§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ Viscount WOLMER
If the Amendment had been carried, we should have had a little more time to deal with some very important questions. I must apologise to the House for taking up its time, but my reason, for doing so is that we get very few opportunities for a general debate on the agricultural problem, apart from the Bills introduced by the Minister of Agriculture. The distress among farmers, especially in the Eastern Counties, is so great at the present moment that I am certain the House will not grudge the Opposition giving some consideration to this matter in order to ascertain from the Government what is their policy to deal with the terrible distress and crisis which prevails at the present moment.
2428 I am not going to remind hon. Members opposite of their election pledges, but I want to call attention to what has happened during the time the present Government has been in office. The crisis which I refer to has occurred during the last two years, and it is entirely due to the sudden collapse of prices which has taken place. That has been recognised in a statement made by the Prime Minister. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not present in order to deal with this matter himself, and we should have liked to have had an opportunity of tackling him on this subject. The Prime Minister said last year that the immediate problem in agriculture is that our markets are being flooded by various kinds of agricultural produce under conditions which deprive our farmers of fairness.
I should like to say, on behalf of hon. Members on this side, that we agree with the Prime Minister's diagnosis of the situation, and we believe that that is the root trouble with agriculture at the present moment. I will now refer to the policy which the Government announced last August for dealing with this matter. When the Prime Minister was temporarily absent, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made this solemn pronouncement of agricultural policy on behalf of the Government;The critical position of cereal farmers demands the earliest possible attention.2429 Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:As soon as the conclusions of the Imperial Conference are known the Government will take whatever practical steps can be devised to put cereal growing in this country on an economical foundation.The results of the Imperial Conference were known last November. They were not very great, but I think we are entitled to ask the Government now what they propose to do to put cereal growing on an economic foundation. The Minister of Agriculture, in reply to a question on the 17th November last said:I am not at present in a position to make any statement.The right hon. Gentleman was then asked when he would be able to make a statement in view of the fact that the sowing season was passing, and he replied:a good deal of wheat has already been sown and we shall get on as quickly as possible…A promise was made last session and we propose to keep it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1930; col. 29, Vol. 245.]November and December passed, and, when the House met in the following January, the Prime Minister was asked how this pledge was going to be kept, and he replied that he was not in a position to give the answer. I then asked:Is the Prime Minister not aware that the weeks are passing, the next session will be upon us in a very short time: how long is he going to keep the farmers waiting "?The Prime Minister replied:I am perfectly well aware of that fact, and during the time the late Government were in office I pressed for five years for something of the same kind. If the Noble Lord will allow me to tell him when I am ready, he can then put down a question, and I will answer it.The Prime Minister told us that he pressed the late Government for five years for something of the same kind, and presumably he has been pressing his own Government for two years so that he has been pressing on this point for seven years without any result at all. Surely this question is too serious to ride off on a party score? Hon. Members know perfectly well that this collapse in wheat prices did not take place until two years ago, and undoubtedly it produced a new situation. Of course, we deny absolutely that the Conservative Government were inactive on behalf of agriculture. In the 2430 five years we passed a great many Measures for the assistance of agriculture. We had not been in office six months before passing the Beet Sugar Subsidy Act, under which over £11,000,000 was spent in developing that very important side of agriculture. We had been in office very little over a year when we produced our policy in detail in the famous White Paper, which, of course, does not go as far as the present policy of the Conservative party, but was, we maintain, the right policy at that moment, as prices were totally different from what they are to-day, and then hon. Members know perfectly well then we passed the Grading and Marketing Act in the teeth of the Opposition, the Merchandise Marks Act also in the teeth of the Opposition, and finally we de-rated agricultural land altogether. Those were all solid contributions towards the crucial problem of trying to make farming pay, and our complaint against hon. Members opposite is that, while they made those promises and shared our view as to the diagnosis of the disease, they are not able to produce any policy.
Then, on the same occasion to which I have referred, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel Maitland) asked the Prime Minister this question:May I ask whether the Prime Minister will be able to give an answer before March, which is the latest date possible for farmers to make their plans for the season?The PRIME MINISTER: I should think so".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1931; cols. 605, Vol. 247.]Therefore, we can take it that the right hon. Gentleman last January thought he would be in a position to announce his policy in March. March came, and the Prime Minister was unable to make any statement, but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture made a speech at King's Lynn, in which he used these words:We have given a pledge that we regard as binding to submit proposals designed to put cereal growing on an economically sound basis, particularly in regard to wheat-growing. If I am Minister of Agriculture I intend to try my best to give effect to that pledge.But the Government were unable to announce their policy, and, on 20th April, I asked the Prime Minister again whether he was in a position to announce 2431 their policy to put cereal growing on an economic foundation. The Prime Minister replied:I can at present add nothing to the answer which I gave to the right hon. Member on the 26th January last.By that time I had begun to get rather doubtful as to which Conference he meant and I asked:Will the Prime Minister tell the House what he meant when he used the phrase as soon as the conclusions of the Imperial Conference are known.' Does he mean the Imperial Conference of 1930 or the one after?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Imperial Conference of 1930".—[OFFICIAL, REPORT—20th April, 1931; col. 598, Vol. 251.]
Therefore, there is no possible doubt about the definiteness of the pledge or the fact that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture regarded it as absolutely binding. Then we come to a speech made by Lord Parmoor in another place. Speaking on behalf of the Government, Lord Parmoor made one or two important statements. The first was:Let me at the outset say that I desire to differentiate entirely the question of an Imperial or Dominion quota from the quota which is advocated for the advantage of the English farmer. The considerations in either case are wholly distinct, and I think they really do not cross one another at any single point. It may be quite right, for instance, to have a quota for the assistance of farming and not at the same time to desire a Dominion quota for the benefit of the Empire.That shows that the Government do not regard this matter at all as having anything to do with the Ottawa Conference. The fact that the Ottawa Conference is not to meet till October is not holding the matter up. The Government regard the two question as entirely distinct. Lord Parmoor went on to say:Since the date of the Imperial Conference the whole question both of the home and Dominion wheat quotas has been explored in detail.Then he went on to discuss the question of the home quota, and said:Could the quota be used for the benefit of farming in this country without imposing a burden upon the consumer or the taxpayer? Of course, the answer to the last part of my question is in the negative. It would be no good as regards the farmers of this country to have the quota system, unless as regards the quantity in the quota they had a guaranteed price. I think, at any rate from my experience of farmers for a good many years now, that the Noble 2432 Lord was right when he said that the guaranteed price, taking the price of wheat at 25 shillings, which is exceptionally low, would have to be made up to something like 50 shillings.Then, at the end of his remarks, Lord Parmoor said:I agree with Lord Arnold that it is only a very small proportion of the farming industry that would be assisted by the quota, and if that can be done without putting any duty on our food supply, particularly on wheat, which is the food of the poorest classes, I should not object to it. But I do not know how that can be done.That is a very extraordinary statement from the Leader of the Socialist party in the House of Lords. He first tells us that this matter has been explored in detail. He then says that he does not know how it can be dealt with. I want to know where the Government stand in this matter, and that is the difficulty that they have had in telling us what their policy is? It cannot be the Prime Minister, because he himself has authorised the announcements, and has stuck to them in the House. It cannot he the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he himself gave the pledge of 1st August last, and it is inconceivable that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have given a pledge which he did not intend to honour, or that he should have announced a policy which he had not properly thought out, taking on a responsibility which he did not know how he was going to implement. Any of us who know the Chancellor of the Exchequer would know that he would be the last man in the world to commit any such act of folly or turpitude.
Therefore, it cannot possibly he the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then, is it the Minister of Agriculture? I do not think so. I think that the Minister of Agriculture would like to announce his policy, and I hope he will take the House into his confidence this morning. Then who is it? Is it Lord Parmoor? Are the Government being held up by Lord Par moor? I must say that if so, I think even worse of the Government than I did before. If the right hon. Gentleman would only take us into his confidence, and tell us what the difficulty is, I think he would find sympathy on both sides of the House, and a desire to help him. If he can produce a policy which can be regarded as a non-party policy, he will 2433 secure assistance from all quarters of the House, because the state of agriculture at the present moment is so serious that it is absolutely criminal to let the matter drift as it is at the present moment.
Then we had a very interesting and important announcement from the Minister of Agriculture himself the other day, when we were discussing the Agricultural Marketing Bill. The question was why wheat should be included in the Bill, and the Minister of Agriculture, on the 19th May, used these words:There is no doubt that, whatever expedient may be adopted for dealing with the cereal problem, we must begin with wheat. That is certain. What we must have in the case of wheat, as a functioning instrument, is a producers' board"—that is to say, a producers' board under the Agricultural Marketing Bill—to help in its marketing.Then he said later on,We must deal with wheat. Whatever system we adopt, we shall require a wheat board, and the reasons that I have given are very good and sufficient reasons".—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee B), 19th May, 1931; cols. 1111–2.]That is a very important announcement, as I pointed out to the Committee at the time, because its effect is that the Government cannot begin to deal with wheat until next year. Under the Agricultural Marketing Bill, the steps that are taken to set up a board are so lengthy and elaborate—and I think rightly so, because you ought not to introduce any coercive scheme without thorough examination at every point to see that no injustice is done to individuals—and the effect of those steps is so limited, that it is absolutely impossible, as I pointed out in Standing Committee B, and hon. Members opposite did not challenge me, to bring any marketing board into effect until the beginning of next year at the very earliest. Therefore, the Minister's statement means that the wheat policy with which the Government are going to begin their cereal policy cannot have a functioning instrument, to use his own words, until next year. The House, of course, knows perfectly well that the time for sowing wheat is in the autumn. That time will, therefore, have passed, and the board will be of no use, even if it is brought into being, until the autumn of 1932, when the next wheat sowing time comes round. 2434 I submit that in such circumstances this is trifling with a terribly serious problem. I wonder if hon. Members opposite realise the position in which farmers are placed at the present moment, particularly in the East of England? They have been living on their capital now for over two years; they have mortgaged themselves in many cases up to the hilt; they are unable to meet their standing charges. The Government had a practical instance of the seriousness of the position the other day in the award of the Suffolk Wages Board, which took the very grave step of reducing agricultural wages from an already very low figure to a figure that was still lower, and the Minister took the even stronger step of disallowing that award. I want to say to hon. Members opposite that we are entirely with the Minister in his desire to maintain as high wages as possible in agriculture—
§ THE MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison)
I am sure that the Noble Lord, in an important matter of this kind, does not want to misrepresent me. I did not disallow the award, because I have no power to do so. I asked the board to reconsider the matter.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am obliged for the right hon. Gentleman's correction, which, of course, I entirely accept. We are entirely with him in his desire to prevent a further fall in agricultural wages, and the reason why we believe that a guaranteed price for wheat, and other assistance to agriculture, is absolutely necessary, is that we believe it to be impossible to maintain the present agricultural wages, let alone improve them, unless farmers are getting a better price for their produce. The agricultural labourers themselves know that the farmers cannot go on indefinitely selling their produce at pre-War prices and paying double the pre-War wages, and in this matter the interests of the farmers and of the agricultural labourers are the same. It is doing no kindness to the agricultural labourer to try to keep wages at a standard which farmers cannot pay, because the only result will be that the agricultural labourer will be turned out of work.
What is the position of hon. Members opposite? They have refused the agricultural labourer the dole; they have not 2435 taken any step to give him unemployment insurance. The Government are refusing to produce a policy, as they pledged themselves to do a year ago, to put cereal growing on an economic foundation and to enable these wages to be paid. I say that the direct and only possible result of the policy which the Government are pursuing is to force agricultural labourers into unemployment, without any provision being made for giving them the same help that unemployed people in other industries receive.
Up to two years ago there was practically no unemployment in agriculture. Now there is a great deal of unemployment in agriculture, and it is growing, and is becoming a more serious menace every week. As the farmers get nearer the end of their tether, so they are reluctantly compelled to turn men off who in some cases have worked for them for years; and the tragedy of the countryside at present is such that I am convinced that, if hon. Members opposite who come from industrial constituencies only realised what the situation is, they would agree with us that it would be worth while a hundred times over to do something to prevent the collapse of agriculture. In this connection I would remind hon. Members opposite who sit behind the Minister that they have a very heavy responsibility in this matter. They gave very firm pledges to their constituents at the time of the election. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Dallas) promised his constituents that the Government would embark on a policy of stabilising the price of agricultural produce, the protection of the farm worker by an adequate legal minimum wage, a scheme of unemployment insurance, making easier the access to holdings, and the provision of better and untied cottages. By this means, he said, the Labour party would endeavour to put agriculture on a prosperous basis. Again, the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor), whom I am glad to see in his place to-day, told his constituents that:Labour proposes to bring security and confidence into the business by stabilising the price of produce on a basis to yield a real living wage to the worker, and to put the industry in a position to pay that wage, through the Food Council and an International Import Board.2436 Then the hon. Member added, at the conclusion of his remarks:Before you condemn, give us a fair chance to help things forward; and, God helping me, I will not let you down.
§ Mr. W. B. TAYLOR
I accept full responsibility and I shall continue to aim for that policy. I simply want to remind the right hon. Gentleman that, if his Friends had not been so successful, so that we have only five rural Members here to help us carry it, as against 142, we should have a much better chance.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I do not think that hon. Members can complain about not having assistance to carry a Measure when they have not attempted to bring it forward. We do not even know what the policy of the Government is. If the Government will produce a policy which is going to help farmers to pay good wages to their men, we will help to carry it. [Interruption.] The Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill! What is that going to do to help the farmers? It is going to put new subsidised competition against them. There is not a word in that Bill that is going to help a single farmer in the country, and nothing at all to deal with the acute crisis which prevails at present by which farmers are unable to meet their wages bills and the other bills with which they are faced. I implore the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what the plan of the Government is. Why cannot they lay it on the Table? Lord Parmoor tells us it has been explored in detail and, although Lord Parmoor does not know how it can be done, I cannot believe that the Minister of Agricultural does not know and, if he knows, why will he not tell the House? What is there stopping him from telling the House? The Government would never have made a pledge like that after 13 months mature deliberation if they had not some plan, and we are entitled to know what it is. Unless they will promise to produce it by a definite date, there can be no other conclusion but that they have made promises which they had no intention of fulfilling and are totally unready and unwilling, as well as unable, to deal with this severe agricultural crisis.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
The noble lord has been at some pains to quote speeches which have been made by the Prime 2437 Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am in entire sympathy with him so far as concerns the difficulty that he is in. They promised that they would implement the promise that we made at the General Election to make farming pay, and at the first available opportunity I shall implement my promise by my vote. The Noble Lord also made an appeal that this matter should be above party. The condition of agriculture is so bad as to warrant the House constituting itself, in the words of the Prime Minister, a Council of State for dealing with this very important matter. The Noble Lord has undoubtedly endeavoured to score off the Minister in a party sense but he must not overlook the fact that the country side does not forget the numerous opportunities that his party has had in my lifetime to put the industry on a sound economic foundation and to put into practice the principles that he has spoken of to-day.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member knows that this collapse in prices did not take place until after this Government had come into office.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I am old enough to remember, in the early nineties, when I was engaged in agriculture, when the distress was as bad as it is now, the party opposite actually voted against the Land Tenure Bill, which was intended to give security to the tenant farmers. I do not admit that the party opposite have done anything that could be considered to be calculated to bring prosperity to agriculture. The few odds and ends that he has been pleased to call policy that they have attempted to carry out have left agriculture in a worse plight to-day than it has ever been in. He said we are trifling with the problem. We have not the power on the back benches, but the Opposition has the right to Table a Motion which would enable us to have a full discussion on the whole matter without being restricted as we are on this Motion, and to state what we believe would be the right policy to deal with the cereal problem.
The Noble Lord also said that unemployment is very widespread and that it is almost a new feature in agriculture since this Government has been in office. That does not happen to be so. I can well remember one winter when I was the 2438 only one in the home who was earning a living and I had to support the whole of the family, except for a measure of poor relief if you won the favour of the relieving officer. The party opposite in those days had unlimited power to alter conditions which were a disgrace compared with the conditions operating today. I should like to read a quotation from a farmer's journal called "The Agricultural Advertiser" published as far back as 1819. The farmers in those days were infinitely better able to state their case than they are to-day. They were appealing to Parliament to do something for agriculture in the same way that the Farmers Union is doing to-day. A Conference was called on 15th February, 1819, and this is part of the appeal that was made to Parliament:That at this moment the agricultural labourers in many parts of the Kingdom are in in the greatest distress for want of employment. That we are of opinion any other prospect of relief which may be held out to the labouring classes is fallacious. That such employment can only be found through the medium of the occupiers of the soil, and that we are decidedly convinced, if the cultivators of the soil in the United Kingdom were protected in the sale of produce from foreign competition till it bore a remunerating price, that not only would the present enormous amount of poor rates be immediately diminished but the peasantry of the Kingdom, instead of being considered as a bunion to the country, would be viewed as constituting its natural pride and strength.That could be said at any conference in England to-day. History repeats itself. It has repeated itself many times in my lifetime as far as this industry is concerned. I cannot subscribe myself to the philosophy that I heard in the last Debate that took place from the benches below the Gangway that we must grow other things—eggs, butter and milk—and breed pigs, and that cereal farming must switch itself off entirely. It is not honestly facing up to the problem. There are large districts where men whom I know intimately are going through the most serious crisis in their lives. Some of them, indeed, have been left even worse off than labourers. The condition of some people whom I know as intimately as I know any Member in the House should excite the pity and concern of everyone, whatever his politics.
I cannot for the life of me understand why this House, instead of trying to get votes either from one side or the other, 2439 should not introduce some means in order to put the industry upon its feet and bring prosperity to it. I want to say even to my agricultural friends that when they have finished with the attacks which are being made upon labourers' wages, we shall not be able to prevent reductions unless we can bring prosperity to the industry. I am not justifying the reduction of wages. No one can justify it. We know that wages are too low, but we cannot get more out of the industry than is economically in the industry. Those are facts which we have to face. Many of the labourers of the countryside in my division, some of whom I have known for 30 or 40 years, are out of work and have no unemployment pay. As far as outdoor relief is concerned, we know that these men of the countryside will only go for relief to the guardians when in the very direst need, and I think that every hon. Member in this House holds them in great respect for upholding their pride and dignity in this way.
The slump to which reference has been made is a very great slump. I was recently talking to a friend in Lincolnshire who is the president of a neighbouring co-operative society in the Gainsborough division. I asked him how they were able to make farming pay? If my colleagues, who are in the position of directors of farms where they employ the best brains because they pay the best wages, could not make it pay, then I wanted to know what were the causes of their failure. I asked him to send me a record. I am not in the least ashamed to read it to the House because I think that it is necessary that the House should receive information. He sent me the record of his experiences of farming on Tuesday of this week so that it is quite recent. The Gainsborough Co-operative Society, in 1920, paid in wages a total of £1,818, and the loss was £1,414; in 1921, the loss was £2,725; in 1922, £1,956; in 1923, £1,743; in 1924, £1,501; in 1925, £1,344; in 1926, £1,657; and so on right away down until we come to last year. If they had paid off the interest on capital and every man on the farm had worked for nothing, including the manager, there would have been a net loss last year of £48. The total loss 2440 on the farm was £5,115, and the total overhead charges amounted to £5,067.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I think that is quite irrelevant. As a matter of fact, it would have to pay the legal wages, and it will pay a little more. But even if you wipe out all the wages there is a loss.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
May I tell the hon. Gentleman that it is a very fine farm, and to my knowledge there have never been any complaints from anyone with regard to the wages which are paid there?
§ Mr. QUIBELL
Ten per cent. upon the total wages for that year would not amount to more than £200, and it is really trifling with the matter when compared with the total loss. I happen to be connected with a society which has lost £3 10s. an acre this year, and I know a farm which has lost £4 an acre on 1,000 acres. I have known a man for 30 years who, formerly an agricultural labourer, started farming in a small way and eventually became a successful farmer. There was no eight hours' day for him; it was early and late. He made progress and thought that he was doing very nicely, and he took, an additional farm for the benefit of his sons. He had two bad years in succession, and now he has "gone." He is worn out physically, and neither he nor his sons have a job, and they have no unemployment insurance and no prospects except to apply for Poor Law relief.
If hon. Members think that this is an isolated case, I could take them to an estate in Lincolnshire where there are 60 farms to let. We have something like 30,000 acres to let on our farm lands. Do not hon. Members think that it is time we dealt with this question? There are farms in my division which can be obtained without rent, and for three years without rent, and some of them axe not bad farms. It is not a question as to whether a farm is a good farm or a bad farm. If the farmer is not getting economic prices, sooner or later he must come to an end however big his purse may be. Last year I quoted figures in this House which had been submitted to 2441 me by a man who is considered to be an excellent farmer. I am certain that you could not get a basketful of rubbish from his farm. Last year he lost £3,600. I brought his figures here which had been checked by the Income Tax officer. I showed them to the Minister of Agriculture. That man, like our co-operative society, has done a little better this year. He has lost £500 this year, and he is giving up his farm, and the estate has to farm it. Neither he nor anyone else will take it on. In their opinion there is no immediate prospect of anything being done to stabilise and to give them economic prices for their products.
I have heard a good deal of talk about subsidies. Some of my co-operative friends think that if you bring about an increase in the price of bread by means of a quota or import board such a provision would be tantamount to a subsidy. And yet every member of the Gainsborough Society has been subsidising the cheap loaf through the society selling it at an uneconomic price. The farm committee have been able to milk every member of the society who has bought bread, and instead of it being a State subsidy members themselves, our or their dividends or profits, have actually been subsidising bread. This I consider is infinitely greater than anything that can be done by a system of quotas intended to bring prosperity to the industry. In 1929 the price of wheat was as high as it was last year, but, after the averages have been worked out for the price of bread, we find there is a discrepancy of about 2¾d. on the 4-lb. loaf. The millers or the bakers, or both of them, are receiving 2¾d. per loaf more. That, I would remind Free Trade hon. Members is not due to tariffs, but to the effect of organisation among the millers and bakers. The millers and bakers are levying this tribute on the public, without the producer receiving an economic price. I have been president of a co operative society for a number of years, and we have a very good bakery. I think it is a compliment to our business ability that we are selling the 4-lb. loaf at 6½d., which is only ¾d. more than the 1913 price. Moreover, we are putting the loaf in wrapping paper at that, which proves that something can be done.
If we tackle the problem of prices from the producers' point of view, the difference 2442 between the price that the public pays and that which the wholesaler gets can be bridged without any tribute being levied on the agricultural working-classes of this country. If we can bring prosperity to agriculture, we shall be bringing prosperity to the only industry that, in my opinion, is going to absorb a large number of men. Common-sense men, apart from party politics, know that we have land which is rich and is the best in the world, labourers who have some of the best skill in the world and farmers with brains—and a good many more brains than some of my friends give them credit for. Some of the farmers cannot be taught much as to the carrying on of their business. We have also the greatest market in the world. Surely it is not beyond the power or the wit of the Government, to do something radical to cure this condition of things.
Hitherto, very little has been done, because action might imperil a few votes in the towns. The countryman has been left all the time. Parties are evanescent. They come and they go, but the problem of the countryside remains. I really believe that the Minister of Agriculture is as much in earnest as anyone to do something for agriculture. We are divided between the town and the country, and we have always been in that position. All my life the country has always been sacrificed. I cannot subscribe to the philosophy that is sometimes put from the benches opposite, that farming must adapt itself, like other industries, to the needs of the time. Fancy a man, with his barley and his small seeds; he takes his seeds and places them in the rows for his potatoes, and his potatoes follow the wheat; and then someone says, "you must put it down to grass and rear sheep and geese and poultry." The whole thing is so ridiculous as scarcely to warrant an answer. He cannot do those things. If he did, what would become of the farm labourer of the countryside. I believe that what we need is more intensive agriculture, and we shall only get that if we implement the policy that most of us believe in, in our hearts, quite apart from party, which is the policy of insuring that the people who produce the food of this country have an economic price. We shall then not only lift their industry to prosperity, but we shall lift 2443 especially the bottom man. This can only be done if we pull together in an endeavour to stop this senseless use of party politics in connection with agriculture.
§ Mr. TURTON
I think the House has listened with great pleasure to the speech just delivered by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). I find it Very hard to understand why, when there is such feeling supporting the Minister of Agriculture, that the Minister's agricultural policy for the past 12 months has been so detrimental to the industry. In the North of England we are beginning to regard the date 1st August as similar to 1st April. But hon. Members remember with pleasure an April Fool joke whilst the agricultural policy joke is a black memory. The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to put cereal farming on a sound basis and yet has gone on from that day until now, doing more harm to agriculture with every day that liasses.
I hope the House will approach this problem on a non-party and non-political basis. The attack that I make upon the Socialist Government is that they have not taken one step to relieve the cereal farmer. As a result, the prices of agricultural produce have gone from bad to worse in the last few months. I would remind the House of the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said:The economic position of the cereal farmer demands the earliest possible attention.That was in August, at a time when wheat was selling at prices down to 7s. 6d. or 8s. per cwt. To-day in Yorkshire, wheat is selling at 5s 5d. a cwt. We can produce wheat in Yorkshire at about 9s. or 10s. per cwt., and pay our wages, making no profit, but keeping our farms in a fair state of repair. There is a large gap to be bridged between those figures of 5s. 5d. and 9s. 6d. I get letters weekly from areas in Yorkshire, pointing out the beggary and the bankruptcy of the agricultural districts, and drawing my attention to the importation that is going on of foreign cereals, with which people in this country are being fed. We had at one time a reason for the Government's delay, which was, that it was wise to wait until after the Imperial Conference. I thought that perhaps that 2444 reason still continued. I thought that there might be some reason associated with the Conference at Ottawa, but on 14th May, when I read the speech of the leader for the Government in the Upper House, declaring that the Government policy on this matter was that the British quota for farmers was totally distinct from the imperial quota and that it was wiser to help the British farmer without dealing with the wider imperial aspect, I realised that the last justification for this delay had disappeared.
There is a growing inability of farmers to obtain an economic price for their products. I do not wish to weary the House with statistics, but I would like to quote some that were published under the Corn Production Act, showing the amount of wheat sold from home farms in the last three years. In 1928 there were 11,868,000 cwts. sold at an average price of 10s.; in 1921) that had dropped to 9,563,000 cwts. and an average price of 9s. 10d., and last year it had dropped to 7,500,000 cwts. with an average price of 8s. In the first quarter of this year, when normally 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. of our corn sales are executed, the price has dropped more than 50 per cent. over the first three months of last year. In the first three months of last year 2,800,000 cwts. were sold at an average price of 8s. 11d., but this year the figures have dropped to 1.395,000 cwts. and an average price of 5s. 4d.
That is the situation which the Minister of Agriculture has to face, and it is a situation for which we demand there shall be some remedy, otherwise our land will go to waste, and will be valueless both for the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he puts on his land value taxation and for any crisis in which we may want to use the land for supplying the food of the country. And at this time, when the farmer cannot sell his corn, we are allowing ourselves to import from Russia large quantities of wheat at a price which is breaking the English farmer. I am not to-day going to attack the import of Russian wheat on any political ground or on the ground of slave labour, I attack it solely on the question of price. I asked the President of the Board of Trade the amount of wheat imported from Russia during the last eight months, and the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply said that the 2445 amount imported from Russia was 23,690,000 cwts. and that the price of these imports during March was 19s. 9d. per quarter. I am not overstating the position when I say that the economic price at which a farmer can grow wheat is from 40s. to 50s. per quarter, and yet he is being forced to compete with wheat coming into this country at a price of 19s. 9d.; and the quantity of wheat which is now coming to us from Russia, that is in the first three months of this year, is more than we imported from Canada. It is the first time since the War that we have had more imports of Russian wheat than from Canada.
I am not going to touch upon any questions which involve legislation because that would be out of order, but I do want to urge the Minister of Agriculture to do something for this industry, especially as every other government in the world is doing something for its agriculture. Some countries assist their agricultural industry with a quota, others by a duty. The Argentine Government taxes wheat if it tops a certain price. When the price of wheat is more than 45 dollars per thousand kilos, a tax is levied upon all exports of wheat in order that they may be able to send great quantities abroad. It is taxed wheat that is coming to this country from Argentina. It is wheat helped by large bonuses which is coming from Germany and France, and it is high time that we gave some relief to agriculture and ceased proposing measures, such as we are shortly to consider for the taxation of land, by which a farmer who has to pay a tithe of 5s. an acre will also have to pay a tax on the value of that tithe. I hope we shall get a statement from the Minister of Agriculture to-day showing that this delay of two years, which is wrecking the agricultural industry, has had some effect on the Government and that he is going to do something to remedy the desperate straits of agriculture especially in the North of England.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
I am sure every one will agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) when he hoped that it would be possible to lift this question out of party politics, and make Parliament a council of State in order to get some 2446 agreed policy on the problem of agriculture. Hon. Members above the gangway apparently agree with that sentiment, and I hope, therefore, it indicates a change of mind, because I remember an occasion when it was suggested that there should be a three-party conference on this matter. We on these benches were prepared to go into that conference but I understand that hon. Members above the gangway were not so prepared.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
Does the hon. Member suggest that it was a free conference? It was not a free conference because we were not allowed to discuss the question of tariffs.
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
I understand that the Prime Minister issued an invitation for a free discussion. I am not aware of any stipulation as regards tariffs. But even if there was such a stipulation I do not understand that a tariff is the present policy of hon. Members above the gangway. I understand that their policy is a quota plus a regulated price, and that there is no question of any tariff in regard to wheat. In any event a quota plus a regulated price was adumbrated as their policy by their leader in my constituency last year, and, therefore, if the Minister of Agriculture introduced legislation on those lines I take it that they would give him their support and that he would be assured of carrying that legislation. There is no doubt that there are parts in the country to-day where agriculture is prosperous, but it is in that small percentage of wheat and barley growing areas where they are having such a bad time. The percentage of wheat grown last year was less than 5 per cent. of the total agricultural products—
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
Do I understand the hon. Member to say that it is only a small percentage of the agricultural community that are suffering?
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
What I am trying to say is that the arable side of agriculture, as represented under wheat and barley, is a small percentage of the total agricultural products, and that it is there where they are experiencing most suffering at the present time. I sit for a large arable constituency, and I do not know how some of the farmers are going to continue) under present conditions. Many of them 2447 bought their farms when the Corn Production Act was passed, when prices and values were high, they mortgaged themselves to do so, and to-day they are receiving for their wheat something like 24s. per quarter. Some of them are heavily tithed, indeed, it is more than the annual value of the land in many cases.
It is true that the Conservative party passed a De-rating Bill, but this was counterbalanced by an increase in the Petrol Duty. It is also true that many farmers indirectly have benefited by the subsidy to sugar beet; but in many constituencies where the Anglo-Dutch factories are operating it has been impossible for some farmers to renew their contracts, and they are left in the air. It is a matter which the Minister and the House ought to deal with, to enable these people to continue something which was initiated, I believe, by the party opposite and was followed by the Conservative Government when they came into office. [HON. MEMBERS: "And opposed by the Liberals."] It has not been opposed by the Liberal party in this Parliament. I am talking about the Vote. When the Vote was introduced into this House I am certain that Liberals, although some of them may not have been anxious to do so, went into the Lobby in support of the Government, as Liberals have done on other occasions. The Government have passed the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill. I cannot make up my mind whether it will be of any real value to farmers—
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
It has been through this House and is now in another place. As to the Marketing Bill, in some districts it will be of value. I do not know whether the proposals forecasted by the Minister to deal with cereal growing are going to be of real value to the arable districts. My immediate object in intervening in the Debate was to refer to another question relating to arable districts. On June 7th the agricultural workers of Suffolk will be compelled, through the working of the Agricultural Wages Act, to receive at the end of a week of 48 hours the princely wage of 28s. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman has done everything in his power 2448 legitimately to prevent this coming about. I wish he would try to make clear to some of these agricultural wages committees the interpretation to be placed on certain parts of the Act. I read in the Act:In fixing minimum rates the committee shall, as far as practicable, secure for able-bodied men such wages as in the opinion of the committee are adequate to promote efficiency and to enable a man in an ordinary case to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation.I do not know whether any of these committees are able to settle amongst themselves what is "practicable." There was a case recently in Yorkshire where the right hon. Gentleman had to ask some of the members of a committee to re-sign because they had recommended an increase of the wages of the agricultural workers. But here is a case in Suffolk where the right hon. Gentleman to the full extent of his power should refer the matter back to the committee, and yet no one on that committee is able to say what is "practicable," whether the committee can afford it or whether 28s. is a fair wage for able-bodied men. If the industry is not to have the benefit of legislation by this House I hope that the House will see to it that the agricultural workers in the arable districts are not left to bear the brunt of the burden. The agricultural worker does not get Unemployment Insurance benefit and he is left to go to the Poor Law if out of work. It is fair to say that many farmers in some districts are keeping their men on merely because they are good men and because they have employed them for a large number of years, but such is the state of affairs to-day that, unless something can be done to prevent wages coming down and to prevent farmers going out of business, things will become even worse socially.
I wonder whether hon. Members, largely representing urban constituencies, are aware of some of the conditions in rural England to-day. I wonder whether they know that because of the agricultural depression and because landowners are unable to accept their responsibilities, the housing conditions in many parts of the country are deplorable. I wonder whether hon. Members know that owing to the depression in this Cinderella of 2449 national industries the supply even of drinking water in scores of village" is such that we have epidemics in the schools, that housewives depend upon the skimming of ponds and the draining of the road for drinking water or are forced to buy it at a penny a bucket in time of drought. At the same time such is the shortage of houses that there is a continual drift to the towns of unemployed agricultural workers, and young men and women in places where there have been no houses built since the War want to get married but cannot do so. One of the biggest problems in some of these rural districts is the problem of illegitimacy. At the root of that is the housing problem.
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Minister of Health, and with the support of hon. Members on these benches, will take some action. Unless something is done to enable people to get on the land, to enable those who are farming to get an economic price for their produce in the market, unless in the near future there is some special scheme to deal with agricultural workers and to bring them into Unemployment Insurance, I cannot see any alternative to agriculture getting worse in the arable districts, and more men drifting to the towns. Those of us who represent county divisions feel that there is no hope at all in this House of getting things put right. I wish we could settle this matter by some kind of three-party arrangement. Unless all the parties come in and agree to some kind of policy I do not think it is possible to deal with the problem adequately.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Robert Young)
I gather from the last sentences of the bon. Member that he is now raising the question of legislation, and that is not in order.
§ Mr. GRANVILLE
If we are to deal with the problem the three-parties ought to go into a non-party discussion. I was not forecasting any particular legislation. At least Lord Beaverbrook has the courage of his convictions and is prepared to apply the real Conservative remedy. He has the honesty to say that he believes tariffs to be the only way of dealing with the question. Hon. Members above the Gangway when they twit some of us on these benches with supporting 2450 the Government in the Division Lobby on various questions of policy, forget that they were in office for five years; that they had a big majority of 211, instead of being in a minority like the present Government, and that, apart from the De-Rating Act, which has proved a mixed blessing, and one or two minor Measures, nothing worth while was done by them to help the arable farmer.
The Minister-designate of Agriculture in the next Conservative Government—whenever that is to be—the noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer)—reiterates the Conservative party's policy with regard to quotas and with regard to barley and oats. This problem was the same when the Conservative party were in office. It has grown worse owing to the fall in commodity prices due to world conditions, but it was there when they were in office, and they had an opportunity of dealing with it, and the fact remains that, though they were in office for five years, and had a majority which would have enabled them to pass any piece of legislation, they did nothing. Then hon. Members say "Why do you not introduce our policy?" If ever heaven again smiles upon the Liberal party, and I am sure that we should prefer the smiles of heaven to the left-handed invitations of hon. Members above the Gangway, and if ever the Liberal party get an opportunity, it will then be our responsibility to initiate policy in this House. At present, we are trying to bring pressure on the Government to introduce their policy. If hon. Members above the Gangway will come into a three-party conference, if they are prepared to lift this question out of the rut of party politics, the Liberal party are prepared to join them in such a conference.
There are two questions which I would like to ask the Minister. First, is there anything which he can do or is there any policy which his Department can produce, to bring some ray of hope to the people of the 350,000 or 400,000 acres of what is called the hinterland, where they are going through such a difficult time at present, I feel certain that the right hon. Gentleman has done his best, that he has stood up to the Cabinet with great courage, and has not been afraid of that look which 2451 I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives to Cabinet Ministers when they ask for money for their Departments. I am sure he has done his best to bring to the notice of the Cabinet the fact that there is a real problem. That is the reason why we intend to give him our support in any reasonable and rational measure to deal with the problem, and I wish to ask him as to the possibility of something being done in this respect. The second question is as to the course which he will take when he comes, on other occasions, to work the Agricultural Wages Act. Let us not forget the fact which I have already mentioned that on 7th June there is to be a reduction in the wages of the agricultural workers of Suffolk from 30s. to 28s. and that that is going to be repeated in other parts of the country. Therefore I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will do all in his power to meet this situation and if he will be prepared even to introduce fresh legislation of some kind to prevent this state of affairs spreading all over the country. We talk a lot of theory about Free Trade and Protection, and possible benefits to the electors and taxpayers of this country, but I ask the House to remember the position of these men and women who are the lowest paid workers in the land, though among the most highly-skilled, and who belong to the oldest industry. They come from the finest stock in the country. They are loyal and patient. They seldom complain. They have not, so far, been attracted in very large numbers by the disciples of the party opposite. If they were represented by a strong powerful trade union like the miners. I suppose their case could be brought to the notice of a bigger attendance in this House on an occasion like the present.
I should be neglecting my duty if I did not try to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman and upon the House of Commons the fact that these people look to this House to give them justice and fair treatment. Yet in the case of the Suffolk workers they are to be asked, as from 7th June, to work at a wage which is not fair or equitable. I ask this House, when facing up to the question of what is going to be done for arable agriculture, to remember that, whatever happens, it is the agricultural workers who bear the brunt of the depression. I hope that the right 2452 hon. Gentleman will be in a position to tell us that something is going to be done by the Government in the near future, either upon non-party lines, or by introducing their own policy and testing the opinion of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has shown courage and we appreciate it. I hope he will show greater courage and tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister and those responsible in the Cabinet, that something must be done for these men and women, who are always there when the country needs their services. In these days of science and progress we ought to be able to make our rural community better and happier and more comfortable than it is and no longer to allow the great hardship which exists at present to fall across some of the poorest homes in England.
§ Mr. FISON
I cannot allow my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) to get away with his claim that any credit attaches to the Liberal party for the sugar-beet subsidy. I was not a Member of the last Parliament, but I have looked up the records, and I find that the vast majority of the Liberal party voted against it while the others abstained. I have a recollection that not so many days ago the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) spoke against the subsidy, and I recollect that just before the election the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) came to my division and spoke strongly against it. At that time his portrait appeared among the group of the five wise men of the Liberal party who were united at the country's service. It appears to me that they were only united for election day. Now some of the hon. Members' leaders are changing their policy with regard to sugar beet.
I desire to refer to the question of the wage reduction in Suffolk because I think the mere fact that wages in Suffolk are reduced below those in any other part of the country must bring to the notice of the Minister, if it is necessary to do so, the serious plight of cereal-growing in East Anglia and the district surrounding my division. The hon. Member for Eye on 14th May asked the Minister whether he would take steps to alter the constitution of the Suffolk county wages committee in order to prevent the reduction 2453 of agricultural workers' wages to 28s. I know the immense interest which the hon. Member takes in agriculture, but I wish, if I can, to clear up this matter, because this question created a good deal of consternation in Suffolk. The hon. Member asked the Minister to alter the constitution of the committee in order to prevent the reduction of wages.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Do I understand the hon. Member to suggest that the Minister of Agriculture is to intervene and to alter the decision of a committee in accordance with whether he likes or dislikes their findings?
§ Mr. FISON
That is exactly the question which was put to the Minister on 14th May by the hon. Member for Eye and not by me. He asked whether the Minister would take steps to alter the constitution. I say that that question can only have one of several implications: first, that the decision was given against the weight of evidence; and I know that that committee sat on many occasions, most lengthy sittings, that the Minister himself referred that matter for their reconsideration, and that it was confirmed after another long sitting. The second implication might be that independent Members were biased in favour of the farmers; and the third and the only other implication must be that the Minister desired a new tribunal which would ignore the evidence and give a different decision.
I think the hon. Member for the Eye Division will agree with me that the independent members of that committee cannot be accused of being biased. Two of them are gentlemen, and one is a lady. The two gentlemen are Suffolk men, well known and highly respected in Suffolk. I should not be accused of being biased in favour of these two gentlemen, because one of them was on three or four occasions the Liberal candidate for my division, unsuccessfully, and the other was the leader of the Liberal party there. Those independent members can hardly be accused of being biased. If we are going to have these decisions criticised, as the Minister said, it will destroy the whole value of these committees. You will not get independent people to come forward to take part in them, and I think that these committees are of enormous value to the agricultural 2454 workers as well as to the whole farming community. I think we should expect the Minister, in reply to that question which was asked, to say definitely whether or not he still has confidence in the independent members of the Suffolk wages committee, or whether, in the choice words of one of his colleagues, he considers their decisions in famous and abominable.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No. This is a reflection on one of my colleagues, and I want to know what colleague of mine said that those members' conduct could be so described.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No, I ask the hon. Member to withdraw what he said. I deny absolutely that any colleague of mine has ever done anything of the kind.
§ Dr. ADDISON
This is a matter of great public importance, and I want that statement to be denied. The hon. Member has no right to say that any Member of this Government or any responsible person has cast these reflections upon these tribunals. It is not true.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I want to know if the hon. Member is talking about the decision of the Suffolk wages tribunal, and I want him to withdraw that statement, because it is a very dangerous and in correct statement.
§ Mr. FISON
I did not say so at all, if I may correct the Minister. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say to-day that he still has confidence in the Suffolk agricultural wages committee and not to refer to decisions which they have given in the same way as one of his colleagues has referred to other decisions given by other impartial tribunals.
§ Mr. McELWEE
On a point of Order. The hon. Member made an allegation against the Minister of Mines, and he has not withdrawn it.
§ Mr. McELWEE
The hon. Member made an allegation against the Minister of Mines a minute ago and has not withdrawn it.
No point of Order arises. The Minister asked the hon. Member if he spoke about the Suffolk Wages Committee, and the hon. Member has withdrawn his statement about it.
§ Mr. McELWEE
Is it not customary, when an allegation such as this is made against a Minister, that the Minister should get notice that such a thing is going to be said?
§ Mr. FISON
I think the reduction of the wages in Suffolk is clearly, as has been proved, due to the disastrous state of agriculture in that county. I should like to thank the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) for what he said about these people who come down and talk about changing systems of farming in places like Suffolk. The Conservative wheat policy was criticised in Suffolk by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who referred to the fact that wheat was only 4 per cent. of agricultural production. It only shows his abysmal 2456 ignorance of the type of farming in Suffolk if he thinks that we can change our system of farming. We are told to lay our land down to grass, but on the stiff cold clay in Suffolk you cannot grow grass. The Spring is late there, and dry, and we have a dry summer, and the effect on East Anglia, where we have a dry sunny summer, is that grass will not grow and we cannot convert our system of agriculture to dairy uses. The same remark applies to market gardening. We cannot compete with the moister and warmer climes and earlier Springs of other parts of the country.
The Suffolk farmer has not shown himself to be backward in any respect in regard to stock rearing. We produce in Suffolk—and we are proud of it—a particular type of nearly every kind of stock, and it is a unique thing. We produce Suffolk Punch horses, black-faced sheep, red-polled cattle, and large black pigs. In every branch of stock rearing we have our own breed produced by Suffolk farmers, and I believe that no other county in England can boast of having four such excellent breeds as they produce. The reduction in wages is due to the fact that there has been a change while the present Government have been in office, and no attempt has been made, as has been pointed out by my Noble Friend, to introduce any sort of policy for cereal agriculture. I recommend to my hon. Friend the Member for the Eye Division, who takes a tremendous interest in and has raised this subject over and over again, to have the courage of his convictions and to vote against the Government, so as to force them to introduce a policy for cereal agriculture.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am sure that every Member of the House will be glad that we have had an opportunity of discussing this important matter, and I do not at all complain that the Noble Lord saw fit to raise it. I will reply to one or two detailed questions before I come to the major issue. It would be a great public advantage if the hon. Member who has just spoken would treat a very important matter like the decisions of tribunals a little more seriously. He does not seem to realise what he is raising. As far as I am concerned, I have never sought to interfere with the findings of any tribunal, and should never dream of interfering with the judgment 2457 of independent persons, whether I agreed with their verdict or not, because it is perfectly evident that once a Minister started doing that, the whole fabric would collapse, and you would cease to have any tribunals.
§ Dr. ADDISON
It is hardly in accord with the dignity of one's office to make such a statement. I have never interfered. In that connection, I would like to correct a statement to which the ho. Member referred as to a case in Yorkshire. That case has been grossly misrepresented. It is suggested that the Ministry or I interfered with the tribunal because of the expressed opinions of some members. The fact was that in that case, owing to ill-feeling having developed—I do not know what it developed about—the tribunal was in suspense. One section of the tribunal refused to attend because they were not satisfied with certain members who were on it. It is my business to make the tribunal system work, and therefore I applied to the two parties to see whether they would agree that certain persons were independent and impartial. I met with agreement; I have appointed those persons; and the tribunal has been reestablished. The same applied to a case in another county. Neither of these interventions was concerned with the findings or opinions of the tribunal in any shape. I am sure that any interference of that kind would be a blunder of the first magnitude. It was simply my business to try and make the system work.
With regard to wages, I agree that they are the result of the disastrous conditions of agriculture, but I think, after having been in direct touch with both sides, that it is only fair to say that no responsible leaders of the farmers do anything but deplore the wages. I am not going to stand in the way of promoting a better arrangement in the future, but we shall never keep good workers on the countryside and prevent their enterprising sons and daughters going to the towns unless agriculture can give a good living. That is so self 2458 evident a proposition, and is writ so large upon the history of this country for the last 100 years, that it is a work of supererogation to repeat it.
I turn to the larger question raised by the Noble Lord. I do not complain about his pressing for a statement; he is quite entitled to do that; but I think I am entitled with respect to the suggestions that have been fairly commonly made of our laziness in this matter, to point to a few recent happenings. Cereal growing, important as it is—and I would not minimise its importance—is, after all, not the major part of agriculture. We have to remember that. Agriculture is a many sided industry, and it is evident that you will not make any progress in agriculture if you deal with it in a patchwork way. We have to get the fundamental things on the right lines first. This country has suffered tremendously because political parties in times past have dealt with agriculture in odd bits—a dole here, a rate relief there, and then something else. They have produced no good results because they have not adapted it or adjusted it to the requirements of our times. I do not pretend to suggest that the proposals we have made meet all the circumstances of the case, but I am sure of this, that to make land more freely available is a matter of first-class and primary importance. To organise facilities for marrying science and education to farming methods is equally of fundamental importance, and to establish an organisation which will promote the adoption by the small tenant of improved methods is vital to the industry.
I would remind hon. Members that we can do only one thing at a time. We cannot deal with all the matters that require attention in one session or two years. We have been waiting for a sound rural policy for 100 years, and we are not going to get it quickly. Our Land Utilisation Bill which was introduced on the 5th November and left this House on the 10th February, came back to us with its mangled remains on 21st May. It is not my fault that in consequence of that I am not able to acquire a single half-acre of land. That is not my responsibility, and I want to make it quite clear that, as far as I am concerned, I will neither accept the debris nor try to work with it. I want to pay 2459 a tribute to the Noble Lord's work in this matter, because he has sat opposite to me for quite a long time in Committee upstairs. Nobody will deny that whatever we do, whatever patchwork we may try to apply, either to cereals or anything else, we shall not get a permanent improvement until we can organise and improve the marketing of agricultural produce. I am not going to argue the case for it. The Noble Lord himself does not dispute the proposition, in fact he has supported it many times in Committee upstairs. But is it our responsibility that we "pent 26 days in Committee on that Bill?
§ Viscount WOLMER
Does not the right hon. Gentleman admit that as a result of those 26 days we have vastly improved the Bill?
§ Dr. ADDISON
We could have improved it just as effectively in half the time, and in his heart the noble Lord, who has been made to suffer just as much as I have, knows that to be true.
§ Dr. ADDISON
That was due to my patience. Anyhow, the point I wish to make is that there are at least two other things on the stocks ready to be introduced. We shall have to do something about beet sugar, as the noble Lord is well aware. The beet sugar crop is of very great importance. But nobody can 6ay that we have been idle so far as agriculture is concerned. Nobody can say that we have not endeavoured, at all events, to begin with vital things, to begin to implement our undertakings. Nor do I admit by any means that we are at the end of the chapter. There is far too much to do. I must say that if the prophecy that has just been uttered be fulfilled then I shall be quite happy. I think the noble Lord will be worthy of his opportunity when the time comes. But think of what opportunity there has been! I envy the noble Lord's predecessors, I do indeed. I wish I had had their majority. Then I should not have been afraid of introducing some other proposals. But there it is. We have had to, and we still have to, frame our proposals in accordance with the facts of the time. We cannot escape from that 2460 position. We have to recognise it. I think the noble Lord has been a little precipitate in his blame. I quite agree that there was the undertaking to which he referred. He has picked out that particular item from a long statement of policy, and has concentrated his attack upon it, and I do not complain; but there are physical limitations to what one can do in one Session of Parliament, and nobody can say that we have not done our best to provide Parliament with a full dish. It is not my fault that it has taken such a long time to chew it.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Did not the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that the critical position of the cereal farmers demands the earliest possible attention, and why does the right hon. Gentleman put the cereal farmers at the bottom of the list?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I think the noble Lord will find that that item comes at the end of the statement of policy to which he has referred, that several things about marketing and other points come before that particular paragraph. Of course, the noble Lord has referred to that paragraph, because it happens to be the one on which we have not yet submitted our proposals. That is why he has picked it out, and I do not blame him for it. He expects us to do the whole lot at once.
§ Dr. ADDISON
There I would venture to differ. I think he supports the proposals for the improvement of livestock. If his predecessor had only faced up to some of his critics, that Bill would have been on the Statute Book years ago. There is nothing new about it. I can take no credit for inventing it. I found it there already. When the noble Lord was talking his noble rage called to my mind that verse which says:I envy not in any moods,The captive void of noble age,The linnet born within the cageThat never knew the summer woods.I thought of the Conservative linnet. There it was for four and a half years with the cage door wide open, and all these fundamental matters were in the woods all the time. [Interruption.] They inherited the beet-sugar proposals from the Labour Government.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I do not suggest that the noble lord and his friends are not entitled to credit for it, I only say they did not invent the idea. [Interruption.] I want to get back to that linnet. What happened apart from that particular thing? It did visit the woods once, to see whether the rabbits and rooks were about, and there was a great to do.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No, I do not think it was quite so; some were for the rooks and some were for the rabbits. [Interruption.] At any rate the noble lord and his predecessors had a magnificent opportunity, and we know how they used it. I know that the cereal question, as far as prices are concerned, was not so acute at that time as it is now, but as a boy I can well remember wheat being sold at prices similar to those prevailing. My own father was a farmer, and I can remember him deploring it just as the fanners are deploring it to-day. There was the same controversy then, the same old wrangles were then going on. They have continued for all these years, and I make no apology because we cannot in a few months, produce a scheme to deal with the problem of half-a-century, because that is the plain English of it.
I come now to say a few words on the cereal position, and I do so because the noble lord invited me to say something about the essentials of it. While the cereal crop is a relatively small percentage of the total agricultural product, I think he is quite right in saying that in the districts to which he referred it is a governing factor. Those who speak simply in terms of percentages lose sight entirely of what the cereal crop governs. It governs the products of the fields in the intervening years. In those drier districts the ground, as far as our present knowledge goes, must be ploughed periodically. That is necessary in order that the best use may be made of it in the intervening years as well as the cereal years. The importance of this is not to be found in the cereal itself, but 2462 in what it enables the land to do in the other years. That is a contribution which is very often lost sight of, and I think it should be mentioned. I am sure that no policy can be considered successful, and no policy will be tolerated by the people of this country, that does not give some advantage in the shape of cheap feeding stuffs. A 10 per cent. duty would enhance the price, and we all know that that is a very vital matter, because what the bulk of agriculturists require is cheap feeding stuffs. No policy that overlooks that point can be considered to be a practical policy. That is why the system of mere doles and the like is, in my opinion, doomed to failure and cannot endure. If anybody desires to learn that lesson, it is only necessary to go back to the Agriculture (Amendment) Act of 1921 when that policy was tried without properly organised machinery in the industry itself and failed.
The right hon. Gentleman seem to me to be getting very wide of the Question before the House.
If I allowed hon. Members to make a pronouncement upon tariff reform others would desire to reply, and that would not be in order.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I was only replying to various questions which have been, addressed to me. There are many considerations involved. We have spent a good deal of time examining the great international wheat trade, and that is an aspect of this subject which has not been mentioned at all. We have been devoting ourselves to framing constructive schemes of first-class importance, because London is the international exchange of the world, and this is a very profitable business. We get cargoes of wheat f.o.b. from all parts of the world, and many transactions of this kind are recorded in London. In such a vital matter as that of wheat imports, we must take account of the effect produced on international trade. A great deal of study has been given to these important questions, and they are now receiving the most careful detailed examination. I would like to say 2463 that those problems are not quite so simple as the Press reports would lead one to believe. The fixing of a quota is a very difficult matter. You have to consider whether, if you do this or that, you are doing something which is practical, and we have to remember that this is a very difficult matter. Nevertheless, I can assure hon. Members that there has been no idleness in regard to this subject and all these questions relating to import boards and quotas and the rest of it are being very carefully considered.
Another aspect of this question which, in my opinion, is linked up with any sound scheme for dealing with wheat is the position of the milling trade, and very often trouble arises in attempting to deal with this question. Another very important matter is the price of bread. The fact is that the difference between flour and wheat prices for 1930 shows very small alteration beyond a few pence, but when you come to the difference between flour prices and bread prices it is enormous. The figure for the corresponding wheat and flour prices for 1930, compared with the same figures for 1913, show that the public were, in the later year, paying on an average 2½d. more for the quartern loaf. We know that the modern housewife likes to have bread delivered to her door, and wrapped in paper, and all that kind of thing, but these factors do not make that amount of difference. The bakers' labour costs were about the same.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The evidence of the co-operators on the matter is very convincing. It shows that where prices in one town are lower than another it is nearly always because in the town where they are lower there is a co-operative society. A society may be selling bread in one town at a halfpenny or a penny a loaf less than a corresponding bread mixture is sold in other towns. In one case you have an active trading machine which is steadying the price, and in the other you have an active trading machine which is keeping the price down. That is the plain English of it. Only the other day, the Food Council found themselves in trouble in London, owing to the refusal of the master bakers to supply them with 2464 information which they wanted, or to cease charging one halfpenny more for a bread loaf than the Food Council thought that they ought to charge. No cereal policy is going to succeed if we leave the public open to that menace. That is an active and essential ingredient, because you are not going to get a policy that is permanently successful unless it inspires public confidence.
All the ingredients of policy which I have mentioned—improvement of cultivation, reasonable stability, safeguarding of wages and the safeguarding of the public—are in my opinion essential in any cereal policy. I can tell the House that we have spent many weary weeks in probing into each of these points and trying to devise ways and means to overcome the difficulties. I think the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) is not over-anxious to treat this matter in a party spirit, and he does not over-state the case, but he does not appreciate its immense difficulties and its far-reaching technicalities. I feel that we have nothing to apologise for.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask if he can give us a promise that an announcement will be made on this matter before the end of the Session?