§ Norfolk farming is really in an appalling plight. In the past three days I have had the opportunity of meeting a score of leading men in the business life of Norfolk. Farmers, landowners, bankers, auctioneers, accountants and merchants all say that they dread a general financial crash after Christmas."
And here is what, to me, is one of the most distressing parts of the whole problem.
It seems to be the general opinion that as soon as wheat sowing is finished and the wheat crop lifted 10,000 farm workers will be dismissed. They will turn to the public assistance committees for relief.
There could be nothing more terrible than this. I have lived with the farm labourers, I know them, know what fine fellows they are. They are men who know their business, bring up their families, and are honest, sober and respectable. They attend the village chapel or church on Sundays. These men are to be turned into paupers. Here is a problem for the Government, and I ask the Government to face that problem and to face it at once. It is the most urgent problem of the day, and I hope that before the Debate closes we shall have a satisfactory reply from the Government Benches.
§ Major MILNER
I have heard the night hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) on a number of occasions when agriculture has been debated, but I have never heard him in quite as depressing a mood as he is in to-day. In the days of the Labour Government the right hon. Gentleman used to say, "Leave us alone. Let us work out our own salvation." At a later date he begged for some form of Protection, for tariffs, and for many months past he has been one of the most ardent supporters of the National Government, of import duties and of Acts imposing tariffs. But the right hon. Gentleman is apparently not satisfied now. Having done his worst he still, like Oliver Twist, wants something more. It is really extremely difficult, however nonpartisan one wishes to be, to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman, or to gather what he really wants, having in view the various speeches that he has made, unless it be the one thing that he has brought into each speech, and that is a reduction in the wages paid to agricultural labourers because, he says, farmers cannot afford to pay present wages.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Really that is a complete misrepresentation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has never heard me in my life advocate a reduction of farm labourers' wages. What I have advocated is that you shall pay a sufficient price for the labourer's product, so that the farmer may pay the wages.
§ 6. 30 p.m.
§ Major MILNER
I at once withdraw if I have done the right hon. Gentleman any injustice. He certainly indicated—or so I thought—that it was not possible to pay the present wages, and I gathered, by implication, that one of the thoughts passing through his mind was that of a reduction in agricultural workers wages. But, if I am wrong, I certainly withdraw.
§ Major MILNER
So I do. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister of Agriculture because of the "damning with faint praise" which has been indulged in this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway and also because I have seen a somewhat menacing figure, which I recognise from previous experience as the representative of the National Farmers' Union, in the 83 Lobbies during the last few days. Having heard the Prime Minister's speech, I also sympathise with the Minister because of the difficulty which he must be experiencing in obtaining any decision as to what course he ought or ought not to adopt. If there is any hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House who can assist us in the troubles through which the agricultural community is passing, there is no one whom I would rather see occupying the position of Minister of Agriculture than the present holder of that office.
If this were an ordinary agricultural debate I should feel it my bounden duty—as indeed, to some extent, I do feel it my duty even on this occasion—to urge upon the Government the immediate setting up of a national agricultural commission or other body, with appropriate commodity boards, to organise agriculture and in order that some direction might be given to those engaged in agriculture as to the commodities which they can produce and sell on the most economic basis. I should also suggest that much greater advantage ought to he taken than has been taken in the last few months of the Marketing Act passed by the last Labour Government. I am glad to see that in the Reorganisation Commission on Pig Products, and elsewhere, there has been recognition of that Measure. But there are other commodities to which it might be extended with the greatest advantage. I should also urge that no satisfactory solution of this problem can be obtained until the land of the country is nationally owned and controlled, and that proper safeguards should be provided for the workers engaged in the industry. I understand, however, that without prejudice to our ordinary political views, this is an occasion on which we are supposed to deal with the practical possibilities of the immediate future, and it has been said by more than one speaker that the problem of price is of the greatest immediate importance.
I fear that time will not permit me to go fully into the international position in that respect, but I suggest to hon. Members opposite that their reliance upon tariffs and quotas, in relation to an increase in price, in the present condition of falling markets is quite misplaced. If it is desirable to raise prices 84 —and I believe that it is desirable to raise wholesale prices—I suggest that the Minister and his advisers ought now to look to what in the long run they will have to look to, and that is the possibility of bulk purchases by import boards or otherwise. I believe that a great advantage would accrue from bodies of that sort. It would be possible to give such a board a monopoly of importing foodstuffs, and in particular meat, and in that way give an assured protection to the home producer which neither tariffs or quotas can be guaranteed to give. The tariff is too crude and uncertain and the same remark applies to the quota. Under neither of these systems is there any guarantee of the price which the home producer will eventually receive. The whole matter is in the lap of the gods, whereas with a purchasing and selling organisation the price can be fixed and such price regulations laid down as will enable the home producer to sell remuneratively. That system combined with the extension of the Marketing Act—and action in relation to the international solution to which I shall presently refer—is the real solution of the price problem.
The report of the Pig Products Reorganisation Commission goes a long way to prove my point. That Report contemplates, in certain circumstances, the possibility of setting up an import board but the Commission naturally say that they are unwilling to contemplate at the moment such a degree of public control as might eventually be found necessary. But that Commission, which was presided over by a very respected former Member of this House, gives some support to the views I have expressed—views which we on this side have put forward on more than one occasion. There is one other factor which ought to have the attention of the Government. An authority has estimated that there is a difference of no less than £300,000,000 between the price which the consumer pays and the price which the producer receives. It seems an almost impossible figure but if there is a difference of anything like that amount, or even half that amount, there is ample scope for action by the Government to ensure, first, that the producer shall receive the full price to which he is entitled, and secondly that the consumer is not exploited.
85 One advantage of the method of the import board is that it enables, as no other system does, reciprocal arrangements to be made with other countries. I visualise the time when there will have have to be some international organisation carrying out exchange or barter transactions, and acting as a clearing house between nations. If we had such an organisation as I have just suggested on however small a scale, in this country, it would help very much towards the setting up of a larger organisation on those lines. We read that barter transactions have taken place and are taking place between various nations to-day. I read that from my own city of Leeds yarn has been exported to Spain in exchange for wine and tin. Who is to consume the wine in Leeds in view of the unemployment there I have not the remotest idea, but I imagine that it will probably stop in London en route. Textile goods have recently been exchanged for timber with the Russians; coffee from Brazil has been exchanged for coal from the United States, and we know the historic case of Mr. Bennett's exchange of aluminium from Canada for oil from Russia. The Government, therefore, might consider setting up commodity boards to regulate imports because tariffs, apparently, are not sufficient, and such a step might lead to an international organisation of the kind I have indicated not only for agricultural products but for many other products.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has very eloquently and ably pointed out means which are at the Minister's disposal, and which could be more quickly applied than those I have indicated in order to find employment. We have heard about land drainage. The House knows that many weeks of Parliamentary time were taken up in passing the Land Drainage Act, 1930. I had the honour of serving at the Ministry of Agriculture with Dr. Addison the then Minister, and numerous very large schemes for land drainage were complete, and cut and dried before the Labour Government fell. Under that Act appropriate catchment area boards had been set up to the number of 37 or 47 throughout the country, but I believe that, with the exception of one or two schemes which had actually started when the 86 Labour Government left office, not one single piece of work of that sort has been commenced since the National Government took office about a year ago.
I have particulars here of some 15 or 20 schemes, eight of which would occupy some thousands of men for a period of 10 years. There is work on the Great Ouse which would occupy 2,400 men for 10 years; there is work on the Thames which would occupy 3,600 men for 10 years, and there is work on the East Norfolk rivers which would occupy 4,000 men for 10 years. There are other schemes of work on other rivers which would occupy smaller numbers of men for an equal or less number of years. All this work is available. The plans, I believe, are in the Ministry and it is work which comes within the Prime Minister's definition of having permanent value. In the case of the Trent I always understood that the flooding which took place periodically meant that a loss of no less than £5,000,000 might be incurred by farmers, property owners and others whose lands abutted on the river. When we recollect that this is work which has waited for many years, that a Royal Commission has determined that it is necessary and urgent and that thanks to the Labour Government the necessary legislation has been passed to enable it to be carried out, it seems folly not to set these thousands of men to work in this very useful occupation.
There is a great deal of other work that could be done under the Land Drainage Act. When I left the Ministry there were 1,100 schemes of field drainage approved none of which presumably have been carried into effect. There were 200 or 300 water supply schemes and 73 schemes for reclaiming fenlands, which would have employed 1,300 men had also be approved. All these could be undertaken by the existing owners with some assistance from the Government. That effort was just being got under way when the Labour Government fell, and I suggest that the present Government ought to recognise that work and proceed with it.
With regard to smallholdings, there were, just over a year ago, something like 10,000 waiting applicants throughout the country, and I would point out an advantage which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did not mention, and that is the large number of addi- 87 tional people who can be put on land when that land is turned into smallholdings. There were cases mentioned in this House on a previous occasion, where, on the Holbeach and Suttonbridge estates, before the land was converted into smallholdings, 490 men were employed on the land, and when it was converted no fewer than 1,227 occupied smallholdings. Similar figures could be given, if time permitted, as to eight, ten or a dozen large areas of land which have been converted into smallholdings. One came recently to my notice, where there were five families on a piece of land, and after it had been converted into smallholdings no fewer than 51 families were occupied and doing useful work.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is very fortunate to have had, so to speak, all the donkey work done for him by the last Labour Government. The Land Drainage Act, the Land (Utilisation) Act, the Marketing Act, all provide a basis for work to be done and employment to be found, and the benefit of all those Acts that Government had not the opportunity to reap, but of which the right hon. Gentleman is fortunate enough to be in a position to take advantage. There can be no question that allotments are a useful and a social work of permanent value to the community, and that it can be carried out at an absolute minimum of cost. It has been estimated, though I think the figure is largely exaggerated, that if the Government tackled the allotment question with enthusiasm, by next spring 500,000 people could be supplied with allotments, and that they would produce something like £3,000,000 worth of food. As I say, I think that is rather an exaggeration, but that many thousands of people could be placed on allotments cannot be doubted. We have the advantage of the presence here of the right hon. Member for Northern Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), who, I believe, presides over the functions of the Allotments Society, and I feel sure that we should have his good offices, if the Government took up that work with enthusiasm, in providing allotments and in assisting in the provision of seeds, tools, and so on, as was the intention when the Land (Utilisation) Act, providing those facilities, was passed.
§ Major MILNER
We have the authority of the right hon. Baronet for saying that 300,000 could be settled on the land by way of allotments by next spring if the Government took up that work with enthusiasm. There is one more suggestion that I would put to the Government. I think the matter of credit to the farmer requires some attention. I had brought to my notice in the last few days the case of a farmer who required an overdraft for necessary development. He had an existing overdraft of £58. He went to the bank, and they refused him any further overdraft, although—and I have this independent evidence from an auctioneer and valuer, who told me the story—his stock, apart from anything else, was worth something like £1,200. The bank would not advance him a penny over the 58 that he had already had by way of overdraft, and I suggest that if the Government gave some encouragement to the banks to give better credit and at a lesser rate of interest than they are charging, it would be of very great advantage. If they believe in their policy, and if they believe that only time is necessary to bring it to full fruition, then they ought to take that step without delay.
There are three other questions to which I will briefly refer. First, there is the matter of hours of labour. I think one very valuable step would be for the Government at once to reverse their action with regard to the proposals made, or acceded to, by Italy for a reduction in the hours of labour. In the long run, I think we are bound to have some reduction in the hours of labour. Increased mechanisation and so forth will necessitate it, and I think the Government might take a useful step by helping those who are responsible for the proposal made at the International Labour Office, I think by Italy.
In the second place, I suggest that they might modify their so-called economy campaign and allow a little relaxation to municipal authorities. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that municipal authorities had exhausted their resources both in work and in finance, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he is mistaken in both those 89 respects. In the city of Leeds not a single piece of slum clearance work has been done by the present Conservative majority since the National Government came in, or, for that matter, since before the National Government came in, and not a single tender has been let this year, although there are thousands of applicants for houses. With regard to finance, within the last three days I spoke to one of the senior financial officers as to the position regarding money, and I was assured that they required none and that they had far more than they knew what to do with at the moment. Therefore, there can be no question that both in capital and in work that municipality, at any rate, has ample resources.
Finally, I had intended to make a suggestion as to restoring the price levels of 1928 by monetary action, but I will content myself by suggesting that at the forthcoming World Economic Conference, if I had any control over it, a much more foolish step might be taken than to collect together all the monetary experts of the central banks of Britain, the United States, and France, put them into a cell under an armed guard, and tell them that if they did not find a solution within seven days, they would be shot at dawn.
§ Captain McEWEN
My excuse for intervening in this Debate is that I happen to represent two of what are undoubtedly the finest farming counties in the length and breadth of Scotland. It is not my intention to harrow the feelings of the House with any description of the desperate plight in which agriculture finds itself in those two counties. That it can scarcely be exaggerated, no one knows better than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, himself not only a borderer, but a practical farmer. It seems to be a melancholy fact, but one which must be faced, that there is little or nothing that this or any other Government could do at the present time completely to restore prosperity to agriculture, and I speak necessarily of practical steps, among which I do not place the proposals generally put forward by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), urged on, as I have no doubt he is, by the serried and importunate ranks of the farmers and agricultural workers in the Sparkbrook Division of Birmingham.
90 But there are a few things the importance and urgency of which I would like to impress upon the Government at this time, and I do not claim for them any novelty. First, there is the implementing of that long-standing semi-undertaking to supply the armed forces of the Crown for at least six months in the year with home-killed meat. We understood that the reason given against that proposal was its expense, but if the expense, on the one hand, is balanced against the plight of the industry, on the other, I think there can no longer be any hesitation on that score. The second point is the introduction of a system of the licensing of butchers' shops for the sale of foreign meat. I do not suggest that the licence should be heavy or expensive, quite the contrary, but I would suggest that if the scheme came to be considered—and it is being much aired at the present time in the country—the penalty for a breach of the licence should be disproportionately heavy. Thirdly, I should like to see a very stringent regulation of the importation of potatoes, which is none the less called for when we consider the fact that at this season, in this particular year, we have in the present potato crop quite enough for our own needs, and rather more.
Lastly, a tax has often been asked for on imported malting barley. We were given to understand in this case that this could not be granted because there was the great difficulty of differentiation at the port of entry between malting barley and ordinary barley, but here again surely by this time, when so many experts have doubtless been expending time and energy for so many months on this question of differentiation, it should now be possible for us to have a definite reply. These are all measures which, while no one would pretend they were new or that they would bring immediate prosperity to the farming industry, at least would serve, and it seems to me that that is the important point which we have to get at to-night, to bridge over this period between now and the time, however far distant, when the benefits of the Government's long-distance policy will be fully felt.
I do not wish in any way to disturb the harmony of this Council of State. but we cannot expect that these measures, such as they are, would receive 91 the endorsement of the House in general; and we cannot expect the whole-hearted support, I fear, for all or perhaps any of them from the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the second bench below the Gangway opposite, but to them, and particularly to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), who is so fond of quoting Oliver Cromwell—and I plead that this is my first and last offence in this respect—I would quote the words of that very celebrated man addressed to the Scottish Kirk in 1650, when he said:I beseech you, in the bowels of 'mercy', think it possible you may be mistaken.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
As a farmer, I welcome this Debate because the unemployment question is getting very serious and to pool our ideas must be of advantage. The large arable farmer is on the verge of ruin, and something will have to be done quickly to save him from disaster. The wheat quota will assist farmers in certain districts, but that is a Measure which acts very slowly. Barley needs attention, and that is a very important thing for some parts of the country, especially our farmers in Norfolk. Potatoes are sold to-day far below the cost of production. They are being put on rail at 1s. 9d. in my division, whereas the cost of production is 3s. 6d. per cwt. The cultivation of potatoes employs large numbers of men and a large amount of land. Surely it is in the interest of agriculture that the cultivation of this vegetable should be encouraged. We know that the growers have been trying to formulate a scheme under the Marketing Act for the better marketing of potatoes. I do impress upon the Minister of Agriculture that he should set up a commission to inquire into industry, and not wait for the growers, who cannot agree among themselves.
Stock farmers are facing bankruptcy. I was in the Dairy Show a few days ago. Looking round and seeing the splendid specimens of animals and those in charge of them, I came away with the impression that it was a matter of deep regret that any agricultural depression should exist at all. The Milk Commission Report is needed at once. We have waited with great patience, and we trust that when it comes it will be of benefit not 92 only to the producer but to the consumer. The Pig Commission Report has been received and, so far, I view that with favour because the principle involved in the report is a paying price to the producer of the bacon pig, based on the cost of production. That is really what we want. We are thankful to the Government for the grant in aid of allotments. I was against the curtailment of that grant last year because the allotment has a great moral effect upon the people, and it is a ladder which leads them to the smallholding or the larger farm. The revenue duties have improved the position of market gardening, and many are going into that kind of cultivation. On all hands we see more glasshouses being erected. I know of one person who six years ago bought 33 acres of land which, at that time, had a population of six persons, men, women and boys receiving the minimum wage of the agricultural committee. He built glasshouses and put the rest of the land under intensive cultivation. To-day 46 skilled men are engaged on these 33 acres and are receiving far above the minimum wage of the agricultural committee. The small dairy farmer near the town is holding his own. The poultry farmers are also making good.
I have risen in this Debate for the express purpose of referring to land settlement on three to five acres. It is a mistake to compare present-day land settlement with that of 1919 when land was dear and there was little choice of selection. The equipment was at war prices. Ex-service men were promised that they would have an opportunity of going on the land after they had fought for their King and country. They received intimation of that on the field of battle, and the promise that it would he carried out. The Government voted £21,000,000 as a war grant. The country has not lost that £21,000,000. It has lost £9,000,000 and, surely, the ex-service men are worth that £9,000,000. Many ex-service men are on the land to-day, and I know from my own experience that some of them have done very well. Today matters are very different with regard to creating holdings. We have the choice of the best land, and equipment costs are low. Self-supporting schemes can be brought forward to-day on an economic basis.
93 I have details of one such scheme in which the Lancashire County Council are negotiating for the setting up of smallholdings on an economic basis. Money expended on land and equipment now will bring a full return later. It is a good investment. Experience proves that land settlement colonies improve in value, and not only that but the surrounding districts develop as well. Soon you see a shop built and other developments of that kind. I have brought a few particulars with me which, I trust, will not weary the House. I give them because it is very important we should know whether at the present time land settlement is going to pay. The four cases which I propose to give are of varying types of holdings under the Lancashire County Council. The first case is of a holding at Hutton, near Preston. It has an area of four acres, and the rent is £35 per annum. The tenancy is for five years, and the tenant was an agricultural labourer. He started with 650 fowls and two poultry houses, and was in debt to the extent of £100. He has now 1,150 laying poultry and several good poultry houses, three milking cows, four heifers, two calves, three breeding sows, and 20 store pigs. He has erected his own cow-sheds and piggeries, and, in addition to paying his debts, he has spent from his profit £700 on buildings and equipment. He states that he has also £800 in the bank and invested. The second case is that of a holding of which the rent is £31 10s. The tenant started in 1929 and he has a stock now of 600 head of poultry, chiefly of Rhode Island Reds and white Wyandottes, eight geese and 10 pigs. This man is doing very well.
The third case is of a holding with a cottage and small outbuilding with an area of 5½acres, the rent being £31 17s. 6d. This man has a stock of 1,000 head of poultry comprising Rhode Island reds, white Wyandottes and Leg-horns, and two geese. He has well-lighted, roomy cabins for laying stock, brooders, incubating and rearing appliances, and a provender house. He obtained a certificate of merit at the L.U.P.S. laying test in 1932. The fourth holding is near Liverpool and consists of a cottage, small outbuildings, and 2½acres of land. The tenant started in 1912 with practically no capital, but had been brought up from boyhood as a 94 gardener. With the help of his wife, son, and daughter he has from a small beginning, year by year, increased his stock, including greenhouses and other buildings, until now he possesses well over £1,000 worth. In addition to other buildings he has six greenhouses and a motor wagon to take his produce to Liverpool market. He has recently opened a retail florist shop in the village, under `lie management of his daughter, for the purpose of selling produce grown on the holding. He does a large trade with a. large multiple firm in bedding-out plants and flowers. Four years ago he purchased his holding through the council under the 1926 Act. Some of the reasons for his success are that lie has personal character, possesses some business acumen and has the advantage of a good wife.
Now I come to some of our experiences regarding loans to ex-service men by this county council. The number of loans is 28 and the total amount advanced, £2,824. The amount repaid by these ex-service tenants is £2,457 10s., and only £304 is regarded as lost. An amount of £62 10.s., still outstanding on two loans, is regarded as a good debt. I have some figures here which show that the average cost per acre of one scheme of holdings, for land only, was £33, and, including buildings, £42. The cost of cottages and outbuildings was £515, and the annual loss was £6. In another case the cost of the land only was £48 per acre, and including buildings £62 per acre, the cost of cottages and outbuildings being £404. The annual loss was only £1. In a third case, of 11 holdings, also equipped by the committee of the Lancashire County Council, there is a gain of £4 per annum. That shows that it is possible to equip smallholdings on an economic basis. On an estate of the Lancashire County Council there was a population of 60 people in 1919. In February, 1930, the number had risen to 261. The most remarkable increase on these estates is in poultry. When the estate was bought there were 350 head of poultry on it. That number has increased to 27,500. In. a. census of the South Lathom No. 1 scheme, with an area of 289 acres, it is shown that in three years there has been an increase of population from 25 to 143. Here, again, there has been a great increase of poultry, for in 1929 there were only 100 head, and today there are 13,920 head. There is a cor- 95 responding increase in ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs and cattle.
I have also a table showing the occupation of men prior to taking up land work on the Lancashire County Council's equipped holdings up to five acres. Of 145 of these tenants, 35 were farm labourers, and 10 market gardeners. Other occupations which they had followed were those of poultry farmers, stock-keepers, accountants, blacksmiths, boilermen, brick-setters, builders, butchers, chemists' assistants, clerks, coal dealers, commercial travellers, cotton operatives, decorators, draughtsmen engineers, engine winders, foundry workers, game-keepers, general labourers, insurance agents, miners, motor drivers, painters, pipe-makers, plate-layers, plumbers, police pensioners, produce dealers, railwaymen, scavengers, schoolmasters, seamen, skepmakers, textile machinists, and turners. Of these 145 men, only 15 have been failures.
I should like to give some figures with regard to the production of eggs. In 1930 we imported 2,995,440,000 eggs in shell. Taking the average of 150 per hen, 20,000,000 hens would be required to produce that quantity. If we take the stock of a three-acre holding as 1,000 birds, 20,000 holdings comprising 60,000 acres would be required, and at a modest estimate 100,000 persons would be settled on the land to produce the quantity of eggs which we import each year. That does not include the number who would be engaged m building, equipment, and producing foodstuffs. It is clear that we could settle 1,000,000 persons on the land if we went in for producing all the eggs and all the tomatoes and other market gardening produce that we require. I am in favour of setting up marketing boards. We were interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). We are glad of his renewed interest in the cultivation of the soil. I remember not many months ago, when the right hon. Gentleman sat in the corner seat of the bench opposite, that he turned to the Conservative party and said: "This dumping must cease." He was received with loud cheers by the Conservative party. Does the right hon. Gentleman still hold the view that dumping must cease? If he does, he is 96 on the right track for bringing prosperity back to the land.
In "Labour and the Nation" import boards were mentioned, and I feel sure that, if the Labour party had not run away from office, that policy would have been carried out. Restriction of imports, revenue duties and quotas are required to enable the ciltivators of the soil to live. We are told that they will raise the cost of living. The true facts, however, are that the cost of living is down 10 per cent. to-day compared with 12 months ago, and if we produced more foodstuffs at home and restored prosperity to arable agriculture, to the stock farmer, and to the smallholder, the cost of production would still further be reduced. Land settlement in industrial counties has been more successful than in other counties. Mr. Jesse Collins, the pioneer in land settlement, advocated land settlement for two reasons, namely, to adjust the town and rural populations, and to mitigate unemployment. The rural population is essential in this country. Let the National Government have the courage to adopt a bold policy and to wait no longer; let them begin to act at once to save agriculture from disaster and ruin, remembering Dean Swift's words:Whoever could make … two blades of grass to grow … where only one grew before would … do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.If we can pool our ideas, and if by any means Parliament is able to double the output of the land, we shall he assisting to cure unemployment and doing our best for our country at large.
§ Major the Marquess of TITCHFIELD
I am sure that every hon. Member welcomes this Debate, and I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on the excellent tone which he set to us all in his opening speech. The House has never, I think, been nearer a council of State than during this Debate. While I cangratulate the Leader of the Opposition on the excellent tone which he set, I am afraid that I cannot agree with everything that he put forward. The same applies to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He likened my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agri- 97 culture to a tractor—a very excellent simile. While the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, however, I likened him to a pre-historic bird, the chief characteristic of which was that it invariably flew backwards. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, he was flying backwards all the time to one or other of his Pink, Green or Yellow Books, which informed the country that he could cure unemployment in a year without the cost of a single shilling to the country. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's speech wes very helpful. His Yellow Book, or whichever book it was, was turned down by the country by a large majority a few years ago, and it really is not any use the right hon. Gentleman going on flogging a dead horse.
The Leader of the Opposition remarked that new machinery added to unemployment, and he read a letter from a neighbour of mine in Nottinghamshire on that subject. I agree that new machinery often adds, for a short time, to unemployment, but it is true to say that unless machinery had been improved and science had advanced in the last 100 years, we should not have been able to clothe and feed—however inadequately it may be done to-day—the teeming millions who inhabit this country. I say that because there is a tendency among some of the followers of the Leader of the Opposition to discredit the use of new machinery. The right hon. Gentleman truly said that unemployment was a bad disease. Surely a doctor's mandate is the obvious policy to cure a political disease, and I think that on the whole the Government have used the right sort of medicine. Unemployment to-day is extremely severe, but there is a considerable silver lining to the cloud. For some years unemployment has been like a runaway horse. To-day, we see the pace of that horse checked and practically stopped. The figures issued by the Ministry of Labour to-day go to prove that. I believe that in a month or two the runaway horse not only will have been completely stopped, but will have had his head turned in the opposite direction
The Government were urged by the Leader of the Opposition to use the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act. Does he want to see a great many small landowners in this country? If he does, 98 I agree with him, for the more small landowners there are, the greater the stability of the country. It is no use, however, making thousands of small landowners until the tariff proposals and the Ottawa proposals have had time to bear fruit. I understand that it is the policy of the Government to raise wholesale prices. That is the right policy, but, if they raise wholesale prices, they will have to watch retail prices very closely. They will also have to consider the whole question of wages. If the wholesaler and the producer can make a better profit under the Government's schemes, it is only fair that the benefit of those profits should to a great extent be passed down to the people who are working with their hands in the factories and the mines. That is not Socialism; it is ordinary common sense. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Economic Conference should have been held earlier. I think that he is wrong. It would have been impossible to have had the Economic Conference before the Ottawa Conference, for the Ottawa Conference must be the foundation of all economic conferences in the future. The right hon. Gentleman was putting the cart before the horse.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Government could never cure unemployment merely by moving industry from the north to the south. Of course, that is not the policy of the Government; their policy is to put a factory wherever it can get a market. The Leader of the Opposition wishes to see more men on the same job at the same rate of pay. That policy would be suicidal to the farmers. The big burden on farming is not rent, as hon. Gentlemen opposite so often think; it is the pay of the workers, and, if we make the farmers employ two or three men where they are employing only one, every farmer will go into liquidation. I understand that it is the policy of the Government to reduce the meat quota not only to the Empire, but to the foreigner. I think that the Minister of Agriculture has got the right end of the stick. The question of meat is not one alone for this country or for the Empire, but is a world question, and unless the wholesale price of meat can be put up all over the world we shall have the most appalling slump in world agriculture that this or any other generation 99 has ever seen. The introduction of the quota for Dominions supplies will undoubtedly hit the Dominions for a short time, but, taking the long view, I believe it will do the Dominions just as much good as it will do the farmers in this country and I would urge the Minister of Agriculture to continue his work on those lines. I think we are all delighted with the Government's wheat policy, and, as far as I can see, the report of the Lane-Fox Committee on the pig industry is an exceedingly useful one. I hope that when the next election comes along the farmers of this country will be able to say to my right hon. Friend: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." [Interruption.] Like Lady Godiva, I am now coming to my close, but I would just like to add this. It is true that the country is to-day in a parlous state, but I for one am not downhearted. We see a counter-attack on world economic depression being organised by the Government. We are mobilising the Dominions as they were mobilised in the War. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are coming to our help, and that means a great deal not only to us but to the world. Undoubtedly hard times have to be faced by the people of this country, but if the Government will only follow the policy which they have put before this House so often in the past, then, although many good men may fall by the way, I believe the victory of this country in the future will be absolutely assured.
§ Viscount ELMLEY
I am very glad that we have this opportunity of discussing agricultural problems, because although Ottawa Agreements may be made and though attempts may be made to unmake them, and although Liberal Ministers may come and Liberal Ministers may go, yet, unfortunately, these problems stay with us, and even grow very much worse. Further, I think that this House to-day is far more like a Council of State than it has been for some time, and if the House can only show itself to be a Council of State on this important matter it may extend that attitude to other problems also. Many abler people than I have stressed the very difficult position in which agriculture finds itself to-day, and so there is no necessity for me to do so. I had intended to bring to the notice of the House the quotations from to-day's 100 "Times," but that has already been done by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert). It is not too difficult to understand how the farmer feels about things at present. He reads accounts of the Ottawa Conference in his newspaper, and of how our exporting industries are being given various concessions in different parts of the Empire—how their exporting agricultural industries are being given concessions here; and, except for the Article relating to meat restriction, he wonders where he comes in, for that Article, he feels, can only be in the nature of a long-distance remedy.
It is not only the farmers who are feeling very apprehensive, there are the labourers too. I very much hope that the report on unemployment insurance which is coming out to-morrow will not overlook the fact that many thousands of labourers are becoming unemployed who were never unemployed before, and that when the sugar beet season is over, and towards Christmas, even more will join the ranks of unemployed. I hope the Commission on Unemployment Insurance will make some recommendations about them. Then, prices are very low. Statements have appeared in the Press to-day, which I have been able to verify, stating that cattle sold in Norwich market last Saturday for 30s. per cwt. live weight. The price has never been so low before; and the same observation applies to many other agricultural products. Then there is the question of wages. The farmer now pays approximately 100 per cent. more than before the War. I do not for one moment think that the present wage is in any way too high. It is very difficult to live on 30s. a week, which is the pay in Norfolk at the present time. In this connection, perhaps I may be allowed just to mention the regretted death of the chairman of the Norfolk Wages Board, which occurred last week in the middle of very important negotiations. I hope that not only the Norfolk Wages Board, but wages boards everywhere else, will come to a decision not to reduce the wages of agricultural workers any further. The report of the committee set up to inquire into the pig-breeding industry ha-s only just appeared, and it will take time for its recommendations to be put into force. I congratu- 101 late the committee on having produced a good and useful report. Reports of other committees set up by the Government have not yet come to hand, and it is too early for the wheat regulation scheme to have come into full effect.
I would like to say a word about the tithe problem. I know that it affects different people in different parts of the country in different ways. The Commissioners of Queen Anne's Bounty made a beau geste during the summer; but I hope it will be found that they can go even still farther. The present position is that if extreme poverty is pleaded, and can be proved, a certain remission can be made. I would like them to recognise the fact that though the value of tithe is fixed, yet the conditions under which it was fixed are constantly changing, and during the last two years have become steadily worse. It ought not to be beyond their ability to provide some sort of sliding scale with the annual value of land as the basis. I do not know whether I should be in order in making a reference to the fishing industry, but it comes under the purview of the Minister of Agriculture. There again we have a very serious condition of affairs. Many fishermen are already unemployed, and others, instead of corning back in a month or so with a comfortable sum of money to their credit, will return with practically nothing at all. That affects not only East Anglia but also, to a very large degree, Scotland, and I hope that by commercial treaties or otherwise we shall be able to enlarge the herring market, of which we have lost so large a part since the War.
There are two bright spots in the industry which I will bring to the attention of the House, though they are not nearly so large as I would like to see them. In going about my Division, which is an entirely agricultural one, I have found several instances in which holdings of about three acres are being worked well and profitably. It is said sometimes that to make a success of a smallholding one has to be an absolute slave, working 13 hours a day. That may be so in some cases, but I have seen instances where that has not been necessary, though certainly hard work and intelligence are required. Those are cases where there is a silver lining to the cloud of depression. The other bright spot is provided by the sugar beet industry, which, of course, is 102 subsidised. Arguments are put forward by some people that it would be cheaper not to have any sugar beet industry at all, but just to subsidise people in various parts of the country. I do not believe that argument to be true, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not listen to any such suggestion, because at this moment the sugar beet industry is helping a very large number of people, especially in East Anglia. One factory in my Division is now employing 900 people; and working day and night; and one must also take into consideration the number of people who find employment in sowing, growing and hoeing the beet, and even in collecting it and carting it to the factory. The argument that the subsidy is an uneconomic proposition is an instance of where a case may be made out in theory but is not established in practice. Anyone who comes to my part of the country and examines the position thoroughly will seem that it has been a tremendous benefit.
I would like to sum up by saying that the agricultural problem is one very largely of co-ordination. On the one hand we have our wheat and other products waiting to be sold—there is no question of any scarcity of them—and on the other hand there are millions of people in this country who are living far too near the starvation line. It ought not to be beyond the wit of man to see that these commodities are produced in the right quantities for the people who need them, and are sold to them at a price which is not only fair to them but will also reward the producer. I believe that to be just a question of co-ordination. It may be argued that the Roman Empire came to a bad end over co-ordination, but times have changed, and with all the knowledge of science that we possess we ought not to make a failure of co-ordination at the present day. During the last three years the agricultural barometer has gone down from change to stormy, but I hope that in the next three years it will go up again. One of the greatest hopes I have is that, after two or three years of this Government, the agricultural industry will be in a very much better position than it is at the present time.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd 103 George) is no longer in his place, because I should like to tell him that those of us who listened to his speech were delighted to realise that he has returned to good health and that we have his great figure again our midst. I was particularly pleased to see that he is taking an interest in the industry of agriculture. He made an eloquent plea for the provision of more smallholdings, and he deplored the dependence which this country has had in the past upon industry and shipping. I am sorry that he did not take some steps, during the long years in which he had power and office, to do something to assist the agricultural industry. Why did he not restrict the flood of imports into this country of products which could have been produced by our people? I hope that steps will be taken to promote smallholdings, but there are several important qualifications which must be rigorously enforced. The land must be suitable, the men must know their jobs, and there must be profitable markets in which the smallholders can sell their goods.
Those of us who have taken part in this Debate upon the needs of agriculture are not unmindful or unappreciative of the part which the National Government have played during the past two or three months. It is barely 12 months since the National Government came into office and since hon. Members on the other side threw up the sponge and refused to carry on. There are now many hopeful signs on the agricultural horizon. The Import Duties Act, the Horticultural Products (Emergency Customs Duties) Act have been passed, and have given a considerable measure of assistance. Moreover, they indicate a change of outlook. They have enabled acres of glass to be erected and bulb farms to be started, and progress has been made in many directions. These Acts have resulted in increasing the revenue by £14,000,000, and this revenue has been raised without any burden being felt by the people of this country. Since those Acts were imposed, the Ottawa Conference has been held. In spite of what is being said in some quarters, I suggest that a very real and definite success was achieved by that Conference. At any rate, the economic unity of the Empire has been attained. The Conference had to face up to some very hard and difficult facts. They made 104 concrete recommendations, and did not content themselves with passing Resolutions, and a new and splendid chapter in the relationships of the agriculturists of the Empire has been opened up.
We agriculturists went to Ottawa more or less upon the defensive in order to see that our market was not stolen from us, and that our farmers received fair play. As a result of that Conference, some definite principles have been recognised. Producers in this country are to have the first claim in their own home market. At the same time nothing has been done in any way to prejudice the position of the home producer. No arrangements or agreements have been entered into which in any way prevent a vigorous home agricultural policy being developed. If such a policy is developed, we know now that steps have been taken to enable us to see that that policy shall not be frustrated by unwelcome state-run interference on the part of other countries. It is up to us to see that we do not have our policy frustrated or interfered with in a way which will harm our industries. It is true, looking at it from the agricultural point of view, that we failed to get all that we hoped for from the Ottawa Conference, though the representatives of the National Farmers' Union at that Conference, Captain Morris and Mr. Baxter, certainly did all they could to press the case of agriculture in the most helpful way.
Since that Conference, there has been a disastrous fall in the price of meat. I believe that I am right in saying that the wholesale price of meat, taking all things into account, has fallen, on the average, something like 2d. per lb. For the first time since 1914, the index figure has fallen below 100. Fat cattle prices fell, during October, 10 points, and fat sheep prices 17 points. According to official figures issued by the Ministry of Labour, the present index figure for fat sheep is 83, for bacon pigs 82, for pork 88, for hay 67, and for wool 62, as compared with the corresponding months of October during 1911 to 1913. The range of prices received by producers is altogether out of proportion to the expenses entailed in production. While there has been this disastrous and unexpected fall in wholesale agricultural prices, the main item of the farmers' 105 expenditure remains fixed. The farmer therefore must either get more for his agricultural products or he will have to dismiss many of his men.
Hon. Members are being inundated with letters from men of good type, excellent farmers, pointing out that, unless something is done immediately, the staple industry of agriculture must collapse. Immediate action is pressed upon this House. Meat producers are being driven to bankruptcy by the present unparalleled low prices. I do not think that we on this side of the House care very much whether the problem is dealt with by quota, regulation, restriction, or tariffs, but action must be taken without delay. Unemployment is already showing its ugly head more and more in the agricultural industry. When the sugar crop has been harvested and the potatoes have all been gathered, there will be wholesale dismissals. Be it remembered that there is no State insurance for the agricultural labourers. The long-term Government policy will, I believe, prove effective and will do much for the industry of agriculture. But the horse looks like starving while the grass is growing.
May I say a word about agricultural credits. It is necessary that the Government should intervene in this matter. Wages must be paid. There is something different, something almost sacred, in the payment of wages. Wages mean families and homes. Wages only appear on a labour sheet as mere figures, but what are wages in practice? Bread, coal, babies' cradles, milk, children's education, family life and family happiness. The wage pay-roll must be maintained. If you drag down the wages of the agricultural worker, as you assuredly will if you refuse to assist the agriculturist, that will inevitably be followed by a general reduction in the wage rates of other workers in other branches of industry. Therefore, I maintain that it is in the general national interest that agriculture should be placed upon a satisfactory and profitable basis, and that the wages of the agricultural workers should not be reduced, but should, if anything, be increased.
So far as the financial side of farming is concerned, the banker cannot fairly be held free from criticism. A farmer who went to a bank and obtained a loan, a year or so ago, repaid the annual interest 106 and the sinking fund on that loan by the sale of a couple of sheep and the sale of four or five sacks of wheat. Now he is expected to send on four or five sheep, and not one sack of wheat, but 10 or 12 sacks. It is up to the banking interest to arrange for repayments at a uniform rate and value, and to find a means for the farmers to repay at a uniform rate and not to be called upon for a year or two, through no fault of their own, to repay on a very much wider and larger basis. We await with great interest an announcement of the Government's policy. I would again stress that the situation is urgent, and that something must be done to protect the agriculturist who is under the black cloud of unregulated imports. The Government should work out a plan which will be appropriate to the circumstances and in accordance with the urgent needs of our day.
§ 8.0 pm.
§ Mr. MORRISON
The whole House has welcomed this opportunity of contributing ideas towards the solution of what is undoubtedly a very difficult, and indeed tragic, problem. In this most interesting Debate, facets of the agricultural situation have been lighted up by hon. Members. Many topics of interest to agriculture have been dealt with. The hon. and gallant Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner) made a speech which was both excellent and good tempered. It was a sincere contribution to the Debate. It is true that he took the opportunity of praising the activities of the Government which he supported in the last Parliament, in contradistinction to those of this Government, but he disarmed any criticism by describing that work as "donkey work." The interesting part of his speech, coming from those benches, was his reference to import boards. He criticised the policy which we on this side of the House have adopted for regulating imports by means of tariffs and quotas, and said that he preferred import boards, because, he said, in a time of falling prices like this, it is impossible to work a tariff or a quota with any accuracy. There is one respect in which a quota or a tariff is better than an import board in a time of falling prices. Had we had an import board a year ago, charged with the duty of buying up, let us say, meat, to feed the population of these islands, we should now be showing on the accounts of that Government in- 107 stition a huge loss running into millions of pounds. Though I have that criticism to level against the suggestion of import boards, I welcome it, equally with the Measures proposed from this side of the House, because it recognises the necessity of some restriction of imports. We have only a very small number—a mere rump—of Members in this House now who suppose that agriculture can flourish if unrestricted foreign competition is maintained. That is a step in the right direction, but, in a Debate like this, when we are pooling our ideas, it is, I think, a good thing that we should see the similarities between the policies which we advocate rather than the points of difference. Several speakers in the Debate to-day have advocated the establishment of smallholdings on a large scale as one of the best ways of getting rid of the unemployment problem as a whole, and of agricultural depression as a secondary consideration, and the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) gave us some admirable figures with regard to successful smallholdings within his knowledge. The interesting thing, however, about those holdings was that in the case of every one of them which was such a, triumphant success, the smallholder was originally an agricultural labourer, or a gardener, or at least someone whose early training and nurture had been upon the land on which he was then trying to make a living.
There is no doubt that, as was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the figures for the smallholdings established by our county councils—he mentioned Shropshire, but there are others that are just as good—show excellent results. It cannot, however, be too emphatically urged that those excellent results which have been achieved have been achieved because the county councils responsible have exercised the utmost care in the selection of the men, the selection of the soil, and the equipment, and have nourished the infant enterprise of smallholdings in a thoughtful and considerate manner.
It is a very different proposition when from this particular success you plunge at once into the wide generalisation that you can settle a million men on the land in a very short time. The root problem 108 remains: How are you to settle men on the land with any prospect of success for themselves or of alleviation of the unemployment problem when those on the land are not able to make a living? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, with great candour, posed that question, but with great ingenuity he omitted to answer it. He gave us no indication as to how the object was to be achieved. Listening to his speech, it, seemed to me that we are in danger of losing our perspective over this matter. Agriculture is not an industry which is capable of great and sudden expansion. We are not faced in the agricultural world with the position of having a flourishing industry that can take on additional men. The trend is not towards the land, but away from the land, and I suggest that the problem with which we have immediately to concern ourselves is not that of getting more men on to the land from the towns, but that of trying to hold some of the men that we have and to prevent them from going into the towns.
I know that in this over-urbanised community of ours the question of rural unemployment is very apt to he neglected. Its victims do not figure in those lists which are compiled under the Unemployment Insurance Acts; nor do they organise, or have organised for them, demonstrations such as those with which this House has become familiar. But I think it will be within the knowledge of the House that the agricultural worker who loses his work and goes on to the Poor Law suffers, it may be in rural solitude, quite as severely as any unemployed artisan in the town. Indeed, he has not the distractions of the town, but, on the other hand, he has before him the sight, which must fill the countryman's heart with sorrow, of the land which it is his business to tend and serve going to ruin before his eyes for lack of his labour.
We are agreed upon the principle in this House—always excepting those benches below the Gangway which are vacant at the moment—that some restriction of imports must be undertaken if agriculture is ever, as an industry, to make a contribution that is not less than nothing to the unemployment problem of this country. I know that there are differences of opinion as to how that restriction should be applied. As we are 109 here pooling our ideas, and as in speaking in the House one has to follow one's own lights or speak falsely, I say that I am an unregenerate believer in the principle of regulation by means of a tariff. To my mind, uninstructed as it may be, that seems more likely to produce successful results than any other method. I am not going into the question at large, but I frankly admit that I somewhat dread the complications of the quota system. As regards a tariff, there is a consideration which appeals perhaps particularly to one of my race, and that is that a tariff brings in revenue. I am not so sure that a quota will do that.
I quite realise that there may be considerations of general policy which prevent the Government from following What I think is the right course, but the important thing is that we should take some steps to restrict meat importations as soon as possible, in order to save that side of the industry from ruin. Let us remember that there is no part of the agricultural group of industries which can be better carried on in this country than the meat part. There is no part of the world which has the same natural qualifications for stock raising as we have, and, if the meat industry is not paying, it is idle to suppose that other branches of the industry, for which by nature we are not so well suited, can ever be in a flourishing condition. As to the question of wholesale prices, and the question of the influence upon retail prices of any raising of wholesale prices, I have here two lists, the one—a sea-green, innocent-looking one—being a retail list, and the other a price-list obtained this morning from a big firm of wholesale meat producers. These lists show that, for imported meat, taking comparable qualities, the wholesale prices ranged from 6d. per lb. for the best to 2d. for the worst. The retail price list—and these retail prices are low, being those of a big department store—shows that, for the same meat which costs, wholesale, 6d. and 2d. per lb., the retail prices are 1s. 4d. and 7d. respectively. Supposing that a duty was put on, would it raise the retail price? Clearly, these figures show that the retail price is not determined by the wholesale price at all; there is too big a gap between the two for them to have any relation the one to the other.
110 These lists will show, on further investigation, what does fix the retail price of imported meat. It is when you look at the price of home-grown meat that you see the answer. The retail prices of homegrown meat of the same quality range from 2s. to 8d. per lb., or, in other words, the price of the imported article when sold retail is pushed up until it just competes with the British article. Supposing that the wholesale prices were raised by a tax of so much a pound, there would still he, governing the price of imported meat, the competing influence of the cheaper joints of British meat, and the result would only be to diminish to some degree the tremendous profit that is now being made on the sale of imported meat, and, by that amount, to diminish the overwhelming attraction which imported meat has for the butcher. The butcher who sells imported meat does not have the same bother that the English butcher has in disposing of his worst joints, or of cutting up the meat and disposing of the offal. He can buy imported meat and have it dumped at his shop by lorry in exactly the cuts that he requires, already cut up. He need not have the bad joints; he can order what he likes; and the prices, as I have said, are, at the highest, 6d. per lb., going down to 2d.
These are the considerations to which I want to direct the attention of the Government. There may, as I have said, be considerations of general policy which prevent my ideas on this matter from being the right ones; I am not so sure that I know as much as the Government as some people are; but the important thing is that there should be some restriction. Whatever long-range policy of that kind the Government have in view, what I am anxious about, and what has caused me to intervene, is the question of the coming winter. We are now eight weeks from Christmas, and, from what I have seen of the agricultural industry and of the state of England in rural areas during the past year, I am afraid it is going to be, for many a good fellow, a very hard Christmas. Men are being turned off the land because the farmers cannot keep them on, and, when a man goes off his work in agriculture, he goes to the Poor Law. It is for that reason that I would ask the Government to make some contribution towards the employment in useful work of agricultural workers in this country.
111 I would ask hon. Members who, perhaps, have not much experience of the agricultural industry, to remember one important fact. Hon. Members from urban divisions sometimes ask me, "Why do you make so much of a song about agriculture? Other industries are suffering badly also." There is one great difference between agriculture and an urban industry, such as the cotton industry, and that is that the employer in agriculture is not permitted, by the nature of things, to turn men off in the same light-hearted, or heavy-hearted, way in which an industrial employer can. Quite apart from sentimental considerations which bind master and man together, and which, I am glad to say, are still very strong in the country, it is not possible to reduce a farm to a care-and-maintenance basis as you would a factory. You can shut up your factory and put on a night-watchman to go round and oil a few things every now and again, and it remains, comparatively speaking, undeteriorated during that process, and can be restarted with the return of trade. With a farm it is quite different. If you have land, you must keep it clean, or it goes back to jungle. You must continue to employ men on it. If you have beasts, they must be fed and tended, or they not merely deteriorate—they die. And the effect of the distress in agriculture, leading to unemployment, is not quite like it is in any other industry, because the labour and skill that have been expended on the land for generations may be wasted in a period of one or two years by the land slipping back into jungle.
There is work to be done, and there are men anxious to do it. I admit that the question is a difficult one, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to concert, if he can, with his colleagues the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour, and see whether it would not be possible at once to devise some scheme by which wages could be made up, so that men could be employed on that work of ditching, hedging, draining and so on without which the land must deteriorate. I hear it said: "This is a Speenham-land proposition. You are going back to the old scheme under which the justices of Speenhamland paid wages out of the poor rate." That is not the scope of my proposition at all. Let us remember that 112 in the matter of agricultural wages, this House has an obligation to the industry. It has established minimum wages, but has not taken sufficient steps to put the industry in a position to pay them, and the difference between the economic wage and the statutory wage has been made up out of the pockets of farmers and landlords. Now the resources are gone, the men are being turned off, and the land is going down.
I think the country is a very different place from the town in more than one respect, and I believe that, with the small local government units that you have in the country, and with their intimate knowledge of the problem and the personnel involved, you would have a control that would prevent abuses of that kind. This is not a question of making up the wages of men still in work, but of taking men who are now out of work, who must receive doles of some sort or another during the winter, and using the money, not to keep them in idleness, but to make up the statutory wage which the House has determined should be paid to the agricultural workers. It is an entirely different proposition from the old idea of the justices of Speenhamland, who had no defence then against the unscrupulous employer who paid low wages knowing that they would be made up out of the poor rate. Here you would have sufficient local knowledge and control to guard against any abuses of that kind, and it is not, as it was then, working for private employers. It is work of national importance. It may be said it would benefit the farmer, but what if it does benefit the farmer and benefit the land? It will save a national asset which has been built up through generations of toil and skill. Look at the state of the land to-day. It is like looking at a factory which has been shut up, but a little different. It is as if you were seeing a factory with the tiles falling off the roofs, and as if you saw the machinery inside it not merely losing its polish but becoming visibly contorted into a shapeless, valueless mass.
§ Mr. MORRISON
Any amount of good will is required on all sides of the House to tackle the problem in anything like an 113 adequate manner. The Government ought to consider whether it would not be possible to use men who will otherwise be unemployed this winter in putting these matters forward. We can at least say that the justices of Speenhamland were actuated by a sense of social justice and responsibility for one's neighbours. If we can emulate their spirit while avoiding their mistakes in this matter, I believe we shall be acting in perfect harmony with the soundest traditions of this country. These are the two suggestions that I would make. I would ask the Government to take steps to restrict the importation of meat, and, if they put a tax on meat, let them remember that it will be felt less, will bring in more revenue, and do more good than a tax on beer, which is at present depriving men of employment, drying up a source of revenue, and is being felt severely by those who regard it as their chief luxury after toil.
While these schemes are hatching to perfection in the mind of the Minister of Agriculture, I hope he will consult with his friends and see whether he cannot immediately devise a scheme by which it will be possible to pay men for doing work of national importance, work which will be better for themselves, work they are skilled in doing and ready to do rather than allow them to subsist entirely in idleness over the coming winter. I do not propose any new scheme which means the organisation of vast gangs of men to be used in engineering achievements of which the world will hereafter be proud, but merely to use men under these local authorities to prevent a great asset to the land of England being lost. I know t is very much easier to make a speech than to carry a scheme of that character into operation. I am not ignorant enough of the scope of these matters not to see the difficulties in them. I believe this Problem of unemployment, whether one looks at it from the urban or the agricultural side, will not be solved by anything easy at all, and I would urge that some steps be taken to examine a proposal of that character.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
Does the hon. Member imply a 100 per cent. grant to be given to the local authority?
§ Mr. MORRISON
The hon. Member is mistaking me. The sort of scheme that I have in view is that it shall be made 114 possible for local authorities who bring work that they can show to the satisfaction of the Government is necessary in their districts, and can show the number of men who will be unemployed throughout the winter, to get the money which would otherwise be expended in poor relief or unemployment benefit to make up the wages of these men to the statutory level and use them for this work instead of letting them remain idle. I will not deal with that to-night. I merely put it forward. I ask that we should take this matter into consideration and see whether it is not possible to do something before winter comes to save these men from a lot which will otherwise be very hard.
§ Mr. R. W. SMITH
I should like to draw attention to the position of agriculture in Scotland, and especially to the position of the agricultural workers, who are unfortunately becoming a diminishing number. We want to see that drift away from the agricultural districts stopped; in fact, something more than that. We want to see them coming back to the land. A great deal of lip-service is given to agriculture, but I think the House is apt to forget in what a serious position Scottish agriculture is at present. The last return of the Department of Agriculture states that the arable area of land in Scotland is 3,051,000 acres, which is 10,000 acres less than last year and the lowest acreage for arable land since statistics were first taken if you take the amount of land under crops and grass, it is some 4,000,000 acres, 8,000 acres less than last year and the lowest figure there has been since 1876. We also have fewer horses and cattle. There are 3,000 fewer workers than there were last year. This is a picture of the state of affairs in Scotland at the present time, and it is a very gloomy one indeed. Unless something is done immediately to put our agricultural industry once again on its feet there will be a tremendous collapse throughout the country. We have listened to-day to a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He told us that he wanted to see something like 3,000,000 people on the land in this country, but he gave us no idea how these people would be kept upon the land once they had got there. He made no 115 proposals whatever nor showed how they were to make farming pay, and that is what we want.
I wish to make one or two suggestions to the Government. I am very sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not here, because he knows the agricultural situation in Scotland as well as in England, and I am sorry that there is no Member on the Front Bench representing the Scottish Office to deal with the Scottish position. It is rather a strange thing that we should be dealing with such an important matter as the agricultural industry of the country and yet there is no one on the Front Bench able to reply for Scotland. The first point I would impress upon the Government is the question of credits for agriculture. I was very much surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did not mention the question of credits, for he told us—I have heard him speak in this House on the question—not very long ago that what was keeping down the agricultural industry was the lack of money in the industry. He told us that the landlords and the farmers had no money, and that what was wanted in the industry was money. Therefore, I should have thought that he would have pressed in his speech for further credits for agriculture in order that the industry might be conducted properly, but we did not hear a word about it.
I have heard members of the Socialist party state that credits for agriculture were wanted. The late Minister of Agriculture himself, when introducing a Bill, stated that further capital was wanted in the industry. We have heard nothing from hon. Members nor from the Government. Why will not they back us up? There are many of us on this side of the House who have been pressing the Government for credits for agriculture. Why have we not received backing from the Socialist benches seeing that hon. Members opposite have said that credits are necessary for agriculture? Why did not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs also mention the question of credits? I would impress upon the Government the great need at the present time for some assistance being given to agriculture. I especially emphasise my appeal because of the position with regard to the question of credits in Scotland. A Bill was passed to grant 116 agricultural credits for long and short terms for England, and the Measure is working at the present time. In 1929 a Bill for Scotland on the same lines was passed by the Government, but the Measure is not yet working, and consequently Scottish agriculture has not been getting the advantage from credits which its neighbour in England has been getting. It seems to be most unfair. The Government at that time guaranteed £125,000 towards the Corporation, but we in Scotland have not been getting the use of that money. I have pressed this matter on the House at various times. Last May I was told by the then Secretary of State for Scotland that the negotiations with the four participating banks had been concluded, and he hoped that the banks would be able to arrange for incorporation of the company at an early date. At the end of June I was told that the Department were fully alive to its importance, and that the right hon. Gentleman hoped that the period of delay had now come to an end. On 12th July last I asked the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, now the Minister of Agriculture, whether the formal documents setting up the Agricultural Security Company under the Agricultural Credits (Scotland) Act had yet been approved by the Treasury, and the reply he gave was,
I would say a word or two in regard to the question of cats. We in North-East Scotland, especially from where I come, are practically unable to grow any of the crops which receive assistance, such as wheat or sugar-beet. The principal agricultural products of North-East Scotland are meat, oats and barley, and potatoes to a certain extent, and in respect of none of these products is there any assistance given by the Government, except to the extent of the 10 per cent. duty on oats, which, I maintain, is not sufficient. In other parts of the country they are able to grow other crops, such 117 as sugar-beet and wheat, and although our position is as serious as theirs, and has been for some time, we have not similar advantages. What should we do for oats? We ought to have a larger tax on foreign oats coming into the country. We were told by the Leader of the Conservative party, and, I believe, by the then Minister of Agriculture that they were aware of the serious position of the oat-growers of the country owing to the dumping of foreign oats. We were assured that some steps would be taken to prevent that contingency, but so far nothing has been done except the imposition of a 10 per cent. duty, which is not sufficient to keep the foreigner out.
We require a further duty on oats. The present duty of 10 per cent. is not having an effect, because on 5th November this year the average price of oats in Scotland was 5s. 6d. per cwt., against 7s. per cwt. at the same time last year. Therefore, the price is coming down in spite of the 10 per cent. duty. Our farmers would be able to supply all the oatmeal required from home-grown oats, and I fail to see why the Government cannot take steps to see to it that the foreigner is prohibited from sending oats into the country. It would prove of great advantage to the farmers in this country, and especially to the Scottish farmers.
It has taken the Government a very long time to decide whether they would do anything with regard to the question of malting barley. We were given to understand at the election that the Government would give consideration to the question, but nothing has been done. Therefore, one is entitled to ask the Government to give information as soon as possible wtih regard to the question of a tax on foreign barley. There is an Order in force which prohibits the millers of this country from bleaching pearl barley with sulphur dioxide. The millers of the country are not able to produce pearl barley for the market here; at the same time foreign pearl barley is coming into the country and being sold. I am given to understand that pearl barley is bleached by means of sulphur dioxide, and that before it is sent over here the foreigner manages in some way to remove the sulphur dioxide. It may be said that it is for the health of the nation that we should prevent them using sulphur dioxide. I would point out, however, that sulphur dioxide 118 is allowed in sausages and in fruit pulp. In the case of fruit pulp for the making of jam it is said that the sulphur dioxide is removed in cooking. It is not a common thing for people to eat pearl barley raw, uncooked. If sulphur dioxide is allowed in fruit pulp, why should it not be allowed in the case of pearl barley? If the Government will not allow sulphur dioxide to be used for pearl barley, they ought to prohibit foreign pearl barley and make the people use home-grown barley. It will not be so white, but its greater consumption will be an enormous advantage to the millers and agricuturists at the present time, who cannot find a market for their barley.
Take the question of potatoes. The potato crop has dropped to a price which is unremunerative. We had at first a small duty on foreign potatoes, which was afterwards raised to £1. The duty of £1 on foreign potatoes is not enough, and we are entitled to ask the Government at once to do something more in this respect. The question of meat is of vital importance, especially in my part of the world, which is the most important meat-producing county in the whole country. The Government have admitted by what has been said in Debates lately that they realise the serious position of the meat producers at the present time. It is much more serious than it was at the time of the Ottawa Conference. If they do realise the seriousness of the problem they must realise that something must be done immediately if that industry is to survive. I hope they will not keep us waiting long. We have asked for a statement of the Government's agricultural policy on several occasions.
To-day, we were told by the Prime Minister that the Minister of Agriculture will more clearly put forward the views of the Government on their policy. I sincerely hope that that policy will be one that will bring hope and brightness to the farmers who are in a very depressed condition. The Prime Minister gave a warning when he made his statement to-day which rather distressed me. He said that other duties would he adapted to other points as soon as necessary where a case could be made out, but that agriculture must prove that it is using all its opportunities for its improvement. Agriculture for the last few years has shown that it is using all its opportunities. It has been doing more than 119 that. It has been using the money earned in more prosperous years to keep going, and has practically used up all that money. Unless the Government can do something that will prevent the industry from being swamped by unfair foreign competition, I am afraid that nothing will save it. For these reasons I do ask the Government to do something very tangible for the agricultural industry, and to do it at once.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
Norfolk has been very much in the picture, owing to the very admirable article in the "Times" this morning. I will not, therefore, say too much about the conditions there, except to emphasise the opinion of the writer of that article that the conditions in Norfolk are appalling. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was speaking the other night he said that the Government appreciated the critical situation of the industry. I cannot help wondering whether the Government really do appreciate the position, even now. The measure of their appreciation is likely to be the remedies which they seek to apply, and as none of those remedies are likely to begin before the 1st January next and will not be very effective until pretty well the end of 1933, it seems to me that the Government are not appreciating the appalling pass into which the industry has fallen.
It is obvious that agriculture as we used to know it is simply and absolutely a thing of the past. Owing to the many handicaps of the industry, the handicap of the Wages Board, of hours, of regulations, of rent, tithe and also of climate, our competitors overseas, I think it can be said definitely, are able to produce everything that we produce more cheaply than we can do in this country. Therefore, if agriculture is to continue to flourish it is obvious that a complete and comprehensive policy must be evolved that will make up to the farmer for these handicaps, under which he is carrying on his business at the present time. There is not only the question of meat but of everything that the farmer grows. Wheat and sugar beet have been dealt with. It would go to the hearts of hon. Members if they would come to Norfolk and see the hundreds of stacks of barley for which at the present time there is no market whatever. The continuance of 120 the high tax on beer has killed the market for barley for malting—absolutely dead. The sheep industry is practically dead. We have had details of the prices, which show that every form of meat is now being sold absolutely at a loss.
I do not think the Government realise that the only thing we want as representatives of the farmers is an immediate policy that will restore the confidence of the banks and the ability of the farmer to be able to pay his way again. The test of the Government's proposals would be to take them to a typical country banker and ask that banker whether as a result of those promises he would extend the farmer's credit. Does any hon. Member believe that if he went either with the Ottawa Agreements or with the pig policy of the Government, which will begin to operate, I suppose, next July, or the suggested scheme about the Argentine, of which I read in the press last week, that hanker would extend the farmer's credit on the basis of that? I do not believe that there would be one penny piece granted to him, and I do not think there is the slightest chance of a single man being kept on work as a result of those promises.
Hon. Members have asked: Cannot the farmer be given money just to tide him over this winter, and cannot schemes be arranged to enable the agricultural worker to be kept at work of some sort and not be turned over to the public assistance committees? The best method of all is to restore the confidence of the bankers so that the whole machine will go on and these dismissals will not take place. That is what we want. We want at once a policy which will start the whole system of credits once more. An hon. Member who represents a Scottish constituency made a very good suggestion, with which I entirely agree. When you are dealing with meat the first thing to do is to clear up the hopeless muddle into which the meat distributing industry of this country has got. It is hopelessly wrong that practically the whole of the imported meat comes into the Port of London, where there is less unemployment than in any other port. It is also absolutely wrong that during the first nine months of this year no less than 84 per cent. of the meat sold in Smithfield Market should be imported meat. Can it be seriously suggested that London and its neighbouring districts is so 121 desperately hard up that only 16 per cent. of its population can afford to buy English meat? No one would make such a suggestion; and the hon. Member's suggestion that foreign meat should only be sold in licensed shops is an admirable one, and would clear up all doubts as to whether foreign meat is not sold and charged as English meat. It would at any rate clarify the situation and we should have some idea as to where the foreign meat was going and also where the English meat was going.
But that is not enough. We most certainly want some method of raising the wholesale prices of meat, and for my part I do not mind how it is achieved so long as it is achieved at the earliest possible moment. I would even favour a much more drastic method of attacking it than hon. Members have suggested. I should be strongly in favour of an attempt to deal with the situation by fixing prices. I am told that this is a desperately Socialist plan and one which is only adopted in war time to prevent the farmer exploiting the general consumer. But we have got something very comparable to that condition, only it is the other way round. For a good many years past the consumer has been exploiting the farmer, there is no question about that, because they have been getting meat below cost price, and it is only reasonable to fix prices in order to give the farmer a chance.
Let me suggest a way in which we might proceed to do this. If we had the, wand of a magician and could say that on Monday morning a regulation would be passed which would entail that foreign meat must be sold at not more than 6d. less per pound than English meat I believe we should have gone far towards solving the problem. The immediate result would be to give the importer a real interest in keeping up the price of home produced meat, an interest which he has never had before. He has never cared how much importations were sent in at present prices, but if he was never allowed to sell his meat at a price which was more than 6d. below the price of English meat he would immediately have such an interest in the price of home meat that he would limit his importation of foreign meat to within the deficiency of our own supplies instead of doing for our market what he is at the present 122 time. I think such a method would be even more effective than a tariff or a quota, because it would keep on working so as to give a continuous price on which farmers could make a living, and the farmer could with confidence fill up his yards with cattle if he knew that such a, scheme was in operation.
When I go down to my constituency, as I do every week-end, I find my friends and neighbours getting more and more into difficulties. As a result of falling prices I find that there are more and more bankruptcies, more and more men going out of business, and more and more agricultural workers, who have been on farms all their lives and their fathers before them, being turned off and becoming a charge on the public assistance committee. I find also a tendency for the rates to rise with the result that small shopkeepers and public house keepers, who have had bad enough times lately, merchants and auctioneers, in fact, everybody suggesting that they are going to be sucked down in a common catastrophe. When it is suggested that it will be all right when the Ottawa Agreements come to fruition, that next July an arrangement will be made for the appointment of lots of committees and boards by which the farmer will be able to recover the actual cost of fattening a pig, it is really but a cold sort of comfort to carry to my friends when I see them again.
I have been a loyal supporter of the Government ever since they came into office, but there are two loyalties, and of the two I think I have a stronger loyalty to my constituents. I do not want to use threats but one's loyalty will wear very thin if I have to go back, and Christmas comes, and nothing whatever is done to help the agricultural industry at once. I implore the Government to use the tremendous power and authority which was given them at the last election. I do not think that they have realised that they were given complete carte blanche to do anything they liked. They have not proceeded as though they realised this. I do not think, either, that they realise what a tremendous strain it is on the loyalty of Conservative Members sitting behind them when they feel that this great opportunity is not being used and the cause of these unfortunate men 123 is not receiving the immediate attention which it undoubtedly demands.
§ Mr. TURTON
It is a very significant fact that the second day of this Debate on unemployment should be devoted to agriculture. I think Members of all parties have voiced the belief that in agriculture there is latent a cure for the unemployment situation. I make one exception to that, because it has been noteworthy throughout the Debate that not one Member has spoken from among the dissentient Liberals, who are between the devil and the deep blue sea, the devil of the Opposition and the deep blue sea of the Government. The problem that we are facing is that we are coming to the thirteenth winter of unemployment, with the unemployed numbering over 2,800,000, and while some of that unemployment is due to the whirlpool of economic world depression, part of it is a constant factor that we have had for 13 years in this country. It is that constant factor that some of us who are younger and young enough to have lived most of our active lives in all those 13 years, believe can be cured by some tackling of this agricultural problem.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) talked grandly of land settlement schemes. He told us that in Germany there were four times the number of smallholdings that we have in this country. But Germany for the last few years has adopted a most active agricultural policy, has subsidised those on the land, and has done everything to help the farmer. In the last four years in this country, I regret to say, the same policy has not been adopted. The backbone of the agricultural industry in this country is the livestock-producing section of it. No section of English agriculture is today suffering as much as the livestock-producing section. Every day I get letters from my constituents complaining about the situation. Let me quote a few sentences from a letter that I received on Saturday night:In my own case I farm 186 acres of my own land, and employ a man with seven children and his two elder sons. I have borrowed every penny I can from the bank and on my other property and shall have to give up altogether if no help is forthcoming. I have had to sell my lambs for about nothing. Potatoes are about unsaleable. This farm is light land and will go 124 back to wilderness in less than a year. My man and his family will be thrown on the rates unless some help is immediately forthcoming. I have a number of accounts outstanding and owe my interest on mortgages on this farm and other properties.That is the immediate problem. That letter is representative of the case of thousands of farmers in this country. Unless my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture can to-night put forward a policy that is immediate, a policy that is bold and constructive, these farmers, and these labourers who are dependent on the farmers, will go down this winter and their land will go derelict. What is the Government policy that has been announced so far? It is a sound long-term policy. But it is no good talking in terms of long-term policies in moments of crisis. When they devised that policy the Government were in the stable even-time of last summer. Since then prices have become catastrophic. Prime quality fat beasts are selling in Yorkshire for 30s. a live cwt.; lambs are going for less than 5s. each; small pigs for 2s. apiece. That is the problem. Stock is being given away because there is no stability or security in agriculture.
The Government must tackle this meat-producing problem immediately. We have to bridge the gap between 35s. and 50s. for beef. When I look at the Ottawa Agreements and see all the involved mathematical tables, I am very chary to believe that quantitative regulation can bridge the gap between 35s. and 50s. I am convinced that the only way of curing the meat problem to-day is by putting a duty, and a sound duty, on meat. I believe that the problem could be tackled by a sliding scale duty which varied; as the wholesale price became higher the duty would become less. That duty at the present time would have to be a duty of between 3d. and 4d. per pound. I believe there are Members of the House who are frightened of a duty. They dare not speak of it, although they want to help agriculture. It is up to those Members of the House to produce an alternative method that will cure this problem. It may be done by quantitative regulation, but it will not be done in the next year if the imports of beef and mutton are kept at the high figures of 6¼ million cwts. of beef, and 6¾ million cwts. Of 125 mutton and lamb. We can grow and we must grow a considerably larger proportion of that at home.
The quantitative regulation under the Government's plan does not operate until January. I notice in to-day's "Times" that one of the Australians who was at the Ottawa Conference states that at Ottawa the Australian and New Zealand representatives made the strongest representations to the British delegates to restrict foreign shipments from the beginning of October. That is the first time I have heard that such representations were made by Australia and New Zealand. If it was possible for those restrictions to begin in October, it is now clearly possible for them to begin in December. I hope that when the Minister of Agriculture winds up this Debate he will deal with that question, and that if he is not willing to take the lead by imposing a duty I hope he will increase the quantitative regulations as they are laid down in the Ottawa Agreements.
When agriculture is stabilised, then I believe we must be ready to go into the large problem of land settlement and I venture to make one suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman with regard to that question. Last week the Reorganisation Commission dealing with pigs and pig products issued their report and in that report will be found a suggestion that, in order to maintain the contract supply, the marketing board which it is proposed to set up, should keep a pool from which they would be able to draw in case through disease or other accident, feeders fall short in their contracts. I think that such a pool is necessary to the working of the scheme and I suggest that it should be drawn from pigs under contract on pig holdings set up for unemployed men. I believe there are great possibilities in that direction for the unemployed. A large number of unemployed men have had agricultural experience in the past and those unemployed men could more quickly turn to pig keeping than to any other branch of agriculture. If the Minister adopts the report of the Commission I hope he will see that pig holdings are established for unemployed men throughout the country. That would be a favourable opportunity for sties to be put up under a scheme by which the Government would pay for a sty on the consideration that 126 the unemployed man was given a year's grace in regard to rent from the landlord or the county authority.
I believe that something can be devised in the nature of land settlement schemes but I am sure that nothing can come out of them until the agricultural industry has, first, been made a working proposition—which it is not to-day. We have been, the present Prime Minister of France has observed, witnessing the death agonies of England because she deliberately sacrificed her agriculture to her trade. That is what a foreign observer thinks of our problem. I believe that it is the task of this National Government to rectify the errors of the past and do someting for those rural communities which are now in peril of bankruptcy and' destitution. I ask the Government to recollect that for the agricultural labourer there is nothing between employment and destitution. He has no half-way house—no unemployment benefit—and if a man is turned out of employment, as many men will be, unless something is immediately done, no inquiry is made into his savings because he has not any. There is nothing for him between getting the 31s. 6d. which he receives in my area, and getting outdoor relief or going into an institution. The National Government has done a great deal for the nation. It has restored our credit but it has yet to restore our agriculture. I appeal to the Minister not to be frightened by the bogey which may be raised before him by some of his late colleagues and not to be chary of a meat duty, but to go out boldly and restore our industry, and thus bring happiness and contentment to the rural community throughout England.
§ Captain HEILGERS
The case of agriculture has been subject in the past to considerable exaggeration and therefore I would put before the House the plain tale of my own farm. In the course of the last year, ended Michaelmas, 1932, I took £2 for every £3 which I took in the previous year. On the other side of the balance sheet my expenditure was 98 per cent. of what it had been in 1931. The receipts have been falling steadily but the expenditure has been fairly constant since 1926 at about the same figure. We cannot increase our receipts. We are told that we might do so by better marketing and by co-operation but, after all, in this world slump Denmark is no 127 better than we are, in spite of her marketing system. As farmers, we have to turn to the expenditure side of our account and we find that 36 per cent. to 45 per cent. of our expenditure is involved in the cost of labour. It is all right if the farmer has capital, as I have, but in the case of a farmer whose capital is rapidly being depleted, and who is being pressed by the banks, there is only one way in which to economise successfully and that will mean, I am afraid, in East Anglia that many thousands of men will be turned off as soon as the sugar beet lifting and wheat seeding operations are complete.
What can be done in this world of surplus to remedy this situation and prevent such unemployment? First, there are the questions which have been urged on the consideration of the Government—the question of credits and the question of restricting meat imports. I would say that there has been considerable exaggeration in regard to this matter. Some hon. Members probably spoke quite truthfully the other day in saying that in certain places lambs were being sold for Is. 6d. I think a fair story would be what happened in my own case this year. In 1931 I sold lambs for 48s. 6d. and this year I sold the same quality of lambs at 24s. 3d., or exactly half. I would urge that in East Anglia our need for the increase of livestock production is just as great as it is in the West. My farm has 750 acres arable out of 1,050 and my production on the livestock side is 66 per cent. The wheat quota has made a considerable difference in East Anglia, in regard to the need for producing meat. You cannot grow wheat without meat. If you do not put back into the land the goodness which you take out of it when you grow wheat, your land will become worse and worse. I have no time to labour the question of credits or of the restriction of meat imports, but I hope the Government will seriously consider that we are desperately in need of some help at the present time.
The only remark I would make about credits is that if the help is given, as it was given in 1928, and if the fact that the credit has been given to the farmer is made known by the charge being registered at the Land Registry, then that credit is worse than useless because the farmer's other creditors all descend upon 128 him like a pack of ravening wolves. If we have credits and restriction of meat imports, that help in the present situation must be to a certain extent, in the nature of a lifebuoy thrown to a drowning man. But if we want to restore the drowning man we shall have to nurse him after he has been rescued. I suggest that the Government should first give a pledge to implement the masterly report of the bacon industry Commission and, secondly, that they ought to indicate their willingness to implement the report of the milk Reorganisation Commission or if that is not found to be satisfactory give a pledge that they really mean to stabilise the wholesale price of milk on an economic basis. At the present moment it is nothing less than a scandal. I believe I am correct in saying that the retailers are now getting just as much in profit as the farmers get paid for the whole of their production.
There is another question to which I should like to draw attention, and that is the question of barley. It seems to me that we might deal with the barley question by the staining of barley with an indelible stain, both malting and seeding barley, at the ports. You can get from our chemical industry the necessary stain. It has been done successfully in America with clover seed, and I would suggest that if only the Government are willing to stain the barley, they should thereafter call a conference with brewers and maltsters and definitely get them to agree to use a fixed percentage of English barley in English beer. Again, I would urge that there should be some method taken to extend our production of eggs and poultry. We can produce them entirely in this country, and I think we should do very well if the Government would only consider giving us a quota for eggs and poultry.
Lastly, I want to draw the Government's attention to the question whether something could not be done to reorganise the sale of vegetables? There is nothing in which the middleman plays so large a part as in the marketing of market garden produce. Very often a producer sends vegetables to London, and they change hands four or five times in Covent Garden market. The result is that our vegetables are dearer when they get into the shops than the foreign vegetables. The canning industry has 129 been set up, and the canning factories have been extremely successful. They buy their goods direct from the farmer, with no middleman, and they are able to put them on the market at prices which compete with the whole world. My time is up, and I would only say to the Government, in conclusion, that our need is grave. I beg them to act, and to act quickly, before it is too late, and to act with the conviction that a prosperous agriculture means a prosperous Britain.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
I have to choose the rather difficult course between trying to speak about agriculture and trying to speak about unemployment. As I find it would take me at least an hour and a-half to say what I have to say about agriculture, and as I have only 25 minutes, I shall speak about unemployment; and, after all, that is the subject which we were supposed to be considering during these two days and a-half. Having been out of the House for some time, and having had the privilege of doing a certain amount of work among the unemployed during a considerable part of it, I have naturally had opportunities of thinking about this terrible and difficult question of unemployment which did not come the way of other hon. Members. Whether the conclusions to which I have come are right or not, the House will judge, but to me at any rate this Debate seems to be about the most serious and critical that I have listened to since the 3rd August, 1914.
This Government is the only one which is possible for some time. Any present alternative, I suppose, would be worse, and it has before it in the international field negotiations and settlements of the most intense difficulty, upon whose success or failure not only the final fate of the unemployed in this country, but the future history of the world will depend. Wherever you look—at disarmament, Manchuria, the all-round lowering of tariff barriers, the revision of the Treaty of Versailles, international debts, the regulation of currency, credit, and banking—there never has been a more difficult set of inter-related problems; and, speaking for myself, the more I get to know about any one of them, the more difficult they seem to be. One thing seems to me certain: they cannot be settled in one year or even in two years. But things cannot go on as they 130 are, and they will not get substantially better until those questions are really settled.
It is absurd to believe that because perhaps our unemployment figures are getting a little better now, all is going to be well. All is not well. There are 30,000,000 unemployed persons in the civilised countries of the world, and that is the equivalent of an army on the march, in fours, without any break, stretching from here to Australia. That is not a state of stable equilibrium, and it cannot last. If anyone looks in his paper almost any morning, he will see that in one country or another things are on the move, and they are on the move in the wrong direction instead of in the right one. If our Government are to have a reasonable chance of steering this country and the world through, the great problems I have mentioned will surely need their concentrated attention for some years yet in a quiet atmosphere, but unless the Government have, here at home, the greatest possible amount of good will, they risk failure with these things, and it seems to me that success for these big international efforts will become impossible if our home affairs harden out into a struggle of opposing forces, a struggle between people who use force to attain their ends and people who use force on the other side to prevent those ends being attained. We might very easily get in this country a war atmosphere, and, as we all know, a war atmosphere is fatal for the things that all of us really care about. It is my knowledge of the unemployment question that makes me afraid of that war atmosphere, and I am—I say it definitely and seriously—afraid now for our country as I have never been before.
I had perhaps better say how it is that I have come to feel about this matter so strongly. Nearly 30 years ago I began, in the old days of the Agricultural Organisation Society, to try to help farmers, smallholders, and allotment holders to organise, and that work, a parallel here to what the late Sir Horace Plunkett was doing in Ireland so much more successfully, stopped after the War, so far as the larger cultivators were concerned. We carried it on for the allotment men, and that society united, three years ago, with another society looking after allotments; and since then the united allot- 131 ment holders of this country have been kind enough to carry me on—I happened to be chairman of one of the bodies—as president of the united organisation. As such, I have had a great deal to do with the scheme, with which the Society of Friends is so very honourably identified, to help the unemployed and the underemployed to obtain supplies for effective allotment cultivation. That, of course, has taken me pretty regularly into the districts of worst unemployment, to smooth over difficulties or to encourage the less hardy people, and it has kept me in touch week by week with those in the districts who are doing the real work.
My experience has been that the nature of the work to be done in all the districts of long-continued unemployment has entirely changed in the last year or two. Three or four years ago, when we started on it, it went easily. One had a notice put up in the Employment Exchange, explaining what could be done and inviting applications for allotments, and the applications came in; and if the local authority could be induced to provide suitable land, the scheme worked easily and well. But now, over and over again, although we may get land provided free of rent for the first year or two, and put up notices, advertise for applications in the Press and have meetings of the unemployed, and although the officials of the Exchanges, who are the men's best friends, do all they can, next to nothing happens. It is not because the men do not like allotment work or do not take to it when they get the chance. It saves them, as it always has, body, soul and spirit when they get on to it, and they revel in it. The difference is that in the last year or two, and particularly during the last few months, we have been getting evidence, such as there has never been before, that the men in these districts are rotting and have rotted body, soul and spirit for want of something to do.
This is the primary problem to which the Government should attend. That is the outstanding new fact. I do not think the Government realise it, and I would like to put before them a few phrases, first of all from a singularly well-informed and clear-sighted article published by the "Times" a fortnight ago, comparing what was being done here and 132 in Germany to deal with the problem. The writer of the article speaks, quite rightly, of that lethargy and demoralisation which follow compulsory idleness, and adds that we here have not yet realised the size and urgency of the problem. Summing up with a description of what is being done in Germany, he says:The outstanding and decisive fact is that it is generally recognised in Germany, but not here, that an unemployed man needs something to do to keep his soul alive.I will quote a sentence from the report on last season's work on an allotment scheme, in one of the South Wales mining areas made by one of our organisers, a retired naval officer, a class not overmuch given to sentiment. He says:Unemployed men—poor fellows—are mostly two-thirds dead and the other third pretty cold. When I say this I am intensely serious. Wretchedness, suffering and long-deferred hope destroys these men's confidence in themselves and leads them to mistrust everybody and every thing. We must begin much earlier another year, for it needs much time to resurrect these poor men and to vitalise them into action. They must be inspired and encouraged by personal contact continuously. They must never be let drift.That man knew what he was saying. He had seen drifting logs in his time, a prey to every current and with no power or motion and liable to be pushed about by every wind and wave. That is the danger. The men are lethargic and almost dead, but still they are alive enough to be pushed about by every evil wind and wave. And that is what I fear if the Government will not take this matter more seriously than they have shown any signs of doing in this Debate hitherto. I admire the amazing patience and fortitude of these men more than I can say, but if men finally lose all hope of employing or occupying themselves in reasonable and legal ways, they may quite easily be led into kinds of occupations of a very different sort. In some districts up and down the country they are being led in that way, but to their everlasting credit be it said they are, in the mass, not answering to that lead yet; but if this Debate gives them no hope and things go on drifting, I do not like the prospect. I think the House will believe me and others who have been really in close touch with this question in the last few months, that it would re- 133 quire very little to produce a state of violent disturbance not only in our great centres of population but in many of our country villages.
It seems to me that the first duty of the Government is to see that these men, who have been out of work for year after year, must no longer be allowed to drift as they have hitherto. The experience that we have had in this allotment work leads up to this. The unemployment problem is not in the least a problem of arithmetic. It does not get just a little worse when the numbers go up and just a little better when the numbers go down. It gets worse, and very much worse every month that a large number of men are left wholly without anything. It is not merely a problem of money. Of course, it is right to smooth off the hard edges of the Unemployment Act and the Poor Law and get more humanity and uniformity into the system, and I am glad the Government are going to do that in the next few days; but if I were unemployed I know I should be here demonstrating, if I still had strength to walk, and if my money was doubled I should still be here to demonstrate. But if I had something to do I should not be content—of course I never am—but I should put up with things on the money which most of the men are now receiving. The problem is not one of arithmetic or money, but one of occupation and employment.
May I give the House one instance of the difference this sort of allotment work makes in Sheffield where I was some months ago? We had 29 men who were put on allotments and who were receiving either treatment in clinics or waiting to go into a sanatorium for tuberculosis. After one season's allotment work, 23 of these 29 men were discharged absolutely cured, and had no need of any more treatment. Let hon. Members think what they have saved. An allotment for an unemployed man costs the State 3s. a year, and if the local authority provides it rent free it costs a maximum of 10s. a year. Institutional treatment for tuberculosis may cost the country £2 a week or more. It needs an occupation of some kind to get a man fit, and is not that first the better alternative? The superintendent of one of the biggest institutions for 134 mental treatment told me the other day that about four out of every five of the men who now come under his care come simply because of the effect of long continued worry, and he said if he had had a chance of prescribing allotments for these men a few months before they came, he would not see one in 10 of them coming into the institution.
I must tell the House one story about a place at which we set men to work. It was a rubbish tip in a north of England town, and very bad land, but the unemployed had tackled it and one plot in particular was pointed out as particularly good. A deputation of the town council came round to inspect it, and one dear old boy held up his hands and said, when he saw this beautiful improvement, "May the Lord be praised for all his abundant mercies!" The unemployed man said, "Yes, but you should have seen it two months ago when the Lord had it all to himself." I can hardly say I and those who have had a hand in that work felt amply rewarded for anything we might have done when we felt we had restored to that man not only energy and vitality but his sense of humour. The House will see that I have told that story only to illustrate the vital importance of giving men something to do. There are plenty of things which can be done besides that, and I think the Government could, should, and must, help to get them done. I am quite certain of one thing, that when they try they will find things much easier than they thought, because they will have so many helpers.
Years ago in our allotment schemes we tried through the proper channels to get the co-operation of various organised bodies like the Co-operators, the trade unions, the Christian Churches and the Notary Movement. Everybody helped but only a little, except the Christian Churches which at that time did absolutely nothing. But now things have improved quite a lot, and people are coming forward in all sorts of places to help to get a little interest, human companionship and occupation into those men's lives. The different churches have got down to it not very systematically but in many cases effectively. I should like to mention the Dean of Manchester, who went from South Wales, where he had seen the effect of allotments, and found 135 that very little was being done in Lancashire, where he is really trying to get the clergy to help the good work along.
Surely if the parable about going into the highways and hedges has any meaning at all, it points to the sort of work which they are doing to give occupation for these unemployed men as being at the very centre of their religious duty. How can the State help? They can help rather by being guide and friend than by being financier; if they help with money, it can only be on the basis of grants-in-aid of voluntary effort, as in the case of our allotment work. A little money will go a long way. The State should simply use a little imagination and realise the importance of this work, and encourage well-thought-out experiments and broadcast the result of successful effort. They should lend buildings and land that they are making little use of. They should once more and at once use the power they took in the War to get land and buildings at short notice and fix the compensation afterwards. We have the men at our disposal who became experts in taking land and assessing compensation, and if the Government adopted this suggestion this week—in December it will be too late—we could settle 300,000 unemployed men on new allotments during the next cultivating season. That is a thing I want the Government to do, because it is practical and will come to something.
It is not enough simply for the Government to do something. I want to say a word to hon. Members opposite. A writer in the "Times," who was commenting on the difference between Germany and this country, said truly, with regard to the better position in Germany, that neither the State nor the trade unions offered such opposition as existed here to an unemployed man doing odd jobs. One of the schemes which they find most fertile and helpful in Germany is to put a large number of voluntary workers in jobs. These workers get 8s. a week, three meals a day and a pair of boots, and they work at things like land drainage, snaking playing fields, and building youth hostels. As long as there is no element of private profit in the work, and as long as it is in the interest of the community and work of the sort that would not otherwise be done in times like these, the trade unions do not object. If the 136 Government will show practical good will, will not the trade unions do the same? I for one—the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is another—have always thought it a pity that if a smallholder nails six pieces of wood together and makes a door and gives it a coat of paint, he is supposed to be doing two other men out of a job. He is not really, and that sort of thing might surely be relaxed just now. Surely the trade unions are strong enough to relax their regulations now so that these men may get occupations, and tighten up afterwards when the emergency is a little easier, if they need to do so.
I had hoped to talk on the subject of smallholdings and rural housing, but I have only time for one of these subjects. Do not the Government realise how much the present cheapness of money ought to help them to get local authorities once more to work on things like smallholdings and housing? Is it impossible that the Government should consolidate and convert a large block of local authorities' loans which have been raised at high rates of interest? I believe that they could easily save local authorities from £6,000,000 to £9,000,000 a year in interest, and it would be perfectly reasonable to apply to local authorities the condition that if they saved that interest, the money so saved should be spent on productive work or else it would go into the national Exchequer as a relief. Low rates of interest would also allow the Government subsidies for housing and things of that kind to be very much reduced, and yet things could get done. It is inevitable that the Treasury—I have been there, and I know—should be rather too apt to keep low interest rates as a private reserve of their own, but now that their big conversion has been done, it seems to me that these low interest rates ought to be used to facilitate and to fertilise productive work all over the country.
It would take me too long to explain why I do not think that we can just now multiply at any rapid rate the ordinary sealed pattern smallholding where a man works as an isolated individual and you have to erect him a new house, buildings, and so on. In ordinary times, that meant a dead loss of from £400 to £500 per holding. It would be less now. I do not think that that is the most profitable 137 way to take action. We ought to get back to something like the normal pre-War 30,000 acres a year, or something of that kind, instead of the wretched 4,000 acres a year which we have been having lately. The truest thing that has ever been said about British agriculture was said by Sir Thomas Middleton during the War:Most of our farms are too small for a farmer to work with his head, and too large for him to work with his hands.We ought in better times to have worked harder to make smallholdings larger at one end of the scale and smaller at the other. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was right when he said that the small man has been suffering in these times much less than the large man, and, although there is room even in these days for some of the large industrialised holdings for which legislative provision has been made, on the other hand I am sure that we could settle carefully selected men. Many of the men in the coal districts have land sense and land love, and would make good if we gave many of them a chance to work a piece of land. It would be easy to select men who would really make good and establish them in colonies working individually, but selling co-operatively. We should be astonished to find how many of them had a real love of the land if they once got that chance. A great deal can be and should be done in the country villages. There is terrible unemployment in many of them, and great distress because the agricultural worker has no unemployment benefit. We ought to go right back to the old policy of three acres and a. cow. It upset a. Government once, and I hope that the lack of it will not upset another Government now, but there are many men who, if they could get a couple of acres at the same sort of rent as the farmer pays for similar land—that is the key to the whole thing—would make good; and they ought to be allowed and encouraged to put up their own buildings. A good man can do a great deal in collecting useful building material at a low price—particularly on a dark night. There are thousands of men who would be glad of that chance. They could not live on their two acres, bat it would help out their ordinary employment, and would keep the wolf from the door when they were out of employment.
138 I have cut out what I intended to say about housing, but what I really come down to is this. If we do not take care, we may have in this country something like war of the very worst sort—civil war. We know how hard we work when war comes, but, knowing what a horrible thing war is, cannot we work equally hard to avert it? We talk about war to avert war. Cannot we have a peace to avert war? We all, except in Debates of this kind, devote too much time attacking one another about the past. That does no good at all. When the country is in danger, is it not better to be constructive about the future? A million men died in the War. More than that number are dying now almost as completely in those terrible industrial districts, and if we can do nothing for them it would be almost better that they should be really dead. After all, man was meant to do something with his life. If man is higher than the beasts it is as a creator in mind or body or spirit. God the Creator made man in his own image to create. If men are for a long time kept from any creative work they cease to be men, they lose their manhood. This House can give them back that manhood. Will it not do it?
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I am sure the whole House will agree with me in saying that the speech of the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) was extraordinarily interesting and extraordinarily timely. He brought out three points of the utmost value. First of all he brought before us a realisation sometimes forgotten in these Debates, of the plight of the individual unemployed person and his sufferings from lack of occupation. Secondly, he brought before us the urgency of the problem, and I do not think the speeches from the Government so far have sufficiently emphasised how the time is running out. Thirdly, he made very practical suggestions. This afternoon the Debate has been devoted mainly to agriculture. If I interpose between Members who have spoken on agriculture and the Minister of Agriculture it is not to pose as an agricultural expert, or to try to divert the Debate, but rather with the object of bringing the needs of agriculture into their perspective in the whole unemployed problem. I wish to support a great deal of what has been said by bon. Members who have spoken upon agriculture, and to em- 139 phasise the need of far more vigorous action on the part of the Government than even they have demanded. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will be able to give us something more constructive than we had from the Minister of Labour or the Prime Minister. The thing that struck me about their speeches was that both were filled with the same note of absolute hopelessness, and that is extremely dangerous when discontent is so widespread in the country as it is today. When I went home after listening to the Minister of Labour I happened to pick up Bacon's Essays, and was reading his essay upon discontent and the remedies. He said that the first remedy was to remove the material cause, and went on:It is a certain sign of an honest Government and proceeding when it can hold men's hearts by hopes even when it cannot by satisfaction.In the two speeches we have heard from the Treasury Bench we have been offered no satisfaction and offered no hope. I do not think the Government yet realise the very serious condition of the country. I know that in this Debate I must not talk about ultimate solutions, we have to deal with practical proposals, but while I find it quite easy to avoid the political interplay of party and party I find it difficult not to say something on the broad economics of the question. I would like to ask, first, whether the Government have a definite economic policy and plan. In my view they are trying to combine inconsistencies, trying to combine the economics of Manchester and of Birmingham. On the Manchester side they run a cheeseparing economy, and on the Birmingham side they go in for tariffs. Without saying whether I think the Birmingham policy is right or wrong, I am going to suggest that the Government ought to have a definite policy and to follow it up to its logical conclusion.
If the Government are following the Ottawa idea of Imperial economic unity the only possible corollary to that is a widely-diffused purchasing power in this country, if we are not to deceive the Dominions, because what do the Dominions send us? For the most part they send us mass products for mass consumption by the ordinary rank and file of the people; they do not, in the 140 main, send us special luxuries. Therefore, unless we have a widely-distributed purchasing power in the country the Agreements with Ottawa will not be of such great value to the Dominions, because an effective market will be lacking. If the Government are following the policy of economic nationalism, the corollary is an intense development of our home resources. I wish to know whether the Government are really following that policy, because I do not find a real definite plan. Like the hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) I want to see a definite plan. I daresay we should disagree on the plan, but it has been said of war, and it holds good of peace, that any plan is better than no plan.
It is all the more pressing because we understand that the great fear of this Government is an unfavourable balance of trade. In the latter part of last year and the early part of this we passed any number of Measures designed to check imports on the ground that we were afraid of an unfavourable balance of trade. That calls for the development of our home resources, and I do not see that being done at present. To set up tariffs without undertaking the necessary plans for home development is a fallacy. It seems to me that the Government have there departed from their programme, and gone back to the Manchester policy, because the originator of Ottawa was Joseph Chamberlain, and Joseph Chamberlain not only looked abroad but also looked at home. He was the man who did great municipal work in Birmingham, and it was his son who brought the Birmingham Municipal Bank into being. Therefore, to be a follower of Joseph Chamberlain it is necessary to think not only of Imperial Preference but also of the proper development of our home resources and housing and of the proper control of finance.
The agriculturists have put up a tremendously strong case for the Government implementing their policy of economic nationalism. I am not arguing to-night for or against economic nationalism, I am assuming that that is the Government's policy, but it is not enough to put on tariffs and restrictions of one kind or another, and then wait for a period of years for private enterprise to step in and make a profit, because con- 141 ditions are much too serious for that. It is as if during the War we had waited year after year for our munitions without creating any organisation. We did try it for a time, but very soon had to drop it, and I think conditions in the world and in this country to-day are quite as serious as they were in the years from 1914 to 1918. In the case of agriculture various demands have been made with regard to meat. There have been suggestions as to implementing the Pig Report and as to adopting the Milk Report. We have had a year of waiting, without any vigorous action on any of those aspects of agriculture, not because Measures were not on the Statute Book, or that there were not plans in the Ministry. Let me give one instance. We have been told about the very low prices of meat. There are other complaints in regard to meat. There has been an elaborate report on the subject of abattoirs. There is the possibility of setting up a movement which would make a very great difference in the amount that an agriculturist got for his beast if there were a proper abattoir system such as was recommended in that report. Why cannot that be put into force?
Then there are the questions of land drainage, the equipment of farms, fruit and canning factories. Are we to sit by and wait for all these things? Why could you not begin a big drive at the present time to see that something is done. If you wish to have an efficient agriculture in this country, why not take the measures necessary and make it efficient at once? It is common ground that agriculture has been suffering from intense depression for years, that it is starved of capital and that a great deal needs to be done in regard to buildings, drainage and so forth. Are we merely to pass Measures in regard to prices and to trust that these things will be done in the course of years when eventually some people think that there is a profit in agriculture? If the Government had a plan, they would take in hand these rural reorganisations right away. Take another question—housing. I am not going to say a great deal on that, because it has already been dealt with. Is there any reason why we should not have a rural housing scheme, as you must if you are going to put people on the land? I do not know whether the Government propose to put them into tents. One reason why people come off the land is because of the houses.
142 We are always brought back to the question of how the money is to be raised. I will deal with that in a moment. I want first of all to suggest what is to be done. We have been told by the Prime Minister that an oil from coal scheme is almost ready now. If that is so, are the Government prepared to go ahead with it? One of the biggest problems that every Government has had has been the problem of the colliery areas. You have got the problem of dealing with human beings in those areas, with the capital and the social capital sunk in them. If you had a practical scheme, it would be worth while going right ahead with it. There comes in again the question of the balance of trade. You have about £26,000,000 worth of oil imports every year. If you want to redress your balance of trade, are you going to wait for 10 years? Why not go ahead with a bold scheme and control the imports of oil?
One other point concerns my own constituency. We have heard a great deal about sailors. Why do we not have English sailors on English ships? We have known of the "jolly English Jack Tars" since childhood. When we come to look at them they are every colour of the rainbow. The English Jack Tar is extremely rare. Perhaps Members of the Government will tell us why. I do not see why we should not have British sailors in British ships.
I want to see these things done at once by a vigorous Government. I am not dealing with them on the lines of party principle, or saying that I want them done in the Socialist way or in any other way, but I want them done. Take the question of derelict areas. You have that problem with you year after year. They are left. Then hon. Members wonder why men rot. They are being allowed to rot, and their condition grows steadily worse. In the time of the Labour Government surveys were, I believe, made of all those areas to see what could be done. There are hon. Members who are interested in them. Can we not get down to the question of those areas in order to see what can be done in each particular one? They are all separate problems and need to be tackled. I do not believe they are problems that can be tackled generally. They are definite problems, and each needs application on the spot to see whether people. 143 who live in those areas ought to live there any longer. If the areas can be reconditioned, let them be so, but do not let them go on as they are.
I was disturbed by part of the Prime Minister's speech, because it seemed to me that he got his economics extremely mixed. He said that in all these matters you must cut your coat according to your cloth, and it seemed that he believed that the quantity of cloth that we had was something fixed. There is the country itself, which is the land, its products and all its equipment, and there are the people of this country, and the question of how much we are going to produce is largely a question of organisation. If my cloth is only so many yards long, then the cloth is short because of the 3,000,000 who are producing no cloth at all. If those people were producing, I should have more cloth for my coat. The Prime Minister seemed to be under some obsession about that.
The question is raised as to where the money is to come from. I wonder whether anybody seriously contends that capital is not available for home development. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) said that he would support willingly the raising of a large loan to exploit the Dominions; why not raise a large loan to exploit this country? Is it really true that money is not available, because, if so, that is a very serious position. It means that this country is defenceless. Are we going to be told that we should not get the money? When we are told that we cannot get money for the development of this country, let us remember that that is exactly what the bankers said in the Great War. I understand that, after a few weeks, they came to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and said: "You cannot go on with the War, because there is no more money." He said: "Get on with the War," and we got on with it. As a matter of fact, we financed the War out of the resources of the people of this country. It is true that we borrowed £1,000,000,000, but we lent £2,000,000,000. I have no doubt that we got rid of a certain amount of foreign securities, but not to that extent; we financed the War out of our own resources. Now it is said that we cannot finance the peace. The Minister of Labour said, "You are spending 144 £120,000,000 a year on the cost of unemployment relief." It sounds a very big sum, but it would not have run the War for three weeks. Let us compare the condition of these 3,000,000 people who are suffering in this industrial struggle with that of 3,000,000 men put into the field in the War. Those 3,000,000 men had great sufferings, and they were in a futile occupation. On the other hand, the present 3,000,000 are in a futile disoccupation. We fed and clothed 3,000,000 fighting men and their families, and now it is said that we cannot feed and clothe the unemployed because there is no money.
Fourteen years ago to-day we were still in the War, and we were able to utilise the services of practically every employable person in this country. Why was that? It was because the community decided what should be produced and who should consume. I do not think we are going to get through our present difficult time unless the Government take power to control the economic life of this country. I find great difficulty, when discussing these questions, in getting people to look at the matter from the point of view of the nation. As is shown by the letters in the Press, people, in discussing economies, ring the changes or public economy and private economy, on public spending and private spending, and they generally seem to get the two mixed up together. If we look on this nation as an economic unit, the only thing that costs the nation anything, apart from using up our resources, is what we get from overseas—from outside this country. It is generally considered that it is getting almost impossible, or at any rate dangerously near it, to pay for our food and raw materials, but, if you look at the figures, you find that at the outside something like 2,500,000 of our people are engaged in work in order to pay for the food and raw materials that we get from abroad. The rest of our people are engaged in performing services and producing commodities for exchange between themselves.
Suppose that the 3,000,000 unemployed were put to work on, say, housing development, the reconditioning of agriculture, and all these various schemes which are put forward, what is it going to cost the community apart from a series of book entries between person and person in this country Already you 145 have to keep these people somehow, and they get so little that, apart from rent, the rest probably has to go largely in commodities from overseas, because they are spending merely on food. The actual cost would be anything additional that they get for working for wages which is expended on commodities from overseas, that is to say, food or raw materials or things made from those raw materials. That is what we should have to pay for. Can anyone say that, with 2,500,000 people managing to pay for all our food and raw material every year, we cannot do that? I know that there is a certain amount paid as tribute in the form of interest, but it is possible, taking the nation as an economic unit, for us to buy with our products and services the food and raw materials that we require. I suggest that we are really going in for the very worst form of parsimony in keeping our people idle. I cannot add anything to what has been said so eloquently by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall as to the loss in human fitness and human values in this country, but, when people talk about the enormous cost of putting the unemployed to work, they never seem to set on the other side the value of the products of the work of the unemployed.
I noticed that the Minister of Labour drew a curious distinction. He talked about expenditure on public works, houses, roads, and so on, and contrasted that with work done, as he said, in the ordinary way of business. That seems to me to be a very curious outlook, because it seems to suggest that the provision of houses for the people and the provision of roads and so on is not part of the ordinary business of society. On the other hand, he took considerable comfort from the fact that there was an encouraging demand for motor cars and aeroplanes. If, however, you had a friend who told you he had just bought a nice new aeroplane and a couple of motor cars, and you went to his house and found the drive neglected, the house falling down, and the children starving, you would not think it was economy; but the right hon. Gentleman seems to assume that expenditure by the nation on such things as houses, roads, and even recreation grounds and so on, is somehow worse and less economic than expenditure by private persons.
146 If this is a National Government, it should take a national outlook on these matters. I know that it will not take a Socialist outlook, but it ought at least to be consistent in its national outlook. Let it determine that it is going to do all it can to develop the internal resources of this nation. If it decides that we ought to have a flourishing agriculture, let it go the whole way to getting it; do not let it play with the question. If it decides that there is a possibility of recreating our coal industry, by producing oil from coal or by whatever method it may be, let it go the whole way to getting it done.
When the Prime Minister talked of the simile of the ship in a storm, it seemed to me that there was no one at the helm, that there was no one directing the ship, that no course had been laid, that it was drifting on to the rocks. That is why we have asked that this question of unemployment should be discussed. The Prime Minister said that this is a great human problem, a great national problem, a great world problem, but I think it should be said that it is not a matter that is coming right without effort—that we are not engaged in a, kind of easy peace-time administration. We must all recognise the difficulties that any Government must have, but we ask them to show some of the vigour that they would show if a war were on. If they went into a war, and carried it on even for a year without any plan, they would very soon be beaten. I do not see that they have any clear plan now. I do not suppose that, if they had a plan, it would be one that I should like, but I would rather they had some plan than no plan. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman who is going to speak next will say that he has got a plan for agriculture, and I hope that, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaks, he will say that the Government have a national plan of some kind or other.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Major Elliot)
On the conclusion of this Debate, none can fail to realise with what gravity and seriousness the House as a whole views this problem. It is, I think, true to say that, with certain inevitable lapses, from time to time we have all done our best to keep it on the level of a Council of State contributing what we could towards the solution of 147 what is, admittedly as great a crisis as has ever faced our country. I had the privilege a couple of days ago of sitting through a similar Debate in the other place, and there again the same note was struck. Not merely was this a crisis, but it was a crisis in which the country and both Houses of Parliament called out for leadership and action. They said, as has been said to-night: "Do try again. If you make mistakes, we shall forgive you. The only thing we shall not forgive you for is doing nothing." That has been more particularly emphasised in the Debate to-day with regard to the position of agriculture, and it is especially notable, when dealing with this, that Member after Member, both from town and country, has had the same tale to tell. They said the country is one. Town and country sink or swim together. It is a welcome sign of the break-up of the 50 years' frost which has hung over the land in the belief that you can get prosperity in the towns but not in the counties. It cannot be done. Now we are faced in an emergency, with short time to do it, with a reconstruction not merely of our economics, which is difficult enough, but also of our philosophy, which is much more difficult, and we have found time after time that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were willing enough to recast their economics but always came back with a sneaking fear that it is wrong because it is contrary to what they have been taught in the lecture rooms of philosophy in the days of their youth.
The position of unemployment as a whole, of course, is one which it would be quite unfitting for me here to review. It has been reviewed by Ministers much my senior and will be reviewed by them in the course of this Debate. Agriculture itself is a great employing industry. The Census of Production shows that agriculture, with 1,280,000 engaged in it, is the third largest industry in the country. It is surpassed only by the iron and steel, the shipbuilding, and the engineering trades all taken together and by the Mines and Quarries Group. Those industries are not really so homogeneous, for the industry of agriculture is interwoven through and through. Each part of it must be successful if any part of it is to be successful, and it is not possible to have one area go out of production, as it is possible for one coalfield to go out 148 of production, and still leave a prosperous industry being conducted in other areas. In the value of its output, agriculture has only been exceeded by the whole textile group, by the engineering group, and by the mines and quarries group. The imports of food and drink amounted to nearly half our total imports.
A falling off in agriculture means, of course, a falling off of employment itself. It means the flooding of people from the countryside into the city, because agriculture has not that localising effect of unemployment insurance which causes a man who is unemployed in some small mining village to remain in that mining village. If unemployment occurs on a large scale in the countryside, the unemployed agriculturists will inevitably begin to drift into the big county towns and produce quite a novel type of unemployment, that is to say, unemployment with which America is unfortunately more familiar, a drifting unemployment where people who have no homes and very little chance of relief find themselves moving into the big towns in the belief that the streets of the nearest big town are paved with gold.
The guiding principle which this House has seen in the last few years, and particularly in the last 12 months, is that agriculture itself is a great employing industry and that without a prosperous agriculture you cannot have prosperous towns. But there is something more that is coming into the perception of the House and the country with every week that passes. It is the fear that something is happening to break the spring of this nation and that, if you lose agriculture, you not only lose an industry; you lose your life. If a nation loses the art of producing food from its soil, it is not as if it loses some kind of skill or other; it is as though a roan loses the power to breathe. When a man loses the power to breathe he dies, and when a nation loses the power to till the soil it dies also.
That brings us to the next resolution of the nation which is that it is determined that agriculture should be preserved. It may be economic or it may be uneconomic, but this nation has taken fiscal measures, measures of one kind or another, which a few years ago would have caused well-nigh a revolution to put 149 through. I still remember the day when the President of the Board of Trade came down to the House and announced, with the full concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman who subsequently agreed to differ on what might seem less important matters, that he had the sanction of the Cabinet as a whole to impose duties running up to 100 per cent. on certain agricultural products. I remember well the outcry and hysteria of the "Manchester Guardian," which said that a fundamental divide had been crossed and that from this time onwards all paths would lead down that way. Indeed, they had come to a parting of the ways. It might seem a small thing, but it was really a great thing. It was a duty which was imposed on foodstuffs, or whatever you called it, luxury products or anything else. We had crossed the great divide, and now on for years to come, the path of the nation would lie along that line and not upon the line upon which it had previously been going. I think that that is so.
I am sure that it is the instinctive fear of the nation that something which it did not like to contemplate was on the horizon, the fear which we had seen become more acute in the last few weeks, the fear of the ungarnered harvest, that the time might come when it would not pay to gather the fruits of the soil in this country because for some obscure economic reason it was cheaper to bring them overseas in ships. The nation said, without any discussion at all, when that day comes, important as are our trade and shipping interests, when it no longer pays to garner the harvest in England because it is cheaper to bring them in from abroad—that is the day on which the collapse of our economic fabric will be forecast. If it does mean the sacrifice of the things of which we have been proud, such as our foreign trade and great shipping interests; if it comes to the day that we cannot keep people on the land in the countryside, we will sacrifice anything sooner than have that.
It was a very grave decision which the nation took. It is in pursuance of that decision that we find ourselves debating here to-day. We are debating at the moment the question of putting more people on the land, of securing more production from the land, of enlarging and expanding agriculture, the whole 150 stock and crop, in our country of Great Britain. That is not the problem with which I am faced. That is not the question with which I have been grappling ever since I came to the Ministry. It is how to hold what we have got. How to keep the people on the land. How to secure a market for the products we have already secured. When we stabilise all those things, then will be the time to discuss how and where we shall expand and what production we can call upon the fields and the flocks of England to give us. I am sure that, though it is difficult in these days of modern science to set any limits to those powers of production, the difficulty will not come from the powers of production in this country. It will come from the difficulty of the powers of absorption of this market. How much can we afford to produce in this country and to consume? How much can our markets hold? Because all our friends who have spoken from the true Opposition side—the Free Trade Opposition side—have insisted at the same time on a great development of our export trade and a great increase of our production from the land.
But these are not two things that can be pursued independently of one another. What is the problem with which I am faced in dealing with this question? Take one example, an extension of the production of bacon. How easy to bring about the position which hon. and right hon. Members have pressed upon me from all quarters of the House—to cut down food imports and to produce more at home. I can extend bacon production at home at once, but I find myself at once—I see a smile coming over the face of the ex-Minister for Mines, who knows the problem with which one is faced—confronted with the question of less bacon from Denmark and less coal orders from Scandinavia. That is a matter which the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade have to review.
The difficulties with which we shall find ourselves faced are not the difficulties of increased production from the soil of this country. The first thing that we have to do is to get a market for what we are now growing, and if we can get that and secure a remunerative price there will be no difficulty in getting people upon the land. People will flock to the land. There will be no difficulty 151 in getting capital into the agricultural industry. Capital will flow into it. Only two or three nights ago I had the honour of being the guest of the Lea Valley Growers Association. Not many people have heard of the Lea Valley growers. But the Lea Valley growers represent one of the great glasshouse industries of this country. Although they work in a small area and cover a restricted field, that area produces a value of products equal to one half of the whole wheat crop of Great Britain. They are working under a tariff, a high tariff, what we would have called before the War a mountainous tariff. They are prosperous this year, where last year they were in debt. This year they are putting on labour, where last year they were casting it off. This year they are engaging in new capital work and expenditure which before they were totally unable even to contemplate.
There is cheap money and cheap land to-day, but unless you can also add remunerative prices for the product all these things will be of no avail. The problem of agriculture is the problem of prices, and on prices we must concentrate. How are we to deal with our problem? The Government after coming into office made a statement of policy which is being step by step implemented, and implemented as part of a progressive policy. In November, 1931, the Government announced first their wheat policy and, secondly, their intention to help the horticultural and market gardening industry of this country by means of tariffs Both those promises were immediately implemented. On the 11th February the Government made a full statement of policy, which included the wheat quota, the inclusion of Agriculture in the Import Duties Bill, an inquiry into malting barley, the continuation of duties on horticultural products, the Milk Commission, a quantitative regulation of bacon imports and the Reorganisation Commission on potatoes, if so desired by the growers. Step by step that policy has been implemented.
On the great fundamental question of meat and livestock it was announced, and repeatedly announced by the Ministry that that could not be tackled until after it had been reviewed by the Empire as a whole at the Ottawa Conference. The 152 Chancellor of the Exchequer as far back as 23rd February, in the Debate on the Import Duties Bill stated that regulations for meat would not be ruled out, and the Imperial position which has been regulated certainly leaves it within the power of this country, of the executive of this country, to take further steps. There has been no limitation of the sovereign power of Parliament and the executive in that respect, and I am sure that the steps which I am about to announce will bring the greatest consolation to some hon. Members.
What is the present agricultural position? It seems to me that it is dominated by the livestock position. We have heard with great pleasure and delight the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He spoke of the necessity for a greater increase in smallholdings. Yes, but I was a little sorry that he did not review the position of his own country, Wales. What is the position there, a sheep-rearing country, a stock-rearing country? The county of Carnarvon does many great things, so does Anglesey and Pembrokeshire, they are all notable and famous places. In Anglesey there are 158,000 sheep, in Pembrokeshire 166,000 sheep, and in Carnarvonshire 315,000 sheep. [Interruption.] Good breeding ewes were selling at 10s. and 12s. 6d. this year as compared with 16s. and 22s. last year. Store lambs from the hills sold this year from 3s. 6d. to 10s. as against 8s. and 15s. a year ago. How can we go to the men on the Welsh hills with a policy of smallholdings unless we can secure to them some reasonable remuneration for these ancient industries which they have carried on for so long.
§ Major ELLIOT
The right hon. Gentleman should devote some of the attention which he has given to smallholdings to the hills of Wales. The people there will tell him that if you can buy good beef and good bacon at the low prices at which you can get them to-day they in- 153 evitably reduce the prices of hill lambs. The competition of beef and bacon has as much to do with the fall in general meat prices as any other single factor. It is not possible to separate them. Let the right hon. Gentleman ask any housewife whether if she sees good "stewing steak cheap to-day" or "bacon cheaper to-day" she finds the same necessity for buying a quarter of lamb. Let him ask the ordinary housewife, or the lady Members of this House, whether it is not the case that the prudent housewife will scan the prices and if she sees that the prices of beef or bacon are cheap it inevitably reacts on the price of other meat. The price of livestock is pre-eminently the price of British agriculture to-day. The problem of agriculture is the problem of prices, and the problem of prices is the problem of supplies. And this overwhelming drop in prices is constantly reacting upon the livestock industry and seriously affects the question of employment on the land. The prices of livestock have fallen because the market for fat stock is so saturated and glutted with meat. There are many markets in which you do not get a bid for livestock. When the market falls into this condition it is an immediate, an emergency problem, and roust be tackled along immediate and emergency lines.
If that analysis of the problem is correct, if the problem of agriculture is the problem of livestock and that of prices, and if we therefore accept the proposal that the problem of prices is that of supplies, what has brought about this great glut of supplies at this particular time? It is said to be due to the reduced purchasing power of the people. The supplies of meat in this market were 7 per cent. more than they were two years ago, when over 1,000,000 more people were in employment; supplies of meat which were sufficient for the nation with 1,000,000 more men working have gone up 7 per cent. for that number of customers. The supplies of meat have risen, the number of persons consuming the meat has fallen, for no one denies that a man swinging a hammer all day on a ship needs more meat than a man who has nothing to do but walk about and look for the result of the latest races.
The expansion of supplies, it is true, has been very considerable from the Dominions, but not by any means 154 entirely. The expansion of supplies on our market has been this: Roughly speaking, we consume 3,000,000 tons of meat in the year. Of that we are importing about 350,000 tons from Australia and New Zealand, about 637,000 tons from South America, but from Denmark alone we are importing 388,000 tons. That is to say, we are importing from Denmark alone more meat than from the two southern Dominions, Australia and New Zealand put together, and these supplies have increased mountainously in recent years. Not only that, but supplies have begun to come from sources from which they scarcely appeared before. There were last year 28,000 tons of bacon delivered upon this market from the basin of the River Vistula, a source which had not previously supplied pig meat to this country; from Poland 28,000 tons of pig meat came in one year. The supplies built themselves up. And then quite suddenly saturation came. In previous years, it is true, there has been a drop between June and November, averaging for the past few years about 19 per cent. A large drop is always succeeded by a subsequent rise. This year the drop has been 30 per cent. The drop was still proceeding in the most precipitous way, and none of those whom we consulted could give any hope that that curve was about to turn upwards and show a rise which in other years had usually followed the fall. Under these circumstances it was necessary to the Government—
§ Major ELLIOT
A drop in prices. I am sorry if I gave the impression that it was a drop in supplies. Any of us who have been in the position, major or minor, of suppliers, knows that the quantities have been unstinted but that the prices have been on the precipitous curve which I have just described. It is necessary to deal with an emergency position and I have looked into the suggestions which have been made here and elsewhere for dealing with the situation. The main fact which the House has stressed is the case of urgency. What they have said, in effect, is "Unless you do something which will have its effect, in weeks rather than months, in days rather than weeks, it is impossible for the industry of agriculture as we know it, to avoid a very grave economic disaster." 155 That seemed to us, when we examined the position, to be a true statement of the case. The position, of course, has been under review by the Government as well as by Members of both Houses of Parliament, and we have bent our minds strenuously towards finding some solution of the difficulty with which the country and agriculture in particular is faced. We have found it necessary to envisage any and every method of dealing with this emergency and we have not in any way restrained ourselves from the examination of any method simply because it happened to agree or not to agree with something which any of us might have said in days gone past. Nothing has given me a greater feeling of—perhaps nausea is too strong a word—but a greater feeling of weariness than the continual suggestion that the President of the Board of Trade was holding up the whole policy of this country because of some foible of uprightness and was interfering with the economic development of a great country. The problem has been examined with open minds, by myself and by those of my colleagues who have done me the honour to sit down with me to consider the position, and no man could have had the advantage of more loyal or open or frank consideration of this problem, and no man could have had better backing in arriving at the solution of the problem which we are about to propose to the House.
If we have to deal with a situation of over-supply it is necessary that some way of limiting the supplies to this market must be found and found forthwith, and that solution cannot, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has pointed out, entirely omit the fact that one of the great factors in this glut is the supply of mutton and lamb which come very largely from Australia and New Zealand and that the supply has increased very largely from Australia and New Zealand as was pointed out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those of us who are considering these problems must say: If your solution is a tariff, on what products would you lay the tariff and, if you would lay a tariff on foreign meat, would you also lay a tariff on Dominion meat? Unless we get a straight answer to that question is it impossible for us to carry 156 the discussion further. There are some like my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) who are frankly ready, not merely to go the whole hog but to add a little pig to the Whole hog, and who are ready to advocate not merely a tariff at a prohibitive rate upon foreign supplies but also a tariff at a swinging rate upon Dominion supplies. All I can say is that it seems to me that that would be contrary to the spirit, and I believe even the letter of the Ottawa Agreements and unless we can swear an oath and hold to it, what is the use of our entering into agreements even with our own people and still less with foreign countries?
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I think my right hon. Friend will realise that I do not think there is a single Member of those who are anxious that all avenues should be considered who would ever dream of proposing a duty on the Dominions without first having obtained their consent, and if the preference is the same, we have very little doubt that the whole of the Dominions would consent.
§ Major ELLIOT
That may be so, but my hon. and gallant Friend is perhaps more optimistic in that matter than I am myself. I would only say that to go to the Dominions and to say to them, the day after Ottawa, "We are about to put a tariff upon you," seems to me to conflict not merely with the principles of Empire Free Trade, but with all the principles upon which we have been attempting to act, and I am not at all sure that, even so, it would effect the purpose which we desire. But consultation and agreement are necessary, and it is on that consultation that we have been engaged and it is that agreement which, as I think, we have secured.
The problem involves the restriction of supplies into this country from all sources. There are the South American source, the Australian and New Zealand source, and the Scandinavian source. All these are sources with which we are keenly desirous also of negotiating trade agreements, and in all those cases it is urgently necessary that we should carry these great customers of ours along with us. We buy from them and sell to them, and we are most desirous of seeing that no step in these negotiations is taken in a harsh and careless spirit, because our 157 export trade depends so much upon the good will of our customers that unless we can prove to our customers that they will benefit by what we are about to do, we may easily do greater damage to our trade than we shall secure advantage for it.
Consequently, we have had to negotiate also with the South Americans and with the Baltic countries. Both of those regions are great suppliers of meat to this country, and we have had to put it to them on an emergency basis: Here is a crisis, which is swamping one of the great commodity markets of the world, the Smithfield meat market, and causing a perpendicular dive of one of the great commodity prices of the world, the price of meat on the London market and on the retail markets of the rest of the country. I am happy to say that they agreed that that is a correct appreciation of the situation, and I am happy to say further that they were willing not merely to explore, but to come to practical agreements with us as to dealing with this emergency situation. In the first place, we acted on the basis that arrangements affecting a trade like the meat trade can be better carried through voluntarily by those engaged in the trade than by Government Departments equipped with arbitrary powers. Secondly, we found that we had to discuss the matter, first of all, with the Dominions and then with the South American group.
The President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for the Dominions, and myself discussed the position on two occasions with the importers of meat from the River Plate, and following a meeting with them this morning, under the chairmanship of the President of the Board of Trade—I should like to stress that—they have informed us that they are prepared to put into effect at once a cut of 20 per cent. in the supplies of mutton and lamb.
With regard to chilled beef, they have explained to us that it is physically impossible immediately to reduce supplies for the months of November and December by as much as 20 per cent., and it is for the months of November and December that we were talking, because we realise that this is a matter which cannot be left till July or August. Four weeks' supplies, they said, are already afloat, and cattle for the fifth week are 158 already killed. To effect a reduction of 10 per cent. also presents great difficulties, but it can be done. The importers, therefore, are prepared to reduce supplies of chilled beef by 10 per cent. immediately, and if in the next two or three weeks sale prices do not respond adequately, the importers will take further drastic steps to reduce marketings, if necessary up to 20 per cent.
That is a practical, a drastic and a far-reaching step, and I hope that all those hon. and right hon. Members who have pressed on me all this evening the necessity of taking immediate and drastic action will back us up to the full in the action which we have now taken. That is not enough. We have also had to see the Scandinavian group.
§ Major ELLIOT
These are matters which we have to consider with them. If we have the good will of these countries in considering this matter, that is a priceless asset, and we have done our utmost to preserve that good will. The Government regard the importers' offer as a reasonable one, and I should like to express, on behalf of the Government, our appreciation of the way in which they have met us in the matter. We have done our best to keep in touch with His Excellency the Argentine Ambassador on the subject, but have had, for the immediate purpose, to negotiate very largely with the Mg meat importers who are actually the people who come within the sovereignty of this country when supplies are brought within the three-mile limit and from there to our shores.
In regard to the Scandinavian position with respect to bacon and hams, to-day we have seen the representatives of some of the countries concerned, including Denmark, Holland, Sweden and Latvia. We are seeing the others to-morrow morning. We have explained to them the situation which has arisen and have expressed the hope that the Governments which they represent will see their way to co-operate in the voluntary arrangements which are now being made to deal with the present emergency. It has been and will be made clear that owing to the inter-relationships of all kinds of meat, a 159 comparable reduction in bacon imports must be effected at or about the same time as the reductions are made in the imports of other meats. It will be appreciated that I am not in a position to say anything further at the moment in regard to bacon and hams, but I feel sure that we shall be able to count on the good will and co-operation of the Governments concerned in the efforts which we are making. The proposal we have put to them is a proposal for not less than a 20 per cent. limitation coming into action immediately.
The position as regards the Dominions is naturally one which requires the utmost care in handling, and in that I had the assistance and co-operation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the President of the Board of Trade, both of whom had the advantage—which I did not have—of having been at Ottawa and having gone through the other negotiations there. We have conferred with the representatives of the Australian and New Zealand Governments and have discussed with them the present deplorable position in regard to wholesale meat prices and its effect on the home livestock industry and, indeed, upon the livestock industry of the Empire as a whole. The prices which were breaking England were breaking Australia, and the prices which were breaking Australia were breaking New Zealand. Already in New Zealand you will find ewes of good condition brought to the packing house and fetching eighteen pence, and when ewes in good condition fetch that hon. Members can judge for themselves what a second quality ewe would be likely to fetch.
We communicated to the Australian and New Zealand representatives this evening the proposals of the South American meat trade which I have outlined, and they intimated that Australia and New Zealand would be desirous of co-operating with His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in bringing about an improved price situation forthwith. They are communicating immediately with their Governments and have reason to believe that a reduction of shipments of frozen mutton and lamb by 160 10 per cent. in the ensuing two months compared with the corresponding period of 1931 will be arranged.
That is a situation which, it seems to me, brings into an entirely new light the crisis in which the British livestock industry finds itself to-day. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that it passes the test which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Major McLean) laid down, namely, whether the banks would on that policy extend the credit of the farmer. I say without hesitation that this goes a long way, and further than any other policy which has been outlined, to meet the test. These arrangements are to run for November and December. They are necessarily tentative and provisional. They will require to be examined, and they will be examined by a standing committee which will keep in touch with the situation from week to week. The vast and important question of releases from cold storage will be examined by South American importers and Australian and New Zealand importers. Releases from cold storage have an immediate effect upon the market, much more so than the shipments which are a period of seven weeks away. We hope to give a further review in the course of the World Meat Conference which will be sitting next year, and which will have something positive and concrete to operate upon. It will have a situation in which we have been able to establish an attempt to deal with this crash in commodity price. It will have a situation where we have done our best, and where I believe we shall have succeeded, to get control of one of the great markets of the world and to make sure for once that we have a level plank on which to erect our super-structure.
The long-term policy of the Government holds good, and the policy as expressed in the Ottawa Agreements will, as we all believe, be of the utmost benefit to British agriculture as a whole. But that long-term policy will topple unless it gets a firm substratum upon which we can erect. We believe that we have secured that substratum in the negotiations which commenced at Ottawa and were carried to a successful conclusion in the discussion which finished this very evening. The matter has had to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. It may be that we have made mistakes. It may be 161 that the oscillation in prices resulting from our attempt at control will be greater than we had anticipated, but we have expressed the will of the House and the country in taking action. I beg the House and the country for indulgence and for clemency in this matter. We have taken great risks. We have risked many things, both in regard to trade and administration, which may lead us much further than we should have gone had it not been for the emergency with which the country is faced. But you ask for action. Here it is.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and Lost ported.