Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,195,918, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1933, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants-in-aid in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and fishery research; and grants, grants-in-aid, Loans, and Expenses in respect of improvement of breeding, etc., of live stock; land settlement, cultivation, improvement, drainage, etc.; regulation of agricultural wages; agricultural credits, co-operation, and marketing; fishery development; and sundry other services."—[NOTE: £810,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I beg to move to reduce the Vote, by £100.
We have no apologies to offer for raising the question of agriculture again, though it may be that I can sympathise with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are called upon to listen to an emaciated voice. In view of the further sterilisation of international trade and of the import and export trade of the country, agriculture is bound to loom large on the horizon and, as the days roll by, we shall be called upon to invite the right hon. Gentleman periodically to give us precise information about the development of marketing and agriculture. We shall want to know what organisations are developing and whether improvements in efficiency are being made, and we shall be entitled to know from time to time, since agriculture will become a primary consideration of this country as the Government lose their export trade, what they are doing for the utilisation of the land to the maximum possible advantage and what steps are being taken with regard to smallholdings, the provision of seeds for allotments, cottage 410 holdings, tied cottages, the wages of agricultural workers and so forth. I shall, however, leave the question of agricultural organisation broadly to my hon. Friend behind who will raise diverse questions later on. I am rather anxious to deal with drainage generally and with Doncaster drainage, or the lack of it, in particular. It will not be out of place for me to review the position with regard to drainage in this country. After 50 years of neglect, a Royal Commission was set up in 1927 to examine the drainage position as far as the law was concerned and to determine what steps were necessary so that the maximum amount of land could be made available for food production and the maximum guarantees provided for the unfortunate farmer who suffered from periodic floods. The Commission estimated when they reported in 1927 that there were 4,320,000 acres of land in England and Wales, and that one-seventh of the total area used for agricultural purposes was dependent for its fertility upon arterial drainage. They also said that 1,755,000 acres were in immediate need of drainage, and that of this area 1,279,000 acres were said to suffer from flooding occasioned by defective or obstructed arterial channels. They went further in their report and indicated the real cause of the periodic floodings of such a large area of agricultural land. In page 23 of their report, they said:It is undoubtedly the neglect of the main channel which is largely responsible for the waterlogging which exists in this country to-day, and the reason that the main channel has not been effectively treated is due largely to the fact which we have already emphasised, namely, the large number of drainage authorities who are concerned with small areas and who work without any co-operation with their neighbours.They went on later in the same paragraph to say:The trouble has been created by the fact that the jurisdiction of drainage authorities has been neglected through partial control, or no control at all, of the main channels. It follows, therefore, that a controlling authority in charge of the whole course of the main channel to the river, including its beds and basins, is of the first importance if drainage is to be effective.The Conservative Government of 1924–29 took no steps, and more or less disregarded the Report of the Royal Commis- 411 sion. The Labour Government in 1930, three years after the report had been submitted, introduced and negotiated through the House of Commons a Drainage Bill, but not without meeting with tremendous opposition from hon. Gentlemen who are to-day sitting on the opposite benches, although in fairness I must say that an ex-Minister of Agriculture, the present Lord Moyne and some Conservative Members welcomed the Bill. The Bill was introduced and passed, and power was given to set up 47 catchment boards throughout the country, each catchment board being charged with the responsibility of caring for the main carrier drains in their particular area. A changed method of allocating rates which would be more equitable under the law than has been the case previously was also devised. There were some hopes, therefore, that, as a result of the passing of the Act drainage would be undertaken seriously and that such periodic floods of the kind referred to would be very largely avoided. During the five years from 1927 to 1932 there has been a tremendous fall in the price of primary products, Periodic floods have more or less destroyed thousands of small farms in the country. We have more land out of cultivation to-day than there has been for the last 70 or 80 years. We were hopeful, when the Bill was placed upon the Statute Book, that, whether it be a Liberal, Conservative, National or Socialist Government, it would see that the work was undertaken even if very considerable grants had to be offered as a bribe to catchment boards to get on with the job. Dr. Addison, the late Minister of Agriculture, when moving the Second Reading of the Bill, tried to allay the opposition from farmers' representatives in the House and to encourage drainage authorities to be active by intimating that the Government would be fairly generous with regard to grants which would be provided where they undertook to carry out the necessary work. The words of Dr. Addison were as follow:What it comes to is that the Treasury will be authorised to make grants to enable the drainage schemes that are approved to be carried out, but the Clause does not lay down the standard, and the reason why we have not provided a standard I shall be able to justify abundantly on Friday. We recognise that it has to be a generous and an adequate contribution, and that it would 412 be very hard on some of the poorer areas if.we were to put in a standard."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1930; col. 1000, Vol. 240.]It will be seen that when the Drainage Bill was introduced it was clearly understood that, because of a variety of factors, farmers would not be able to bear any very heavy burdens, and therefore the Government tacitly gave a promise that generous grants would be available so that the work could be undertaken. What did the right hon. Gentleman do immediately he took office? Every hope that was bred as a result of the Report of the Royal Commission in 1927, the passing of the Act in 1930, and the statement made by Dr. Addison was dashed to the ground by the right hon. Gentleman almost immediately he took office. This was how the right hon. Gentleman encouraged catchment boards and drainage boards to get on with the job. On the 19th September last he informed the Doncaster Drainage Board and similar drainage boards that in view of the existing financial situation no further application for grants could be entertained. On the 14th October last he informed the catchment boards, of whom there are 47, that, in view of the need for economy, no further grants could be considered except in cases of the utmost urgency. Therefore, not only did the right hon. Gentleman dash the hopes of all those enthusiasts for drainage and those who would make the maximum use of our land and who really had a genuine desire to secure the balance of trade, but he suggested by implication a rather curious thing. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the land ought to be drained. He says, however, that there is great need for economy, but he has no objection to a district drainage board carrying out drainage work nor has he any objection to a catchment board carrying out work in their own particular areas.
May I ask when economy is not economy. Is it only economy if national funds are not made available and is it economy if the money of the ratepayers is spent for the same purpose? In many of these areas where drainage is required most of the local people are the least able to bear any further burdens. I shall be able to show the right hon. Gentleman that in my own Parliamentary Division a dozen farmers, comparatively small farmers, have practically lost their crops during 413 the last three seasons. Now, they are absolutely hopeless and helpless, and to suggest to that body of farmers that, in view of the need for economy, no national funds can be made available but that if they themselves want to spend large sums of money there is no reason why they should not do so, is an absurd proposition. They are not in a position to meet these demands. They are subject to these periodic floods. In the Doncaster and Thorne areas, involving a good portion of the Don Valley Division, we are informed that 11,000 acres were flooded for a period of two weeks. That means that every single potato plant, all the seed sown during the autumn months and the efforts put in by farmers, small or large, have been lost. Their hopes for any results in the harvesting season has been destroyed by these floods. Therefore, it seems to me a ridiculous position that the need for economy should only be expressed in a national form. Either we have to make up our minds that this land is going to be drained or not, or that the cost is too large and we ought to abandon it. Before we decide to abandon such a large area, however, the question ought to occupy the time of this House.
I would like to make special reference to the area around about Doncaster. In 1923 a Royal Commission was set up to deal with mining subsidences. They discovered before they had sat very long that there was one special area, the Doncaster area, where a very large portion, quite 78 per cent. of the area, was below the 25 foot contour, while a vast area was only 10 to 15 feet above sea level. They held the view that if coal mining proceeded apace there would be no shadow of doubt that unless drainage was carefully dealt with not only agricultural land, but villages, farm buildings, etc., would very soon be submerged. They therefore recommended the setting up of a special tribunal to deal exclusively with the Doncaster area. In 1926 the late Lord Brentford, then Sir William Joynson-Hicks, acting as Home Secretary, set up a tribunal, with this Preamble:Whereas it has been resolved by both Houses of Parliament that it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, into the conditions in regard to mining and drainage in an area around the borough of Doncaster.The right hon. Gentleman thereupon proceeded to set up a committee of develop- 414 ment. On page 14 of the report of that special committee there appeared this statement, the truth of which is obvious to anyone who knows the area.In the Doncaster area, however, where large stretches of country are below or a little above the 25 foot contour, the effect of subsidence would be very considerable. It is therefore quite intelligible that the prospect of the development of coal mines under the Doncaster area should have aroused some apprehension and alarm. It was felt that unless adequate measures were taken, very large tracts of land would be in danger not only of losing their agricultural value through water-logging, but of being submerged, and that the same fate might befall roads, villages and farm buildings.That being the case, it seems to me to be absolutely imperative that this district, depending so much for its livelihood upon coal and agriculture and always living in a world of glorious uncertainty about mining subsidences and periodic floods, ought to have much more consideration from this or any other Government than it appears to have had up to the present time. The Royal Commission reported in 1928 and a special Act was passed exclusively for the Doncaster district, which covers an area of approximately 330 square miles, or three times as large as the City of London. Unfortunately, the power to rate was not comparable with the power to rate under the terms of the 1930 Act. They are obliged to rate the individuals, of whom there are many thousands, while the catchment board have the power to rate the county borough or the non-county borough. Therefore, their difficulty in carrying through any really big scheme can be seen at a glance.
There is one important fact that I wish to bring before the notice of the Committee. Three civil and mining engineers who gave evidence before the Special Tribunal to consider the Doncaster area indicated that within the next 50 or 100 years owing to subsidence the surface might fall anywhere from four to 10 feet and that unless drainage work was undertaken serious results would accrue. The special Act of 1929 was designed, for the purpose of giving power to the special board. Unfortunately, they discovered, having taken advice, that they were not in a position to do the job. The River Don, which traverses an area from Doncaster to Goole, is approximately 21½ 415 miles long and drains an area inside the Doncaster area of 71,000 acres, and outside the Doncaster area it drains an area of 335,000 acres. So that for every eight gallons of water that finds its way into the River Don only one gallon is collected in the Doncaster area.
Therefore, those responsible in the area are justified in stating that those responsible for the higher reaches, that is, the Ouse Catchment Board, are as much responsible for caring for the drainage of the River Don as the Doncaster Board. The River Went, which enters the River Don on its way, cleanses an area of 42,700 acres, and two-thirds of the water that finds its way into the Went and ultimately into the Don is collected from an area outside Doncaster. Therefore, the catchment board are afraid to undertake the task of cleaning the River Don. When the tribunal sat an engineer suggested that to deepen the channel to lift the banks, to raise the bridges and carry out such work as appeared to be necessary for a general four feet fall, would cost anywhere round about £600,000 to £800,000. The right hon. Gentleman must know that it would be a financial impossibility for that area to undertake such a gigantic task. They sent in June of last year a tentative proposal to the Minister of Agriculture for cleansing the River Don and doing a good deal of work there, which would have cost somewhere about £250,000, but the only reply they received from the Minister of Agriculture was on the 13th September when they were informed that no other grants were available. Consequently, the scheme had to be dropped.
During the past few months the right hon. Gentleman's officials have been working very hard with a view to persuading the Ouse Catchment Board to take over the responsibility for draining and caring for the River Don, an equitable and most desirable proposition, but at the moment that idea has not matured, and because of the failure to secure an agreement no work has been done, with the result that in a period of seven months Bentley has been flooded on two occasions. Every hon. Member has no doubt received a copy of an appeal. Apparently the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture are unwilling or unable to make any grant, and they appeal to hon. Members of this House 416 to make a contribution to relieve local distress. This circular is even more arresting when you look at the inside, where there is a picture of a colliery employing 3,000 men who were thrown out of work for two full weeks because the area around the colliery appears to be more like a sea than green fields. It also shows people being taken away from their homes in boats. It really is a sight for any man, and I suggest that those hon. Members who can afford to respond to the appeal might very well do so. But that is not sufficient. It is not sufficient for hon. Members who can afford to respond to the appeal made for assistance, we want much more done. We want to see work undertaken which will remove the possibility of a repetition of this occurrence at Bentley. In September, 1931, the then hon. Member for Doncaster made an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman but the only response was an intimation to the local people that no money would be forthcoming from the Government. The appeal fell on deaf ears. On 28th April this year the Minister of Agriculture reviewed the work of his Department and took credit to himself for having set an example to other Departments in having economised on education and colleges and also said:Drainage authorities were informed that State assistance could only be provided for works of an emergency nature, and the amount provided was reduced from £340,000 to £72,500.He proceeded to say:I should like to say at this point that these reductions involve drastic economies and a curtailment of the powers of many local authorities, and I am very grateful indeed for the helpful spirit which county councils drainage authorities, institutions and colleges and other bodies have cooperated with the Government in bringing about these very necessary reductions. I think the Committee will agree that on these figures the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries have contributed a reasonable, and, indeed, a good example of economy in our present difficulties."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1932; col. 590, Vol. 265.]I followed the right hon. Gentleman in that Debate and, knowing something of the district around the Don and what it had suffered during the past two years, I said:Referring to drainage, the right hon. Gentleman patted himself on the back because he had reduced expenditure from £340,000 to £70,000. If he could have 417 been at a place called Bentley, some two and a-half miles from Doncaster, four or five months ago, and seen a thousand men, women and children who were driven out of their homes and who had to lire for weeks in elementary schools, because their houses were not habitable, he would not pat himself on the back for having reduced expenditure on drainage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1932; col. 609, Vol. 265.]Little did I think that in about three and a-half weeks from that date 4,000 people in the Bentley district would have been driven out of their homes because of the want of drainage. It was a very quick nemesis. I hardly expected, two months after the Minister of Agriculture had boasted of having saved money at the expense of drainage, that the Minister of Health would be sailing round Bentley in a boat, having a joy ride on what was a sea in this area, where if reasonable work had been carried out on the River Don it would not have occurred. About 1,183 houses were affected and nearly 4,000 people driven from their homes, and at this moment, about a month after the flood, nearly 450 men, women and children are residing in elementary schools. The right hon. Gentleman ought really to repent for having stifled the activities of these drainage boards and ought to insist, if it is necessary, on the Treasury making such provision as is necessary for carrying out drainage schemes such as this in the Don area. What I am saying with regard to the Doncaster area I would say of every area where parallel conditions obtain. Instead of it being an economy not to drain these areas it is, as in this case, unwise, because people are not only driven from their work but some ten thousand acres of really good and useful agricultural land have gone out of production at a time when we are searching for new opportunities for physical and mental effort on the part of the unemployed, of whom there are nearly 3,000,000 at this moment.
We want the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his statement of 13th September last year and to repent of his statement of the 28th April this year, and to say that the Government recognise the equity of the Ouse Catchment Board, with their huge rateable value, taking over the responsibility for cleansing and caring for the River Don, and that as an inspiration to the ratepayers throughout the catchment board area he will say that the 418 Government is not unwilling to grant them financial assistance if they will carry out the work." The Don Drainage Committee have already expressed their willingness to hand over their powers to the Ouse Catchment Board, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has a resolution passed by the Don Drainage Committee to that effect in his possession. Then the representatives of the Lincolnshire County Council and the colliery owners, as well as the royalty owners, have also undertaken to make a contribution and have agreed to hand their powers over the river Don to the Ouse Catchment Board.
If the Ouse Catchment Board express a willingness, as I hope they will, to undertake this responsibility a 2d. rate, which is the utmost they can levy, will collect about £200,000, and if you estimate £20,000 for clerical and other expenses it leaves a sum of £180,000. Therefore, on the basis of the figures supplied by this engineers if the big scheme is undertaken, costing £750,000, the Ouse Catchment Board will not be able to carry out the work under five years. Imagine the anxiety of the residents in Bentley and the farmers throughout the area if for five more years they have to live in uncertainty, always fearing that their efforts will be destroyed when these periodical floods come along. We think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman could help the catchment board, first by making a substantial grant, as generous as Dr. Addison would have given had he had the power. I do not suggest that it is always the best man who gives other people's money away in the largest sum. It is because of 50 years' neglect on the part of Conservative and Liberal Governments that drainage in this country has got into such a very bad way. No words of mine could be more to the point than the words of the commissioners who were appointed by the 1927 Government, and Members who have not read their report should read it. They recommend substantial assistance in certain areas. They recommend, in fact, what the Labour Minister of Agriculture intended to carry out, and what we are appealing for to-day, that the right hon. Gentleman will indicate to the Ouse Catchment Board his willingness to assist them financially to get on with the work, so that this perpetual anxiety may be removed, a very large 419 area of tip-top agricultural land brought permanently into production, and so that those small farmers, who work 365 days a year, many of them long hours every day, will know, at all events, at the end of their year's efforts that there will be some result, instead of what they have had for the past three years. Last year they had the mortification of cutting their wheat and watching it flow down the river below Doncaster to Goole. This year there has been a similar experience, and we do not want to see it repeated again. We ask that these farmers and those who are in danger of unemployment through the floods and the men, women and children in the whole area who are constantly in danger, should be removed from future fear. Instead of expressing what is, we know, his very profound sympathy with the farmers and the residents of Bentley, and everybody else, we want something more from the right hon. Gentleman than sympathy. We want action, and we want that action now.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I have, on a previous occasion, brought to the attention of the House and the Minister of Agriculture the very disastrous condition of the country round about Doncaster, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has raised the matter again. I think that the Minister of Agriculture is fully aware of the appalling condition not only of Bentley, but also of the agricultural land further down the river. For months now, as I said on a previous occasion, some of us have been pressing upon the drainage authorities who are responsible that there was no time to be lost. As my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said, at a time when we were working hard for these remedial measures to be undertaken, and when we were pointing out that the floods had occurred last September, and might very probably be repeated at the same period in the near future, we never anticipated that within so short a time floods would come again, and come in so much more destructive form than they did last September.
I only wish to urge upon the Minister once more that he will do all that is in his power to bring the Doncaster Drainage Board and the Ouse Catchment Board together, in order that the jurisdiction over the lower Don may be transferred from the Doncaster Drainage 420 Board, which with the best will in the world, is without the financial resources necessary for carrying those schemes, to the Ouse Catchment Board, which has a very large rateable area, including the upper reaches of the River Don, from where, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, so much of the water comes which is at the present time flooding Bentley and the agricultural land further down the river.
In supporting my hon. Friend, as I do, in asking the Government to do all that they can to enable the drainage authorities to carry out this work, I must dissociate myself from him when he asks for a grant from the Government. I am not prepared to ask for my own constituency what I should oppose if it were asked for by some other constituency.
I was misrepresented the other night— innocently, I am sure—by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions, when he referred to the Members from Doncaster having objected to the London County Council Bill for raising capital sums for the construction of a new bridge immediately after asking for grants for drainage in their own area. Although I have been asked by my constituency and by the local authorities to ask for a grant from the Government, at the present time, in view of the national emergency, I am not prepared to join in asking the Government to make any such grant. I ask that the cost of these, remedial measures should be spread evenly and equitably over the whole of the basin of the Don. It would be grossly unfair if the lower riparian occupiers were called upon to pay the whole cost of carrying out measures which are largely made necessary by waters which come down from the upper reaches. This cannot be called a national problem. It is a local, a Yorkshire problem. I think it only right that I should make this plain. While urging upon the Minister as strongly as I can that he should take all measures necessary, whether by a transfer order or by legislation, to see that the Ouse Catchment Board, the statutory board set up for dealing with these matters, should be enabled to carry out work on the lower Don, as at the present time it is able to do upon the upper Don, I cannot support my hon. Friend in asking for a grant from the Exchequer in the present time of financial stress.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
May I express my appreciation of the action of the Opposition in enabling us once more to bring the subject. of agriculture before the House, and may I also congratulate the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson)? He has resisted the temptation of spending public money. If such admirable sentiments had pervaded the whole House of Commons for many years, we should not be in such a financial mess as at the present moment. I agree with the hon. Member who moved the reduction that agriculture is a primary industry, and that we shall have to devote more and more attention to the subject in the future. History does not record any nation that has built up on a decaying agriculture. I agree with the hon. Member also in what he said about our food supply. We shall have to grow more food at home. It is quite certain that our export trade has declined largely because of foreign tariffs. If we cannot keep up our exports, we shall not be able to pay for our imports, and therefore it is essential to produce more food at home. It is the imperative duty of the nation to see that our prodution of food is very greatly increased.
I know it is said—and it rather makes my blood boil—that the farmers are inefficient. Of course, there are good farmers and less good farmers, just as there are good politicians and less good politicians. But farmers, as a whole, are reasonably good business men; they produce the best stock in the world and the finest crops. If I may say so to my right hon. Friend the Minister, he began very well. He began by dealing with horticultural products. He went on to wheat. I am not sure that I agree with the method he adopted, but it guaranteed to a certain number of farmers a stable if rather a low price. But may I point out that he has been actually prejudicing the stock-raising farmer? He has taxed their feeding-stuff, while the stock has to be sold in competition with the world. May I ask my right hon. Friend—I do not know whether it is too much to ask him—whether he could give us the policy of the Government with regard to the stock-raising farmer to-day? Is it rather nebulous? Has he any policy? Has he any idea of what he can tell the farmers who are raising stock, which, after all, is 75 per cent. of the total agricultural product?
422 I am speaking in a friendly way. I want the Government not to procrastinate. I want them to have a policy. I do not like their attitude on land taxes. It is a kind of compromise. I assure them that no Government can succeed on compromise. Compromise is fatal to success. I want my right hon. Friend to tell me something of what is being done with regard to the marketing scheme for livestock which was sent to the Ministry of Agriculture a few weeks ago. The Farmers' Union have put in my possession a copy of the document which they sent to the Ministry on 22nd April. I will give the salient paragraph. They ask thatIn order to encourage the expansion of the livestock industry in this country the Government shall fix a quota representing the proportion of the total consumption of meat and meat products which shall be supplied from home sources.Have the Government any policy with regard to that? Do they propose a, quota, and, what is very important to me, will they make a pronouncement that in the forthcoming negotiations the home producer shall have the first preference in the home market? I think that is really vital. Perhaps I may be permitted to point out, in a sentence, the different treatment that has been accorded to the iron and steel industry and the agricultural industry. Iron and steel have Protection at once. The livestock industry is still subjected to competition. My right hon. Friend is going to Ottawa—I wish him all success there —but can he give us some inkling of what is in his mind before he goes? We, as agriculturists, are subjected to very severe Dominion competition. I wish the Dominions well, but, still, my heart beats faster for the home farmer. It is only natural, and we are getting very fierce competition. I drew my right hon. Friend's attention the other day to a case in Devonshire. The Devonshire farmers could not sell their butter owing to New Zealand products coming here. Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind at Ottawa?
The DEPUTY -CHAIRMAN
We had better not anticipate to-morrow's Debate. I would point out that the expenses of the Ottawa Delegation, on which this question ought to be raised, are charged on the Dominion Services Vote and not on the Ministry of Agriculture Vote.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I accept your Ruling, but may I suggest that this matter also affects the Ministry of Agriculture? The Minister is going to Ottawa and will deal there with this very subject. I am trying to keep strictly within the confines of order. In to-morrow's Debate the subject of agriculture may not be brought up, although agriculture will be one of the most important matters to be discussed at Ottawa. I hope, therefore, that I may refer incidentally to the subject, especially as the salary of the Minister of Agriculture is now before the Committee. I will not deal with the subject at great length, but I do think it is in order for me to ask the Minister to give some inkling of what is the agricultural side of Government policy.
I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will see that his remarks are only incidental. The expenses of the Ottawa Conference come up on the Dominion Services Vote and not on this Vote. At the same time I recognise that the Minister of Agriculture has a certain responsibility as the head of his Department. I do not want to have the subjects of to-morrow's Debate muddled up by having them dealt with piecemeal. I hope that any reference to Ottawa will be as brief and incidental as possible.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I appreciate that point entirely. It is because the Minister of Agriculture has special responsibility in this matter that I wish to raise it now. I quite see the point that you must have the Ottawa Debate as clearly defined as possible, but the matter I wish to raise is entirely within the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture and relates to the representation of agriculture at Ottawa. As to the number of representatives that will accompany the Minister to Ottawa to represent agriculture, I notice that the representative selected is one of the most capable and well-informed gentlemen in the House. But I ask the Minister to consider the opinions of the farmers themselves. The farmers ask that there shall be another representative, a practical man, to go with the Minister to Ottawa. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) is not a practical farmer, not in the sense that I mean, for he does not get his living by farming. I am supposed to be a practical farmer, but if 424 I had only what I get from farming I would not be in this House. There are capable practical farmers, and I suggest that it would be wise for the Minister to consult these men. I ask my right hon. Friend not to bolt and bar the door against further practical representatives accompanying him.
Let me now deal with the question of the Ministry itself. In answer to a question my right hon. Friend gave same really startling information as to the growth in the number of officials at the Ministry. In 1913, apparently, there were 659 officials on the pay list. In 1931 there were 1,640. That is a perfectly amazing increase. The salaries in 1913 were £131,500; in 1931 they were £537,000. The number of officials has grown 2½ times and the salaries are "up" something like four times. What can be the reason for this increase of officialdom at the Ministry? This to me is a kind of Socialism, this Whitehall farming. I have no sympathy at all with Whitehall farming. I do not believe that Whitehall ever farms any land at a profit. What are these officials there for? Their number has increased by a thousand and especially do I deplore that fact when I recollect that there are 150,000 fewer labourers on the land. It would be far better to have fewer officials at the Ministry and more labourers on the land. I hope that my hon. Friends of the Labour party will see here how pernicious are Socialism and all this management of agricultural and other affairs by Government Departments.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is only his interpretation of Socialism.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It is my view. I may be wrong. The trouble is that these officials always want to get something to do; they want to find work for themselves. Of course we had it in the last Parliament. We had schemes of land utilisation and large-scale farming. I object to all this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Smallholdings?"] Smallholdings are excellent, but the smallholdings set up during the last ten years are costing the country £800,000 a year. I ask my hon. Friends to concentrate on the one thing which really matters, and that is the price obtained for the farmers' products. The real trouble of agriculture is that the cost 425 of production is greater than the price which the product will fetch. I suggest to the Minister that he can dispense with some of his officials. There are, I believe, commissioners for dairying, commissioners for poultry, commissioners for agriculture. I wonder whether any one of these gentlemen has ever taken a farm and made it pay? If there were an examination for these officials at the Ministry, and they were asked whether they had engaged in practical farming and had made it pay for a period of five years, there would be an awful clearance of officials.
I observe that there is a Welsh Department. It costs £14,939, and the travelling expenses are £3,800. That is £18,700 a year altogether. I happened to have had the privilege last Thursday of being in the beautiful county of Montgomeryshire. I was talking with a county council smallholder, who deplored the fact that he had great difficulty in carrying on. He told me that at Welshpool Market well-bred white pigs, 11 weeks' old, were sold for 8s. 6d. each. I have never known such a price. Would my right hon. Friend the Minister be good enough to put his Welsh Department on to that topic? Will he tell the smallholders how they can make farming pay with such low prices? Hon. Members on the Labour benches have repeatedly made complaints that there are not enough inspectors for agricultural wages. Let me again give them a little practical advice. The best inspector for agricultural wages would be prosperity for the farmers. If the farmers were prosperous they would be able to pay good wages. The best wages board in the world is two masters seeking one man. When two men are seeking one job wages are going to have a very difficult time.
Labour Members of this House are asking that wages shall be kept up. I have always thought that the agricultural labourer was the worst paid man in the community, although one of the most deserving. But there is an enormous amount of competition in agriculture from Russia. What wages board is there in Russia? Therefore I suggest to Members of the Labour party that if they want to improve the position of the agricultural labourer they should see to it that agriculture is made prosperous, and they can do that only by increasing the price that 426 the farmer receives. I have listened with some alarm to some speeches that have been made from the Government Benches. Some Ministers have said, "Well despite this and that, prices have not risen." They must rise. Otherwise we cannot go on. I have drawn the Minister's attention to all these facts. I hope he will be able to give us an indication of his agricultural policy at Ottawa, because it is extremely important. Unless stock farmers can get some word of encouragement I really do not know what will happen. I have never known the agricultural industry so depressed, and I hope the Minister will give the farmer some message of hope this afternoon.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. GRUNDY
I want to bring the Debate back to the question of the flooded areas. I have visited the Don-caster area, and I have come to the conclusion, as any visitor must, that something needs to be done and done quickly there. It is impossible to understand how the Government can withhold assistance. For a few moments I want to speak about another flooded locality, the Rother Valley. There the floods have almost rivalled those in the Doncaster area. In the villages of Treeton, Whiston, Catcliffe, and other villages in the neighbourhood, hundreds of acres of land have been under water. The people's homes have been invaded and they have had to evacuate them. The rural district council has assisted these unfortunate people in a very kind and generous way. It has helped to cleanse and disinfect their houses, and has even assisted them in repapering their rooms. In this particular flooded area hundreds of acres are under water and farmers and allotment holders have suffered very heavily. There are also in that area two large and important modern collieries, the Rother Valley Colliery and the Rotherham Main Colliery. One of them has been in existence for nearly a quarter of a century, and although not much work has been done in that pit for the past three or four years, yet if the good times which we are promised come to us, that is a modern colliery capable of employing 3,000 or 4,000 hands. The rural district council have invited me to attend a meeting which they propose to hold with a view to asking for some Government grant to deal with these matters and I should like the Minister to tell me what he proposes 427 to do. I should like to be able to assure that meeting that the Government will be only too pleased to make a grant with the object of avoiding any recurrence of this flooding in the future.
I cannot now put forward any details of the schemes which are proposed because I have not been informed on them, but I feel confident that any such schemes will be practical ones and I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will see their way to give a grant to aid these people. Some 10 or 12 miles distant from the area to which I have referred, the River Rother empties itself into the River Don at Rotherham and as the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Herbert) is unfortunately absent from the House through illness and as my division borders that area I may mention that in Rotherham itself in the case of one long row of houses the flooding came up to the windows and most of the houses had to be evacuated. The people had to be taken away from these houses in boats. In all these areas both urban and rural roads were rendered impassable by the floods and men had to make detours of two or three miles in many cases in order to reach their places of employment.
The point which I wish to make, in the first place, to the Minister is that some survey should be made of the River Don and the River Rother with a view to preventing these floods. Surely it is time that some scheme was formulated to prevent the repetition of this flooding every time that we have excessive rains. It is not in the interest of the nation that large collieries such as I have described should be endangered by flooding or that workmen should be cut off from their employment by floods. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will take this opportunity of making a definite statement on this important matter and that we shall hear from him that his Department is prepared to make some grant to assist in bringing about better conditions in these localities than those which obtain at the present time, as regards flooding.
§ Mr. TOUCHE
In addressing the House for the first time may I ask for that indulgence which is always given to new Members. I hope that the hon. Member for the Rother Valley (Mr. Grundy) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the question of flooding in Yorkshire because 428 that is not a subject with which I am familiar. I am however very grateful to the Opposition for having chosen a second Supply Day for the discussion of agriculture because I believe that the restoration of agriculture is one of the most vital problems before this nation at the present time. There is no industry the extension of which can do more to help the balance of trade. There is no industry in which more can be done to benefit employment at home, and we should never forget that by far the best market for our manufactured goods is the agricultural land of England.
As far as arable farming is concerned, I think the Government have made very satisfactory developments. The establishment of a Wheat Quota will prove a great boon to arable agriculture, but wheat only represents about 5 per cent. of the agricultural production of this country. The bulk of our agricultural production is live stock. Unfortunately, when the Import Duties Bill was introduced, the stock-raising industry was entirely excluded from the operation of the Measure. Since then, the matter has been remedied and now the question of duties on meat is within the province of the Tariff Advisory Committee. But I rather gather that the members of that committee do not intend to consider foodstuffs until they have received some directions from the Government, until, in fact, the Imperial Conference has taken place. If that is the case it is very unfair in my opinion to the farmers of this country. They are not to be treated on their merits at once, but their case is to be postponed in order that English agriculture may be used as a sort of bargaining counter at the Imperial Conference.
I urge upon the Minister the fact that the condition of the stock-raising industry is very nearly desperate. They have been hoping against hope for some security for their markets. There are some who say that no security ought to be given to them until there has been reorganisation. It is quite true that, whereas as regards production, the English farmer is unrivalled, his methods of marketing are less developed than those of some of his Continental rivals. But I do not think it fair to say on account of that fact that the farmer is a bad business man. Any Member who has actual dealings and bargainings with in- 429 dividual farmers will find that he may easily come out second best. The position is that the farmer is intensely individualistic. What he produces represents, at any given time, a very small proportion of the total supply, and he stands as an isolated economic unit against the organised forces of middlemen. For that reason we have the unfortuate position that, while the purchaser in the shop may have to pay a considerable price for a commodity, only a small fraction of that price goes to the man who has all the hard work of producing the supply.
It is also sometimes objected that security cannot be given to the farmer because it will raise the price. I think that argument has been weakened by recent developments. If we take those agricultural commodities which are included in the Import Duties Act such as butter, eggs and poultry we find that since the 10 per cent. duty has been put on, instead of an increase of price there has, unfortunately, been a calamitous fall in price. Then, it might be objected that the Government were not justified in protecting agriculture in all its forms under the mandate which they received at the Election. Nearly all supporters of the Government receive a mandate for a free hand but a large number of Members advocated at the Election a positive policy for the protection of both industry and agriculture. I hope the Government will take care to see that they do not disappoint the Socialist candidates who at the last Election, in every constituency, declared "A vote for the National Government is a vote for food taxes." They omitted, of course, the word "foreign" before "food." I hope the Government will see to it, that although those Socialists candidates were unsuccessful at the Election, they will be shown to have been true prophets in saying that we would get Protection for agriculture as the result of the return of a National Government.
§ Major HILLS
It is my pleasant privilege to congratulate the last speaker on an admirable maiden speech. His father, as a former Member of this House, was known to and was a friend of many Members of the present Parliament. We welcome the advent of the son and I think I can speak for the whole House when I prophesy for him a successful 430 career in the profession which he has chosen to follow. I wish now to refer to the speech of the Mover of the Amendment. I had the honour of sitting on the Commission from the report of which he quoted and we were all struck with the disastrous results of the want of drainage on a large proportion of the land of this country. That harm occurred in two ways. It occurred in the actual flooding, such as we had in the Don Valley and in other parts of Yorkshire recently—because, incidently, I would remind hon. Members that not only the Don Valley but a very large part of Yorkshire suffered. That is one way in which the lack of drainage damages the land.
But there is another way, quite as destructive and more insidious, where, through the choking of the main channel, the water level is too high in the floor of the valley, and thousands of acres of land which used to produce good grass or other good crops are going back to reeds and rushes, and where they used to supply a large amount of food for the people all that they do now is to form a sort of swamp; and that is an evil which is increasing very rapidly. Our report was quite definite upon that point. We tried to express it in the moderate and reasoned language of a blue-book, but I think our feelings did show through the moderate words in which they were expressed. There were two requisites in order to put that right. In the first place, you had to sweep away all those old drainage boards which went back to feudal times, whose powers were unknown and whose financial stability was very uncertain, and you had to set up a catchment board for each catchment area. A large amount of that work of machinery was done in the Act of 1930, and boards are established all over the country.
As far as machinery goes, that is a step in the right direction, but machinery is no good without oil, and in this case the oil that is required is money. The boards have the power to raise money, but in the present condition of agriculture, which is far worse now than it was in 1927, when we reported, it is impossible to expect to raise an adequate sum of money by rates from land which is flooded or liable to flooding. It cannot be done, and either the land must be left to be flooded or some other step must be taken. Dr. Addison, the late Minister of Agriculture, talked 431 about a generous grant from the Government. I shall say something about that in a minute, but I want to put it to the Committee perfectly definitely, as my own opinion, that either you must spend money on drainage, or you will have a large amount of land thrown out of use and a large amount of land flooded.
Of course, in ordinary times you would say that if you drain a man's land, it is improved in value, and that that man, whether he is the landowner or a tenant on a long lease, can very well pay a rate, which will be recouped to him in the extra rent or return from the land. Unfortunately, it is not so, because the return on land is so small and is diminishing so fast that no landowner would spend money on draining his land unless he happened to be a man of means, who could afford to lose that money, and no farmer would care to be rated, because he knows very well that he cannot be certain of getting back that rate in the increased value of the produce of his farm. I think that everybody who has looked at the question recognises that you cannot put a further charge on land, or a general charge on land certainly—in some cases you might be able to do so— because land cannot bear that charge.
Now, are the State to find the money? Are we, in these difficult times, to ask the taxpayers to find the money to stop the decay which is taking place, the damage to property which is taking place, and the disintegration of a great industry which is taking place? I fully appreciate the attitude taken by my hon. Friend the Member for the Doncaster Division (Mr. Molson), reinforced by that splendid friend of economy, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who, more than any other man in this House, all through his political career has stood for economy. But I suggest a middle course to the Government which, I think, would meet the case and, I hope, would escape the censure of my right hon. Friend below me. It would be, to my mind, a solution, and I believe it would meet with the approval of a large majority of this Committee and, I think, of the country too.
Why should we not save some of the money that we are wasting on roads and spend it on drainage? We are spending far too much on roads, and roads do not 432 create wealth, while money spent on land would create wealth; and money has to be spent on land at some time or another. I wish some hon. Members had been with us on some of those peregrinations that we made up and down England. We came to the conclusion that if we had a war and were compelled to grow our own food, we are now in a far weaker condition than we were in 1914. There is to-day far less potential and far less actual productivity in the soil than there was then, and that condition is getting worse and worse every day. This money will, I believe, have to be spent some day, and when I see the enormous roads that run all over the country, which do not assist the localities through which they run and, in spite of the immense grant which the State gives, will throw an increasing charge on the rates, with no benefit to the ratepayer, I seriously question the wisdom of that policy. I should like to see it all shut down for the moment and the money spent on the far more useful and far more productive outlay of increasing the cultivation of our land.
Our Commission, in the course of our inquiry, were invited by the Dutch Government to go over and see what they were doing. I daresay the Committee have seen in the Press an account of the enclosing and draining of a large part of the Zuider Zee, and we were shown that work in progress. There a large amount of money was spent by the State upon drainage, and I believe that in the end it will have been spent productively. It certainly is an example that we should bear in mind. I do not think that at the present moment we can afford to spend more out of taxes. I wish we could, but I join with my hon. Friends in thinking that we cannot increase our taxation, and I suggest that the only way is to cut down in some other direction. I believe it will have to be done some time, and I should like to see it done at once.
One word more. I want to join in the appeal that was made by the right hon. Member for South Molton for some declaration of policy in regard to the stock-raiser. I do not attack or blame the Minister of Agriculture. I know the conditions under which he has to carry on his work, work which we all value deeply, but I ask him to tell the stock-raiser what the Government's intentions are. I do not think he realises the cruel 433 position of these men, the terrible uncertainty in which their lives are enshrouded. If there is to be no hope, if we are not to tax foreign meat, why, then, tell them so. I believe that we cannot save stock-raising in this country unless we do tax foreign meat, and I believe that we can do it without raising the price, except to an unappreciable extent. I believe that it will have to be done some time, but whether it is to be done or not, I plead with the Minister to let the farming community know, because it is not fair to keep a whole mass of men in the state of suspense in which they are now. I only ask the Minister to say what he means to do, not what he would like to see done, but I do ask for some announcement as to what is the policy of the Government, and for that, I think, the farming community are entitled to ask.
§ Mr. HIRST
It is not my intention to follow the last speaker in his reference to stock-raising, but I wish to say a few words in connection with the flooding in the area which I represent. It has been flooded as often, I think, as any other area in Yorkshire, and is one of the worst areas for floods, with the exception of Bentley. It affects five villages when the heavy rain comes, and apart from the flood times we have hundreds and hundreds of acres of land under water during the bright weather in summer time. This land has been let down, no doubt, by subsidence through colliery workings. I can see out of my bedroom window at home, in looking round the lower lands, hundreds of acres under water, and when you take into consideration that there are six or eight mines round about that district, and that they have taken something like 9 to 12 and 14 feet of coal out below, you can make up your minds that there is going to be subsidence and that something will have to be done to meet it.
I remember during the last floods going down into the areas which were flooded. One way, leading on to one of our great collieries, the Houghton Main Colliery, the roads were flooded, the houses were flooded up to the window sills, the water was going in at the front door and rushing out of the back door, and people were living upstairs, but that only took place for about three days. It was not as bad 434 as in the Bentley district. The ways leading from Wath up to Bolton-on-Dearne were flooded for some four or five days, and one long row of houses there was flooded for about the same time, and people were living upstairs. For a long time it has been considered that the Doncaster area has not been treated as seriously as it ought to have been. For a number of years it was known that subsidence would take place and that something would have to be done. I have received a letter this morning from the Wath Urban District Council, which says:Our council have from time to time endeavoured in a small way to tackle the problem with a view to protecting their own district, but it would appear that the Land Drainage Act, 1930, has seriously curtailed and possibly destroyed their powers in that direction. Our council in common with others fear that unless some strong motive power is supplied by Government Departments the various drainage and catchment boards will remain costly and useless encumbrances. If on the other hand the statutes under which they operate are defective our council consider that Parliament should amend those statutes as early as possible. It does seem to our council a great pity that such fabulous sums should be paid away annually on Unemployment Insurance Benefit whereas the recipients might do useful work on the rivers of the country if those sums were made available on loan and used for the payment of wages.These floods in my district affect six urban district areas, including Darfield, Wombwell, Wath-on-Dearne, Thurnscoe, and Bolton-on-Dearne. All these areas are affected every time there is flooding in that district and we have long since come to the conclusion that something ought to have been done before now. If something be not done, there is no doubt that the floods will become worse and whole villages will become derelict. I hope that the Minister will do his best to make a grant to see that the river beds are deepened and the land is drained. I remember some 20 years ago that in Darfield we had these floods regularly. At that time they widened out two bridges and dredged the river from Darfield Bridge to Broomhill. After that we did not have floods for a long time. Now, however, they have come back to us, and it is evident that the rivers are not dredged as they ought to be. If they were dredged as they were 20 years ago, we should not be subject to the floods that we are having. I hope that the Minister will take into consideration 435 what has been said, and will see that something is done speedily.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
Like the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills), I was a member of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage which sat in 1927, and I should like to stress the urgent importance of attention being paid without delay to this very pressing matter. I like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's suggestion that a certain amount of expenditure should be switched over from roads to drainage. I want to refer to another aspect of this drainage question which has not been mentioned, an aspect which, I think, is of great importance. I hope that the Minister will take it into consideration when he sees his way to help those areas which have suffered so much, and are still suffering, from the recent floods. In dealing with the flooding of any river, it is of vital importance to consider the picture as a whole. You may do an enormous amount of damage by clearing some particular tributory in an upland area of flood-water without first of all preparing the channel of the main stream to deal with the increased volume of water. It is a very difficult problem. Anything that is done in the way of improving the drainage in the upland areas adds vastly to the carrying capacity required in the main channel lower down.
When you deal merely with the water from the streets of towns or the drainage of the Rother or Don, or any of these tributary rivers in order to give local relief, you might do unutterable damage to the Ouse valley lower down. Those who have pleaded for these flooded areas must not think that I am out of sympathy with them when I urge the Minister, in considering the problem, to look at the whole of the Yorkshire Ouse and to take the whole area into his vision and not only the tributary rivers. It is particularly important in the case of the Yorkshire Ouse, because not only is a large area of the Ouse Valley subject to flooding in the ordinary sense, but a large area of its lower reaches is subject to inundation by the sea as well. They thus get an added complication. If you arrange for a great increased discharge of flood water from above into the Ouse without preparing the channel 436 to receive it, you will have the sea joining in the conspiracy to aggravate the damage which is done.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hirst) made reference to the dredging which used to take place in the river of his own district, but which has now been stopped. The valleys of our smaller rivers and streams are in many parts of the country liable to flood now in a way which was unknown 20 or 30 years ago, very largely because of the break up of great estates. I could mention many districts where in days gone by a long stretch of some small river or stream passed through lands which were under one control, and it was possible for a staff to be maintained to look after the river. The estates are now broken up and spread about in many hands, no one of whom can maintain the skilled labour for dealing with the river channel; and where a few club together to do so, their work may be rendered ineffective by the failure of somebody down the valley to carry out the same work. This-point merely emphasises the urgency of the problem, but I think that I have said enough to convince the Committee that these problems must not be looked at from a local point of view, but that the whole picture must be taken in mind before assistance is attempted.
§ Mr. TURTON
I want to remind the Minister that the West Riding is not the only flooded area in Yorkshire. We in the North Riding have suffered in the last three years from three unprecedented floods. One cannot but feel that all the steps that could have been taken have not been taken, either by the right hon. Gentleman or by his predecessor. I congratulate the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) on having made a sound suggestion. He expressed the view that it would be wiser to spend money on drainage than upon roads. Last year we spent £15,000,000 upon the maintenance of roads. That sum was directly paid by the Exchequer and excluded the amounts paid by local authorities. In that time we spent £200,000 upon drainage work. This year the only notable decrease in the Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture is their expenditure upon drainage. While the whole of the Vote has decreased by £300,000, the amount put aside for drainage work has decreased 437 by £181,000. I cannot but think that it is a bad policy at this time to increase expenditure in other branches of agriculture and to decrease it to such a large extent on drainage. There is an increase in the expenditure on the diseases of animals branch, yet there is this large decrease in drainage work.
There is a particular river which I want to recall to the Minister's memory. We have heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) about the problem of the Ouse. The problem I have in mind is not directly a problem of the Ouse, but is an appendix to it. It is the problem of the small river Foss. Usually twice a year that river is flooded and carries away the crops of the farmers. With the exception of one year, 1912, nothing has been done to the river. The river Foss is in a peculiar position, because the river bed belongs to York Corporation which has no interest in the agricultural land on each side. As it has no interest in it, it does not take the trouble to drain it, and the river bed has been silting up for 30 years. The problem began in 1890 when the farmers went to the High Court to get some redress, and it has continued until to-day. I would ask the Minister to do what he can to bring the parties in that district to a common agreement so that that river can be put right. At the present we can undertake no coherent scheme for agriculture in the district owing to the recurrence of flooding. The farmers are very anxious to do what they can, should a drainage board be formed, to get the problem solved if York Corporation were willing to pay some quota of the cost, and if the Minister could regard it as a matter of emergency when the river is flooded twice a year, instead of regarding it as an emergency only when a man or woman is drowned. We have here a very vital problem which has lacked attention, and I urge, the Minister to regard it as a matter of emergency in view of the fact that the floods destroy all the crops.
I want the Minister to remember the position of the egg and poultry producers. Very little has been said about those producers during the last year in this House. They have reached the position to-day where they are being completely driven out of business by the importation of Dutch, Russian and Belgian eggs, 438 which are coming in valued at 6s. per great hundred. I do not think that any self-respecting hen can lay eggs at a halfpenny per egg. I think the Minister will agree with me that hens and poultry should be worth more than 5½d. per lb., which is the price at which they are coming in to-day. If nothing is to be done for the industry until after the Ottawa Conference to prevent people from buying foreign eggs, the great mass of small agriculturists will go out of business. These poultry dealers are probably the most impoverished class of agriculturists and many of them are trying the industry as their last hope. We wish the Minister God-speed for his voyage to Ottawa, and we ask him to look after our interests, and not to forget that British agriculture is as important as Empire agriculture. We look forward to his coming back with definite proposals in regard to agriculture, including a duty upon meat and a higher duty upon agricultural produce.
§ Major MILNER
I am surprised to hear that the question of the River Foss is still before the attention of the Minister. I have some recollection that his predecessor, only a month or two before he left office, took the matter up very strongly. It is a sad commentary upon the Minister that, after eight or nine months, that matter has not been settled.
§ Mr. TURTON
I also took the matter up with the late Minister of Agriculture, 14 months before he left office, and during that time he did nothing to get the Foss cleaned or drained.
§ Major MILNER
The hon. Member will forgive me. I said that the matter was put to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor some months before the right hon. Gentleman succeeded him. I know that his predecessor took immediate steps to arrange a meeting between the parties concerned to request the prospective chairman of the Ouse Drainage Board to take up the matter personally, although at that time the board had not been fully formed. It is a matter of regret to me that the matter has not been brought to a successful conclusion ere this.
On the general question of agriculture, I feel at some disadvantage to-day, because, owing to my absence for some months from the House, I am, perhaps, not acquainted with the full extent of 439 the Minister's infamy in regard to agricultural matters. I have done my best to acquaint myself with what has been done, but it may be that I am not fully posted up, so that if I make any comment on the right hon. Gentleman which is not justified, I hope he will accept this explanation as my excuse. I am, however, in a position to compare the position as it was when the right hon. Gentleman took office with the position to-day. The right hon. Gentleman succeeded to an estate that, while it was largely encumbered by an accumulation resulting from a good many years of Tory and Liberal Administration, had yet been laid out by his predecessor, and was ripe for development. The mansion house had its foundations well and truly laid by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, and it is a matter of surprise to me to find that the right hon. Gentleman has built only a small proportion of those foundations, namely, on the Agricultural Marketing Act. So far as the remainder of the estate and mansion house are concerned, they are now, to a large extent, in process of going to rack and ruin.
As to the Marketing Act, I very sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. I gather, however, that his doubts are not entirely dispelled. He has hitherto only taken steps to set up reorganisation commissions in regard to two, or it may be three commodities. In the matters of livestock, eggs and poultry, and probably one or two other commodities, the right hon. Gentleman has not yet thought fit to take any action of any shape or kind. If he has, I hope he will be good enough to tell the Committee what action he has taken to set up schemes in regard to those commodities. In regard to a number of other matters, it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman may say: "I have left undone those things which I ought to have done, and I have done those things which I ought not to have done." With regard to drainage, that is certainly the case. It needs no word of mine to reinforce the case which has been put forward by hon. Members on all sides of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman was warned in almost precise terms by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) as to the consequences of lack of attention to Don 440 drainage matters. It is clear that there has been, in regard to that area of the country, a very grave and wilful neglect of the opportunities which the Minister had, and of the duties which were laid upon him under the Land Drainage Act, 1930.
From an answer given by the right hon. Gentleman about a month ago, in regard to that part of the country, it appears that he is apparently not yet convinced of the necessity of taking action to prevent a recurrence of the disastrous flooding that took place near Doncaster, and of seeing that the same set of circumstances does not arise elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins) asked the Minister on 11th May whether he was aware that the bed of the river Neath was so filled up, that any flood caused an overflow and damage to property, and endangered the life of the people, and whether he would cause inquiry to be made and would make a grant to the local authority to have the river dredged. The Minister replied that he was aware that the present condition of the river was causing anxiety locally. He went on to say that his Department had under consideration an application from the county council to make an Order under the Land Drainage Act, 1930, constituting a catchment board for certain rivers in South Wales, including the River Neath. The right hon. Gentleman added that he could give no undertaking that any grant from State funds could be made available. I should like to ask him now whether he has reconsidered that decision, or whether he is satisfied that further damage will not be caused in that area. I should like also to ask whether he does not think it is the duty of his Department and of the National Government to take steps that are obviously desired by all sections of the House to prevent a recurrence of the Bentley calamity, or of any similar calamity at Neath?
I was interested to hear what was said by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson), who, I am sorry, is not now in his place, and to hear his definition of economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley asked the Minister, "When is economy not economy?" and I gathered that, in the opinion of the hon. Member for Doncaster, it was only an economy when it was the National Government which was saving money, 441 and that there was no objection to the area concerned—I think he said the whole area of the drainage board— having to find the money. I am at a loss to understand the sort of mentality that differentiates between classes of economy in that way. Drainage is very largely a national problem, and that was the opinion which underlay the passage of the Land Drainage Act, and it is perfectly absurd to expect an area such as the Bentley area, or even the whole area covered by the Ouse Drainage Board, itself to find the whole of the money required to deal with the very serious problem which exists there. My view is that the Government, although they may not have any legal obligation, certainly have a moral obligation, to treat this as a national matter, to come to the assistance of the area and to see that the flooding which caused, and still causes, loss, injury and inconvenience to the masses of the people in those parts, does not occur again. A very great amount of work would be found in that area if steps were taken to prevent further flooding. I am assured that many thousands of men might be employed in that work, and, if for no other reason, it seems a very foolish waste of money to pay a large number of men unemployment benefit and to prevent them from doing this very necessary work of building up the banks of the river.
The greatest blot on the right hon. Gentleman's escutcheon is his very grave neglect of the interests of the agricultural worker. The difference between the right hon. Gentleman's policy and that of his predecessor is very marked in this matter. Dr. Addison engaged a number of additional inspectors under the Act regulating wages, and I gather from previous Debates that one of the first acts of the present Minister on coming into office was to dismiss or in some other way get rid of these gentlemen. I gather, also, that the Minister has admitted that very large sums of money were recovered for workers who had been underpaid by their employers. No doubt it is only a small minority of the farming community who are always trying to cut down labour costs, but it seems to me that what the right hon. Gentleman has done is to indicate to them, if only by implication, 442 that they may do so almost with impunity, that the Ministry are not now very seriously concerned with that sort of complaint. The fact that the Ministry had these extra inspectors, and were having what were termed "drives" in different parts of the country, prevented farmers from attempting to make deductions from wages who might otherwise have been tempted to do so. Hours, too, I observe with regret, have been extended in many parts of the country, and in respect to both wages and hours I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to be subject to the censure of this Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is doing a very great deal for the farmer, and I understand that the House has been assured that wheat growing ought to show a certain profit this year, that the prices of barley and oats will benefit by the duties, that sugar beet growers have been assured of satisfactory prices, and that the dairy industry is not altogether unprofitable; and yet, notwithstanding that position of affairs, the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to do anything for the workers in the industry. He seems to be susceptible to every pressure except pressure from the workers. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman in receiving a deputation yesterday, expressed the opinion that had there been a Central Wages Board the position in regard to wages would not have been very different from what it is to-day, when wage reductions are taking place in all parts of the country. I would point out to him that it would be within the power of such a board, strengthened as I suggest, to fix a minimum wage for the whole of the country.
I rather think the hon. Gentleman is discussing a matter which would require legislation, and he cannot do that in Committee of Supply.
§ Major MILNER
I will not pursue that matter further, except to say that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the workers would not have been better off even if there had been a Central Wages Board is an indication that he is not disposed to consider assisting the workers in that or in any other direction. The position with regard to wages 443 at the moment is such that in places where men from adjoining counties shop at the same shops we find the men from one county with as much as 3s. a week less than those from the other county.
§ Major MILNER
I am afraid I should have to look it up, but I can give the hon. Gentleman the reference if he will permit me to do so. The right hon. Gentleman, in receiving that deputation from the Trades Union Congress yesterday, made a plea for co-operation with the workers in the industry. How can he expect co-operation if there is not some reciprocation? In my view he has neglected the workers' interests not only in regard to wages and hours but in the matter of tied cottages. I gather that he has not taken any steps to impress upon the appropriate authorities the necessity for putting the Rural Housing Act into force; he has certainly not taken any steps with, regard to unemployment insurance; and he has neglected to make use of an Act of Parliament, the Land Utilisation Act, which occupied this House for many weeks' only a little over a year ago.
In particular I am sorry that he still persists in refusing to carry into effect the Clauses relating to allotments. Very great help was rendered by the grants made by the Ministry of Agriculture a year ago in providing work on allotments for unemployed men. I am told that although strenuous efforts have been made by the Society of Friends it is very unlikely that it will be possible for those schemes to be carried on during the coming year. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider whether it is not possible to make some contribution towards these allotment schemes as a means of assisting in dealing with the problem of the unemployed. In my own City of Leeds a large number of men took up allotments and did their best to cultivate the land, some of which had not been broken up previously. They put in a great amount of work, but now they are having to give them up, because they are not able to provide the seeds or the tools which they were promised would be provided in whole or in part by grants made by the Ministry of Agriculture. One cannot say too much in praise of what the 444 Society of Friends have done in this matter. They have tried very hard to carry on the scheme, but it is quite impossible by private munificence in these days to help the large numbers of men requiring assistance.
The right hon. Gentleman has had, and still has, the greatest opportunity of any Minister to ease the problems with which we are confronted in this country to-day. He has at his disposal Acts of Parliament which, in the considered judgment of this House only a year or two ago, would find work for large numbers of men, but he has done nothing to operate those Acts. He has built upon the structure, as I mentioned in my opening sentences, a mere ugly excrescence of tariffs, the result of which we are not yet in a position to weigh up, but beyond that, apart from the work I have mentioned, he has wholly neglected his opportunities. What he has done has been done in the interests of the farmers and landowners alone, but he has done nothing to assist the farm worker either to preserve his wages, his hours or his conditions, and to that extent we say he is deserving of censure.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I cannot help thinking that the hon. and gallant Member was speaking with his tongue in his cheek when referring to the benefits conferred on agriculture by the late Socialist Government. I think it is a lucky thing that so many of those schemes have not been put into operation. Supposing we had had these large-scale farms, or supposing these hordes of unemployed had been put on to the land on small holdings? What would their position be at the present time? Half the troubles from which the country is suffering at the present time are due to the colossal spending that went on during the two years the Socialist Government were in office. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says the cupboard is bare, but who made that cupboard bare? The late Socialist Government.
§ Major MILNER
I did not say that the cupboard was bare, but if it is, it certainly is not the fault of the Labour party.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I think the country has judged of that. At the beginning of his observations the hon. and gallant Member referred to two matters which interest us very much in Lincoln- 445 shire. He spoke of the Ouse and the Trent drainage areas. They are two of the richest drainage areas in the country. A rate of 2d. in the Ouse area brings in, I think, £160,000, and a rate of 2d. in the Trent area £180,000. In some of the small catchment areas in Lincolnshire a 2d. rate produces only £2,000. We have heard of the terrible situation of many of the farmers and colliery workers in the flooded areas. If the Drainage Act which was passed recently is to be of any use at all, the catchment boards must function. One of the difficulties is that there is no central authority with which they can consult. There is an Association of Municipal Corporations and an Association of District Councils, which are always looking after the interests of those bodies, but there is no central organisation looking after the interests of the drainage authorities, and I suggest that one ought to be constituted on the lines of the Association of Municipal Corporations to watch over legislation affecting their interest to see that it is in order and that it is up to date.
There are one or two observations I must make upon farming in Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire is a county of large-scale farming, and that certainly is suffering more at the present time than anything else. Large-scale farming cannot be assisted by plans for dealing with only one commodity. People say to us, "Oh, but you have got the wheat subsidy," but I know a farm of 2,000 acres of which only 100 acres can grow wheat, and that not every year. The products of large-scale farming are sheep and pigs, barley and oats, wheat, poultry and so on. In order to assist the large-scale fanner, or any smallholder in the arable and Eastern parts of the country, all those products have to be taken into consideration. Where farmers have done well in the past it was because they had so many irons in the fire; but at the present moment everything is slumping, and they are also faced with large wage bills, although I admit that the wage of the individual labourer is not too much. With such large wage bills large farmers find they are suffering, perhaps, more than the smallholder who works himself and consumes his own products. I venture to suggest to the Government that they have to look at the whole of the products of the industry.
446 The Government have made a very good start with horticulture, which will help the small men round the big towns, and they have started the encouragement of poultry. Poultry production in Lincolnshire is bounding up, but it is impeded by the fact that the importations to which reference has already been made are depreciating prices, and the farmers need encouragement in order to carry on. The problem of sheep is one of the hardest with which the Government have to deal, and it is one of the most important to Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire in the past has done well with sheep, because rams have fetched large prices in the Argentine. Rams and Lincolnshire wool have done well, but at the present moment sheep and wool have both slumped, and we ask the Government to bear that fact in mind.
The question of barley is linked up with that of pigs. If the Government assist the farmers of this country in the production of pigs, that will help the barley grower. If the Government feel that they can limit the importation of foreign pig products, they will find that an enormous production will follow in Lincolnshire, which is close to the barley fields, and in two years' time this country will be able to produce sufficient supplies to take the place of foreign imported pig products. In a short time there will be practically no difference between the quality of the imported pigs and our own, because the farmers now know that the old types of pig, such as the Lincolnshire curly-coated pig, are not suited to modern taste, and they are changing to the large white, so that the Government need have no doubt that, if they will give the necessary encouragement by stopping foreign importations, people in the big towns will not be disappointed in the quality of the bacon products with which they will be supplied. What we are anxious about is the question of time. We cannot hold our herds and our stocks of pigs or finance the day to day husbandry in the Eastern Counties very much longer. I am afraid that, the longer the Government wait, the longer it will take the Eastern Counties to produce what the Government want. Therefore, the message we give to them is, "God speed your deliberations at Ottawa. Carry out the policy which you have in view as quickly as ever you can."
§ Mr. PATRICK
I am still very unfamiliar with the procedure of the House, and am not at all sure as to what is in order in this Debate and what is not, but what I have to say will be very general and very brief, so that I hope I shall not exceed the limits. Agriculture at this moment is not only a problem, but an urgent problem, into which the time factor is entering more and more. That is a point which, I will not say this Committee, but the public as a whole rather fail to realise. The man in the street has a pretty shrewd idea of the difficulties of, for example, the mining industry, and he has a good deal of sympathy with Lancashire, but I think that even to-day he still fails to take the farmer very seriously. I fancy that that is a result of the fact that among our oldest established national jokes is the joke that the farmer is always grousing, in season and out of season, whether things are prosperous with him or not. That joke in various forms has made the fortune of a good many comic papers, but it is certainly a very bad joke to-day. The state of farming is really not a joking matter.
As has been already said, agriculture is one of our most vital industries; it is estimated that not lees than £1,000,000,000 of national capital is bound up in it; and our national agricultural production is actually considerably greater in value than that of any single one of our Dominions. We are apt to think of our Dominions as agricultural producers on a great scale, but, although I myself did not realise it until quite lately, in value we in England grow more than Canada, and actually, I believe more than Australia and New Zealand put together. There is no question about agriculture being a vital industry and there is no question, either, that it is in as desperate a position now as any other of our great industries, even the worst. It is a mistake to generalise too much, but I make that statement on the strength of observations in my own Division, and the district which I represent is typical of a large part of the stock-raising area of the country.
I have had the opportunity lately of looking through a good many farmers' accounts, and personally I have not the slightest doubt that, if it were possible to organise a really complete and com- 448 prehensive balance sheet of the industry at this moment, it would be found that at least half the industry is actually insolvent, and the other half very rapidly going the same way. Indeed, it could not be otherwise, because the costs of production and overhead charges of all kinds, including rates and taxes, are not far from double what they were in 1914, while, on the other hand, the prices that the farmer gets for his products, in my part of the country at all events, are down practically to the pre-War level. The farmer did not make an exaggerated profit before the War, and, in view of these figures, it is obvious that now he cannot be far away from bankruptcy. It is impossible for the farmer to make both ends meet on this basis. I know that hon. Members opposite attach great importance to better organisation, better marketing, and more co-operation, and I, for one, thoroughly agree with them that these things are of the first importance, but I wish they would also agree with me that the best organisation and the greatest amount of co-operation in the world will be of no use if the end of it all is merely to arrange that the farmer sells below cost price.
To discern the causes, no particular knowledge either of economics or of farming is needed. The first cause which is responsible, perhaps as much as anything else, for the present state of things, is the industrial depression—something which is outside agriculture altogether. Obviously, the state of the industrial towns has weakened prices and lessened demand, and the farmer is suffering. It is an obvious platitude that agriculture will never be really prosperous at a time of industrial depression; and the converse is equally obvious that a depressed agriculture will be of no use for the purpose of assisting struggling industry. A great deal has been said in the House during the last six months as to the possibility of industry being relieved by the absorption of surplus labour by agriculture; but that cannot be effected at the present moment, when agriculture itself is in a desperate state. Like the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last, I am a firm believer in a forward policy with regard to smallholdings, but I know that to attempt a policy of that kind on a large national scale, such as would be required in order to afford any real 449 relief to industry at the present moment, must be a ruinous failure; it cannot be otherwise. If an experienced farmer, with knowledge and a little capital left, cannot live and make both ends meet, surely it stands to reason that a smallholder without that experience and capital will find things harder still. Before we develop a smallholdings policy on a large scale, we must have better times for agriculture.
It would be out of order, I think, to discuss the subject of industrial depresson further, and it would also be out of order to say very much on the subject of monetary policy, but I think I am entitled to refer to it briefly, because it has been implied in this House more than once that the solution of the troubles of agriculture, and of most of our other troubles, is to be found by raising prices to the 1929 level, and doing so by manipulating the currency, that is to say, by controlled inflation. It is true that, if agriculture could get back to the prices of 1929, it would benefit enormously, but only on one condition, and that is that the prices of manufactured goods did not rise at the same time and to the same extent. But the trouble of agriculture, and of the world in general to-day, is not the absolute low level of the prices of primary products, but the gap between those prices and the prices of manufactured articles. What is wanted is, not to raise all prices together, but to reduce the gap between these two classes of commodities, and personally I feel doubtful whether it would be possible to reduce that ruinous gap, at any rate for very long, merely by manipulating the currency. I think, therefore, that the farmer has nothing much to hope for from a policy of inflation.
There is another difficulty that he has to face. The other immediate cause of his critical position to-day is external competition, which, by general consent, Is more acute and difficult to cope with than ever it has been before. It is not only the British farmer who finds himself in such a plight to-day; the same is true of the Argentine, and, for that matter, of the Australian, the Canadian and the New Zealand farmer. The difficulty for them is that this country is their most important market in the world, and, naturally, they make every effort to retain their preference in our market. In 450 addition, Soviet Russia has lately come on to the map, so to speak. It is her policy and her system to allow her agricultural products to be sold at prices below—often considerably below—world prices, and that, without doubt, has been an important factor in bringing the world prices of primary products down to their present ruinous level, so that we are in a sort of vicious circle. Luckily, so far as this country is concerned, external competition is about the one agricultural difficulty with which the Government are able to deal directly, and their policy hitherto has been directed towards that end. I do not want to occupy the time of the Committee by going point by point over what has been done already by the Government; it is familiar to everyone. Most of the Measures which have been introduced have been opposed by hon. Members opposite on the ground that they involve a contribution from the rest of the community for the benefit of agriculture. In theory, perhaps, they do, at any rate to begin with, involve some slight contribution, but in my opinion that contribution is money well spent. In the long run in the national economy it will repay itself handsomely with interest, since it will make for greater stability, greater prosperity and better health. In one or two respects it has failed to fulfil what the right hon. Gentleman intended that it should do, and that through no fault of his own. Neither he nor any other Minister could have foreseen the continued fall in the price of agricultural produce that has gone on ever since the beginning of the year, and has resulted in a part of the policy, at any rate, being inoperative. I refer to the 10 per cent. duty on poultry and other products. It was partly for revenue purposes, no doubt, but it also had a protective element in it, and, as far as the second part is concerned, the tremendous drop in world prices has made the protective element completely inoperative. As far as the home producer is concerned, it is of little value or no value. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could not consider, if only as a temporary measure before Ottawa, somewhat raising the level of the duty.
I should like to offer a more serious criticism on the policy as a whole, and that is the very big gap that is left in it 451 by the omission to deal with the products of stock-raising. The vast majority of enlightened farming opinion will agree that the backbone of English agriculture has been in the past, and must continue to be, the production of meat. Our climate and our soil, and our experience in raising the best grade of stock fit us for it and indicate that that is our main line of business. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Even at this time, when the economics of agriculture are turned upside down, we still manage to produce just upon half of our consumption of meat. I know the difficulties involved. First of all, there is the question of Ottawa. Naturally, no final decision can be taken before that Conference, and it will be no easy matter to arrive at an equitable solution of it. It is a platitude that our greatest bargaining counter for the Dominions is a share in our meat market. I have mentioned the rather surprising fact that, although that is our best bargaining counter, we ourselves are greater producers, in value, of food than any of the Dominions. That throws a light on the problems that our delegation will have to face at Ottawa. Whatever solution is arrived at must be in the nature of a compromise.
§ The TEMPORARY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Cadogan)
If the hon. Member had been here earlier, he would have heard a Ruling from the Chair that any allusion to Ottawa must be only incidental.
§ Mr. PATRICK
There is another aspect of the measures that can be taken to assist stock-raising. The Government have already announced their pig policy and, in theory at least, most farmers will agree that it is a satisfactory one. Farmers ask me, "If the Government can adopt that policy in respect of bacon, why do they not do so at once in respect of other forms of meat?" and that is a very difficult question to answer. I know the difficulties of the problem. The stock-raising industry is on a very much larger scale, is much more widely scattered and much more varied than the section of the industries that produces bacon only, and the interests of the consumer have to be very carefully studied. But none of these are insuperable difficulties. The stock-raising industry prepared a scheme and laid it before the right hon. Gentleman, and I would urge 452 him with all the force I can, if it is not suitable, to revise it or adopt one of his own and have it ready to put into force at the earliest practicable moment, immediately after Ottawa or as soon as the House meets again. The stock-raiser cannot wait much longer.
The hon. Member referred to the mining industry. I should like to assure him and the Committee that no one is more interested in the future of British agriculture than are the miners. Many of us for years have been members of allotment and smallholdings associations and of county agricultural committees, urging and hoping that the country would see its way in the near future to develop the land far more than it is developed now, and it is because we are interested that we are moving this reduction of the Vote. I want, first of all, to say a few words on the drainage position in the Doncaster district. I was for a time a member of the drainage committee. I think it will be admitted, even by the Minister, that the authority that is dealing with the drainage of that district has neither the powers nor the financial position to enable it to deal with the position that has arisen in the Don Valley. It means, therefore, that, if drainage in the Doncaster district is to be dealt with efficiently, its powers must be transferred to the Ouse Catchment Board, which can deal with it, and ought to be dealing with it, because it is at that end where the difficulty is. I see no reason at all—I am surprised at the statement of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson)—why anyone should put any obstacle in the way of some national financial help in a position of this difficulty. I see in this report that provision is made for financial assistance in case of emergency. There can be no greater emergency, surely, than what happened in the Doncaster district three or four weeks ago when we had 4,000 people homeless, many of whom have not got back yet, and a tremendous amount of damage which it will take a long time to overcome.
Unless something is done before long, other areas towards the Western portion of Yorkshire will be affected. I live seven miles from Doncaster where the River Don passes, and the position was so serious three or four weeks ago that, for the first time in my life, we had houses 453 flooded seven miles from Doncaster and we had to bring out of the low-lying districts five or six families whose furniture was floating in water six feet deep. It is evident that something must be done, and surely a case can be made out for some financial help from the Treasury. I opposed one or two of the Clauses of the Doncaster Drainage Bill in the Committee because I have always maintained —and I think it is a fair position to adopt —that people living in low-lying districts ought not alone to be liable for the financial provisions of a drainage scheme that may deal with miles of drainage on the high summits further away. All ought to make some contribution, and not only those directly affected by floods. The Doncaster District Drainage Board was in that position. The only people upon whom they could levy a rate were the people who were directly affected. It is not fair to put a definite financial responsibility on me because I live in a low part of the valley that receives drainage water coming from the hills. This is not dealing with the drainage of land as such. It is dealing with a river. It is one of those cases where some financial assistance should be given from the Treasury and, unless it is fothcoming, I am afraid the drainage authorities are going to have very great difficulty. I appeal to the Minister to do what he can to speed up a remedy for the tremendous danger and difficulty which now confront the people in that area.
Coming to the other part of the right hon. Gentleman's policy, we criticise it from many points of view. First of all, there is no provision for the development of allotments. I receive letters from districts in the West Riding appealing for something to be done for the unemployed, as was done a year or two ago, In the provision of allotments and of seed for the cultivation of food. Surely, that is one of the things that the Minister ought to encourage. The development of smallholdings is getting very little support or sympathy. The smallholder to-day is not in the position he was in a few years ago, but I attribute that in many cases to bad marketing. We have been told that something ought to be done for the breeding fraternity. If you take the price of British meat—beef, mutton or pork— 454 in the retail shops, is it not fair to asume that, if they were the basis on which the farmer was paid, he would get a fair profit and the breeder would get a fair profit? I frankly admit that I never buy foreign meat if I can afford to buy English meat, and I do not think that many people buy foreign meat if they can afford to buy English.
The trouble is the high price which I have to pay for English meat. I am certain that if the breeder got a fair share of the money, he would be able to secure a living wage. It is a matter of marketing. We have said from these benches that if the farming community generally, those engaged in horticulture, in stock-breeding and in poultry farming, would only organise themselves into proper marketing areas, and take full advantage of the provisions of the Marketing Act, they could supply goods to our mining villages and our towns at such prices as would enable them to obtain a living wage.
Another point which we impress upon the Government in the interests of the future of British agriculture is that the time has come when the question of land rent should be looked into. I remember in 1925 when we were dealing with the new De-rating Act coming to a conference in London at which it was suggested that unless there was some safeguard for the farmer when de-rating came about, the landlord would get the benefit by means of increased rent. It was admitted by a very eminent agriculturist that that sort of thing had already taken place, and that many farm rents had been increased by landlords taking advantage of their tenants owing to the De-rating Act. The National Government, which the Minister of Agriculture represents, have been talking for some time about equality of sacrifice. If British agriculture, is to be put upon its feet—and there is no one in the House of Commons more prepared to give assistance in every shape or form than the party on this aide of the Committee if only something is done on proper lines to reorganise agriculture—the landlord ought to make his contribution to the sacrifice. I took part in the purchase of some land for the West Riding Agricultural Committee some years ago when the price which was paid proved in- 455 evitably that agricultural land in this country is dearer than similar land in any other country in the world. I do not know why it should be so. In any future reorganisation of British agriculture land rents ought to be taken into serious consideration.
I trust that the Minister will give consideration to the points we have raised and, as a matter of urgency, deal with the problem of drainage at once, and, as a matter of policy, place into the hands of the unemployed the freedom and liberty which they enjoyed three years ago in the development of allotments. I am sure that it would be very much appreciated. We may not know much about the technical details of British agriculture, but many of us are beginning to feel that hundreds of men who are now being stopped from working in industry will, sooner or later, have to find employment as a result of the intensification of the agricultural policy of this country. When we realise that only one-seventh of our population is working in agriculture, there is a large amount of room for intensification and development. If the Minister will give consideration to the matters which we have raised, he will find that hon. Members on this side of the Committee will be prepared to give him every possible assistance.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir John Gilmour)
If I intervene at this stage for a few moments, the Committee will, I hope, forgive me and realise that they can continue the discussion. I think that the Committee will agree that I could not say anything at this moment without making a reference to the tragic loss which we have suffered in the death of Sir Donald Maclean, the President of the Board of Education. The Government will, of course, take the earliest opportunity of paying that suitable tribute which, I am sure, Members in all parts of the Committee would desire should be given. The Committee will realise the deep sorrow with which I and those who have been colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman, and who have had the privilege of his friendship for a number of years, heard the sad news.
This Debate—the second day on which the Committee have discussed these Estimates—is one which I frankly welcome. It is, I hope, another indication of the 456 awakening interest of Members in all parts of the House, reflecting, I believe the interest awakening in all parts of the country in one of its great basic industries. Too long it has been thought that there is a diversity of interests between industrial and agricultural affairs. Entrusted for the time being with the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture in England and Wales, and co-operating with my colleagues in Scotland, I am very conscious of the helpful criticism which has come from time to time from all quarters of the House.
To-day, the main part of our time has been taken up with the problem of the very serious flooding which has occurred in many quarters of the country. Some hon. Gentlemen have said that I am open to a measure of reproach because I succeeded to an estate which was founded securely by my predecessor, Dr. Addison. It is true that I succeeded to an estate, but it was an estate in financial stress and difficulties, which fact I was bound to recognise. It has been my painful duty to say quite frankly, not only in regard to drainage, but practically in regard to every other aspect of the work to which we desire to put our hands, that we must take cognisance of that financial condition. It is no good either in respect of the problem of drainage or of any other part of the problem of agricultural administration unless we recognise the very patent facts. The history of drainage in this country goes back for a very long period. The Committee will well remember that we discussed this matter at considerable length and passed legislation in 1930 in an endeavour to bring together a number of small drainage authorities, and to set up throughout the country catchment boards to deal with the problem of flooding on a fresh basis.
The Land Drainage Act received the Royal Assent on 1st August, 1930. There were something like 47 rivers set out in the Schedule of the Act, and catchment boards had to be set up to deal with those different areas. The constitution of a catchment board under the Act certainly necessitated advertisement, and it required considerable time to set the machinery going. The first catchment board was set up on 3rd November, 1930, and the last on 12th October, 1931. Actually the first meeting of any catchment board was held on 16th December, 457 1930. The catchment boards were, therefore, in operation at some time through the year 1931, but of course most of them found themselves responsible for very considerable new duties. They had, in fact, to review the position and to take cognisance of great fresh areas, and try to formulate in their minds how they were to deal with the big main rivers, and, indeed, how they could properly, having surveyed the problem, make schemes and plans which would be effective.
I was very glad to hear some hon. Members, in speaking upon this subject to-day, emphasise the fact that in dealing with the problem you might do an infinity of harm by adopting a scheme if it was not a well-thought-out and coordinated scheme. While those who come directly from seriously devastated areas, as do some of the hon. Members who have spoken to-day, must feel impatient and anxious about the problem, do not let us be carried away too fast in criticism of this kind. Let us realise that this is a problem which, if it is to be well done, must be carefully considered, and also remember the plain and patent fact that the inheritance into which the catchment boards have come is an inheritance of neglect in one form or another over a very considerable period of time, and obviously it must take a good deal of time in order to deal with it. In regard to the most serious and typical case which has been put here to-day, that of the flooding in the Don Valley and neighbour-hood, I appreciate very much indeed the attitude of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson). He said, frankly and courageously, that while he realised and desired to impress upon the House the necessity of dealing with this problem, he recognised the difficulty of the financial position in which the country is placed. I am going to receive shortly a deputation consisting of those who are responsible for the Ouse Catchment Board, the Trent Catchment Board and the Doncaster Drainage Board with the object of discussing with them, in the most practical manner we can, what is best to be done to try to solve this difficult problem. But I must say to the Committee, that whatever that solution may be, the unkindly fact still remains very patent and clear that such assistance as can be given is small and 458 circumscribed, because for financial reasons I have not the money to dispose of. On the other hand, through all this trouble we have placed at their disposal the services of the officials of my Department and other Departments. I am satisfied that the officers from the Ministry of Agriculture who have been in the area have done their very utmost to help and advise and assist, and I am not unhopeful that, as a result of this conference, we may see some possibility of progress being made. One of the practical difficulties is whether certain powers and regulations which at present exist can be transferred. It will be unfortunate if we cannot find some common measure of agreement which will lead to the better co-ordination of these authorities. To that end I shall endeavour to assist. I do not know what that may necessitate. It is possible that it may require some measure of legislation in the future. If so, it is obvious that that legislation cannot be introduced immediately, but if and when it comes, and it is an agreed Measure, I hope that I shall be able to rely upon the co-operation of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
§ Sir GEOFFREY ELLIS
The right hon. Gentleman is not forgetting the question of subsidence and the co-operation of the Ministry of Mines?
§ Sir. J. GILMOUR
Those who know the district are very well aware that a great part of the difficulty is due to the effect of subsidences, and that you cannot remove the water except by pumping. That has accentuated the trouble very considerably.
Several hon. Members have passed from the problems of drainage and floodings to deal with the more general aspect of agriculture. This is not the occasion on which anything other than a passing reference can be made to the Ottawa Conference. All that I will say is that the Government and I are fully alive to the necessity of ascertaining agricultural opinion, whether in this House or outside, so that we may be efficiently guided in the policy which we pursue when we go there. In the administration with which we are concerned to-day, as I said on the last occasion when this Vote was discussed, the Government have set up certain commissions to deal with some aspects of agriculture. The hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel 459 Heneage), speaking of the problem of agriculture in his part of the country, said that to him the important question was that of poultry, sheep, barley and pigs. I think I may claim that the Government have not been blind to the necessity of dealing with the problem of barley. On the one side there has been imposed a duty which is so administered that it falls with greater severity upon the brewing and malting quality, and as a less heavy burden upon the feeding portion of barley.
The commission to deal with pig and pig products has a very close association with the problem of barley. I recognise and appreciate the anxiety of those who are in the pig industry and the feeling they have that the prices which they are obtaining for pigs at the present time are so low and so bad that they are even induced in certain parts of the country to slaughter breeding sows; but I would say, in all seriousness, to the farming community that, difficult a problem as the present position is, this is not the moment in which that policy of slaughter should be pursued. There is held out a real hope as a result of the commission and of the conversations and negotiations. The Government are under a definite pledge to deal with the problem, and I do earnestly plead that there should be less talk of the slaughter of sows, and more attention paid to trying to wait a little time, with the sure and certain pledge that this problem is going to be dealt with. In the administration of my Department, owing to the financial stringency, the encouragement of the breeding of stock and steps to help forward meat producing in this country, have had to be curtailed. Is it not true to say that by far the most certain help which can come to those who, like myself, are humbly trying to breed and rear stock of good quality and suitable for the market, is in the recovery of the industrial position of this country? I was glad to hear from more than one hon. Member who spoke to-day that in the great industrial centres, whether in the mining centres or in the factory districts, there is a desire and an inclination on the part of all our people to buy home meat rather than foreign meat. I am well aware of that, and the surest and most certain hope for the 460 stock-breeder in this country is to get the wheels of industry going.
Those who are in the sheep industry are well aware of the fall in prices and the difficulties which we have to face. We are doing our utmost by the commissions in regard to milk and pigs. I think we could get a very great measure of assistance from the farming community if they recognised that there are too many classes of breeds; whether of pigs, cattle, or sheep. I am not one of those who would say that we should not have a variety of breeds; far from it, because we have climatic conditions and hill districts and lowland districts where different classes of stock do better in one place than in another; but I am convinced that those who are the leaders of agriculture at the present time, whether they be directors of our great shows or our small shows, can do something to help in guiding the farming community to breed and rear the proper class of stock. I visit agricultural shows and come away with some feeling of despondency at times, because I see the dissipation of energy in the numbers of our breeds, particularly in pigs. I come away with some feeling of despondency also, because I see animals winning prizes in the show ring that are too fat for breeding purposes. I am speaking in this House on a subject like this at the present time because I am conscious of its importance.
The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) said that he did not believe in Whitehall rule of agriculture. Nor do I. All that Whitehall can do is, through this House and by the provision of certain money, to direct, help and assist. The practical work must be done outside. I am criticised, and I do not resent criticism, but I am justified in saying to my agricultural friends and neighbours outside that at this time more than any other they could, through those who frame the rules of their exhibits and lead the discussions in their clubs or elsewhere, do a great deal to help the industry as a whole by wise advice and guidance on the problems that I have mentioned. This Debate will be continued. I can assure hon. Members that my only desire is to be of true service and assistance to the industry in which we are all concerned. The House can help me with their criticism and their 461 advice, and I hope that no Member will hesitate to come to the Ministry and see those officials who deal with the particular problem in which they are interested, whether it be land drainage, the breeding of stock, or any other subject. I can assure the Committee that I have listened with the greatest interest, and I hope with instruction, to the Debate as far as it has gone.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
In regard to the deputation from the Doncaster and Ouse Catchment Boards, the right hon. Gentleman suggested the possibility of a Bill. Do we understand him to maintain the position of 13th September or of 25th October with regard to the possibility of any Government assistance in such a case as is known to be an exceptional and emergency case?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The hon. Member must be aware that my Estimates provide only a limited amount of money, and the decisions which were taken by the Government which took over from the late Labour Administration still obtain. I cannot hold out a hope of large grants from public funds.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I agree with the Minister of Agriculture in regard to the breeding of pigs, and we heartily accept the announcement, the pledge that he intends to assist this branch of agriculture. There is no doubt that we have too many breeds of pigs; there are 17 or 20 different kinds. To my mind, only two varieties are necessary, one which will produce the best quality of bacon with the smallest consumption of food, at the earliest age, and the other a pig for killing for consumption as fresh meat. Breeders should concentrate on these two varieties instead of going in for a lot of side issues, as they are at the moment. I believe that a breed of short-nosed pig is much in favour in some parts of the country, and they have developed it until the poor pig has practically no nose at all. I am sure that it is no better for bacon purposes—probably it is far worse. Breeders should not develop these idiosyncrasies, but should produce animals which will give the best meat for consumption as food.
I rose more particularly to speak on the question of land drainage. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. 462 Williams) sometimes agrees with me, and sometimes disagrees. In this case he has criticised the action of the Government because they have not efficiently drained certain flooded areas in Yorkshire, and he pointed out the agricultural loss which has followed the lack of drainage. I must remind him that when the Land Drainage Bill of 1930 was under consideration in this House, I was its unofficial opponent through all its stages, and I am very pleased that the hon. Member to-night has joined me in my solitary opposition and criticism as to the effectiveness of that Measure. The Land Drainage Act sets up large catchment area boards—the whole country is included in one or other of these catchment boards—whose function it is to cleanse the main channel of the main river. During the passage of the Bill it was said that if they functioned properly, all the main rivers of the country would be properly cleansed and that there would be no more flooding. I criticised the Bill and said that I did not think it would have that effect; and it has not. Therefore, my criticism was fully justified. Let me give one reason why the Act has not been as effective as it might have been. Before a catchment area board can function, it must have a revenue with which to do its work, and the Act gives the board two forms of revenue. One is a precept on the county council rates and the other a precept on the internal districts within the catchment area. The precept on the county council rate is limited to 2d. in the £, but there is an unlimited liability to be carried by the internal districts in a catchment area, which, of course, include agricultural land. The hon. Member for Don Valley referred to the loss which agriculture had suffered from floods. Is he aware that this unlimited liability on internal districts in a catchment area penalises agricultural land?
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS indicated dissent.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
Surely the case is this; that any expenditure by a catchment area board which is not met by the £d. rate on the county council must be met by the other partner, that is, the internal districts in the area, upon which there is an unlimited liability.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Surely the hon. Member must know that until the passing of the 1930 Act the main carrying drains 463 of the country were severely neglected. All the rates which a catchment area board levy on uplands at present are in addition to any money expended in the past, so that internal districts get through the catchment area boards assistance which has not hitherto been available.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I must remind the hon. Member that the internal districts bore the whole of their expenditure themselves; and they were the body which administered these expenses. To-day the catchment area board is composed of a majority of representatives from the uplands and a minority from the internal districts. That is, the majority represents the uplands with a limited liability of 2d. in the £ while the minority represents the area with an unlimited liability. Therefore, the majority of the board, when they proceed with any operation, do so knowing that they have a liability limited to 2d. in the £ whereas the minority, who are unable to voice their opinions, have to carry an unlimited liability. I suggest that it is rather an unjust burden to put an unlimited liability on to the internal districts, and therefore on to agriculture. The purpose of any land drainage operation is to make the cultivation of crops a paying proposition. Rates that are paid for land drainage can be assumed to be an insurance against loss by water, but it is possible that the premiums for such insurance may be too large. It is possible that the tax which has to be paid by the internal districts for safety from flooding may be too large in proportion to the value of the crops. It may be that the destruction by water of the crop to which the hon. Member for Don Valley referred was the cheapest way in which to get rid of it. It may have been that the value of the crop in the market would not have equalled the cost of harvesting and threshing it. Possibly the flood did that farmer a great deal of good.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
The correct method is to make the growing of these crops a paying proposition; and I can assure the Minister that there will be no difficulty about the drainage of land 464 in any part of the country if, when it is drained, the crops grown upon it will pay. I have been connected during the whole of my life with an area of this country which is not 21 feet above but three feet below sea level, and in the past that land has always been drained by the local authority, not at the expense of the State. It is only recently when this dangerous and infectious disease of trying to exploit the national exchequer for everything is prevalent that this system has been altered. Until quite recently the land was drained by the locality; and very efficiently. Why? Because the crops at that time were a paying proposition. And there will be no difficulty with regard to land drainage if the growing of crops is made a paying proposition. No land drainage authority would desire to come to the State and ask for a subsidy if when the land was drained it produced a crop which paid the grower. The agriculturist has no desire to be a parasite on the community. If the crops grown will give him a return he is prepared to carry out his own drainage operations, and will do it effectively. I suggest to the Government that the first thing to do de to make agriculture pay, and these other things will follow.
§ Mr. TINKER
In the first place, I should like to refer to the passing away of the President of the Board of Education and to say how deeply we regret to hear the news of his death. He was one of the most charming and sincere men in this House, and we are deeply sorry that he has passed from our midst.
I am Very glad at the turn the Debate has taken, and I was very pleased to hear the Minister say at the end of has speech that notes will be taken of any suggestions made in his absence, and that they will be considered. I was also pleased when he said that he was going to take certain bodies into consultation about floods, but I was most pleased to hear him say that he was going to work in association with the Minister of Mines. This question of flooding is daily brought home to anyone who lives in mining districts. We take the mineral from underneath because it is needed in the national interest, and we forget the damage which we do to the surface. After a short time one sees in every mining area great depressions and large heaps, usually 465 called dirt heaps, where the residue picked out from the coal is stacked in big heaps. If something had been done to level those heaps as the dirt came out of the shaft and to fill up the depressions, it would have restored the land as it was originally, and have been of great benefit to the country. But no one has paid any attention to that aspect. The policy has been one of grab and of getting all that is possible out of the land. The result now is that we are faced with all these difficulties, with these floods and these depressions. Many of the villages in Yorkshire appear to me worse than the battlefields of France; they are a greater disfigurement than the battlefields with their shell-holes and trenches.
I have had a picture sent to me from Bentley showing a flooded inland lake almost similar to one we have in Leigh, which I represent, which is called the Flash. It is an inland lake about a square mile in extent, which has been caused by a mining subsidence. Attempts have been made to get it to flow into the River Irwell, but it has not been found possible to divert it, and at the slightest fall of rain it overflows on the roads and into the houses and people have to get out until the fine weather comes again. Then, when the rainy weather returns, we again have flooding and the same difficulties. If this Debate brings some recognition of what is happening and we can get some understanding between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Mines in order to deal with these problems, it will have a very good effect. I realise that it will be a most difficult matter to deal with. There is a saying that things are bad now but they can become worse, and that applies to this case. Unless dealt with, matters will gradually get worse. We are glad to know that some attempt is being made to tackle this enormous problem.
I agree with the hon. Member who stated that, if ever we got into difficulty again and these shores were again attacked by any foreign foe, our food supply would be a matter of enormous importance. He pointed out that we were worse off now than in 1914 and every one knows the great difficulty we had in trying to meet the emergency then. Even if that emergency does not recur, mining is being reduced and we have to turn our attention in other directions. Agriculture 466 is one of the matters to which we ought to pay greater attention. When we dispute with hon. Members opposite on these questions, it is because we differ as to the best method, and not because we do not want agriculture to succeed. We think that in. the past those connected with agriculture have not taken the right steps and we are anxious now in a time like this to see what is the right thing to be done for this great industry. As the production of coal decreases, as it is bound to decrease with the introduction of other forms of power, so some attempt should be made to get back to the position of England in by-gone times. We have got to get back to the land. Both mining Members and agricultural Members know the difficulties in their own localities. It has been a calamity which has brought these questions before the House of Commons. If it had not been for the Bentley flooding, this matter might have gone on year after year until some bigger catastrophe occurred. If this catastrophe brings good results, it will be one of those disasters which bring advantages in their train.
§ Mr. BUTLER
One of the interesting features of this Debate is the way in which industrial find agricultural Members are being gradually brought together on agricultural matters in the face of tragedy. I hope that to-day's Debate will mean that we shall be able to help those who suffered in the recent floods and that agricultural and industrial Members will continue to work together for the future of England as a whole. I have, unfortunately, been absent for four or five months owing to work in India. I have now returned to find in North Essex a position which is increasingly serious and very grave. I have come back to find farmers facing even more serious difficulties than before. While I have been away, I have done my best to follow the policy of the Government with regard to agriculture and, on reading over those declarations which we all make to our constituents at election time, I was very gratified to find that a great many of our claims at the election have already been fulfilled in this short time by the National Government. I would like to pay my tribute to the Minister for the way in which he and his Department have worked in that period so that we can say that the majority of the matters raised at election time have 467 already come up on the Floor of the House. The Horticultural Products Act has been of definite benefit to the glasshouse industry at Stansted and other places in my own district. In the few weeks since I have been back, I have taken the trouble to ascertain the facts from those concerned. The Wheat Quota Act had been advocated for many years since the repeal of the Corn Production Act. We have always heard in agriculture the complaint that wages were fixed and that prices were not. That was a genuine grievance of the agricultural community. Many of us worked in the last Parliament and many of us have worked in this Parliament to see that something should be done for wheat. We have at last achieved the Wheat Quota Act, and we should be grateful to the Government for having passed it.
I am purposely mentioning these facts because I find, as is often the case, that those Measures which have been passed are not mentioned to a Member when he returns from abroad, but that the grievances and troubles of the moment are exclusively put before him. I have had countless letters since my return pointing out the difficulties of conditions at the present time, and only a few pointing to the things which the Government have achieved, and to those pledges which the Government have implemented since the election. We cannot hold ourselves responsible for world conditions, and it is a striking fact that the agricultural countries of the world and the agriculture of different countries have suffered more than anything else in the present great world economic depression. We should recognise that, although times are bad, the single administration of a single country has done its best to face the agricultural problem, and that there is more to come, about which you, Mr. Chairman, with your usual discretion, would forbid me to talk, as it would entail future policy and future legislation. Agriculture has also benefited, as far as I can see after my short absence, from the Import Duties Act.
I wish to reply to my friend and colleague in India who raised the question of rural housing and who regretted that more had not been done. In the last five or six months, since the inception of 468 the task of the National Government, I have seen very remarkable progress made under the Rural Housing Acts in the housing of one district, which I mention particularly, that of the Bumpstead Rural District Council in the North of Essex. It has gone ahead in a most remarkable way in the housing of the people. I should like to pay a tribute to that council and to hope that its example will be followed by many others. That achievement cannot be laid solely at the feet of the National Government, but it is an example that its administration has gone ahead in the last six or seven months both as regards rural housing and as regards water supplies, which are so vital a feature of the countryside at the present time.
Unfortunately, some of these schemes are coming to an end, and that means that agricultural workers, who for a short time have been in insurable employment and have made only a few contributions, now find themselves with not enough contributions to enable them to get any unemployment insurance money. At the same time they find themselves faced with the probability of no employment at all or of employment in a non-insurable occupation. That is still a difficulty in the countryside and I find it is worse than before I want away. I understand that the Government are awaiting from the Royal Commission a report on unemployment insurance in the countryside. I will, therefore, not comment upon it but, following the example of my hon. and gallant Friend and late colleague the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), will bring the condition of the agricultural labourer to the notice of the Government and I am sure they will give it the consideration they have always wished to do.
I want to raise a matter particularly affecting North Essex. In North Essex the owner-occupier has become a feature of our rural husbandly. I have often thought that the average size mixed farm was, in the end, the most suitable way of progress in English agriculture under an owner-occupier. I believe that, amidst all the rival and cunning economic policies for agriculture, that is the most satisfactory, mixing if possible arable with stock farming. But there is a unique opportunity in North Essex for pursuing that line which was suggested by Mr. 469 Blundell in his excellent book. Indeed, it has been started. Unfortunately it has coincided with the worst depression that agriculture has known, with the result that we see the calvary of the owner-occupier, who bought his land at a very high price in the period immediately after the War, very often with a mortgage, and now is not able even to pay off the mortgage and is losing money.
I have been working out estimates from the accounts of farms, and I find that farmers are losing between £l and £3 an acre, without taking into account depreciation of capital or interest on the money invested, or even the wages that the farmer himself might draw. I have worked out these figures as carefully as I could after talking to farmers and having the privilege or sorrow of looking at their accounts. The position is an extremely serious one for a man who has started pioneer work in British agriculture as owner-occupier. I know of one farm of 460 acres, rather bigger than the average, which lost £900 three years ago, £1,600 the year before last, and £1,300 last year. That sort of thing cannot go on indefinitely. It brings one up very much against the problem which they have tackled in a large and grand way on several occasions in the East, that of the entire ruin of an area. It also brings one up against facts which humanity has seldom had to deal with and makes one feel very serious regarding the future.
The whole of this district has an outlook rather like that. It is in this atmosphere that the farmers find a burden such as tithe a peculiarly hard burden tc bear. I have returned to find the tithe position extremely severe in North Essex. It is easy to imagine the feelings with which a farmer faces a set burden, such as tithe, when his accounts are in the condition that I have described, and when the general outlook of farming is as serious as I have described, and when he has settled as owner-occupier on his own land and has no landlord to take the shock in time of economic severity, as the landlord system, however much reviled, has taken it in the past. For the first time people who own their own land are realising the shock which the landlord system took and from which it often saved the tenants.
I know that in this Debate I am not allowed to refer to future legislation. I know the Minister's position on this 470 point. I should be wasting time if I indulged in heroics about the situation, or if I were to indulge in what is almost a luxury nowadays, that is using the grievances and troubles of the farmers as a means of leading an agitation. There are people at the present time, in a period of unrivalled depression, who are leading astray farmers and men who are in a very serious position already. They are being persuaded to join in an agitation which unfortunately may lead them nowhere. I sympathise with the position of the tithe payers, as anyone who is closely connected with the movement does. At the same time one recognises legal liability. I cannot mention legislation but I would draw attention to the very serious position, and at the same time make an appeal to the tithe owners if possible to make a gesture towards the tithe payers. I realise that Queen Anne's Bounty has made certain concessions, but this is not sufficiently realised in the countryside, and in many cases the concessions are not real.
Those who lead this agitation have taken the line of attacking the Church directly. It is having a very serious effect upon the Church in the countryside, and is becoming more a social and a religious question than an agricultural question. Nothing could be more valuable than a gesture from the tithe owners, such as has been made by some of the Cambridge colleges and by private landlords. In some cases there have been remissions of from 15 to 20 per cent., and those sensible men among the tithe payers who do not wish to be unconstitutional would, I am sure, appreciate the value of a gesture from other tithe owners. It strikes me as peculiar that those who are leading the tithe agitation in some of our areas should talk so freely of applying to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to solve the problem, and that many of them are the right hon. Gentleman's followers. After all, the right hon. Gentleman was the man who repealed the Corn Production Act, or introduced an Act which did not work and led a great many farmers to purchase their land and to take up an agricultural position which they are now unable to maintain. We should remember and face the facts. Those farmers who are being led away by that sort of argument and who expect the right hon. 471 Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to be the deus ex machina are doomed to disappointment, as they were immediately after the War by his handling of the agricultural position. We appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's drive and energy, and many of us were delighted to see him back in the House. I should be delighted to hear him take part in every agricultural discussion we have, but I cannot feel that he is going to be the saviour of the corn farmer.
It is poor comfort to be told that an improvement in agriculture will make it easier to bear the burden. That was the object of introducing the Wheat Bill. That Bill was destined for East Anglia in particular. East Anglia would do well to use this Measure, and if the farmers have patience I believe the Act will be of the greatest assistance to them. I have attempted in a short space of time to bring forward certain of the troubles and difficulties which we find in East Anglia. The problem is really one of a change-over in agricultural technique and ownership in a time when experiments can ill be afforded. It is a most interesting experiment, and if it can be bolstered up the Government should do all in their power to help. I appreciate the difficulties before the Government, but I appeal to them to remember that East Anglia is a district which has made English history, which can never lightly be disregarded, and that it will repay regard in the best manner possible.
I want to turn from the most important problems which we have been discussing and to direct the attention of the Committee to another field. If hon. Members will turn to the Estimates they will see under the subhead "Fisheries Research" that there has been in the last year a very considerable scaling down of expenditure. In 1931 the expenditure was £74,000, and for this year the estimated expenditure is £7,000. That is a very considerable saving, and it has been brought about almost exclusively by one specific item. The Committee will notice that the estimate of His Majesty's Ship "Challenger," the fishery research vessel, was £65,000, and that there is no estimate at all this year. This vessel was built specially for use as a fishery research vessel of the Ministry of Agriculture, but owing to financial stringency it 472 was given up by the Minister of Agriculture and handed over to the Admiralty, and it is being used to-day on the China station, where it has taken the place of a patrol vessel that has become obsolete. I do not think that the fishing industry grudges this sacrifice at the present time. It regards it as a just contribution to the country at a time of financial emergency. I ask the Minister most earnestly to see to it that if and when the financial position becomes easier the Admiralty will disgorge the "Challenger" and restore her to her more normal occasions. It is quite true that there is no particular need for a fishery research vessel at the present time, because the problem in the fishing industry is not a scarcity of fish which must be sought, but a glut, and in particular a glut of fish of foreign taking. I ask the Minister in the meantime to consider what steps he can take to arrest this very damaging inflow of foreign-caught fish, and then when more normal conditions are restored in the industry generally and in the fishing industry in particular, to restore to the fishing industry the research vessel, the services of which are valued very highly indeed.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. C. BROWN
I always listen with a great deal of interest to these agricultural Debates, although I represent an industrial constituency. I have listened with additional interest to-day, because I wanted to know just what supporters of the Government were thinking about what had been done for agriculture after 12 months of the National Government. I recollect very well how in the last Parliament we had painted for us pictures of the decline and decay of agriculture. Some of them were very gloomy pictures indeed. But the pictures which have been painted to-day are hardly less gloomy than those which were painted during the lifetime of the Labour Government. I took a note of some of the phrases used by supporters of the Government to-day. The right hon. Member for Ripon (Major Hills) told us that there was still going on a steady decay of farming. He said that if another war occurred to-day, we would be much worse off than we were at the commencement of the Great War. The burden of the speeches which we have heard from the Government Benches to-day suggest that, as far as agriculture 473 is concerned, there is widespread inertia and a lack of intiative and enterprise. I am all the more surprised at those declarations in view of the fact that some measure of protection has been extended to the agricultural industry already. There have been, this afternoon, many requests from hon. Members opposite for further protection in various respects.
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. and gallant Member is hoping for a great deal more after the Ottawa Conference. But if hon. Members supporting the Government have any real faith in the system of Protection which they are assisting to establish for agriculture, I should have thought that their speeches to-day would have been full of optimism. I am therefore much surprised to observe the note of gloom and almost of despair which has characterised many of the speeches of the Government's supporters on this subject. Apart from that characteristic, their speeches have been contradictory. May I illustrate that remark by mentioning the references made to the subject of land drainage? In the last Parliament, when a Measure in connection with land drainage was being considered, we were frequently told: "It is no use doing anything about land drainage until you have given Protection to agriculture. When you have given Protection, then we shall get on with land drainage." Now they talk in a variety of ways about land drainage. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon, for instance, agreed that something ought to be done. All that troubled him was where the money was to come from with which to do it. He suggested that we should do wisely in spending less on roads and more on land drainage. Then the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) told us that land drainage was a purely local problem, while the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Colonel Sir G. Courthope) said it was anything but a local problem and had to be tackled almost in a national way if we were to deal with it successfully.
It would appear that among the supporters of the Government there is a wide diversity of views in regard to nearly every one of the agricultural problems discussed this afternoon. It is true that certain sections have already been able 474 to bring pressure to bear on the Minister. The Minister seems to be a person who can be easily squeezed, and I suggest that hon. Members who have other special interests to serve ought to put more pressure on the Minister, because, as the pressure increases, they are increasingly likely to get what they want. Another subject which has figured prominently in this Debate has been the relationship of land drainage and agriculture generally to the problem of unemployment. I am surprised at the Minister's reply to the case made out for drainage in the Doncaster area. I am even more surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson). I understand that the hon. Member lives outside his constituency, but he ought to have in mind the conditions under which his constituents have been suffering for the last few weeks more than any theory as to who should pay for the drainage work which is so necessary in that area. Among the residents in the area who have been suffering under the conditions which obtained there during recent weeks, there would not be much difference of opinion as to the necessity for this work. In existing circumstances the only effective way in which that problem can be tackled is by financial assistance from the national Exchequer. In that area, it is to be remembered, that there are many unemployed miners who could be turned on to the task of carrying out much of the work so necessary there at present.
May I, in conclusion, refer to the larger issues which are raised in every agricultural Debate? I put this question to hon. Members opposite: What are they going to do in future to deal with the large volume of unemployment in this country? Looking at the problem from every side it seems to me that the one thing to which hon. Members can turn their attention is putting the land of the country to better use. Have the Government any policy at all for developing agriculture behind their protective walls? We are told that they are expected to raise those walls much higher and to give much more protection to agriculture. I assume that that is their policy and on that assumption I have a right to ask what they intend to do to deal with the huge volume of unemployment. As I say, only one thing remains and that is the better utilisation of the land. 475 Have the Government in mind any nation-wide scheme to achieve that end? Are they considering such matters as the development of smallholdings? I put that question most emphatically. I am convinced that the policies which the Government are pursuing in other directions are such and the development of technique in industry is of such a character, that there is not the slightest possibility, in any future that we can visualise, of absorbing again into industrial undertakings very many of our unemployed. The land being the only thing left we have a right to ask from these benches, "What are you going to do about it?" Perhaps the Government will tell us?
I have listened with great interest to the speeches this afternoon in connection with the great problems of agriculture and I deeply appreciate the action which has been taken by the Government in connection with certain branches of the industry. But agriculture is not bound up with one or two particular products only. It is a great series of businesses, all joined together, and interdependent the one upon the other, and while the Minister has been strengthening certain links, he has left other parts of the chain very weak and they may give way before the work is complete. I wish to ask some questions in relation to one or two of the more serious factors in agriculture to-day in connection with which the industry is liable to break down.
The first is the question of barley. As the Committee knows there are only three uses for barley in this country. It can go into the making of beer; it can help in the making of whiskey, or it can be used as a feeding stuff for stock. The duties which have been imposed in connection with the licensed trade make it extremely improbable that we can have any substantial markets in the first two directions. I would direct the Minister's attention to a statement which I heard recently on good authority to the effect that the British maltsters, at the moment, have enough malt to last them for a year from next July without calling upon the present crop at all. What, then, is to be done with the crop which is now coming on? The farmers, particularly those who operate on the high lands of this country in places like the Yorkshire wolds, are very much dependent upon getting a good 476 price for their barley. To-day they are faced with reduced consumption and lack of markets, and also the importation of Californian barley which is being sold at a very low price and is seriously damaging their business. I ask the Minister if his Department cannot offer some advice to the farmers in this matter. I know that it would be out of place in this Debate to suggest legislation, but I think that the 1,600 people employed by the Minister ought to be able to suggest some method or some scheme to the farmers, whereby they will be able to get a market for the present season's crop.
Then what of the market for sheep? At the present time the price of mutton is the lowest ever recorded in this country. I have heard from South America of a case in which 10,000 sheep were given, without any price at all, to one of the large meat concerns, merely for the taking, because the farmers there could not afford to keep them alive. What is to be done in face of competition of that sort? Are our farmers to be subjected to such unprecedented competition as that? I am quite sensible of the fact that it is necessary for the people of this country to have a supply of the cheapest and best quality possible. At the same time, agriculture is of such vital importance in the building up of this nation that we cannot afford to allow competition of that sort to destroy one of the things which make for a stable agricultural industry in this country. The position as regards the sheep and mutton markets of this country is very dangerous. I know that the Minister is examining it and I hope that when he goes to the Ottawa Conference he will make such arrangements as will leave plenty of margin for the sale of our own home stock before any comes in, either from the Empire or anywhere else.
I would also ask the Minister to give the farming public a little more information about the quantity of foreign meat consumed in this country and in "foreign" I include that which comes from the Colonies as well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am speaking now for the British farmers, the English farmers, the home farmers, and they want to know who is getting the business in connection with the meat supplies of this country. I can tell the Committee that the average person in the towns often does not know the source of some of the meat supplies 477 and if the Minister and his Department can publish information regularly as to the amount consumed and make it widely known, it will be to the advantage of the farming community.
I would also like to ask if the present very low prices for meat coming into this country have any relation to the currency difficulties of other countries, and if they have, and they are likely to go on for a long time, are there no temporary measures that the right hon. Gentleman can take, inside the ambit of existing legislation, to keep those prices at a steady balance? I understand that in some of the countries from which many of these products come the currency varies from day to day, and therefore prices may reach an even lower level and may operate more adversely to our farmers than at the present time.
I am very grateful—I think I mentioned this in the last agricultural Debate—for the Wheat Quota Bill that has been passed, and I can assure the Minister that in my constituency the farmers are cooperating very well and are going to do everything they can to make the Act work properly, but can he, during this year, before the harvest is reached, if his Wheat Commission is operating properly, provide any advances to farmers to carry them through their harvesting? It is most important that, if he can, he should try to help in that direction. I understand that there are certain periods when the Wheat Commission can advance money to farmers. There never was a time when agricultural credit was worse than, now; it was never more difficult for farmers to get money with which to carry on, and if the right hon. Gentleman can find any means of helping these farmers over this harvest, I am certain that it will be abundantly repaid by a better feeling in agriculture altogether.
I want to turn to another question that is controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture. We have, on the coast of Yorkshire, inspectors who regulate the quantity of shingle that is removed from the various beaches, and the Ministry of Agriculture have been restricting in many cases the removal of this shingle. I do not know how the Department regulates the amount that can be taken away, but I am told by the local people, who have a thorough knowledge of the case, that the Ministry of Agriculture's restrictions are too arbi- 478 trary and that more shingle could be removed, to the advantage of the district, without being detrimental to the question of coast erosion and that sort of thing. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, at this time particularly, when everybody at the seaside resorts is very hard up, not to make it more difficult for them than is necessary, but to try to give them a free hand to get their local aggregates for building construction.
I would also like the Minister at an early date to make a statement to this House or to the country as to the use of electricity in farming. We have spent considerable sums of money up and down the country—I think I have said this also before—despoiling the countryside by the wretched pylons that have obscured many of the beauty spots in my division, and I do not know a single farmer who has yet had any benefit from it. I realise that in some of the villages they have got electric light for the first time, which is a very great advantage to them, but I do not know a single farmer in my division who has taken advantage of this electrical power to help him in his industry; and I should like some information on that question, because in the future agriculture, I feel, will have to rely on electricity as a very important factor in conducting its business. If the Minister at any time can give us information on that subject, I am certain that the farmers of the country will greatly appreciate it.
I do not want the Minister to feel that the farmers do not realise the delicate nature of the negotiations which he is going to undertake at Ottawa. I am certain that they fully realise how careful he will be, and they have the utmost confidence in his capacity for dealing with the problem, but I do want him not to give too much away to other people. We need a lot of markets to keep our agriculturists going, and we do not want to have the Colonies quota-ed to such an extent that they are going to eat into our markets. The farmers feel that the Minister, realising that difficulty, is going to take very great precautions to safeguard their particular markets and to look on the Colonies as adjuncts to our food supplies rather than as the principal factors.
I feel that there is no reason for the remark made by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown), that agricul- 479 ture is not going forward. Agriculture is definitely going forward in those branches that the Minister has been able to tackle. I know that in the horticultural products section there has been a substantial advance, and that on the wheat side also there is a substantial advance, but I want the Minister to tighten up the weak links in the chain, which are all interdependent, one upon the other, in the great structure of the industry. If we got those put right, we shall undoubtedly have made more progress in six months than the Labour party, with their policy, would have made in six years. They definitely set out to ruin this industry, and they very nearly succeeded in doing it, but we have been able, in the short time during which the present Minister has been in charge, to make substantial progress towards undoing the grievous harm to which they had exposed the industry.
§ Mr. C. BROWN
Can the hon. and gallant Member explain the volume of complaints that we have heard to-day?
The volume of complaints now, I am certain, is infinitesimal as compared with that which was heard when the Labour party were in charge of this industry. I can remember that in an agricultural Debate we never heard anything but a whole string of complaints, which came from every speaker who took part. Now these complaints are very general, but they are confined to three or four aspects of the industry.
As far as my constituents and I are concerned, for what has been done we are grateful, but we expect more, and I want to impress upon the Minister the urgency of the new legislation that he is to propose. I would ask him—I know it is difficult—if he can to make some announcement to the farmers of the country that he definitely intends to tackle these things. We know that he has set up certain commissions and committees. The fanners know that, and they are looking forward to the results, but I want the National Government to say plainly to the fanners, "We, as a National Government, are going to 480 make stock-raising pay and to put it on a profitable basis; we are going to make pigs a profitable proposition to the farmers; we are going to make sheep and mutton worth while to the fanners." If the Minister can say that, I am certain that they would feel more confidence in going forward.
§ Sir GEOFFREY ELLIS
May I go back for a moment to the drainage question, because it is very important from many points of view? It arose because of the difficulties in the Bentley district, but I think we must look at this question over a wider area. We had this whole question under discussion during the three long and weary years that one sat on the Subsidence in Mining Commission, and the whole feeling then was that you must take the question out of the small area and treat it in a very large way indeed, and that necessarily meant a very large authority. On that authority to-day, I understand, the representation of various interests has been very carefully considered. You have in an area like the Doncaster district the agricultural interest; you also have the local government interest, which is a very important one, with the question of getting their drainage away from their district to the sea; and you have in addition the interest of the coal industry. In this area it happens that there are many seams of good quality, near to good markets, and it is undoubted that development will take place there in the near future.
If that is so, there is bound to be eventually some conflict of interests between the various people concerned as to who really ought to pay for what undoubtedly will take place in that area. It is already low lying, and it will be more so by the inevitable subsidence which will take place, and I have not the least doubt that, rightly from their point of view, the local government and the agricultural interests will say to the mining interest, "You have caused this subsidence and you have caused water to accumulate which would not have accumulated, if you had not been there, and therefore you ought to pay." You cannot look at it in that way at all, and I admit that there may be very considerable discussion and conflict of interests as to who should pay. Therefore, I press on the Ministry that they should take 481 very careful steps and consult with the Ministry of Mines in the matter, and if the authority now existing is varied in any way, that provision shall be made to get a proper appeal from the authority in the case of any assessment. It is not sufficient to give representation to this, that, and the other interest, and then to leave it there with the authority, because it is always possible to get two interests to combine against a third and leave the third very much in the hole if those two particular interests think there is more in the third interest than they themselves should be called upon to pay. Therefore, I hope that some means of appeal will be found in order that any one of the interests concerned may be able to get justice in those circumstances.
I happen to be one of those unfortunate people who are occasionally attacked by what is called the forward movement in agriculture in this country, in which, with loud cymbals and the sound of much brass, we are told that we ought to do this, that, or the other, immediately. The remedy appears to be that an immediate and very high tariff should be put on all agricultural products. I have never been able to avoid this thought—I suppose it is due to an industrial training—that the whole country to-day is changing very much, and that if agriculture is going to be successful itself, it has to take on some of the nature of industrialism also. One has always pressed that, but one is met with the allegation, "Oh, that is all very well, but you do not tell us what you are going to do for us. It is true that we are prepared to do this, but how do we know that if we do begin to set up these various Commissions and take these matters into our own hands, we shall not then be let down?"
The suggestion is not unfair, and I want to put it to the right hon. Gentleman that I think a good deal of suspicion would be allayed if, at the time his reports are made to him from these Commissions—and I believe and hope very sincerely that they will find some practical remedies, though not quite of the nature suggested by my hon. (Friend here, because no one really believed that —if he will, at that time that those proposals are brought forward by the Government say to the agricultural industry, "If you will do this, we will give you this definite help," and then, if 482 financial help only comes at the time when the suggestions are made, I am sure this will help on the cause of marketing, which is so essential, very considerably.
I think we have to thank the right hon. Gentleman—I know that we have in the district that I represent—for a great deal that has already been done. I hope that in the future he will remember that there is a further source of help that he can get, without any new legislation and without in any way asking this House to give a grant to the industry. He can take as an example what the Department of Overseas Trade is doing now. It is backing bills for export industry. I want the right hon. Gentleman to realise that he could back bills for internal industry. He has some means already under existing Acts for advancing money on loan and so on for agricultural purposes. I believe that he realises that what the industry needs is to take part itself in the processing of its products. I submit that it would be in order under the existing law for him to consider whether he could not use for these processing purposes, not the Export Credits Department, but something which is very like it. In addition to helping our foreign trade from that Department, could not we help our own internal trade by having a credit department in this country? If he looks into the matter, he will find that it is possible. I am not asking him in any way to sink money; I am asking him to say to the industry, "If you help yourselves and get together, you will have some of this money. We do not pretend to give it to you as a subsidy, but, having given you a measure of protection and national credit at a low rate of interest, we will give you a little more in the form of a guarantee, which will enable you to go on and to progress better than you can in existing circumstances." I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether this form of finance could not in future be used for the industry.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
The urgency of the agricultural problem can be seen from the state of the benches in the House during this Debate. An excellent case has been made out in regard to the flooding problem, particularly for the mining areas of Yorkshire, but what has struck me during the discussion is the 483 difference in the policy of two countries. In this country the Government refuse to spend a penny to prevent the flooding of tremendous areas, but in a little country like Holland they are spending millions in forming dykes to rescue land from the sea. There is an absolute contrast between the policy of this country, which is the more powerful and stronger country, and the policy of Holland, which although it has a much smaller population can see its way clear to spend millions of money on draining the Zuider Zee so as to increase the area of the land. The matter is not receiving the consideration in this country that it should receive. There must be great loss to those who are endeavouring to farm land in those areas which are flooded, and it is a gross travesty of civilisation to allow conditions to exist in which masses of people have their houses flooded and their furniture floating about in their rooms. This Government is called a National Government; there may be plenty of national about it, but it is difficult to see where the government is.
It is not as though past Governments have not had sufficient warning on this question. When you travel in a train you can see vast areas of land under water. I do not profess to be an agriculturist, but I know that that cannot do very much good to the land and cannot assist the farmer. I can understand the serious difficulty in which the farmer is placed from that point of view, but all that could be avoided by the expenditure of intelligence, engineering, money, and labour. These conditions would not be surprising if there was nobody out of work. The trouble with this Government is that it sets out to put everything right. During the tenure of the Labour Government the Front Bench was bombarded day after day with questions about solving unemployment. The present Government came in with a great majority and a programme as long as a ship's yard arm, and claimed that they would settle the question of trade, unemployment, and everything else. But with all their wonderful cures, unemployment still goes on, and, when there are chances to give really exceptionally valuable and useful labour, they set their faces against them. There are greater numbers of agricultural workers out of employment now than there have been for many years past.
§ Mr. DUNCAN
And there are hundreds of thousands of miners out of work, so they and the agricultural labourers are between the devil and the deep sea. There is no question that a greater number of agricultural workers are unemployed to-day than there have been for a great number of years. What is the Minister of Agriculture doing? He is going to Ottawa. He is busy listening to his friends who want Protection; first it is barley, then wheat, meat, and the rest of it. But what about the farm labourer who is out of work? Is he to be allowed to stew in his own juice and to be continually ignored as he has been in the past? Is he continuously to be forced to go to the Poor Law or the workhouse at the end of a life of toil? To all appearances this most powerful of modern Governments is prepared to leave the agricultural labourer to his own fate. They have put forward no programme for the betterment of his conditions. In the whole of their policy there is nothing for the labourer.
The men who work on the soil form the greatest proportion of those engaged in agriculture, and yet nothing is done for them by this strongest Government of modern times. They have a majority sufficient to enable them to do anything, for only a still small voice opposes them. They have everything at their hands to enable them to carry out their will, and yet, when it comes to the poorest section of the people employed on the land, they do nothing. The lives of these people are a tragedy. The greatest tragedy I have seen is the old agricultural labourer when he reaches 70 years of age and becomes crippled by rheumatism, which he gets through working out in the open and through his clothes drying on his body, and through living a meagre life in a place that is sometimes not fit to stable a horse. This greatest of all Governments seems to despise the man at the bottom and to leave him where he is. I think that is hardly fair. People who grow barley ask the Minister what he can do for them. They never seem to have heard about the Marketing Board. "God helps those who help themselves" it is said, but I think a large part of the farming community seem to have lost all ability to help themselves. One has only to listen to their questions in this House. 485 The Minister of Agriculture has bad anything but a happy time. They have worried all the hair off his head—and he is only at the beginning of his difficulties. Everybody has been telling him what they expect him to do at Ottawa. It is a beautiful place—I have been there—and I hope he will enjoy it, but he is going to have a lively little time. After all the instructions he is getting and the anticipations that are being formed I am sure the disappointment when toe returns will be colossal.
Where are we getting to? There is nothing doing in drainage, nothing doing as regards providing unemployment insurance for agricultural workers, and nothing doing in the matter of setting up a national wages board. The Minister sees that wages have gone down and that hours are being lengthened, yet he takes off his inspectors, telling the fanners "Go on, rob these people, nobody is taking any notice." That is his meed of encouragement to the farmers. I do not know how he can square that with his conscience; I regard it as one of the most disgraceful things ever done in politics. There was proof of what was going on. He knew as well as other Members of cases where men were not receiving the proper rate of wages as fixed by law, but all the same he took off a number of his inspectors to make it easy for the farmers to rob their labourers. There will be a few questions about that to answer at the next election, and some of those who are now sitting opposite will have rather a merry time. It seems to me the Ministry of Agriculture has neither eyes nor ears for any interests except these of the landowners and the farmers. There are different castes in India, and I suppose that the agricultural labourers in this country must be the "Untouchables."
The present Government have an enormous majority, and it would be the easiest thing in the world for them to carry out their will, but they "stand pat" and do nothing. Still I hope that what I am saying may not fall upon deaf ears. The Minister of Agriculture looks a rather intelligent sort of Minister, and he is not very old, only middle aged, and he has time to learn a lot, and if what has been said in this Debate does not open both his eyes I hope it may at least open one of them, so that he may see there are other points of view than those with 486 which he has been brought into contact hitherto. He should also realise that he is now in a different Government from any other Government. We ought to have some evidence that it is a different Government, though so far we have seen nothing to indicate that there is a difference between this National Government and the other Governments with which he has been associated. I hope he may not be beyond redemption, and that he will give some grounds for hope to those who are worst off in this world's gear. They have very little hope of improving their position apart from any action this Government may take to assist them.
Unemployment insurance is one of the greatest and most beneficial schemes ever introduced into any civilised country. I think that before the world is very much older every civilised country will follow suit where Britain has led, and that circumstances in those countries where it may be opposed at the moment will force them along the same lines as this country has taken. Unemployment insurance could be easily extended to the agricultural population. [Interruption.] I am not expecting any promise of legislation in the course of this Debate; I am only asking that we may have some little ray of hope, some indication that the Minister is thinking about these things. He is a fellow countryman of mine and I have some little consideration for him. He knows that the agricultural workers in Scotland were opposed to the unemployment insurance scheme at one time, but that they have now turned round, and surely that ought to influence him to see whether this question is not worth a little more consideration than it has had hitherto. It ought to have some place among the avalanche of appeals made to the Government—sometimes asking for their assistance and at other times praying to be protected from their interference. Parliament is asked to assist the producers of mutton, cheese, butter, and everything else. When the job is finished, Heaven only knows where we shall be, and what the cost of food will be.
Farmers are living in hope that the present Minister of Agriculture will solve all the difficulties of agriculture, though he knows just as well as I know that he will do nothing of the sort. He knows that agriculture is up against a world problem, and that is why he is going to 487 Ottawa, though when he gets there he will find many things never before dreamt of in his philosophy. I think that when he gets to Ottawa he will play his part all right. He is getting plenty of instruction as to what he ought to do, and he will tell the story all right, only he will meet there other people with their stories, and he himself will have to swallow a bit as well as expecting them to swallow a bit. But the question is, Where are we going to come out in this business? Will the new Jerusalem be set up? In truth we shall still have the same old trouble, because it is a world trouble. It is not only here that prices are low, they are low all over the world.
It is a strange thing that we should be suffering because of the very cheapness of living. I have been told of one sheep breeder somewhere in South America who actually gave somebody 10,000 sheep. That is an astonishing thing to have done; but if we continue to screw down wages in this country the people will be still less able to buy meat. When they get a bit of beef or mutton at all it will be the outcome of some gift of some South American producer; they will not be able to buy it. The policy of the present Government is to keep on screwing and cutting in every direction, cutting down in education, sickness benefits and the rest; they appear to think that not until they have got the people on the margin of starvation shall we have found salvation. If they think that policy will help them then I say "God help the Government."
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
We have all listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. C. Duncan) with the greatest interest, and I am certain that the Minister must now feel far better equipped for his visit to Ottawa. I am afraid I must inflict on the House some measure of repetition of what has been said by the hon. Member for the Buckrose Division (Major Braithwaite) regarding barley and mutton, because at the last election I told my constituents that the programme of the National Government would include three important items— first, a wheat quota, second an import duty on malting barley; and third, a promise that the armed forces of the Crown would be fed on British meat 488 during the six winter months. I was told that I was authorised to say that, and I feel quite confident that some of my supporters, relying on those promises, and believing that the extra penny on beer was to be taken off in the Budget, increased their area under barley and also increased the number of their livestock for fattening.
The position of a great many farmers in Norfolk is a deplorable one. There is a lot of land there which can only produce two really good crops, one of which is sheep and the other a comparatively small yield of very high-class barley. We heard from the hon. Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite), and from the Noble Lord, the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) the other night, that the maltsters of this country are already so well provided with malt and with barley that they will not require to come into the market until July of next year. Therefore, the outlook of these unfortunate farmers, more especially if they increased their barley acreage as a result of election promises, is deplorable. They will probably produce a considerable quantity of this very high-class barley and, instead of getting the price which it is worth, they will probably have to sell the greater proportion of it for feeding-barley at a very much lower price.
As regards their sheep, upon which they also depend, we have heard already about their terrible experience when they come to sell their fat sheep in the early spring. The most fortunate of them were successful in obtaining a price which was about the same as that at which they purchased the lambs last June. Very few of them were sufficiently lucky to do that; the majority of them lost anything from 5s. to 10s. per head on the actual price that they paid for the sheep as lambs last June, and they received nothing whatever to pay for the feeding and the labour which were expended on the sheep in the intervening time during last winter. Those unfortunate people who cannot grow wheat because their land is not good enough are depending on the only two crops to which they can look, their barley and their sheep.
Then there are the people who are feeding bullocks with a view to turning them into beef, and who find that the price of beef is so bad and is so low that very 489 few of them have been able to show a profit. Both as regards beef and mutton there is no doubt that the reason for the present condition of things is the vast importations which come to this country from abroad, especially of mutton from Australia, and which have had a deplorable effect upon the price. I do not think that the farmers would object so strongly to those importations of foreign meat if they felt that the meat was going to distressed areas, and was being sold at a low price to the people who are so near the hunger line, but we find that a good deal of it is disposed of every day at Smithfield market, the best market for meat, I suppose, in the world. The proportion of imported meat sold in Smith-field market sometimes rises as high as nearly 90 per cent. I think that the farmer has therefore every right to complain, and to suggest that some action should be taken to divert this cheap meat to where it is required, so that the finest meat market in the world should be reserved to the men who breed the best type of fatted cattle.
I remember very well that, before the War, our local markets received a great deal of its support from butchers who came from London and wealthy towns along the South coast, like Eastbourne, St. Leonards and Bournemouth, and who bought the cream of our production at a good price taking the meat down to the South of England. Now quite the contrary is generally the case. We have no visitors of that sort, and anybody who is familiar with the meat market will realise at once what a loss it is to find that foreign butchers are not attending, and that nothing is done to upset what very often amounts to a ring of local buyers.
Then there is the case of the man who has been induced, very often as the result of Government propaganda, to go in for poultry. I do not think that any side of our industry has been more encouraged by the Government than the poultry industry. People have been told that if they have difficulties in getting a good price for their cereals, one way out would be to use their wheat for feeding chickens. We are assailed by large quantities of imported birds and imported eggs. Sometimes, when we make a complaint, we are told that the quantity has not increased so very much. What is hitting the indus- 490 try even more than the quantity is the very low price at which these foreign imports are sold in tills country. All through the question of the importations of meat and poultry, and so on, there always runs a feeling which I think is very generally held by producers here, and that is that these imported birds and meat are not sold at a low price to the consumer, but are very often sold under the name of English and at an English price. I appeal to the Minister to see whether it will not be possible in some way or other to try to stop such substitution, if it exists. It is perfectly intolerable that the housewife who is trying to do her best to back up her own countrymen who are farming, and who is prepared to pay more money if she thinks she can make sure of getting British foodstuffs, should be subjected to the possibility of paying the best English price for what is not an English article at all.
Then there is another way of looking at it. We often read in the papers about the deplorably dirty conditions in which butter is produced in Russia, and we often read with the greatest disgust, if it be true, of the appalling prevalence of syphilis among young people in Russia. Is it fair that decent, clean English people should be allowed to handle products which are packed, perhaps, by people suffering from that terrible disease, or packed in the dirtiest and filthiest conditions, and that decent English women should be allowed to handle those things in the preparation of food for their families without having a chance of knowing where the products come from? It would be out of order to discuss legislation for marking imported foodstuffs, but I hope that Parliament will shortly have a chance of discussing the matter. I believe, however, that such regulation and marking would be of immense advantage, not only to the farmer, but to the purchaser as well.
There is one small thing which would help the poultry farmer very much, and which could be done with the greatest ease without legislation. I am given to understand that hotels and restaurants are still very inclined to purchase foreign eggs, and, as the ordinary customer generally orders eggs cooked in some such way as poached or scrambled or something of the sort, the customer never realises that he is eating foreign eggs. It is a very small thing to ask of people 491 who go to hotels and restaurants, but, if they would make a point, when they want an egg, of asking for a boiled egg, these hotels and restaurants would have to give up buying foreign eggs, because they would not dare to put before a customer an egg with a foreign mark on it, as they would have to do if he ordered it in the shell. That seems a small thing, but I believe it would stimulate the demand for British-produced eggs tremendously.
As I have said, the position of the farmer is desperate, and it is getting worse every day; and it seems to me to be inevitable that, unless something is done very speedily, two things must happen. The first is that the farmer, in despair, will have to concentrate his energies entirely on those lines which the Minister has already assisted. We shall then have him giving up growing cereals like barley and oats, and attempting, if he has any money or credit left, to go into the fruit business. If he begins to do that sort of thing to any extent, a deplorable result will follow, because the fruit industry has not a very wide margin of expansion at the present time, and, if we had an influx of cereal farming into the industry, inevitably the industry would be completely overdone, and we should be subjected to gluts in the industry, which would be very hard luck for the people who are taking it up at the present time.
The other effect, which would be still more serious, is this: It seems inevitable, if some general policy for the whole industry is not very speedily settled, that, when it is settled, however good, and helpful it is, it will fail, because there will not be the farmers in existence to carry it out. I need hardly remind the right hon. Gentleman that, when a farmer goes bankrupt, or has to make a composition with his creditors, as many of them are doing now, he never comes back; when he has once failed he is done; and it is a very highly skilled occupation, and the number of farmers is strictly limited. It would be deplorable if, when the right hon. Gentleman eventually comes to a really fine scheme, it should have to be said, "This is a fine scheme, but, unfortunately, there are not enough skilled men to carry it out to its full extent,"
492 In conclusion, may I be so bold as to give the right hon. Gentleman a word of advice? I very much appreciate what he has done for the industry; I think he has made a very good start; but it seems to me that this Government has not entirely thrown off one of the greatest defects of party Governments so far as I have known them, and that is timidity. I suppose it is almost an essential part of a party Government, because there are so many people who can be offended, but I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, when the National Government was sent back here, it was sent back with a view to doing its utmost to give the producers in this country a real chance of increasing their output, of reducing imports from abroad, of earning a decent livelihood, and of paying a decent wage to their workpeople. I believe that that was the desire of the people of this country who gave this Government such an immense majority, and I believe that the one sin which the Government can commit in their eyes is a failure to carry out that policy, and carry it out speedily.
Therefore, I implore the right hon. Gentleman to take his courage in both hands. I feel confident that he can do whatever he likes if it is really an attempt to step forward and assist our industry of agriculture. I beseech him to throw away all idea of timidity, and to take a great deal less notice of the recommendations and protests of the distributors, and a great deal more notice of the requests and interests of the producers and consumers. Many attempts to help our industry have been wrecked because the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors have been so terribly anxious not to offend the distributing part of the business. They have had their say long enough. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not take my advice in bad part, and that, when he gets to Ottawa, he will see to it that Mr. Brace's words are remembered—that the first place in our home markets shall be secured for the British farmer, and only after him for the farmers of the Dominions and Colonies, and last, and I hope very much least, for the foreigner.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
The hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. C. Duncan) complained that, when his party were in office, we attacked them con- 493 tinually for not having reduced unemployment, and he said that the National Government had not done it either. I would remind the hon. Member that we never promised to do it in three weeks, as a leading Member of the late Socialist Government did. Naturally, as a Member of the Opposition, he attacked the Government, but I cannot think that he is quite as ignorant as he would have us believe when he said that the Government were entirely neglecting the agricultural labourer. Surely, if farming continues to go down, not only will the farmer be ruined, but the agricultural labourer will lose his employment. By giving assistance to agriculture, the Government are doing the best thing they can for the agricultural labourer, and a great deal more than the late Socialist Government ever did.
I think the Committee ought to be grateful to the Minister of Agriculture for the very clear statement that he gave us this afternoon, and more especially for his timely warning, which cannot be repeated too often, about the financial position of the country, and the fact that money cannot be spent on a great many very desirable objects simply because the money is not there. I feel rather surprised at hearing Members of the Opposition continually advocating expenditure on this and that object, entirely oblivious of the financial position of the country.
But I am bound to say, speaking as the representative of a constituency where the principal industry is the raising of cattle and sheep, that I was a little dismayed to hear the right hon. Gentleman say, if I understood him aright, that the only assistance to the stock-raising industry was to be the increased demand due to the revival of urban industries. I do not know how soon he expects that revival to take place, but, if it does not come very soon, the stock-raising farmer will be driven out of business altogether. After all, they, like everyone else, have been hit by the fall in wholesale prices. A great many of the urban industries have been assisted by tariffs, the cereal farmers have been assisted by the quota, and the producers of fruit and of vegetables have also been assisted, but nothing whatever has been done for the stock-raising farmers. During the last three months there has been a fall of 10s. to 15s. in the price of sheep and lambs. It must be 494 obvious that that condition of affairs cannot go on if the raising of sheep is to be continued at all. It is not unreasonable to ask the Government to give us a clearer indication of their policy than has been given up to date.
The Minister has had various schemes for marketing and grading put before him. I wonder if he can tell us whether he has come to any decision on them. Everyone admits that grading and marketing must accompany any other form of Government assistance that may be given, but we should like to know if those schemes have been considered and got into such a position that, whatever may be done at Ottawa, assistance can be given with the least possible delay when we come back in the autumn. Members in all parts of the Committee have appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to remember that at Ottawa the interests of the British producers must come first. I believe that at that Conference the future of the British livestock industry will be at stake. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take to heart the concluding words of an article in the "Times" yesterday, which says:If the agriculture of the temperate parts of the Empire is to meet modern requirements, it is essential that animal 'husbandry should receive all the attention and assistance the Governments of the Empire can afford.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
It is a pleasure for me to address the Committee under your chairmanship, Captain Crookshank. It is appropriate that you should preside over an agricultural Debate, because the town that you represent has been one of the foremost in the country in providing the world with the finest agricultural machinery. I am sure we are pleased with the tone of the Debate. We welcome the criticism of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown), though the lecture of the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. C. Duncan) might well have been delivered to the Minister's predecessor. My right hon. Friend has a very difficult position to fill. I can remember him being appointed. We used to think he was appointed because of his lack of knowledge of the industry. Later, we began to think his appointment was just a stepping stone to another place at the end of the corridor, but I think, after the way in which he has 495 fulfilled his office, we can dispense with that idea and take it that he has decided to remain at his post of duty and do his best for the agricultural interest in general. I trust that the Opposition will not be too hard on him, and, after his conciliatory speech, and in view of the pleasant tone of the Debate, will withdraw the Amendment to reduce his salary, because, if they did that, he would be badly off, and he will need it when he goes to Ottawa.
The question of the drainage of our flooded areas has occupied a prominent part of the Debate and it is a matter of very great importance. The late Conservative Government appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into flooding, with the idea of consolidating drainage under one national board. It remained for the predecessor of the present Minister to carry through a Drainage Act, and he deserves credit for the persevering way in which he took charge of the Bill. A rate not exceeding 2d. can be levied in a drainage area, and that brings in a large amount of money. We know how much can be done in draining a flooded area if that rate is levied and the drainage and catchment boards will face up to their duty and get on with the work of relief. We all sympathise with the inhabitants of the Doncaster district and with the farmers in the losses that they have sustained.
I should like to put in a plea for allotment holders and smallholders. I hope the Minister will find later on that he is in a position to give a grant in aid of the allotment movement, because it is a very good one. If you can get the unemployed to take an interest in the growing of vegetables for their own homes, it is a thing that ought to be encouraged. It occupies their minds, and it is an education in many ways and keeps them fit till the time when work comes along. I am in a position to contradict the statement that the smallholdings movement has not been a success. In some counties it has not and never will be, but in the industrial counties—Lancashire comes first in the work of smallholdings and Glamorganshire comes second—they are a success. In Lancashire we have several colonies of smallholdings and some of these men are doing very well. They are making a living on three to five acres.
496 I should like to impress on the Minister the importance of doing all he can to extend the smallholdings movement in industrial counties where the unemployment figures are the largest, because there are men who have left the land and gone into industry who are now out of work and, with their knowledge of the land, would like to go back. Much can be grown on smallholdings, and cultivation under glass is progressing at a good rate. Many of our vegetables and fruits can be grown on those smallholdings, and the rapid strides which have been made in the canning, bottling, and preserving of fruits and vegetables will be of great assistance to the smallholding movement.
Research is a matter which should not be lost sight of, and, in fact, I am sure that the present Minister is giving careful attention to it. I have spoken before in the House with regard to the value of research in my division. If it had not been for the research work at the testing station at Ormskirk in regard to potatoes, we should have had none of the varieties which are being grown in gardens and on allotments. Great work has been done by the introduction of new varieties which are immune from every disease, and that sort of work deserves every encouragement. I have mentioned that research work in particular, because I am closely associated with it and know the great value of it.
It was mentioned this afternoon that the smallholding movement had cost the country £800,000, which sum is in the Estimates to-day, but I would remind the Committee that the £800,000 is largely made up of money required for interest and repayment of principal in respect of money provided as a War measure to settle ex-service men on the land. That is how the amount is made up, and it is not fair to say that you must put this big sum against the smallholding movement when we know that it was given for a special purpose. The smallholding movement, as at present equipped and administered, is causing but a very small loss to the nation and to the county ratepayers. I trust that the Minister will go forward with a progressive policy for the establishment of more smallholdings, as there is a considerable demand for them.
I realise that we are going through a financial crisis, and that it may be argued 497 that we have no money to invest in land. If you invest in land at the present time when it is at a low value, it will prove to be an increasing national asset. The money could be paid off over a period of years. If, unfortunately, war broke out to-morrow, money would have to be found, and therefore is it too much to ask that money should be found now to establish what is really a safeguard for peace. The smallholdings and allotments movements, together with a contented and increased rural population, will constitute one of the best safeguards for peace. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the matter. It would not put such a heavy financial strain upon the country if money were invested in land of the right character and in the right situation. I can give instances where, on estates in the county from which I come, there has been a large increase in population and an increase in capital value, and in agricultural products of every character.
I was speaking to a man the other day who took a farm of 33 acres near to where I live. At the time he took the farm he employed six men, and to-day, with intensive cultivation, he is able to employ 46 men. That is an argument in favour of the assertion that you will be able to do something to relieve unemployment if you will only go in for intensive cultivation in this country and for the kind of produce we need. A rural population is a great national advantage. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Winchester (Sir G. Ellis) mentioned the very important matter of credits. Is it not possible to raise a sum of money whereby credits in the shape of loans could be given to the cultivators of the soil, and especially to the smallholder, who may have a thrifty wife and perhaps a boy and girl growing up? It would be an excellent idea, and I trust the Minister will give it careful consideration. It would not have been appropriate for this Debate to have closed without a farming Member having joined in it. I was brought up on the soil as were also my father, grandfather and great grandfather. I trust that the Minister will obtain his Estimates and that he will make good use of them, and be able to contribute to the prosperity of the country.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
The Minister, I feel sure, will be very grateful to the hon. Member for Orraskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) for having spoken to-night, because he is the only Member in the course of the Debate who has given almost unadulterated approval to the Minister and his work. On all sides of the Committee we have heard speeches from nominal supporters of the Government, some critical, and some highly provocative. Indeed one hon. Member indulged in a severe attack upon the Minister and the Government. I would not venture to address the Minister in the terms the hon. Member used, but I believe there was a good deal of justification for what he said. He accused the Minister and the Government of timidity, and when dealing with livestock, I almost expected him to say that they were a Government of rabbits because of their timidity. He criticised the Government very strongly indeed, and he had not a word of approval for anything the Minister had done.
I assure the Minister that we do not wish to take away his pocket-money. We have not made an attack upon his salary as such, but we wish to mark our disapproval of the inadequacy of the policy of the Government and the administration of the Minister. The Debate has covered three main fields of agricultural and national interest. There has been the very vexed and difficult question of land drainage, with special features because of the special conditions existing in some of the districts. There has been the examination of the effect of tariffs upon the prosperity of the industry, and there has been the examination of marketing. I have taken notes of remarks made by the various Members, and I will refer to one or two of them without any desire to be censorious, but in order to express my disapproval of and disagreement with some of the things which have been said.
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) is not now in his place, but I shall not offend the Rules of the House or transgress against the rules of courtesy by saying that I was surprised to hear him say that while he was in favour of relief being given to the areas in his constituency and to neighbouring areas which are subject to floods, he was against giving grants. He was not willing 499 to allow a Government grant to be made in order to enable the drainage work of the constituency which he represents to be done more effectively and promptly. I was surprised to find that he came to the House representing a very seriously devastated area to propose that the local people should put up the money. I feel sure that that will not commend itself to the people whom he claims to represent.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) made an examination of the problem of drainage which, coming from him with his knowledge and authority., must have helped the Committee very much. We had a further confirmation of the difficulty of this matter of drainage from the hon. Member for Winchester (Sir G. Ellis), who is a coal-owner and knows how much the problem of subsidence is mixed up with the problem of drainage in Yorkshire and South Wales. The hon. Member made a suggestion that the efforts of the Minister in this matter should be joined with those of the Secretary for Mines and that they should take advice from the experts in mining. This is a very serious problem and it cannot be dissociated from mining operations in Yorkshire and other parts of the country. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) gave the Committee information which must have surprised many hon. Members. He stated that over an area of some hundreds of square miles in the Don Valley the land at no point reached the 25 foot contour of the ordnance datum. The water which rushes down to the sea, meeting the incoming tide, is bound to cause large portions of the country to be inundated.
It is not that the land is generally low lying but that there are constant changes in the topography and in the levels of the land. If you take away a coal seam of five or six feet thickness the whole body of the earth is let down right from the surface on the worked out area. When that takes place in the bottom of a valley where a stream lies all kinds of changes in the flow of the water take place. In South Wales we find that slow-flowing rivers with only a very moderate fall have the bed sagging over large areas under which the minerals have been worked, and the flow of the water ceases. The bed of the river sags for a distance of a mile or two even beyond the point where no underground working has taken 500 place, but the original level remains on either side and you have a natural lake formed because of the subsidence of the ground. That is a very serious thing, especially when it is taken in conjunction with the condition to which the right hon. Member for Eipon referred, namely, the choking up of the channel, which takes place very much more rapidly where mines have been worked and where the coal tips, to which the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) referred, are allowed to stand in miniature mountains and are washed away by every shower of rain into the rivers. The result is that the channel is choked by the additional debris from mining operations and from the stacking of coal, and then there is the sagging of the river beds. That is bound to cause very serious flooding, not only in Yorkshire but in all mining areas. Therefore, I hope the Minister will not regard this as a light matter.
One hon. Member referred to the River Neath. I know the district very well and I know the conditions. Coal to the depth of 20, 30, 40 and 50 feet has been worked under certain parts of that valley and contiguous valleys. There are three rivers there, the Neath river, the River Llwchwr and the River Gwendraeth, running parallel within the coalfields, where enormous subsidence has taken place and where, as a result, there is every winter after every serious fall of rain considerable flooding and loss, not only to farmers but to the people generally. There is the case of the Rhondda river. Some time ago there was loss of life and very heavy damage caused by the overflowing of the Rhondda river. That was met by a grant. I do not know the exact sum, but I think the Government made a grant in that case of £10,000 or £15,000 in order that the necessary work should be carried on expeditiously. In regard to those three valleys, I was glad to hear from the Minister that he is contemplating the setting up of a catchment area board. I hope there will not be any delay and that he will be able to deal with the problem, especially in those areas where it is aggravated by subsidence, whether in the hinterland beyond the mouth of the river, or whether it takes place in connection with the choking of the river mouth itself.
I hope that he and the Secretary of Mines will realise that great loss is caused 501 to the people residing in these areas. It is not purely an agricultural question that lies simply within, the authority of the Minister of Agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that under the Act there is provision for the coalowners and royalty owners to pay something towards the cost of these drainage works. I hope that he will not pile the burden of cost too heavily on the coalowners. We have no sympathy with the royally owner. He has taken his toll from the mining industry and Has not played his part in repairing any damage caused by mining operations, but the coalowner is sharing with, us the difficulties and hardships ensuing upon the coal trade depression, and we do not want the coalowner, who often is almost a bankrupt, to be saddled with additional responsibility in order to carry on works that may be of direct benefit to a landowner who is not paying his share, whether he is a royalty owner or an owner of the surface. I do not think the mining industry ought to be singled out for carrying the expense of these operations.
The Minister recognises that here is a problem not only of interest to agriculturists or to certain people who have property interests but that it is a problem affecting the ordinary people who live in these flooded villages—people who are turned out of their homes in the dead of night, now and again, and who cannot go back for two or three weeks, whose belongings are damaged or destroyed and who are often poor people who cannot afford to sustain such loss. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will not hesitate to spend money. He said that he only had a small sum at his disposal. Cannot he get more? If not, he must be a timid man and the allegation of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Christie) is true. If he is not timid, let him beard the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his den and say: "I am responsible to the people of this country and I am going to carry out that responsibility." Let him take his courage in both hands and the country will be grateful to him, not for being timid and complacent but for standing up and doing his work like the good husbandman that I believe him to be.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
I never suggested that the right lion. Gentleman was timid. I said that previous Governments have been 502 timid and that I hoped this Government was not going to commit the same error.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
The hon. Member said that all Governments were timid and that this Government needed stiffening up. [He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to take his courage in both hands. If he is not timid, why ask him to do that? The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) asked us to follow him. Unfortunately he is not in his place. We can sympathise with him, because he has been afflicted by the disease which has afflicted so many hon. Members, the disease of the tariff mania. It seems to destroy all sense of proportion in those it afflicts. I used to know the right hon. Member for South Molton as a Liberal and a staunch Free Trader. I regarded him as the last man to desert the Liberal faith, but now he is complaining that the Government are not hurrying along fast enough. He congratulates the Minister on having made a good start with vegetables and fruit and flowers; then he went on to wheat, and then stopped. "Why does not the Government," said the right hon. Gentleman, "go further and do the same with meat?" He told the Minister of Agriculture that if he goes to Ottawa he must make up his mind to come back with an agreement that no more foreign meat is to be allowed to come into this country. The right hon. Member for South Molton is a little confused. In one part of his speech he complained that New Zealand butter was selling in Devonshire and he went on to build up a case, he cannot argue it, on the sort of prejudice which we hear so often about this terrible competition from Russia, this menace, which is due to the absence of trade boards in Russia.
The same right hon. Gentleman who finds Russian competition so effective because of the absence of trade boards in that country cannot explain the competition from New Zealand on the same ground. There is no solution for the troubles of agriculture in such a policy, and I advise the hon. Member for Norfolk South (Mr. Christie) not to stoop so low as he did in his references to Russia. It is infra dig; it is not done. It is much too cheap. If we are to understand the problem of agriculture in this country there must be some consistency. Take the question of marketing. 503 Here is a small country with only seven per cent. of its population engaged in agriculture, and with the best market in the world at its very doors. What would New Zealand give to have a market of 45,000,000 people to consume its farming products? What would any other country give to have such a market at its doors? Here we have a very small farming community with the best market in the world close at hand. You will never be able to prescribe a remedy for the difficulties unless you realise that there is something wrong with the marketing system which has grown up since feudal conditions prevailed and which has not changed very much in the last 50 or 60 years. Marketing methods must be improved. There must also be an improvement in the grading of produce and a better organisation for the distribution of the goods produced. If you do that you need not fear Russian competition even if they have no trade boards; and if New Zealand has any national advantages they are not advantages which should outweigh the one great advantage of having your best market close to your doors.
The Minister of Agriculture must really bend his back to that problem. I know that he has courage. He must not pay any attention to hon. Members behind him who are obsessed with Russia and afflicted with a tariff mania. They will not solve the problem. The right hon. Gentleman must solve it; and he will not have done his duty unless he does all he can under the Marketing Act now on the Statute Book to see that all these improvements are effected. There is much to be done, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not lose a single day in pushing on with the reorganisation of marketing conditions and the reorganisation of the methods of dis-
§ tribution. If he does he will provide work for some of the unemployed. In the matter of these drainage schemes a large number of our unemployed are eminently suited for that kind of work. There is no dearth of labour at any spot. In Yorkshire and in South Wales it is there on the spot. These men are now being paid for being idle. Would it not be better to spend some money in making them usefully employed.
§ You talk about economy. There are committees and cliques attending meetings in all parts of the House planning how they can cut down the Social Services here and there. Why cannot they put their heads together to see how they can spend money usefully. That is the best form of economy. The most useful kind of work is the reclamation of the land, saving our own soil, and any expenditure would be repaid not only in the added value of the land but in the useful employment it would find for our people. Those people who have been provided with land for allotments are now to be deprived of it. That is shabby economy. It is of course too late to do anything for this season, but do not let another year go without plans for providing land free and accessible to the unemployed, who unfortunately must be unemployed next winter owing to world conditions. Do not let these people be denied their right to land for allotments. It gives them an opportunity of employment and a chance of growing their own food by their own labour, in the most honest form of work on the face of the earth, that is, work on their own mother land.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,195,818, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 26; Noes, 164.505
|Division No. 246.]||AYES.||[9.25 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Price, Gabriel|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Hirst, George Henry||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jenkins, Sir William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Daggar, George||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Duncan, Charles (Derby, Claycross)||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Lunn, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. John and Mr. Duncan Graham.|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Apsley, Lord||Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Aske, Sir Robert William||Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.)||Atholl, Duchess of||Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.|
|Blindell, James||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Potter, John|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Broadbent. Colonel John||James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H.||Ramebotham, Herwald|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Jamieson, Douglas||Ratcliffe, Arthur|
|Burghley, Lord||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Burnett, John George||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Renter, John R.|
|Caine, G. R. Hall.||Leckie, J. A.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James Philip|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Levy, Thomas||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Rosbotham, S. T.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||McKeag, William||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Chalmers, John Rutherford||McKie, John Hamilton||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Christie, James Archibald||McLean, Major Alan||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Clarry, Reginald George||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Salmon, Major Isidore|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Copeland, Ida||Magnay, Thomas||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Scone, Lord|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Selley, Harry R.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Margeason, Capt. Henry David R.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwelt)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Sheppurson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Milne, Charles||Smiles. Lieut. Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Milne, Sir John S. Wardlaw.||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Molson, A. Hugh Eisdale||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Moreing, Adrian C.||Stevenson, James|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Morgan, Robert H.||Stones, James|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Storey, Samuel|
|Fermoy, Lord||Moss, Captain H. J.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Munro, Patrick||Taylor, Vice-Admital E.A.(P'dd'gt'n, S.)|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Nail, Sir Joseph||Templeton, William P.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Nunn, William||Train, John|
|Grattan-Doyle, sir Nicholas||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Graves, Marjorie||Palmer, Francis Noel||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Patrick, Colin M.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Pearson, William G.||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Penny, Sir George||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Harris, Sir Percy||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Windsor Clive. Lieut.-colonel George|
|Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenn'gt'n)||Petherick, M.||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Peto, Sir Basil E.(Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Cheimsf'd)||Peto, Geoffrey K.(Wverh'pt'n, Bllst'n)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Sir Victor Warrender and Major|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Pike, Cecil F.||George Davies.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to. —[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.506
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.