Motion made, and Question proposed;
That a sum, not exceeding £1,367,051, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and fishery research; and grants, grants in aid, and expenses in respect of improvement of breeding, &c., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, &c., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing, fishery development; and sundry other services."—[Note—1,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
It is now three years since the Committee had the opportunity of discussing this Vote, and a great deal has happened in those three years with regard to agricultural policy. From the historical point of view, it is obvious there is a good deal of ground to be covered, and that ground is enlarged by considerations other than that of the mere lapse of time since our last discussion. The operations of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries are numerous and diverse, and the area of its administration is a very large one, not entirely confined to the land of this island and the sea which immediately surrounds it, but extending even to the inhospitable waters of the Antarctic, where our people go in pursuit of whales. Therefore, it is obvious that I must make a fairly rigorous selection of the topics which I shall discuss in this introductory speech. If one were to try to cover all this ground one would have to encroach very severely on 'the time of the Committee, and in these discussions it is often more valuable for hon. Members to address the Minister through the Committee than for 1430 the Minister to take a disproportionate amount of time in laying his Estimates before them.
I do not propose to try to deal with every single subject, or, indeed, with a great number of them, but I shall endeavour to select those topics which are of the greatest interest. No doubt I shall choose some erroneously, but if so I am sure that I shall be promptly informed of the fact. If I do omit any particular topic in which hon. Members are particularly interested, I hope they will not think that it is due to any lack of interest. The diverse nature of agriculture in these islands renders different commodities of more particular interest- to different localities, and what I would try to do is to give a general picture of the state of affairs as I see it at the present time. My task of selection is rendered a little easier by the fact that two out of the five Votes for which I am responsible have been put down, the general Vote of the Ministry and that dealing with milk. The three omitted are those dealing with sugar beet, the livestock industry and. Cattle Fund and the Ordnance Survey.
Of the two Votes selected, I should like to say a word first about milk. The stage which our efforts to deal with this commodity have now reached makes it difficult to say much in this Committee without transgressing the rule against discussing Measures requiring further legislation. We had the report of the Milk Reorganisation Commission just before last Christmas, and the important proposals made by that Commission have created a great deal of controversy among those interested in various aspects of the industry. It is only recently that many important interests have been able to make up their minds as to what advice they ought to tender to me on the subject, and I hope, with this valuable but not unanimous assistance, to be able to put before hon. Members for their consideration proposals for the future of this industry.
§ The Chairman
The right hon. Gentleman is discussing the second Vote, and not the one which is immediately before the. Committee. If he wishes that the two Votes shall be discussed together, and that view is generally accepted in the Committee, it can be done, but it is, a matter on which I' ought to get the general assent of the Committee.
§ Sir Francis Acland
As we on these benches were responsible for putting down the Votes, I may say that we have no objection to that course.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think it would be for the general convenience that we should discuss the Votes together. I should like to deal with the milk question first because it is in a department of its own, and does not really arise on the larger question covered by the general Vote. I shall be interested to hear the views of hon. Members upon it, because the wider one's knowledge of the different ways in which this problem is viewed in the different districts of England and Wales the sounder are one's chances of putting forward proposals of a generally acceptable and successful character. There is general agreement that the milk marketing scheme requires amendment, but not the same consensus of opinion as to the form which it is desired the scheme should take after the amendment has been made. The necessity for reform of the milk scheme should not blind us to its achievements in the past. It has produced very important results in the public interest. First, it has given producers a sure market for their milk. Those of us who were in this House before the scheme was launched will remember the state of uncertainty, and, indeed, despair with which milk producers viewed the future. When producers complain that the return which they receive is not adequate to their expectation I would ask that the matter should be considered from this point of view: Before the scheme was introduced there was a real danger of the milk market collapsing altogether, and the present prices must be viewed in contrast with that luckily-averted catastrophe. Further, there is now a secure market for all the milk that farmers produce. Secondly, the scheme has led to an expansion of 10 per cent. in our dairy herds. Had the scheme been as bad as some of its critics seem to imagine it, I do not think that result could have been achieved. As I have frequently said, the maintenance of an adequate livestock population in this island is essential to the fertility of the soil.
1432 In the third place, the milk scheme has, so far, rendered possible a start on the great question of improving the quality and increasing the consumption of this vital food. Examples of success in that direction are not hard to find. In the last financial year the amount of milk sold in the liquid market increased by 12,500,000 gallons, and the quantity for manufacture increased by 8,000,000 gallons. We often say that people in this country do not drink enough milk, and statistics are produced comparing the consumption per head in this country with what it is in other countries. It should not be forgotten that if as a nation we are not great consumers of liquid milk—though we hope to see a very material increase—yet we are very considerable consumers of butter, ranking very high among the nations in the amount of butter eaten. We have always been in that position, but the recent increase in the consumption of butter is striking. In 1925–29 the consumption was about 16 lb. per head, and in 1936 it had risen to 25 lb., which shows that with greater purchasing power the people are consuming more milk products. If they prefer to take milk in the shape of butter rather than as milk, that is largely a matter of taste, and in some degree, also, it is due to the difficulties which beset the consumption of liquid milk. The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick Lawrence) drew my attention to a scheme in operation in Sweden where the price of milk is firmly based upon the butter price, but it is a high butter price. Had such a scheme been in operation in this country, though it might have cheapened milk, it would have cost the consumers of butter in this country about £11,000,000.
Turning to the important pig and bacon marketing schemes, last Christmas the schemes suffered a setback of a severe character. Producers failed to contract for the necessary number of pigs, and the Bacon Board exercised their right of repudiating contracts. Three causes have been assigned for the failure on the part of producers to contract. Among them was, no doubt, the temporary advantage which was to be secured in the open market, by way of prices. Secondly, there was a feared insecurity in some people's minds, so I am told, as to the 1433 position which would be created by a rise in the cost of feeding-stuffs. Those causes have been assigned, but those are all matters which provide most admirable material for the consideration of the pig scheme which may replace the existing one and be free from some of its defects.
This is a difficult and complicated matter. Here, again, I have received a large number of representations from the boards and others concerned. Let not the temporary difficulty in which this organisation finds itself blind us to the remarkable achievements of the schemes while they have been in existence. The pig population has risen by 42½ per cent. since 1931, and production of bacon has gone up 70 per cent. The quality has greatly improved. Not only has the larger quantity improved in quality, but English bacon, owing to the increased commercial production, is no longer the luxury article which it was presumed to be, but is being produced in grades suitable for the public taste and is entering into competition with grades which were previously imported from abroad.
With regard to both milk and bacon, I urge upon the Committee the desirability of maintaining the improvement in quality which both the marketing schemes have rendered possible. In the case of milk there has been an immense increase in the number of persons producing milk of accredited standard. Before the scheme was introduced there were only 800 grade "A" licences, but now there are nearly 20,000 producers of milk of accredited standard. I have already referred to the improvement in the quality of bacon. When a fair review is made of these two schemes—one is awaiting amendment and the other is suffering a certain amount of difficulty owing to repudiation of contracts—we have to make certain that ground has been gained. We have to learn from the past the experience which is necessary to enable us to remodel them nearer to the heart's desire.
Eggs and poultry present a very difficult problem to a Minister of Agriculture. The conditions under which the industry has been built up and under which it is now carried on do not render it immediately amenable to the sort of scheme which has been of benefit to other branches of agriculture. It is a very important branch. The annual production is valued at £25,000,000, of which about 1434 two-thirds represent eggs and one-third represents poultry. It is also a very widespread industry. Nearly every farmer and smallholder is engaged in it, and, in addition, there are thousands of specialised producers. The industry developed very rapidly after the War and, in the 10 years ended in 1933, had actually doubled its size. That development was possible because of the very low level of prices of feeding-stuffs in relation to egg prices. In that period, poultry keeping was one of the most remunerative of all branches of agricultural production. It may be that that time of prosperity has produced in the minds of the producers no inclination to seek reforms of marketing, and that may be one of the difficulties with which we are confronted.
It has always to be remembered that expansion in the poultry industry is possible on a very narrow margin of capital. Many large poultry enterprises have been built up out of profits. Since 1932 the relationship between feeding-stuff prices and egg prices has been less alluring and expansion has been checked. The real difficulties of the industry began in the autumn of 1936 when the world prices of feeding-stuffs reached high levels compared with those of recent years. That situation was accompanied by a temporary period of low egg prices. Feeding-stuff prices have remained high, but egg prices have improved and are above the level of recent years. In the week ended 2nd June, the average price of eggs in country markets was 1s. 1½d. per dozen, which was 1d. per dozen higher than last year, and 3d. per dozen higher than in 1934. No doubt many specialist poultry keepers are feeling the present position very hard. They are very often men of small capital, depending entirely upon purchased feed-stuffs, and they feel acutely that rise in their costs of production. The general farmer can continue to use his own produce as sustenance for his fowls, and he does not suffer to anything like the same extent. He is always able to turn his hens out on to suitable fields, and the exercise which that gives them means that their health is improved in the process. The position is very different for the man who has to buy everything with which to feed his fowls.
Another contributory factor to the difficulties through, which the poultry industry is passing is the absence of any properly developed marketing association or 1435 organisation. While the industry has developed in the post-war years, the arrangements for marketing the produce are little different from those direct or even casual methods which sufficed when the bulk of English new laid eggs were absorbed locally at very near the point of production. The National Mark scheme was a step in the right direction. It merited better support than it has received. Unfortunately, it embraced only a small proportion of the total supply, though its influence for good was far greater than the figures suggest. A more elaborate scheme for the organisation of the industry was suggested by the Reorganisation Commission which sat in 1934, but whose report did not prove acceptable to the industry. No satisfactory alternative to it has so far been forthcoming.
Another thing which afflicts this industry is the high level of disease. There seems to be a general deterioration in the stamina of poultry stocks. Upon the recommendation of the Reorganisation Commission my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I set up a technical committee to consider the present methods of distribution of hatching eggs, day-old chicks, feeding-stuffs and so on. We are making very strenuous efforts to lessen the toll of mortality among the chickens. We shall be preparing further proposals as I announced to the House not so long ago. There is also the question of the importation of eggs from abroad. The matter is naturally being given a great deal of consideration, and the producers have directed their attention to it in the belief that it is one of the major causes of their difficulties. I think that the causes to which I have previously alluded have bulked as large. Imported eggs form less than one-third of the total supply. I cannot discuss this matter further because an application for increased duties is being considered before the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and I cannot offer any, comment upon it at this stage. Imports tend to fluctuate in a very curious manner; but it must be remembered there also that a number of those who do compete with us in our own market most severely, the Danes and the Dutch, are under a similar disability with regard to the cost of feeding-stuffs, being practically as dependent on pur- 1436 chasing them abroad as we are. All these matters must be taken into consideration when we come to negotiate revised trade treaties. At that time the position of the poultry industry will be given attention.
There is only one other remark I will make on the questiOn of Import Duties. The Reorganisation Commission did recommend an increase of 6d. per long hundred on all imported eggs, and recommended that 25 per cent. of the income derived from all duties on eggs should be ear-marked for the industry, but the Commission made it clear that the recommendation was intended to be supplementary to the recommendation for the organisation of the industry and that the fund should be applied for the development of the industry. The present import position is that there is a specific duty on eggs arriving from foreign countries; it varies from is. 9d. to 1s. per long hundred according to the size of the egg. It is a specific duty and its ad valorem incidence varies with the price which the eggs happen to be fetching at the moment. At the lowest price reached in recent months it was in the neighbourhood of 20 to 25 per cent.
There have been various other suggestions for dealing with the poultry industry and I assure hon. Members that I am very sympathetic indeed to the plight in which many of these small specialist producers, relying on imported feeding-stuffs, find themselves. It is an industry which has had a remarkable and indeed triumphant expansion and we shall do what we can to secure that it is not allowed to slip back. The position is full of difficulty but it will receive most earnest consideration.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Are we to understand that the broad wide research into the question of mortality will await the report of that technical committee? When does the committee expect to report?
§ Mr. Morrison
The utmost research that can be made is being continued now by the scientific bodies concerned. That is the question of actual research into the pathology of diseases which have inflicted these losses. Any further measures which may be taken would be of an administrative character when the new central veterinary service comes into being.
1437 Let me review what the result of all these matters upon agricultural prices and prosperity has been. There is a great deal to be done yet, I have no hesitation in saying, before agriculture is in the prosperous condition in which we would like to see it. But let us look at the facts as they are at the moment and the general index of producers' prices. In May of this year the index figure was 136, 31 points higher than in May, 1933. The minimum wage rates are now 8 per cent. higher than they were in 1933.
It is frequently said that this advance, such as it is, in the remuneration of producers, has been gained at the expense of the consumer; but it is not so. Government policy affecting agriculture, in so far as it implies import duties and marketing schemes, has in fact had no effect of that character upon consumers' prices. The import duties on agricultural produce have been imposed as part of a national policy of protection, and it is very difficult to say, in the case of agricultural commodities, who actually pays a tariff of that character. It may be mentioned as an illuminating example that, in the case of the ¾d. a lb. duty recently imposed on Argentine chilled beef, the Argentine Government is now seeking to ease that burden by paying a sort of subsidy to beef exported from that country. When one is trying to make up one's mind in the matter it must in all fairness be borne in mind that the protectionist policy of the Government applies to the country as a whole and is applied largely to the stimulus of industry, and that it has led to a decline in the number of unemployed from 2,578,000 in May, 1931, to 1,436,000 in April, 1937. It is frequently said that even if tariffs have no effect at all on food prices the marketing schemes do have an effect.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the increase of the working population of the country. Would he say what has been the increased employment in agriculture?
§ Mr. Morrison
There has been a decline in the number of persons employed in agriculture, a very sad decline, and it has gone on for many years since a date before the War. It is due to a great variety of causes: One is the possibility of getting employment in the towns. Another is undoubtedly the stimulation 1438 of public works of one sort and another; and a third is undoubtedly the increasing resort to mechanisation by farmers. These are the elements of the problem. I ask the Committee to remember that the crease of population in the countryside, a thing which I lament for its own sake, has not been accompanied by a decline in agricultural production, for while this decline in population has occurred there has been an actual increase in agricultural production of something like 14 per cent, When I replied to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) I was pointing out the effect of the protective policy of the Government. We have had that advantage from it—and it is surely a very small price to pay, even if any increased price can be traced to protection—that so many more of our people are at work and getting good wages.
As to marketing schemes, it is said sometimes that they are responsible for an increase in the cost of food. The principal commodities covered by such schemes are milk, potatoes and bacon. It is true that the retail price of milk has risen slightly since 1931, but this is offset to some extent by the provision of cheap milk in schools to that section of the population to whom milk is a most necessary element of diet; and it is also offset by other schemes of a similar character of which the Committee are aware. There is this curious point to be borne in mind about milk and its products. Salt butter, which is a major commodity of milk, is actually cheaper to-day than it was before the War. I also ask the Committee to remember that before the Marketing Board for Milk was established the industry was getting into chaos. A decline in the production of milk would have meant a very severe rise in its price, and the same thing is true of bacon. In bacon there has been a slight increase in price, but it is still cheaper than it Was in 1930, when hon. Members opposite were in power.
The whole truth of the matter seems to me to be that in questions of food prices the efforts of man are too puny compared with the operations of Nature. It is remarkable that if you survey the whole field of food prices at the present time you find that the most sub Stäntial increase has been in the case of bread and flour and wheat, which are not affected at all by Governmental control or exclusion; but through the operation 1439 of Nature itself, by bringing drought for two years and abnormal consumption, there has been an immediate effect on the price of bread of far greater effect than anything achieved by legislation. The truth of the matter is that food prices have varied with world conditions and from world causes for years and years, under Governments which were not at all inclined to interfere with the freest possible trade. There have been these fluctuations. Indeed under the marketing schemes we have achieved a greater degree of steadiness in price, which has been of great benefit to the consumer, and the producer does not now suffer from these wild fluctuations in value.
I have so far dealt with the work of organisation which has taken place in commodities such as hops, potatoes, milk and bacon. I turn now to the work which lies ahead of us with regard to the last two commodities and poultry. The object of Government policy is what it has always been, to secure ample supplies to consumers and a reasonable return to producers. A fair price for efficient pro-duction is an essential, and is the goal at which to strive, but we should not forget that price is not the end of the matter. It is the margin between price and the cost of production which determines whether or not an industry is commercially profitable. We ought to direct our attention to reducing the cost of production in agriculture as far as we can, and there are certain costs of production which it would be in the general public interest to have reduced if possible. Along this line, which is very important, the activities of the Ministry are extremely widespread and very interesting, and I believe that they are helpful to the community at large. Wastage and high costs may be due to several things; for example, lack of the use of the best methods of cultivation. Science has provided agriculture with great advances in its technique and these are becoming more available and more sought after by the new generation of farmers to-day.
The Government carry out a great work of education, because research is of no use if it ends in the laboratory; its fruits must be brought into the field, and its benefits conveyed to the farmer. There is a great problem here in agricultural education, and education we shall continue to carry on to the best of our ability. 1440 Other things which increase costs and cause wastage are pests of one sort and another. Here is another of those curious instances which show that scientific advance and invention are not always attended by unmixed blessings. Freer communications throughout the world have brought us the problem of infection by foreign pests, which speedily make themselves at home in our country and may multiply and become very harmful. Among these pests is the Colorado beetle. The outbreak that occurred at Tilbury in 1933 seems to have been successfully suppressed, and so far as I know the country is now free from these prolific and destructive insects. The further spread of the beetle on the Continent, from France to parts of Belgium and Germany, renders it more necessary than ever before for all potato growers, whether on a commercial scale or in private allotments—here I appeal to them—to assist us and to report the appearance of any suspicious beetle to the Ministry.
Another pest which caused grave inconvenience and serious loss was the musk rat, which, owing to its habit of tunnelling into banks, can undo the work of years of drainage and improvement of banks. Apart from one stray specimen caught in Cheshire in July, 1936, no captures of this pest have been made since the spring of 1935, and I think we are justified in assuming that it has now been exterminated. We may be wrong about that, and we are keeping in reserve a depot for the storage of trapping equipment for use in an emergency: and this is represented by the sum of £50 in the Ministry's estimates. The fact that it is only necessary to ask for this humble sum in order to deal with a pest which does grave and irreparable damage, affords, I think, good ground for congratulating those who have conducted the campaign for its extermination.
Another cause of high production costs, and one which is very distressing to contemplate, is the immense burden of animal diseases, which probably costs the industry something like £14.,000,000 a year. A great deal of work has been done in the past by local authorities and by the Ministry's veterinary service, and practical results have been obtained from it. To deal first with foot-and-mouth disease, the position is that during the last financial year there were 13 centres of infection, and these comprised 66 1441 separate premises. The policy which has been carried out has had the result that the disease has not become endemic in this country, as it has in those of some of our continental neighbours, and I am very glad to see, because I think it can he regarded as a hopeful sign, that the incidence of this disease on the Continent seems to be declining. The other scheduled disease position can be summed up by saying that there was a slight increase in the incidence of anthrax, but a satisfactory decrease in swine fever and sheep scab. There are still diseases like tuberculosis, contagious abortion, mastitis, and others which take an immense toll of our cattle, and necessarily add to the cost of production. The proposals which I recently announced will involve legislation, and I only want to say this about them, that they represent a very much bigger step forward and a much more resolute attack on this problem than has yet been made, and one which, I hope, with the cooperation of those concerned, will yield substantial results in freeing the industry from a burden which is wasteful and one which is no longer to be endured.
There is another cause of loss on the wrong side of the balance sheet which may arise from too much reliance upon imported feeding stuffs. This, as I have already said, particularly affects the specialist producer, and it is also bound up with the question of decline of productivity of the soil. The great question of producing feeding stuffs for our livestock from native sources is bound up with the question of soil fertility, and it is vital from the defence point of view. We have a crop at our disposal in this country the proper management of which would go a very long way to help us in dealing with this problem. That crop is grass. I was told by one of my hon. Friends that a constituent of his had said that, from my insistence upon grass, it was obvious that I was a Scotsman, but I should not like to claim that the whole credit for the development of grass is due to those who live north of the Tweed, for, if there is one country that has distinguished itself more than any other in this direction, it is Wales. The experiments that have been carried out at Aberystwyth under the direction of Professor Stapledon have opened up a very wide and interesting field for the future development of our agricultural 1442 industry. It must never be forgotten that in the long run soil and climate are the unchangeable factors of agriculture. Ministries may change, but soil and climate will remain, and in our country we have a set of climatic and geological conditions favourable to the growth of good grass which are second to those of no other country in the world. It has been estimated that the grass yield of this country could, without undue strain, be increased by as much as 15 per cent. That would be equal to an addition of 3,000,000 acres to the pasture lands of this country. Hon. Members opposite will remember the old dictum about three acres and a cow, and, on this basis, that would mean food for about 1,000,000 more cattle.
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman at the moment; I will look it up; but I remember the figure perfectly well. It is a very low estimate in my view—
§ Mr. Morrison
It could be greatly increased, but what I want to make clear about my figure of 15 per cent. is that, while it is true that, by an immense effort and the expenditure of vast sums of money, a much bigger increase could be obtained, my estimated figure is one which could.be produced in this country without undue strain, which the country could take in its stride if it applies itself properly to this problem. Much of our trouble arises from the way in which grass has been considered as something that grows by itself. It is really a most valuable crop, and, if it is cultivated and managed in the proper way, it is capable of adding immensely to the economic foundation of agriculture in this country and of creating a reserve of fertility in our soil which may be vital to the kingdom in the event of emergency. By means of temporary leys, by sowing suitable seed, and by the application of proper fertilisers, the grazing season can be extended very remarkably throughout the year. If that is done, it means that cattle are being fed on grass for many weeks during which they would otherwise be fed on imported oilcake. That is one result that follows from good management. The 1443 fact that there is money in it has been proved in Aberdeenshire particularly, where it has been carried on for many years, and where the population are not likely to throw good money away, but conduct their farming with, a desire to make a profit.
But the yield of grass varies enormously. It has been calculated that the best permanent pasture has three times the value of the average, and 10 times the value of the poorest. That shows how much ground there is to be made up in this direction, and what a great contribution can be made by good management. Let it never be forgotten, in spite of the advertised advantages of various kinds of cattle foods made from imported materials, that grass is still the staple food of the animal, and it is by far the cheapest of all the foods that can be fed to cattle. The Milk Marketing Board have been conducting an elaborate and interesting investigation into the cost of producing milk, and this shows clearly that, properly used, grass costs less than half as much as any purchased feeding stuff for cattle. Therefore, it is quite clear that the degree to which the yield and quality of grass can be improved and extended is a measure of the gain to the producer and to the nation.
The matter, however, does not end there. There has been, I am glad to see, a great deal of discussion in farming circles recently as to the possibilities of grass drying. Our problem is to raise, if we can, from native sources, a supply of feeding stuffs for wintering cattle in these islands, and the experiments which have been conducted into the question of grass drying have established one or two important things. In the first place, there is now little doubt as to the quality of the product of the grass-drying machine from a nutritive point of view. When grass is cut young and dried, the resulting product is not hay, but something which is infinitely more valuable to the animal than hay. Its feeding value approaches that of concentrates, and I believe that, being the natural food of the animal, it has in it certain elements making for the promotion of health which are not present in any of the substitutes for it which are used for wintering cattle. The problem, however, is difficult. It has two or three sides, the most important, being the economic side. The 1444 machines are as yet too dear for the ordinary man to invest in. Much can be done in the future, by investigation and by co-operation, and so on, to try to spread the cost and make the machines available. We are investigating every side of the problem very actively. There are, of course, large areas where it is possible and would be profitable to instal large machines that could be worked without economic loss, but that is a problem of engineering, and it will, I think, at some time or another yield to the ingenuity of man. We shall be glad to place within the reach of the agriculturist an apparatus which confers upon agriculture this immense boon of ensuring a home supply of all the food required for wintering our cattle.
There is another problem which must not be lost sight of; and that is the development of a farm technique which would make the constant cropping that grass drying involves profitable without destroying the fertility of the land. That also is a question which we are investigating. I mention the matter now merely to show that sufficient has been done to indicate that the production of dried grass is of extreme value to our cattle and to our agriculture. The other problems which still await solution, namely, the economic question of cost and the development of a farm technique suitable for the exploitation of the process, are being actively pursued and investigated at the present time. Last year there were in operation in this country 46 grass drying plants. I have spoken with some of those who have been actually using them, and, although last summer was extremely wet, and costs were very heavily increased because of the additional moisture that had to be evaporated, the consensus of opinion was that there is something very valuable in this process, and I expect that the number of plants in use this summer will be increased to something like 100. I believe it to be fundamental to the development of a sound and healthy agriculture in our country that we should be as independent as possible of the use of imported feeding-stuffs for our cattle, and I believe that the development of our grass land policy, with the other matters which I _announced the other day, points the way along which a definite advance can be made.
Would the right hon. Gentleman support any scheme to allow farmers to buy some of these Very dear 1445 machines? Is he not aware of the experiment at Stratford-on-Avon which, has completely failed?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am aware that many experiments have failed, and I think that this is not the time for me to give any such undertaking as the hon. Member suggests. Though I have expressed my own faith in the product from the point of view of the nourishnient of cattle, I have indicated that without any doubt there remain problems of an economic and mechanical character to be solved before the matter can be said to be disposed of. When we carry our researches further, and when the experience of people using the machines on a larger scale becomes available, we can consider the steps that it may be necessary to take, but these agricultural matters are only to be solved by actual experience and by investigation. There are many things which do well in laboratories, but I am convinced that the country as a whole recognises the immense value which this process if perfected, so as to become an economic and integral part of the farming system, can offer to the countryside as a whole. I think I have said enough to indicate my general view. I am sure that, with world conditions as they are, the market price to the farmer needs assistance to save it from the wild unsettlement which we have witnessed in recent years with such disastrous effects upon our agricultural prosperity. We shall continue to pursue our object in securing reasonable remuneration to the producer without damaging the consumer, and in this policy we have succeeded in the past.
§ Mr. de Rothschild
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some information as to what the Government propose to do about drainage?
§ Mr. Morrison
The question of drainage is a vital one for agriculture. No crop can grow in waterlogged land, and since 1930 we have been concentrating upon the catchment areas. It is the catchment boards which manage the big arterial rivers. It was wise to start with them, because merely starting with field drainage at the top of the hill, without suiting your waterways to carry the increased burden, would be, to benefit the higher land, but to bring flood and disaster to those living on the banks of the main channels. But the work of the 1446 catchment boards in the, arterial drainage areas has gone on well enough for us to take a step higher up the hill. Great works are in progress, and I think the House will get a picture of the improvements which have been effected when they consider that last winter was one of the very wettest in memory and presented every phenomenon of flood and snow which is calculated to break the heart of a drainage engineer and yet, though there were floods in some of the areas, it is impossible to imagine what the destruction would have been unless a great deal of work had been done since 1931. We feel that the time is ripe now to give them a little more by improving the next stage in communication, that is to say, internal drainage boards, if such exist, or county councils where there is no internal drainage board, will be able to participate in these grants of 33⅓ per cent. for approved schemes for cleaning out the streams which connect field drainage with arterial drainage. It is often said that we ought to start with field drainage, but here again, before we take the next step, the logical and safe method of using public funds for improving this asset is to make sure that the drainage governed by the internal drainage boards and local authorities is in a fit condition to carry the increased water off the fields.
We all observed with great admiration the herioc and successful effort made by the inhabitants of the Fen district during the unprecedented floods of a few months back. The internal drainage boards have a very big problem. They have in many cases to pump up the water into the Ouse, or one of the big carrying rivers. If there is a question of pumping installation that is required to free the people from the danger of flooding in the area, the grant may be 50 per cent. and not the 33⅓ per cent. flat rate. I hope that these measures for drainage will be a great improvement. Drainage is a very difficult matter. I at one time cherished the view that it was one that you could tackle, if you put sufficient energy behind the effort, in a quick and spectacular manner. But you have to start your drainage from the sea up to the hills, and it is only as you get one part of your work lower down in sufficient order to take the water that you can go higher up the hill.
1447 I have, no doubt, omitted many topics of interest, but I shall be reminded of them in the discussion that follows. We have been trying to pursue a policy of securing a fair and just price for the producer and, in the view of the Government, the time has arrived for an advance along another line. We must look more to our own soil than we have in the past—
§ Mr. Morrison
—to the land which has borne so many generations of our people, including the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren). There are many various and difficult problems in agriculture, but I am convinced that the foundations of agricultural prosperity and of a fruitful and populated countryside are, in the first place, healthy and fertile land; in the second place, healthy stock upon that land; and in the third place, the application of industry and intelligence to the work of production and marketing.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Sir F. Acland
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I think we shall all be very glad that this Vote was put down, and I congratulate the Minister on having got a very great deal into a comparatively short space of time. He was trying, if not to justify the ways of God to man, at any rate to assert the policy of his Ministry and to justify the ways of the farmer to the general community with the aim, which I imagine underlay what he said, of establishing a better understanding between town and country. I should like to tell the Committee of an incident which touched me very much a day or two ago. It was an account in the "News Chronicle "of an experiment which was made by the education authority of London in sending boys from one of the London schools out once a week to an ordinary green field in the country, and the writer of the account reported what some boys who came from Finsbury, thought about it. One said, "I like the sunshine. It is fine to hear the birds whistling, and to see nice trees." Another said, "The thing that I like best is the sunshine and sleeping in the sun when it is warm." It seemed to me rather a reflection on this town in which we work that sunshine should be so novel to these town boys. To me that little incident typifies the importance of contact 1448 between town and country, and what a lot of simple things the country really has to give back to the town, if only things can be properly managed, in return for the rather large sums of money and other things which our general population, which is mainly urban, has been asked to devote to agricultural matters, and will be asked to devote in the future.
I agree with the Minister in the restrained optimism of his survey and in the hopes that better times seem likely to come. The figures that struck me most, which were available to me and which do not really differ at all from his, were the index numbers of prices of agricultural commodities, allowing for the wheat and cattle subsidies, for the five years 1933–37. The January figures for these five years, compared with pre-war, 100, are 111, 119, 124, 125, and, this January, 133. The May figures are even more remarkable—105, 116, 117, 120, and, this May, 136. Those are interesting in several ways. There was a comparatively small rise between 1934 and 1936 in the May figures—one is glad that there was any rise at all—but there was that small rise in spite of the rather big and expensive things that the nation was being called upon to do. One sees the much quicker rise when one gets into the period of comparative national prosperity this year, a rise of no less than 16 points, and lastly—this struck me as of special importance as an augury for the future—while in the four years to 1936 there was a fall of six, three, seven and five points between January and May, this year, for the first time, there has been a rise between January and May of three points—from 133 to 136.
That illustrates a point that I have put before the Committee a good many times, that the farmer has far more in the long run to hope for, and is likely to get far more, from a general rise in the prosperity of the country than from anything that he is likely to gain from such measures of protection and subsidies as even a Government such as the present is likely to propose. The comparison between January and June suggests, what we all hope is true, that the improvement has come to stay for a fair time, at any rate, and that is borne out when one looks at the detailed figures of the particular commodities, because one finds, comparing May, 1935, with May, 1937, that there has been an improve- 1449 ment in every commodity. The only two which have remained rather steady are hay—anyone who remembers the quality of last season's hay crop will not be surprised at that—and store pigs, and that is natural, too, because people do not know at present what the scheme for pigs is to be. With regard to hay, it seems to me that the prospects are certainly better, because this year there have been violent attacks of fever, whereas last year there was no hay and consequently no hay fever. I would rather have it the other way round from the producer's point of view. The corresponding figure for rent is not 136 compared with l00, but 90–10 per cent. below pre-War. The corresponding figure for wages—I rejoice at the increase—is 185 compared with 100 pre-War. I do not want from that to argue anything in favour of the landlord class, but it comes into a matter to which I will refer presently.
I want to put before the Committee rather a large scale argument, which, I hope, they will be kind enough to criticise if they do not agree with it. I am not, in developing it, going to make any party point, but wish to consider something which goes rather deep. I will put seven points, each in a sentence. First, things are better—that is obvious; second, prospects are better—that is a fair deduction, and to the extent that these two facts are due to the action of the Government, I would like fairly to acknowledge that that is so. These higher wholesale prices will be reflected in retail prices and the costs of food, which have alraedy risen, will rise still more if the increase which has recently taken place goes on. To make a complete picture of my figures, I will give figures again, compared with the pre-War 100. The figure in May of this year was 136, as a matter of fact the same figure as the wholesale price, compared with 126 in May of last year and 118 in 'May of the year before. A rise all round of nearly 20 points in two years, nearly one-sixth, or 2d. in the shilling is a serious thing, particularly for the unemployed and to those with small means. [An HON. MEMBER: "And on the means test."] I mean the unemployed and those who are on the means test. That is the point.
My next point is that people in the towns will be inclined to become fairly impatient and discontented with the 1450 amount of help which they consider they are giving to the agricultural industry, and they will be inclined to ask two questions: What are we getting in the shape of better service in return; and to what extent are the better conditions for the farmer, as we see them, getting through to the agricultural worker? Unless these questions can be answered and the answers are easy to understand, the edifice which this House has been gradually building up during the last few years, and to which the Minister is going to add another storey in the policy about which he has told us something to-day, will tend to become unstable; and all these subjects will become matters of acute controversy, and uncertainty and insecurity will tend to take the place of the feeling of greater security which is now at last really beginning to get hold of the farmer, and which is so essential.
Lastly, as the result of that uncertainty, farmers will tend to play for safety, and there will not really be any obvious recordable effect of the policies with regard to fertilisers and other things which the Minister, rightly, is going to put forward, and, therefore, there will not be any recordable improvement in the service that the country can render to the towns, or, in the matter of national safety, which the Minister also mentioned, not to-day but before, as one of the main objects of his policy. Of course, if there is no real improvement of services, that will intensify the likelihood of these things becoming controversial matters, and the question of the continuation or the repeal of subsidies, and so on, will get into the middle of party politics, which is just where I hope none of us wish to see it, if it can possibly be avoided. Those who have been in touch with feeling in their constituencies, whether rural or urban, will realise that, taking the long view, the anxiety which I have expressed is not simply a night-mare One does feel it, and it may become a very real possibility. I would like to give one example. A man wrote to me from a small town in my division saying:I think, quite truthfully, that prices of meat, except that of the otherwise utterly condemnable rabbit, were getting quite beyond what poorer people could afford.He was referring to the unemployed people in that neighbourhood. He brought up with some bitterness all the ordinary 1451 points which one knows so well against farrners—the low wages, and the fact that they take in summer visitors and yet their farmhouses are not rated in anything like the smile way as the ordinary lodging houses which also take in summer visitors, and all the other things with which one is So familiar. I want those who are alive to that to follow me a step further. I want to make a point which seems to apply entirely in the direction of the farmer in considering his difficulty in giving a sort of return that he would like to give for what we are trying to do for him in wages.
§ Sir. Joseph Lamb
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the, question of meat, will he say—I do not ask the name, natutally—from what source the information came to him that meat was not now being consumed by the poor? Was it from a butcher, or from whom did it come?
Sir F. Aland
I do not think that he is a butcher. He is an ordinary man who keeps his eyes open and has heard complaints of working men on low wages, and of unemployed who could not afford meat at the price at which it is being sold nowadays in view, no doubt, of the fact of meat having shared in those rises of ordinary commodities which I have quoted to the Committee. I mean the increase of x8 points in two years, which has gone much steeper lately. I am not talking about meat alone. The general point is that inevitably the rise in the retail cost of food will make people feel whether they are getting what they hoped to get when they were asked to pay their share for the various things that were being done for the industry. There was a minor point which the Minister made, and that was the obvious one that one should not con-sider only the price the producer gets, but what he has to pay for essential things like fertilisers and feeding-stuffs. I will hot extend that, as we all know it, but undoubtedly there has been a very steep increase in many commodities during the last six months, and other people ought to realise that that is a handicap for the farmer.
There is a much bigger point than that. The opportunity of the farmer to render better service and to pay better wages is at present heavily limited by one outstanding thing, and that is his 1452 indebtedness: I say; Without fear of contradiction, that, with regard to a very large proportion of farmers in a very great part of the country those men are up to their earsin debt, and often over head and ears in debt, so that it is very doubtful whether they will ever be able to get out of debt. Some of us know the figures, but I am not going to quote them The hon.and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir R. Dorman-Smith), whose recent lionour we were glad to see, and are also glad that he remains president of the National Farmers Union, will be able to give them. I believe that the figures may be what we call astronomical. It is mainly the banks that, I suppose, have been carrying the larger farmers through the long succession of very difficult years, Their balance sheets and their valuations were more easily available, bit the Smaller farmers in many district have been carried very largely by the fertiliser and feeding-stuff and cake merchants, and the auctioneers, and indeed by anybody whom they could get to give them credit, and, of course, they had to pay for that credit. In those cases where there is very little security because the farms are generally mortgaged up to the hilt, what they have to pay is apt to seem rather high. In a district known to me—not in my district or in my division—this credit is arranged sometimes by the farmer having to pay a higher price for what he buys, and sometimes by the payment of interest on what is owing.
I will give an illustration of each. The charge now for barbed wire from the merchant is 23s. 6d. compared with the Farmers' Co-operative Society price of 18s. 6d. If anybody begins to deal with the Co-operative Society, of course, the debt which is owing to the merchant is pressed. That is only human nature. The other system is that there is a charge of a shilling a ton a month for debts on fertilisers, which works out at about 12 or 14 per cent. a year. I am not blaming the merchant at all. He generally has to pay practically cash, and has to wait for years, and I fear that a lot of these debts will be bad, whatever happens. One of the things which stands out is that people who have lent money or given credit have not, in these difficult times, and sometimes it has been so universal and everybody has had to borrow, that they have not been able to distinguish 1453 the good from the bad, and some of the men are in a very bad way. That, if one understands it, explains a good deal. If anyone disputes it by bringing up the figures of agricultural, bankruptcies there is the obvious explanation that nobody puts through the bankruptcy court a man who has not any assets. You wait until he is doing much better.
The figures which I have taken from the Board of Trade returns are rather interesting. In 1931, which was a good year, there were 497; in 1934, 288; in 1935;.224; and in 1936, 125, which is a provisional figure. If better times come to stay and the demand for farms increases so that the banks and others will know that if a man is sold up there will be something more than is necessary to pay off arrears on land and clear the mortgage. There will be a great increase of bankniptcies, and some, I am afraid, will be quite unavoidable for the reasons I have given. That is the fact. Most farms are heavily in debt, and naturally not able really to tackle, within any reasonable time, those improvements in their land and those adaptations of their industry which the Minister and all of us will hope for as a result of what he is trying to do.
§ Mr. De la Bere
With regard to the question of farmers being heavily in debt, how can the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that with his statement that the farmers are having increased confidence in the future, when all that he has said seems to prove that these men cannot see their way to pay their mortgages?
§ Sir F. Acland
Surely, one may have increased confidence in the future, and, at the same time, be heavily dipped in the past. My point is that we ought not to expect too much from the farmers too soon, but should realise that it will require, if prospects; improve, as we and they believe they are likely to improve, and a good time is coming, something more to be done to help them to get out of all these debts, rather than just wait for two or three years until they struggle out somehow, because the burden is very heavy indeed. Although the accusation is often made that they are paying low wages, most of them to-day would like to be able to pay higher wages if they were in a position to do so. People naturally say, You are getting so much more, why cannot you pay more?" The 1454 answer is to be found in the question of debt. On that matter the only thing that would be in order for me to suggest in this Debate is that there should be some systematic clearing up of the most burdensome of the burdens, no doubt through a.more active administration. of the, short-term credits Act. I have never pressed the more active, administration of that Act during the worst of the depression, because for some time at any rate the men who most needed credit were able to get it on reasonable terms, while the men who did not deserve it were better without it. Things are becoming rather different now. Whatever happens, the dificulty in regard to indebtedness ought to be recognised as a very real handicap to many farmers, and it will be a difficulty before them for years unless they can be helped in some organic and definite way, and will prevent them from doing at once what many people expect them to do, but which they cannot-really do.
In drawing the picture, I hope the Committee will recognise that I have not tried to blame the farmers. On the contrary, I think we ought to have a, feeling of admiration for the Way they have hung on, and the way they have been helped by, the merchants and others of the agricultural community in the extraordinary difficult times through which they have passed. We all know of the deterioration in the fertility and adaptability of their land and we want to help them to remedy that. We also want to help them to remedy what is, most glaringly known to be wrong with the balance of agricultural production, which is well illustrated by the last annual report of the Milk Marketing Board for the years up to 31st: March last. That report shows that of the total milk passing through the board, more than one-third went to the factories. Less than two-thirds was liquid milk, and more than one-third went to the factories. In order to get the best figure for my illustration, one has to take the Board of Agriculture's milk year, October to September, and sometimes the Milk Marketing Board year, from March to March, If we take these, figures, we find that in the first,milk year which was recorded 632,000,000 of liquid gallons were consumed. That figure has increased b 676,0000000 gallons, an increase in the liquid consumption of 38,000,000 gallons. We are all very grateful for that increased consumption, Which is due, no doubt, 1455 largely to the milk-in-schools scheme. On the other hand, we find that, whereas 211,000,000 gallons of milk went to the factory, the total has gone up to 342,000,000 gallons, an increase of 131,000,000 gallons to the factories compared with the increased consumption of 38,000,000 gallons of liquid milk.
The way that those figures strike the ordinary consumer is obvious. Whereas the factories can buy milk at three farthings a pint, or less, it is illegal for almost anybody else with very few exceptions, to buy any milk except at 3d. a pint or more. I know what has been and is being done and that in the last Milk Marketing Board year there has been an increase in liquid consumption of milk of 12,500,000 gallons, but there has been in the same year an increase in the factory consumption of 8,000,000 gallons, or two-thirds the liquid milk consumption, so that the figures are still going in the wrong direction. If something big cannot be done to increase the proportion of milk for human consumption as liquid milk, there will be very wide dissatisfaction among milk producers, because the large amount which goes to the factories is always bringing down their prices. There will also be dissatisfaction among the consumers.
Among other things, we ought to make up our minds whether we are to go on making factory butter and factory cheese. If we are, the sooner we begin to grade butter properly and try to get a proper reputation for it, the better it will be. The ordinary consumer knows little or nothing about English butter. There is so much talk about Danish, Australian or New Zealand butter. I cannot see why as soon as it begins to pay a farmer better to do something rather than produce milk, it should be considered necessary to supply the milk and butter factories with milk at an extraordinarily low price. Why should not the factories when contracts are revised be expected to pay as much for their milk as is paid by the cream factories, or the condensed milk or milk powder factories, who are paying a good deal more than the butter and cream factories?
There is one further subject which serves to illustrate my point in regard to debts. When one talks to farmers in North Devon, they often say that it would 1456 pay them to turn over again from milk to stock. There must be farmers in other parts of the country who are of the same opinion. I do not wonder at it, having regard to the price of good stores, but the difficulty is that many farmers have not the capital to take up stock again, because the raising of stock is a long-term method of pursuing agriculture, whereas milk brings in a quick return which they need in order to pay instalments to their creditors and keep things going. If anything can be done to remove that difficulty and to let things get on to a more even balance, instead of having the balance so definitely on the side of milk production and so much of the milk going to the factory, it would be very helpful. One of the inevitable results of having to do things piece-meal is that the industry gets out of balance and where that happens it is extremely difficult to bring it back again.
The difficulty in these Debates is to say what one wants to say without being too long. I should have liked to have spoken on grass drying, drainage, labour, the warble-fly, the smallholders and my particular favourites, the allotment holders, for whom I rather stand in this House, but I forbear from dealing with those subjects, and will content myself with referring to the question of egg production. This subject has been brought to our notice by the study of egg prices made by Mr. 0. J. Beilby on behalf of the Agricultural and Economic Research Institute at Oxford. The point that I want to emphasise is the very minor part played in regard to egg prices by the control of imports and the major part played by home production and home demand. It has been found, taking the figures from 1925 to 1935 and ignoring the seasonal fluctuations in the prices of eggs, that a 10 per cent. change in imports will produce a 3 per cent. change in prices, while a similar change in home production will affect the price by II per cent. and a 10 per cent. change in home demand would be responsible for a price change of 23½ per cent. That is very remarkable.
The only other figures that I would give are derived from Mr. Beilby's conclusion as to what would put up prices by 20 per cent. He concludes that it could be done either by an increase in demand through higher wages and increased employment to the extent of 84 per cent., which is 1457 surely not impossible, or by a reduction of imports of not less than 64 per cent. He adds, sensibly, that such a reductionprobably would be impracticable and it is certain that it would be politically inexpedient.Therefore, a reduction of imports would not put matters right. I hope that fact will be appreciated by the egg producing industry, who have been stressing this point of decreased imports as if it were the only thing that would affect their prices, whereas obviously that is not so.
If all goes well with the agricultural industry, as we hope it will, if a return to better times really works out, and if debts can be in any way cleared up or lightened by getting rid of the heaviest ones, and substituting for them some charge which the banks will hold, and if the farmer is really to be in a position for the first time of being able to show the country what he can do with the help that we have been called upon to render to him, what will the good farmer need in that case and what will he welcome? I think there are two things. The first will be something in the way of a stimulus to do his best. Farmers are apt to be very imitative. They are apt to take things a little easy if they see other people doing the same. If some are allowed to drag along without taking advantage of their chances to make their farms more productive and produce better stuff, others will be tempted to do the same and not take risks. If, on the other hand, some farmers take advantage of the offers which the Ministry of Agriculture are making to them in regard to lime, superphosphate, drainage and other things, there will be an inclination for others to follow the same example.
The second point is that we can minimise the risks that farmers will have to face in the future. It is no use trying to stimulate a man who still feels insecure. I have always felt that farmers are very good men to lead, but very bad men to drive. If we are to minimise and deal with the farmer's risks, we must give him, if we can, more security, security not only in the matter of a reasonable level of prices, but security that, even if the estate is broken up, the farm will not part from him and his family, and that any increased effort that he puts forward will not be liable to be mopped up in the form of increased rent. All these vital matters of stimulus, security and 1458 credit, were really worked out for those who were willing to consider these matters impartially in the policy which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and his colleagues put forward and which became and remains the policy of the Liberal party. I am sorry that such a policy was not put into operation years ago, but the time will come when we shall turn to such a policy as something which it is necessary to do. I thank the Committee for allowing me to put forward these matters. I think they will agree that they are of general interest, not matters which simply affect my own constituency, and that they are worth the attention of the Committee.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Having listened to most of our agricultural Debates during the last few years I could scarcely believe my ears when the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) persisted in characterising the whole of the farmers of the country as bankrupts.
§ Mr. Williams
Or that the vast majority of farmers were on the verge of the Bankruptcy Court. What a castigation against the Government for their policy of the last five or six years! I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to attack the Government very severely.
§ Sir F. Acland
If the Government had proposed to give higher subsidies to agriculture the hon. Member would have been the first to criticise them.
§ Mr. Williams
I have never refrained from supporting agriculture when the Minister in charge has tabled the cost upon which the calculation has been based, but since no Minister has ever brought to the notice of the House the facts upon which any one single calculation has been made I have always been justified in refusing to vote blank. I refuse to believe that all the farmers of the country are bankrupt. The Minister of Agriculture, who reviewed for the first time the biggest of all Departments in this country, has my envy and my sympathy. If there is any truth in the statement that variety is the spice of life, then agriculture has been well sweetened in the last few years with the variety of the attacks made upon it. We 1459 have had long-term policies and short-term policies and temporary expedients. All kinds of approaches have been made to the problem; direct subsidies, indirect subsidies, duties, restriction on imports, voluntary agreements, trade agreements, and every known disagreement. Not only is the Ministry of Agriculture a huge Department, but it has charge now also of the Sugar Corporation, the Beet Commission, the Livestock Commission, Agricultural Supply Committees, Marketing Boards and Development Boards. Anyone would imagine that a Socialist Government had been in office for the last five years. Hon. Members opposite have talked a great deal about Socialism and bureaucracy, but really I do not know how they can do so in face of what the present Government have been doing in the last five years. They really cannot condemn any Socialist party for wanting to be bureaucratic and to govern from Whitehall.
Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall I want to deal with one or two major factors affecting the industry but from a different point to that of the right hon. Gentleman, who, in 60 minutes—and let me say hurriedly that I enjoyed every moment—had but a single sentence to say about the workers in the industry. There are about 380,000 farmers and 640,000 employés, and in an hour's speech the right hon. Gentleman had but one sentence on the position of the workers. If the agricultural labourer regards himself as divorced from society and civilisation, from thought or interest on the part of politicians or anybody else, he is quite correct so far as this House is concerned. Therefore, it will be strictly inconsistent with my general feelings if I do not start immediately to deal with the position of the agricultural labourer. The Minister of Agriculture made a reference to the increase in minimum wages from 1929 to 1937, but he took care not to compare 1936 with 1930 when dealing with the cost of living. He took the period when wages were at rock bottom in the post-war period.
I want to suggest that existing wages are no compliment whatever to the Ministers of Agriculture who have been dealing with the industry for the past six years. If you compare wages in various counties to-day with what they were in 1460 1929 you will find that in Cheshire the wages in 1929 were 35s. a week; to-day they are 34s.; in Leicestershire they were 34s. in 1929, and they still are 34s.; in Rutlandshire they were 32s. 6d. in 1929, and are still 32s. 6d.; in Holland-with-Boston they were 35s. in 1929, and are still 35s; in the East Riding of Yorkshire they were 36s. in 1929, now they are 34s. 6d.; in the North Riding of Yorkshire they were 34s. in 1929, and are 34s. to-day; in the West Riding of Yorkshire they were 36s. in 1929, and to-day are 34s. Therefore, throughout a period when there have been subsidies for wheat, sugar, milk, beef, and indirect assistance in the form of restrictions and customs duties, some counties remain where they were in 1929, while in others the wages are actually less.
I do not think that the Minister of Agriculture in his concluding observations did himself justice. He said that a successful agriculture depends on healthy land, and a healthy stock, but not a word about a healthy body of labourers. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman must have had it in mind, it was simply an omission, but frequently we hear speeches referring to the employers, to the farmers, in the industry and totally ignoring the workers. Indeed, in these days few people can be found to think in terms of the man who does the job. I know, of course, that there is an Agricultural Wages Board in every county; no thinks, however, to the Conservative party that the Agricultural Wages Regulation Act is on the Statute Book. It was passed in 1924 when a Labour Government was in office.
§ Lieut.-Colonel the Marquess of Titchfield
I voted for it, as did a great many hon. Members on this side of the Committee.
§ Mr. Williams
For which our grateful thanks. So rarely does the Noble Lord vote for anything for the labourers that we thank him for it. We know that the county agricultural wages committee functions without regard to the Ministry or the National Wages Board. I want the Minister to inquire when the National Wages Board met last and whether they have ever done anything apart from registering decisions on questions which have been settled in various parts of the country. The National Farmers' Union 1461 are frequently telling us of the need for subsidies in one form or another in order to enable them to pay the gigantic increase in wages which has been given, but the National Farmers' Union in their document for 1936 point out that the wages in 1925 were 31s. 3d. per week and in 1936 32s. 3d. per week, in other words, that over a period of 11 years the minimum wage rate for agricultural labourers has increased by 1s. per week. If we assume that there are 640,00o employés working regular time—they are not—1s. increase per week would cost £1,664,000 per annum. How does that amount compare with the millions which have gone to sugar, the £6,000,000 for wheat, the £4,000,000 for meat, and approximately £2,000,000 for milk? Is the Minister satisfied with the situation so far as the worker is concerned? Just as healthy land and healthy stock are necessary, so a successful agriculture requires a healthy and contented body of labourers.
It is frequently said that the agricultural labourer is migrating to the towns where labour is more plentiful and wages higher. If it is true that in some parts of the country farmers are unable to obtain an adequate supply of skilled labourers there must be a reason for it, and it seems to me that one reason is the fact that wages for really skilled men are not what they ought to be. The Minister has said that mechanisation has had two effects. First, that it has taken the agricultural labourer nearer to the urban areas. He has acquired a passing acquaintance with machines and is unwilling to accept 31s. or 32s. per week if he can use that passing acquaintance with engineering and get 45s., 50s. or £3 in the towns.
The second effect is that mechanisation has helped agriculture to increase its output with a fewer number of labourers, which implies that each agricultural labourer is now able to produce a considerably greater volume than he did 10 or 15 years ago. A private investigation has informed us that on certain mixed farms the volume of output per person has increased in the past 10 years by about 25 per cent. The increase in prices was about 20 per cent. Considering that so many inquiries and commissions have investigated problems affecting the farmers, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his Department has 1462 ever carried out investigations with a view to ascertaining the true value of the agricultural labourer to-day in mechanised farming compared with his value before the War. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall referred to pre-War wages and post-War wages, but I would like to know something about the productive capacity of the labourer in pre-War days and his productive capacity in post-War days, and if there is any improvement, we want to see it reflected in the weekly wages and the comfort of the agricultural worker. Parliament is providing artificial stimulus in a multiplicity of ways, and hon. Members ought to insist that the agricultural labourer should be treated in such a fashion that he will not readily desert the farm and go to an urban area where perhaps his lot, taken by and large, over periods of depression and periods of prosperity, will not be much better than it is to-day.
I would like also to refer to the frequent evasions of the fixed wage rates. In previous Debates I have said that the very nominal fines imposed by rural magistrates are such as deliberately to encourage the worst type of farmers to evade the law. The better type of farmer, like the better type of employer in any industry, will meet his legal obligations, but the worst type of employer will always escape his obligations if he can. The Act regulating wages is administered by the Department, through the agency of its travelling inspectors, who do a great amount of good for agricultural labourers who have not been receiving the appropriate wages according to the county settlements. I will quote two or three cases which took place between 13th January and 12th February to show what is the position. One case is that of a farmer in Derby who underpaid his employés to the extent of £81 14s. 9d. and was fined £4. For that farmer the whole thing was a gamble. The authorities were laying him at least 20 to 1 that they would not catch him, and if he could get away with over £81, so much the better for him and so much the worse for the labourer; but if, as happened, he was caught, there was a nominal fine of and of course he had to pay arrears. Another case is that of a farmer in Carmarthen who underpaid to the extent.of £55, and was fined £3. That is a deliberate encouragement to the worst type of farmer not to pay to the 1463 agricultural workers the wages settled by the county committees.
Seeing that so much effort is expended on behalf of farmers, I suggest that a little more ought to be expended on behalf of agricultural labourers so as to ensure, at all events, that the employers do not escape the obligations which have been imposed upon them by the Act. After all, if an unemployed person gets away with one day's extra dole and the authorities discover it, he is sent to gaol, immediately. Dozens of people have been sent to gaols by the courts of which I am closely acquainted for that sort of thing. Seeing that subsidy after subsidy is being given to agriculture, if the farmers are found not to be fulfilling the legal conditions as regards their labourers, these nominal fines ought to be increased. I attribute that state of affairs almost wholly to the fact that rural magistrates are generally landlords or farmers and do not do justice to the agricultural workers.
The Minister said that he wants healthy land and healthy stock, and he ought to—and I am sure he does—want a healthy body of labourers, but if so, he must take a paternal interest in the housing position in the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman has not held his present position very long, so that we cannot charge him with any serious neglect; but he ought to tell us before the Debate concludes what, if anything, has been done by his Department and by himself to inspire the Minister of Health to look into housing activities in the countryside. We know that housing speculators have gone to beautiful country villages, bought houses over the heads of labourers, and let them to rich "week-enders," and that the poor labourers have been turned adrift. There is a real housing problem in the countryside as far as labourers are concerned. They do not enjoy the privileges of the Rent Restriction Acts; there is no alternative accommodation for them; and frequently they are without gas, electricity, or any other of the social amenities enjoyed in the towns. The right hon. Gentleman, who is charged to deal with wheat, milk, beef, sugar and other things to sweeten agriculture, ought to take an interest in the housing of agricultural labourers. If Ministers of Agriculture who have occupied that office during the period I have been a Member 1464 of the House had had their deserts, I am afraid that every Conservative Minister of Agriculture would have been in gaol for neglecting the housing of agricultural labourers.
I would like now to make a few observations on the use of the land, and I wish to ask the Minister of Agriculture whether, during his period of office, he has ever read the Agricultural Land Utilisation Act. That is a very interesting Act of Parliament. I know that it did not interest the last Minister of Agriculture, who said that it would be sheer, black treachery to put more people on the land before he had made agriculture prosperous; but it will be black treachery if there is not an improvement on the activities of the right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Agriculture from 1931 to 1934. The Agricultural Land Utilisation Act enables the Minister to do a number of things. For instance, in an area where land has been left in a derelict state, the Act gives him power to inform the owner of the land that either he must restore it to a fertile state or the Minister may do so and charge the owner with the cost. Does the right hon. Gentleman think we ought to leave thousands of acres of cultivable land out of cultivation because of the stupidity of the present owners? Not only does the Act enable the right hon. Gentleman to intervene in such cases and to insist upon the land being used for the national good, but it gives him power to buy or lease land on which to establish demonstration farms, large and small. If that were done, when we asked the right hon. Gentleman about the costings of milk or beef or anything else, he could himself tell us the value of agriculture and have his own costings system, apart from the costings systems at Oxford, Cambridge or anywhere else.
The Act enables him to settle unemployed persons on the land and, if he is willing, to settle agricultural labourers on it. It enables him to set up co-operative smallholdings, and to do it on a grand scale. In connection with that, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the one industrial employé, if an agricultural labourer may be regarded as such, for whom there is no chance in life apart from a smallholding is the one person whom the Minister of Agriculture ought never to lose sight of during his peregrinations throughout the industry. Unless he 1465 gets a smallholding, the agricultural labourer must be a labourer from the beginning to the end, or there must be nationally-owned farms where the agricultural labourer could be trained for the job of foreman on some demonstration farm. Unless the right hon. Gentleman does more than his predecessor did with regard to co-operative smallholdings, taking over derelict land, restoring it to fertility and using it for national purposes, I am afraid this Act will be dormant for another fairly lengthy period. The Act enables the right hon. Gentleman to do something with regard to allotments, cottage holdings, and so on. In his opening speech the right hon. Gentleman told us nothing about that, but perhaps he will be good enough to fill up that gap when he winds up the Debate.
On three occasions the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Milk Marketing Board, and he paid the Board some compliments which I would not wish to deny them. The Milk Marketing Board originally averted a collapse, but after four years' experience events, guided by interests in the producing and distributing sides, have moved definitely in a wrong direction. Consequently, in 1937 the people in this country are paying a higher price for milk than is paid in any other country in the world, and we have the lowest consumption per person of any country in the world. Yet the farmers are still complaining that the price they receive is not what it ought to be. During the past four years we have proved that the capacity to produce milk in this country is unlimited, and that the potential consumption is enormous. There is a huge surplus because millions of people are unable to buy at the price, and therefore the milk is diverted to manufacturers at a price which is wholly uneconomic.
The situation in which we find ourselves is truly abnormal. There is an abundance of milk, there are millions of people who want milk but cannot afford to buy it; and therefore the milk is sent to the factories to be turned into butter, cheese, dried milk, chocolate, or whatever it may be. It seems to me that a statement made by a Noble Lord in another place, which has been circulated in such a form that it would be in order to quote it here this afternoon if it were necessary, merits a good deal of consideration from the Minister. It is said, for instance, that the consumer of liquid milk is subsidising 1466 the manufactured milk, so that the manufacturer can buy at less than 3d. per gallon. It is suggested that a sensible, modern, up-to-date and efficient distributing service would reduce the price of distribution by 3d. or 4d. a gallon, and it is also argued that if the milk we can produce were consumed in a liquid form, 1d. a gallon could be taken off the producer's price, since more milk would be sold at the liquid price than at the manufactured price. But the farmers do not want to do anything of that sort. They persist in wanting to impose a duty on imported dairy products, whether they come from the Dominions or from friendly neutral countries.
In his speech, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of butter, and he must know that the increase in the consumption per person of which he spoke was wholly due to a decrease in price, and that that increased consumption did not start in 1933, when the Marketing Board was established, but in 1925, or even before that date. Are we at this moment going to say to New Zealand and to the Dominions generally, "We require your butter no longer"? Are we going to say to friendly foreign countries, "We no longer require your dairy products"? Are we going to turn friendly countries into hostile countries, because we refuse to trade with them and prefer to manufacture for ourselves butter, which we can buy from the Dominions and elsewhere at a price at which it would be wholly uneconomic to produce it in this country? Are we to go back to the situation which preceded the establishment of the Milk Marketing Board and by that process are we going both to lose the war and lose the peace? We cannot afford to turn adrift the Dominion producer or even the producer in friendly States who has ascertained what we require and has done his best to meet our requirements.
So we are in this position. We can produce an unlimited supply of milk, but in the absence of spending power among millions of working-class families we cannot buy the milk at economic prices. What then is the Minister to do? When lie spoke on the Livestock Industry Bill he said that we had a peculiar system in this country and that because of that system certain things could not be done. The only thing that the right hon. Gentleman can do as Minister or that the 1467 Government can do as a Government, is to cease to subsidise the production of milk for manufacture and to start subsidising consumption, for the manufacture of healthy men and women. The alternatives are, of course, to allow 400,000,000 gallons of milk to go into manufacture at a price of about 5¾d. a gallon or to divert a large proportion of that milk, at a slightly better price for the producer, to school children, children under school age, expectant mothers and nursing mothers. That seems to be the only thing that we can do if we are to keep this industry on a sound foundation. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) will probably develop that point later and it seems clear to me that the right hon. Gentleman cannot be as indifferent to the milk position in this country as he seemed to be in his speech.
I make only one observation on the question of bacon. When the restriction commenced we were importing bacon at 52s. per cwt. That may not have been an economic price. I do not know. But we have applied restriction in such an intensive form that now we are importing 5,000,000 cwt. less than in 1932. The hatchet has been used to some purpose. At the same time the price has bounded up from about 52s. to about 90s. per cwt. We are paying more money for less bacon, and Ministers of Agriculture, past and present, can console themselves with the happy thought that they have put an end to the consumption of bacon among the lower layers of society. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the remarkable achievements of the bacon scheme. That scheme has broken down and it has broken down because of one of those fits of glorious uncertainty which were bound to overtake it sooner or later.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's promised statement on the pig industry will not be long delayed, and that it will be one in which independent and impartial people will have had a say as well as the producers of pigs or the producers of bacon. So far, the producers' board has exercised its functions in directions which were never intended. The producer is getting into touch with the middle-man and bargaining for margins for the middle-man, and to that extent, producer and distributor are doing their best to exploit the consumer in this country. I 1468 know that the right hon. Gentleman has said that protection has not increased prices. I do not know where he gets his figures. He told us that the foreigner would pay the duty on imports of veal and meat, but I wonder whether that is so or not. The prices at the London Central Market on 28th May showed that the price of Argentine hindquarters had risen from 3s. 4d. in 1936 to 4s. 8d. this year and Argentine forequarters from is, in 1936 to 3s. 3d. this year. We find percentage increases such as 40 per cent., 66 per cent., 44.9 per cent. and 72.1 per cent. in different classes of meat, and in others 87.5 per cent. and 90 per cent. in 1937 as compared with 1936.
Whether the right hon. Gentleman will accept the honour of having brought about those increases, as part of what he calls a comprehensive Government policy, I do not know. But it is a fact that prices are increasing abnormally, and the reply given to me to-day with regard to the price of English beef indicates that we are entitled to a statement from the Minister on the working of the beef subsidy. In 1934 the price per live cwt. was about 37s. A week ago sellers at Salisbury got 57s. But the subsidy is still being paid. When is it likely to cease? Surely we are entitled to know. I am not miserable just because the price of beef has increased. If it has been uneconomic up to now, I am happy to know that the farmer is, at long last, receiving an economic price, but we are paying 5s. per live cwt. as a subsidy. At what point will that cease, and on what does the right hon. Gentleman base his case for it?
I am inclined to agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the poultry industry, but I wonder whether he or his experts have considered the possibility that poultry is failing because of years of inbreeding and that it is time they tried a new stock. I am an amateur in these matters but the thought occurs to me that there is more than one reason for everything and that there may be more than one reason for the depression in the poultry industry. I am not sure that the farmer who produces wheat and sugar and beef as well as poultry is actually losing money on his poultry. The law of compensation operates in his case, and what he loses in one respect he gets back in another, but the specialist poultry farmer is not making as much 1469 money as he would like to make. One thing has been happening during the past five or six years. We have been making the country safe for the rent receiver and for those who handle agricultural produce. It cannot be claimed that stability has been established in the industry. I do not think we shall ever be able to produce that stability until the nation takes over its own land and makes the best use of its own estates. If the nation has the necessary fertiliser to spare, let it fertilise the national estate and then make the maximum use of that fertility.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Grigg
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman who spoke last re-referred to the case of the agricultural labourer. The question of agricultural wages is one of the most important in connection with the whole subject of agriculture at present. But I am sure the hon. Gentleman cannot have been serious in supposing that that subject is not of as much interest to Members on this side of the House as it is to those who sit with him. I myself intended to raise that question because, as it happens, I have been for some little time chairman of a county agricultural wages committee and about this time of year we are faced with the appalling difficulty of fixing next year's wages. As I have reason to know the representatives of the agricultural labourer will make a convincing case for an increase of wages and the representatives of the farmers will make an equally convincing case to show that they cannot afford an increase of any kind. That is the position which always faces agricultural wages committees at this time of year. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister has not forgotten that problem and that when he referred to the necessity of helping the agricultural producers, he was thinking of the man who works on the land as much as of the man who farms the land.
I believe that the problem of wages is fundamental, and it brings us back to the question of the cost of farming in this country at the present time. It is true that the displacement of agricultural population has been compensated for to some extent by the improvement in mechanical methods of farming. But nothing can replace the skilled man on the land. If those skilled men continue leaving the 1470 land as they are doing at present, the next generation will not have them at all, and it is no answer to say that machinery will do the work. We have to guard against that possibility. In my part of the country, as in many others if not in all, the agricultural labourer is leaving the land because he gets better wages elsewhere. He goes to aerodromes or other public works of various kinds and he will never come back. Therefore, the question of agricultural wages is urgent and must be dealt with. How is it to be dealt with? My right hon. Friend in his most interesting speech, on which I congratulate him wholeheartedly, dealt with the possibility of reducing the costs of production in agriculture, and mentioned some of the directions in which those costs might be reduced. He did not, however, mention one all-important direction and I was very glad to hear the subject of agricultural debt raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland).
I believe that is one of the factors which is telling most heavily against the farmer at the present time. It is not that all farmers are bankrupt but that they have not the working capital or the long-term capital to enable them to show all the resource, energy and inventiveness which is theirs. In every other country in the world, certainly in every Dominion, certainly in the United States, certainly in every European country that can afford it, there is a system of government cheap credit for agriculture and particular attention has been paid to it in recent years. I do not say that the question has been entirely neglected here. The Conservative Government in 1928 passed the Agricultural Credits Act. I need not trouble the House with figures, though there are very serious figures on the point, in order to show that that Act has not produced the expected effect. I think the Agricultural Mortgages Corporation has raised altogether about £10,000,000. £8,000,000 of it at 5 per cent. and £2,000,000 at 4½ per cent., and they lend back to the farmer at about that rate. That is no good to the farmer. The interest is far too high and I think the fact that the Corporation is not doing for the farmer what it was intended to do is proved by the fact that it has less out at the present time than it had four or five years ago. I believe it is a grave reflection upon the government of this country that so many 1471 other countries should have dealt with this question of agricultural credits during the crisis and that we should have ignored it for so long.
I have only dealt so far with long-term credit but as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall said, there is also the question of short-term credit. It is no blame to the dealer, and it is no blame to the farmer, but the farmer is far too much in the hands of the dealer, and it is a bad system altogether. It means that the dealer does not get cash, which he would much prefer, and it means that the farmer also suffers in the deal because he pays too much for his stuff and has to sell before the time. Another factor in regard to short-term credit is that, so far as I can make out from personal inquiries from farmers, they are going in more and more for the hire purchase system to get the things they want, That is a terribly expensive process; it is a very dangerous thing for the farmer to get into debt that way, and this burden upon the farming industry is increasing all the time.
There are many hon. Members who want to speak, and I do not want to keep the Committee too long, but I beg the Government to admit the fact that there is a case for inquiry into the question of working capital and long-term capital for agriculture at the present time, and to initiate such an inquiry. I believe that the National Farmers' Union has been trying to make an inquiry. I came across many evidences of the lack of credit facilities when I was chairman of the first Milk Reorganisation Commission. What is certain is that these facts will not be established except by a Commission appointed by the Government, and nobody else can really get at the facts. I say no more than to state my conviction that there is a case for investigation. What the answer may be I do not know, but I beg the Government to consider it for some very special reasons.
In the first place, inasmuch as we are committed to a policy of subsidies, let us recognise the fact that it is better not to subsidise agriculture by commodities but rather to subsidise the land. When you subsidise commodities, you are always upsetting the equilibrium of agriculture. What you do in one direction may do some good, but it may do harm in another, and the whole delicate 1472 equilibrium of this most delicate industry is constantly upset. Subsidise the land and give the farmer facilities to use his skill upon that land to produce whatever may be best for the market and for his own particular conditions.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I mean that credit should be given to the farmer to reduce his costs and help him to improve his soil and his plant, so that he may produce whatever will pay him best instead of subsidising him to produce milk, or wheat, or any particular thing. Give him cheap capital, help him to farm in whatever way he thinks best in the conditions of his own land and of his market. The other reason why I plead for consideration of this point is that if you can subsidise farming in the form of credit, you can at least be certain that the whole benefit of your subsidy goes to the farmer. There is every reason for supposing now that a great deal of the subsidies that we are supposed to be paying to the farmer goes into other pockets and never reaches the farmer at all. I am certain too that by this means subsidies will ultimately produce a greater revenue and help the taxpayer, instead of increasing the burden on the taxpayer as subsidies are doing at the present time.
I therefore return to the point with which I began. Farming cannot justify itself in this country unless it maintains an agricultural population in housing conditions and with a wage equal to that which equally skilful men can gain elsewhere. It has got lo pay the farmer, and it has got to pay the agricultural labourer. It is not doing either at the present time, and I beg the Government to look much more deeply into the causes of the depression, which still exists.
§ 6.5 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I rise to make a few observations, which will be very much on the lines of those which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg). I thought his contribution was a very valuable one. He introduced an element of independence and of freshness into the examination of this problem, which has become rather stale and, unfortunately for the farmer, 1473 unprofitable. I would urge the Government to consider the suggestion which he made that the time has come for a reexamination of the whole of the problem of agriculture. The situation is far from satisfactory. I am not going to criticise the late Minister of Agriculture. He worked hard at the problem, and he showed very considerable courage. I do not personally approve of a great many of the suggestions which he put into operation, but he made a real effort. We have had subsidies which in the aggregate come to £30,000,000 a year; we have got seven boards, three Commissions, one or two Councils and no end of Committees, all set up in the last few years to deal with the problem of agriculture. I remember perfectly well that when, some years ago, I put forward certain proposals with regard to the land, they were condemned on the ground that they involved a horde of officials. No proposals that I ever put forward would have employed anything like the officials, numerous as the sands of the sea, who have been appointed under the various proposals which have been carried through in recent years.
But in spite of that, in spite of all these efforts, what is the present position? My hon. Friend said that the people are leaving the land. Just before I came in someone put into my hands some figures showing what the position is. In 1881 we had 12.5 per cent. of the total occupied population on the soil, but in the last census that came down to 5.7 per cent. Since then we have had a much more thorough and accurate test in the extension of unemployment insurance to the agricultural labourer, and now every agricultural labourer between 16 and 65 is registered. The figures show that the agricultural population now is not 5.7 per cent. but 4.7 per cent. of the population.
§ Mr. De Chair
The right hon. Gentleman said that in 1881 there were more people engaged in farming, but the figures he now gives are of agricultural employés only, and therefore it is hardly fair to compare the two sets of figures.
Mr. Lloyd George
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to finish my sentence? It is not worth while arguing as between 5.7 and 4.7. My own opinion is that the figure is 4.7, but I will take the 5.7, which is the census figure comparable with the figure for 1881. What does that mean? If you go to any other country in the world you will find one-third of the population on the soil, in other great countries a half of the population on the soil, in Germany a third on the soil. Then there is a fourth on the soil, and the lowest figure comparable with ours is one-fifth, and that is in Belgium. Take your 5.7. That is one-seventeenth or one-eighteenth on the soil, and during the last two years they have gone down by 60,000 or 70,000. Has not the time arrived when we should have another reconsideration of the whole of this problem? I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman, because he has not been in office long enough to examine such a vast problem as this, and although I was rather disappointed that he did not tell us something about his long-term programme, I can well understand that he is not yet ready.
Mr. Lloyd George
I know, but there is a good deal that could be done without legislation. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman, that one remark of my hon. Friend's was that there is an Act of Parliament that was carried in 1931, and there has been an immense amount of work which could be done within the purview of that Act of Parliament, which the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to remember. It is one of the Statutes of the realm, and there is a vast amount of work which can be done without any legislation at all. In addition to that, compared with pre-war, we have 3,000,000 acres that have gone out of cultivation. It emerged in the course of the discussion—I am not at all sure that it did not begin with my right hon. Friend opposite—that there is not far from 2,000,000 acres in this country which is waterlogged. The population is leaving the land and the land is going out of cultivation—the land is getting waterlogged—in spite of the fact that you have £30,000,000 of subsidies and at least It) boards and commissions operating on the problem. It shows that there is something which needs to be done 1475 thoroughly and drastically with regard to this problem.
I was very glad to see what the right hon. Gentleman promised to do, and I was rather interested in it. He is going to help to cure the lime deficiency in the soil. I proposed that myself two years ago, and it was turned down without any examination. Further, he is going to assist grass land improvement. Both those suggestions came from me originally, through Professor Stapledon, whom the Government have at last discovered. He has worked for 25 years on this problem in this country, assiduously, with a great genius for it and a great love of it. New Zealand discovered him years ago, and one or two Scottish farmers whom I know. There are one or two intelligent ones. But what has happened? Professor Stapledon is raising his grass seeds, that he took years and years to develop, in Montgomeryshire, and he is selling most of them in New Zealand. I offered to bring him before the Cabinet Committee, who were good enough to ask me to explain my proposals. I said that I would rather they were explained by the man who had made 25 years study of the subject. The committee did not see him. There was another expert whom I invited to come there, the greatest expert on market gardening—a very vital thing for country life, because one of the advantages of market gardening is that machinery does not drive men from this work. On the contrary, it increases the number of people who are employed on the soil by producing the very things in which we are deficient according to Sir John Orr—the fruits and the vegetables and the vitamins, from the lack of which 20,000,000 people are suffering malnutrition. This expert was not asked to explain.
I am glad that after two years the Government have incorporated in their policy, as if they have discovered them for the first time, proposals which I put before them two years ago, when I offered to bring before them the very man who had examined this problem for 25 years. I congratulate them. Assistance with regard to fertilisers was the third proposal. They are all there in writing. The fourth was arterial drainage. These four have been incorporated in the Government's policy. Their proposals 1476 with regard to arterial drainage, however, are preposterous—only £140,000 a year. You have nearly 1,000,000 acres of land which are rotting and souring through lack of drainage, and it is getting worse year by year. The sum to be spent on that is £140,000 a year, and I think the total is something like £650,000. It is a ridiculous sum; it is preposterous. It is like the sums the Government voted for the distressed areas from time to time.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has considered the other proposals which I put forward then. Four of them, after two years, after 60,000 more agricultural labourers have left the soil, after more acres have gone out of cultivation—thousands, scores of thousands, hundreds of thousands of acres—have been adopted by the Government. What about the others? They could carry out most of them under the Act of Parliament to which my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) referred. It deals with drainage on a large scale, the reconditioning of land. The right hon. Gentleman says that at the present moment the agricultural output of this country has increased by comparison with some years ago. What is happening? As anybody who lives in the rural districts knows, the farmer is concentrating on the best land. He is running on a very narrow margin. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham pointed out, he has not the capital to recondition his land. The landlord has not the capital because taxation is so heavy. Reconditioning land takes seven years of constant expenditure of money without getting any return. It takes at least seven years to put heart into land which has lost heart through being half starved.
Where is the capital to come from? The landlord cannot provide it, the farmer cannot do it. He cannot go borrowing at 5 per cent. because he would have to pay interest and wait seven years before he got his return. There is only one banker in the country that can do it, and that is the State. Inasmuch as the security of this country depends on our increasing twice, and three times our present productivity, it is part of the great problem of the defence of the realm, and the Government ought to face it as such. You must 1477 recondition the land instead of driving the farmer, as you are doing now, to the same acres year after year as something that will repay him because it is first-class land. No country except this depends entirely upon its first-class land. Other countries go to their second, their third, and even their fourth. Why do not the Government consider that problem? What happened in the War? We were undoubtedly face to face with starvation. I have said this so often that I wish the Government would investigate the matter for themselves. When a man repeats a thing over and over again they say, "Oh, the same old story." Let them examine the story for themselves. They will find it in the muniments of many an archivist. Anybody can tell them what happened, and how near we were to starvation.
What had we to do? We had to plough land, some of which had not been ploughed for 30 or 40 years, with no heart in it, no fertility. For the first year or two you produce nothing but a crop of wireworm on a good deal of that sort of land. You cannot in an emergency wait for the second year or the third year in order to produce a little more. The case is settled against you. You are beaten. There is the old truth laid down by Machiavelli that the city which is provisioned for a year is generally safe, but we had 4½ years of that fight. So had Germany, and she was starved out. It was one of the problems with which we were confronted as to which of these two great empires would be starved out first. With all that memory, all that we are doing is just allowing land which was cultivated in 1914 to go out of cultivation, the men—intelligent skilled workmen—who were working then, having left and their children having left, and instead of having 10 per cent. of the population on the soil we have between 5 and 6 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman has got such an opportunity as no Minister sitting on that bench has of rendering an immortal service to the country. Here is a healthy occupation, the healthiest of all occupations. Two hundred thousand workmen have left the land since 1921, and you have land going out of cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman with his own eyes, with the figures at his disposal, can see what is happening in the country, can see 1478 that in spite of everything that has been attempted up to the present things are going from bad to worse as far as depopulation and lack of cultivation are concerned. Take the Government's lime proposal standing alone. You are not going to put lime on land which you do not intend to cultivate. Lime is the first thing which you put on soil before you begin to cultivate it. It is the thing that prepares the soil for the fertilisers, and unless you are prepared to fertilise afterwards you do not put lime on. What will be the result? The lime will go on to land which is being cultivated, and it will, of course, be very useful. The Government are to pay one-half of the cost, and as a farmer I am delighted.
Why does not the right hon. Gentleman take some means of having the whole problem reconsidered? Why does he not call to his assistance, according to the suggestion made by one of his own supporters, someone from outside who is not committed to any of these things and have a thorough investigation of the whole problem? I will come to one or two of the things which I proposed to the Government. Four of them have been adopted. I am going to give the right hon. Gentleman a list of the rest, and I will tell him that there is not one of them that some Minister standing at that Box—it may be a Conservative Minister—will not one day get up and adopt. Why wait? There is the reclamation of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of acres of land which, if reclaimed, would be productive. I speak from my own experience. Farm buildings are derelict, out of repair, vast numbers of them are absolutely unsuited to modern scientific conditions of agriculture. Go to any part of the country. You cannot ask the landlords to recondition them. They have not the cash with which to do it, except a very few of them. This is a great problem which the State ought to consider, because if you get inadequate or unsuitable farm buildings or buildings which are out of repair you depress the value of your stock and you cannot make the most out of your opportunities. That is one of the proposals which I put forward and it ought to be considered.
Then there are rural industries and afforestation. We have had these many times. There is also the question of rural roads. They make a vast difference in 1479 getting the stuff to the markets and getting the stuff from the towns to the farmers. Then there is marketing, one of the most important problems, which the right hon. Gentleman could deal with under the legislation which was introduced by Dr. Addison. Having now had some experience of that problem, I have no hesitation in saying that if you get a complete marketing system that will organise distribution on a business basis so that the farmer will have a certainty that whatever stuff he produces he will be able to market it, if you organise transport in such a way that he need not bother about it, and if you can connect him with the retailers in the various areas, you can reduce the cost to the consumer and at the same time pay a better price to the producer. But it has got to be organised as a great business proposition, with Covent Gardens all over the country—no, not Covent Gardens, Heaven forbid, that is the worst distributing centre that man ever muddled—but some first-class clearing-houses in various parts of the country, so that the farmer may know beforehand what he can sell if he takes the trouble to produce it.
Instead of subsidising various products, subsidise marketing. At the present moment they are charging pestilential little fees to the farmer for one thing and another. I would get rid of them. They hit the small farmer very hard. I would put the whole of the cost of distribution upon the community. It would be a far better use for your subsidy than the present one. I would utilise the subsidy for setting up great marketing centres throughout the country and organising marketing, giving the farmer the certainty that if he produces a good article he will get a good price. At the same time you will get your vitamins to the people—
§ Mr. Macquisten
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that he would allow the farmer to go into the market and sell his own produce?
Mr. Lloyd George
I have got my scheme, but I do not want to go into it too elaborately. I think the farmer has as much as he can do on his own farm. I know that I shall get into trouble for this, but in my own country I think he spends too much time in markets. That would be quite unnecessary if we had a 1480 good organised marketing system. He will produce the stuff. He is to choose what he produces. We are not to go to one man and say, "You have to produce that," and to another man, "You have to produce this." I would let each farmer produce what he liked. I would let him know exactly what the demand was in his particular area each night, and he would put his commodity, ready, at a particular point, and it would be picked up and carried up to market by the organisation. At the present time getting the stuff to market costs money. It needs labour to get it there, and there has to be an equipment of lorries. I have drawn beyond what I had intended to say, but I should be glad, if there were a commission of this kind, to put my proposals before them. I have some ideas.
This is the last point I want to make. For years I have been urging upon each successive Minister of Agriculture the need for a complete and thorough survey of the agricultural conditions and capabilities and facilities of this country. It will take time. One of the first Ministers I urged to undertake this task was Lord Halifax. It seemed to me at that time that he was listening to me—but I have made that mistake many a time. I will never make it again. He was doing it out of the courtesy for which he is famous. It was a hopeless task; the Government did not pretend to discuss it. A survey of that kind would include a report upon the lands which were going out of cultivation and needed reconditioning. You have only to take a drive across any part of England—I do not know quite so much about Scotland, on the whole I think the farming there is better, but even in Scotland it could be seen—and you can see the fields which have gone out of condition in the last 10, 15 or 20 years. You have only to look at the kind of weeds which are springing up, at the quality of the grass. If you had a thorough survey of that kind you would know your problems.
The right hon. Gentleman has not been long enough at the Ministry of Agriculture to know the whole problem, and I hope that he will examine it for himself. There are men who will have his ear who are quite convinced that what they have been doing is the right thing, and that every drastic change would be a condemnation of them for what they have failed to do. Any Minister who would succeed in doing 1481 really great things in his office must bear that in mind. Whether it is in agriculture, in education or in the Services, you will not get people who have been in their departments for years, and thinking they have done the very best, to turn round suddenly and say, "We were wrong and we must take a new course." It requires a pretty big man to do that. That is where a new Minister has a chance really to tackle the job. It is the biggest job to be tackled by this Government, and I hope the Government will do it.
People say, "A survey will take a long, long time." So it will. If my suggestion had been adopted at the time I pressed it on the Government, that survey would have been complete by now. But we need not wait until the survey is complete. There are things the Minister could get on with, which he has started doing now; there are parts of the country where the survey would be complete in a short time and he could proceed there. You need not wait for a complete survey of the whole country before beginning to do the job—the repairing of buildings, the reconditioning of land, the draining of swamps, the improving of waterlogged land and bringing the land of the country into new heart.
I would like to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a young Minister. I was charmed with the form and style of his speech. I listened to it with great delight. But clearly he has not yet made up his mind. I should not like to say that he does not quite realise the magnitude of his task, though he is beginning, I have no doubt, to appreciate its difficulties. I should like him to do more than that. If he will forgive me as an older man talking to a younger man, I should like him to realise the greatness of his opportunity, the immensity of the services he can render to this country. The agricultural labourer is leaving the land. He will not remain at the wages which have been paid to him. I know that. The farmer cannot pay him more under present conditions. That is where the Government could come in. If the right hon. Gentleman undertakes the task with the ability which we all know that he possesses, with the imagination which he ought to have inherited from his Celtic ancestors, and also with the audacity which they had in great causes that often appeared hopeless at 1482 the time, he will have done something which will make England really a green and pleasant land, something which, instead of leaving the countryside visibly decaying before our eyes, will make the country once more prosperous, healthy, happy and full of gaiety and of strength.
§ 6.40 p.m.
The right hon. Gentleman has called for a re-examination of the agricultural question. With a good deal of what he said I, and, I feel, many Members of the House, were in agreement. He wants to see, as I want to see, a regenerated agriculture, the soil made more fertile and the population increasing in numbers instead of diminishing. We all want the same thing, but perhaps we see different ways of getting it. We want a more fertile England and a larger population on the land. I know there are many Members who want to speak and I shall be as brief as I can, but there was so much in the right hon. Gentleman's speech with which I agreed, and some with which I disagreed, that I am glad of this opportunity of speaking. When I sat on the Land Drainage Commission in 1930 we examined a large part of England, and I came to the definite conclusion at that time that England was less fitted to enter a war than she was in 1914. The food position would have been more difficult to regulate in war-time in 1930 than it was in 1914. That is one fact which I do not think can be denied.
Again, last April I spent 12 hours, and happy hours they were, going through France from the Channel to the Pyrenees on a beautiful April day, and I was struck by the fact—the right hon. Gentlemen laid stress on it—that it was not only the first-class land that was cultivated but that all the country was one smiling whole of prosperous agriculture. I do not say this to make any dialectical point, but no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman on what that prosperity in France rests. It rests on fantastic Protection, Protection far beyond anything dreamed of in this country. I think the duty on wheat is something like 200 per cent. That brings me to this point, which I wish to put before the right hon. Gentleman. Does he think that we can regenerate agriculture without spending money?
I am glad of that. His point against my right hon. Friend is that we are spending money in the wrong way, that the subsidies of £30,000,000 are not spent to the best purpose. I should like to say a word on that point. First of all, some sort of Protection there must be. I think the right hon. Gentleman and I would agree about that. We cannot throw our market open as it was thrown open in the old days. He said that we want men, and fertility of the soil. How do we get them? Up to now, the present Minister and his predecessor have gone on what, I think, are the correct lines of treating agriculture not as one industry but as several; as a unity the branches of which are separate. Milk is one branch, and meat, wheat and sugar are other branches. The Government have proceeded on the principle of putting each part of this complex industry into a more prosperous condition, and, on the whole, they have succeeded. Looking back over the last six years, I do not think I could have done better if I had been in the place of the last Minister of Agriculture. No doubt what I should have tried to do he did in a much more effective way than I should have done, that is, take each part of agriculture and try to make it more prosperous than it was. That has been done, to a large extent. It was a new scheme, and no doubt there are gaps and mistakes that can be put right.
Moving on from that point, I am not altogether sure that I followed the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). His points were, I think: increase the fertility of the soil and of our grass land particularly; spend money on that, and never mind whether the money produces a business return or not; spend the money, and make our land fertile, and when it comes to paying for it not bother, because that is a question which statesmanship has to decide; not to stop spending this money, which all parties feel ought to be spent, just because we differ as to who should pay the cost. That was the first thing. Then there were increased land drainage, increase in the fertility of the soil by fertilisers to make the land more prosperous for the farmer. I agree with a great deal of what was said by an hon. Gentleman opposite. But it is no good making the soil fertile and draining it and manuring it unless the product which 1484 you get from the soil will pay the cost of production.
You have to take things into account as a farmer, and do things, in this imperfect world, by a system of subsidies and protection. I do not think that that is a perfect system, but I have looked round and not found anybody who has produced an alternative to it The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), to whose speeches I always listen with respectful attention, is no doubt a sincere friend of agriculture, but he has opposed everything which has been brought in to benefit agriculture. If the hon. Gentleman had been listened to I do not know where we should he; probably back in a slump such as we had in 1930–31.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not attempt to do an injustice. I have said frequently from this Box that if the Minister of Agriculture will use his Oxford or Cambridge research departments to ascertain the cost of production and let us see how that cost compares with the market prices, we shall always be willing to do what we can; but so far that has not been done.
I agree that we want to get a fair market price for the product. Nobody asks for more than that. On the question of wages, I brought a Minimum Wage Bill for agricultural workers into this House, in conjunction with the late Sir Mark Sykes, in 1910. It was not received with enthusiasm by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was a Member. It did not get beyond introduction. I agree that 1910–11 was a difficult year, and that very big questions were before the Government, but I mention the point to show that our party has never been disregardful of the wages of agricultural workers. I put it to the Committee that we have as good a record as any party in this House. That is largely beside the point, and I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not see how he could have brought agriculture 1485 up and made it prosperous so that the workers would stay on the land, unless he had protected each separate item of the industry. I think you have to do that. It may be that there is now something more to be done; I believe there is, and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture can do it. There is a great deal to do in respect of the fertility and the draining of the soil and in the more scientific use of the land. That is very important. I believe there are many ways, in which the country can be made self-supporting in peace and in war. I agree that agriculture is the biggest question now before the country. We are vitally concerned with it in peace, and still more in war.
After listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with admiration, and being deeply moved by what he said, I do not see exactly where he would have led us had he been in charge of our agriculture. I have a great admiration for his originality and enterprise, but I think you have to take agriculture part by part and industry by industry. You have to decentralise it, and when you have got the different parts working is the time to see whether an advance to cover the whole of the industry is possible.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
I would first observe, with great respect, that the short answer to my distinguished countryman is that it is entirely a question of price. If the price is maintained to the farmer for his produce and assured to him, he has always shown that he is willing, ready and able to produce an abundance of the commodity. I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman, who referred to the greater number of people on the land in France, Denmark and other countries, that one has only to go across to France and see their fine cultivation of corn and other produce to realise that there must, of necessity, be a larger number of people on the soil than there are in this country. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to give agriculture the protection and the consideration that is given to it in France and in Denmark?
§ Mr. Hopkin
The whole policy of the country, through banks, education and everything, is directed towards one end, which is the prosperity of agriculture.
Mr. Lloyd George
If by protection the hon. Gentleman means State assistance for the development of agriculture, let me point out that Denmark has proceeded by way of scientific experiment, co-operation and matters of that sort. That is why I said that you must take this problem as a whole and not deal with it piecemeal.
§ Mr. Hopkin
The more the right hon. Gentleman says he is prepared to do, the more it appears that much less has been done in this country. I respectfully point out to him that the Government have not yet decided upon the place of agriculture in the policy of the country. Only a few weeks ago there was a very disturbing speech by the Prime Minister. It disturbed the whole agricultural community. Is it not true that the main objective must be to obtain a remunerative level of price for what the farmer produces? At present the policy seems to be to give so much help to agriculture as will just keep it alive. On the opposite side, one may ask about subsidies, but what the farmers say is: "If you assure to us a remunerative price for our crops, we do not ask for charity or for subsidy. We do not ask for cheap lime or cheap credit but simply for the same means which are being given to industry, so that agriculture can pay a right and fair wage to the men who work on the land."
In the agricultural districts at present, the greatest problem that the farmer has to face is to find labour. He is unable to get labour for the land. He says: "I want the labour, but I am unable to pay wages which will attract men to the land." It is abundantly clear that where the farmer has an assured price—he has it in regard to wheat and beet and practically to milk—there he produces in abundance. In regard to milk, I believe that last year over 1,000,000,000 gallons of milk were produced. If the farmer knows that he will get a fair return for what he produces, he will produce abundantly and see that the country is well supplied with the commodity. The Minister has invited opinions regarding the report on milk, and I venture to put forward the views of the farmers of the county of Carmarthen. To sum up, what they ask of the Minister is to refuse absolutely to do anything to implement that report. The first and the most important of the recommendations in that report was that a permanent Commission of five 1487 persons should be set up and the whole of the policy regarding milk should be placed in the hands of those five persons. The farmers have a keen objection to this Commission. They say, "We were induced to go into this scheme on the definite promise of producers' control, and if you take this control away from the producers—from the board as constituted at present—and put it into the hands of this permanent Commission, it will be a breach of faith with the farmers."
If this permanent Commission were set up, would there be any kind of appeal from their decisions? Let us suppose that the policy which they have to carry out—which might not be their policy or the policy of the farmers, but might well be the policy of the Government of the day—and they were to take a decision as regards the price of milk or the conditions under which it should be sold, is there, or can there be, provided under this report any appeal from the decision of the Commission? It seems to me that there is no provision made for any such appeal. The farmer feels that once the control passes out of the hands of the producer it passes from him for good and all, and he has nad so many bad experiences previously that he will do his utmost to see that this permanent Commission is not set up. Is there one Member of the Committee who can point to a single example where the present board has abused its powers? Over and over again suggestions have been made from advisory bodies, not that the board should be overhauled, but that the prices which the distributive side of the industry has should be reduced.
There is the other strong objection which the farmers have to this report, and that is the policy of manipulation of prices. This would be altogether unfair to the industry. It is proposed to put milk at a certain price—let us say 1s. a gallon—and this would produce a certain number of millions of gallons of milk. The board find that this amount is too much. They reduce the price from 1s. a gallon to, say, 10d. a gallon. At 10d. a gallon so many fewer gallons are produced. This process goes on until finally the right price and the right amount of milk coincides. What happens to the pro- 1488 ducers in the meanwhile? This kind of manipulation of prices, which you have in no other industry, would mean that there would be chaos in the industry, no certainty, and eventually a large number of farmers would be put out of business altogether.
When will it be possible for the Minister to say that he will give the House some information regarding his long-term policy in regard to milk? For the farmers in West Wales this is of vital importance. He knows of the millions of gallons of milk a day which come from the town of Carmarthen Whitland and other towns in that area. It is of vital importance for the farmers to know what the Government intend to do to see that they get a right price for their milk. The present Marketing Board think that the cost of production is about 11.1d. per gallon. The Commission are of the opinion that it is about 9½d., but, taking the lower figure, the Commission thought that it would be fair to put on to the price of production at least 2½d. a gallon for the work which the farmer does and the risk which he takes. What steps is the Minister taking to see that the farmer gets somewhere about 1s. or perhaps a little more a gallon in his pocket free of all other charges? It has been suggested that the one way that is left—perhaps not the ideal way—to help the farmer is the policy of the levy subsidy. Is that still the policy of the Government, and will the Minister say if he can what steps he will take to see that the dairy fanner has a price to cover his cost of production and allow him a fair margin as a return for the work which he puts in?
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick
I find myself in agreement with almost everything which the hon. Member has said. I am in agreement also with at least one statement by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He pointed out that there were only about 5 per cent. of our population left on the land and that that figure was declining. We on this side fully agree that that is an unhealthy, unsound and dangerous position. We have realised that for a long time, and that is the reason why, in season and out of season, we press for any action which the Government may take, whether by subsidy, protection or any other means, because we are convinced that the 1489 situation is such as to justify almost any measures.
This Debate has ranged over a wide field. For my part, I want merely to touch briefly on one subject, and that is milk. It is the milk problem, among many others, which most merits Government attention at this moment. Reference has been made by several speakers to the rise in prices which has taken place in other departments in agriculture. That rise, unhappily, has not affected the milk producer at all. There is one point on which there will be universal agreement, that it is a highly desirable thing that the retail price of liquid milk should be lower than it is at present. There is no one keener on that than the producer himself. Liquid milk is the only form in which he can sell his products other than at a loss. There is general agreement, too, that if we are to increase the consumption of liquid milk in the interest of the national health there is only one way of doing it on a large scale, and that is by reducing the price. Publicity and returning prosperity have done something; there has been a rise of 12 per cent. over the last year. But for a big increase prices have got to come down. Where a sharp difference of opinion arises is over the suggestion that the producers, as represented by the Milk Board, are endeavouring to make much too good a thing out of liquid milk and are endeavouring to exploit a monopoly.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) used the phrase "that the Milk Board had taken the wrong turning." If he meant that they had started in the direction of exploitation of a monopoly I would venture to say that he is quite mistaken, because, whatever the exact price of production may be, whether 9d. or 11d., with the cost of feeding-stuffs at their present level, the margin to the producer is very slight, particularly for the small man. It only wants a little bad luck in the shape of loss of a cow or two for that slender profit to be turned into a loss, to lower the price of liquid milk, and the payment of better wages cannot be done on the present basis of prices.
As to the reason for that state of things—because it is accepted that the prices of liquid milk in this country are on the whole high, certainly high as compared 1490 with some foreign countries—the reasons are not difficult to find. In almost every other State where conditions are comparable the milk producer has three outlets for his products, roughly equal in value. He can sell his milk as liquid or in the form of butter or cheese. In this country these last two outlets are virtually closed to the home producer. For overriding considerations of national and Imperial economy, we must, rightly I think, allow heavy imports of milk produce. The ratio to-day of imported to home-produced milk products is roughly six to one. The effect of that is virtually to shut out the home producer. That has to be, but it is natural that some milk producers resent the situation very much. They see almost every other industry getting protection while they are denied it. I am afraid that the milk producer has got to put up with it, but that is not to say that he is not entitled to some other form of assistance if it is available for him. I think it is available.
One of the favourite objections of critics of the milk scheme and the way the Milk Board conducts its operations, is that milk production in this country is too high. Last year the gross production in this country passed the thousand million gallon mark for the first time. The critics said, "Why do the farmer produce so much if a third of their produce has inevitably to be sold at a loss?" That sounds good on paper, but it lacks reality. In the case of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of producers, the farmer has only three choices before him: He can produce beef, either in the form of stores or in the form of fat cattle; he can produce milk; or he can go out of business. Until just lately, the prices of beef were such that he could not produce except at a loss; he was not anxious to go out of business; and so, having no other alternative, in thousands of cases the small farmer has taken to the production of milk. When beef prices improve, as they are now doing, it will, I have no doubt, relieve the pressure on the manufacturing part, but it will never remove the milk surplus altogether. That cannot be done unless and until we train our cows to produce only the same amount of milk in the summer as they do in the winter, and that will not be for a considerable time hence. I conclude, therefore, that some other form of assistance to the producer 1491 is justifiable and necessary, and I think that the best and most practical method of assistance is to be found tucked away, so to speak, in the recent report of the Milk Reorganisation Commission.
The Commission pointed out with perfect truth that, given the very high ratio of imports of milk products into this country as compared with home production, a very small levy on imports would produce a very substantial sum for the benefit of the producer in the form of subsidy. Here I find myself in some difficulty. I am well aware that I must not refer to anything involving legislation, but I hope to avoid doing so. I think the question of the imposition of some import duty on milk products is already being considered by the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and, of course, if the Committee recommend in favour of it, and the Government adopt the recommendation, legislation will be necessary, but my concluding remarks will be on the assumption that such a decision has already been taken, and I want to devote a few minutes to discussing the best way in which the proceeds of an import duty might be used, supposing that to be decided upon.
Although the Milk Reorganisation Commission made no recommendation on the subject, I personally, if I had any say in the matter, would impose such a levy, roughly on the scale tentatively put forward by the Milk Reorganisation Commission, namely, 1d. per lb. on imported butter and ½d. per lb. on imported cheese. But I would make it a condition of that amount being handed over as a subsidy to the Milk Board that the Milk Board should reduce the price of liquid milk by about a corresponding amount. It seems to me that that policy would fulfil the criterion, which the Minister mentioned at the beginning of his speech, of a fair price to the producer without damage to the consumer. A small levy of 1d. and ½d. on butter and cheese respectively would have very little, if any, protective effect; it would not hamper Dominion trade. In the same way, assuming that the consumer paid the whole of the levy, the burden upon him would not be a heavy one, and experience has shown that in fact he does not pay the Whole of the levy.
1492 The hon. Member for Don Valley who, I am sorry to see, is not at the moment in his place, mentioned the experience of Smithfield in the case of the levy upon Argentine beef. I think he must have seen in the Press, as I did, the arrangement which has been come to by the Argentine authorities. According to the Press, at any rate, the Argentine Government agreed to pay one-third of the levy, and the shipping companies agreed to pay one-third, so that only one-third was left to be paid by the consuming public here. No doubt in the case of imported milk products much the same process would obtain, and in that case, as I have said, the consumer would not suffer, nor would the importer suffer to any marked extent. In fact, the consumer would stand to gain, because the price of liquid milk would fall by an amount roughly corresponding to the extra amount that he might have to pay for his butter and cheese. The producer would be in a better position that he is now, because the total yield of such a levy was estimated by the Commission at roughly £5,000,000. That sounds a reasonable figure to me, and it would be considerably higher than the Government assistance which is being granted now. The Government would be relieved of the necessity of paying a direct subsidy, and could devote the money which they are now spending in that way to what, to my mind, might be a more useful object, that is to say, subsidising liquid milk consumption for classes of the community who most want it, such as nursing mothers, children, and so on, or people in the depressed areas. It seems to me to be, in the case of everyone concerned, a matter of "Heads we win, tails you lose," except that there would be no losers. I sincerely hope that the Minister, who must be considering the matter, will not lightly reject a plan of this kind.
One other thing which I think needs his attention is the state of affairs on the distributive side of the industry. There have been several very interesting inquiries into questions which have been raised with regard to distribution and production, and I think one very clear lesson from them is that on the distributive side of the industry there is over-organisation and overlapping. If that could be reduced or done away with by a process of rationalisation, costs would be reduced, the public would drink liquid milk at 1493 lower prices than prevail now, and would drink more in consequence, and at the same time the efficiency of distribution need not be upset. As I have said, I hope the Minister will give his most careful attention to measures on these lines. If he does, it seems to me that the milk difficulty might be resolved, if not immediately, at least in years to come.
§ 7.25 p.m.
Mr. Owen Evans
I happen to represent a purely agricultural constituency, and not only that, but, although I have lived in other districts for many years, I have kept in close touch with agricultural conditions in Wales, and I can claim that, as I have followed my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in many other respects, I have followed him also in this respect, that I have gone in for farming. I do not know, but I think that the results of my experience have proved to my neighbours that I could make a reasonable profit or else an accountable loss, and, after all, to say that you are making an authenticated or accountable loss means that at any rate you know, or hope to know, why the loss is made and what is its cause. I believe that one thing that is required in agriculture to-day is a close investigation of farming organisation and returns, in order to show whether the losses which farmers suffer now, and have suffered for many years, can be traced to some cause which can be removed.
When I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin), it seemed to me that he was endeavouring to be all things to all men. At one time he found great difficulty in following the policy which he now advocates in this House. In considering agricultural policy, we have to consider what the real policy is. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) drew particular attention to the conditions of the agricultural labourer, and I am not surprised that he put them in the forefront of his speech. But my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen omitted any reference to the conditions of the labourer. I leave it at that, and leave his speech to be dealt with by those Members of his party who are really anxious to put the position of the farm worker in the forefront of their arguments.
The Labour party pride themselves on having put on the Statute Book an Act 1494 for fixing the wages of agricultural labourers. They deserve great credit for that, but they must not forget that these tribunals or wages boards which have been set up are, after all, acting in a quite independent capacity. Some years ago in Cheshire the agricultural wages board fixed the wages at 25s., but in the same county to-day the wages have been fixed at 34s. I do not know that the Minister of Agriculture, or any other Minister, has any power to influence the decision of that board. I assume that these wages boards arrive at their decisions as fairly as they can, having regard to the claims of the agricultural worker and the means at the disposal of the farmer.
In my county, which is a poor county, the land that is being farmed is not first-class land at all. I suppose that inside my county there is no such thing as a first-class acre of land comparable in quality with the land that is to be found in England. We have good land, we have second-class land, we have third-class land, we have fourth-class land. Our farmers are hardy, and hard workers; they are as stem and dour as any farmers in Scotland; they are pretty determined, and they manage to make a living out of the poor land in that county; but even there there are farmers who have to pay a higher wage to their agricultural labourers than the actual statutory wage fixed by the board, and I believe we shall see a time of greater scarcity of really well-equipped, efficient, skilled agricultural labourers, when the farmer will have to pay a higher wage in order to retain those men, if he can afford to do so. But, unfortunately, it still remains doubtful whether agriculture is sufficiently prosperous to be in a position to pay those higher wages over and above the amounts fixed by the wages board.
I think one can say that, whatever charge may be brought against His Majesty's Government in regard to agriculture, the charge of inactivity cannot be brought against them, because there have been, I suppose, more debates and discussions on agriculture in this House during recent years than there have been for a very long period before. Indeed, one might say that the policy of the Government, if they have a policy, has not only been an active one, but a somewhat adventurous one in many respects, because they have reversed in a short space 1495 of time what was the accepted policy of the country in regard to food. The policy of having the markets of the country opened widely to supplies from other countries, which were to be paid for by the products of the mines and manufactured goods, gave us freedom to buy in the cheapest market. That policy has been done away with, not on economic grounds, but for political and social reasons.
The argument for abandoning that policy may be summarised in this way, that it is a necessity to maintain a successful agricultural industry to support a virile rural population, and there is also the consideration of defence in the case of war. For these kinds of reasons we are asked to regard the exclusion of cheap food from other countries, produced under more suitable climatic conditions, as a national gain. It is the same sort of argument that, if I go to a bazaar and buy a pound of butter, because of the good object for which the bazaar is held, I am likely to be asked to pay 10 or 25 per cent. more than the price of butter in the local grocer's shop. That is regarded as a good deed in support of a good cause, and it is a similar sort of argument that we are asked to accept, that we have abandoned the policy of freedom of trade in food for considerations not economic, but political and social. As far as one can judge, that policy will continue for a long time, and it is better for us to know that it is going to be continued than for the farmer to wonder how long it is going to last.
If there is one thing that is necessary for agriculture, as for any other industry, it is some security of continuity of policy, and therefore, it is better that we should know that even the alternative Government to this, according to the hon. Member for Carmarthen, will pursue a higher Protectionist policy than even the right hon. Gentleman and, if he represents the view of his colleagues, there can be no doubt that this policy will be continued. Apart from what the hon. Member says, there can be no doubt in view of the declared policy of leaders of the Labour party to establish boards to control imports of food, and exports as well, because if you control imports you must control exports. Therefore, the policy that they advocate must, of necessity, mean restriction and quotas. Therefore, 1496 the farmer can sleep soundly, as there is no immediate prospect of a change of the policy that has been adopted by the Government.
The critics of the Government policy are really among their own supporters, and they profess to fail to understand what the Government policy is. They even go so far as to ask, with an air almost of impertinence, whether the Government has any policy at all in regard to agriculture. We have had an example of the intervention of the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) only to-day, in the solemn, grim and persistent way in which he challenged the Minister to declare his policy. I am wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman will at last give way to the hon. Member and exchange places with him and let him declare the policy that he has in view for the Government. I suppose it is right and proper for anyone who takes an interest in agricultural affairs to scan the "Times" and carefully read the articles by independent correspondents, who are clearly men of authority on the subject on which they write. Anyone who wants to know anything about the condition of agriculture is bound to read Monday's "Times." Not long ago a well-informed correspondent said that the Government policy was most bewildering to the farmers, who did not really know where they were. I cannot endorse that altogether, because I think that the farmer ought by this time to know exactly where he is. Then there is the National Farmers' Union and its publication. In February it bluntly asked, if there was such a thing as an agricultural policy, what it was. By this time the National Farmers' Union may be rather more satisfied with the policy of the Government as declared by the right hon. Gentleman a few days ago, but I always think, when you talk of policy, a confusion is likely to arise between policy and the object at which you are aiming. You must, I think, determine the objective that you are aiming at, and then the course of action by which you propose to gain it.
If I might state in my own words what I conceive to be the aim of any Government, it is to use to the utmost degree the available land for the production of food; secondly, to treat that land, to cultivate it and organise production so as to produce at the lowest possible cost; and, 1497 thirdly, to secure the distribution of the product efficiently and cheaply so that it reaches the consumer at a price which does not exceed the level that he can afford to pay. We have heard in the course of this Debate that there are empty spaces now and that the aim of the Government should be to utilise them. If there are a million acres waterlogged and hundreds of thousands going out of cultivation, there must be something wrong. What are the Government methods aiming at this object? There are subsidies. I dislike subsidies. I should dislike to be concerned with the management on a large scale of an industry which obtained a subsidy. I believe that an industry which obtains a subsidy loses its self-respect and, therefore, on principle I am against subsidies. But subsidies are given. That is the method that is adopted by the Government. Then we have the policy of marketing boards, designed to ensure maximum supplies for the consumer with reasonable remuneration for the producer. That was to me a welcome declaration, because none of these things so far has given any very great help to the mass of Welsh farmers.
Here I should like to congratulate the Minister on doing something at last which touches Welsh agriculture very closely. I was reading an article a day or two ago by the agricultural organiser, a very able man, who keeps in close touch' with his farmers, knows them, comes down to their level and explains in simple fashion the scientific aspect of agriculture and writes a weekly article in Welsh. This article was on the Minister's recent declaration, and the effect of it was that, in so far as the county that I represent is concerned, if every farmer limed four acres next year, there would be £14,000 coming there. The one thing that the soil requires as a starting point for re-fertilisation is lime. Could the Minister say something more definite as to the means the Government propose to prevent a rise in the price of lime? What steps will they take to see that the benefit of this subvention will go to fertilise the land and will not go into the pockets of the lime producers? Given subsidies, what is the Minister doing to see that they get value for the money given? The art and the technique of liming has been lost in my country. Practically no liming has been done since I was a youngster. On the farm on which I was brought up there was one field limed 1498 every year, and a great deal of labour was spent upon it. There was a technique which I did not understand at the time but which I now more or less appreciate. What steps is it proposed to take to see that the farmer gives a good return to the nation in response to the help that he gets?
A great deal has been said about grass land. The Minister himself has expressed his view, and says that he hopes that by means of the result of the Livestock Industry Bill, by drainage and the application of lime, it will be improved. I should like to see greater security that that will be done. I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that farmers, if they are to be helped and public money is to be given to them, must in future have to put up with a great deal of supervision, and the Ministry should see that the work which they expect to be done to improve the fertility of the soil will be done to the reasonable satisfaction of those who understand these things. I have here the Journal of the Ministry for the month of April, and I should like to say how informative it is and how much better the farmers of this country would be if the mass of them would study the information given to them by the Ministry of Agriculture in their pamphlets and bulletins and in this Journal. I will read a sentence or two as to the condition of grass land in England from an article by Mr. Oldershaw, the agricultural organiser for East Suffolk:The condition of our grass land cannot be regarded with any degree of satisfaction. Sir Thomas Middleton places the production of ordinary pasture at no more than 90–100 lb. of lean meat per acre per annum and he considers—if both quality and quantity are taken into account—that the best pastures produce quite three times as much as the average "—and mark this—and are ten or twelve times as productive as the poorest.I would say in the presence of Members representing English constituencies, who represent what are called the broad acres and the pastures of England, that anybody can see simply by walking by them or by observing them from the train or a motor car that a good many of them are in a deplorable state. It is not only the pastures in the poorer parts of the country that ought to be seen to, but the so-called rich pastures where the production and 1499 the food value of the pastures can be increased enormously.
I have been in close contact with farmers all my life, and the more I come in contact with them the more I feel that they are entitled to the sympathy of the Government and of this Committee. No industrialist is in such a hopeless position as the farmer. The industrialist can control, to some extent, prices, organise his sales, has the technique of selling at his command, and technical experts he can call upon, but the farmer must be everything. In view of mechanisation he must be an electrical engineer, and to some extent a mechanical engineer, a physiologist, and a biologist. He must be all, and to some extent know something about everything. Therefore the farmer to-day, if he is a good farmer, and, therefore, a man who has made two ears of corn or two blades of grass grow in a spot where one grew before, deserves well of this House.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is not in his place, because I want to make one or two remarks about the speech that he has made. I do not apologise for making them in his absence, because on most occasions when we have to make any remarks on what he has said, it is in his absence and after he has made his speech. I am, therefore, going to say in his absence what I would have said if he had been present. We must appreciate the speech he made from two points of view, namely, its inimitable style and the vigour with which he spoke. Having said that, I express disappointment with the speech in that the right hon. Gentleman did not go far enough. He led us into the countryside, on a pleasing journey, showed all the beauties of nature and the fields, but he did not show us the crop or the result, which is really what matters in this case. He referred to subsidies, as also did the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), who has now also left the Chamber, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans), who said that the farmer deserves sympathy. Perhaps the farmer may appreciate the sympathy which is offered to him, but he does not really require sympathy. All the farmer requires, and that to which he is entitled 1500 is justice. That is all for which he asks. If he does not get justice, sympathy is a poor substitute.
Perhaps I hold views different from most Members in this House on the question of subsidies. I have said in the past that I did not like subsidies. I have had the privilege of sitting in this House for many years, and it is a wise man who takes a different view if that view is brought about by experience and thought, and I have given a great deal of thought to the question of subsidies. I hate the atmosphere which has been created around subsidies, because it is bad. The mistake made by the right hon. Gentleman and others is that they say that subsidies go to the farmer, but they do not go further than that simply because they obtain their object in trying to create that unfortunate atmosphere which surrounds subsidies in saying that they go to the farmer. They should say that subsidies go to the consumer through the farmer. The benefit from a subsidy— and that is the main thing—goes to the consumer. What is that benefit? The power of consuming commodities at lower prices than would have been possible had not subsidies been given in respect of them. It attains two objects. There is a great deal of wisdom in the statement that the manufacturing community in this country require cheap food. Cheap food enables them with greater facility to produce cheaper manufactured articles to compete with the world-wide trade, which is so necessary for the maintenance of the industrial population of the country. The farmer is one of the first to realise that unless the industrial population is prosperous in this country, the consuming capacity of his market is not maintained, so that there is an advantage —and we must not deny it—in having cheap food for the manufacturing masses of this country.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
I am interested in the argument of the hon. Gentleman. Will he explain on the basis of cheap food, why it is that for an essential commodity like milk, the price should be three times that which is being paid in Norway and Sweden?
§ Sir J. Lamb
If the right hon. Gentleman will wait a minute he will see that, in developing my argument, I shall give him a reply. It is in the interests of the community generally and manufac- 1501 tuners that we should have cheap food in this country, but it is also an advantage to agriculturists in this country, as it is to all other industries, that they should have adequate prices for the products of the labour employed in their industry. If every other industry demands that as a right, why should not the agricultural industry have the same right? I cannot see any way of attaining that position except by the giving of a subsidy, the effect of which would enable the consumers to have food at cheaper prices, and, at the same time, give an adequate return in respect of the production of that proportion of food which it is necessary, in the national interests, should be produced in this country. It is the first duty of the Government to decide the proportion of food required for the maintenance of our people. It is essential in the national interest to decide what should be produced in this country, and what proportion should be allowed to come into this country from other countries to pay for manufactured articles sent to them from this country. The farmer would only be too willing to do all that the Government asked him to do, provided he received a good return. If only a certain proportion of commodities were to be produced in this country, the farmer would be prepared to adhere to that proportion provided he was given an adequate price for his production.
The subsidy is paid from taxes, and not by the indirect consumer. If there is a higher price it is paid in larger proportion by the poorer people in this country than by the rich. Out of all incomes there is a necessary proportion for maintenance, and the further you get away from the lower to the higher income the greater the proportion spent in luxuries and in pleasure. Consequently, the indirect tax does weigh more heavily upon the poor person. If it is paid by subsidy instead, it comes from the tax, and in greater proportion from those in a higher grade of society. This may be a new thought, and it is one that I appreciate the opportunity of putting before the Committee. It is one that the Government would be wise to consider.
A great deal has been said also with regard to surveys, and I hope that the Government are not going to indulge in any large surveys again. We have all the information we want as to the con- 1502 dition of the industry. We want a remedy for existing evils, and do not want to look for other evils and find no remedies for the present evils. It is almost nauseating to keep on repeating that the farmer is desirous of paying his men more money. I know that there are individuals —you find them in every occupation, and in every trade—who would get as much work out of their employes as they could, but that is not so with the agriculturist, who would, if enabled to do so, pay his men better wages. The Agricultural Wages Act which was passed by predecessors of hon. Members opposite provides that the wage must be one which the industry can pay. That is where the committees to which my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham referred find their difficulty. It is no use fixing a wage which will have the effect of putting men out of employment. It must be a wage which the industry can afford to pay. If the prices of commodities are such as to enable agriculturists to pay better wages, they will be willing to pay them. Agriculturists have been living for years producing at a lower level than was economic, and consequently they have inevitably got into debt. It is not their fault. It is the result of the position imposed upon them by other industries. I appreciate the fact that industries throughout the country are taking different views about this matter, and the views I have expressed about subsidies are dealt with in a very valuable report of the chambers of commerce. It shows that there are people who take the trouble to think seriously on the question, and regard it as one worthy of consideration by the Government and by the country as a whole.
It has been said that the men are leaving the land. I do not think I shall he regarded as unpatriotic if I say that I do not blame them for leaving the land. On one occasion I was asked whether one could not do something to compel the Government or, rather, to ask the Government to prevent the men from leaving the land. My reply was: "Is there anyone in this room who would not take a better job if he had the opportunity?" They could not say that they would not do so. Therefore I replied that they must not ask me to do anything with regard to the men from the land which could not be justified. It rests with agriculturists, with the country as a whole and with the 1503 Government as leaders of the country, to see to it that the industry is such that it can afford to pay to the men wages that will reasonably compete with the wages that are being offered by those who are competing with us for the labour of the men.
I am glad to see that the Prime Minister is present, because this is a very serious question, and its seriousness will be realised when the crops that are being grown now have to be harvested. I do not know where the men are to be found to do the work. The farms that are close to aerodromes are losing their men. I could give cases of farms where four or five men were employed, and those farms are now being run by the farmer and his son. A very different class of agriculture is going on now in many instances as a result of this draining away of our labour, and it is just as well that we should realise the fact. The person who will suffer least will be the farmer, because he has been released of his chief obligation, that of paying wages; but the country will suffer most. This question of wages for men on the land will come back to the country with redoubled force when the harvests have to be got in. Not only the armaments industry but other industries are competing for the men who have been engaged on the land. Do not let hon. Members run away with the idea that the man on the land is not a steady worker; he is the most highly skilled worker.
There is an idea that men are leaving the land because of the use that farmers are making of machinery and other implements. I do not believe that that is so. When I have bought new and better machinery my idea has been, not to reduce the number of men but to get through the work and to make it easier for those who are employed, and by that means to be able to keep better men. Generally speaking, very little reduction in employment takes place when machinery is introduced. Therefore, I do not believe that the bringing in of machinery has had much to do with men leaving the land. The chief cause has been the drain by other industries. For the most part farmers have not been able to afford machinery, and where they have bought machinery it has not been the cause of men leaving the land.
1504 Comparisons have been made between this country and other countries in regard to agriculture. It has been said that a great many more men are employed on the land in other countries than in this country. One of the reasons is that in other countries, I think I am correct in saying, the cost of food is higher than it is here, arid also those countries are very much more highly protected than this country. I am not advocating higher protection but a better system than the present system which enables the large industrial population to benefit so much at the expense of agriculture.
I should like to put a few questions to the Minister in regard to the poultry industry. I agree with everything that has been said about the difficulty in which the specialised poultry keepers find themselves. One of the reasons why we do not hear so much about the depression in the poultry industry is that many poultry farmers are mixed farmers, and therefore while they lose on one they perhaps gain a little on the other. It is the specialised poultry farmers who are suffering most. I should like the Minister to disabuse poultry keepers of one hope which they have. That is perhaps not a kind thing to say, but to allow a man to live in hope which cannot be realised is more unkind. Many poultry keepers are still hanging on to the hope that there will be a levy subsidy for the benefit of poultry farming, to enable them to improve their industry. Where you have a home production of 70 per cent. and only about 30 per cent. of imports, I do not see how the levy subsidy could possibly work. Moreover, there would have to be some scheme for the distribution of the subsidy, and in an industry which is composed of about half a million people, it will be very difficult to find machinery to distribute the subsidy. If you only dealt with one half as being those who adopt the method of sending their eggs to the egg-collecting centre, you would find a feeling of disgruntlement on the part of the others. I should like the Minister to say whether or not a levy subsidy can be applied to the poultry industry. If it cannot, it is his duty to tell the industry, and so disabuse their minds.
There are two further points in regard to poultry. I recently put a question in 1505 regard to the marking of eggs. A great deal of advantage would accrue to the industry if the public knew what it was that they were receiving, and if they were not deceived, as they are so often, in regard to eggs. The cold-stored egg is marked. It is marked whether it is an home-produced egg or an imported egg. The imported egg is marked the same as the home-produced egg. All the eggs which come in from abroad are cold-stored in one form or another, otherwise they could not come here. They are simply marked as "foreign," and not as "cold-stored." If some alteration in the regulations could be made, the public might then know that an imported egg was inevitably a preserved egg and not a fresh egg. In the Egg Marking Order there is a provision that the egg must be durably marked. Unfortunately "durably" has not been carried out. Steps ought to be taken to see that these eggs are not only marked durably but indelibly. A very large number of imported eggs are duly marked, but certainly not durably or indelibly, for when they have been boiled and placed on the table the mark has disappeared, and people are then led to believe that they are getting an English fresh egg.
I hope the Minister will reply to the points I have raised, and I hope that the community as a whole will think over what I have said with regard to the nature of subsidies as subsidies, not stopping with the farmers, but carrying the benefit right through to the consumer. If that were done, I believe that the country would realise that there is very much more justification for subsidies than some people believe.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), who is closely connected with the agricultural industry, will agree with me that the troubles of agriculture are not by any means confined to this country. The whole world is faced, and has been faced for some time past, with a crisis among the producers of commodities, particularly agricultural commodities. I do not object to the general principle of the State giving subsidies to agriculture under certain very important conditions. My criticism of the hon. Member for Stone is that he has not emphasised as I should like the need for those con- 1506 ditions being laid down and insisted upon by the State as a condition of the giving of subsidies.
Agriculture cannot carry on in its present disorganised condition, with the producers unorganised as they are all over the world. One reason why the producers of agricultural produce have been suffering is because of the scattered nature of their small production units. It is a shortsighted view to say that the State should not come forward and give assistance to agriculture, because agriculture is not only of economic but of social value. In giving assistance the State must lay down conditions: (1) that a measure of efficiency must be given in return for the subsidy; (2) that a measure of public control must be established over the industry to see that efficiency is carried out and, (3) that the workers in the industry must receive a very important share of the subsidy in order to improve their conditions.
I am glad that certain speakers have referred to the agricultural labourers. Too often in debates on assistance to agriculture the labourer is ignored. I should like to refer to one point in connection with the condition of agricultural labour, and that is that we all wish to see better wages paid. The hon. Member for Stone referred to the fact that there is a scarcity now of good agricultural labourers. That very fact will tend automatically to raise wages, quite apart from the activities of the Wages Board. That is as it should be. In my experience of the agricultural labourer I have found that there is one thing that he would appreciate perhaps more than anything else, and that is holidays with pay, particularly in the cattle raising and dairying districts, where Saturday and Sunday work has to be done, year in and year out, no matter what the weather. I am sure that all progressive-minded farmers would only be too glad if they could give holidays with pay, and I hope they will use every effort to give this necessary relaxation to the farm workers once in the year at least and for as long a period as they can. In the long run it would pay them by the return of the man to his work after the necessary change of atmosphere and environment.
Reference has been made to the indebtedness of farmers, which prevents them at the present time from developing their industry and bringing it up to date. 1507 As things are at present many farmers who bought their farms at high prices after the War, on mortgage to the banks, are unable to carry out the necessary improvements. The Agricultural Credits Act, which was passed in 1928, had had very little effect in that direction. The interest rates are too high, and the whole thing has got into the hands of the great joint stock banks. We must consider this matter from the point of view of the State affording cheap credit for the purpose of improving the industry.
I know pressure is being applied, and it will increase, to bring farming up to date. In my own neighbourhood I know several farmers who would like to qualify for the accredited milk scheme, and get the extra penny per gallon from the Milk Marketing Board, but they have not the necessary capital. They are not their own landlords, and in some cases their landlords, with the best will in the world, are not able to supply the necessary capital to make it possible for the farmers to earn this extra penny per gallon. The other proposal for improving the herds, the attested herd scheme, will mean that farmers will have to provide further equipment, and the conditions which will have to be laid down will also lead to further expense. A farmer will not be able to apply for the extra penny per gallon under the attested herd scheme unless cheap credit can be afforded him. In my own neighbourhood I have seen farms hawked about owing to the break-up of estates, and on inquiry I found that to bring these farms up to date would require as much capital as the person wants as the purchase price of the farm. That is going on all over the country, and it is leading to the hold-up of the industry in a most disastrous way.
There are one or two points in connection with the Estimates with which I want to deal. Let me say a word about agricultural education and research. I do not see anything in the Estimates of any sum being put by to inquire into agricultural costings. The Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt remember a little debate we had in a Committee when I called him to book for a speech he made in which he ran down the usefulness of costings, on the ground that economists were not agreed as to the way in which they should be interpreted. I am quite prepared to admit that it is a complex science. I 1508 have kept costings for many years, and I know well the limitations to their working. I was looking up my accounts the other day, and I found that one or two branches of the farm showed a balance on the right side—a very unusual thing—but that other sides of the farm did not balance, some did nearly and others were on the wrong side. On further inquiry I found that if I interfered with that side of the farm which balanced on the right side, if I enlarged that side, I should upset the whole balance of the farm. I should not get the right amount of manure which would enable me to keep the whole thing going. I am fully prepared to admit that costings is a science which has to be developed. We must find out how far one can extend one branch of the industry at the expense of another without upsetting the balance of the farm.
Farming is an organic process, but it is no argument to say, as we have heard from the Ministerial bench and hon. Members opposite, that costings is no good. On the contrary, the Research Department, I know, has been anxious to spend money on this matter. We have a good example in the case of the Milk Marketing Board which has, out of its own expenses, undertaken research into milk costings, and although there are a variety of figures at least we can see that in certain parts of the country with certain types of management you get a certain figure, and that in other parts with other types of management you get another figure. It indicates that if we are going to give a subsidy in the right way we must know more about the costs of production, and we can only get that information if we go about it in the right way.
I am glad that the Minister of Agriculture referred to the question of grass drying, and I understand he is taking steps to spend money to investigate further into this matter. He is quite right in saying that one of our greatest assets is grass. Indeed, in these days of rising cake values many a farmer would be glad if he could reduce his costs by having an apparatus which would turn his grass into value equal to a good cake, but, unfortunately, there are many practical technical difficulties in the way. The price of the article is at present far beyond the reach of most farmers. From what I can see, if you are to get the best result from a grass drying instrument you 1509 will have to do most of your cutting in June or early July, and we all know that grass in June and early July has far greater feeding value than grass when it is cut later on. That is true of hay, and doubly true of this dried grass, but how are we going to get this problem settled? Drying everything and converting the whole of our grass in the early stages into dried grass, is a problem which will require to be looked into and, particularly, we shall have to consider whether we cannot get a cheaper implement than that which is on the market at the present time. We have a long way to go still, but I am glad the Minister is taking steps to spend money in this direction of research.
He has spoken eulogistically, as have other hon. Members in reference, to the researches of Professor Stapledon of Aberystwyth University, but we must not over-estimate what can be done in this direction. I understand that a lot of land on the Welsh hills which has been improved by Professor Stapledon's methods can only be improved at a cost which it is very doubtful the land will return in the way of production. The law of diminishing returns begins to operate in agriculture very early in the process, and most progressive farmers have been engaged for many years in improving their grass land. Years ago nobody bothered about harrowing pastures in February or March, aerating the roots, but every farmer does it now, and he puts on nitrate of chalk if the land is heavy, or sulphate of ammonia if the land is light. That process is going on, and we must not imagine that the discovery of Professor Stapledon is going all of a sudden to make 10 blades of grass grow where only one grew before. I do not wish to run down the experiment, but we must inquire into the economics of this grass improvement as well as the technical and scientific aspect of it. It is one thing to produce and another thing to produce to cover costs.
I was particularly glad to hear of the liming programme which the Minister envisages, because my belief is that it will have a very big effect on the cattle industry. A few years ago we were told that cattle needed minerals for their metabolism and general health, and various companies began selling minerals to the farmers at considerably more than they were really worth. Shortly after- 1510 wards, the agricultural experts announced that 99 per cent. of the minerals which went into the stomachs of the animals passed out of them into the earth, and that only 1 per cent. was assimilated. The only way in which one can be sure that the minerals will be assimilated by the livestock is to present the minerals in an organic form, that is to say, in plants which the animals eat. If it be true, as I believe it is, that five or six years of systematic liming, as was suggested by the Minister, will bring about a considerable increase in the lime content of grass we have there a key to the improvement of our livestock and the elimination of disease. The latest evidence is that the presentation of the minerals to the livestock in an organic form is the only certain way of getting them absorbed.
I notice that in Vote H. 1—"Diseases of Animals" —a sum of £200,000 is to be spent, and that £22,000 is for research into foot-and-mouth disease, which is one of the most baffling of all diseases. As far as can be seen, that disease has nothing to do with the health of the animals. In my neighbourhood last winter, there was an outbreak of the disease in a very fine and well-kept herd, and all the animals had to be slaughtered. They were animals which had wintered out, had been fed on rough forage and had had no contact with imported cakes. It seems that the more healthy the animal, the more liable it is to this terrible scourge. It is to be hoped that some serum may be found which will reduce the liability to this disease. I understand that work is being done in that direction, and I hope the Minister will push forward that research as much as he can.
I would like to refer to another disease which has not been mentioned in the Debate, and which is not referred to in the Estimates. Last Saturday, in Gloucester market, I was talking to a farmer who is a constituent of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and who is very well-informed on cattle diseases. He gave it as his opinion that one of the worst scourges at the present time is Johne's disease. Not much is heard of that disease because it is not epidemic in the same way as the foot-and-mouth disease, and it is not the same as tuberculosis, which is transmissible to human beings, and therefore it raises no question of public health 1511 It is a disease which is caused by a microbe bringing about consumption of the intestines. The farmer to whom I was talking said that the toll is very heavy—certainly it has been in the case of my livestock—especially after dark, wet winters, when the vitality of the cattle is at its lowest, and when there is a tendency for from 5 per cent. to 8 per cent. of the animals to suffer from the disease. If the disease is not caught in the early stages, the prospects of getting rid of it are hopeless. I understand that in this case also some research work is being done, which leads one to hope that a serum may be produced which may have the effect of giving immunity to Johne's disease. If that be the case, I should be glad if the Minister would give us some information, and an indication that he will assist the research work as much as he can, since I can assure him that it is a serious disease which will have to be tackled at an early date.
With regard to the poultry industry, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Stone who wants a levy to be imposed on foreign poultry. I do not think the solution of the troubles of the poultry industry is to be found in keeping out foreign products. The competition of foreign products is not the main source of trouble or the cause of low prices. It is true that in December and January a very large amount was dumped in this country, and as I have always said, control of imports is desirable to stop undue quantities from coming in at one time. The real trouble with the industry is the rise in the costs of foodstuffs and the fact that those who are engaged solely in poultry production are feeling the effects of that rise very much. I am a great believer in the extensive method of poultry keeping, because I am convinced by personal experience that during the summer, at any rate, poultry can get 50 per cent. of their food from insects, slugs, snails and worms, and thus reduce the food bill very considerably. Thus the general farmer is able to stand the rise in the cost of foodstuffs better than those engaged solely in poultry production. Nevertheless, I am very much concerned, as are other hon. Members, with the conditions of poultry producers.
I am afraid that the trouble is to a great extent due to the fact that the general stamina and vitality of the 1512 poultry has deteriorated owing to insufficient care being taken with the breeding. For instance, poultry-breeding establishments often get big demands for day-old chicks, and in order to meet those demands they will breed from almost any stock. The temptation is very great, and perhaps one cannot blame them, but one of the main causes of the loss of stamina and health is the careless selection of the stock from which they provide the day-old chicks. The Minister did not refer to this matter in his speech, but I should be glad if he would deal with it when he replies to the Debate. Have the Ministry a scheme of accredited breeding stations, a scheme of giving a sort of Ministerial "O.K." to people whose poultry is subject to inspections and who keep the right class of stock, and so on? I am convinced that the only way of getting an improved quality of poultry is by having scattered about the country a large number of breeding stations which are reliable and which turn out day-old chicks in large quantities from poultry of good stamina. There is far too great a tendency also to breed poultry purely from the point of view of egg production without consideration of their general health. Nature always comes back. There is a quotation from Virgil to the effect that if you expel nature with a pitchfork she will always return.
§ Mr. Price
I think the words are: "Naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret." I could not resist the temptation of showing, at any rate, that I knew the quotation. Let me say a few words on the subject of marketing intelligence. Under Subhead A in these Estimates there are sums to be devoted to Economics Intelligence Division and Markets Division.There is one case which I wish to bring out, as showing that marketing forecasts may be extremely useful to general farmers, particularly in regard to fruit. In the autumn of last year there occurred in the West country what was little short of a disaster. There was a colossal crop of fruit in which our West country is always so abounding. It was not of first-class quality. Owing to very bad weather in July, apple scab made its appearance and we had a large quantity of second quality fruit and a certain amount of first quality. If the farmers had known the 1513 probable course of supplies to the market in the autumn and early winter, I doubt whether they would have picked much of that second-rate fruit at all. It would have been allowed to fall, and would have been ground into cider, or else have been allowed to rot. As it was, those who picked it found that it cost them a considerable sum to do so, and in my case I wished that I had not picked it. We did not realise at that time that there would be such a glut of second-rate fruit on the market that it would spoil even the sales of the first quality fruit. The able officials of the Ministry who go about the country have means of obtaining information of this kind, and I believe if that information could be made known to the farmers it would be very helpful.
Next I would refer to the money which is devoted to agricultural marketing. The marketing schemes have been passing through difficult times. The milk marketing scheme was successful up to a point, but it has stuck on the question of higher prices to the consumers, and there is not that increase in milk consumption that there ought to be, although I think some progress is being made. We have to approach the milk problem from the point of view of increasing consumption by all means in our power. I cannot in this discussion refer to future legislation, but I would go as far as to say that the Government must take steps to develop further their schemes for making milk accessible to those members of the community who are not well able at present, owing to poverty, to purchase the amount necessary for human health.
There is another point which would not involve legislation but might be dealt with administratively, and that is an investigation and reorganisation of the distribution of milk products. A very interesting report was made by a commission of investigation which was set up about 18 months ago to inquire into milk prices. In the autumn of 1935 when the Milk Marketing Board tried to establish higher prices the proposal was resisted by the trade. An inquiry was made by this commission which showed among other things that there is a great waste in distribution at the present time. Services are being paid for by the consumer the necessity of which is doubtful, such as deliveries twice a day. Also it is not certain how far the distribution costs are 1514 rightly charged against milk on the one hand, and, on the other hand, against the groceries which are often delivered with the milk. There is also the question of transport. At present milk is being bought from places away up near the Scottish border to London whereas London could be supplied with milk from the Home Counties.
§ Mr. Price
I would not accuse Scotland of dumping milk in London, and I have not heard of milk being brought from Aberdeen, but I understood that it was brought from places in the North of England near the Scottish border to London. My point is that it pays distributors to bring the milk from that distance into London, because they get a better profit from it than they would if they brought it from the Home Counties. While that kind of thing is going on, the consumer is being made to pay higher prices while the farmer is getting no more. It also came out in this inquiry that if Nestles drew their milk from shorter distances there would be £23,000 available which would go either in increased prices to the farmers or in decreased retail prices. This indicates that there are many avenues which ought to be examined in order to prevent interference with the good effects which might otherwise come from the milk marketing scheme for the industry.
The pigs marketing scheme has also fallen on difficult days, and is even worse than the milk scheme. I hope that the Minister will hurry up with the new scheme and will make it, as far as possible, an all-inclusive scheme bringing in the pork markets. I have watched it now for two or three years, and I suggest that one reason for its failure is because it was found that those who stood out could make more than those who went into it. Like other marketing schemes, it has been spoiled by the disloyalty of a small minority. I hope that this Debate will give food for reflection to all concerned, and that the Minister will have further opportunities of carrying out what is clearly the desire of this Committee, namely, that there should be a forward policy which would bring both the marketing scheme and the agricultural industry in general to a higher level.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Major Braithwaite
Anybody who has followed the course of this Debate must be more than ever conscious of the united sympathy which exists among all parties for agriculture in the difficulties in which it finds itself. We have had sympathetic speeches from both the Labour Opposition and from the Liberal benches as well as from the Government side, and everybody has expressed grave concern as to the unbalanced state of the industry. I am not one of those who are ungrateful to the National Government for what they have done. I tell the Committee that there are certain branches of agriculture in my constituency which are actually paying. We have got wheat-growing on a profitable basis without much inconvenience to the consumer. A scheme which went through with the minimum of friction, is being operated successfully by all those engaged in the milling industry. We have a profitable situation in regard to sheep in my division, and certainly the sugar-beet industry is on a satisfactory level as far as the farmer is concerned. But there are certain things that are not right in agriculture.
For instance, the position of the barley crop, which stands next to wheat as the great cereal crop of our country, is entirely unsatisfactory. I want to give some figures of costings which I understand the official Opposition require in connection with these various commodities before they agree to sanction the use of Government funds. The barley crop in the average districts in the country costs £9 an acre to grow at the present rate of wages, and at the present prices not more than £7 10s. per acre can be realised by the farmer if he is selling the lower grade barley. When we come on to malting barleys and that kind of thing, the situation is entirely different, because a higher price is realised. I want this Committee to understand who gets the money from the barley crop. First of all, out of every acre of barley grown the Government take £60 per acre in Beer Duty, and the profits of the brewery companies make up another £20 an acre, while the farmer has to be content, even at the best prices, with somewhere round about £9 or £10 an acre for his labour. I am certain that it is the wish of every section of this Committee that the primary producer should be amply remunerated for his 1516 work, and I am satisfied that the Government can make some very substantial contributions to arable agriculture if they will do something to put the barley crop on to a proper basis. It is entirely unsatisfactory at the present time, and I am afraid that the new proposals of the Minister, which I am not allowed to discuss to-night, make no substantial contribution to the ultimate success of this very vital crop of the arable farmer.
Now I want to put to the Committee another aspect of the farmer's difficulties. We have seen during the past two or three years a rise in the price of practically every form of machine or commodity that the farmer uses. Some sections of agricultural machinery have advanced at a most alarming rate. The price of feeding stuffs has risen to an unprecedented height during the last few months, and yet the price of the product of the farmer has not risen to a corresponding level; and I think this Committee ought to appreciate most fully that the farmer has all the difficulties of an ordinary industrialist, because he has to pay these higher prices, he has not the same advantage of knowing what he will get for his commodity until he puts it on the market, and he -has the risks of the weather to encounter all the time. Last year, with all the rain and wet that we had in this country, farming had a very difficult time to go through.
I am glad that something was said during this Debate about agricultural wages. It is a most important side of our farming activities that we should have a settled population on the land, and it is quite impossible—and I think the Ministry and the Committee are aware of it—to keep people on the land at the present wages that are paid. The agricultural labourer has also had to face during the past few months a steady rise in the price of everything that he has had to buy, and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) will be keenly aware that the agricultural labourer is paying his miners quite a substantial increase for the coal that they have sold in the country districts and the other commodities that he has had to buy. Unless there is going to be some opportunity on the land for farm labourers' wages to rise, in conformity with other prices, of course nobody will remain there. There are, to my knowledge, nearly 20 large farms near Driffield, in my division, where not less than 1517 60 per cent. of the whole of the labour has gone during the past few months. It is a very serious thing. You have the crops planted and the harvest coming on, and the labour is not there to deal with the necessary carrying on of the farms. I hope that, in considering help to agriculture in the future, the Government will consider a scheme of subsidising wages on the land, which would give our farmers an opportunity of paying a higher level of wages and would ensure that an adequate supply of labour remains on the land.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) raised the question of agricultural credits and the supply of cattle men for the farms. One thing that I would like the Ministry to inquire into is the cost of this hire purchase that is going on in farming to-day. I am told that in my division, where there are 4,000,000 sheep, 2,000,000 of them were bought on the hire-purchase system. I am told that there are farms in my constituency where the farmer does not own anything but the equity in a single head of the cattle and stock that are on that the land. I am quite satisfied that the charges that the farmers are paying are higher than those which were afforded by the banks earlier on, and I am quite satisfied that the joint stock banks and others have been relieving themselves of frozen credits on the lines of this hire-purchase system. I am told—I do not know how far this is true—that there is a pool of banks, including the Bank of England, which are financing the hire purchase of agricultural stock, and I would like the Minister to make some inquiries into this matter, to see how far it is true, and to give to this House an early opportunity of knowing how much per cent. this form of putting stock on the land costs, because I am certain that, if it can be done in a commercial way in the way in which it is being done now, the Government ought to be able to afford better credit for an essential industry than is being given in this form.
Some time ago I asked the Prime Minister who has just left office whether be would consider giving to the country some idea of what he expected from the agricultural population of the country in the form of a programme, how much he wanted the farmers of the country to raise in wheat, in sheep, and in the other essential crops and products which make 1518 up agriculture. If we can get a proper programme on which all parties can be united as an essential balancing factor for keeping the land of our country in a good state of cultivation, surely we can work out the costs of production and let the whole country know how much it is going to cost to keep farming on a proper economic basis. When we have got that programme, then I am certain that there is nobody in the towns or in ordinary industry who will not do everything they can to give us full support in this direction. It is surely the uncertainty of dishing out quantities of money at irregular intervals on forms of assistance to one branch or another of the industry that is so disquieting to our friends in the towns. I do not think there is any man working in any industry who does not regard the industry of agriculture as being of the greatest importance to the nation and who is not prepared to pay, in some form or other, for its proper maintenance, but I feel that the time is long overdue when we should have a complete disclosure of the level on which the Government of the country are prepared to put agriculture.
I heard the late Minister of Agriculture say that there was a point beyond which it was dangerous for this country's export trade to extend our own home production. If there is a danger point, I would like to know that point, and the farmers and the country too would like to know how far we can fairly go. It is quite a reasonable thing to assess how many tons of coals we are going to raise for a year. We do that under the quota system now, under a standard tonnage system. We know how much steel we are going to make, and when the demand calls for it we increase production in that way, but, as far as agricultural production is concerned, nobody in the country seems to have a fixed knowledge as to how much of any essential commodity, with the exception of the wheat crop, we are to produce.
I do not think it would be a waste of time for the Government to give the country at an early date some real assurance on this matter. It would be an immense help to farmers in framing their plans and it would give the agricultural industry a chance to say to the country, "If that is your programme, we can produce at this price and we shall know where we stand." I am sure that within 1519 the agricultural industry we have the requisite skill and knowledge to produce a satisfactory programme that will do credit to the farming community. I am certain that as things are to-day the industry is ragged, it is irregular, and it has not that necessary balance which makes for good farming. Many of my farmers in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which cannot be regarded as a badly farmed part of the country—it is generally regarded as well farmed—tell me that if they could know within reasonable limits what they were expected to produce, and had some rough idea of what they were going to get for their commodities when they were produced, they could balance their farms better, and make the necessary financial arrangements for carrying them on. Until they know that they will work very much in the dark.
Every time a special benefit is given to some branch of farming there is a sudden rush into it that swamps the market to the exclusion of other commodities that ought to be produced for the good farming of the land. We have had a race into wheat which almost killed the wheat scheme, and we have had a race into milk which has brought the Milk Board very nearly to the point of distraction. I hope that this kind of spasmodic effort will not be made in the same form as we have had it. I would like to see some general help given to farming over a whole range of commodities in order to restore a better balance.
I cannot allow the speech of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to go without some criticism. He suggested that during the last year or two there had been a reduction of farm wages in East Yorkshire. That is not the case. Since the hon. Gentleman's Government was in power there has been a steady rise until now. Over 2s. per week rise has been afforded by the East Riding Wages Board since the Minister of Agriculture was one of the hon. Member's party. There has been no reduction in wages since that time.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that wages in the East Riding of Yorkshire were 36s. in 1929 when the Labour Government were in office, and that to-day they are 34s. 6d.?
§ Major Braithwaite
No, I am not aware of that. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that during the last two years there have been two increases. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to be under any misapprehension that I am satisfied with the wage conditions.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is replying to me, I should like to know to what he is replying. I only said that wages in the East Riding at the latter end of 1929 were 36s. and that to-day they are 34s. 6d. I did not carry it beyond that point.
§ Major Braithwaite
During the lifetime of the National Government there has been no reduction of wages in East Yorkshire, but two advances.
§ Major Braithwaite
I am not at all satisfied that the wage level is high enough, and I think that no farmers in my constituency or in the East Riding generally would regard it as satisfactory. They would be the first, if they had the means, to put wages on a better basis. I can only hope that agriculture will recover much of its prosperity under this new Government so that wages can be paid on a higher level. I notice that in the forward proposals which the Minister has made, lime and basic slag are the two fertilisers to be assisted. In the arable parts of the country they are useless. We need some phosphates to put into the land of East Yorkshire if it is to be improved, and I hope the Minister will consider giving some assistance where phosphates are necessary. Basic slag, which is essential for the grasslands, can find no place in East Yorkshire farming because we have no grassland, and lime is not an adequate fertiliser to put our arable land of the Wolds into a proper state of fertilisation.
We are grateful for what is being done, and while we may seem to criticise the policy of the Government in many directions, I believe that at some time or other some Minister of Agriculture will tie it up into one comprehensive policy that will be to the ultimate benefit of farming. I am grateful in listening to this Debate to find the sympathy that has been expressed for this industry on all sides of 1521 the House. It has been said many times that agriculture is no party matter, and that it is of vital importance for all parties to join together to get the best possible policy for the benefit of the nation. These sentiments have been fully expressed today, and I am grateful that we are to have the support of the two Oppositions and some united effort to make this industry a better and more prosperous one. It is an urgent national necessity that we should have on the land a virile and strong agricultural population. That can only be achieved by getting all parties to combine on a sensible, sound policy that will not interfere with our export markets, but will give a balance of agriculture which is satisfactory and can be made properly prosperous.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I hope that as the Debate has taken a somewhat general character a Scots representative may be permitted a word or two. We have been discussing matters that affect all parts of the country, and I do not think it will be out of place if I venture to put one or two points that particularly interest our country. The Committee is anxious about the state of farm workers, and everybody is agreed that unless these men and their wives are made more contented, they will continue leaving the land at an increasingly accelerated pace. Low wages is only one reason for their flight. There are others. One of the most important factors in Scotland, and I believe also in England, which is driving men and women off the land, is the disgraceful state of housing provided for many farm workers. There was published in Scotland the other day the report of a committee which examined the rural housing situation, and particularly the housing of farm workers. It is one of the most drastic condemnations of present conditions which I have read. The committee, which was very representative, was not prejudiced in any way and, indeed, was set up by this Government, came to the conclusion that 75 per cent. of the cottages now occupied by farm workers in Scotland ought to be condemned because they were unfit for habitation in their present state. An investigation was made of three parishes, and I think this Committee ought to hear something of what was revealed. It is stated of the houses:17 per cent. were beyond repair, so that 58 per cent. were unfit for habitation 1522 owing to lack of repairs or improvements which could be carried out at reasonable cost. Only 15½ per cent. could be said to be up to modern standards.How can you expect men and women to remain in the country if only 15 per cent. of the houses are up to modern standards?Of the houses beyond repair most of them were in a bad state.The investigator says:I found three cases where the roof of one-half of a house had fallen in and the other end was occupied… The principal faults—are lack of water supply with its contingent disabilities; dampness; bad lighting and ventilation; and lack of facilities for washing clothes. The tenants of 42 per cent. of the houses had to go from 25 yards to 1,000 yards for their water, up to a quarter of a mile being not uncommon. As the housewife has herself to carry all the water this distance the result in these cases is naturally that water for all cleansing purposes is as rare as it should be plentiful.One is shocked by what one reads, and it is not surprising that the committee came to the conclusion:We are satisfied that in general no section of the population is compelled to live in such consistently bad housing conditions as farm servants.That being the case, what sense is there in attempting reforms without making housing one of them? Until we make the homes of the men and their wives more attractive, I am afraid no real advance can be achieved.
The question has been asked several times. What is a fair wage for a farm worker? At the moment the wage is somewhere in the region of 35s., 36s. or 37s. a week, and that is apparently so unsatisfactory that men are leaving the land at the rate of 200,000 every 12 or 15 years. Let us be frank about this. We are all inclined to say on public platforms that the wages ought to be equivalent to those obtainable in urban conditions. Quite frankly I would like to see the wages about £3 a week. I say that for this reason: Even if we improve the general purchasing power of the people—and I would pay unqualified tribute to the achievements of this Government in that respect—I do not think we shall have progressed one inch further than the pre-War standard, and the pre-War standard of employment and of purchasing power did not afford farm workers anything like a big enough wage to maintain them on the land. I feel that we have to face up bravely and without any humbug to the necessity for 1523 a scheme which will provide farm workers not only modern houses but with wages in the region of £3 the figure I have mentioned. That will require radical reform.
I think Socialist reform would destroy the whole business, and I said radical reform advisedly.
With regard to the general question of agricultural organisation. I am going to join with some of those who have spoken in appealing to the Government and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for an end of this—I do not say it in any derogatory sense—this commodity basis, legislation, which is necessarily panicky, patchy and partial. We have come to a point when the whole scheme of agriculture ought to be taken in the grasp of a single hand and designed for a broad general purpose. If that be done, some of the reforms which will be undertaken will be improved marketing, to which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) referred, and the provision of credit where necessary; but I am bound to say that I find myself in closer and closer agreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite in demanding that one of the stimulants to be applied must be a manufactured increase of demand for home produce.
I am coming more and more to the view that if we are to attain such a standard of living as I have outlined we must help the poorer sections of the community to buy more produce. What kind of produce? Poultry is one item, but not the only one. I am connected with an organisation which is, I suppose, one of the largest if not the largest single producer, of poultry and market garden produce in the country, an organisation which is doing exceedingly good work, of which many hon. Members are aware. Tomatoes, fruit, vegetables and so on are of vital importance to the whole of the people, but those are things which poor people cannot buy to-day because of their expense. In the whole range of agriculture there is no section in which the middlemen's charges are so vast as in that devoted to market garden produce. I beg the Government to consider means for enabling the poorer sections of the community to consume more market garden produce.
1524 I have constantly stated in this House that I do not like subsidies, but as the representative of a farming constituency, and seeing the difficulties of agriculture, I have always thought it necessary to support such subsidies as have been proposed. I am bound to go on doing so, though I do not deny that my conscience is sometimes troubled. I should feel more happy if some part of the existing subsidy, or some additional subsidy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I do not mind what method is adopted, but some financial assistance ought to be given to help to improve the health and the physique and the whole standard of life of the more needy sections of the population. Some day we shall come to it. It is impossible for a great authority like Sir John Orr and others to issue reports such as they have produced, reports which are confirmed and backed by every scientific body which has examined the matter, without the House of Commons being forced one day to produce a great nutrition policy, and I am looking forward to that day with great interest.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards
The policy of the Government as revealed in this Debate is spasmodic in its incidence. I think we all agree that if we are to have anything in the nature of a policy it should be upon a comprehensive basis. Successive Ministers of Agriculture have been impressed by the difficulties by certain aspects of the industry, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) pointed out, it is now time to deal with the industry in a thoroughly comprehensive fashion. It has also been pointed out that we already know a great deal about the difficulties and the needs of the industry and no further inquiry is necessary for us to get the information. I do not think I agree entirely with that view. The position of agriculture, like that of every other industry, is continually changing, and it is changing also, very rapidly in some cases, in relation to other industries. One of the prime difficulties which the Minister has is to correlate this important industry and other equally, or in some cases more, important industries.
It is satisfactory that so much attention is being paid to agriculture, but we must recognise that it is only one industry out of many. For a long time it was dis- 1525 regarded, unfortunately as I think, by this House. There was a real reason for the disregard, which was due to the fact that we had other industries which were more vitally important. Let us remember coal and iron. I am not exaggerating when I suggest that the economic position which was achieved by this country in the nineteenth century was due to the existence of those basic industries. They were the basis of our commercial and industrial supremacy. One very interesting result of that was that the standard of life of the people of this country, low as it is in many cases, was considerably raised; not through paying attention to agriculture, but through paying attention to those basic industries that enabled us to produce more cheaply than anybody else in the world, and to get from other countries at the same time the food and the raw material that we required.
We must recognise that that position has gone for ever. The supremacy of those industries in relation to agriculture will never return in the history of this country. Consequently, we have to try to place agriculture in its proper perspective, so to speak, in relation to the new and very important industries that we have here. That is a very difficult proposition. It is not difficult to encourage or to help an industry, provided you pour plenty of public money into it, but, as we have said already, we have to make the primary distinction as to whether an industry can justify that process. For example, if we had poured into the coal, iron or cotton industries the millions of money that have been poured into agriculture, we must admit that they would present a more favourable position than they do at the present time. This Committee has to consider not what we can do for agriculture, but whether we are justified in adopting a policy of helping agriculture and disregarding other industries that have been in the past and are in the present quite as important to this nation as agriculture.
§ Sir J. Lamb
Will the hon. Gentleman deny that the benefit of the subsidy has gone from agriculture to the consumer?
§ Mr. Richards
I am not dealing with that point at the moment, except in general. There is something in the contention which the hon. Member made this afternoon, but I am not dealing with it. 1526 My point is that in a debate on agriculture we ought not to consider that industry by itself and say that it is the most important industry in the community. We ought to have a true perspective and place it in relation to other industries. On this side of the Committee we look behind agriculture at the more fundamental problem of the land. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs raise that question, because one cannot go on improving the industry and continuing the present system which we have in this country. I am not going to follow that line of thought, but I would repeat that we have to recognise that pouring money into agriculture has its repercussions upon the perpetuation of a system with which some of us do not agree.
The other point is that there is behind this industry the scientific question. The Minister of Agriculture is concerned not merely with policy, which we all admit is very important, but with something of even greater importance, scientific discovery and the changes that are possible in agriculture. I would like to see much more money being spent than is spent. I do not say that it is a meagre amount by any means, but there are problems vital to the industry which science could do a great deal to elucidate for us. I would like the Minister to give even greater support to scientific research than is given at the present time. All the development that has taken place in agriculture is the result of scientific research. How is it that we are able to keep so many more people on the land now than was possible hundreds of years ago? It is entirely due to the advance of science. I am sure that, whatever our views on agriculture, we are all agreed that its future depends more upon the application of science to practice, which is, I believe, the motto of the Royal Agricultural Society, than it does upon almost anything else.
§ 9.24 p.m.
Included in the advice we have had from the Socialist party is that from the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, that science is the cure. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) went for a guaranteed price and for a levy-subsidy scheme. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) wanted us to have a subsidy, costings and holidays with pay. The hon. Member for 1527 Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) wanted a larger penalty for breaches of the Wages Regulation Act. I wonder which of those three policies represents the United Front? Perhaps later the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) will sum up and give us an answer. After all, this is a Liberal day, but for half an hour the Liberal bench was entirely vacant. The Liberal party had made their speech and had exhausted their eloquence. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) has now come back to represent Liberal agriculture in the House of Commons. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has put forward what is regarded as the major speech of to-day. He started off by making us doubt the paternity of the policy which the Minister of Agriculture announced on Thursday week, but later we found that he was deriding as small and misgotten the child of which he had claimed the paternity only a few minutes before. If we were to have a blood test I think that the matter would be in no doubt, for liming and basic slag are qualities of a Scotsman and a Scotch farmer, and I think that the Minister will succeed in any case that is brought in this respect. It is as the policy of a Scots Minister that we in Yorkshire welcome this policy of putting a foundation in agriculture and of providing that those who farm well will be encouraged.
On drainage the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said that the paltry policy of the Minister of Agriculture was contributing only £150,000 a year. I read the speech of the Minister of Agriculture and the sum was not £150,000, but £450,000 a year, but I recognise that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon is not always quite accurate in his figures. May I ask whether, in addition to that £450,000, the Government will contribute the £165,000 a year that is in the Estimates, making a sum of over £610,000 a year? That is a matter of interest to those who have been paying very heavy drainage rates in the past. We hope that this policy of assisting arterial drainage will mean that drainage rates will be reduced up and down the country. They have been a severe burden on the smaller occupier. If the Minister does no more than relieve these occupiers of this double rent he will get the thanks of the entire agricultural community. But why is this 1528 not extended to field drainage? In Scotland they are given grants for field drainage. The Scottish Estimates contain £11,000 a year for field drainage, and no drainage is more required at the present time. The Minister said that when you start to drain you must drain the bottom of the hill first. Quite right. It is no good draining the top of the hill and having no outlet, but he forgets that at the bottom of the hill there are not only watercourses but fields. Watercourses have already been cleared out, because it is six years since the 1930 Act was introduced, but the fields remain to be done.
I was turning up at the week-end some old papers on land with which I am interested, which comes to some 7,000 acres, and I found that in the years between 1856 and 1859 a sum of £7,000 was spent in Government drainage on that ground, and I wondered how many acres of land there were in a similar position which had been helped by the Government in the middle of the 19th century and had remained untouched since that time. The Liberal party may well laugh. Long were they in charge of the agricultural destiny of this country, and how little they did for it! I remember that in my youth, in 1906 and onwards, we were blessed with a Liberal Government and a Liberal agricultural policy, and those were lean years of drainage. I remember the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) coming down when I was living in White-chapel and explaining agriculture to the inhabitants of Whitechapel. That was the time when the Liberals should have been helping agriculture. I understand that at that time the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer went to Limehouse and said that the land belonged to the people.
§ Mr. Turton
There you are then. He ought to have drained the land.
What action is the Minister going to take on the report of the Select Committee on Rabbits? He said that we can get 3,000,000 more acres of grass in good condition in this country, but rabbits are consuming far more than that by not being dealt with. I believe that by Ministerial action, quite apart from legislation, a good deal could be done to remedy the situation. That is the 1529 foundation of the Minister's policy, helping the fertilising of the land and assisting in drainage. Apart from that, we must have a fair price for our products. Without that this foundation cannot be put into agriculture. The Government have done a great deal in that direction. All that they have done in the direction of giving an assured price has been opposed by the Socialist party, and their new policy, the policy of assisting cereals to have an assured price for a considerable period of years, will fail if they are going to limit the assistance to those who do not use the wheat subsidy. Land varies in each farm. You get one field which is suitable for wheat cultivation, and the rest for oats and barley, and if the farmer is to be prevented from getting assistance for his oats and barley because he has one field in wheat this policy is going to disrupt the whole rotation of crops. You cannot grow wheat always in the same land. You must have a five-year rotation or your land does not get the full advantage. For that reason I hope that the Minister will reconsider that aspect of the announcement which he made a week last Thursday, and allow farmers who are really on oat land to draw the oat assistance, notwithstanding that they are growing wheat for certain purposes.
There is one branch of agriculture which has not been touched on to-day, and that is livestock. While we may improve the quality of our land we must improve also the quality of our stock. In the last few years there has been a grave decrease in the quality of the livestock in this country, and there is one detail which I want to press upon the Minister in this connection. That is with regard to the system of premium bulls. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, at any show or sale where premiums for bulls are being awarded, they publish which bulls have received the premium. In England, however, that information is not published, and a farmer who is going to try to buy a bull can never find out which bulls have been awarded premiums, unless he himself is going to receive assistance from a premium. I submit that it is wrong that premiums should be awarded in a secret and clandestine manner. At a sale at York some little time ago, one bull that had received a first prize at the show did not receive a premium, for the very good reason that it was singularly incapacitated 1530 for breeding purposes; but farmers who were buying were never told of that fact. If the method of Northern Ireland and Scotland were followed, farmers going to the sale would know what in the judgment of the livestock officer was the best bull for breeding purposes, and the livestock officers are people of great judgment. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but, if they knew a little more about farming, they would realise how important a bull is on a farm.
The Minister, no doubt, will say that to publish details as to which bulls have received premiums would make the competition for those bulls greater, but that argument has not applied in Scotland or in Northern Ireland. I have talked with the leading breeders both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, and they tell me that that argument has no foundation at all. It would be a way out of the difficulty—if it is a difficulty—for the livestock officers to pass a greater number of bulls for premium than are actually required to be bought. At the present time they cut the number very short. If five farmers want to buy under the premium scheme, the livestock officer only passes six or seven, and if three or four bulls are wanted for export, it means that some farmers have to go without. The passing of a larger number of bulls for premium would remedy what is a great grievance, and has been a great grievance for many years, among those who are breeding stock.
I want now to say a word about the poultry industry. The Minister of Agriculture was not very hopeful in his treatment of the subject this afternoon. The poultry industry is not really an agricultural question; it is a social question. It is a question of ex-service men who have settled on the land, or of farm labourers who have become smallholders and were looking forward to an assured future. These men, who are poultry specialists, not general farmers, are leaving the industry every week. They have been rendered bankrupt by the rise in the price of feeding-stuffs and the low prices of the products they sell, and, unless something is done immediately for these men, they will be lost to agriculture, they will be lost to the land, they will drift back into the towns, disappointed men, with no hope of that happy rural life to which they looked forward. The imports of eggs 1531 last year showed a considerable increase over the year before. The Minister said that lie did not regard that as the primary cause, but surely, by the law of supply and demand, if a figure of 18,000,000 great hundreds is suddenly increased to 24,000,000, it must have a tremendous effect on the price of the commodity in this country. When at the same time feeding-stuffs rise from 15s. a quarter, at which maize stood last year, to 26s., as it is to-day, it must have a disabling effect on a man who is in a small way.
I hope that the Minister, in his zeal for agriculture, will not forget these men. I admit that they are a side-line; they are not doing as much good to agriculture as the farmer who runs poultry as a side-line, feeding them from his own wheat fields; but they are a major part of the countryside. These smallholders are, in a way, the backbone of village life; they are the consumers of what we produce on our agricultural farms; and for that reason all who live in the countryside adopt these men's problems as their own. I would ask the Minister to take urgent action to relieve their terrible situation. We who are interested in agriculture are very happy to have the present Minister in charge of our affairs. He has struck at the roots of this problem, and I believe that his way is far better than the way of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who would have a survey over a number of years and call that the Defence of England against the chances of what may happen in a time of war.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Riley
I was interested in the concern of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr Turton) as to whether Members on this side of the House had an agricultural policy, and whether it was a united policy. I am not going into that question, but I think it can be said with some certainty that we have no doubt here as to what is the policy of the Government. It can be expressed, I think, fairly accurately as a policy to assist the landowning and capitalist classes. In saying that, I do not want to suggest that farmers, or landlords for that matter, are not entitled to a square deal. While I have a rooted objection to subsidies in any form to private individuals, I concede without any qualification the right of every section of 1532 useful producers, whether farmers or otherwise, to obtain a remunerative return for the services which they render. As a principle, I do not think anyone could object to that.
I do not object to a Government system of organisation, and even, sometimes, financial assistance within certain limits, for farmers or anybody else in order to increase the efficiency of the services which they render to the nation. But I think it is the bounden duty of the Government and the House of Commons, if they regard it as necessary to provide subsidies for any national purpose to a particular industry, to take into account the equity of the people who will be affected in the nation by the provision of those subsidies; and if, as I fear has been the case in regard to milk and in regard to bacon, and now is likely to be the case with regard to meat, the subsidies which have been given to agriculture are resulting in large sections of the community—the poorest sections—having to pay more than they otherwise would have paid, it seems to me that the subsidy is not justified, and that the Government ought to consider whether remedies should not be provided in their developments for the avoidance of inequity against the masses of the working class.
It has been said that, owing to the system of organisation of the Milk Marketing Board, the price of milk is at least twice, and sometimes three times, as much as that paid in other countries. An hon. Member mentioned a letter that he had received from a friend complaining that, owing to rises in retail prices since 1931, his consumption of meat was confined to rabbits. I had a personal experience yesterday as to rises of price affecting masses of the working classes. I asked my wife at dinner what was the price of mutton, and she said, 1s. 11d. a pound. That meant that a joint for a family of five or six costs 10s. It is obvious that working-class families cannot afford many joints at 10s. a time. When subsidies have that effect on large masses of people, they cannot be justified.
Everyone has expressed the view in this Debate that it is most desirable to raise the standard of agricultural workers. One of the most useful things that the Ministry could do would be to extend the development of the family 1533 farm, where the wages question does not come into the picture to anything like the same extent. In this country, with its great industrial markets, the family farm is a far more suitable development than farming on a large scale. We have been told that in the East Riding 60 per cent. of the farm workers have recently left the farms for better employment. That process is going on and will go on. All the evidence shows that you cannot maintain a capitalist farming system in this small country against world competition. More and more the small farm and the family farm will be the unit for farming operations.
A few months ago I asked a question as to the number of smallholdings now owned or rented by private owners and by the State respectively. The reply was that there were about 31,000 holdings in England and Wales owned by county councils and by the Ministry. These figures are practically no higher than was the case 14 or 15 years ago. The question was discussed in 1923, when the present Lord Halifax was Minister of Agriculture and he detailed the facts, that under the 1908 Smallholdings Act up to the outbreak of the War 15,000 persons had been settled, and in 1919, under the Land Settlement Act, some 16,000 were settled—the same figures that we have now. It is a striking commentary that in these 14 or 15 years, and particularly the last six or seven, when the National Government have had complete control, there has been no extension of this admittedly useful stabilisation of agricultural life on the best lines that you could possibly have.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. De Chair
I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words in support of the Minister's proposals. I have been among the first to criticise a good deal of legislation that has been introduced, as hopelessly inadequate, but I do not think I am such a fool that I do not recognise a good thing when I see it. There is no doubt in the agricultural constituencies as a whole that the Ministry has taken a turn for the better. I received the following letter a few days ago:Dear Sir,In view of the slightly improved conditions in agriculture we propose to hold a lunch at the Royal Norfolk Show.1534 That was from a firm which has wide ramifications in connection with agriculture all over Norfolk. So we can feel that the agricultural community is behind the Minister in his task of securing complete recovery in the industry. I think he has started out in a very farmerlike manner in dealing with his job. A man taking over a derelict farm would probably begin very much as he is beginning. He would start by doing a little drainage here and there where it was necessary, laying down the most suitable crops, liming the ground and so forth. Although I yield to none in my admiration for the zeal and enthusiasm of his predecessor, I think the present Minister has started off in a way which will, perhaps, secure more immediate results. We do not wish to speak ill of the dead, even when they are merely buried in the office of Secretary of State for Scotland, but I could not help feeling very often that there was a great deal more jugglery with marketing schemes and one thing and another than there were cash results for the farming industry. However, we must admit that he staved off a revolt in the industry by sheer charm of manner for five years.
I listened with great interest to the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and I agree with him when he said that agriculture was the biggest job the Government had to tackle, that they had to put it right, and that it was deplorable that men were drifting away from the land. But he gave to the Committee some figures which were rather misleading when he said that in 1881 12.5 per cent. of the population was engaged on the land whereas to-day there was only 4.7 per cent. on the land. He failed to appreciate that in 1881 the population was only 26,000,000 people, whereas to-day there are 40,000,000. If you take the percentages of the population you find that there were 1,600,000 on the soil in 1881 compared with 1,200,000 in 1931, a drop of 400,000, which is admittedly serious, but not a drop of a complete half as one might be led to expect from his figures. [An HON. MEMBER: "He gave percentage figures"] I have given those figures to show that there are two sides to the question.
The Minister of Agriculture announced that there would be a grant of 33⅓ per 1535 cent. to internal drainage boards, and that there would be a grant of 50 per cent. where pumping equipment was necessary in the Fens for dealing with the level of the water. I particularly welcomed that because, as representing a constituency a large part of which was under water for several weeks this year, and was in great danger of complete destruction, this grant will make a tremendous difference. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said that some of the proposals announced by the Government now were in point of fact his own suggestions, and it would be presumptuous for a young Member to take credit for any proposals the Government bring forward now. But the Minister will bear me out that when I appealed to him at the time of the Fen floods for a grant for the internal drainage boards he said that it was not possible at that time to make a grant, and in announcing now that a grant will be possible, he is certainly meeting the wishes of those in that part of the country. The difficulty there that people have to face is that in such a thinly populated area it is almost impossible by raising the rates to raise sufficient money to carry out the drainage work that is necessary. In the village of Hilgay where I lived for six months a new pump was requires costing £600, and during the crisis when the floods were in full spate, the old pump had to be used and it was not really adequate. Yet a penny rate under the Hilgay Great West Fen Drainage Board only raises £4 12s. 9d., and it is clear that if you can only raise £4 by means of a penny rate, you are not going to do very much.
§ Mr. De Chair
They have got to raise the money under the existing practice. In the Stoke Ferry area they have an outstanding debt of £1,450 involving an annual charge for repayment and interest of £150, and there a penny rate produces £4 0s. 11d. It is certainly impossible, without a considerable grant, for the necessary pumping equipment to be introduced and the necessary drainage to be carried out, and that is why I particularly welcome the proposal which the Minister announced to-day.
I should like to touch upon the question of rural housing which has been 1536 raised by several lion. Members, and I ask the Minister whether he thinks that any great use is being made to-day of the Housing Act, 1926, which was introduced by a Conservative Government. The intention of that Act was that if the landlord wanted to renovate cottage property in order to put it into a fit state of preservation and comfort for the rural workers, he could claim a one-third grant from the council and a one-third grant from the Ministry. My experience is that local government is very reluctant to advance a grant for that purpose, because it is felt that it is subsidising the landlord.
§ Mr. Loftus
In the neighbouring county of East Suffolk that Act has been worked to the fullest extent with the support of Members of all parties in the county council, which has clone more than any county in England to deal with that matter.
§ Mr. De Chair
I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) the use that has been made of that Act, and I hope that the practice will be extended, as I think it could be used very much more throughout the country. If that Act were properly used, and the councils would advance their one-third of the money, and the Government are only too willing to advance their third of the money, the landlords would, in the great majority of cases be prepared to renovate the cottages concerned. I have come in contact with that attitude in local governments, and I hope that the matter will receive the attention of the Minister. If he finds that the local authorities are not able to advance the money I hope that he will consider a scheme to advance the Government's share. Many landlords would do the work of renovation if they could be sure even of the Government's share of the grant.
A good deal of criticism has been directed against subsidies of one kind or another, and will no doubt be directed against the oat and barley subsidies, too. But I think we have got to face up to the fact that in competition with agriculture in other parts of the world, agriculture in this country is a quite hopelessly unremunerative occupation, and if England wants to keep its hedgerows, its fields and the cattle in them, if England wants these good things, it will 1537 have to pay for them like any other luxury which is quite unremunerative and has to be paid for. If, on the other hand, we want to allow the land to go out of cultivation, become derelict and become a jungle and if we want the country to starve when war comes, because we have let the land go out of cultivation, why, then, we can do that and save our money, but it will be a very short-sighted policy.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
The hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) referred to the figures which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) gave with regard to the population on the land. Whether that is the best way of expressing the population on the land or not, the fact is that the agricultural population continues to decline. It is important to bear that fact in mind. In addition we seem now to have got to a stage where the agricultural output itself is on the decline. At least that is the case from the recent figures that have been published. Not only in a large number of cases is that true, but the total value of agricultural products produced in the last year shows a reduction, and not only in value, but apparently, in numerous branches, in total quantities.
We have heard to-day, and quite rightly, many pleas that the policy of the Government should be a balanced policy, to include all branches of agriculture. The hon. and gallant Member for the Buckrose Division (Major Braithwaite) put the case very well. He suggested that the Government should outline what they expected farmers to produce, and that then the farmers and their organisations would be able to work to a definite plan. That is all very well, but one of the over-riding difficulties of agriculture to-day is the fluctuation of world prices. That is a problem which perhaps goes beyond the control, at any rate, of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture. The fluctuation of world prices upsets the balance of agriculture, and the troubles of the farmers are more due to those fluctuations than to changes in the imports or to changes in demand or in the varying needs of the population.
1538 We are asked to-day in some quarters to put agriculture on a war footing. While it is essential that the fertility of the land should be kept up, it would be a mistake to place agriculture under the sort of conditions which might be expected during another war. On the other hand, the tendency of the Government's policy today to encourage efficient grass-land farming does seem to me to place agriculture in a position in which it will be relatively easy to change over to cereal farming. Good grass land can be ploughed up and made use of for growing cereals. We know that well enough in the North of England. I never regret to see land laid down temporarily to good pasture, because everybody who farms under those conditions in the North of England knows that that is one of the best ways of increasing the fertility of the land. In so far as the Government's policy, which was announced recently, will encourage the tendency in agriculture towards good temporary pastures, I welcome it. I must say, however, that it goes a very little way towards that laudable object.
The encouragement of the use of lime, phosphates and drainage is desirable, but the colossal need for drainage cannot possibly be met by the proposed expenditure. As has been pointed out time and again, the removal of the subsidy for drainage was a measure employed to meet the 1931 crisis, and it is far overdue that that economy measure should be now withdrawn. Good drainage is a first essential. No fewer than 1,750,000 acres were estimated by the Royal Commission to require drainage, both arterial and field drainage. The present proposals, excellent as they are as far as they go, do not meet the needs.
In my further remarks I would refer particularly to one branch of agriculture which has for a long time been regarded as a very subsidiary matter, namely, poultry farming. It was at one time merely a means by which the farmer's wife got her pin money, but it has become something very much more important. The expenditure by the consumer on eggs now represents 4 per cent. of the total expenditure on foodstuffs, whereas wheat in the form of bread represents only 5 per cent. Therefore, from the point of view of the consumer the egg is very nearly as important as bread. From the standpoint of the farmer, taken not only in quantity but in other directions, the 1539 poultry farmer is very much more important than the wheat producer.
We have heard to-day speeches about the importance of encouraging smallholdings, with which we on these benches heartily agree, having pressed many Governments to adopt a more forward policy in that direction. The poultry farmer is very frequently a smallholder. He is, in addition, an intensive producer, making the very best use of his land. We all regret the low wages paid in agriculture, but that complaint does not apply to the wages paid by the poultry farmer. He pays wages which compare very favourably with any paid in agriculture, and they are comparable with wages in industry. Without the least assistance from the Government the poultry farmer has developed from an insignificant position before and immediately after the War into a position of great importance. He now occupies a position as important as that of the wheat grower. The consumption of eggs has increased with the rising standard of living. From 1913 to 1924 the consumption per head was only III, but it has now gone up to 150, although it has fallen back from the high peak of a year or two ago. That increased consumption of eggs has not been due to increased imports, but to the steady increase in home production. It has been due to the increased efficiency of the British poultry farmer, who has competed fairly on equal terms with foreigners and has created for himself an increased consumption and an increased market for British eggs, so that to-day the imported egg is only a relatively small proportion of the eggs consumed in this country.
The poultry farmer has had one great advantage, and that has been cheap feeding-stuffs. Now, whether due to the Government's policy or to change in financial circumstances, that advantage which he has had of cheap feeding-stuffs has gone. Feeding-stuffs are now at least 33⅓ per cent. above the price of a year ago. Moreover, there is a tendency for them to rise further. In these circumstances the poultry farmer is having a very difficult time. I have been studying the index figures of the prices of eggs. In an answer to a question the Minister pointed out that the price of eggs is not lower this spring than it was last year or the year before. The 1540 index figure published by the Ministry of Agriculture shows that it has become steadily higher for the month of March, April and May. What the poultry farmer is suffering from is not low prices but the high costs of his raw material, which represent one-half of the cost of producing eggs.
What are the Government going to do to meet this situation? Consumption has obviously increased, prices have not fallen, but the position of the poultry farmer is desperate on account of the rise in the price of feeding-stuffs. I would ask the Minister whether the time has not come, even if he was not willing to accept our suggestions earlier, to take the tax off feeding-stuffs, which are the raw materials of the more important branches of British agriculture? There may be a reason for taxing wheat and other feeding-stuffs of foreign origin when prices were as low as they were during the world slump, but if tariffs are, as we have been told, scientific, now is the time to take off the duties on feeding-stuffs and allow British poultry farmers to buy them as cheaply as possible. I press this point upon the attention of the Minister. This branch of poultry farming has done very well without Government assistance in the past, and there is no need for this increased protection in the future.
There is also the possibility that an increased consumption of eggs due to an increased purchasing power of the people may to some extent assist the poultry farmer. According to surveys that have been made, if the total consumption of eggs in all classes of the community was as high as it is in the richer classes, an additional 18 per cent. production would be needed. That holds out some hope to the poultry farmer that his position may improve with an increase in the purchasing power of the workers in the north of England and of the miners, who have always been great purchasers of eggs; that while they are occupied on armaments they will buy an additional number of eggs. I cannot see any hope for the British poutry farmer by increased duties on foreign eggs.
In an interesting publication from the university for which I have the greatest respect, inasmuch as any learning I have was derived there, Mr. Beilby analyses the fluctuations in the price of eggs since the War and brings to light some extra- 1541 ordinarily interesting facts. He points out that fluctuations in the price of eggs are due to three factors; to changes in home production, a steadily increased home production which, owing to the price of feeding-stuffs still left the poultry farmer with a profit; to changes in demand which have fluctuated with the rise and fall in the price of money and in the relative purchasing power of the people; and, lastly, to changes in imports into this country. The figures he gives in a very careful statistical notice, which can be checked in every possible way, is that the price of eggs has altered to the extent of 66 per cent. of the change by changes in home production, by 19 per cent. due to changes in demand and by 5 per cent. due to imports. That is a very remarkable fact, for there is still a tendency on the part of hon. Members opposite to attribute every change in price to imports from abroad.
If this analysis, which was carried out with all the authority of Oxford University, is correct, and if only 5 per cent. of the changes in price have been due to increases or decreases in the imports of eggs, I think that bears out the contention which we have made consistently from these benches that the troubles of agriculture during the slump were chiefly due to the fall in the purchasing power of consumers in this country and all over the world. The consumption of eggs per head of the population in this country is low compared with that of some other countries. In Canada the consumption of eggs per head of the population is almost twice as great as it is in this country, and Belgium, the United States of America and Switzerland are all ahead of us. If, with an increase in prosperity and a more evenly diffused prosperity, the people of this country who are ill-nourished enough in certain sections at the present time can obtain a larger supply of this valuable foodstuff, the outlook for the poultry farmer will be more hopeful.
I would also ask the Minister whether he will not help the industry to help itself to a marketing scheme. The problem is a difficult and thorny one. For a long time I was connected with the marketing of eggs and I still am to a certain extent, and I know that there have been desperate efforts in various parts of England at various times to establish efficient marketing schemes for eggs. The 1542 difficulties are very great. The public is not always as helpful as it might be, and sometimes people prefer cheap and dirty eggs to well-graded and guaranteed fresh eggs. Marketing schemes for eggs have been put into operation in other countries, notably in Canada, with great success, and a little assistance in that direction would indeed help the hard-pressed farmer.
In conclusion, as other hon. Members have already said, the question of disease is one which is affecting poultry farmers very seriously. If more money could be given for research into diseases, it would be well spent, not only in the interests of the poultry farmers, but in the interests of the better utilisation of this land, the establishment of more smallholders, and the health and well-being of the population as a whole.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I think the Committee will agree with me that we have had a most interesting Debate, and I would like to express my thanks to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee for the way in which they have conducted the discussion. As I said in my opening remarks, the operations of the Ministry of Agriculture are extremely varied. They range from bulls to beetles and from onions to oysters, and include a vast number of subjects, each of which in many minds would be of sufficient importance to warrant a discussion by itself. It is, therefore, a difficult task to compress into one Supply day all the list of subjects which might easily be brought up. For my part, I have enjoyed the discussion, and I hope I have learned something from it.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) was generally in favour of the grassland policy which I enunciated, and I gather that his main criticism was of the drainage proposals in that they are meagre and insufficient. The chief criticism of the proposals has been that they do not go far enough, and that is a criticism which is never made of bad proposals. Bad proposals are always criticised because they go too far, but if there is real merit in proposals they never seem to go far enough. I would only say in all seriousness to hon. Members who take that view of the drainage situation, that there is one very important fact which ought to be borne 1543 in mind as a matter of practical policy. That is the question, to which several hon. Members have drawn attention, of the shortage in the supply of labour. One has to be careful to arrange the drainage programme so as to secure the maximum of good out of it without interfering with the ordinary operations of agriculture, to which it is subsidiary, by withdrawing normal labour supplies. The Government have given careful attention to this matter, and we believe that this instalment of drainage at this time is the best that can be done in the circumstances. As hon. Members will have become aware by listening to the discussion, the proposals are regarded by many of those who are vitally affected as of great benefit, and I have not the least doubt that in many districts where the problem has been acute these proposals will be welcomed and will do a great deal of good.
The hon. Member opposite made some play with what he called the reduced output of our agriculture. I do not think there is much substance in that point. The last estimate published on 12th March shows that in England and Wales the annual value of the agricultural output for 1935–36 was £208.2 millions, which shows a small decrease from the figure of £209.4 millions in the previous year. That small decrease is explained in a note which says that it arises almost entirely from the lower estimated value of the fruit crop. This in almost every case was much lighter in 1935 than in 1934, although to some extent the reduction was counterbalanced by higher prices. The main fact is that for the last two years agricultural output has maintained itself at from £208,000,000 to £209,000,000, which reflects a considerable improvement upon the figure for 1932–33, when it was only £184,000,000. The lesson to be drawn from the figure is that, if you omit the temporary set-back in regard to the fruit crop of 1935, agricultural output has, on the whole, shown a steady and satisfactory improvement.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
Would it be possible to have these figures given in terms of quantity rather than of value?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am dealing with value because I understood that was the point which the hon. Member made.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I did not intend to make that point. My point is that the 1544 values have gone up in some cases, like livestock, but that the quantities have gone down.
§ Mr. Morrison
I would like time to examine the matter from the point of view of quantity. Of course value is a difficult thing to estimate. There are elements of price as well as quantity in it which are always a difficulty, but I think if you take the values of one commodity with another—and after all that is what appeals to the farmer and the producer because it means that they are getting a return—it does afford a reliable comparison of one year with another. I am not sure whether the hon. Member was suggesting that there had been a decline in the consumption of eggs this year. The figures show that in 1935 some 150 eggs in shell were consumed per person, whereas in 1936 the consumption was 159, which shows that each person managed to consume on the average nine more eggs, and although that sounds a very small number, it comes to a considerable number when multiplied by the population of the country. As regards feeding-stuffs, I think there is no substance in the accusation that any substantial part of the rise in feedingstuff prices is caused by duties. There is no duty on maize, there is 2s. a quarter on wheat from abroad, wheat from the Dominions is free, and the existence of large Dominion supplies combined with complete freedom of trade, and an extremely low duty on other foodstuffs from foreign sources, makes the effect of the duty upon prices absolutely negligible compared with the effects of drought and the operations of nature.
I do not think it can be argued that there has been a fall in the purchasing power of the consumer. It must be obvious to everyone who studies the employment figures that there has been in fact a rise in the purchasing power of the consumer, and indeed, in my view, one of the major causes of the recent improvement in agricultural returns is the increased purchasing power in the cities caused by industrial prosperity and better employment. I can cordially re-echo what the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) said in his opening speech, that it is essential to realise how closely town and country react upon each other's fortunes. It is true to say that the countryside's best customer is the well-paid town worker in steady employment, and there is no doubt that, particularly in the heavy 1545 industries, the revival of steady employment has stimulated the demand for many British commodities, and, I think, for good British beef in particular.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland asked me whether I would do what I could to assist the poultry industry by helping to bring about better arrangements for marketing. That I can readily promise to do. I am ready to consider any suggestion that is made in that direction, and I will do my best to help them to get over their difficulties at the present time. I tried in my opening speech to give as fair and candid an analysis of the condition of the poultry industry as I could, and I have not found any reason in the course of the Debate to alter any views that I then ventured to put before the Committee.
I thank the right hon. Member for North Cornwall for the very kind terms in which he addressed the Committee on this subject. Indeed, so pleasant was his style and so much in sympathy with the objects of our policy did he seem that I am somewhat surprised at his having taken the trouble to move a reduction in the Vote. There was far more of blessing than of condemnation in his remarks, and I think he might well have let us get away with the £100, because there was so much of which he approved in our policy.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams disapproved of our past efforts in agricultural policy, as in duty bound, and he gave the curious reason that they were in their character Socialistic. I find it very hard to combine his disapproval of our efforts with the application of an epithet which I had always hitherto considered he regarded as one of praise. But indeed, I think the difference between us on this matter is that I do not think you can call our policy Socialistic in the sense in which hon. Members have always interpreted that policy.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I think the right hon. Gentleman rather misunderstood my reference. What I said was that the National Government since 1931 had set up so many committees, commissions and corporations that, if the general Conservative view of the situation was correct, anybody would imagine that there had been a Socialist Government in office. I did 1546 not say or imply that the Government's policy was Socialistic.
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot say with what pleasure I hear the Government's policy vindicated and cleared from that charge. The hon. Member and I, perhaps, understand each other better now. The hon. Member also rebuked me because I had given only a sentence of my speech to the agricultural labourer. What was at the back of my mind was that the remuneration of the agricultural labourer and his employment rose and fell with the condition of agriculture itself. I consider him as an essential partner in the industry whose fortunes fluctuate with those of the industry itself. It was not because I disregarded his importance, but because I thought that a policy by which we hoped to benefit agriculture would be a matter of interest to him and carry him further forward on the road to prosperity.
There is one interesting thing to remember about agricultural wages in this country. During the depression of agriculture there was a severe drop in agricultural wages all over the world. In our own country there were reductions of a comparatively small character, but in Canada and the United States there were decreases amounting to 50 and 60 per cent. The full effect of the depression, so far as the effect on wages is concerned, was felt far more severely in countries which export their produce than it was in this country. It is difficult to be sure that comparisons of minimum rates up and down the country to-day afford an accurate picture of what is, in fact, being paid. I know that in many cases the minimum rates are being considerably exceeded by farmers in their anxiety to obtain workers and to retain good skilled men. I would not like the Committee to think that the minimum rates are those which are paid in all cases.
The hon. Member raised the question of the evasion of the statutory wages. I view that with as much disapprobation as he does. I am willing to admit that although on the whole the farmer does maintain the statutory wage, you get cases now and again of evasion with which we try to deal. The hon. Member's argument was that the fines that were inflicted for such evasions were so light as not to prove an adequate deterrent. All I can say is that the amount of fines imposed for any offence is a matter for the Bench, which very frequently takes into account 1547 the means of the person whom they call upon to pay the fine. Cases which have come before my notice personally were nearly all cases of farmers in very reduced circumstances who were extremely burdened by debt, and the men had stayed on with them without receiving the proper wages because they could not afford to pay them. They stayed on in some cases out of a desire to help to keep the farm going. To a farmer in that position who is brought before the Bench a fine which may appear to the hon. Member to be a very light one may be quite a considerable penalty.
I agree with what has been said about the importance of improving rural housing. It is important, if we are to retain on the land young men and women who wish to marry and settle down, to bring about an improvement in rural housing. I was asked what had been done in this matter. Housing is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, but he and I have been collaborating, and a special advisory committee on rural housing is sitting, and when we receive their report we shall know what we can do to improve the present state of affairs. Before they decide to settle down in the country men look for the sort of house to which they can bring a bride and raise a family in some decency, but before we start planning new tools with which to tackle this problem I would ask hon. Members to see what can be done in the rural areas by operating to a fuller extent the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. That this Act can be worked to the advantage of the rural community is proved by the success which has attended its operations in counties which have resolutely used it, Devonshire being a very fine example. I would point out that the Act has this peculiar virtue, that if a house is reconstructed under the terms of that Measure it is kept for a period of years in what I may call agricultural circulation; it cannot become the luxury house of a week-ender, but must be retained for an agricultural worker or someone in a like position.
The hon. Member attempted to controvert my general argument that Nature had much more to do than man with questions of supply and prices. He quoted a number of figures, which I did not get accurately, about Argentine beef, New Zealand beef and other com 1548 modities, though how New Zealand beef came into the question I do not know. The increases which he quoted in the case of the Argentine beef were in the nature of 40 per cent., 60 per cent., 70 per cent. and so on. When one compares such increases with the actual ad valorem incidence of the tariff, it is obvious that they cannot be attributed to the tariff, but must have been brought about by other forces of a more powerful character, and I think that the hon. Member's figures, far from invalidating my general argument, afford very valuable evidence in support of it.
§ Mr. T. Williams
My point was that the foreign exporting Governments are not paying that duty. Indeed, they are taking more than hitherto, including the duty.
§ Mr. Morrison
It must be obvious to the hon. Member that really what has caused the rise in the price of Argentine beef has been the improved demand. The disparity between that rise and the ad valorem incidence of the duty is clear enough evidence to dissociate the one from the other. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made a speech to which I listened with rapt attention, as I always do when he is speaking, and I should like to thank him for his friendly approach to the great problem of agriculture and the land. I detected in his speech some of that fervour which I, too, at times feel for the land. I think I can say of both of us that we are aborigines of these islands and have been here long enough to make those who came over with the Norman Conquest to look like the Coronation visitors of yesterday. It may be that by the influence of the northern latitudes from which my ancestors came I have acquired hardly such a sanguine view of the ease with which the obstacles of Nature can be overcome as has the right hon. Gentleman, whose ancestors were nurtured in the beautiful fertile valleys of Wales. I start at one with him in the desire that the great agricultural industry should be restored to as great a measure of prosperity as possible. I recognise, with him, that its significance for this country is far greater than its mere economic contribution. It has done much to mould the character of our people, and it would be a sad day for our people if its influ- 1549 ence for beauty and sanity were removed from our national life.
The right hon. Gentleman asked us what happened during the War. I agree with him that we ploughed up lands with no fertility, and that it was not until we were near the very close of the War and victory was in sight that the land began to pay tribute to any very increased degree. Why was that land infertile? Because, before the War, we took no care to see that the land was fertile enough to pay for farming. This Government, warned by the remissness of its predecessor before the War, has taken steps to increase the fertility of the land in peace time and to pursue a policy which will help the farmer. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the lime and slag proposals. I am glad to have the opinion which he expressed. I was interested to hear him say that such proposals were among certain projects which he had put before us for our consideration in the past. I make no claim, and I do not dispute the paternity of the right hon. Gentleman. We have no claim for originality at all. We are agreed that every farmer who has considered the land of this country has recognised the serious deficiency, and is encouraged to use his land to the best advantage. At any rate we are now going to do it. There is something in that much better than merely discussing it.
The right hon. Gentleman also drew attention to difficulties in regard to farm buildings, and he invited us to put that down to the inability of landlords to meet the cost. There was a great rural partnership which lasted us well in pre-War times and was gradually dissolved when rural economy was changed, but the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that, while I am all with him in desiring to have changes so as to improve the character of the land and the people, I am warned how much easier it is to destroy a rural economy than to build one up. After the War, there was the Corn Production Act, when we had in rural holdings a series of changes which was disastrous. Many a man to-day is burdened with a load of debt with which he would not have been saddled had he not been induced at one time to be so. The right hon. Gentleman and I have one aim and object which we pursue, but my admiration for the great and sweeping 1550 nature of his proposals in the past and in the present is tempered a little bit by caution, induced by the ill-luck which has attended him in the past.
Many hon. Members have raised the question of land reclamation and land settlement. Farming depends on a remunerative price and it is our duty to make sure that the men now on the land can get a decent living out of it before we induce people to go on to land where they cannot make a decent living out of it. I have a great dislike of putting men into a position where they can exist only by means of subsidies and grants and where they may not be able to maintain themselves in the end. If we can restore the prosperity of agriculture to a proper degree I have no doubt that there will be plenty of men settling themselves on the land and making a living out of it. If agriculture becomes again a profitable enterprise, as I hope it will, there will be not only land settlement but land reclarnation, bringing more land than ever under the plough. The hon. Members for Carmarthen (Mr. nopkin) and Tavistock (Mr. Patrick) made observations on the milk proposals, and I will gladly take them into consideration, and I thank them for their speeches. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) asked me how I was going to prevent a rise in the price of lime and slag. We have thought of that and I think that there will be arrangements which will prevent any improper exploitation.
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Member must not accuse me of saying that there is proper exploitation. We are making arrangements to ensure that the benefit of public assistance to the soil will go into the soil and not into the pockets of the manufacturers of lime and slag. Hon Members will forgive me if I do not pursue further to-night a subject which must be embodied in the legislation which I shall have the honour to bring forward. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) asked me about Johnes disease. We have under investigation a diagnosis by which it may be possible to detect this disease in its early stages and not only effect a cure but prevent infection. This is being tried out and we hope in a short time to know whether it is a good thing or not. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) asked 1551 me what we were doing about research. The Government are fully aware of the value of research and they are carrying it out to the full. Not only are the old agencies at work, but it is a feature of the boards which have come into existence under the Marketing Acts that each of them conducts research into the problems connected with its own industry. The same is true in connection with sugar.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked why if there was assistance for field drainage in Scotland there was not such help for field-drainage in England. It is because the conditions in England and Scotland are entirely different. Scotland is a country which the Almighty has raised very high up, and consequently there is not the same problem of catchment boards and internal drainage boards that exists in England, and the grant for Scotland is spent on dealing with field drainage. That is clearly one of the differences in the expenditure of public funds between the two countries, and I think my hon. Friend may rest assured that there is on the whole equal treatment of the two countries as far as drainage conditions are concerned. If we can get the streams and ditches adequately cleared, we shall find coming into action a great number of those old field drains that are now in existence, but are choked up at the stream end, and certainly it is wisest, in the first instance at any rate to see that the brooks and streams discharge properly the drainage from the fields.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) was rather gloomy about the possible effect of the price of meat on the consumption of meat by wage-earners, but I think he can dismiss those fears as groundless, because the simple fact is that there has been an immense increase in the amount of food bought, and the people who have bought it have been working people, who, I am glad to say,
§ are now in a better economic position; and, so far from a general rise in the price of any sort of commodity having any effect in causing a decline in consumption, the truth is that there has been a very great increase in the consumption of food.
§ I hope the House will forgive me if I have not been able to answer all of the questions which have been put to me in this extremely interesting discussion, but no word that has been said will be lost, and I shall look into the various points which have been raised by hon. Members. I would merely close on a note that was struck by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall. He deprecated agricultural policies becoming a subject of controversy between the country and the town, and so do I, with all my heart. An agricultural policy, to be of real service, must be permanent. If the aid to agriculture depends upon a mere sectional conception of how the aid is to be applied, it is true that in times of political excitement you may have changes in the political superstructure which may alter the course of agriculture and inflict damage upon the industry. But I venture to say that the proposals which I have recently had the honour to announce to the House are of a permanent character. If disease can be eliminated from our herds, no change in political parties is ever going to restore it. If the lime and the slag are in the soil, and the fields are greener and more fertile in consequence, no General Election is going to take that benefit away from the farmer. Similarly, with the other proposals, I think I may claim for them that they have the merits of simplicity on the one hand and permanent and lasting benefit on the other.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,366,951, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 111; Noes, 193.1555
|Division No. 206.]||AYES||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Bonn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Dalton, H.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Broad, F. A.||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Bromfield, W.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Day, H.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Buchanan, G.||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Burke, W. A.||Ede, J. C.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Cape, T.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Chater, D.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Cocks, F. S.||Frankel, D.|
|Barr, J.||Gove, W. G.||Gardner, B. W.|
|Batey, J.||Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Carn'v'n)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Daggar, G.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Logan, D. G.||Rowson, G.|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Lunn, W.||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||McEntee, V. La T.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||McGhee, H. G.||Short, A.|
|Grenfell, D. R,||MacLaren, A.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Maclean, N.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Marshall, F.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Mathers, G.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Groves, T. E.||Messer, F.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Milner, Major J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Morrison, Rt. Holt. H. (Hackney, S.)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Oliver, G. H.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Owen, Major G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Paling, W.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Parker, J.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Parkinson, J. A.||White, H. Graham|
|Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Whiteley, W.|
|Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)||Price, M. P.||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Kelly, W. T.||Pritt, D. N.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Kirby, B. V.||Quibell, D. J. K.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Lathan, G.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Lawson, J. J.||Ridley, G.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Lee, F.||Riley, B.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Ritson, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES —|
|Sir Hugh Seely and Mr. W. Roberts.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Ellis, Sir G.||McKie, J. H.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Magnay, T.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Elmley, Viscount||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Assheton, R.||Errington, E.||Markham, S. F.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Everard, W. L.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Furness, S. N.||Moreing, A. C.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Ganzoni, Sir J.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Gluckstein, L. H.||Munro, P.|
|Bernays. R. H.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Nail, Sir J.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Goldie, N. B.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Grant-Ferris, R.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Bracken, B.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Patrick, C. M.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Grimston, R. V.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Petherick, M.|
|Bull, B. B.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Radford, E. A.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Cary, R. A.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Holmes, J. S.||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Channon, H.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Christie, J. A.||Hopkinson, A.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Horsbrugh, Florence||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Remer, J. R.|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Joel, D. J. B.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Cox, H. B. T.||Keeling, E. H.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Crooke, J. S.||Kimball, L.||Rowlands, G.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F C.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Leckie, J. A.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.|
|Cross, R. H.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Savery, Sir Servington|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Scott, Lord William|
|De Chair, S. S.||Liddall, W. S.||Selley, H. R.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lindsay, K. M.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Dorman-Smith, Major Sir R. H.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Dower, Major A. V. G.||Loftus, P. C.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Drewe, C.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Lyons, A. M.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Spens, W. P.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Eastwood, J. F.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Eckersley, P. T.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Storey, S.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Turton, R. H.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Strickland, Captain W. F.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.||Wise, A. R.|
|Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Han. Euan||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Sutcliffe, H.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Tasker, Sir R. I.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)||Wragg, H.|
|Tate, Mavis C.||Warrender, Sir V.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Taylor, Viu-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Tree, A. R. L. F.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)||Major Sir George Davies and|
|Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.||Willoughby de Erasby, Lord||Captain Dugdale.|
|Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||Windser-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.1556
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.