everything we put in, and have had good produce come out. Therefore, I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that it is time we all stopped giving so much sympathy and being so gravely disturbed and thinking what a menace it is. It is very nearly time we settled clown and produced some plan for dealing with idle land and idle men.
§ Colonel COURTHOPE
We have just listened to a very interesting and 2298 remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). He and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) expressed the wish, that many of us feel, that we should get at least as great a production from much of our land here as is obtained from some of the countries on the Continent. The hon. Member has indicated to the House, that, in his opinion, one of the principal obstacles in the way of achieving that end is what he calls the incubus of landlordism. I will ask him, because I believe he is a fair-minded man, to take an opportunity of studying production costs in those countries and in this, and, if he does so, he will find that the one thing that sticks out most, the most striking difference between production costs in those countries and in this is that they pay to their landlords a very much higher rent than is paid here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where, in Denmark?"] In Denmark, Holland, and so on. Within the last two days I have been studying costs of production of sugar beet, and some figures have been taken out in detail from a large number of farms, selected at haphazard, in Holland and in the eastern counties here, all farms on which sugar beet was being grown. The average rent it the eastern counties here was only a trifle over £1 an acre, and the average rent on the Dutch farms was over £5 19s. per English acre. I only raise this point because I want to ask the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley to look into these production costs, and I think he will be forced, by his own fair-mindedness, to the conclusion that, whatever is the obstacle to higher production in this country, it is not excessive rent.
I will now come to the underlying motive of this Amendment, so far as I understand it, and I may say that I have great sympathy with it, bat surely you can never achieve the end you have in view through any request you might make to the present occupiers for returns. You will have to carry out your survey on entirely different lines if you are to be able to form a conclusion as to what relation the present production of our land bears to the maximum possible production, because that is what the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) wants. I would suggest that a very much simpler method, and one that would be reason- 2299 ably accurate probably, would be that, just in the same way as one of the Committees on Reconstruction during the War, commonly known as the Acland Committee, was able to make a return, which everyone has accepted as reasonably accurate, of the vacant land in this country suitable for timber production. so, I believe, without very great difficulty, committees of experts could make estimates of the land in this country, and the production that could be expected from the different districts, with wages at a given figure and with reasonable efficiency of cultivation. What I mean is, do nut take a thing farmed by farmers, but take, we will say, a geological atlas, and work on that, and, I believe, it would be relatively easy to say that on this or that area of lower greensand, with wages at a given figure, and reasonable efficiency, wheat could be produced so many quarters per acre. If you could get estimates of that kind by experts, you could compare them with your actual production which you get already, and you would have much more reliable figures upon which to form your conclusions so far as wheat production is concerned. You have them already so far as timber production is concerned. I hope the hon. Baronet will agree that some such method would achieve his end much better than to get the individual farmer to tell us what his farm might yield under the best conditions, because that is what this Amendment would do.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The Debate raised this afternoon by my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir A. Sinclair) has performed a good service not only to this House but, if I may say so, to agriculturists generally, for it has shown quite clearly that there are many problems of agriculture which are not so controversial as to divide the House into three separate portions. There has been general agreement that the inquiry to be made and the returns to be provided under this Bill will be inadequate for the larger purpose advocated by nearly everyone of those who have taken part in this Debate. The formal annual return presented by farmers will be something in the nature of a rough-and-ready census of production, but it cannot pretend to be strictly accurate. It certainly will not be wide enough in its inquiry, and it is bound to leave out of account a very large number of elements which no return will ever be 2300 able to give in tabular form. One of the difficulties in dealing with British agriculture is that it is not one agricultural problem. I used to find, in the days when I was responsible for the office, of which the right hon. Gentleman is now the head, that many of my friends, and others who were not quite so friendly, would persist in talking about "the agricultural problem." As a matter of fact, it is a group of about 20 or 30 problems. It varies so enormously with the great variety of cultures in this island, the immense variety of soils, drainage, climate, and—what is just as important—the great variation in race, that you cannot lay down rules which will be of general application to the whole country, as though you were dealing with one great problem.
The proposal made by my hon. and gallant Friend was by no means as narrow as the exact wording to which he had to resort, as he, obviously, was in difficulties in drafting his Amendment. But the general idea to which, I understood, the Minister of Agriculture gave acceptance this afternoon, is that a survey, however you may form it, will be of great service not only to him, but to all those who are thinking about the difficulties of farmers and of labourers, and of those who would wish to be either one or the other, but who, at the present time, have no opportunity. The right hon. Gentleman dismissed the problem of landlordism by expressing his view, and then—as he said in simple English—putting the problem on one side. I am afraid we cannot dismiss any of the aspects of this problem by putting them on one side. It crops up in one form or another. It is forced on us in one direction or another, and we cannot overlook it.
I will deal, not with the political aspect of landlordism for the moment, but with its purely technical aspect, and I should like to be allowed to remind him of a remarkable paper read by his own Assistant Secretary to the Royal Society some four years ago, in which he described what he thought were the proper duties of an efficient landlord, who took an interest in the cultivation of his land, and in the care of his people, and who ought to be doing all he could to produce as much from the soil as it was capable of producing. His opinion was that, in many directions, and amongst a very large number of people, 2301 there was either carelessness or ignorance to such a degree as to handicap those who actually live on the soil or attempt to cultivate it. The personal element, and the incapacity of a great many landlords, and a great many agents as well, is one of the aspects of this problem that we cannot ignore. There has been a great advance made so far in the last generation. The improvement in the skill and knowledge of land agents is one of the things on which we have reason to congratulate ourselves, and the tendency to use the modern university, to induce the tenants to use the modern university, and to induce county councils to give attention to the rural aspect of education in country schools, are all to the good. Then there are a large number of younger landlords, under the pressure of the time, and also from a desire to perform their full duty to the countryside, who are devoting themselves less to sport, and much more to the cultivation of the soil, and to playing their part in the economic organisation of the countryside.
All that is to the good, and I do not believe any agricultural returns on the basis of a census of production will ever give the right hon. Gentleman a full measure of the changes that have taken place for the better in those directions. But there has also been a tendency in the other direction. Since the War, a good deal of arable land has undoubtedly gone out of cultivation or, I ought to say, gone back to grass, for the amount of land that has gone out of cultivation is comparatively small. But a great deal of land, which was under the plough five or six years ago, has now gone back to grass, and will probably remain purely pasture land for many years to come. The effect of that on the country districts has been, in some places, really tragic. Hinds, as we call them in the far North, or horsemen elsewhere, have been put out of work, just as many steelworkers are out of work in the North-East of England, and the general tendency has been, in a great many districts, for the number of men, women and children supported on the land to grow less during the past five or six years.
It would be much better, I think, if Ministers of Agriculture in the future would not constantly direct the attention 2302 of the farming classes in particular to any kind of Protection as being the natural way out of their great difficulties. The light hon. Gentleman must know that Protection is not likely to play a permanent part in the policy of this country. Whatever he may hope, the difficulties are too great. His own Government cannot remain in power permanently, and even if they were to embark on it now, it is quite possible their successors might be forced to repeal the very proposals he himself had introduced. The fate of the Corn Production Acts has taught the farming classes a great lesson, that they cannot rely on the agricultural fiscal policy of this country being settled for all time, for when the time comes for the repeal of these financial benefits under the Corn Production Acts, the reaction is so great, that it drives men out of arable farming right back to grass. The tendency at the time was exaggerated by the fear that never again were they to be put on a fair footing. it would be better if Ministers of Agriculture would constantly direct the attention of the farming classes in other directions. They can give enormous help in many ways by a greater spread of knowledge amongst all classes in the farming community. Farmers themselves, certainly in the North of England, have shown a much greater tendency during the last 20 years to make use of knowledge gained in experimental farming. They are not so sceptical about science, and it would have been impossible in Northumberland, Cumberland and the Lowlands of Scotland, especially in the East, to maintain their high culture if they had not used the brains of the scientists, and realised that farming is really a scientific occupation.
The varieties of race, I said, were one of the things we had to take into account, and here, undoubtedly, the right hon. Gentleman meets with great difficulty. Anyone who has a benevolent agricultural policy must realise that the variety of opinion, the relative conservatism of certain districts in the country, the practices of various counties, where it is extremely difficult to break them of their old customs and to get them to adopt new methods, the influence which good or bad land agents may have over vast areas—all these things are matters on which there ought to be fuller' knowledge, which do provide 2303 us with some guide as to the direction in which agricultural development should go.
With these few observations on the general tendency and some of the difficulties of the farming industry, I come back to the original proposal before the House. It is quite clear the Minister himself is anxious that he and his Department should be endowed with a much fuller knowledge of the condition of agricultural England and Wales. I am sure he will pardon me for saying he is bound to know his own district better than the other counties of England, and I do not think any one man, even one who has seen so much of the farming world as Sir Thomas Middleton, is capable of forming an opinion of every county and of every farm in every county. It is impossible for one man to do that, and, if his survey is to be effective, he will require 100 Sir Thomas Middletons to do the work. I admit there are not many gentlemen who can compete with Sir Thomas Middleton in skill and knowledge, but, at all events, let us use the best brains we can discover in the first instance to enable the Minister to collect the information necessary, to collect it in all its aspects, and to think, not only of the corn farms, but of the milk farms; not only of the big farms, but of the little farms, and of the market gardeners in towns, the part the railways play in giving easy markets, and the part also played even by industries outside agriculture to provide the artificial manures, without which British agriculture cannot improve.
We have no reason to despair of good farming in this country. The best farm here is as good as any in the world, and the worst is about the worst in the world. Between those two great ranges there is a large middle lot capable of indefinite improvement. When reminded so often, as we have been to-day, of the State of Denmark, we must not overlook the fact that 70 years ago Danish agriculture was in a had way, incompetent, a good deal of the land badly farmed, the produce poor, and they did not use very large quantities of manure. All that has been changed. It has been changed, as the right hon. Gentleman has been reminded, very largely because in the days of the Schleswig-Holstein war the Danes were 2304 driven back on their own land as the only means of supporting themselves. The landlords very largely farmed their own land, which gradually was broken up among much smaller holdings, and they all combined with a community interest. That is just as possible in this country as in Denmark. Much can be done by the co-operative movement, both as to sale and purchase. What has been possible in Denmark will be possible in England if the right hon. Gentleman will accumulate the necessary information and take his policy along the lines he has spoken of this afternoon. Rural England will then have reason to be grateful to him.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I do not intend to attempt to go over any part of the ground which has been covered this afternoon, particularly when I see the discomfort on the face of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, who seems rather annoyed because this first Measure has taken as long as it has. But I think he will agree that no more important subject could be discussed than that we are discussing this afternoon. It is, at any rate, a fact that political prejudices are largely disappearing in the face of the economic calamities which seem to be threatening our people. I suppose most hon. Members have seen a remarkable series of articles which have been appearing in a London newspaper from the pen of the late Minister of Shipping. In the course of those articles, we learn that in the year 1913 the proportion of oil-driven ships on Lloyds' Register was 3 per cent. of the total, and that last year it had grown to 30 per cent. That suggests that coal for the mercantile marine is largely disappearing from purview. We have to face that fact, and it is of greater importance that this House should sit down to a calm consideration of the economic factors that involve hundreds of thousands of people than that we should be discussing half a hundred other trumpery subjects.
The Minister of Agriculture thought he scored a point against the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherlandshire (Sir A. Sinclair) when he proved that the hon. Baronet's proposed Amendment would bring in land, say, in London which was at present built over. That may be so, but I think it is true that his own Bill as it stands—as I hope to 2305 show him in a moment—leaves out of account altogether great stretches of agriculture land which, in so far as I can see, should come within the scope of the Bill. Take, for example, land, some of which I know, which was arable land two or three years ago and which just now is being planted with timber by the landowner. That land is cut out of the scope of this Bill altogether. Yet it is a great grievance on the part of the crofters in many parts of Scotland that land which gave an economic return a few years ago, land on which farming was done, is now being afforested by the landowners, who, for one reason or another, are anxious to chase the people from the soil—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
As a matter of fact, I could give instances of it. I could give Glenlonan, Argyllshire. The hon. and learned Member who represents Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) knows that this is true, that the landlord there is actually putting tress upon the land which was arable land three or four years ago. I could give a number of other illustrations. At Loch Aline Mr. Craig Seller has been clearing off the people there. Actually, when an old man or woman dies, he takes down the cottage and buries the stones beneath the soil so that there should be no memorial or memory of the house. The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) was there a few years ago. However, I do not want to be side-tracked from my main subject. I take it, that it is an historic fact that the landowners have undoubtedly in parts of Scotland cleared the soil because the peasants do not pay. The peasants do not pay. They do not get the returns from them that they get from the deer forests and grouse moors. They thus prefer the deer forests, the grouse moors, and so on,, and they do not have the same proportion of old people for whom they have to pay poor rates. Many of the landowners have in the past been at considerable pains to drive the peasants off the soil. If there be any fact in Scottish history more easily demonstrable than that, I do not know of it.
Another remark of the right hon. Gentleman which surprised me this afternoon was that last year there was an increase, if I understood him aright, in the agricultural population in England. 2306 Perhaps he would give me his attention for a, moment on this point. I understood him to say that there had been an actual increase in the agricultural population of England last year, or the last two or three years.
§ Mr. WOOD indicated dissent.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
He gave an answer which I here hold in my hand, showing that the number of agricultural workers between 1921 and 1924 in England and Wales had fallen by 63,000.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Taking it so, let me say that we have to face this great problem. There is the Danish way of doing this. I do not think with one hon. Member that it is impossible to face it. Even under the present system, I think it is possible. In the Debate on the Scottish Estimates, illustrations were given from the constituency represented by my hon. Friend for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) showing undoubtedly that the peasantry can thrive, provided they co-operate in the marketing of their produce, provided they wipe out the middleman, and wipe out the grafters who have taken their money in the past. I urge the Minister who looks after agriculture in Scotland to be at more considerable pains in the way of efficient propaganda for agricultural co-operation, and to facilitate it. Something very considerable can then undoubtedly be done. The collection of statistics which the right hon. Gentleman desires will be valuable; but, valuable as they will be, they will not be complete, and for the life of me I cannot conceive why he does riot desire to have those statistics complete.
In the town in which I live I can see miles of land, of good, arable land, periodically flooded by the overflow from a choked river, which is throwing out of use land that might be used for agricultural purposes. A very few pounds indeed would provide for a small scheme and all that land could be speedily 2307 drained. The Scottish Board of Agriculture, however, would not spend the £10 necessary to do that work, with the result that, literally, thousands of acres are rendered unfit for cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to interfere in this Bill with sporting tracts at all. He is taking no steps whatever to bring land which is partially used for sport and partially used for grazing even partially under cultivation.
Our agricultural population is decreasing in Scotland steadily year by year. We can travel now, in parts, 30 miles in a railway train and never see a chimney smoking. The place has a deathlike silence. Unless speedy and immediate steps are taken, not only in the interests of the rural population, but in the interest of the nation generally, we will lose the industrial markets, and I think the outlook for this country is very dismal indeed. I cannot see how this country will be able to maintain the population that it has hitherto maintained. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing? What is he doing by Clause 2 for the, inclusion of land used for deer forests? Is he going to bring in land used in that way, or land used for grouse moors? Is he going to bring in land used as sporting tracts or for deer forest purposes? If not, why not? Why should all these thousands and thousands of acres be excluded from the statistics which he asks for under this Bill? I hope we shall have not merely an explanation which proves that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has been moved in such a way as to make it impossible to attain his object, but that he himself from the Treasury Bench and representing the Government will show to the House a form of words that will bring within the scope of the Bill what I have been suggesting ought to be brought in other than land practically built upon.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am obliged to the hon. Member. What he says is quite a good point. What I want to get out is this: Will the Department of the right hon. Gentleman bring in land partially used as a deer forest? Will he bring in land used as grouse moors? Will he bring 2308 in land used for sporting purposes other than deer forests If not, why not? I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Rhys) will assist me in bringing pressure to bear upon the right bon. Gentleman in this matter, so that the only land that is excluded shall be land at present built upon, which cannot possibly be used for agricultural or grazing purposes. I trust that when we do get these returns IN shall get them county by county. There are counties in Scotland where surveys have taken place, where the figures are already accessible to the Ministry of Agriculture. I hope when we get these statistics the Government will give us a lead, for there are many hon. Members on all sides of the House who will back them up through thick and thin if they will start quickly, start now, while there is yet time, to, as the Prime Minister said recently he would do, hew a way through the vested interests. Let us put the maximum number of people on the soil. Even if what the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) said is not altogether true, even if we cannot put discharged shipyard workers and discharged colliers back immediately on to the soil to produce food, we can at any rate do this, we can stop the depopulation of the countryside, stop the steady drainage to the city, and by a careful survey, by afforestation, plus small holdings, plus co-operative markets, plus Government assistance in every possible way in the provision of roads and light railways—we can do something to increase the number of people which our soil can maintain, do something, certainly, to become more self-supporting in the way of food production than we are to-day.
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) the Minister said: "Yes, we can produce food, but at a price." At a price! I think he repeated the words three or four times. What price are we paying now for the depopulation of our countryside? What price are we paying through Insurance Acts, what price are we paying through local rating, what price are we paying in the physical, mental, moral and spiritual degradation of our people? What price are we paying in assisted passages for emigration?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I cannot help thinking the hon. 2309 Member is basing a very large argument on an. Amendment dealing with the question of agricultural statistics.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I do not intend to traverse in any way the restriction you laid down. I merely want to make a brief comment upon what I took to be the conclusive argument of the Minister of Agriculture. It was his conclusion, it was the thing with which he thought he had knocked down all his critics. He said: "Yes, you could produce more food, you could put more people back on the land, but at a price." I merely attempt to show him that when he used those words "but at a price," he was completely shutting his eyes to the terrible price we are paying for the alternative policy, the terrible price we are paying physically, mentally, morally and economically. I am perfectly certain that if a balance sheet were struck, if we were to put proper accountants on the business to find what the present system cost us, we should find it would be infinitely cheaper to spend enormous sums of money in afforesting such land as is suitable for afforestation, in settling smallholders where it was suitable to settle them, in assisting them with co-operative organisation for the marketing of their produce such as has succeeded in Orkney, in building light railways, in tackling people like the MacBrayne Steamship Company which throttle half a countryside, in looking after the provision of roads and assisting agriculture in every way. We could then do for other kinds of agriculture what the Orkadians have done for eggs, we could beat the Danes out of our markets. If the Orkadians can chase the Danes out of Edinburgh and Leith egg market by co-operative marketing and by abolishing the middleman, surely the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture need not hold up his hands helplessly and say, "Yes, we can do it at a price, but that price is impossible."
Nothing is impossible to the people of this country if only we set our minds to it. Look at what the Danes did when they lost their industrial provinces. When the Germans took Schleswig-Hol-stein what faced the Danes but ruin? The Danes turned their co-operative ability to their land. They swept aside all this tommyrot about competition being the life of trade, all this talk about 2310 "Let the strongest man win and to hell with the little man," all the political philosophy upon which the Liberal and Conservative parties have hitherto based their programme. Instead of that they applied themselves to co-operation, to helping one another, to wiping out waste and inefficiency, and they have succeeded, and it is a disgrace to the Ministry of Agriculture for England and Wales and the Scottish Board of Agriculture to take the line they do when they see how a little country like Denmark has been made prosperous. I went about Denmark for several weeks, and I never saw a man who looked as if he were earning less than £4 a week. Here we have starvation, misery, degradation and unemployment round our doors like a sea, and we have no remedy. Nobody has any remedy. We hope that something will turn up. Somebody talks about emigration. Ship them away beyond the seas! To do what? To grow timber and food that they can grow at home. Unless this House of Commons faces the issue it may be that we will not live to see another House of Commons given the time to face the issue, that disasters will come upon this country, that economic disasters will come upon us the like of which the memory of man has not known.
§ Mr. HARNEY
On looking at this Bill I find it is laid down that the farmer who makes a mistake in any particular in furnishing his return is to be fined £10, unless he can show that he was innocent. Even in the form that the return is confined to by the Bill, we are told, and I believe quite rightly, that it would be of very little use. Why, then, should this very drastic treatment be meted out to the farmer who gives a return which can be of very little value?
§ Mr. E. WOOD
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman entitled to direct our attention at this stage to a point arising on an earlier paragraph in the Bill?
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER
Only in connection with the argument that this paragraph refers to the earlier part of the Bill. It would be in order for him to show that the result of this proposal would be to bring into difficulty an agricultural occupier who failed to fill up the return. He would be in order in 2311 referring to the previous paragraph as an argument for or against this particular matter.
§ Mr. HARNEY
That was the reason I began in a rather roundabout way to reach the Amendment. I really only stood up because I became so interested in the Debate. I had not looked at the Bill before, but my eyes wandered through it, and I noticed this penalty, and I really was doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman really intended to impose such a penalty in respect of a return that is made by a bucolic hand in reference to a very indefinite subject where mistakes are very easily made. The unfortunate man is to be fined £10 unless he does what is practically impossible, proves that he is innocent. I suggest the right hon. Gentleman might consider whether it would not be sufficient if he annexed the penalty in the ordinary way, leaving the presumption of law in favour of the man.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I only want to ask the Minister a question with a view to bringing the Debate to a conclusion as far as this Amendment is concerned. I understood from the Minister that he was contemplating something in the nature of a survey, and that he would announce the decision of the Government on that subject later on. I understood that, and if that is so, then as far as we are concerned, we shall be quite satisfied with the reply he gave.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I may say that was the intention to which I tried to give expression. I made it plain, or I tried to make it plain, that I did not think any such survey could usefully be included or incorporated in this Bill, but I said that as the right hon. Gentleman had suggested it I would give it careful consideration, and that if it was not possible I was disposed to consider, and would consider, the possibility of achieving the same object, the survey, in other ways.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."2312
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Before we part with the Bill I would like to draw attention to one fact. There has been general agreement as to the importance of getting suitable agricultural statistics, so that all of us will have a certain amount of knowledge on this subject. The Minister was rather, I thought, inclined to score to his own satisfaction because of having a certain amount of knowledge that nobody else has. He seemed to me to be rather offensive in the way in which he seemed to reply. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Well, that is how it appeared to me, that he thought Members on the Labour Benches could have no knowledge, or very much knowledge, about agriculture, I do not profess to myself, but as one whose family was engaged in agriculture and who suffered from landlordism I certainly objected very much to the way in which the Minister spoke on the matter. But that is by the way.
The point I want to draw attention to is the very important agricultural statistics in Scotland which are obtained at the Fiars Courts in Scotland held in connection with the fixing of prices. I am assured by an agricultural student that, possibly, we shall not be able to get those statistics in the future, because, so far, there is no provision in the Church of Scotland Bill—which has been before the House and in Committee—to maintain those statistics. I would like to suggest to the Minister, seeing there is no representative of the Scottish Office here, that he should take account of that fact, and see that the agricultural statistics that come from that Court are really going to be maintained in the future. This agricultural student, a very brilliant student at Oxford University, seemed to be very much concerned about the loss that we would sustain, and I thought it was only right that this point should be raised when the Bill was before the House. I think this small Bill is of much more importance than most of the Measures we are accustomed to discuss in this House, and I believe it will be found to be of much greater importance than the Protocol and a lot of the stuff about reparations and that sort of thing. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will be able to announce to the House at no distant future that he has arranged for a real agricultural survey of our country in order that we may get things done.
2313 There is another point in connection with Scotland, and it is that five million acres are devoted to deer, which is a quarter of the whole of Scotland, and we cannot get a survey too soon as far as Scotland is concerned. With regard to the argument of the Minister of Agriculture about the price of food, one thing that struck me was that he obstinately refused to deal with the question of what had been done in Denmark in the past. Surely we can do in our own country what the Danes have been able to do in their country. I hope we are going to get something out of this Debate, and I trust there is not going to be a whole lot of talk without any material benefit coming to the people. If we do not get something done speedily, this House and a great deal of this country is going to be swept away, and we shall free ourselves from the incubus of landlordism, and get the land for the people to be used by the people, bringing to them decent comfort and gladness.
§ Mr. WRIGHT
I desire for several reasons to take part in this Debate. One is that the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has referred to myself as having expressed the view that it is possible to support the people of this country on the soil, the rivers and the seaboards. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is my opinion, at any rate. I would like to point out that I am the son of an agricultural labourer, who had charge of a 150-acre farm, which I saw improved to such an extent that in five years its yield was increased 50 per cent. It had an orchard of two acres, and with the returns from the orchard and the poultry we were able to pay the rent of £150 a year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Hon. Members say, "No, no," but I have given some consideration to this subject for the last 30 years, and if I am wrong in what I am saying, at least I am in good company. Professor Mechi and Sir James Caird have expressed the view that, as a matter of fact, the land of this country had been starved for labour for many years.
Apart from that, Sir Charles Fielding, in a remarkable book recently published, expressed the opinion that if all the counties of this country were producing the amount of food that some are producing in the Eastern part of the 2314 country—and the West soil and climate are as good as in the East—Britain would have food to export after supplying the whole of its people. That opinion cannot be brushed aside as irrelevant to this issue. That is a most important fact to be taken into consideration in regard to one of the greatest crises in our history, as far as food supplies are concerned. Although we have not had any recent survey as far as the land is concerned, during the War a survey was taken of our resources as far as mechanical appliances and man power were concerned. Now we have arrived at an equally important crisis in regard to the men who are on the borderline of starvation, and from that point of view it is just as important that this survey should be taken, because it is long overdue.
The question of agricultural statistics is one of very vital importance. We ought to know exactly the yields of wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, eggs and milk, but where are such statistics to be found? They are not available. I have dug out vast quantities of statistics from various documents and magazines in this connection, but I think they ought to be available in a much more convenient form. According to the report of a Committee of the House of Lords, it appears that in 1884 an inquiry was instituted into the subject of agricultural depression, and evidence was taken. Opinions were expressed by two of the most eminent agriculturists of the day, and one of them advanced the view that in regard to 20 million acres of land in this country, 17 millions were inadequately drained. The other eminent agricultural authority said that the land was yielding only one-fifth of what it was capable of yielding. Surely that is a matter of vital importance? In the "Nineteenth Century Magazine" it was stated that in the year 1888 one of the most eminent authorities on agriculture which this country has ever known, as far as the collection of agricultural statistics go, Prince Kropotkin, expressed the opinion that if the cultivation of this country were brought up to the standard which prevailed in Belgium at that time, we could feed the whole of the people of this country upon our own soil.
There is much more evidence than that. There is the question of wheat land. Professor James Long, a very eminent 2315 writer on agricultural statistics, has expressed the opinion, in a book called "The Coming Englishman," that there are 12,750,000 acres of land in this country similar to the Desert of Lupitz, which has given excellent yields after 25 years' cultivation, and he declares that this 12,750,000 acres in this country could be brought into cultivation if we adopted the same method. If we consider the yield of wheat, our average is round about 32 bushels to the acre. During 1879 our average yield was down to 15 bushels to the acre, and it has increased more slowly than in any other country of the west of Europe during the last 50 years. I think it is a positive disgrace that we are in such a position as far as the improvement of the production of the soil is concerned. Our highest average yield in Britain is 37 bushels to the acre, while the highest yield in Denmark has gone up to 54 bushels to the acre, with an inferior soil and climate to our own.
If you take the yields of allotments, men have produced from 50 to 60 bushels per acre in their spare time after working as agricultural labourers on the land during the rest of the day. I have evidence here, in a book published in 1923, giving the statistics of yields obtained in 1918 of wheat and oats, in which the writer declares that on eight acres of land in Gloucestershire, they produced 80 bushels per acre. The same authority gives instances in Lincolnshire, Worcestershire and Cumberland where they produced from 90 to 100 bushels of oats per acre. Those figures show what we might produce in this country if we adopted more scientific methods of cultivation, and that is a very important point. If we adopted the methods which are practised in other parts of the world relating to intensive cultivation, I am sure we could lift the standard a great deal higher than it is at the present time, when we are importing large quantities of foodstuff from abroad, from the United States, the Argentine and Australia. The other day the Prime Minister of Western Australia declared that the yield of wheat there was 14 bushels to the acre. If we went in for more intensive cultivation, we could get far better yields. Sir Arthur Cotton has told us of very successful experiments in the 2316 south of England out of which very remarkable results were obtained, so remarkable that I scarcely dare relate them for fear of shocking some of the landlords and farmers—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that on this little Bill we can go into the whole question of the methods of agriculture. The Bill is confined merely to the question of agricultural returns.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Surely, on the question of a Bill relating to statistics on agriculture we are entitled to raise the question of whether those statistics are adequate or not, and whether they ought to be supplemented in various directions in order to give us more accurate returns.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That was discussed at two hours' length on an Amendment of which we recently disposed. I allowed the Debate on that Amendment because I thought it did raise that issue.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Does not the Third Reading Debate necessarily include, as in order, all the subjects that have been in order on minor Amendments to the Bill? In view of the importance of getting these statistics, surely we are entitled to press for more?
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
Before you reply on that point, may I draw attention to the provision in the Bill which asks for a return in writing of the acreage of land in cultivation, specifying the acreage of the several crops thereon? I submit that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright) is quite in order in suggesting that the crops he has mentioned should be grown, and thereby included in the returns which are called for by this Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
On the Third Reading we are confined really to what is in the Bill, and I have already given a liberal interpretation to that. If it were to go too far, it might raise the whole fiscal question, which would be a remarkable result on a little Bill of this kind.
§ Mr. WRIGHT
I will endeavour to keep within the limits of the Bill, and, as far as I understand you, Sir, to obey your ruling. I may observe, however, that I made rather careful inquiries from Members who have had a wider experience of debate in this House than myself, and 2317 I was assured that there were wider rather than narrower limits to the Debate. If I have erred, it was quite inadvertently. I was only referring to the question of intensive cultivation because it is often said that we have far more people in this land than we can ourselves support, and I was anxious to prove that what I have stated is perfectly justified. However, I will leave that, as far as yields per acre are concerned, because I have so often referred to this subject in days gone by—partly because one method whereby you can drive a lesson home, either in a class-room or even in the House of Commons, is by constant repetition. I intend to repeat, so long as I am a Member of the House, that the soil of this country is capable of feeding the people, if they apply the science, the knowledge and the resources which are now available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) was called to account the other night for his statement with regard to the yield of eggs that had been obtained in the Orkneys. There is the method of the incubator, which is not irrelevant to this issue, because we are spending about£19,000,000 per annum on eggs imported from all quarters of the globe—liquid eggs, eggs running in from China, rotten eggs, election eggs, and so on. All these things are coming in. Why cannot we produce them here? There is an incubator that has a capacity of 3,000 eggs every time it is set up, at a cost of 1s. 3d. per week. Suppose we multiply this by 10,000! Surely that is within the bounds of this Bill. Again, take the question of milk. Our average yield of milk is about 450 gallons per annum from one milking period to the other; but only last week an account appeared in a Glasgow evening paper of a cow at Strathaven, in Lanarkshire, which produced over 3,000 gallons of milk from one milking period to the other. [Laughter.] Hon. Members smile, because they have never devoted any time to the matter. This is a very important question, and the same remarks apply, not merely to milk yields, but to many other products.
I hope that the statistics for which we are asking will be made available, because I think they will be of great importance in connection with this subject. I speak as the representative 2318 of a division in which there is a very large number of men who have not worked for the last few years. They are faced with starvation, and are living in destitute conditions—under such shameful conditions that I feel that were I one of them, I would not submit very long. I would either alter it by fair means or foul. These men, who have given their strength to the country, might well be cared for, and I think that this is a matter which will help to bring into cultivation the resources of the nation.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not rise to prolong the discussion, but I have one question to put to the Minister with regard to the very important statement that he made as to his contemplating the possibility of a survey. I do not know that he definitely promised it, but his answer in that respect was a very favourable one, because my hon. Friend withdrew his Amendment. It is of vital importance that we should get the information at the earliest possible moment. But a survey over the whole country would take a very long time, and I do not think we could wait for a survey of the whole of the counties of England, Scotland and Wales before action is taken. My suggestion to the Minister is that the survey, with a view to ascertaining the vital facts regarding agriculture, should be undertaken in a few sample counties in England, Scotland and Wales to begin with. I suggest that in each country counties of a different character should be taken—for instance, the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, the wheat-growing districts of England, and the grazing counties, and the same would apply to Wales. A few counties would be chosen, and a thorough survey undertaken for these few counties to begin with, with a view to ascertaining those facts without which it would be impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to formulate any policy that would be satisfactory. Otherwise, he will be doing no more than scratch the surface, like the hens to which the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright) has just referred in, if I may say so, a very admirable speech, full of very sound information. I was very sorry that the character of the Bill did not permit of his developing his arguments.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is a Bill to ascertain the facts, and, therefore, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman—perhaps he cannot give me an answer now, and it would not be fair to press him to do so, but it is a very important matter—whether he will undertake to consider, at any rate between now and the time when we meet again, the question I have put to him as to the possibility of a limited survey to begin with, taking sample counties—whether he will go thoroughly into the question whether the best use is made of the cultivated land, whether the best use is made of land that is now treated as waste, and other suggestions which have been made in the course of the Debate about park land, and so on, and also with regard to the question of afforestation? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able, at any rate, to promise that he will consider the question, and that the Prime Minister will also undertake that the Cabinet shall consider it with a view to giving an answer on these points later.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I should like to ask, in connection with this Bill, what is to be returned when a farmer has land under water? We are told here that the acreage under separate crops must be specified, the acreage of land in fallow, and the acreage of land used for grazing. What part of this Bill includes land that is under water? There is a tremendous amount of land that has been under water for many years, to a depth varying from an inch to 10 inches. Would the Minister tell us how the man who is asked to return what he owns is to do so if the land is under water? I have in mind quite a number of places where they have that kind of lake, that has been formed during the last 10 years.
This Debate to-day has included references ranging from land to oil. I am sorry that the Bill only deals with the surface of the land, because the arguments used to-day, as to the relation between land and oil, were such as to show that, while the oil coming into this country has a direct bearing upon the value of the products from our land, the withholding of the land, and the withholding of minerals, has a bad effect upon agriculture in this country. The Minister to-day spoke as a Protectionist, but in the survey he suggests what is to take place, for instance, in the Highlands of 2320 Scotland. What is to be said in the returns of a place like Loch Aline? What is to be returned as to what has been left by the owners after they have swept the people out of the country? What is Mr. Craig Sellar to return in reference to the ruin that he caused on the neighbouring estate of Fiunary, when he pulled down that wonderful old house, famous in its architecture from the name of Adams in Edinburgh, when he tore it down and sowed grass to try and hide every habitation that had been there? Under what heading is he to put in Fiunary, where to-day one can see the bracken overtaking the site of the homes of the men who were sent forth, and whose houses were buried under the soil? Under what heading will Mr. Craig Sellar return the depletion in the Black and White Glens at the head of Loch Aline? Under what heading is he to show the ruined dwellings, and the bracken overtaking the natural habitations of men? To-day, when you visit that place, if you do not startle the deer you are startled by a gamekeeper.
Under what heading is to be returned all that tragedy that underlies our system of ownership of land to-day, and what is to be the good of this return, given to a Conservative party that holds, as it does to-day, that one man has a right to say that ho will keep his fellow-mortal off the soil, that he will keep his fellow-mortal unemployed, when he might by his own natural efforts express the divine purpose of man in his energy, physical and mental, applied to the soil to bring forth by the sweat of his brow that by which he may live? Under what heading is all this tragedy to be shown in these Returns? Of what value to you are your Returns going to be if you go on as you have been doing in the past keeping this under private enterprise—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid the question of private enterprise is quite outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. HARDIE
As I said at the beginning, we have been travelling from land to oil. We have been travelling through a great deal of matter which has been brought in by other speakers. The survey that is proposed comes very late. I want an answer to the questions I have put: Under what head these subjects are to come? For instance, suppose you take the mining lands of Lanarkshire—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Bill is for agricultural matters, not mining. It seems to be used as a peg to cover all the affairs of the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I have no desire to abuse the Rules of the House or to try to get in a point that is not in order. I know of agricultural land which has been destroyed by the subsidence of the surface due to mining. What has come over that land. I want to know whether there is any provision in this Bill for such returns. That is No. 1. No. 2 is this: You have land water-logged that is not due to subsidence but to lack of drainage. There is nothing in this Bill that shows that that is to be dealt with. It looks to me as if the idea of the Conservative party is to try to bring forward something that looks like a Measure for having this return made, but it is going to be a partial return. The characteristic type of Bill of the Conservative party is always to leave essentials out. We are going to have the most essential things left out. There are many men in Scotland I know who have to be content with inferior land, because they cannot get better. The right hon. Gentleman will not return that, because he will say it is not agricultural land. How are you going to deal with that?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think the House has no reason to complain of spending an afternoon on this vital question, or of the Debate that has arisen out of the Bill. I believe we shall have more and more of such Debates as we have listened to to-day. The immediate connection between the desirability of intensifying our agriculture and dealing with the ever-growing army of the unemployed is one that is bound to be emphasised as the months go on and unemployment is not removed. We have had a series of really remarkable, speeches dealing directly with this point. The unemployed are there. The Minister of Agriculture has it in his power to help us to solve this problem. The collection of statistics is a step in the right direction, but I hope we will go a little bit further than this Bill provides for, and say that the special survey asked for by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is gone on with. If we could have a special survey such as he mentioned, dealing with selected areas, 2322 we should learn far more than we are likely to get by this general Bill. When he is making that special survey, I hope he will also make inquiries as to the rates levied upon various classes of property, and the rents charged to the tenants of different classes of land, because it seems to me that the party opposite have it in their power, if they only knew it, to do a tremendous amount towards helping to solve the unemployed problem without any legislation on the facts we put before them.
We had the other day an hon. and gallant Gentleman, an ideal landlord, anxious to do the best for his tenants, and anxious to produce the most from his land. He explained that he was letting land to large farmers at £1 an acre, and to allotment holders at £6 an acre. It is just the allotments that we want to introduce to-day. We know how many miners are suffering from short time and unemployment. If I were dictator of this country, I would secure for every out-of-work collier a piece of land which ho might cultivate, even if it were only a couple of rods, so that he would have something to spend his time on when he is out of work. That, supplemented by the Unemployment Insurance, would not only keep him fit but make him a man, instead of sinking down into the welter of the unemployables. That is partly within the power of the party opposite without this Bill.
This Bill will give us statistics of what is being cultivated, but if we can get the further special inquiries in special districts, we may find what are the real obstacles in the way of getting work for the unemployed on the land of their own country, so that they may produce something for themselves, and have some honest productive work to do. We are now passing through a time of crisis as serious as during the War. The landlords of the country, without waiting for the Government, made great sacrifices to help the situation in the early years of the War when food cultivation had to be undertaken at all costs. Will they not try to meet the same situation now in the same way by allowing these unemployed men and women to get land, with security of tenure, which they can work on instead of being in a queue outside the Employment Exchange, or hanging round the street corners.
2323 The problem that we are discussing, and the problem of unemployment are intimately associated, and it is only when we realise that that we shall find the possibility of improving matters and reducing the hopeless unemployment of the present day. Therefore, I hope, before this most interesting and illuminating Debate closes, we shall have some words from the Minister of Agriculture upon this question. How far can we, outside this Measure, pursue inquiries which will enable a man who wants work to get at the raw material which he must have if he is to start work? Will he make inquiries to see whether the barrier put in the way of that man shall be reduced, and instead of being charged £6 an acre for allotments, that he shall get them at 10s. an acre, and instead of 9d. a rod, 1d. a rod, so that we can have a chance of producing food, perhaps not on such a scale as was outlined by the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright), so that we may start training our people and getting them accustomed to working on the land and producing food?
I think the time we have spent to-day on the Bill has been by no means wasted. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) hit the nail on the head, when he showed the intimate connection between the problem we are discussing and the unemployment problem. Speech after speech from these benches has emphasised that point, and it would be a tragedy if the Debate closed now without any sort of intimation from the Government as to the attitude they propose to take up on this great question. How far can this Measure be supplemented? How far can we get information as to the rates and information as to rents, as well as information as to the profits and proceeds? How far can we get even more important information as to whether small holdings can be made remunerative, as to whether they ought to be charged three or four times as much rent as the big farmer for an equal number of acres—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is really developing into a general economic discussion which cannot possibly be taken on a Bill of this kind.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am quite aware of that, Sir, and I do not propose to apply any argument to any of these points I have raised. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman, following up the request made to him by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon, to have these special inquiries so that the information may be available for Members when these questions are more properly discussed at the proper time. We have not the facts and we have not the information. We must rely on the Government for providing that information. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to promise before we close this Debate that we shall have these small selected inquiries into these very important points and thereby provide the material which may gradually open people's eyes to the necessity of connecting unemployment and the land question together, realising that by these means we can do something to restore our country.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
I shall not attempt, indeed I think you, Sir, would scarcely allow me to follow in detail the rather wide field which has been covered in this Debate. If this Bill be half as successful in securing intensive production from the land as it has been successful in securing an intensive output of oratory, we shall have no cause in any way to be jealous of our success. The only observation I permit myself in regard to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Spring-burn (Mr. Hardie) is that when he gives rein to his eloquence, and says that this is exactly the sort of Bill he would have expected a Conservative Government to introduce, for various reasons that he commended to our notice, the short answer is that it is the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Buxton) who sits on his own Front Bench. Therefore, I consider myself absolved from dealing in detail with the attack he launched on my head.
I now come to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) asked with regard to the question of the suggested survey. He recognises better than anyone what a very difficult question it is, and I am not going to say more than I said in answer to an earlier question. He himself recognises that it would not be fair to invite me to commit myself 2325 further than I have done without much fuller opportunity for consideration, but I may tell him that between one and two months ago, when I began to look at this question from this angle, and when I came up against the question of the survey, and I began to plot out what that would take in time and in expense if satisfactorily done, my mind at once turned, as I think the mind of my predecessor had also turned, in the direction of exactly the suggestion the right hon. Gentleman has made, namely, that of trying to take sample bits such as we do when we buy a cheese over the counter, and then draw general deductions from the samples. I do not say more than that at the moment, but that will suffice to assure the right hon. Gentleman that he can rely upon it that that suggestion, which indeed had been present to my mind, will be practically considered.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the question of rates and rent at the same time?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WOOD
I am not going to attempt to commit myself now to any form or suggested schedule of inquiry. I can only say it will be my duty to have regard to what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has urged along with the various representations which have been made from all quarters of the House. My object is the same as theirs, to secure as much relevant, true, valuable information as it is possible on a reliable basis to obtain. I think I cannot say more than that, but I hope, if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are content to leave the matter there at this stage, that when we return after Easter I shall be in a position to answer any further questions if it be thought fit to put them to me.
§ Mr. MORRIS
There is one point I should like to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, and that is with regard to new offences created by this Bill, under which farmers who are on holdings of more than one acre will be called upon to make returns for the purpose of the Act when it is passed. That means, whatever the state of education of these farmers may be, if they make a mistake, and it may be an innocent mistake, the onus rests upon 2326 them. These men are not good at making returns. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should change the form of the punishment and put the onus, as it usually is, on the prosecution to prove that it is falsely made, and not put the onus on the person making the return to prove that he is making it innocently. The onus should be on the prosecution to prove the charge they have laid, and not upon the farmer.