§ [THIRD DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th October],
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, bog leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Charleton.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words on the Address in reply to His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, especially as affecting the question of agriculture. A perusal of the statistics of agriculture for the past year shows many interesting features and some very alarming facts. The total acreage of land under crops amounted to 25,437,00 acres, of which only 9,947,000 acres were under arable cultivation, and I would like to point out that that amounts to a shrinkage in the arable acreage in this country of no less than 1,153,000 acres during the past 10 years, a shrinkage of 10.4 per cent. How has that shrinkage been made up? When we turn to the figures in regard to cereal cultivation, and when we look at the area of arable land devoted to the cultivation of wheat, we find that that has fallen no less than 414,000 acres, a drop of 23.8 per cent.; in barley there has been a drop of 208,000 acres, or 15.7 per cent.; and in the cultivation of oats there has been a drop of 186,000 acres, or 9.1 per cent. The only crop practically which has increased in acreage—with the exception of sugar beet, to which I will allude later—is lucerne, and the acreage under that crop has increased by 26.3 per cent. That is the farmer's answer.
That is the farmer's way of saying that it is not worth while keeping his land under arable cultivation and that, so long as the terrible depression which now exists in agriculture continues, he 222 cannot afford to take the risks of arable cultivation, but must reduce his expenditure, reduce his labour, and turn his arable land down to grass. There is only one bright spot, and that has been up to now the sugar beet crop. That has increased by 166,000 acres, but that does not balance the loss under arable cultivation due to the drop in the cultivation of cereals, because one is in effect complementary to the other, and the more beet you have the more cereal cultivation you also have so that if it had not been for the added cultivation of sugar beet, the drop in the arable and cereal acreage would have been still greater.
We know that negotiations are now proceeding in respect to the next three years' crop of sugar beet. Great difficulties, we understand, are being met with in regard to finding a satisfactory settlement. The huge drop in the value of sugar very seriously upset the previous calculations, and I fear that some greater measure of help will be needed by the sugar beet industry if it is satisfactorily to continue as one of our agricultural crops in this country. I hope that that help, when it is given—I feel sure it will be given, because it must be given for the existence of the industry—will be given on a wide basis, so as not to injure any of the other industries, such as the refining industry, in this country. We want every industry in this country which we can establish to flourish.
The general picture in regard to agriculture is indeed a terribly distressing one, and what the agriculturist is asking everywhere, in the common vernacular which we hear in the market place, is "What about it? What are the Government doing?" They have now been in office 18 months, and so far the position of agriculture is getting steadily worse. Their whole agricultural policy, in so far as there has been any policy, has been inept and futile. At the moment the outlook for all agriculturists is bad, and the outlook for the cereal grower is well nigh hopeless. The coming winter holds out a very bleak prospect in many a village home unless the Government come forward with some constructive scheme to revive agriculture and to bring prosperity to the countryside, but so far nothing has been done 223 to grapple satisfactorily with this great problem.
To-day we have heard, in answer to a question, that the Government are prepared to sit still, with folded arms and half closed eyes, under this great and menacing importation of Russian wheat, produced and grown under conditions that would not be tolerated for one moment in this country, conditions which, I hope, we shall never allow to be brought into being here. Surely they must take notice of these things if they really have the welfare of agriculture at heart. We are entitled to ask, Where is this wheat going? Are there any boards of guardians who are buying this wheat for the feeding of the inmates? What steps are the Government taking to investigate these importations and to find out to what use the wheat is being put? But the main question is, What are the Government going to do to meet the present crisis and to deal with the present situation? The potato harvest is nearly completed, the tubers are nearly all dug, the beet crop has nearly all been pulled, and now the spectre of unemployment is beginning to stalk throughout our agricultural districts in a way that has hitherto been unknown. Many farmers find themselves confronted with utter ruin unless the Government take steps to implement their election pledges and make farming pay.
The Gracious Speech from the Throne offers small ground, I am afraid, so far as its references to agriculture are concerned for hoping for better things. We are promised increased settlement and employment on the land, but we know, when we cast our minds back, that there was a scheme much on the lines adumbrated in this Speech, namely, the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act of 1919, which was passed with a great flourish of trumpets and a great expenditure of money. Some £20,000,000 were set aside for the purpose, and a large number of men were settled on the land, but they were soon disappointed and discontented. In 1926 that scheme broke down altogether, and those settlements had to be handed over to the county councils, county by county, to be run in future on an economic basis. The taxpayers, incidentally, lost some £15,000,000 or £16,000,000. That was the result of the Government's attempt to control agriculture from Whitehall.
224 4.0 p.m.
We read in the Speech of contemplated large scale farming operations. What is intended by these large scale operations? Who are to be dispossessed to make way for these large scale schemes? Somebody has to make way for somebody else, and what compensation is going to be given, and who is to find the money for the compensation, and who is to meet the bill when losses are incurred? I feel perfectly confident that losses will be incurred, and I would venture to refer the House to an answer that was given by the late Minister of Agriculture, who now adorns another place, on the 7th April, 1924, when we had this great scheme in operation. He said:The total loss between 1st October, 1918, and 31st March, 1923, was £347,207 …. The net loss of £347,207 was made on the following settlements.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1924; col. 44, Vol. 172.]Then he gave a long list of settlements, in Wiltshire, in Wales, in Shropshire, in Lincolnshire, in Yorkshire, in Dorsetshire, in Carmarthen, in Berkshire, and in Hampshire, not to mention all, but only some, thus showing that it was not a case of a particular type of soil or a particular set of conditions, but that, generally speaking, a scheme of that kind had little or no prospect of success. Then reference is made to the acquisition and reconditioning of land. Acquisition. Who is going to acquire—a very peculiar word? Is it to be by purchase of land by loan or by some other method? Reconditioning. What does that mean? If it means drainage, of course it is a good thing for drainage to be undertaken on agricultural land which is worth draining. The words, perhaps, are purposely obscure and purposely confused, and I would venture, with all respect, to ask that we should have a closer definition of what is intended. Then reference is made to the organisation of producers for marketing purposes. I should like to know rather more about that, looking to the past and the Bill introduced recently. We know it was condemned wholeheartedly and unitedly by the National Farmers' Union of this country. We want to know what evidence of success of this type of scheme is to be found in the operations of other countries. We want to know, if the scheme is put into operation, what compensation is to be paid to the minority, or those who do not 225 want to join, but are forced to join such a scheme, if losses are incurred by them? Are there to be powers for inspecting books and powers and regulations as to methods of cultivation? After all, the kind of legislation which is suggested cuts right across and digs deep into the common rights of the individual to produce and to sell according to his own good judgment and his own ability, and such legislation is alone justified if and when you guarantee to that individual, first of all, a market for his produce and secondly a reasonable price for his commodity.
It seems to me that the Government, perhaps have gone to sleep. It must be an uneasy and a very restless sleep, but they seem to me to fail to realise the magnitude of the problems with which they are confronted or to recognise the new factors which have come along. The success of agriculture is imperilled, not only by the universal depression which we find in all countries, but more particularly by the change in the policies which are being attempted in other countries. Foreign countries have been busy building high walls round their producers. They work in a garden of their own—a garden to which entry is forbidden except upon terms which are onerous and too exacting to our people. We now have become, as it were, a sort of residual market place into which foreign countries discharge their surplus produce at any time and price, using the money they get not merely to sustain their own industries, but to build them up to a still higher plane and thus strengthen their position. It may be that a shortage of gold and a monetary revolution in the world of wide application and character is taking place to the detriment of the agricultural industry, and that may, perhaps, partly account for the great degree of agricultural depression. If that be so, the matter should be closely investigated to see what steps are necessary to counter that state of affairs.
Meanwhile, I desire to point out that nothing effective is being done. Are there on the benches opposite no path finders? Are there on the benches opposite no men prepared to face the new conditions? All that we ask for the industry of agriculture is fair-play, so that those who live on the land, by the land and out of the land, shall at least 226 have the heart to carry on in the ultimate hope that better days are in store for them. I welcome the opportunity and thank the House for allowing me to say these few words in regard to this very important subject.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sorry that I have to follow the hon. Member who has been speaking on the agricultural question, and I am also very sorry if I am breaking any understanding that has been made by going on to the King's Speech, which is the topic of discussion before the House. But I feel that there is something a little wrong in trying to limit discussion to one or two topics on the one or two days we have for surveying the outline of work, which, at least, may last a full session, and, it may be, longer. Yesterday, I understood, was to be allotted more or less to the question of unemployment insurance. Well, it was not, and to-day, I gather, it was, by some private understanding, to be limited to agriculture, though I am not inclined to think that it will be any more limited to agriculture to-day that it was to unemployment insurance yesterday. It is right and proper, I think, that the place for specific discussion on the King's Speech should be when Amendments go down on the Order Paper. These days are allotted to the general survey of the Speech and of the national situation.
Yesterday was a very curious day in this House. I have been here for the best part of 10 years, and I have never been in quite a similar debate. Everyone was talking in terms of crises, and large numbers were casting doubts on the efficiency of Parliament to cope with the situation in which we find ourselves. Although we pass criticism on Parliament, we really are passing criticism on our own competence to deal with the situation with which the nation is confronted. There is probably some ground for criticism of the Parliamentary machine, but I do not see why 615 men, chosen presumably by responsible local citizens to be candidates, and then selected by the general vote of the electorate, should not be competent when they arrive at this place to deal with any situation before them, and if the machine that we are asked to work is an unsatisfactory or inefficient machine, it should not be outwith our powers to 227 make it one that can perform the tasks that we desire to see performed.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) ought to be the one man in Great Britain who is more satisfied with this Speech than anybody else, because I can see in it indications of his philosophy, and in no language can I see any indications of mine. Looking at the various things suggested—unemployment insurance, site value of land, school age, trade disputes and trade unions, the setting up of a Consumers' Council, amendment and consolidation of the Factory Acts, Washington Hours' Convention, International Convention for the safety of life at sea, and the establishment of a new statutory authority to deal with passenger traffic in London. It takes me back to pre-War days, and to the Liberal party of the period 1906 to 1912. There is not one specific item in this Speech which has any relation that I can see to a Socialist philosophy or a Socialist plan for confronting the nation's problems. But I do see in every line of it such questions as land settlement, taxation of land values, school age, Factory Acts—all outstanding examples of typical Liberal legislation, and the right bon. Gentle man the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs should be getting up and applauding the Government rather than making the criticisms he did yesterday. I admit that the criticisms were very mild and of a very modified nature, and from the fact, if I am correctly informed, that the party below the Gangway opposite are not putting down any Amendments to the Speech, I take it that they are very well satisfied with this Speech, and have no real grounds for complaint.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Yes, we have put one down, and I shall try to get it moved and voted upon. I do not know whether I shall manage all that within the limits that the House places on back benchers, particularly on the Government side, but the House may take it that I will do my best to get out of these difficulties, whereas right hon. Members and hon. Members opposite, who have no difficulties of that description, take no advantage of the opportunity. As a matter of fact, the 228 right hon. Gentleman opposite is the politician of all politicians who is to be congratulated on his position in this country just now. He gets the policy that he wants, without the responsibility of Government. He is the only party leader at the present time who has not got something on in the nature of an internal palace revolution. Everything seems to be quite happy in that contented little band. They get everything their own way politically, and they are all quite happy with one another, but I must say, frankly, that my right hon. Friends in the Cabinet have not done well in attempting to solve the problems of 1930 with the methods of 1906. The devices of 1906 were more or less appropriate to 1906, but are very little appropriate to conditions existing today, and I regret very much that in what I regard as a crucial period in the history of this country the leaders of the party in power did not see their way to apply the tests of their own political philosophy to the problems, to try to find the devices that are appropriate in these circumstances on a Socialist basis rather than on an out-of-date Liberal philosophy which the country has fully recognised is now inappropriate to the facts of to-day.
I see that some attempt is to be made to re-settle the people on the land as smallholders. The world will watch with great interest the very big attempt of Russia to make individual peasant cultivators into large-scale farm labourers working in association. Disciplinary measures have to be applied to the peasant cultivators, practically to compel them in a very limited period of time to change their whole mode of life and their general outlook and philosophy. I imagine that the task of turning individual peasant cultivators into large-scale farm labourers is an infinitely easier task than to attempt to turn the industrial workers of this country, used for centuries to working in association, into a large number of peasant cultivators. It also seems to me that there is something rather contradictory between the demand for higher rationalisation in industry and the return to more primitive methods in agriculture. There is a profound contradiction there, and I do not think that this will meet with any great measure of success. Indeed, I have noticed in the last few years that where a small number 229 of artisan workers had left industry and gone into small cultivation on the land, there has been a tendency for even those who made a comparative success of it to give up and to revert to industrial pursuits of one kind or another.
My main criticism of the Speech is that the Government, as practically every speaker said yesterday, do not seem to appreciate fully the nature of the situation that they are up against. The Prime Minister, whose political outlook, presumably, dominates the Cabinet, has long confounded his political philosophy by associating it in some way with the idea that there is an evolutionary process in social development as there is in biology, and that slowly and gradually, by small changes and adaptations here and there, we are steadily working forward to a better social order. I want to ask him and his Cabinet colleagues if there is any evidence in these days that the many small adaptations and changes that have taken place steadily and regularly, whatever political party happens to be in power—is there any evidence to-day that the 25 or 30 years of social adaptations by small changes of one kind or another are pushing us forward into a better social order? Is it not the fact that these last 10 years have shown that, in spite of all the adaptations, in spite of all the reforms, this country is going back and back, and that we are arriving at a state of chaos and crisis Which will not be met by small adaptations?
I ask my right hon. Friends to consider if this evolutionary political theory of theirs will fit the situation. If it wild not, let them re-examine it right down to its foundations. If they say that we are compelled by force of circumstances to recognise that Socialism as a large-scale change is not applicable, I want them to tell us quite frankly that that is their view, because it means quite a serious thing to me and to .a number of others. I believe that Socialism and a large-scale immediate application of Socialist principles to our problems is the one and only solution. If the Cabinet do not hold that view, if they have deserted the Socialist view in favour of the Liberal view, it would be only right, fair and proper to tell some of us here that that has taken place, because it would represent such a definite difference in political outlook as would not justify a, continua- 230 tion of any association between the two sections.
I want to know particularly from hon. Gentlemen opposite exactly what is the nature of the crisis about which I hear so much, because, as I go round the country, I find that a very large number of the population—not a majority, but a substantial minority—seem to be going about in absolute plenty and in complete luxury. I do not find any limitation in the opportunities for sport and luxurious holidays. I see advertisements in the papers offering glorious world tours to lands of sunshine at prices which represent about ten times a year's income of an unemployed man. I see splendid hotels at every holiday resort, and a motor show which offers more luxurious opportunities for providing comfortable travel than ever before. I see our golf courses crowded with people all hours of the day, and in the evenings during the summer months—[An HON. MEMBER: "Miniature golf."] I mean genuine honest golf, not this trickling business which I see has come in. In every direction I see to-day no sign of the upper classes in this country having to economise. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the price of bloodstock"?] Surely, the hon. Gentleman does not want me to take him up on that point. I do not know much about the price of bloodstock; I am afraid that I am as ignorant of that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be about the price of a bottle of beer. So far as I know anything about horseracing, I do not see any limitation in that sport.
In every way I look I can see no signs of a crisis, so far as the lives of the upper and middle classes are concerned. I cannot see any signs of financial crisis. I read the annual reports of the various big banks, which are surely barometers of the financial condition of the country. I do not find that any of them are hoisting flags of distress. I do not find any of them coming and asking the Government to put the security and power of the State behind them. Their one anxiety is that the State shall keep its hands off them entirely. It is a shocking and disgraceful thing that the Macmillan Committee should have been in operation nearly 16 months and should not have one word to tell us of practical value as to the financial situation in which we are supposed to be. Is there any shortage 231 of money? As far as I can hear from the few monied people I know intimately, their difficulty is how to find profitable investment for the surplus money which they have got. That is the one real crisis. They do not know how to spend their money. They are spending as much as they can just now, and they are not being limited in food, shelter, recreation, sport, holidays or gambling. There is absolutely no limit that I can see on the expenditure of the upper classes. They have got the whole field of investments open to them for their surplus, and their one complaint is that they cannot find places to put that surplus. I know where the surplus wealth of this country can and should be invested. It should be invested back in the bodies of the people who produce it.
I am profoundly dissatisfied and annoyed that the Government should have put the question of Unemployment Insurance into the hands of a Royal Commission. That means, presumably, that nothing is to be done to Unemployment Insurance while this Commission is sitting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That may please hon. Gentlemen opposite. I understand, however, that I and others had a promise that we were to have an amended Unemployment Insurance Bill during the life of this Parliament, and the Labour movement reaffirmed the view at their Conference at Llandudno a month or so ago that unemployed people in this country should be paid £1 a week for a man, 10s. for his wife, and 5s. for each of his children. I gather that hon. Gentlemen opposite want to reduce the standard of the unemployed. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs wants to reduce the standard of the unemployed—[Interruption.] I read speeches made in the week or two before Parliament assembled, one by the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), one by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and one by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, all indicating that the unemployed were getting away with it too easily just now. Evidently the Government have surrendered to that view, at any rate, to the extent of agreeing that there is room for investigation.
232 The Prime Minister indicated that there were industries in this country that were running on the basis of three days' work and three days' unemployment pay. That was reiterated in other parts of the House, and the suggestion was made that the Commission could put a stop to this frightful injustice or wrong. I wonder to whom the wrong is being done. It was said by someone that there were certain industries that could not keep going unless by this concealed subsidy which they got through benefits to the unemployed. I know some of these cases. I know one which is within reach of my own home, where something like 100 people have been kept going for a couple of years on this principle of three days' work and three days' Unemployment Benefit. Is the suggestion that there is something essentially vicious about it? Is the suggestion that that hidden subsidy should be made impossible, and that these particular works, which are producing useful commodities, should be closed down; and that then, having saved the money on the Unemployment Benefit, we should proceed to build up some other industry or spend the money on developing some scheme of unemployment relief? It is preposterous that there should be an inquiry into this question, and that when the cry for economy comes from Liberals and Tories, the only persons' on whom they can concentrate for economy are the unemployed men. It is a shame and a disgrace.
The only crisis that there is in this country is that there are 3,000,000 people living on the verge of starvation. That is the only crisis just now. It goes on. They are permitted to live on the verge of starvation. If the employed man's standard of life goes steadily down, as it has been going steadily down, there is going to be another crisis. I have heard the view that the crisis and crash could be avoided. I have raised my voice in every place where I could to endeavour to persuade the Government to make those large-scale changes in our social structure that would avoid crises. I do not know that I am so anxious now to avoid crises as I was. I know perfectly well that there will be no real understanding of the social forces that are at work in these days until we are right hard up against it and the upper classes are 233 beginning to feel some of the privations that have been felt for centuries by the working class.
I am asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister to tell me whether they are departing from the view that public ownership and control of the essentials of life is a necessary step in social reorganisation. Have we departed from the view that a nation that is going to control its own affairs, to organise its wealth production decently, and to secure equitable distribution must own the land, the source of wealth, must own the money, must own its power and its transport Have they departed from that? I want them to tell me. I want them to tell me, further, whether, with existing standards of wealth production, with existing standards of organisation, with existing types of machinery, with existing scientific knowledge, with the existing wealth production that there is they have departed from what is the Socialist view, that there is a decent living for everyone now, without having regard to possible developments in the future, possibly better production methods? Have they departed from the essential view of Socialism, which is, that whether production is great or whether it is small the wealth of the community should be equitably distributed amongst the community? That is the essence of Socialism.
We seem to be bending our minds to this proposition: "Ah, we will see that the workers get enough after we have increased the total output of wealth to such an extent that the upper classes have got more than they can possibly want." Is that the view? Are the millions of people who work for us, struggle for us, have our political philosophy as their only faith, to be told now, when we are occupying the seats of power—[An HON. MEMBER: "Office!"]—power!—that there is nothing for them in the way of a better or fuller life until some time in the dim and distant future, when all our industries have been reorganised, when all are pouring out wealth in abundance, when all our internal and external trade problems have been solved? Is it the position that then and only then are the workers to be allowed to live?
234 I say it is a shame and a disgrace that our widows should be asked by a Labour and Socialist Government to live on 10s. a week. I say it is a crying shame that, our aged people should be asked to live on Ns. a week. It is contemptible to ask the unemployed to live on 17s. a week. I know the tremendous powers that are ranged against a Socialist change in society. I know how very imposing, how very powerful, they look, but they were as strong and as imposing in the days when a few men started to say that they would put down all those powers and vested interests. Why, when you are strong, and in the position, do you lie down and grovel in front of them, instead of fighting them, establishing the control of the community over every process of wealth production and distribution at home and abroad and putting these great powers, as they should be put, under the definite control of the elected Government of the country, and using that power to secure that not one single human being goes without any of the things necessary to a decent life. I say there is no crisis now except the crisis in the homes of the working people of this land. Tackle that crisis, solve that problem—now—and deal with any vested interest or any power that attempts to stand in your way. That is the Socialist road; that will take you somewhere; this pettifogging policy will take you nowhere.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
With some of the views of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) I find myself in wholehearted agreement. I agree with him that there is nothing whatsoever in the Gracious Speech from the Throne which offers anything tangible towards the fulfilment of the promises which the Socialist Government came into office to carry out. Where I disagree profoundly with him is in the view he apparently takes that at the moment we are not faced with any crisis. To me, "crisis" appears to be a comparatively mild expression for the situation with which the country finds itself faced, and I would call the hon. Member's attention to one or two details which are often overlooked but which seem to me to indicate very clearly that we are approaching a very grave position of crisis indeed. I will not trouble the House with any figures this afternoon, but the first thing of which I would like to remind the hon. 235 Member is that in the month of September this year we exported exactly half, by bulk, the quantity of iron and steel and manufactures thereof that we exported in September of last year, and that in the same month of September, 1930, we imported rather snore, by bulk, of iron and steel and manufactures thereof than we imported in September, 1929.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I have studied that. I look every month at the Trade and Navigation Returns, and I notice that exports are down; but I also notice that imports are down in almost exactly the same proportion.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
The hon. Member cannot have heard exactly what I was Saying, because the significance of my point was that whereas the exports of these essentially staple manufactures and raw materials are down by 50 per cent. the imports of the same articles are slightly greater. Therefore, my point is a good one when I say that this indicates not only a period of real crisis in the export trade that we carry on in those articles, but also that we are approaching a crisis owing to the intensity of competition from the manufacturers of the same articles abroad. If it is admitted that there is a world' crisis, hon. Members opposite must admit as a corollary that the greater the world crisis the more difficult becomes the position of this country, because the more intense becomes the competition of foreign countries which are trying, equally with us, to capture markets during that crisis. Crises in the economic life of a nation develop very much like paralysing diseases in the pathology of man. They do not come on with sudden or spectacular force; they come on in the form of the creeping process that is seen in details such as those I am describing. A shrinkage of 40 per cent. in the exports by bulk of cotton piece goods is another element which ought to warn the hon. Member that there is an economic crisis upon us at the present moment; and if he wanted a final and concluding argument, I should have thought that the fact that the numbers of the unemployed had increased by just about 1,000,000 in one year would prove that we are in fact in the throes of a very grave crisis indeed.
236 As the whole of the argument I propose to address to the House this afternoon is based upon the fact that we are facing a very serious crisis I wish to make my views on this point plain. I think we are facing a crisis the magnitude of which is not appreciated by the country, or by the House, at any rate, at the present moment. I foresee in the course of the next year, as an inevitable concomitant of the present situation, a depression in the wage standards of the people. That appears to me to be absolutely inevitable, unless some method of protection or otherwise is taken to insulate the people who live by industry in this country from the shock of world competition. I am not going to confine my remarks to the protection hypothesis, but I would say, in the first instance, that the King's Speech bears no relation whatsoever to the actualities of the present position. It is a Speech of a period of prosperity. It is a. Speech devised by people who have lost the courage of their own convictions, as the hon. Member has pointed out, and it is a Speech which has been framed by a personnel which seems to have lost heart in the struggle. I entirely agree with the intensity of the hon. Member's attitude when he refused to admit that the Government have office without power. Of course they have power. They have a quite exceptional power at the present moment, because if they showed a grasp of the situation they would find that opinion in this country followed no lines of party feeling at all, and that it was ready, in spite of all predilections, all "isms" and shibboleths, to support it in dealing with what the people believe to be a grave national emergency.
I want to take a course which will to a certain extent cut across party lines, because I think the situation is sufficiently serious, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) said yesterday, to justify proposals which would be in the nature of emergency proposals to deal with the present position. I believe the country knows perfectly well what it wants, and I believe that half-a-dozen men of common sense and prudence in the country, selected from all parties, could draw up between them, on a couple of sheets of notepaper, an emergency programme on which they would not be room for very much difference of opinion as between 237 all the classes and all the different sections in industry in the country. In the first place, what is wanted is a Parliamentary machine which is sensitive to public opinion, much more sensitive than is the present one. What is the reason why it is not sensitive? That is one of the things we have to inquire into among ourselves, and possibly it may involve us in an indictment of the present party system, of the present alignment of parties. Those who have been in contact with different parts of the country during the last few months, and who have heard the views expressed by all kinds of people must realize that you come out of an atmosphere of reality into an atmosphere of unreality when you came back to this House where questions are considered, not by business men, but under the archaic system which is in vogue at the present time. The people are demanding a much stronger Executive, bolder, and more manageable, and able to pass legislation more promptly than is possible under the present regime. This suggestion might involve some contraction of Cabinets, and some alteration in the system by which the Departments are represented.
There is common agreement in the country that we need at once strict, scrupulous, and almost Gladstonian finance. There may be some difference of opinion, especially among hon. Members opposite, as to whether more money should be spent on social services, but I think we all agree that the money which is spent should be spent for the purposes for which it is voted, and no other, and, if a leakage occurs in any form of national expenditure, it should be investigated and stopped. I think a case has been made out for the investigation of the expenditure occurring in connection with the administration of unemployment insurance at the present moment. Surely on this question it is possible for us to arrive at a measure of common agreement.
I may be accused of riding an old hobby-horse, but I feel certain that, at the present moment, the country is ready for an overhauling of our import system. There is abundant evidence of this in the resolutions passed by chambers of commerce, trade unions, and other organisations of people who have to make a living by industry, and this fact is apparent to all those who come in contact with 238 masters and men of all shades of opinion. The arguments are too overwhelming to be denied, and they were recapitulated by the hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley), who told us that we have no longer a monopoly of manufacturing power such as we had in the 19th century. We have no longer a monopoly of fuel and mechanisation, because our processes have been so simplified that manufacturing can be conducted without the application of any particular skill or training. There has also been a great increase in mechanical productive power in recent years.
Admitting all these facts, it is no use going back to the old Free Trade hypothesis declaring that goods must be sold at an economic price. If you are going to say that, you must admit that every element which goes to make up an economic price will have to come down, and that must include the element of wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly, it must include wages.
If you want to fix the price of an article in the market, you cannot do it without regulating your wage rates, and it is perfectly idle, in post-War years, to attempt to regulate anything in this country, and have trade unions to stabilise wage rates and Government activity to stabilise conditions of manufacture if, at the same time, you allow foreign goods to enter this country to undercut and undermine those conditions and those wages. Those are the facts which hon. Members have to face, and, whatever opposition there may be to such a proposal in this House, I do not think there is much divergence of opinion in the country as to the necessity for some alteration in our fiscal system.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
All those elements of price are more or less fixed, and they include wage rates, salaries, and working conditions. And yet it is suggested that we should allow all those facades which we have erected during the last fifty years to be undermined by foreign competition which does not recognise those conditions or standards at all. What is the real substance of the argument? It is not the Free Trade argument which has been put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with absolute regularity in answer to the arguments 239 used by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. The public has ceased to argue these questions upon an a priori basis. Many of us recognise that some reasonable safeguard is required to protect the consumer, and machinery should be devised to ensure that the benefit of a tariff does not go entirely into the pockets of the manufacturers. If some such safeguard can be devised, I am sure we should find a tremendous amount of common agreement among members of all parties on this question which would result in an alteration of our fiscal system under an emergency measure. This should be done before it is too late instead of continuing the present tussle and wrangling between parties for another two years. The country needs some protection of this kind at once if it is to prosper at all. We have adopted some Safeguarding Duties which are not very extensive in their character, and over and over again they were applied to those industries almost too late to be of any use. If we continue muddling and throwing the ball from side to side as between tariffs and no tariffs, I am afraid it will be too late to talk about protective tariffs and the saving of industry, and we shall be obliged to do something very much more drastic.
Passing on to some of the larger measures with which the country is profoundly concerned, there is, first of all, the question of Imperial development. I would like to ask: are the views of hon. Members on this side so very much different from the opinions of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite if they really search their consciences? There can be no dispute that the world is moving into an area of large scale production and amalgamation, and that gradually we are receding from the small insulated unit to production in national units, and this will be done on large scale units among groups of nations either within or without the commonwealth of nations. M. Briand's scheme for a zollverein or ring of the nations of Europe was of a similar character to the scheme which has been put forward at the Imperial Conference. There is general agreement that this country must enter into one or other of the great international groups in order to secure a really effective economic output for our manufacturers.
240 The chance exists to-day. It exists at the Imperial Conference. Are we going to take advantage of that chance? I see no indication of it. I know that there are different methods, but we seem to be losing our opportunity, and we are up against the old theoretical differences between parties as to whether we should have a preferential system or not. At the present time nobody cares for "isms" or names. The mere fact that a preferential system has been age-long anathema to the front bench ought not to prevent Members belonging to the back benches opposite considering the proposals of the Imperial Conference, and bringing pressure to bear on the Government to carry them through if, on their merits, those proposals seem to offer any advantage to this country as a whole.
I have outlined two or three matters on which I do not think there is a wide difference of opinion in the country outside. I really believe that Parliament is in danger of appearing to this country as a kind of hot-house. I believe that the people of the country are not looking seriously upon our discussions and that they are beginning to say "A plague upon both your Houses." The opinion is growing that politicians are unable to cope with national difficulties or appreciate their meaning. I believe that Parliament at the present time is much more on its trial than many of us appear to realise. If there is anything in the present alignment of party views which is bringing Parliament into contempt, I think it is the duty of all Members of Parliament to put their heads together, and show that they have a realisation of our national needs. Any principles which are imperfectly understood at the present time, although they have been advocated for the last 25 years hon. Members should be ready to sacrifice in order to co-operate and assist in carrying through sonic emergency measure which corresponds to the needs of the country, and which, in my opinion, the country is ready to endorse wholeheartedly.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BEN TURNER
I wish to observe at the outset that the King's Speech is one of the most satisfactory Speeches that has been presented to the House of Commons during the present century. I am not content with saying that. There is in the Icing's Speech a great volume 241 of legislation which will provide work for the best brains in the House in order to bring about some of those reforms which need to be put into operation, and I do not know of any better Government than the present for putting them into operation. We have to consider an overshadowing question which none of us can avoid, and that is unemployment whether in agriculture or in industry. I have seen King's Speeches much more barren than the present one, and I regret that there is not greater fullness in it. There are references, of course, to Imperial Preference, to the question of India and the question of Palestine, but all these are of no account to the hungry unemployed person. The unemployment question is more dominant with him than all these foreign policies which we have to deal with, and which need dealing with, but which, he conceives, are far beyond his present needs and position The hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) has taken us back to the middle of last century in his propositions regarding Protection, Tariff Reform, Safeguarding, or whatever it may be. If those policies had not been tried and failed, I could understand him making these suggestions for trying them now, but any ordinary elementary school lad who has read the story of the nation and the story of the hungry forties will know that those things failed when they were tried then, and, in the agricultural world, gave us the old quip:Oh Lord, save us and keep us all alive,Round the table nine of us, but only food for five.The policy that is now adumbrated by the hon. and learned Gentleman and, in his many monthly changes, by the Leader of the Opposition, certainly means a restoration of the food taxes that were so damnable and awful in what were known as the hungry forties and the years before then. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman to a certain extent when he talks about tariffs and Protection and Free Trade as another game of blind man's buff. It is not getting down to fundamentals, where the workpeople want to get, and I daresay not one Member on the Conservative benches, and not many below the Gangway opposite, would go in agriculture to the very fundamental thing, namely, the public ownership and control of the 242 land. That seems to me to be one of the things that are desirable.
There is another thing that is not recognised. We have all these pessimistic stories, which are correct; we have all this depression in the agricultural industry in general; why not recognise now that capitalism has broken down? Do not let us say that Socialism has failed; it has not been tried. It is your old policies and system that have been tried, and they have broken down and left a few million folks who are hungry and who are becoming angry, and I have had to stop their anger by easing their hunger. The policy, therefore, should not be to bring back the old deadly, awful, horrible things of the first half of last century, but to go forward with some bigger and newer development policy, which, as a starting point, lays down that human life is more sacred than even the possession of wealth, and that we have to start and feed those children, stand by those women, uphold those men, and not think that finance alone is the governing factor in industry or humanity. Both of the old parties have failed to deliver the goods. Capitalism has created unemployment in both village and city, and the growing number of unemployed persons is certainly alarming and makes people anxious about it, especially those who have been unemployed themselves. There are two fearsome things that working people just now have to face. Those who are in work are afraid that to-morrow their job may have gone, while those who are out of work are wondering how soon they will be able to get work; and then we have a fancy theory, which I am sorry to see put forward by a young man. I think he ought to be here with a broader vision of the future than that there must be a reduction of production costs and wages.
§ Mr. TURNER
The doctrine which has been pronounced this afternoon, and which has been pronounced regularly in the newspapers, is the doctrine of longer hours and lower wages as a panacea for unemployment. I took the chair for the late Lord Leverhulme many years ago at Halifax at a conference on the question of hours of labour, when he 243 was advocating a working day of six hours. It is better to have six hours per day for persons who want to work than to have a million unemployed and some working eight, nine, and 10 hours a day. I want to see the hours of labour reduced and not extended, and that is the policy of this Government and of this party; and I hope that, when the question of the ratification of the Washington Hours Convention comes forward, hon. Members opposite will support the Government and see that we keep our bargain of 10 years ago, and contribute something towards the regulation of the hours of labour. Then there is the question of lower wages. Let us see what has happened during the past 12 months. I come from an area where, unfortunately, unemployment is very severe. The woollen and worsted trade is nearly as hard hit as the cotton trade. In the towns that I represent, one in nine of the population—not of the insured population, but of the total population, men, women and children—is at present signing the unemployment register. Twelve months ago the employers propounded this same theory that a reduction of wages would make trade. We have been starved nearly to death with bad trade and unemployment, and trade has been worse in the case of those firms where a reduction of wages has taken place. They have been harder hit, as employers, with short time and no trade, than they were before the reduction of wages. They were told that before they started, and it is very plain and patent that, if you want to mend the home trade, you must not lower wages, but must raise them.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I cannot have made myself plain. I did not say anything about reduction of wages at all. What I said was that we were moving towards an economic crisis in which reduction of wages would be suggested.
§ Mr. TURNER
I accept the correction; it seems to me to be merely the same thing. But if I turn to the news- 244 papers, the leading business men, the chambers of commerce, and the leading 'statesmen, who are propounding the theory that there must be a reduction of wages. I am trying to prove that in my own district and in my own trade that has been applied, and that every firm in which a reduction of wages has taken place has had worse trade, while those who reduced wages the least in the Huddersfield area have been the busiest. Naturally, if you lower the wages of 60,000 or 70,000 folks by from 3s. to 5s. per week, you reduce their purchasing power. There is room in this great country of ours for the sale of 15,000,000 new suits if the people had the money with which to buy them, and 15,000,000 new suits at three yards a suit would mean a tremendous increase in the home trade of this kingdom. Therefore, I suggest that a wrong theory has been propounded.
I agree with the interjection by an hon. Lady this afternoon pointing out that a large number of women are unemployed for whom few schemes have been created or can be adopted. I should never want to see some women going into occupations that men have to go into, though I may he a heretic in regard to that from the point of view of some of the women's organisations. There are, however, in the cotton and woollen trades, hundreds of thousands of women for whom no occupation can be found except their old occupation by a restoration of trade, and I want that restoration of trade to come, as it can come a bit, if not fully, by an increased purchasing power among our people. I have tried to indicate that lower wages and longer hours are no remedy, but that the evil is intensified by that policy. It has been tried. Is it possible to share the work out a bit more than we have done—to share the hours required to bring forward the products that we can sell? It seems to me that that is more advantageous than having an army of unemployed, and some of them—not many—drifting into a despairing condition. If we can produce what we can sell in five or six hours per day, let us share that work among those who can do it and who need it for their existence.
There has been a great cry about economy. That word is like "Mesopotamia," a 'blessed but silly word. I 245 was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) raise his voice against the wasteful extravagance of many classes, including sometimes even our working class, though they have not much chance to be extravagant on the whole. We see from the newspapers day by d ay that, whether in regard to sport, or society, or whatever it may be, millions of pounds seems to be thrown down the sewer in the pursuit of pleasure. That is where economy should be started. To go a bit further, I think it is time that there was a revision of the interest rates on our National Debt. I know that one hon. Gentleman very properly said that we had made a contract and we must keep that contract. I believe in keeping those contracts, but I believe it is within the wisdom of Chancellors of the Exchequer and the people who run our finance to point out that the interest rates could be reduced, and to save a few millions there. I would appeal to the many people who have money invested in our National Debt, that it is time they shared the burden of the nation by voluntarily agreeing to a reduction of the rates of interest. That would mean economy to the extent of many millions of pounds in our national expenditure.
Again, I would ask those who talk about economy whether we could not save at least £25,000,000 on armaments in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Do we believe in peace? Are we promoting peace? It seems to me that those are two directions in which a policy of national economy could be applied. The chief recommendation in the newspapers is as to what is, unfortunately, termed economy on the unemployed person's dole. "Dole" is a vile word; it is an improper word to use; it is an insulting word to use. We will call it unemployment pay, and I would rather have unemployment pay than the old system as I saw it years ago in the eighties, the nineties, and the early part of this century, when the only relief was the soup kitchen, with its human degradation and its inefficiency as regards keeping people alive. I think that the proper thing is to continue a very good system of unemployment pay in its present channels. It brings about a better distribution of the national income, and, if these few score millions had not been spent in un- 246 employment pay, what would have been the alternative I The workhouses would have been full; homes would have been destroyed; pawnbrokers would have been busy; auctioneers would have been selling up homes, and there would have been destruction of family life. In addition, there would have been the despair and degradation that we should have felt in thinking these things over.
The money which has been paid in this way has been mostly spent well. I want to repudiate most strongly any suggestion that working folks cannot spend their money wisely and well. They are trained to it; it is their very nature. The great mass of women in our kingdom who receive the wages of the husband or the unemployment pay that he brings home are the very best chancellors of the exchequer the world has ever known. There may be one or two per cent. of wrong ones; there may be one or two per cent who are wasteful and do not spend their money as well as they should; but go to Lancashire homes, go to Yorkshire homes, go to the homes of the workers in the industrial cities, and you will see that there is no finer body of women and no more careful spenders than the wives of the working class. I want to repudiate, therefore, any suggestion that money is thrown away in that direction and is unwisely spent. There has been a great deal of talk on the policy of unemployment pay, and now there is a new cry that the cost of our social services should be reduced. It would, however, be the most inhuman thing possible to attempt to bring down those beneficial services that are saving the people of this kingdom.
I want to appeal to the Minister of Labour on one further point. It is a painful sight for any man or woman in our big industrial cities to see the queues of people assembled outside the exchanges. If I go to Bradford to-morrow and pass the exchange for men—not for women—I shall see a long string of decent men taking their turn to go in. Where they are members of a trade union, many unions have been able to arrange with the Ministry of Labour that both the signing on and the receiving of money shall be done at the trade union club room or meeting room. When that is the case, there is no queueing outside in the public gaze. It is a useful way of 247 getting them out of the wind and the rain and the snow and the storms, or the fancied sneers of the general public. The trade unions have been doing this at a very cheap rate indeed, but I am told there is a suggestion that the payment they have been receiving should be reduced. I want to warn the Minister that it will be a wrong thing to attack that small payment that the trade unions get for club rooms or extra offices. It will simply close them and drive those women and men to join the queues, which are already big and unsightly enough for any ordinary person. I make that appeal before the Minister, or whoever it is, institutes a further reduction.
Suggestions have been made that there should be a National Council. I think the novelist mentioned that yesterday in his very fine speech, and it was also referred to by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). [Interruption.] Is he not a novelist? I think he is a fine one. His border stories suit me well. Can we divest ourselves of our prejudices, our notions, our beliefs and our faiths? If we can find five or six men who can tackle the problem in all its branches and can bring work to those who need it, and can bring a minimum amount of sustenance to those who need it, I agree that it is a proper proposition to consider, but at present we are divided, and I do not know exactly how we could find this National Council. Still, it is worth groping for and thinking about. Anyhow, this King's Speech is not as good as it should be, and we have to make it better.
§ Major NATHAN
The hon. Member who has just spoken opened his speech on the note that this was the best King's Speech for a century.
§ Major NATHAN
He ended upon the note that it could be a great deal better than in fact it is. I find myself rather in agreement with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor). This is a disappointing King's Speech. It does not really show an appreciation of the facts of the time. It is out of touch with realities. I make no excuse for bringing the House back to the con- 248 sideration, not of broad generalities, but of some of the more concrete situations with regard to unemployment. Never was there a Government more deeply pledged to the solution of a given problem than this Government is to the solution of unemployment, yet Wednesday after Wednesday we have watched with a sort of numb fascination the unemployed figures going up and up, and he would be a bold man who would prophesy that by the end of the year, or before, they will not have reached the figure of 2,500,000. Yet, when we turn to the King's Speech, we find the proposal of a Royal Commission, the most potent of anodynes, for dealing with unemployment insurance and, with regard to unemployment proposals themselves, merely vague and comfortless assurances from which it is almost impossible to derive any meaning at all. When we read the Speech further and leave the all important problem of unemployment, we find some measure of precision. There are at least half a dozen measures of first-rate controversial importance referred to bearing on aspects of our national life other than the main problem of unemployment. They are all old friends. We know them all well by name, and to some of them we have already had an introduction.
Is that really the sort of programme to set before the House of Commons at a time, whatever may be said by the hon. Member for Bridgeton—I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Central Nottingham—of unexampled crisis, of which we have not yet seen the worst? I ask what are the various offshoots of the Government programme doing in the King's Speech? Does it not show a lack of appreciation of the realities of our present situation? It is not merely that there are other matters that are to engage the attention of the House but that at a time when there should be concentration there is diffusion of energy. I am not so foolish or so partisan as to suggest that the Government have the main responsibility as a Government for the enormous increase in unemployment, but if it was their prime duty 18 months ago to bend their energies to the solution of that problem, how much more is it the case now with the figures increased by 1,000,000? I cannot refrain from the thought that either the Government are conscious of their inability to deal with 249 the problem, in which case they should surrender the reins of office, or that they are deliberately subordinating this problem to other and, to my mind, irrelevant issues. I ask the Government, cannot the paramount claims of a national emergency be recognised Cannot they take steps to concentrate the national attention upon a national emergency? Cannot these other matters wait till at least we have made every effort to relieve ourselves of this hideous incubus of unemployment?
Take the Education Bill. No one will deny the importance of education, but is a Bill of this character relatively important at this time in comparison with the main problem with which we are confronted? Need we really worry about a Consumers' Council just at this moment? Is not our main problem one not of consumption but of production and salesmanship? Is the Trade Disputes Bill really of such supreme urgency? Trade disputes take place only in time of prosperity. Why can we not, as sensible men, turn our energies first to recreating the old state of prosperity and then deal with the Trade Disputes Bill. I do not find in the mind of the Government—I dissociate in some respects what I am now saying from those who sit on the back benches opposite—evidence of a real appreciation that we are in the middle of an industrial revolution. Surely the School Leaving Age Bill, the Consumers' Council Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill can wait. What cannot wait is what the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to as the economic paralysis which is creeping over the whole body of the State and weakening and corrupting our minds and will. Of course, this problem of unemployment has received perfunctory attention from Ministers. My complaint is that it is perfunctory, that it is not sustained and that it is not the subject of concentration. I received to-day the volume containing the Statutes passed during the last Session of Parliament. It is a thick and heavy volume, but very little of it related to this main problem of unemployment and, as I turned over its pages, I could not help thinking how much energy had been wasted upon trivialities and on Bills brought forward from the Government Bench with no apparent realisation of the genuine problem with which we have to deal. One hears talk outside of lack of con- 250 fidence in the Government. It is not so much lack of confidence in its financial policy. We have great faith in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is lack of confidence because there is no movement. This Government prides itself upon being a stable Government, but to be stable you need not be motionless, and that is my complaint against this Government.
I see on the Front Bench an hon. Gentleman who has a peculiar responsibility in respect of unemployment. I should like to put a, question to him. Last evening we heard a speech from the Lord Privy Seal. I heard it and I have read it since. This House knows no more of the policy of the Government upon unemployment since that speech was made than it did before, and I ask the hon. Gentleman what actually is happening about it. Have the Government a programme? What is it? What does it really involve—not broad generalisations, but what positive proposals are under way? In a word, what particular button do you press to secure the result that we are seeking? I should like to know what progress has been made with the various schemes since the House adjourned in the summer. Have the Government any intention of increasing capital available for industry by means of trade facilities? Has the Unemployment Grants Committee found profitable and useful employment for its capital? Then I would ask the hon. Gentleman, as I asked the late Lord Privy Seal without getting a satisfactory reply, what about the Banker's Corporation, whose initiation the Government greeted with such enthusiasm. What is it doing? Is it doing anything?
Then it would be interesting to know the result of the visit of the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade to Lancashire. In cotton and in iron and steel, enquiries were set up months ago. All the information that could be required by any committee was pretty readily available, and yet it took months to obtain a report. I would ask the hon. Gentleman repre5senting the Government, what is the position in Lancashire? What is the tangible evidence of their activities in the sphere of unemployment? We all know that the figures have increased to just short of 2,250,000. Would the figure have been greater if no steps had been taken by the 251 Government? To what extent do the Government believe that their activities have been successful in stemming unemployment? They have not reduced it, but by what number do they estimate that they have prevented it from increasing? Surely, there must be some calculation as to that matter. Ministers must be sufficiently interested to have some sort of check upon the result of their proposals. Surely, they want to know whether they are scoring or not. I ask the Government, what is their score?
When all is said and done, these matters do not touch the heart of the problem. Where do the Government stand in relation to the heart of the problem? What in a word is their large-scale strategy? Is there anyone who is relating and reviewing all the economic phenomena of our time so as to be able to build upon the information so obtained a definite structure of policy? Is it the Economic Advisory Council, and, if so, is the Economic Advisory Council adequately staffed for this purpose? Until we have a plan there can be no progress at all. I will repeat the question which I put a moment ago as the most crucial question of all perhaps. Is there a plan? The speeches of the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy Seal since the opening of this Session make me rather dubious. I will take only one instance. The Prime Minister, in speaking on the Address the day before yesterday, made a reference to some contract or tender which had been submitted to an English firm and referred to America on the ground that the Canadian market was reserved to an American concern. I know nothing of the facts of the case. I know no more than the Prime Minister stated in his speech, and I base my remarks upon it.
The statement of the Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, seemed to show that he is out of touch with the organisation of business and the organisation of markets. After all, no one supposes that an English firm would surrender its market in Canada or anywhere else to another concern except for a quid pro quo. It is merely an ordinary instance of the cartel or rationalisation process that markets should be divided. We want a Government who are sufficiently in contact with the workings and the mechanism of industry to 252 recognise an ordinary phenomenon of normal occurrence and do something immediately to arrest not the well-established but the abnormal phenomenon. That is not apparently the recognition the Prime Minister gave to what is really an everyday occurrence. What he referred to is merely evidence of one normal incident in the organisation of industry.
What are we doing? The Coal Mines Bill of last Session was a question of organisation. The agricultural proposals which the Government are to place before the House during this Session are again a question of organisation. Indeed, what we need most of all is organisation, but organisation on intelligible and intelligent economic principles, and not of course merely a scramble by those interested for favours from a tariff. Rationalisation may mean, and probably will mean to begin with, more unemployment, and that is a real present difficulty with which we are confronted. I would ask this question: Who is thinking out our best course of rationalisation and how it can be squared with our present difficulties? There is a sentiment in the country to which expression is given by all those who are saying in season and out of season that they have no confidence in this Government. The real reason, the underlying cause, is, that there has really been no leadership and no concentration of purpose or energy. The country wants to be led; the country wants to be governed. Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, this Government seem to play second fiddle while Britain sinks deeper and deeper into economic stagnation.
§ Mr. PERRY
I would like to deal, first of all, with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan). I join issue at once with him when he speaks about one of the root causes of the present crisis being production and salesmanship. I think that all the developments of recent years have proved that by the policy of rationalisation, by the mere up-to-date organisation of industry, production has developed to a higher degree than ever in the history of this country.
§ Major NATHAN
I would indeed suggest that the problem of production and salesmanship was a cause of unemployment, but what I intended to say, and what I believe I did say—I am sorry if I did not make myself sufficiently clear—was that the main problems with which we have to deal are not so much those of consumption as those of production and salesmanship.
§ Mr. PERRY
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the correction, but I join issue with him. I do not think that it is a problem of production and salesmanship. It is more a problem of under consumption. I want to deal in a general way with the terms of the speech. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) has gone, because he stated that we may have to face a depression in wages. I would appeal to him and to those who think with him, and, say that if there is to be an attack upon the workers' wages, let it be a frontal attack and not by any methods of Protection. I wish to take up this point immediately because he specifically referred to the proposals laid before the Imperial Conference by one of the representatives attending that Conference. He invited the House, and particularly Members on this side of the House, to analyse those proposals and judge them upon their merits. We have taken the opportunity of analysing those proposals in so far as they would affect a large body of the consumers of this country.
Many of my hon. Friends know that I am associated with a consumers' movement which has connected with it nearly 6,500,000 members in this country. If we have an average of four members to a family, we are touching nearly one-half of the population of this country. We have taken the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman and examined the proposal of a 10 per cent. tariff particularly on foodstuffs imported into this country. I will give him and other Members the figures as they apply to our movement for the year 1929. In that year our co-operative organisations purchase imported foodstuffs coming into this country to the extent of £41,000,000, of which £26,000,000 was in respect of foodstuffs which came from non-Empire countries, and £15,000,000 was in respect 254 of foodstuffs from the Dominions and Colonies within the Empire. We have applied the 10 per cent. proposal to that £41,000,000 of imported foodstuffs. We find that it would mean an increased cost of £2,600,000 upon our figures for 1929, an increase of 6 per cent. on the total of £41,000,000, and a tax of approximately 1s. 2½d. in the £ on foodstuffs brought into this country, not by the country as a whole, but only by the organisation with which I have the honour to be associated. There is a further point I wish to put to hon. Gentlemen. An increased cost of 1s. 2d. in the pound—hon. Members may challenge these figures and examine them as they like; I can give chapter and verse—on the foodstuffs imported by our organisation means that every worker with a wage of £2 a week is going to have an indirect reduction of 2s. 5d. That is how we study the proposals as proposed by our friends in the Imperial Conference.
I wish to refer to another point. We have been dealing for the last two or three days with what the hon. and gallant Member rightly described as the outstanding feature of the present crisis. I listened intently to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who complained that there was none of his philosophy in the King's Speech. I listened very carefully to his speech, but I am still in doubt as to what is his philosophy. We all respect and pay attention to the opinions of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, but not a single constructive proposal came from him during the fervent appeal he made to us on these benches a short time ago. I think that it will be conceded in all quarters of the House that the present industrial depression, the acuteness of unemployment is a matter which the Government of any party would have had to face. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was right when he spoke about the number of permanently unemployed. I recall that during the time of the late Government, when they brought forward their Amendment to the Unemployment Insurance Bill, this House was told that the estimates in the Bill were based on the assumption that when times were normal and when trade recovered there would still be 800,000 unemployed. My challenge is this, that there is something 255 wrong with any social system under which when times are good and when trade is normal, there are still 800,000 people out of employment.
In dealing with the present acute depression we might with advantage turn our attention to removing some of the burdens, some of the deadweights which certain of our industries are carrying. I have not time at my disposal to-night or I would have said something about the cotton trade. I spent 20 years of my life as an operative cotton spinner, and I spent some years on the technological side. I remember financiers coming down from London in the time of the boom and buying up companies and then refloating them with a capital of seven or eight times their original value. Those who sold out at that time and remained out came through it all right, but those who went in again have paid a heavy price for it.
I want to deal particularly with the boot and shoe industry, an industry which for the last 36 years has been remarkably free from industrial trouble, a tribute to both sides connected with the industry and to their efforts to avoid industrial conflict. Recently from both sides in the industry I have had representations made to me how this House could help them in some of the difficulties with which they are confronted. An application has been made by an employer for a reduction of wages and that application is being considered by the negotiating committee. I find on inquiry that there are other difficulties to which the boot and shoe manufacturers of this country are turning their attention. The hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green dealt rather lightly with the Prime Minister's reference to or lack of knowledge of the reorganisation of industry that has been going on in regard to international cartels and the allocating of certain countries and their markets to various branches of the cartels. Shall I have the hon. and gallant Member's support in what am about to say? Is he aware, as probably many hon. Members must be aware, that in the boot and shoe industry the most up-to-date machinery—perhaps the best brains are now being applied to the development of up-to-date machinery—is in the hands of an American firm? That 256 firm have their branch in this country. What is their procedure? These machines, which every boot and shoe manufacturer must have in his factory if he desires to be up-to-date, are never sold by the firm that makes them. They are only let out on hire.
Every boot and shoe manufacturer who hires one of these machines, because he cannot buy it, must pay a royalty even in regard to the number of revolutions of the machine, the number of stitches put into the boots or the number of pairs of boots produced. The machine never becomes his property, and the royalty is going on day by day, week by week and month by month. The average wage cost for a pair of boots works out at 4s. per pair, and the royalty taken by this one company, which has swallowed up all the other companies in this country, amounts to 5d. per pair. If we concede the claim made by the firm in regard to their service and the repair of the machines, according to their own figures, the royalty for every pair of boots produced by these machines amounts to 3½d. per pair. I am told by my friends the boot manufacturers that that fact is helping materially to handicap them in dealing not only with markets inside the Empire but with markets in foreign countries. This particular firm is not content to own the machines and to take the royalty day by day and week by week, but in an agreement which it makes with the boot manufacturers it insists upon a particular kind of rivet which must be purchased from them, a particular kind of wire and even upon the thread for stitching, irrespective of the price that could be paid to firms outside who could put these goods on the market at a cheaper cost.
I would suggest that in the industrial reorganisation some of our own industries in this country might well consider how best some of the burdens in industry could be removed. I know that what I am about to say may be misunderstood by some of my hon. Friends on these benches, but I believe that if we could reorganise industry with the feeling on both sides that all the cards would be placed on the table, much better results would accrue. You cannot take out of an industry more than the industry produces. I am associated with a movement which recognises the right of capital to 257 returns in accordance with the services which it makes to industry. Would it not be possible on the employers' side of the industry to have some system of accountancy, some method of organisation whereby the whole of the facts relating to the industry could be placed on the table and brought into daylight when negotiations take place with the trades unions? I am proud to have had many years' membership of the only trade union in this country which appoints its general secretary by competitive examination. You have no chance of success in that direction unless you have spent years of practical service in the industry and devoted years of study to the technology side. My hon. Friends will recall the Operative Cotton Spinners' Association. I had a long connection with that industry. If we could have the information in an industry available for our consideration, there would be a greater chance of agreement within the industry.
What is the position to-day? If times are bad and a claim is made for a reduction of wages, and the actual state of the industry would appear to lend substance to the claim that it should be conceded, we who have spent all our lives in association with the workers have to face the facts, but we have no assurance that should that reduction be acceded to, the money will come back again when the wheel turns, without having a keen industrial conflict. I wonder whether it would be possible to devise some method whereby the whole of the profits of industry could be divided in proportion between the various sections engaged in it. A rough calculation would be, say, 86 per cent. to salaries and wages, and 14 per cent. to capital. Some of my hon. Friends on these benches will gasp at the suggestion of 14 per cent. on capital, but when we examine it it means that in an ordinary industrial concern it does not work out at more than a return of 8 per cent. on capital, and when you have regard to the average risk of an ordinary industrial concern one has some difficulty in saying that that is too heavy a rate to pay for capital in an industrial concern. I submit these suggestions as my contribution to the consideration of the problem, because it is our duty to contribute our quota towards dealing with the situation.
Before dealing with the contents of the King's Speech, I would like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Batley (Mr. Turner) in which he made an unfair attack upon the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor). I would not have referred to it, because I am sure that in his case it was a pure misunderstanding, but it relates to a subject on which the Conservative party have been misrepresented throughout the country, namely, that our policy is an attack upon the wages of the men and women employed in industry. That is a grossly unfair accusation to make. If you are going to make that attack, I would ask hon. Members to be honest like the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Perry) who said that Protection might be an indirect tax upon wages. Hon. Members must be fair and not say that it is the Conservative party who are making the attack. What my hon. and learned Friend did say—and it was a perfectly obvious point to put—was, that the trade unions have, quite rightly, protected the wages, hours and conditions of their members, and the logical conclusion from that was that they must protect the fruits of their labour if their wages and conditions are to be kept as they are now. That is a point of view that appeals to everyone on this side of the House and is appealing more and more to hon. Members on the other side, particularly those who are actively connected with industry. Whether or not the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Kettering that Protection is an indirect attack upon wages can be said to be correct, it is grossly unfair that the accusation should be made that the Conservative policy is one that is in any way attacking the standards of life of the working men and working women of this country.
The hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) said that the King's Speech is disappointing. I think that "disappointing" is a. very mild word to use. It shows that those who are responsible for it are quite out of touch with the needs of the community at the present time. The only redeeming feature has been that individual Members in their speeches have got to grips with the realities and have preferred to deal with realities rather than to tinker with the great problems that face us. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) 259 said that he did not see a crisis. We have all got our definitions of what constitutes a. crisis. It may not be a crisis, but no one would deny that we are passing through serious times. We have abnormal unemployment, great trade depression and a decaying agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture knows that in some parts of the country the prospects of successfully carrying on the agricultural industry are very remote unless action can be taken immediately. The Imperial Conference is sitting and the most vital decisions have to be taken. Surely a conglomeration of all these facts brings us very near to critical times. The country is looking for concrete plans to get men and women back to work, but when we try to find those plans in the King's Speech we look in vain.
It is only fair to give credit to the Minister of Agriculture that in the King's Speech there is some mention of agricultural proposals. In that respect there has been an advance over his predecessor. We waited for proposals from his predecessor, but we got no proposals. The proposals which the Government are going to put before the House are, I imagine, fairly well known to the agricultural community, because the Minister of Agriculture has been making a great number of speeches up and down the country. I have seen a good number of people who have listened to those speeches, and they were impressed by two things, first, the right hon. Gentleman's obvious anxiety and desire to do something for agriculture, and, secondly, the difficulty he had in concealing the fact that he would like to go much further than he is allowed to go by his Cabinet. What exactly are the proposals that the Government are putting before us? I imagine that they are schemes for the better marketing and standardisation of agricultural produce, for research work, for large-scale farming, and for re-settling men on the land. These proposals are admirable in themselves, particularly those dealing with marketing and standardisation, but they deal only with one section of the agricultural problem, and the section which wants assistance least of all. They deal with a section which can carry on its business economically and make some profit, but entirely leave out the great 260 section of agriculture, arable farming, which is going through appalling difficulties at the present time, and for which no hope is held out whatsoever in the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. If the Government are going to put forward a comprehensive agricultural policy, they cannot do it without touching the question of prices, which, after all, is the whole basis of the agricultural problems we have to face. Hon. Members opposite know that at die present time in arable farming it is absolutely impossible for the best farmers to produce and market their products at 'a sum which will pay for the cost of production, let alone give them some remuneration for their labour.
Until the Government are prepared to deal with this problem their agricultural policy cannot be looked upon with any real satisfaction or as coming to proper grips with the problem. They must deal with the problem of prices, otherwise they are putting the cart before the horse. With better schemes for marketing and standardisation and for allotments, they are really building their second and third stories before the first, decorating the parlour before they have even laid the foundation of their building. It may be said that if we help one section of the industry it is something, but we must keep a proper proportion in agriculture as between the arable section and the dairy section. If you are going to encourage one section and neglect the other, arable farming will merely go out of existence. They will all go on to milk, and there will be a glut of milk in the country, and that section of the industry which now is prosperous will be unable to market its product at a remunerative price. I am not certain that we are not now having some difficulty in that direction. Several farmers are finding a difficulty in marketing their milk when entering into new contracts.
There are two points to which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman will do well to pay particular attention. One has been gone into by every Ministry and Minister of Agriculture during the last few years, and we should, indeed, be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman if he could show us any solution. That is the question why some produce which is not worth collecting out of the field and sending to market yet, when it is 261 retailed, there is no obvious diminution in the retail price. If an answer can be found to that problem a great deal will have been done for agriculture. The second point is this: Has the Minister studied the altered tastes of the consumer? We often attack industrialists for their slowness in not looking for new markets, but are we quite sure that those who are responsible for agriculture have not fallen into the same error? The taste of the consumer has altered very materially. Thirty years ago the standard foods of most men and women were fresh foods, and even in their drinks they went for beer largely produced in this country and for fresh milk. Now the taste has tremendously altered, and it is the fashion to have tinned food. Whether this is a habit of the War, or whether it is because it is less trouble for the housewife, or because there is less waste, I do not know, but the fact remains that instead of buying fresh food from the farms the chancellors of the exchequer of the homes in industrial areas are buying more and more tinned stuff. In one town in Lancashire the contractor who had to clear the rubbish heap found in it one tin per head of the population per day, which shows the extraordinary way in which the taste of the consumer has altered. It will be interesting to know what percentage of these tins contained foodstuffs and what percentage came from abroad. I hope that the Minister in any alterations he makes in regard to marketing and standardisation will pay particular attention to the possibilities of the tinning and canning industry; where there is a surplus of milk it would be very desirable to get rid of it in this way.
The whole policy of His Majesty's Government seems to be afflicted by the fear of food taxes. In face of the possibility of that cry being raised they seem to be completely hypnotised. They are unable to move in agricultural matters because they fear that any fixing of prices must mean food taxes. The Prime Minister admitted that he was not prepared to move in that direction and come to some agreement with the Dominions because he was afraid it might in the long run lead to a cry of food taxes. Is it necessary in these days to be obsessed by a fear which may never materialise? 262 If the Prime Minister does not want to go as far as food taxes why not legislate in a smaller way and go in for a smaller objective? Let us be sure that the Safeguarding Duties are not going to be taken off and that he will consider the possibility of their imposition for other industries. There is no reason why he should not take steps to prevent the dumping of goods into this country at prices far below the price at which we can produce them.
There is no mention in the Gracious Speech of any economies at all. We know the difficulties he has with his party, but the mere fact that he had turned his attention to economy and had realised that extravagance must be stopped would have had a very helpful and healthy effect on industry at the present moment. Lancashire has been flooded during the last week by Members of His Majesty's Government, and I am very grateful to them for coming. They have saved me a great deal of time in going round my own constituency, because then acknowledgment of their own failure has been so absolute that it has not been necessary for other hon. Members to stress the point. We have only to read their speeches to find that they have never put forward any constructive proposal for dealing with unemployment, and that they still fall back on the old cliches of world depression. We know that many of our industries are suffering because of world depression, but members of the Government go to the North of England, make feeble speeches of this kind and say that nothing can be done. It is the duty of the Government to do something. Unemployment is getting worse, trade is very hard hit, and something should be done.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a role quite unusual in this House, goes to Manchester and talks about the good times that are coming. One newspaper had the heading "The Fairy Godmother"—a role in which we do not usually see the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We agree with him, and sincerely hope that good times are coming, but they are not going to fall into our mouths like ripe plums. They will only come if we go out and fetch them in. Not only must industry reorganise itself but the Government must come to the assistance of industries in order to enable 263 them to get through their difficulties. It is perfectly obvious that many improvements can be made in the way industry is carried on, but where is the incentive for that at the moment? What assistance do they get from His Majesty's Government. The only thing they are likely to get in the near future is another kick in the back in the shape of increased taxation. The Government should do something to help industry. No army likes to fight away from its base, and no army can operate properly if its base is not secure. Why not secure the base for industry by protecting the home market and giving it a better chance of competing in our own island? Industry would then be able to launch out on large-scale proposals. Many of the strictures against industry may be correct. Perhaps they have not sufficiently studied altered taste after the War. There may be some justice in them, but if industry could feel that it had the full support of the Government and the home market upon which it could operate, I am sure you would get a different attitude altogether; it would be an attitude of confidence, and the moment confidence is restored to industry prosperity to a large extent will come to it.
In these critical times, when we are looking for legislation dealing with unemployment, we get foreshadowed in the King's Speech the same old Measures, which cannot do any good at the present moment. Who wants a Measure of electoral reform? This is surely the case of a genuine "orphan of the storm." The party which was so very anxious to welcome the child before they knew its sex or saw it, are now the first people to disclaim it. Another unnecessary bit of legislation is the repeal of the Trade Disputes Act. I do not believe that anybody cares two hoots whether that Act is repealed or not. When that Bill was being passed through this House hon. and right hon. Members opposite went all over the country trying to stir up excitement and agitation against it, and they utterly failed. I do not believe that that Act is unpopular at all. It does nothing to interfere with the liberties of the individual trade unionist; it interferes only with the possible political activities of some of the trade union leaders. I am sure that the passing of that Act had a very good effect on 264 trade unions. I do not believe that these big industrial combinations are half as effective when they are actively engaged in party politics. I have no fear that there would be any attack on trade unionism from this side of the House. Trade Unionism is now an integral part of our national organisation, and I assure hon. Members of the Labour party that it has never been more respected or more valued than it is at the present moment when its energy is turned to purely industrial problems. That is one of the few rays of sunshine at the present time—the trade unions are seriously and impartially considering the affairs of industry.
Many of the speeches we have heard from different quarters of the House have shown a real desire to get away from the old party shibboleths. I feel confident that many of us could travel a long way together before our political bias makes us branch off one from the other, but that applies only to those who are not bound hand and foot by archaic dogmas. I am certain that the greater the measure of common agreement that we can get in this House the easier it will he for us to get through the difficult times through which we are now passing, and the more prepared we shall be to face those good times that we all equally await.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison)
I have been greatly encouraged by the speech of the Noble Lord. Some time ago I was informed that I was to be "on the carpet" and to listen to the usual assailing. It seemed to be a long time coming. When it did come I must say that it was of a very mild character.
§ Dr. ADDISON
There will be plenty of chances. The Noble Lord's speech in one part imbued me with real hope. While he is in that frame of mind he ought to cross the Floor of the House. I refer to the passage in which he mention the extraordinary difference between the price that the producer gets and the price that the consumer pays, but when he gave a glimpse of what would be necessary in order to check that difference he fell back into his own party. Up to the present, at any rate, there is not much of an attack for me to meet. I 265 do not doubt that it will come along in due season. Last year, as the Noble Lord truly said, the complaint was that the Government's agricultural proposals were not brought before the House. Now, when those proposals are indicated, they are denounced even before their production as being quite insufficient. On that I would say that if that be the frame of mind of hon. Members opposite, and if they will let me pass my proposals with the rapidity with which they would wish to dispose of goods of that character, I shall be overjoyed and surprised. However, it is a little previous to discuss the Bills. Let me deal with some of the more fundamental things to which reference has been made to-day.
The Noble Lord who has just spoken and the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) thought that there was a considerable measure of agreement amongst members of all parties in these days. I believe that that is true, and one will do one's best to make use of it. At the same time, in listening to the speeches of some hon. Members, particularly that of the hon. Member for Central Nottingham, I was reminded of the man who said with great indignation that "Someone must do something some time." That is the kind of illuminating advice that I have been given for a long time. With great respect, let me say that when I have got it I do not seem to be much forwarder, and I am not sure that the party opposite is much forwarder either. The Noble Lord said, correctly, that one of the fundamental matters is price. I agree. He coupled that observation with the position of cereal farming. Again I agree. I have a sort of notion that during the last few weeks the Press has resounded with disputes in his own party as to how that business is to be dealt with. I believe there has been a meeting even to-day arising out of that dispute. The Noble Lord's party and that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) had a good long time in which to produce a policy. They had a large and docile majority, but they failed to produce a policy. I undertake to say that if they will give me a chance they will not be able to accuse me of that neglect. I do not say that it will be a policy which will be acceptable to them, but at all events they will not be able to accuse us of failing to produce our 266 proposals. Nor do I think that those proposals will be described as timid.
Let me for a few minutes refer to one or two of the subjects mentioned by different speakers. One hon. Member referred to the price of cereals. I recognise the gravity of the position as sincerely as the hon. Member does, and I say that the undertaking me made we made deliberately. But the hon. Member himself, experienced agriculturist as he is, has allowed himself to be led away by the usual bogy. I am not in any way concerned with the conditions of labour in Russia—happily. From what I can learn of them they appear to be extraordinarily undesirable. But I am afraid that that applies to the production of all sorts of other commodities which come from all parts of the world. I anticipated that this point as to the influence of Russian wheat imports would be raised, and as you, Mr. Speaker, say, when you read the King's Speech, that for the purpose of greater accuracy you supply yourself with a copy, so I have supplied myself with a copy of the figures. They are rather extraordinary and will disappoint the hon. Baronet, because the fact is that the present slump in prices was foreseen and quite openly spoken about months before these Russian imports appeared in our ports at all. When I give the House the figures of the stocks, they will understand why that is so.
The corn trade estimated that the requirements of wheat importing countries this year will be 396,000,000 cwt., but the surplus estimated of the wheat exporting countries this year is 633,000,000 cwt. In other words, the surplus is not far short of twice as much as the requirements of the wheat importing countries. To that surplus of 633,000,000 cwt. the Russian contribution is expected to be 30,000,000 cwt. When the facts and figures are stated as they are, the case answers itself. I am not saying it is not the fact that in certain weeks there have been excessive supplies of this Russian wheat and that they have unduly depressed the market. That is true. At the same time, the overwhelming reason for the present slump in trade prices is the enormous surplus in the world's stocks. Therefore I suggest that it is not desirable that we should seek to carry people off the track by attributing the 267 slump unduly to these Russian imports. They have their influence; of course they have; but you must take the proportion to the volume. The main reason for the present position is the enormous surplus, particularly on the other aide of the Atlantic.
Sir ERNEST SH EPPERSON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Russian imports of wheat into this country come into direct competition with the British soft wheats, and that that is the reason for the rapid decrease in the price of British wheat?
§ Dr. ADDISON
No, I am not aware of anything of the kind, and the hon. Member is quite wrong. The Russian wheat does not come into competition with British soft wheat, but comes into competition with Grade II or III "Manitoba hard." It may be of interest to state that I have here an actual case provided by a large British miller the other day. In order to test the qualities of the different wheats he bought numbers I, II and III Manitoba and good Russian at the following prices: 30s. 3d., 29s. 3d., 28s 3d., and 27s. 9d. When he had taken out of the foreign grain the dirt and weeds and all the rest of it, he found that the Russian wheat at 27s. 9d. was dearer than No. I Manitoba at 30s. 3d. It is not British wheat with which the Russian wheat comes into competition, but the Manitoba wheat. I do not want to underrate the facts, but we must get the proportions right. If the party of hon. Members opposite and that to which I belonged for 40 years had got the proportions right we might have been further on than we are to-day with a decent agricultural policy.
It is because we have been spending our time for the last 40 or 50 years in talking about tariffs that we have not got on with the job. That is one of the reasons. Controversy has centred round Free Trade and Protection, and we have all had our share of it. We have to a great extent missed the point. Wheat is about 4 per cent. of our total production in value, and cereals altogether about 10 per cent. It is very important, because we now know that the production of wheat in several of our counties governs the cultivation of land for four or five years. Therefore, its importance 268 is very much greater than its mere percentage. Let us keep our proportions right. The Noble Lord said that we were putting the cart before the horse in the way in which we were introducing our proposals. I suggest that if he goes a little further into it, he will find that that is not so. What is the production in this country which is most profitable to agriculture? We import about £50,000,000 worth of pigs and pig material, and 77 per cent. of our imports come from just across the sea. There is no doubt that the vast proportion of that we could quite well produce at home.
We import nearly £20,000,000 worth of eggs. Our egg import last year was nearly twice the value of the wheat crop. Just think of that. Is it not desirable that we should concentrate upon facilities which would lead to the production of those things which are so much required by our industrial markets, which could be produced so readily and so near to that market? We have in this country the most extraordinary anomaly that any country can present. We have the best industrial food market in the world, without a doubt, and yet here we are importing twice the value of our national wheat crop in eggs alone—eggs which we could perfectly well have produced at home. Surely, it is desirable to concentrate on some of these things.
I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned pigs. I do not think that he will find it economic to put a man on a smallholding with pigs as his sole means of livelihood.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I did not say that. I can assure the Noble Lord that I am not going to propose anything of that sort. He will find when we introduce the Marketing Bill that there is a possibility of considerable provision with regard to what is commonly known as processing. As he knows, the provision of creameries for the use of surplus milk is a very essential concomitant to profitable pig production. You have to link up these things. We have to apply our brains to this subject. For 50 years we have talked about tariffs instead of tackling the job, and the proposals which we shall introduce will, at all events, I believe, make a start on the right line in dealing with the main defects of our agricultural system 269 and enabling this country to take profitable advantage of our unequalled market.
I was about to refer to other products—livestock for example. In regard to that matter, I have not the exact figures before me, but I believe the value of our livestock is considerably over £100,000,000. Our relations across the Irish Sea have taken all steps to improve their livestock. British livestock has been reputed in times past to be the best in the world, and I think, anyhow, that many of our grass lands would produce the best livestock in the world. But we have merely stood aside, and looked on and talked about Free Trade and Protection, while our brethren across the Irish Sea have been busy improving their livestock, and have improved it so much that, as anyone knows who is concerned with the business, imported Irish stock is of an enormously higher standard than it was a few years ago. That is due to the fact that they have eliminated the "scrub" bull. We propose to start with that. That is another of our proposals, but in introducing that proposal I do not expect to get the blessing of the headquarters of the Farmers' Union, because I have never known them satisfied with anything. They even campaigned against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) and I am perfectly sure that he, being a wise and good-natured man, was never at any time disappointed when his best efforts failed to gain their approval. If they could not he pleased by a Conservative of excellent repute, how can we expect them to be satisfied with a Socialist Minister of Agriculture? Of course not. Accordingly I do not feel disposed to lament very much if they do not like the proposal about the "scrub" bull, but it is coming for all that. Clearly it is the rational way of improving the standard of British livestock, and I believe myself that when the proposal is introduced, hon. Members opposite will give it their hearty support.
There are lots of things upon which we can agree, but I would return to the observations of the hon. Member for Cambridge and I would couple them with the lugubrious reflections of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) on the suggestion that we should make better use of our land. The hon. Member for Bridgeton denounced in advance these 270 proposals as a return to primitive methods. We all have our prejudices. I was brought up in a village and there is a great deal more in the life of the country, perhaps, than a man who has been brought up in a town will ever understand. There are many more things in life besides the crowded streets of the city. But what is the complaint behind what the hon. Member for Bridgeton said? It is that we are going to try to make a better use of our native land. That is the return to primitive methods. I am not quite sure that if we had paid a little more attention to that sort of primitive method in the last 100 years, instead of crowding our people into the slums of the towns, we should not have been better off. However, I make no apology for the proposals that we intend to introduce to got more work done on the land but I shall endeavour to make use of the lessons of the past. With regard to those lessons of the past, and the warnings which they offer, I think the hon. Member for Cambridge was a. little too gloomy. He was very gloomy in the rest of his speech but in this respect he really got into superlatives, because the facts are not quite as stated. Small holdings have not been the failure which he talked of.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Let us take the State small holdings in Cambridgeshire. They were handed over to the county council in 1926 because of statutory obligations. It was not that the State was getting rid of some rubbish which it did not want. They were the county council's. It was their land. I do not deny and it cannot be denied that, in providing small holdings after the War, there were many extravagances, and in the rush and excitement a good many men were forced on to them who were quite unsuited for the job. We shall try to learn from these experiences and I can assure the House that our proposals will not be framed on lines of that kind. It is proposed to do the thing in an organised, well-thought out, well instructed way. I do not say that there will not be mistakes. There certainly will be, but the complaint generally is that we do not try to do anything. That complaint will not be true in regard to this matter, and I hope 271 and believe that I shall get even the support of the hon. Member for Cambridge, with all his experience.
§ Dr. ADDISON
It will be introduced on Monday week, I hope. I think that is not so bad. The hon. Member for Cambridge is" I believe, inter alia, a member of the landowning class, and he knows the position in what is rather a more fortunate county than some, a county with very fine soil—one of the best in England. But still with all their drawbacks, with all the excessive expenditure that was made on them in the post-War period, smallholdings, even now, are paying 3 per cent., which is more than many a landowner is getting for the rest of his land. I am sure the Noble Lord would be very glad to have his estate paying even 3 per cent. after all other obligations had been discharged—and that is the case with regard to those who provided land for smallholdings. With all those extravagances, it is not such a failure as some people might think, and it will be a means of helping us with our great industrial markets.
It has been my duty to make some observations upon the very friendly criticisms which so far have been directed to our proposals in respect of agriculture. We shall have, I hope, a great many opportunities during this Session to return to the subject, and I rather suspect, although perhaps the right hon. Gentleman opposite may not altogether relish it, that the reason we shall be trying to press so much into this Session with regard to agriculture is that we shall be endeavouring, in a time of national distress, to atone for some of the neglect of the past.
It is a new and very satisfactory situation to find a Labour 'Minister of Agriculture at last getting up in this House and explaining the policy which has resulted from their long period of gestation. It is over a year that we have been waiting for an opportunity to debate the measures which They have "promised to produce. The predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman was characterised by great caution, and we never could get anything out of him 272 at all. Now we have a Minister who seems to be willing to satisfy us in our desire for knowledge with some amount of frankness as compared with the caution of his predecessor; and it is a great thing that at last we have the Labour policy out in the open, whereas for the last 12 months it was kept steadily underground. Under these circumstances, it is perhaps a little ungracious, after the very pleasant speech to which we have listened, to criticise the right hon. Gentleman on the details of the policy which is unfolded in the Gracious Speech and to which to-day he has not really added very much, but if the House will examine these proposals, they will find that in many respects they are very mischievous.
In any case, they fall very far short of the expectations which were aroused on May Day, 1929, when the Labour party gave agriculturists to understand that a new position would develop if they were returned and that they, the agriculturists, would no longer be the sport of the old political parties but that their industry was at last going to be made to pay. At that time the conditions of agriculture were far easier than they are to-day. In the last 18 months the difficulties have been greatly aggravated. The right hon. Gentleman said that the late Government failed to produce any policy to help agriculture. Has he forgotten all that we did to lighten burdens, the great alleviation of the financial position which was brought about by the de-rating of agricultural land, and the decrease of railway freights? Has he forgotten how we increased the farmers' receipts in some of the most seriously depressed districts by the sugar beet subsidy, and how all those measures of alleviation were invariably opposed tooth and nail by the party opposite? But I admit that growing depression outstripped any efforts which it was in our power to make, with our financial resources and with the pledges on which we had come into power, to deal with the problem.
In the last 18 months agricultural prices have taken a nose-dive. Whereas for the last harvest when we were in power the price of wheat was 47s, 11d. on the average, to-day it is about 20s. lower, and it is the same with almost every agricultural product. We have all been very unhappy at the position of the fruit industry, and if you look at the 273 prices of soft fruit—black currants, red currants, gooseberries, plums—you will find that, as compared with 1928, the prices of this season show a decrease of between one-half and two-thirds of the average prices at that time. [Interruption.] We are discussing to-day the problems of the producer, and the problems of the producer are far more serious to-day than when the Labour party made those very rash promises. Our difficulties here have not only been due to national economic forces but to deliberate measures taken in foreign countries, which, in protecting themselves from the full results of falling prices, have focussed on our market the full effect of the glut in shattering the prices to the producer.
The present Government have not been in want of advice. They were more lucky than we were. They were able to get the whole industry to co-operate in a conference to examine the problem, and that conference showed that the key of the agricultural question was to secure remunerative prices. Of course, that advice was inconvenient; a bowstring was very quickly produced, and before the conference had had any time to deal with anything except the problem of cereal production they were strangled. But when the right hon. Gentleman says that we have no policy, we immediately accepted the advice of that conference as far as it had gone, and we agreed to secure a guaranteed price for wheat, which would ensure that on ordinary land it would he remunerative; and the programme which the right hon. Gentleman is defending to-day is not remotely related to the necessities of the industry at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman proposes to put more smallholders on the land. I have the greatest admiration for the smallholding movement. I think the courage, and the enterprise, and the adaptability of the smallholder are one of the most encouraging features of British agriculture to-day, but it is a very costly business, and the State has had to write off, I think, something like £16,000,000 under the small holdings effort which was embodied in the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act just 'after the War. Putting more smallholders on the land is no remedy for unemployment in other industries. The smallholder can only succeed if he has very special quali- 274 ties and experience, and you cannot take men from other industries—indeed you cannot taken men from agriculture itself except they are picked men who are qualified for the very difficult conditions of the work. There is one very remarkable feature about the success of small holdings, where they are keeping their heads above water at the present time, because they are succeeding just because they are evading the difficulty of the farmer of having to pay a higher wage than current prices enable him to finance.
The Government, in making the proposals for further dealing with small holdings, apparently recognise that this method is no solution of the agricultural problem, because at the other end of the scale they are promising the very contrary method of experimenting with large-scale production. I believe that those experiments will prove to be a wanton waste of public money. We have had already ample demonstrations on a large scale, some of them in private hands, some of them in the hands of the public Departments concerned. We have had the very interesting experience of the Co-operative Wholesale Society and its large-scale experiment. What larger scale experiment could you want than that? Presumably they had the best advice, they had plenty of capital, and yet we all know the sad story of their failure. We know also what happened on the profit-sharing farms which were administered by the Ministry of Agriculture. When I was responsible for the administration, three years ago, I got a report about Patrington which convinced me that those poor, misled settlers neither had had any profits nor were ever likely to get them, and as the experiment was certainly not profitable to them, it seemed in the interests of everyone that it should he brought to an end and that we should wipe off the £100,000 that it had cost the State.
I believe there is a great deal of false analogy with Canada and Australia and other extensive forms of cereal production in the argument we hear about experiments in large-scale cereal growing. People forget the contrast in our climates. They forget that the necessity of draining our land, which does not exist in Canada or Australia, means that our fields could only be fitted to these oversea methods by very heavy capital ex- 275 penditure, by covering up the open drains, and that it is very doubtful whether the return could ever give any sort of compensation for the capital expenditure involved. They forget, too, that our climate prevents the laboursaving methods which are possible in Canada. The crop there is matured as it ripens; it can be harvested and thrashed in one operation. You cannot apply those methods in this country, where it has to mature in the stack. Of course, I understand, from the Government's point of view, the benefits of such methods, because they are all in the direction of nationalisation and of farming from Whitehall, which we, with our views of the agricultural problem, believe to be a fatal mistake and bound to involve the country, not only in inefficient farming, but in vast financial loss.
There is a proposal in the King's Speech, which I do not altogether understand, in reference to re-conditioning land. If it is a proposal to buy up land, on the lines of what was foreshadowed at the end of last Session, with a view to reclaiming land which is now barren, heath land, it seems to me a waste of money to sink capital in getting more land for agriculture under present conditions when so much existing good land cannot pay its way. The last proposal deals with marketing. It is proposed that co-operation shall under certain conditions be made compulsory. Compulsory co-operation is something like a contradiction in terms. It was never a proposal which found favour on this side of the House though it was pressed upon us in connection with the hop growers' failure. It seems to me that, although it exists in Denmark and in certain exporting countries, it is not suitable for a country with free imports like ours.
Yes, but it applies mostly to the export of their agricultural produce. If we were to apply it under present conditions, it would lead to an absolutely intolerable discrimination against the home producer, because it would deprive the home producer of a free market in his own country while 276 putting the foreign producer, with whom he is competing, in a preferential position of free access to the market. You must protect the British farmer from undercutting from abroad. It applies just as much to milk to which an hon. Member has referred as to anything else. There is nothing to prevent milk being brought in from abroad; it is a perfectly feasible operation. Until you prevent the undercutting of this compulsory cooperative effort by foreign competition it is unthinkable that you should inflict upon the British farmer the injustice that would be involved in this proposal. The effort of the right hon. Gentleman really reminds me of something I saw in the South African War. A great friend of mine had a terrible toothache and went to another doctor and asked him to pull the tooth out. The doctor pulled out a beautiful white tooth, but it was the wrong tooth. The right hon. Gentleman is doing exactly the same. He has got hold of the wrong tooth. When the farmer is asking for his accounts to be balanced, when he is asking to be put on a sound financial basis, the right hon. Gentleman brings forward proposal which lead up to useless, mischievous and extravagant changes in our system of land tenure. When he is asked for measures which will restore the economic health of the agricultural industry, all he can do is to reply with a programme of prodigal expenditure.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I have followed the arguments which have been advanced, and I am a little disappointed in the King's Speech, because I consider that, if we look forward 12 months and achieve these little bits of odds and ends of which it is composed, the Session is not going to be very fruitful. The complaint was made in a speech from the other side of the House, to which I listened with great interest, that, so far as the Government were concerned, little aid and encouragement have been given to production and salesmanship. Taking the building trade as an answer to that, it seems strange that there are scores of thousands of men out of work in that trade while, so far as housing is concerned, we are far behind with the building programme in every part of the country. One can scarcely understand it and a big effort ought to be made by the Government to absorb both the 277 skilled and unskilled labour unemployed in the building trade in providing houses and reconditioning houses in various parts of the country. I am also very sorry indeed that the agricultural policy does not go far enough. It is all very well to talk about marketing. I have been to some trouble to get some authentic figures on this matter of which I have had close personal experience. It matters not how you market it unless you get an economic price for the product you market.
The trouble we are chiefly experiencing in the country is that we are not getting an economic price and that land is going out of cultivation every week. I received a letter last week, which I showed to the Minister of Agriculture, from a farmer farming 5,000 acres in the constituency I represent. I would remind the House that the bigger the farm the more the farmer loses if he is losing money at all. He wrote complaining that he was losing money on such a scale that, unless something was done, he would be obliged to put many of the men he at present employed on the streets. He said that last year he put down 464 acres to grass. It must be remembered that every 100 acres of land put down to grass means two less agricultural labourers employed. That is a very serious thing. So' far as wheat is concerned, the stabilisation of wheat at an economic price would do more for agriculture than anything we have discussed in this House. In 1860 we produced 30,000,000 quarters of wheat and imported 7,000,000 quarters. What is the figure now? Something like 6,000,000 quarters and millions of acres gone out of cultivation. That is the problem and a marketing Bill alone will not solve it so far as the countryside is concerned. That is my opinion and that of other Members on this side of the House who have had experience.
May I give the House an actual experience? I happen to be associated with a co-operative farm, and I have been so for 10 or 12 years. What are the results? On the 26¾ acres of oats we lost £82 16s. 6d., and the average yield was just under six quarters to the acre, which is not a bad yield for oats. On 43½ acres of barley the loss was £82 Os. 3d. On nine acres of wheat we lost £10 4s. 6d., and the yield was five quarters to the acre on the two large fields and 3½ 278 quarters on the small one. The cost of production therefore was over £2 per quarter.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
Last year. Those figures demonstrate clearly what is wrong. We have tried every up-to-date method that science can put in our hands. In our case there is no shortage of capital. We can provide machinery and housing accommodation in order to attract the best labourers and can pay the best wage. It has not been a question of economies, but of trying to obtain a result that will place our farm on the right side of the balance-sheet. It has always been on the wrong side of the balance-sheet. This Marketing Bill is a good thing as far as it goes, but the stabilisation of prices or a wheat import board, or the securing of an economic price to the farmer for his wheat, which is the key to the situation, are the only things that can do something.
I am concerned also for the agricultural labourer, for this does concern him. I put a pointed question to the House, because this affects the House quite as much as the Minister himself. It is a problem which aught to be taken out of his hands, because it is not a party question. Why is it that we are not facing unemployment insurance for agricultural labourers? It is because we know that not only is there a tremendous amount of unemployment in the countryside at the present time but during the winter it is likely to increase on account of the economic conditions. I know farmers intimately, and I was brought up among them. I know of farmers having to dispense with men though they do not want to do so. There is a case of a man with all his savings put into a little farm, his wife has the poultry and the eggs and the caw to keep the household going as is usual in Lincolnshire. The condition was such last year and this year that, in order to pay his way, he has had to sell the two cows that really were the wage of the farmer's wife. How he is going to face this winter he does not know. He was a man who was a farm foreman and who had experience. He had 100 tons of potatoes and never sold one. Marketing did not do that.
279 We ought to take a lesson in this respect from Germany. Germany knew how to deal with her surplus products. Prince Bülow in his "imperial Germany" says that Germany knew—what we all knew though she applied her knowledge—that it was essential to have a flourishing agriculture. We knew that, and we realised it in the War. We must realise that agriculture is the most important industry in this or any other land. You can eat a ton of potatoes or a ton of wheat, but you cannot eat a ton of steel. My industry is more important than the steel industry. It is the one industry in this country which I believe can absorb a large number of men. I believe that, if we tackle this matter, the Minister will find a ready response from all sides of the House. If you stabilise the price for the farmer, he can live, and you will remedy the root problem, and the rest of agriculture will begin to flourish. I hope that he will do that. I am disappointed that he has not been able to go further. I will not blame him, but I am going to give him a little encouragement to move faster. I want to see prosperity in the countryside and unemployment insurance for agricultural workers, but you will never have prosperity in the countryside until you stabilise prices and, as the Prime Minister said, make farming pay.
§ Mr. BUTLER
There is no speaker whom I would rather follow at this moment than the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). He has endeared himself to everyone in the House, certainly on this side of the House, by his extraordinary attachment to the agricultural interest. I only wish that the spirit which he has introduced into the subject may prevail in all our debates upon it during the coming Session. Many of the facts which I wish to bring to the notice of the House with regard to the difficulties of production have been so excellently put by the hon. Member that I shall not bore the House by trying to bring out further statistics, but will leave his striking statistics to play their part on the imagination of the House.
With regard to this new spirit which hon. Members on all sides of the House wish to see in our agricultural discussions, I want to ask a pertinent question. Why is it that at the present time, with the 280 present conditions in arable and other depressed farming areas, the Prime Minister used the language that he did the other day about farmers and the farming industry? Why did he refer to the inefficiency of farmers in the words that he used on that occasion? It is an insult to men who are engaged on the struggle of their lives, many of whom, with their wives, families and labourers, are facing blank and despairing ruin. [...]that is the spirit which the Prime Minister of this country and the leader of the party in power is going to bring into our agricultural discussions, I can only regret it and hope that the hon. Member for Brigg and the Minister of Agriculture will take the first opportunity of dissociating themselves from remarks of that sort. Why should the Prime Minister refer to the inefficiency of farmers at the present moment when he knows that, owing to the trials through which they have passed since the nose-dive in prices, most of the inefficient farmers have had to go to the wall, and that those who remain are there solely owing to their efficiency. It is one of the most disgraceful statements that has been made by a Prime Minister in a time of national difficulties, and when I hear it borne out by the right hon. Gentleman at that Box in his speech on the Address, when he said that this country a as in a mess, I ask whether that is the sort of lead that the Prime Minister ought to give in our present difficulties? It is utterly disgraceful, and I hope that in agriculture the counsels and the gracious nature of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and of his hon. Friend the Member for Brigg will prevail, rather than the spirit of the leader of the party to which they belong.
I do not resent the fact that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) interfered in this debate. He apologised for doing so, because he said that. he was going away from agriculture, but he introduced one point with which I wish to deal. He referred to the suffering in this country, and he drew his examples from one class only. He said that there was no suffering among the wealthier and richer classes of this country, and he went on a peripatetic tour round the seaside resorts, round the great hotels, and round the golf links, but he neglected to make a tour of the agricultural dis- 281 tricts. Little does he know that those who have been stigmatised in the past as landlords, irrespective of what they have done for their industry, have, many of them, undergone the greatest transformation of their lives in that they have had to depart from their family places and sever the association of their families with the land. The hon. Member for Brigg will know it as a fact that in a hundred of north Essex I know two villages which have already lost their squire, and the estate and the villages have been broken up. There is poverty and destitution, and in one village 12 families are out of work. Is that not suffering on the part of the landed classes? It may be said that it is nothing for them to give up their family places and to sever their association with the land, and to break up the whole structure of the countryside, which has been of great service to this country. Hon. Members may not call that suffering, but I will leave it for them to judge.
There is another form of suffering which a great severance like that brings in its strain, the suffering of the labouring classes who used to farm on the estates which have been broken up. There we find the genuine suffering, and I want, in making an appeal to the Minister, to do a little bit of pioneering on my own, because I regard my district as being in a state of emergency and approaching a very serious time. If we hear from him and from his leader that there is no hope of subsidy, no hope of dealing with unrestricted foreign competition, which I regard as being at the bottom of all our troubles; if we are to face the crisis which will arise this winter owing chiefly to unemployment, what scheme has the right hon. Gentleman ready to meet the emergency However much I may admire or not admire the ideals of his main schemes, which have been put in the Speech, I do not see in them the slightest element for dealing with an emergency in my arable district. Has he in his mind any scheme for an emergency, and, if he will not approach it from the price side of the question, I want to ask him whether he will approach it from the labour point of view. He knows that the grumble in the agricultural districts at the present time is that, while the costs of labour are fixed by Statute, prices are not fixed 282 by anything at all, and are subjected to causes quite beyond the farmers' control. The result is that one half is fixed, and he has to have deliberate and set outgoings, while the in-comings are not fixed, but are subjected to competition to which they ought not be subjected. If the right hon. Gentleman refuses to deal with the question of prices in the way that his hon. Friend on that side and I wish him to deal with them, will he contemplate dealing with the position from the labour point of view, since it is from that side that an emergency will most quickly arise.
The question of men being turned off has been referred to, and I believe that they will be turned off more this winter, according to my investigations during the entire summer that I have been living in north Essex. Is there any possibility of assisting the farmers in the event of a calamity such as that by some sort of help towards their wages bill? I dare say the right hon. Gentleman will shake his head, but all I ask him to do is to go into that aspect of the matter, because it is a question that has not been raised very much. The application of unemployment insurance to agricultural workers does not face up to the question sufficiently. I have always said that the best way to solve the unemployment question among agricultural workers is to make farming pay, as the party opposite promised to do, but if their schemes will not make farming pay, are they prepared to deal with the problem of men being turned off as a problem of national emergency? Do they honestly think, even if they push through their schemes for large-scale farming and small holdings, that they can do more than stop the rot of men being turned off the countryside? Looking at it from a statesmanlike point of view, you must tackle this problem, if you refuse to do it from the price standpoint, from the labour standpoint for the sake of those men and their families whom I represent in arable districts. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give that point of view his consideration.
I raised a point in a question to-day with regard to the beet sugar industry, and said that the industry was facing a collapse. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Miss Picton-Turbervill) disagreed, and asked the right hon. Gentle- 283 man whether he could accept that suggestion. He said that he could not. Therefore, speaking for my own district, I would like to substantiate the words which I used in my question. Owing to the present price of sugar coinciding with a. reduction in the subsidy; to the fact that negotiations between the growers and the factories are at a standstill to the price the factories can offer and to the fact that 5s. 11d. of the subsidy is returned to the Excise on the new basis, it is not exaggerating to say that in a district like my own a factory, such as the Felstead factory, is facing a serious position. The farmer cannot grow sugar-beet under 40s., and it is a certainty that the factories under the new scale cannot offer that price with the present price of sugar. I would like to feel that the Cabinet will consider that question again as an emergency, and consider whether they wish to see the beet-sugar industry go by the board. The arable districts feel that it is one of the few things to which they can look to keep acreage under cultivation, and to stop the rot in employment among agricultural labourers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give this question the sympathetic consideration which it deserves, and that it will come up for immediate consideration, in order that the negotiations between the growers and the factories may come to some conclusion which will enable the farmers in my district to prepare their land for putting it under the crop. Any more delay may cause the land not to be prepared, for it is at this season that we need a decision from those in authority. I am willing for the Minister to correct me about the amount of the Excise which is paid out of the subsidy, but I believe that the figure is 5s. 11d. out of 6s. 6d. on the new basis. If so, the state is not doing as much as it ought to do to keep up the industry.
§ Mr. BUTLER
The arable districts maintain that that money has been well spent. I could quote figures of the acreage that has been under cultivation, of the number of men employed in the industry, the amount of limestone, coal and coke used, and the number of factories built. I have the figures, but I 284 will not trouble the House with them, because we are in an assembly of experts, and I assume that they have given this subject their expert examination. With regard to the proposals in the King's Speech, it is because they are not such as to deal with a position of emergency, such as I have indicated, that I cannot. give them my blessing.
The small holdings movement has already been criticised. I can only refer with amusement to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bridgeton when he criticised the proposals as being primitive. I am greatly amused that it should be a Labour Government encouraging people to have a. stake in the land, seeing that we have always been told that they do not believe in private ownership. I do not know what scheme the Minister is to bring forward in respect of smallholdings, and so it is difficult to criticise him on that subject, but I suspect, after reading the Gracious Speech from the Throne and hearing the right hon. Gentleman that he must have been influenced by a book by Mr. C. S. Orwin, "The Future of Farming," just published, in which he deals with two present possibilities in regard to the development of land, the one being small holdings, and the other large-scale operations.
With regard to large-scale operations, I would like to ask the Minister Whether he remembers that the conclusion of Mr. Orwin was that they must be accompanied by land nationalisation, which would afford the only way of financing them and of undertaking them. I am glad to raise this point in the House, because I wish to ask the Minister whether his large-scale operations will be conducted under the methods prescribed in that book, which I read with great pleasure. Are these measures in the Gracious Speech a cloak to introduce land nationalisation? If so, I personally shall fight them tooth and nail. If they are not, then they are already condemned, because we have had the conclusive evidence of the author of that delightful book that large-scale operations cannot be run satisfactorily unless they are put under the control of the State, with land nationalisation. At the outset, therefore, I am obliged to look darkly on the proposals of the Minister, although I appreciate the spirit in which he has spoken to-day, and although it 285 has given me great pleasure to rise to oppose him for the first time—and I hope it will not be the last—in the same spirit in which he has introduced his proposals.
§ Mr. GOULD
I would like to offer a word of congratulation to the Minister of Agriculture on being able to secure a niche in the King's Speech for the important subject of agriculture. Listening to the debate, one would think that the urgency of the agricultural situation had arisen out of a tragedy which has just happened, that the responsibility for the chaos lay at the door of a Labour Government only 18 months old. The history of this great industry is very different from that. The Minister and the Government are dealing largely with a heritage from Governments which have failed to meet the needs of the industry, particularly the arable section of it. One aspect of the problem is that there are really four or five industries wrapped up in this one great industry, and although I congratulate the Minister I must say that unless arable farming is put on a basis economic to itself then its relationship to the industry as a whole will destroy the other sections. We have already seen that possibility in the relations of arable farming to milk and dairy farming. I represent a part of the county of Somerset, and when I spoke here some months ago I ventured to say that if the conversion of arable land to pasture land were to continue it would create a crisis in regard to the milk industry in the autumn of this year. That was not my personal prophecy, I was only reiterating what other men with greater experience were already deploring. In the case of Somerset and other counties, we have, as was predicted, reached a condition that is chaotic in the extreme, and means bankruptcy to the milk and dairy industry. That industry has a vital relationship to cereal cultivation, and without detracting from my words of congratulation I must say that unless the Government are prepared—either arising out of the Imperial Conference or distinct from any of those proposals—to deal with the position of cereal farming then the milk and dairy farming will find itself in a worse position than it is to-day.
286 The problem of Somerset, to take that county as an example, reflects itself very largely in the proposals embodied in the King's Speech. The problem of milk and dairy farming is largely one of surplus production at present, and when we are faced with a surplus, as we were in the case of potatoes last year, and as we are in the case of milk this year, that factor alone is destructive, under our present situation, as regards markets and prices. I am very glad the Minister has gone through the country expounding the marketing Bill, and I hope that it will have an early place in the programme of the Government, because although it is opposed by many sections of the farming industry, yet many Somersetshire farmers regard it as the basis upon which they are going to create a new prosperity for the milk industry, and the Measure is held to be an urgent and necessary one. It is a question of putting the industry on a national basis, and of being able to deal with those factors which break prices. During the whole of the five years when a Conservative Government was in office we had the powers of the combine, with the small elements that could be easily manipulated, breaking prices and selling at ridiculous figures, making dairy farming a precarious industry, and we regard the marketing scheme as very necessary in order to bring prosperity.
The speeches from both sides of the House criticising the project for getting unemployed men back to the land show very little knowledge. There is a keen desire, especially in those areas where industry and agriculture are closely related, that men connected with depressed industries, who have the application and the necessary skill, should take up an occupation on the land, and from inquiries I have had, and my correspondence, which I have sent on to the Ministry of Agriculture, I believe there is an urgent demand that the Minister should take action, and I only hope that it will be on a big and bold scale. I hope his scheme will not have to suffer criticism on the ground of its being too small, but that it is going to be big and bold and comprehensive. I would rather see it challenged on the ground that it is too big and too venturesome than see it condemned as meagre and experimental. There is throughout the country a land 287 hunger, born both of experience and of a desire to get to the land which, I believe, could be readily met by a bold measure. Somerset is interested in poultry raising and in pig breeding for the production of bacon. Wiltshire is near by, and the bacon factories there are crying out for the produce of the land, and labour is crying out for land on which to create the produce. If the Government will give able-bodied men who are willing to go on to the land the credit necessary to stock the land, give them also advice as to the best stock and the best strains of poultry, and advise them as to the breeds of pigs best calculated to produce the bacon that we often find on the farmer's table—which is a contradiction of what we might expect to find in a farmer's home—I believe there will be a greater future for our agricultural districts and a return from the town to the country of men who have drifted into the industrial centres.
We can stop the march from the towns, we can reverse the engines. The desire to go back to the country is there, and I hope the Government will not, through lack of boldness, weaken the interest and enthusiasm there is in schemes for bringing men back to the land. When we contrast the position here with that of other countries, we have very much leeway to make up. In Germany 35 per cent. of the population live in the countryside, and in France 43 per cent., whereas in Britain we have a meagre 6 per cent. of our people on the land. It is obvious that if we tackle the problem boldly on the lines of bulk purchase we shall challenge much of the sentiment in the House; at least we shall find out how far the interest which has been expressed in agriculture is genuine when our legislation puts it to the test. The marketing Bill may also be challenged by certain opposition from the Farmers' Union, but that organisation is certainly not backed up by an intelligent section of the farming community.
If, however, we tackle the problem boldly I believe we can carry three or four very big Measures, in spite of an overcrowded Session, and in that way we shall at least make good our declaration that we are anxious to help in rebuilding the countryside and put the industry in a position to secure an economic return 288 on cereals and all those other commodities which come to our shores from other countries, but which could be produced here. We shall at the same time provide work for men who are now idle, and opportunities for capital, which is so readily forthcoming when there is a lucrative investment to be made, as was evidenced in the case of a coke and light undertaking last week. We must bring the credit of the State to the assistance of the countryside and of our men who are now out of employment. We shall give greater hope to the country and enhance the status of this House by meeting this emergency with measures which will produce a brighter future for our countryside.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
I should like to state at the outset that the reason why some small holdings are so successful is that they are really family farms, with the wife and children of the holder helping in the work. Of course, they work longer than ordinary agricultural labourers, and work, not only on weekdays, but also on Sundays. In those circumstances, small holdings can be made to pay, and all honour to the people who work so hard to make them prosperous. The Gracious Speech makes great play about the Agricultural Marketing Bill, and we are all anxious to know what it is really going to do. As far as I can see, it is only possible for such a policy to be successful in the case of the production of those commodities in which the farmer has something in the nature of a monopoly. Hops have already been mentioned, and there are also such products as liquid milk, veal and fresh pork. If farmers co-operated and formed associations for rationing the output so as to increase the price, what would be the view of hon. Members opposite on that point? If the result was to increase the price of liquid milk to the population, there would be such an outcry that any action of that kind would have to be stopped. I understand that the Bill which has been promised provides machinery to prevent any such effort, but, if that Measure is going to prevent the farmer from reaping the benefit of combination to increase prices, what good can it do? Surely no one could say that a combination of farmers to sell their wheat would have the effect of increasing the price. My opinion is that it would not have the slightest effect.
289 I desire to be able to carry to my constituents in Norfolk some word of advice from the Prime Minister as to how they are to carry on during next year. I know many farmers in my constituency whose available capital has been reduced every year for a number of years. Their difficulties are increasing and their only way of making a living is by growing cereal crops. How are they going to meet the serious state of affairs with which they are now faced? What are they to grow'? The Gracious Speech makes them believe that what is going to be proposed will enable them to grow some crop that will return them a profit. We have been told that the Government are not going to do anything more for the sugar-beet industry and that a large area of the more fertile soil will be given up for arable crops.
We have been told that the bad prices obtained by soft fruit growers was not due to the large quantities of soft fruit sent over to this country from abroad, but to a glut of soft fruit produced in this country. If there is a sufficient supply of soft fruit for the needs of this country, why should we admit any imports of soft fruit from abroad? Let me give the dye industry as an example. An importer of dyes has to make an application to a committee before he is allowed to import, and he has to satisfy that committee that he cannot obtain what he wants at an economic price, which is three-quarters more than the pre-War price in this country. Why cannot the Government set up some such committee to deal with agriculture? Why should this country be flooded with foreign agricultural products whether we want them or not? Why should we not imitate the example of the good housewife who so long as she can supply herself with what she wants is not so foolish as to buy those articles in the market. I do not see that there is anything in a policy of that kind which would tend to increase the cost of living. If we have all we want at home, the price is not likely to be increased because we do not import from abroad. Surely that would be a wise step to take in order to assist the soft fruit growing industry.
The Minister of Agriculture made great play of the pig industry and the egg trade. Farmers are always being told how stupid they are in regard to their arrangements in the pig industry. The 290 reason why farmers are not successful in the pig industry is that the market for pigs is frightfully uncertain. This makes it very difficult for the farmers to keep pace with the variations in the price. There is an old saying that pigs are either gold or copper, but what we want is that they should be silver. In a case like this the control of imports would be an admirable thing. Surely there is no reason why our market should be flooded by the importation of foreign pigs if it is possible for people to buy pigs in this country at a reasonable price. In those conditions it would be quite possible to ensure an economic price for pigs raised in this country, and to see that the price was a reasonable one if steps were taken to control the importation of foreign, pigs. I am certain that if those engaged in the farming industry were assured that so long as they produced pigs at an economic price they would have a sure market, we should find growing up all over the country, bacon factories, which in a short time would become self-supporting, and £50,000,000 worth of produce of this kind might be grown in this country.
I am afraid that the Minister of Agriculture did not realise what is the position in a county like Norfolk when he made his speech. There is no doubt that this winter we shall have to face a problem in Norfolk such as we have never had to face before, because the financial resources of the farmers are very small. Already we have the highest rate of any rural area in the kingdom. Imagine a rural area with a rate of 14s. in the £. How on earth is a county in that position going to deal with a vast number of unemployed? We have been told that we ought to prepare a scheme for unemployment insurance for agricultural workers. It seems to me to be an appalling mistake to wait until an industry is bankrupt before you attempt to assist it. Surely it would be far better to spend the money which such a scheme would cost the State in doing something to stimulate the industry itself in order to keep the men at work. Our experience in the County of Norfolk—I expect it is the same in other counties—is that once the agricultural worker is turned away from his job and put on road work and other work it is difficult to get him back again to work on the land. Such work- 291 men often wait after finishing one job until the county council can find another job for them, and the result is that when prosperity returns to the agricultural industry, if it ever does return, we shall find a serious shortage of agricultural workers.
We have been faced by other serious difficulties. It is a fact that in my county the number of young people taking up agricultural work is diminishing every year. It is also the case that from the point of view of agricultural education people are saying with very great justice, "What is the good of spending money on agricultural education, teaching people to grow fruit or to keep chickens and supply eggs, if you cannot guarantee them a market for their products when they have produced them?" From the point of view of the men engaged in this work, it is absolutely essential that something should be done to relieve the terrible state of affairs which exists at the present time, which is worse than I have ever known in my long connection with the industry. I appreciate the announcement of the Minister of his intention to deal with the scrub bull. I hope that as a result of this Debate, after what has been said on the Conservative and Labour benches, and in view of the suggestions put forward by the Farmers' Union, the Council of Agriculture and other bodies, that even now the Minister of Agriculture will be able to make such representations to the Prime Minister as will enable him to carry out the changes which are necessary to save the situation.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Christie) into the ramifications of Protection, but I know that his description of the state of arable agriculture in his constituency is perfectly accurate. Most of us who are interested at all, in agriculture were interested to notice that the Government had at last mentioned agriculture in the King's Speech. At one time and another since this Parliament began we have been endeavouring to get the present Government to carry out the pledges which they made to the electorate at the last election, and we welcome the mention of a Marketing Bill and Land Settlement. AR many speakers have said, there is no 292 doubt that these two Bills will do a lot of good in many districts in this country, but at the root of the whole problem is the position of arable agriculture. The Prime Minister, before the end of last Session, said that he was aware that the whole problem of agriculture was very closely related to the problem of unemployment, and I think that most Members of the House will agree that, apart from any fiscal discussion of Free Trade and Protection, we have here the greatest industry in the country, in which, undoubtedly, a very large number of men who are unemployed could be settled if the Government will tackle it in a bold and effective manner. The Imperial Conference is sitting at the present time, but we only get dark hints as to what may be done. The Prime Minister said very little in his statement the other day with regard to what the Government intend to do in that direction, but there is no doubt that the Government, if they are going to tackle the problem of agriculture, cannot afford to abandon wheat as a part of the productive policy of this country.
I know that many hon. Members on the other side of the House are anxious to see some kind of import board established for dealing with this problem, and there are hon. Members above the Gangway on this side who are anxious to see, in some form or another, imports controlled by tariffs or some such method. The hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) seems to favour the method of an import board. There is, however, no majority in this House for any of these policies, and in the meantime the number of agricultural workers engaged in the arable districts of this country gets less every month. I myself have just come from the constituency which I represent in Suffolk. Farmers there are undoubtedly carrying on with their sugar beet, which is keeping their heads above water, but in village after village you can find conditions which prove that arable agriculture is in a desperate condition. The Government have to face up to this problem if they are going to do something for agriculture. There is no majority in this House for import boards, and there is no majority to carry any system of tariff. There are, however, other policies, such as the quota policy, the percentage of 293 milling policy, which could be carried, and for which I believe there is a majority in this House.
I know that some hon. Members quote figures showing that only 7 per cent. of our total production is wheat, but what is going to be done with regard to the districts in East Anglia, where, for many reasons, they cannot grow grass, where the people have spent their lifetime in arable cultivation, and where that has been their whole organisation and their whole training, smallholders as well as the bigger farmers. Are you going merely to say to them, "We are going to abandon you"? If you are, you are going in fact to abandon a generation of farmers. I know that a good many so-called agricultural experts think that there is no hope at all for this generation of farmers, that you have simply to let them go under and then try to evolve some new idea of scientific agriculture. The average British farmer, however, knows most things about agriculture to-day. He has been to Denmark, he has been to America, he has been to Canada, he has been to Australia, and he knows the methods in use in those countries; but when you come down to the tin-tacks of the whole problem, do what he may on his farm, whatever his agriculture is, the vital factor of it all is the problem of price, and until this Government faces up to the problem of price in corn production in this country it has not touched the problem of agriculture.
I hope that the preliminary Bills which the Government intend to bring in with regard to marketing and land settlement are just a survey of 'what is to follow, and that the Government will take the opportunity to get something done. There is a majority in this House which desires to see arable cultivation put on its feet. We know the problem from the point of view expressed by the Prime Minister in his interview with a newspaper. We know all these problems; but I ask the Government to recognise that the farmers of to-day, at least the farmers that I know in East Anglia, in Suffolk and Norfolk, are on their last legs, that they are in a desperate position, and that their agricultural workers also are in a desperate position. The social conditions of the agricultural 294 worker, as reflected in the village—the drinking water supply, the housing conditions—are all dependent upon a successful agriculture, and, unless the Government can do something now in conjunction with their unemployment policy to deal with the social conditions, the present state of agriculture will mean that nothing can be done from that point of view. I hope that support will be given in all quarters of the House to the policies mentioned in the King's Speech. They cannot do much harm, if they do not do a lot of good. I hope that the Government will recognise that they have got to deal with arable cultivation, and that the sooner they bring in a Bill the better.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I rise to give support to two things that are mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. It is deplorable to listen to such lamentable and bemoaning speeches as we have heard this afternoon, when in this country we have at our door the best markets in the world, when we have the best land, when we have intelligent cultivators and the best type of agricultural workers to till the land. When we consider the matter in that light, we must confess that there is something entirely wrong, and it is time that we tried to find it out. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) has indicated that it is for every one of us to try to put forward his best intelligence and to devise some policy which will retrieve the agricultural position and bring prosperity to the countryside. In the King's Speech mention is made of the promotion of increased settlement on the land. One of the objects of that is to find employment on the land, but there is something more far-reaching even than that. By doing that we should help to maintain a rural population, and that is a valuable national asset in this country; we cannot afford to let our rural population become depleted and extinct.
I know that criticism is levelled at the settlement of these men on the land on small holdings and cottage holdings, and I am quite prepared to admit that counties vary. It will generally be found that the most successful counties in regard to the settlement of men on the land are the industrial counties. The interviewing committees, of which I have had some experience as a chairman, find 295 that there is a readiness and anxiety on the part of men who have left the land and gone into industry to come back to the land if they are given the opportunity. They are men of the right type. It is no use saying that we cannot get the men, because from experience we find that we have many applications. In Lancashire we have a long list of applications from men who want to be settled on the land. Mention has been made this afternoon of failures, but, in the Land Settlement Act of 1919, the committees were told that they had to settle certain men on the land because of their War services, the tribunals having promised that the men, if they wished, should have the opportunity of going on to the land when they came back from the War. On that account some were failures, but the failures are not a very large percentage.
In Lancashire the failures among ex-service men are not above 4 per cent., a very small figure considering that some of the tenants were blind, some were suffering from shell shock, some had received severe wounds, and in one case we had a tenant who had no legs. The fact that there were only 4 per cent. of failures is very creditable to the ex-service men. On the other hand, we settled on the land in Lancashire men who had no knowledge whatever of the land or of poultry, but they went in for a scientific training in agriculture, and to-day we can point to tenants there who have made the poultry industry a great success, and are doing very well on scientific lines. They have the latest possible scientific appliances, electric light, and so on, and it is really a treat to go round their holdings. By the exercise of care in selecting the right type of men I believe that the scheme can be made a decided success. Every available opportunity should be given for the training and education of any applicant who wishes to get back to the land, and I think there are possibilities of training some of the cotton operatives in our industrial centres, in Lancashire for instance, in the science of poultry keeping.
The great point that the Minister and the county councils, or whoever is entrusted with the working of this scheme, will have to watch, will be the acquisition of suitable land. That is very important. Under the Land Settlement 296 Act of 1919, county councils had to take advantage of the third-class land, in some cases fourth-class land, and in many cases land that should never have been acquired at all. It had to be acquired because no other land was available. Farming was prosperous at that time, prices were war prices, and not only had they to take third or fourth-class land, but they had to pay war prices for it. Equipment and buildings were also at war prices. One hon. Member said this afternoon that there had been a loss to the State of £16,000,000, but I maintain that there was a gain of £5,000,000 to the country, because £21,000,000 was set apart by the War Office as a grant for the settlement of men on the land for services rendered during the War.
The opportunity to acquire the best land is quite easy in these days. In Lancashire we have had offered to us valuable land suitable for the purpose, and that did not occur before. I have had 11 years' experience as Chairman of the Small Holdings and Land Settlement Committee, and we have never had such suitable land offered us as we have now, at a reasonable price and with vacant possession. That is another very important matter, because it means that we can get to work at once and settle men by 2nd February next. We want suitable land for market gardening, for poultry and for stock, and they are all available now. Another very important matter is to acquire land at a reasonable price so that it can be let to tenants at a reasonable rent. The rents under the Land Settlement Act, 1919, are rather too high, and I am not sure that there will not have to be a revision all round in a very short time in conjunction with the county councils and the Ministry of Agriculture to meet the present lower prices of produce. I take it that the improvements of land mentioned in the King's Speech mean draining and liming. It is no use to settle men on land that is wet, because you are only putting a rope round your necks, and they will never he successful. A large quantity of arable land, even under rotation of cropping, requires ordinary drainage, and a lot of land requires not only drainage but liming as well, so I take it that that is what is intended in order to give these people a fair chance and a fair start.
297 I do not quite understand the meaning of the term "reconditioning the land," but I should say it means proper fencing, the erection of suitable buildings, a proper water supply and a supply of electricity. All these are absolutely necessary if you are going to give these people a proper start in this new movement. Credit will be needed, and I recommend the principle adopted in the 1919 Act. In Lancashire our losses have been very small on the loans which we have made. I do not suppose we have lost 2 per cent. of any loans that we have made to ex-service men. There is something just as valuable as gilt edged securities in these days. There is the capacity of the man and his good wife, and probably one or two members of the family. All this should be taken into consideration when you are giving a man credit.
The organisation of producers for marketing purposes is very important. The difference is too great between what the producer gets and what the consumer pays. I have known cauliflowers 8d. a dozen in Liverpool market and 8d. each at the seaside. Swede turnips cost perhaps ¼d. or ½d. each at the farm, and, when they come to the seaside, 3d. and 4d. each. Potatoes are 2s. 6d. a cwt. on the farm and 10s. or 12s. retail. A marketing hoard for imports is a matter for serious consideration. Above 1,000,000 acres of arable land have gone out of cultivation during the last few years. One would have thought prices would have increased, but they are lower to-day than six years ago. That proves that there is something wrong with our marketing system. The price of wheat is lower today than it has been for many years, yet bread is dearer than it was in pre-War times. That alone shows that there is something wrong with our marketing.
I should like to say a word now with regard to poultry farming. In my opinion, there is a great future for the poultry industry. We are importing foreign eggs to the value of £22,000,000 annually. I have been at some trouble to get out figures as to how much land it would take and how many tenants we should require of three-acre holdings to produce £22,000,000 worth of eggs, and I can verify my figures from the Ministry of Agriculture's publication of July of this year, the National Farmers' year book, and the Lancashire Utility Society's 298 year book. We should require 16,650 tenants to produce these eggs, and we should need to acquire 50,000 acres for this one object alone. I am estimating that each tenant would have 1,000 hens. They would require assistance, probably three youths or girls to each small holding, if they went in for scientific poultry keeping. Thus we should be able to find work for 50,000 people on the land by adopting a progressive policy with regard to poultry keeping alone. The approximate number is very encouraging to the Minister in the new policy that he is propounding. Other examples could be given with regard to other branches of industry. We shall never get a prosperous pig-keeping industry unless there is a proper system of organised marketing, but with a proper system of marketing the industry would become prosperous. I trust the Minister will see that, when these tenants are settled on the land, they will be given security of tenure and that all good cultivators of the soil are given security for the money they invest.
As I was coming on the omnibus today I noticed the great improvement in the advertisements with regard to the national mark and the Empire Marketing Board compared with those of two or three years ago. I once saw a picture of a thrashing machine at work on the top of a mountain and man was feeding corn into it. It was nothing but straw. It did not show any heads at all. Compare that with the advertisements of today. I have seen a picture of cans being filled with beautiful pods of 11 or 12 peas each. Is that owing to the more business like methods of the present Minister, or how does it happen? Those are the facts, and they are very important. I hope, now that we have got some better business methods, that we are in earnest about doing something for agriculture and putting it on a proper footing.
I do not quite understand the meaning of the reference to large-scale farming, and I would like to issue a note of warning with regard to large-scale farming. The Noble Lord the Member for the Fylde Division (Lord Stanley) has made a remarkable speech, but I would like to point out that the father of the Noble Lord, a very highly respected Noble Earl in our county, has been selling the stock from his home farm. He is giving up his 299 home farm. He has let it to a tenant, and this week he has held a sale of his produce. Perhaps it may have a beneficial effect upon the Noble Earl in that the difficulty which he experienced in carrying out farming on his own account will enable him to have some sympathy with the tenant farmer and to say that the time has arrived for a substantial reduction of rent. I hope that that will be the outcome of it. I am glad to have had an opportunity of saying a few words on this subject. I wish to give encouragement to the Minister of Agriculture in the great work that he is undertaking, and I trust that he will go forward and be successful and prosperous in the great effort he is making.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I feel it to be my duty to say a few words on the question of agriculture. According to some newspapers, I am an agricultural watchdog who occasionally barks, but of whom you need not be afraid, because, according to the papers, my bark is much worse than my bite. However, I am hound to confess, when I read the Speech of His Gracious Majesty which put forward the policy of the present Government, that that part of it which dealt with agriculture caused me considerable disappointment. I looked in vain for some proposals which, in my opinion, could in any way be an adequate remedy for the acute depression which is taking place in agriculture, particularly arable agriculture, to-day. I happen to know from communications from the Minister himself that the Minister of Agriculture has a keen desire to help the industry in its trouble. I also know that there are on that side of the House—there have not been before—many Members who are interested in the agricultural industry. We heard on the opening day of Parliament a speech from the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor), who seconded the Address, which showed a keen desire to help the industry of agriculture, and I should like to congratulate the hon. Member upon that speech. Knowing his sympathies and the sympathies of other back benchers, I can but attribute the apparent absence from the King's Speech of any remedy to two things. In the first place, I do not think that the Government or the Minister fully realise the position of arable agriculture to-day, and, secondly, they attach 300 far too great importance to the help of their proposed marketing Bill.
I do not know whether hon. Members realise the lamentable condition of arable agriculture. Unfortunately, I am an arable agriculturist, and the House will realise the position when I inform them that to-day we are selling wheat at 30s., and that, owing to the disastrous harvest and the sunless summer, our yields per acre are down by three-quarters. When hon. Members realise that the labour expense on the production of wheat comes to a figure of something like 90s. per acre they will see the losses which the arable farmer and wheat producer has experienced. Reference has been made to the price the producer gets and the price of bread to the consumer. I am sympathetic with that criticism. In the year 1913 I was selling wheat at 33s. per quarter, and the price of a loaf of bread was 5d. To-day I am selling wheat at 30s. per quarter with the price of a loaf of bread at7½ [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] I feel that it is a shame in that way myself. The wheat producer to-day is undoubtedly losing from £3 to £5 per acre. It may be asked, if wheat does not pay to grow, why continue to grow it? In my opinion, wheat is the pivot of arable agriculture. It is an essential process of agricultural operation that you should have a rotating crop. It is essential that there should be a certain amount of straw for bedding the animals. It is necessary in order to obtain that straw for wheat to be grown, and wheat is a crop in the rotation of arable farming. Also, wheat is the one commodity which we cannot ourselves produce in substance.
It has been said: let the farmer decrease his wheat acreage and increase the acreage of his other arable crops. That is exactly what he has done. Two or three years ago he increased his potato acreage at the expense of his wheat acreage, but the result was that, owing to the increased potato crop, you had a surplus of potatoes in the country. The farmer has tried to grow cauliflowers and brussels sprouts and as quickly brought about over-production. If we can make the cultivation of wheat a paying proposition to the farmers that in itself will help the whole of the arable area, because, if wheat is a paying proposition, the increase of the wheat acreage 301 will be made at the expense of other arable crops. We shall get less potatoes, less carrots, and less broccoli, and the result will be that it will become economically possible for the farmers to grow those products. For these reasons, I ask the Government to consider whether the Marketing Bill is going to help in any way. This is not the time for me to make any criticism of that Bill, but I would ask, even assuming that everything that it is hoped the Bill will do can be done by the Bill, which I doubt, and assuming that the Bill can be practically applied, how is it possible for any Marketing Bill to enable the price of British wheat to exceed the world's price of wheat, which is somewhere about 30s. It is impossible. I suggest that the Bill will not help arable agriculture, wheat production, and on behalf of arable agriculture I appeal to the Government to see if, between now and the time they go out of office, they cannot do something more tangible to make wheat production profitable. There are hon. Members on the back benches opposite who would be only too willing to help the Government to produce some scheme to assist wheat producers in this country.
Another part of the proposed agricultural Measure is the land settlement scheme to increase the number of men upon the land. I have always been a keen supporter of small holdings. Whenever a Small Holdings Bill has come before the House it has had my support, because I consider that the agricultural labourer has rather a hard life and ought to have some hope that in the future he can proceed to satisfy his ideal and become a farmer. It is the allotment and then the small holding that enables the agricultural labourer to step from the position of a labourer to that of a farmer. I have within my knowledge a man who was an employé of an ancestor of mine, who started as an agricultural labourer and finished up by farming 1,000 acres of land, and did it very well. I should be glad to give to every agricultural labourer the opportunity of satisfying that ideal. While I am a supporter of small holdings I must say that, looking at the present position of agriculture, I cannot support a small holdings movement if the occupation of a small holding is going to be a way in which a man may dissipate his savings. I am afraid that, owing to the 302 position of arable agriculture, that is what it means to every man who takes a holding to-day. A small holding to-day, with the present price of arable produce, is a losing proposition, not only to the farmer but to the smallholder.
Hon. Members opposite may argue that the scheme of land settlement and small holdings will help to alleviate unemployment in the large industrial towns and enable the unemployed man in the towns to have an occupation in the cultivation of the land, but I want to assure the Government that the establishment of small holdings is no cure for unemployment. Small holdings are apt to increase unemployment rather than to decrease it. When a man is working on his own land he will work not eight hours but 12 hours, and the man working for himself is usually a little more efficient than when he is working for an employer. Therefore, the number of men employed on 100 acres under small holdings is far less than the number of men who would be employed on a similar plot of land under a large fanner. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"] I will give a practical case. A certain farm of 300 acres which employed in normal circumstances something like 25 permanent men was sold in my county and distributed amongst smallholders. In the middle of the day you would find scarcely a single man working on that land, but if you went in the evening you might find 80 or 100 men working. Therefore, the establishment of small holdings will not decrease the number of unemployed. Small holdings will not provide the means by which the industrial unemployed man can come into the country, unless he displaces some agricultural worker.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I was referring to smallholders. To my mind, anything up to three acres is an allotment.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I prefer to say three acres, but I will take the figure of five acres. Anything under five acres is an allotment, and an allotment can be worked at night in spare time by a man who fills in the other part of the day working for a farmer. Anything between five acres and 20 acres should 303 not be given to a man, because it does not give him full-time employment on his own land, but only part time for the farmer and part time working for himself. An allotment should be under five acres or above 20 acres. There should be nothing between five acres and 20 acres. That is my practical experience of the working of small holdings. I appeal to the Government on behalf of the agricultural interests. We are, in a way, down and out. All over the corn growing districts of England we are unable to see how we can carry on in the future. The assistance which is needed is not something that can be postponed for six months. I doubt whether a great many farmers will be able to carry on until next harvest. It is a matter of immediate assistance. I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not in his place, because I know that we have his sympathy. I appeal to him to let his Marketing Bill come, but not to allow it to stop there, because it will not meet the situation. I ask him to proceed on more substantial lines in order that the great industry of agriculture, and particularly wheat growing, may be profitable in the future.
§ Mr. BEN RILEY
I do not intend to detain the House very long, but I want to refer to one or two principles which are involved in the measures proposed regarding agriculture in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. It has been said that the kernel of the problem in regard to agriculture is contained in the question of prices, that everything is to be summed up in the question of an equitable price for the produce. I want to submit that a low price may not only be remunerative but perfectly equitable, and that it does not necessarily follow that a high price is a remunerative price. I want to congratulate the Government on at long last having got down to some definite proposals with regard to agriculture. For the first time, as I see them embodied in the Marketing Bill, a Government has deliberately faced the question of some Government machinery whereby the producers of essential commodities may assure themselves of an adequate and reasonable price for their products. I do not know how far that principle has been brought out, but as I understand it the Government are 304 going to offer to the farming community statutory machinery under which the producers themselves may, within the general markets, regulate the prices at which their products will be disposed of. That is a perfectly sound principle, not only morally sound but socially sound. It means that every section of producers supplying the community with essential commodities shall have as a recompense the right of an adequate remuneration for their contributions.
That proposal has been generally welcomed on all sides of the House. I welcome it for another reason. The Government, whilst determining to offer statutory means whereby within the general markets the producers may under legal sanction make arrangements as to the disposal of their produce, place the onus of carrying out this principle on the producers themselves. In other words, the Government say to the farmers, "We are going to help you to help yourselves." I have always felt that it has been most stupid on the part of the farmers to demand that someone else should do something for themselves, to be always looking to the Government to solve their problems. The value of the Government's proposal in this connection is this, that the responsibility is to be placed upon the farmers themselves. This piece of statutory machinery is to be placed at their disposal under which, if they have the grit, they will themselves be able to solve their own problems and by co-operation and enterprise, and efficiency, they may carve out their own salvation.
Let me say a few words also with regard to another aspect of the Government proposals in regard to agriculture which have occupied a good deal of space in the discussions already, and that is the question of the extension of land settlement and small holdings. I want to preface my remarks by saying that I do not hold the view that the extension of small holdings is a panacea for unemployment; it is only a contribution. It is uncertain how far it will go, but at any rate it is a contribution in the right direction, and I have marvelled as to why we have been so long in coming to a decision to make this contribution to the reconstruction of rural England. Some wild statements have been made as to our experience in land settlement and small holdings. The 305 first speech to-day from the other side of the House by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) condemned the proposals of the Government to do something to bring the idle unemployed working classes on to the idle land on the ground that past experience has shown that this policy has been an entire failure. The hon. Member who made that statement cannot have acquainted himself with the facts. They are pretty well known and have been emphasised over and over again.
We have had two broad periods of experience in this country with regard to the policy of small holdings. There was the period from 1908 to 1914, when the War broke out. Under the Act of 1908 county councils for the first time were empowered to do something to meet the clamant demand for small holdings on the part of agricultural workers, and under that Act up to 1914 no less than 14,000 smallholders were settled on the land by the county councils of this country. Including their families it meant something like 50,000 people were settled on the land by 1914. And it is worth while remembering that under the Act of 1908 the State found no money for these settlements at all. The smallholder had to find all the costs, and under that scheme, in the case of my own county, the West Riding, the failures from 1908 to 1914 were less than one per cent. of the number settled. And hon. Members opposite representing agricultural constituencies, come to this House and decry our experience in small holdings!
Let us come for a moment to the land settlement scheme of 1919. It has been said that the Act of that year was a very special Act to meet the emergency caused by the needs of soldiers coming back from the War with no occupations to which to go. They had no experience of agriculture. That Act was in operation, not down to 1926 as has been said to-day, because the Government of the time stopped the financial operations of the Act in 1923. Yet in the period from 1919 to 1923 16,000 persons were settled under that 1919 Act, and even in those special circumstances only some 4 per cent. of the cases proved to be failures. I remember a former distinguished Member of this House, the present Lord Irwin, when Minister of Agriculture in 1923 making a statement that under 306 those two Acts of Parliament no fewer than 30,000 families had been settled on the land. That is in our own country. What is the experience abroad? There is not a single country in Europe where small holdings and land settlement are not being extended. Throughout Central Europe since the War every country has developed a policy. Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugo Slavia have extended land settlement on an enormous scale.
The policy that is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech offers the possibility of a great reconstruction of rural England and a redressing of the balance between the town and the country. Out of our population of 44,000,000 only 7 per cent. are working in agriculture, as against 30 per cent. in Germany, 31 per cent. in France, and about 39 per cent. in Denmark. Within our own shores there is the market for the products of extended land settlement. Let me give one or two figures. Last year we imported butter to the value of £54,000,000, or £6,000,000 more than in 1927. Last year we imported £15,000,000 worth of cheese. We imported £17,800,000 worth of eggs, or £1,800,000 worth more than in 1927. We imported £35,000,000 worth of fruit, £3,000,000 worth of vegetables and £43,000,000 worth of bacon. On those six commodities, all of which could be largely produced on small holdings in this country, we spent no less than £168,000,000 for imports. An hon. Friend interposes the word "prices." That is a matter which has to be worked out. I believe that 'the proposals referred to in the Gracious Speech will bring about, if slowly, a substantial alteration in the agricultural situation and will improve the quality and efficiency of the agricultural industry.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
It is very gratifying at last to find in the Gracious Speech such a prominent reference to agriculture, and even more gratifying to find that a day is devoted to a debate of the subject. If I may offer a word of congratulation to the Minister, I would say that I have never seen him happier in this House. He used to ride pillion with bare knees, in a very uncomfortable position, but to-day for the first time I have seen him in the saddle, accelerating, and with his view unobstructed. The sincerity and to some extent the 307 definite good of his proposals will be welcomed in a non-party spirit. But it is not unfair to recall the position of emergency as it exists to-day. It is no doubt right that we should do everything possible to produce in this country the £22,000,000 worth of eggs that we import. But there is at the moment definite and serious agricultural depression. I am a grass farmer in an arable area. In the arable districts agriculture is crumbling. It is necessary, before we can definitely get out of our difficulties, to contract out of the world agricultural depression.
Much that is true and much that is untrue has been said about Russia and about the dumping of produce throughout the world. It may not be the dumping to-day that we are afraid of, but the fact that there are great districts of the world where sudden surpluses are produced and that those surpluses must be put on some part of the world market at an uneconomic price. In actual fact it comes to this island.
The last speaker referred to the smallholdings. I can remember the 1908 Measure producing a meeting of enthusiasts in my own district. A very prominent Liberal politician who was also a farmer, and who had been a. candidate, was asked to support it. He said he would appear on the platform at a meeting if he could say what he liked. When the scheme of small holdings had been lauded on every side he got up and said, "All I can say is that if you give a poor man, poor land you will make him a great deal poorer"—only he did not use the words "a great deal." There are certain districts in this country which are admirably suited for small holdings but there are enormous areas which are not, and there are certain people in this country who are admirably suited for work on smallholdings but a vast majority who—at any rate at present—are not suited for that work either by training or in any other way. Until agriculture is prosperous, until you have "contracted out" of world agricultural depression it is no improvement to put a poor man, or a man with small capital, on the land in very difficult circumstances.
The last speaker mentioned the successful operations of small holding legis- 308 lation from 1908 to 1914. May I remind him that between 1908 and 1914 there was a reasonable return for agricultural produce and a return which did not fluctuate. To-day we are in an entirely different situation.
In the King's Speech the principal place in what I may term the agricultural section is occupied by the marketing proposals. Speaking for myself I think that, excellent as many of those provisions may be in intention, to launch an Agricultural Marketing Bill in the hope that you will save agriculture by doing so, is like a shipwrecked mariner who desires to use the sea for the purposes of communication with the outer world, putting a message in a bottle and floating it on the seas without putting in a cork. The first wave of foreign competition will sink such a scheme at once. If we are to have an Agricultural Marketing Bill it must be-connected not only with the producer but with the consumer in order to ensure that there will be a market for the goods which are produced. Otherwise the organisation set up under a Marketing Bill will only turn into one more middleman between the consumer and the producer. Although I know that many of my farmer friends are against it, I believe it is right to say that if we are to have co-operation at all it must he compulsory. You cannot co-operate without compulsion, but compulsory schemes will be rendered useless unless they are compulsory for the whole of the British Isles. How can you have a compulsory hops scheme in Kent unless the same scheme applies to Worcestershire?
Finally, in an Agricultural Marketing Bill there must be some means of ensuring that the goods which are graded and standardised and placed on the market in the most attractive form are sold: How can that be done unless you are willing to control imports by tariffs or by embargo or unless you are willing to have a subsidy. To my mind, until you become self-supporting you must have same means, not of giving a subsidy to the inefficient, but of giving an assured price for goods of the first quality produced in the most efficient way. If we are to have a compulsory marketing organisation we must see to it that the farmer who can produce the right kind of goods in decent shape at the right 309 moment gets the reward which he deserves. The same thing applies throughout the whole of the agricultural industry and a marketing Bill will not be more than a pious aspiration unless there is some such guarantee that efficiency will be rewarded.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) in his very striking speech yesterday touched on the fact that the home consumer is a great unexploited market. He also touched on the fact that the home consumer being the workman of this country, you cannot reduce wages unless you ensure that the home consumer is going to buy the goods which are produced at home. You are not, by giving him high wages, ensuring that he is going to benefit trade. That is a cold-blooded analysis of the situation. I turn to what has been regarded throughout this debate as the really vital question, namely, what are these proposals going to do for unemployment. We have to regard this question in the light of the possibilities arising from the fact that we must accept the alternative of tariff or embargo or subsidy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Or licence!"] Yes, or licence. What are the prospects which these proposals present of a cure for unemployment in agriculture? I take three branches of the agricultural industry, because they are the most striking and also because they are those in respect of which no reason has been given to show why we should not be economic producers in this country ourselves by the favour of our climate, the skill of our farmers and the fact that our market is at our doors. I refer to dairying, the pig industry and the poultry industry.
I begin with the poultry industry. The hon. Member who spoke last gave some figures about the employment which might be expected on small holdings in connection with poultry industry. If I may do so without assuming any superior learning in the matter, I wish to correct his statement by dealing with the matter in general figures of employment on the land. We are importing in value—giving a rather higher average in hen production in this country than we have to-day—equivalent of 33,000,000 hens production in poultry farming. If you take a reasonable quota of employment for looking after a. given number of hens—I have had some experience of poultry farming 310 myself—you get one man to 500 hens, plus the care of the young chicks and his share of the general work of the farm. That produces the possibility of the employment of 66,000 people on the land, if we are entirely self-sufficing. Moreover, the food that those hens would consume, taking the average egg production as it is to-day, could be grown on an extra 670,000 acres of wheat. Is not that something that is perfectly amazing to think of?
Let us go from that to pigs, and here I have not a personal calculation, but I have the report of the National Pig Industry Council, which states that if we were self-supporting entirely in the pig industry, we should employ 68,000 more men, quite apart from the extra food that they would consume and quite apart again from the fillip to employment in. the milling industry.
I come to dairy products, which are perhaps the most striking of all. There is no reason why we in this country should not produce the whole of the dairy products which we require. If you translate the imports of dairy products into this country in a year into milk, it means—at the equivalent of 600 gallons per cow, which is higher that the average—that 3,500,000 more cows would be required, and that at least 350,000 extra people would be employed. There, again, you get the immense indirect benefit as well to the milling industry and the transport services of the country.
Those figures come to very nearly 500,000 People. Is it not worth, even if it is only a wild dream, to be entirely self-supporting, aiming at and fighting for? It has often been stated that any such scheme will raise the cost of living. It will at any rate save the dole. But if it did raise the cost of living—and it is just. possible it might—at this juncture in the country's history it is time, instead of considering the cost of living, that we began to consider the ability to live at all.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Johnston)
I should like for a few moments to offer an observation or two upon the discussion which has taken place since the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries spoke this afternoon. Many hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition 311 Benches, have raised the question of cereal production, but into that aspect of our problems I cannot enter to-night. Since the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke on the 1st August, at the close of the Session, and announced that wheat growing and wheat importation into this country would be the subject of discussion at the Imperial Conference, and since it is known that that subject is being discussed at the Imperial Conference now, hon. Members will appreciate that it is impossible for anyone on these benches to make any detailed reference to it.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to reply to the discussion in the form which I have prepared. The discussion has centred round two main proposals in the King's Speech, namely, small holdings and marketing, and we have had statements made from all parts of the House that small holdings considered by themselves, are no cure for unemployment. The Minister of Agriculture never said they were, but he has put forward an extension of small holdings under certain conditions as a means of alleviating unemployment.
Let me, first of all, deal with the point that has been raised repeatedly in the Press, and on several occasions here this afternoon, that small holdings in the past have been an economic failure and that they have cost the State a tremendous lot of money. The Public Accounts Committee have recently drawn attention to the fact that there has been a great loss on past small holding schemes. But, in the first place, is it not a fact that these small holding schemes, or many of them, were inaugurated at a time of very high prices, just after the War, and that the Governments of the day were literally compelled, by force of public opinion and by War-time pledges, to find openings on the soil at almost any cost to the country for some of the returned ex-soldiers? Shellshock men, blind men, men with artificial limbs were hurriedly dumped down upon small holding schemes at very considerable expense, and it is absurd to suggest that a hurried war-time experiment of such a nature can be held as any guarantee of what could be secured under a 312 proper small holdings scheme carefully worked out.
The second point that we must consider is this: When we are considering these losses, must we not bear in mind that almost every smallholder who is put down in a holding has included in his capital costs the provision of a house? A house is built for a new holding, but when we build houses in our cities, when they are municipal or county council houses, and, say, engineers are put into them, we never for a moment dream of debiting the capital cost of those new houses to the engineering industry, or to the shipbuilding industry, or to any other industry which may temporarily at any rate employ the persons who go into those houses. It is only when you come to agriculture that the Public Accounts Committee and the Press and most hon. Members in this House pretend to see an enormous loss in small holdings, when in fact these small holdings include also a rehousing policy which otherwise would require to be met from public funds in other directions. Further, may I draw the attention, particularly of the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Agriculture, to the reports that are in our possession as to the economic results of small holdings? Even under the unfortunate conditions which I have just outlined I know of no industry or business in this country today which has shown such a small proportion of failures as our experiments in small holdings. Even in 1919, with our shell-shocked soldiers, the percentage of failures in Scotland, certified by our Department, was 7.2 per cent. In 1920, it was higher, 12.3 per cent.; in 1921, it fell to 10 per cent.; in 1922, it fell to 7.2 per cent.; in 1923, it was 3.2 per cent.; in 1924, it was 2.9 per cent.; in 1925, it was 1.1 per cent.; in 1926, 1.4 per cent.; in 1927, 1.1 per cent., and in the year 1928, the last year for which we have the figures, the percentage of failures was 0.9.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
No, certainly not; each year, on the average for the entire period including even the bad years, the figure of failures is 5.3. Is there any industry or business known to hon. Mem- 313 hers where the proportion of failures has been so small as in these experiments?
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
Will the hon. Gentleman make this clear? Does it mean that each year for 10 years, on the average, 5 per cent, of the original holders have failed?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
No, not at all. It is taking the totality, and we have only had for all these years 5 per cent. of our holders who have turned out failures. [An HON. MEMBER: "Five per cent. per annum?"] It is 5 per cent. of the total numbers placed on the land who have failed. The proportion has decreased, and, if we take the figures for the last year, 1928, the figures have markedly grown less. Let us see how these smallholders are faring and living. What are they doing? The ex-Minister for Agriculture could see no hope whatever, economically, for the nation in small-holding schemes. The Department for Agriculture of Scotland has taken very accurate statistics in its surveys of our departmental estates before and after the creation of small holding schemes. In its 14th annual report I take one group of four large pastoral farms which were converted into small holdings with the following results. Prior to the small holdings there was a total population of 97 upon those farms. In 1925, after four years of the small holdings, the population had risen to 545. The acreage under crops was up by 300 per cent., the number of horses had risen from 22 to 98, dairy cattle had risen from 34 to 228, cattle other than dairy cattle had risen from 405 to 568, sheep had fallen considerably, pigs were up, and poultry had risen from 300 to 1,289. I could give lots of other figures of a similar character.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I have not all the figures, but these are four large pastoral farms converted into small holdings. If the hon. Gentleman would care to have particulars of the farms, they can be very easily obtained and supplied. There was the Nairne Committee of Inquiry, presided over by a banker of the City of 314 London, which went into the economic results of these small holdings. The Nairne Committee, in the appendix to its report, takes five small-holding, schemes and shows that the population had risen 11 per cent., horses 84 per cent., cows 263 per cent., other cattle 32 per cent., ewes 45 per cent., other sheep 63 per cent., pigs 379 per cent. and poultry 229 per cent. In the face of these figures, if they cannot be disputed, what is the sense of hon. Gentlemen saying that there can be no economic prosperity in our countryside as the result of developing the policy of small holdings?
We must do more than merely create small holdings, The small holdings must be created in such a, way as to ensure that the smallholder will get an economic return for his labour. Not only must we increase production, not only must there be more people in the countryside, but those who are there must get a better livelihood than their predecessors. In our small holding schemes in Scotland we have the College of Agriculture keeping the books for some of them. We have their returns, and we see that on one of the holdings near Dumfries one man is shown by the certified audited balance-sheets to have made over £2,000 from 2½ acres used as market gardens during the past 12 years. We have many others who are drawing from £50 to £80 per acre from well-managed poultry farms. The Minister and the Government say that it is not enough simply to dot down small holdings, even on better land with good housing conditions and near markets, unless we can give them facilities for marketing their produce so far as possible free from the taxation and exploitation of the middle-man system. I am sure the Minister is gratified to find that there has been no serious attempt, in any part of the House, to attack the central principle of the Marketing Bill. Some hon. Gentlemen professed to believe that the Bill did not go far enough, while some say it will go too far: and some say they do not agree with the compulsion of the minority. Are you going to continue allowing the minority to compel the majority? That is what you are doing now. It is the minority—the blackleg minority as we call them—who break the price.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I will take up that point. I addressed a meeting of over 1,000 dairy farmers in Glasgow a fortnight ago—men who were making a living from the production of liquid milk. Their price was 1s. 2½d. per gallon. If the milk pool is broken and the liquid surplus allowed to flow, the market price comes right down at once to 10d. a gallon—an unremunerative price—and that at a time when the marketing costs are more for distribution than the producer is getting. This meeting of farmers had a discussion on the Bill, and there was nobody in that meeting of milk producers but who, at the end of the meeting, was heartily enthusiastic for the principles of this Bill and was prepared to back it as it stands, compulsion and all. What is this principle of compulsion? The farmers themselves will form a co-operative organisation for the disposal of their produce—a milk pool—and the Minister will set up a consumers' committee to see that the farmers are not engaged in a ramp upon the consumer. When once a fair and reasonable price is agreed to, and arrangements are made to keep surplus milk from flooding the market, the minority who will not come in will be compelled under the provisions of this Bill to refrain from wrecking the price in that particular section of the agricultural industry.
What is wrong with that? Do hon. Gentlemen opposite agree that the minority should rule? Do they agree that a small handful of producers in any commodity should be allowed to break the price, and keep the whole industry on a starvation level; or do they agree with us that steps should be taken to see that the primary producers of an essential commodity should have an adequate return for the labours they give to the community? We go further. The Government provides £624,000 in its Marketing Bill to enable these co-operative organisations of producers to keep their surpluses off the market. Hon. Gentlemen talk about imports, but the right hon. Gentleman never said a word about the importation of dried and condensed milk from abroad; he never pointed out that in the first eight months of this year nearly 2,000,000 cwts. of dried and condensed milk were imported into this country.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
What we are going to do about it is in the Bill. My right hon. Friend has preached in nearly every market town in the big areas in England what we are going to do about it. We are going to assist the co-operative organisations of producers to keep their surpluses off the liquid milk market, and to set up cooperative creameries and factories where these surpluses will be turned into dried and condensed milk, where that is necessary, for our home markets. What is wrong with that?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
We have spent a lot of time on it. I am Chairman of the Marketing Committee of the Empire Marketing Board, and I know there is only one big chocolate firm in this country which is making its milk chocolate out of British milk. The rest are importing foreign milk with which to make their milk chocolate. The reason given—and I am not saying that it is not a good reason—by some of the other manufacturers is that they cannot make a decent milk chocolate so long as they get their milk in 20 or 30 different standards and grades of quality. It is only when they begin to get a common grade and a standard of milk to suit their machinery and the content of their chocolate that they can begin to use any milk at all. When we come forward with specific proposals and money to set up semi-State co-operative producers' organisation, to inauguarate a new industry in this country, to provide new employment to set up new businesses, and to provide a guaranteed market for an agricultural product, where are the champions of the agricultural interests on the other side of the House to welcome it and to give us some assistance?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Has the hon. Gentleman never read the Bill? The Bill was put into the Vote Office on the 1st August before the Adjournment. Every Member on this side who takes an individual interest in polities—and that is 100 per cent. of them—has read the 317 Bill; the Bill was printed to be read, and, if hon. Members who pretend. to represent agricultural constituencies have never read the Bill, it is time the agricultural constituencies—
§ Sir D. NEWTON
I must protest against the suggestion that we on this side have not read the Bill. We did not appreciate the fact that the Bill guarantees the price or the market, nor do we believe that it does so.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I never said anything of the sort. What I said was that when a substantial majority of the producers of a commodity agree upon a scheme, and can get the secretary of State in the case of Scotland, and the Minister of Agriculture in the case of England, to agree to a scheme, after it has been examined by a consumers' committee, then compulsion will be put upon the minority so that the price will not be broken. The milk producers, at any rate, in the West of Scotland and the National Farmers' Union Executive in Scotland have unanimously confessed that the sooner this Bill is on the Statute Book, the sooner there is a chance for the producers of one of the most essential commodities in the world to get a decent livelihood in return for their labours. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Chinese eggs?"] It is not hon. Members on this side of the House who are in favour of the system which imports from China one egg in every 12 that we eat in the shell. None of our wives, mothers and sisters ever went into a shop and asked for a Chinese egg either. One egg in every 12 that we eat is eaten by us under false pretences, and some swindling middleman and representative of a fraudulent capitalist system enjoys an extra profit at our expense.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The right hon. Gentleman knows that that intervention is unjustified. I was in charge of the Labour party upstairs when the Bill was before Committee, and helped the right hon. Gentleman to get it through at a time when he got mixed up with the cold storage people and had to amend his Bill. I am sorry if I have imported any heat into this discussion, but I do hope there 318 will be some heat engendered in the struggle in the Committee stages. The agricultural industry is not one industry but 50 industries, and remedies for one section of it will fail as regards other sections. The Government do not pretend that the remedies foreshadowed in the King's Speech will be sufficient to deal with every aspect of this far-flung industry, but we do expect that these great comprehensive proposals for organised marketing, which for the first time will give the producers themselves a chance to organise their own livelihood on an economic basis, will be taken seriously and will be supported enthusiastically by the producers, and not treated in the niggling, higgling fashion which some hon. Members opposite have adopted in dealing with them this afternoon.
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
It would be presumptuous on my part to pretend that I am in any way qualified to carry on the Debate on agriculture, and therefore I make no apology for turning the attention of the House for a moment to the general programme of the Government as laid down in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and in particular to one or two industrial aspects of that Speech. We have had two days in which to consider the programme, and consideration of it and the speeches we have heard from all parts of the House have only confirmed our initial belief that it is in every respect inadequate to deal with the extremely serious situation confronting the country. The King's Speech of 16 months ago stated that the Labour party had plans to deal effectively with the problem of unemployment. The determination to bring forward plans has now been whittled down toMy Government will persist in its efforts to develop and extend … trade and to help in measures which will lead to greater efficiency in industry.It would appear, when one gets into the House of Commons, that there is a certain atmosphere of unreality in dealing with problems which we have to face in our business life. The great industrial problem of how to rationalise and reorganise our basic industries seems to have been evaded. Anxious as I am concerning all our basic industries I am particularly anxious in regard to the cotton trade, which has the responsibility of providing a livelihood for 319 2,000,000 people, and I should be very grateful if the representative of the Government who proposes to reply would indicate what measures of help for the cotton trade are to be put forward in the legislation which the Government hope to introduce this Session.
There is no more alarming example of the extraordinary discrepancy between the promises of the Labour party and their actual performances than that which is afforded by the cotton trade. For over 12 months the whole of the economic and natural developments of the industry have been held up by the inquiry which was taking place. It is true that that inquiry was promised at the last election. Throughout the whole of the country speeches were made indicating that if the Labour party were returned to power they would have such a thorough-going inquiry that they would be able to propound remedies which would help the trade. Bad as the situation was when the committee of inquiry started to take evidence, it is infinitely worse now. In the 12 months between August of last year and August of this year, while the evidence was being taken, our exports of cotton yarns have been reduced by approximately one-third and our cotton cloth exports by nearly one-half. Where we had two men unemployed then we now have three, and where we had one woman unemployed we now have two women unemployed.
One might not be so perturbed about the situation if one could feel that the inquiry, and the policy of the Government based on that inquiry, showed some possibility of bringing an improvement to the industry, but it appears to me, and I speak with a very close knowledge of the industry, that neither the inquiry itself nor the policy which is being based upon it will do the slightest good to the industry, and if there is not a change very grievous harm will result. I hope we shall have a really full debate with regard to the cotton inquiry itself, and therefore I do not propose to enter now on any detailed examination of the recommendations of the Committee. Everything that they recommended was perfectly well known to the industry before the inquiry began. They have said nothing new, they have proposed no certain remedy. Their report is a collection of innocuous industrial aphorisms, 320 a symposium of copybook maxims, and if they do make certain practical suggestions those suggestions fail, excellent though they may be in intention, because there is no suggestion of how they shall he carried into effect.
Minor ways in which the trade might be helped are magnified into real remedies. There is inaccuracy of emphasis. Recommendations are made in favour of the increased use of Indian cotton. Within a restricted sphere it is possible to use Indian cotton, but it is a very restricted sphere, and if the suggestions of the Committee were applied in a wholesale way over the whole of the trade we should be infinitely worse off than we are now. We have lost many markets. If we were to use Indian cotton in a wholesale way, not only should we lose markets, but we should lose our reputation for quality, the one thing we still have left—our reputation for making the best cotton goods in the world. That is a reputation we cannot afford to lose.
With regard to the proposals relating to automatic and semi-automatic looms, they are also restricted avenues which can help, but they are not means whereby the trade can be brought back to prosperity. The real deficiency in Lancashire is not in technical equipment, but industrial organisation. As far as my information goes, there are no practical suggestions whereby this new organisation can be brought into being. It is true that the cotton report suggests some measures of amalgamation, and, after all, amalgamation must be the basis on which the industry can be assisted. As regards the large-scale measures, it is not told how they are to be brought into existence. On the question of finance, how are you to provide finance for the reconstruction connected with these various changes? The Government produce a formula of ambiguous words which does not indicate to the trade how in fact it is to be accomplished or how the finance is to be brought forward.
In considering any amalgamation in the cotton trade the House should bear in mind three facts, two of which are indicated in the cotton report. One of them, for reasons which I cannot understand, is not even mentioned, and I will deal with the unrecorded fact first. Any 321 comprehensive scheme of amalgamation in the Lancashire cotton trade must first of all apply to the whole industry and involve the calling up of all uncalled capital. I do not think that will be contradicted by any person who has studied this question. If you amalgamate the industry you must call up more capital, and you will have to produce from Lancashire at least £15,000,000. That fact should be borne in mind when one considers the report of the Committee, which says:Admittedly further capital on a large scale cannot be found, in present circumstances from the cotton industry or the people of Lancashire, who in the past have invested largely in the industry.In the light of that fact the Cotton Report proceeds to state that outside finance must be forthcoming, and it says:In view of the bad trade of recent years, it would not Be possible at the present time for existing concerns in the spinning and manufacturing sections, and especially in the former, to obtain capital for a public issue.10.0 p.m.
The report goes on to indicate that:The recently formed Bankers' Industrial Development Company, Limited, has for its Objects the consideration of such schemes submitted by industry and the giving of advice and of assistance in putting them into an acceptable form. The company has already announced that, in the ease of schemes which may be approved, arrangements will be made for the provision one way or another and through existing agencies of such monies as may seem to be essential.The suggestion there is that the bankers in the Bankers' Industrial Development Company, with the approval of the companies, will find new capital, advanced under proper safeguards, for the assistance and reconstruction of the Lancashire cotton trade. That case seems on paper to be nearly complete, but in practice it is woefully incomplete. In my view, the Bankers' Industrial Development Company is actuated by principles other than the mere safeguarding of the investments which are proposed. The Bankers' Industrial Development Company is not impartial, and acts, not as a means of accelerating the free flow of finance, but as a means of hindering that flow. If that is so, the country must admit that the whole scheme breaks down, and that the policy which is now in course of 322 operation is going to result in complete chaos.
I want to make three definite submissions, and I do so from a close and intimate knowledge of the Bankers' Industrial Development Company. This Company is not going forward merely in the capacity of safeguarding the investor, and there are considerations other than the mere consideration of whether or not it is a good investment. In the second place, I submit that the Bankers' Industrial Development Company is not impartial; and, thirdly, I submit that it is acting to prevent Lancashire getting in touch with a further supply of outside capital. Naturally, I shall be expected to give some reason for these three suggestions. It will be within the knowledge of those Members who have been following this question of the provision of finance in industrial reconstruction that the Bankers' Industrial Development Company have laid down a rule that no new capital should be used to replace old capital, and you can only use any new capital brought into the industry if it purposes to be spent in re-equipment, or in the formation of increased working capital. I make the definite suggest that that rule is one which in practice will work out to the very great disadvantage of the cotton industry or any other industry to which it is applied.
It may be that you have a group of mills, modern, efficient mills, which, by reason of a large amount of financial overhead charges, are unable to carry on. If you can utilise a small proportion of new capital in order to write down that financial overhead charge, you can amalgamate those mills together, and can proceed with the rationalisation of your industry; but, under the rule of the Bankers' Industrial Development Company, you are not allowed to use that new capital for the purpose of writing down old capital and replacing it in any proportion in the form of cash. But you might go to them and require from them precisely the same amount of money which would be used to endeavour to bring old-fashioned concerns up to date, and you would find that the money which was refused under the one head, and which would be a perfectly sound investment under that head, would be given to you in order to increase 323 the internal competition by making old-fashioned mills a little bit better equipped than they were; and that amount of money, which would be an unsafe investment, would be approved by the Bankers' Industrial Development Company, whereas the safe investment in new mills would be entirely ruled out because a proportion of it was to go in some form or other in replacing old capital.
I submit, therefore, on my first heading, that they are actuated by rules which are not simply rules as to whether or not the new money which is to be forthcoming is or is not a good investment. They have made for themselves an artificial, empirical ruling, merely because by so doing they will get hold of mills, as they consider, cheaply. Because, invariably, the cheap mills are old-fashioned mills, you start your rationalisation process through the inefficient units instead of doing what you ought to do, that efficient to say, rationalising through the efficient, and, if you have to concentrate your production, closing down the inefficient. It is an astonishing fact that at the present time old mills are being started up in Lancashire, mills which even in profitable times have not been able to make money, and modern efficient mills are closing down. To quote the words of the statement of the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners which was submitted to the President of the Board of Trade and the Home Secretary on Wednesday last, they say:We do not believe that it is either desirable or just that the only companies qualified for financial assistance should be the financially bankrupt. The present policy means forcing the rationalisation of the industry through the unfit. The fit are, therefore, precluded from taking a hand. Is it to be wondered at that progress towards rationalisation is slow, that the Bankers' industrial Development Company's policy has made reconstruction and bankruptcy practically synonymous terms?That is my first point of criticism—that they are introducing an arbitrary criterion apart from the criterion of whether or not the new money would be a safe investment. My second criticism is that they are not impartial. Quite clearly, if the Bankers' Industrial 324 Development Company are to fulfil their function as a means whereby the City and the industry can be brought into touch with each other, they ought to be impartial. The Bankers' Industrial Development Company are the same people in essence as the Securities Management Trust, and the Securities Management Trust have already made an experiment in Lancashire—they have made an investment in Lancashire in the form of the Lancashire Cotton Corporation; and and it is only natural, when the industry is forced to go to this organisation when it requires money for amalgamation, that the people who consider those applications consider the repercussion which the suggested scheme would have on the investment which they have already made. In point of fact the Lancashire Cotton Corporation does consist of a collection of units which were bankrupt financially. There is no reason why such an association of units should not form a very useful collection in the process of amalgamation and in the process of industrial reconstruction; but it must be obvious that, if the people who are responsible for that particular experiment are to be the judges as to whether any other experiment should take place, their judgment is vitiated, and, as I say, they are not impartial.
My third criticism is that in point of fact the Bankers' Industrial Development Company are preventing the access of the industry to the City of London. I say that within my own knowledge it is impossible for efficient concerns to go to the many financial houses which exist in the City of London and discuss with them now any questions of cotton finance. The answer that they get straight away is, "The Bankers' Industrial Development Company are dealing with that; you must go there"; and schemes which in their essence these outside bodies would approve of, and have approved of, are turned down by the Bankers' Industrial Development Company, because their first criterion, the first point that occurs to them, the first factor which is in their minds, is the necessity of safeguarding their own prior investment, namely, the Lancashire Cotton Corporation.
If these submissions which I have made to the House are accurate, and they have not, so far as I know, been either con- 325 troverted or contradicted in any quarter, a terribly grave situation has arisen. We are endeavouring to rationalise the Lancashire cotton trade. We are endeavouring to provide this great industry with a new and better organisation. The key to the whole matter is the provision of finance. Lord Colwyn, who, after all, is a banker, discussing this matter, suggested that the great difficulty of the reorganisation of Lancashire would be this matter of adequate finance, and he went so far as to suggest that he did not think there was enough money in the country available. I do not associate myself with that view, but I do say that you have to provide Lancashire with some money, because otherwise you will not be able to bring about the rationalisation of Lancashire unless it be by excluding efficient concerns, and such a step nobody in this House would be willing to undertake. What is happening as the result of this inquiry, and of the putting in of the Bankers' Industrial Development Company as the arbiter of finance, is that you are merely-increasing the internal competition, and are doing nothing at all to enhance Lancashire's competitive power, which is the important thing. Along that road lies ruin and poverty for all the people in the trade.
I want to make what I consider a practical and helpful suggestion. I suggest that the Government should set up a new body to consider the relationship between finance and industry, particularly in respect to the cotton trade. I suggest that that new body should contain representatives of the joint stock banks and of the industry, and possibly representatives of the Government. It should be an impartial body. It should not be a body that has already committed' itself to a policy. It should not be a body like the Bankers Industrial Development Company. I believe if the Government were to set up such a body, which it could quite easily do in a couple of days, and if on it there were people who had industrial knowledge and industrial goodwill and knowledge of the finance of the industry, it would arrive at recommendations which would be practical and effective and helpful. I appeal to the Government very seriously to consider that proposition.
The Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade know, without my making this speech, that the 326 whole of Lancashire is dissatisfied with the position. Rationalisation is not going forward. The whole business is being held up. The case I am putting forward is not one of personal opinion. Of all the business people that I meet in Lancashire, not one is satisfied with the situation in respect of the provision of finance. It would be in my view to the advantage and the credit of the Government if such an impartial body were set up. It is not an easy task for a person like myself, engaged in business, to have to make speeches, which may be misconstrued, of criticism of large institutions like the Bank of England and the Bankers Industrial Development Company. In making the criticisms I do, I do not in any way suggest that they are not actuated by the highest possible motives, but in my view their policy is wrong and, because I believe it to be wrong, it is my duty to lay the facts before the House of Commons and the country and to do my best in the interests of the industry to see, if possible, that that policy shall be altered and brought more into line with the industrial requirements of the industry and the country. This is not a personal matter. It is a matter involving public policy and involving the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of our fellow-countrymen. Unless some method of impartial judgment is brought to bear on the problem, unless the Government make some announcement that is going to be helpful, all the minor items included in the King's Speech will fall into insignificance in comparison with their failure to deal with this most pressing problem of the Lancashire cotton trade.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
I should like to corroborate the very informative speech that has just been made, because the cotton industry is in an extremely precarious position. I should like V challenge the Government for the inefficiency with which they have dealt with the subject. During the last Election it was the declared policy of the Socialist party, if returned to power, to make inquiry into the difficulties of the cotton trade and to exert themselves to remove those difficulties in the shortest possible time. When they were returned to power they formed a Committee which sat, I believe, for about 12 months under various chairmen, owing to the exigencies of public life, and at the end of that 327 time the Committee issued a report which told the Lancashire cotton trade nothing that they did not know 12 months before. Though the Government have been pressed by Members of cotton constituencies time and time again, and asked what they were going to do, they have replied the whole time, "We are watching the situation. We are in touch with all the departments of the trade, and we are going to see that something is done."
Before the House rose for the Recess, I tried by question to obtain definite information from the Government as to how long they proposed to allow the cotton trade to examine the cotton report before action was taken. I could get no definite reply except that the Government would continue to bear the situation in mind, and now, last week, we found two of the principal Members of the Government, the Home Secretary, who was intimately acquainted with the cotton trade, and the President of the Board of Trade going to Manchester and meeting representatives of the trade who gave them all the information within their possession, who laid all their cards on the table to show the Government the tremendous difficulties under which they are contending, and yet the only answer they can get from the Home Secretary is, "Well, you must get out of the mess yourselves. We are looking at the matter very carefully, we are very sympathetic, but, still, the Government can do nothing except keep this benevolent watch over your affairs and wish you the best of luck." That is not good enough for Lancashire. The Government of this country are vitally concerned with the welfare of our biggest export trade, a trade which is concerned with the life of 500,000 people. We find week after week that these decent hard-working Lancashire men and women, who are so keenly anxious to work, are unable to get work, and the Government sit quietly by hoping for the best and actually doing nothing.
It might be said that Lancashire has brought the trouble upon itself, and having done so it must bear the burden, but I would ask the House to remember that one very important cause of the decline of our export trade was the alteration in our monetary policy. I remember 328 when the question of the return to the gold standard was being discussed in this House, Lord Melchett—Sir Alfred Mond as he was then—speaking from the benches opposite, and warning the Government and the country that if they returned to the gold standard it would be at the cost of the export trade and that in his opinion that cost would be at least 10 per cent. The question of the monetary policy of the country is a matter for the Government to decide, but surely it is hardly fair that when this 10 per cent. duty has been put upon the cotton trade, they should be asked to get out of the trouble themselves. It was not their fault, and they had to suffer.
You might say that Lancashire through financial gambling, if you like, or optimism was partly responsible for the trouble. But I would again ask the House to remember that during all those reconstructions at that time it was all done by the use of money lent by the banks. The banks are busy institutions. and they are careful financiers, and the very fact that they had undertaken to lend the mills this money showed that they had a certain confidence in the mills in regarding the money as an investment, and not as an excessive gamble. The serious point is, that the Lancashire cotton operatives, thrifty, careful and industrious, had constantly put their money into the mills. The money which they had saved had gone into the mills as they liked to put their money where they could see the chimney. What has been the result? Their whole life savings have gone. Many of these poor people are hopelessly in debt, and are paying the calls of the mills out of the very little money they have left or even out of the dole, and yet the Government sit down helpless and say, "We are very sorry. We have every sympathy for you, but we can do nothing to help you. You must get out of the mess yourself."
I would appeal to the Government and the Prime Minister, who I am glad to see on the Front Bench to-night, because I would ask him to understand that the position in Lancashire is appalling. I am not concerned with the wealthy men, the financiers; I am concerned with these poor working men and women who are out of work through no fault of their own, and have lost every penny they had 329 in the world, and are hopelessly in debt and unable to meet future calls of the mills. Cannot the Government do something to help them? What are the Government for? They are here to look after the interests of the people of this country. If they say: "All that we can do is to recommend you to the Bank of England or to the Bankers' Industrial Court," it is absolutely futile. They talk about the Lancashire Cotton Corporation. One does not like discussing matters too freely, but this Corporation is simply forcing itself upon Lancashire. Not a single mill has gone into that Corporation of its own free will. They have been forced in by the banks when they have become bankrupt, and the result is that the mills the Corporation are getting are the old mills, I will not say the derelict mills, but mills that are uneconomically worked. If what I hear is correct, if an accurate account were given of the work of the Cotton Corporation from its inception up to the present time, the investing public would have a shock. I am very doubtful when we have an organisation like the Cotton Corporation finding it necessary to boost itself in the Press. I am always suspicious of that sort of thing.
A few weeks ago one read in the Press that the Cotton Corporation were advancing, that everything was doing very nicely, and that they were going to open three new mills. When I read that, I thought that it was hopeful. I was very pleased to think that three mills were going to be opened, because it meant good news for Lancashire, but when I went up to Lancashire the following week I heard that for the three mills that were opened they closed another mill which was larger than the three put together. That fact was not published in the Press. Therefore, it created a false impression in the country. It showed that the Corporation were having to boost themselves by false advertising, in order to make out that a certain amount of progress and prosperity had been achieved. What sort of progress is it when they started three smaller and less efficient mills than the mill which they closed
Is that what the Government want? Are they going to wait until Lancashire is forced into bankruptcy, until the Lancashire Cotton Corporation have got a certain number of spindles, bought at 330 bankrupt prices, and therefore with no overhead charges? Then w hat are hey going to do? They are simply going to amalgamate this huge concern, with practically no overhead charges, or with very small overhead charges, and they will undercut by cut-throat competition the mills that are struggling along, and will eventually draw them into the maelstrom. The result will be that we shall have cutthroat competition between the Corporation, who have bought their mills at rock bottom, scrap prices, and the modern mills, perhaps financially embarrassed, anxious to get money, and then we shah have the whole thing brought to perdition. Is that what the Government want? Are they going to sit quietly and to watch Lancashire get into that condition, or are they going to recognise that they are here as the custodians of this country and that part of the trouble in the Lancashire cotton trade is not due to Lancashire, but to the monetary policy of the Government? [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Government?"] The Conservative Government, because of the return to the gold standard. There are certain advantages about the return to the gold standard. It was a question of weighing the advantages and the disadvantages. There can be no doubt that the return to the gold standard has been of immense advantage to certain sections of the community, but Lancashire is suffering, and it is not fair that Lancashire should have to suffer and to carry the burden of the whole country.
It is the duty of the Government to look at the matter from that point of view and to realise the position of the people who are out of work through no fault of their own, instead of sitting quietly and comfortably on the Front Bench, full of sympathy, anxious that the people should do well but doing nothing to help them, and saying: "You are in the mess and you must get out of it as best you can. If you do not get out, we shall apply the spur." They do not want the spur, what they want is finance. If they can get the finance there will be no trouble. Cannot the Members of the Government do something to impart confidence to the cotton trade? Cannot they say: "It is a basic trade of this country. It is our principal export trade. It is the livelihood of at least 500,000 people. We think the cotton 331 trade will come back again, and we are prepared to guarantee a certain amount to get it out of its difficulties."
We can give subsidies to coal and sugar-beet, why cannot we help the cotton trade which is just as important as either of them? If the Government would only show that they have confidence in the future and would guarantee a loan in order to improve the export trade, I do not believe that they would have to find one penny piece of the money. The fact that the Government were behind the cotton trade would put new life into the industry. People would regain confidence and the industry would be able to turn the corner. The Prime Minister can do something, if he will; he has the power. All hon. Members are keenly and vitally interested in the work of these people, and surely this is a very little thing to do. We can find over £100,000,000 to make roads, which is not going to help unemployment in the least. The root cause of our unemployment is the condition of our export trade, and here we have one of our principal export trades. Why cannot the Government guarantee a loan for a certain amount in order to help it out of its difficulties? Once financial confidence is established the banks would find the money if they knew that the Government was behind the industry; and it would save the export trade. The Prime Minister smiles at this; he may think my suggestions are ridiculous. They may be; but this is a very easy way out of the difficulty. It is much easier to find some millions of money to help the cotton trade out of its difficulty than it is to find £100,000,000 for building roads, and our roads at the moment are the best in the world.
I do not cast any blame, all I want to do is to arouse in the minds of the Government the necessity for not quietly sitting down and waiting for Lancashire to get out of her own troubles herself but to come along with a helping hand and do the best they can to help her out of her difficulties. This is not a party matter. I have no feeling as to where the assistance comes from, whether it is from the Conservative party or the Socialist party. All I want is that something shall be done to, help Lancashire. I hope the Prime Minister will really concern him- 332 self with what is a very vital question causing intense feeling amongst the working people of Lancashire, who are beginning to wonder whether they are ever going to work again, whether there is ever going to be any improvement in the cotton trade and whether the Socialist Government are really going to carry out their pledges. I appeal to the Prime Minister to give this matter his earnest attention and not leave it to the rest of his Cabinet but to see for himself that something is actually done.
§ Mr. KELLY
I had not intended to take part in this discussion and should not have done so but for the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies). I feet compelled to ask what the hon. Member really desires. He speaks of the Government as having promised to undertake the conduct of the cotton industry of this country. He asks that we should hand it over to the banks and allow the banks to have further control of the industry. If that is not intended I should like to know what the hon. Member really has in mind. The cotton industry has been suffering for a number of years, so long in fact that the patience of the cotton operatives under low wages, short time and unemployment has become almost a vice.
I have been concerned for a considerable time in an endeavour to help these people out of their difficulties. But the difficulties into which the industry has got are not due to any action by the party on this side of the House. The hon. Member who has just spoken asked, "What is the Government going to do"? He said that the Government was responsible. It was only when, by interjection, he was asked who was responsible for the monetary position, that he admitted that his own party, while he sat in this House and with the assistance of Lord Melchett, was responsible for the alteration of the monetary system which has had its effect upon Lancashire. The hon. Member made an appeal to the Government for assistance. If he feels that the Government should come to the rescue of the cotton industry he might at least go a stage further and realise that it is time, with regard to industries in this country, and particularly where capitalism has failed to conduct industries pro- 333 perly, that we and the operatives were enabled to play that part which is not presented to them to-day.
I ask this of the Government. What is being done? Have they any report from the cotton industry as to what is being done to obtain knowledge regarding the demand for cotton products in the different countries of the world? Do the reports show that every effort is being made by those who are concerned with the distribution of cotton products for the satisfying of the demands that must exist in many countries of the world? I am not prepared to accept the view expressed by some people that the world has been supplied with all the textile products that will be needed for some time to come. I am sure that there is a demand for textile goods. There is one thing in which I agree with the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley). He complained that there was some discrimination by this financial securities company. I am sorry that the financial position was handed over to any private interest, even to the Bank of England. I think it is wrong at any time to hand over the finances of an industry to private banks. The banks of the country have done so much harm to the cotton industry that really they cannot be trusted to deal with the industry in a way that will be to the advantage of the industry either on the managing or the operative side. If the hon. Member knows of this discrimination why has he not raised it with the Department concerned? Why has he not pointed out to the Board of Trade that there is a discrimination which prevents him, as a cotton spinner and others in the same line, from going ahead?
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
The hon. Member asks me why I have not made representations to the Board of Trade on this subject. The answer is that I have done so.
§ Mr. KELLY
If the hon. Member has not obtained satisfaction in that direction, then he certainly has a case, but he did not say that in the course of his speech. He pointed out that money would only be given for new machinery and for improvements, and that it would not be given to replace old capital. I do not quite know what he means by replacement of old capital. If he is asking that 334 this corporation should find new money to replace money which might have been badly used, there may be some case against it. I do not know, because the details have not been given to us, but I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade might let us know what his Department feel in reference to the cotton industry having failed to combine its various sections of spinning, of weaving, of finishing, of marketing. Each of these sections has in the past endeavoured to secure to itself a handsome return, instead of treating all sections as parts of the industry, If there is any chance of such a combination coming about, it will enable the cotton industry to conduct itself in a way which will be of advantage to those with whom I am greatly concerned, namely, those who rely upon that industry for their wages. One thing certain has come out of this Debate. It has proved to the hilt everything that we on these benches have said with regard to the private conduct of industry. It has shown how they have failed when they come up against a situation like this, and how they have to appeal to the whole community, to the Government as representing the community, to help them to conduct their industry. If they have to do that, I suggest to the Board of Trade that the time has come for that Department to consider if it can find some means of helping the industry out, of its difficulties, but at the same time of securing control for the people of the country.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. W. R. Smith)
The hon. Member who opened this discussion said it was not his intention to develop a full debate on the whole problem of cotton, but I am afraid the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. A. V. Davies) rather endeavoured to develop a debate upon those lines. I am sure he will not be surprised if I find myself unable, to-night, both in the matter of the information at my disposal, and also from the point of view of time, to attempt anything in the nature of a reply to the many points which he raised. There is one feature which has emerged from the speeches to-night. It is that this amounts to nothing more or less than a hopeless confession of failure as far as private enterprise in the cotton industry 335 is concerned. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then I am at a loss to understand what other explanation there is for this situation. It has not been because of Government interference. The industry has been pursuing its own course for years. It pursued a certain policy in the years of the War, and the years which immediately followed, and the result has been that a terrible condition has followed from those operations.
Now it seems that from the benches opposite, which are always so ready to criticise any proposals that may be made from this side in the nature of Government interference or control, we are having these very fervent pleas that the Government shall step in and, in a very short period of time, attempt to put right many years' accumulation of a policy that has been so disastrous to Lancashire. Of course, it is impossible to do it. I would like to say, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly), that there have been inquiries into the question of the selling of cotton goods, and they have resulted in the discovery that the whole situation is most involved and complex. All that it is possible to do following those inquiries is to endeavour to convey to the industry as far as possible the information that has been obtained, in order that they, by consultation among themselves, may be able to evolve a policy that will be adequate for the situation.
Criticism has been levelled against the Government for lack of action in regard to this matter, and mention was made by the hon. Member who opened the discussion that a promise was made during the election that an inquiry would be resorted to. I do not think he can accuse us of any broken pledge there. The inquiry was set up almost at once, as soon as the Government came into office. It was very exhaustive in its nature, and although it may be true that the report when issued did not convey anything new to those connected with the industry, it was generally recognised that the report was very valuable and that it brought to light certain facts in relation to the situation which permitted of a view being taken of this problem that otherwise would not have been possible.
336 I think one can also say that the Government have made a real attempt to get the full and proper consideration of that report which the report itself warranted. Soon after it was published, the chairman of that Committee, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, went down and met different representatives of the industry to discuss the report with them, and to see how far its recommendations or the facts that it had brought to light or laid bare could be used as a means of bringing a greater amount of prosperity into the industry. The industry was given a chance to develop a policy in the direction that the report indicated.
I am reminded by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that those representing the industry at that time asked for some measure of time for consideration of that report, in order that they might understand it in all its implications. Surely the Government cannot be blamed because they have given the industry time for that full consideration. Further, because the Government were not satisfied that everything was being done that might be done, and to see that the report was being examined and dealt with as expeditiously as it ought to be, quite recently my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Home Secretary have been to Lancashire further to discuss this question and to see how far it is possible to get something done which will be helpful in these very difficult circumstances. It is difficult to see what more a Government could do in that direction, especially when the industry itself asked for time to examine the report in order to determine its policy.
Something even more than that has been done, because while this inquiry was going on, it is only fair to say that the then Lord Privy Seal was approached, and I think it was conveyed to him that if reorganisation of the cotton industry was to take place, it was necessary that some financial help should be provided. That problem was examined, and as a result, even before the committee had made its report, the then Lord Privy Seal was able to announce to Lancashire that he had been successful in persuading the bankers to develop some scheme whereby financial help could be given. Whether that policy has suc- 337 ceeded I suppose will be largely a matter of opinion, but I want to say that even if it has not succeeded in the way that my hon. Friend thought it ought to do, at least it has proceeded upon lines of very careful examination; and if money had been guaranteed by the Government, as the hon. Member suggested, there would still have to be very careful examination of all the facts on the merits of the case before anything in the nature of money could be provided to aid any firm or group of firms to reorganise their industry.
What has happened? As I understand it, objection is taken to certain decisions of the Bankers' Industrial Development Company. My hon. Friends ay they have laid down certain conditions. I do not think it is correct to say that in the beginning they laid down any conditions at all apart from the fact that they would have to be convinced that the advancing of money would facilitate the development of industry and production on lines which would give some guarantee of success. I think the lines on which the Company has proceeded under the arrangements of the late Lord Privy Seal are very fair and adequate. Not only was the Company established, and £6,000,000 provided as a fund from which assistance could be given where it was needed, but also other gentlemen were appointed to act as advisers to that Company in regard to the merits of any scheme which might be submitted to them for consideration. I do not see how much more could be done if the money had been offered from any other source. It has been suggested that the Government should do it, but even if the Government were able and ready to provide a fund out of which assistance could be given, they must, by the very nature of things, make the most careful examintion of any scheme put before them. I have not the slightest doubt that there would be the same difference of opinion as to whether they were right in the conclusions and judgment in any decision come to in regard to in any particular scheme.
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
I am afraid I did not make myself clear, because the hon. Gentleman is not answering in the least the case I put forward. The case is that the Government had set up the Bankers Industrial Development Corporation as a means whereby the State 338 could be brought into touch with industry. They abrogated their functions to this body and I am making criticisms in respect of the way in which that body is performing that function. The hon. Gentleman has not answered that point at all. Not one penny of the so-called £6,000,000 that has been set aside has come in the direction of Lancashire, apart from a previously created company, namely, the Lancashire Cotton Corporation, set up two years ago.
§ Mr. SMITH
I do not think the Government have ever made any promise or pledge that they would provide money for this purpose. What has been done was done by the late Lord Privy Seal who negotiated with the bankers in the City to see if they would come forward with some plan whereby finances could be provided, but, obviously, when it comes to a grant of money the hon. Gentleman himself, if he were one of the bankers responsible for the administration or granting of any such sum, would have to examine schemes on their merits and if on the merits they are not satisfied that the industry itself is moving on lines that warrant finance being given, obviously there will be a difficulty from that point of view. I do not know what has taken place. He says no grants have been made, but I am informed that the refusal, in so far as there have been refusals, is to advance money where that money is expected to be used to liquidate debts or pay off creditors attached to the business, to which the money is being granted.
That opens up a very difficult subject and I do not think it could be expected that the Corporation would advance money for that purpose, nor indeed could the Government if placed in a similar position as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. As to the suggestion about some further consideration being given, all I can say is that if the industry itself, as the result of these inquiries and investigations, puts up any suggestion of that character, I am not prepared to say it will not receive adequate and fair consideration. I can only repeat that any suggestion or proposal that comes forward will have to be considered strictly on its merits; and, if on full examination, it is found that the industry is not taking steps that are considered essential and necessary for its 339 organisation, I am afraid that little or nothing can be done so far as any grants are concerned.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put and agreed to.—[Captain Wallace.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.