§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE had given Notice to call attention to the present condition of agriculture, and to ask His Majesty's Government when they will be able to outline their land policy ; and to move for Papers. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I desire to call attention to the state of agriculture at the present moment. In doing so I hope that I shall not trespass upon the patience of the House or weary your Lordships by going into the subject at large. The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe has upon the Paper what I may call an omnibus Question taking it all en grand, and the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, has given Notice of a Motion in regard to foot-and-mouth disease. Therefore, with the permission of your Lordships, I shall content myself by taking simply the question of the agricultural labourer. I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is possible for them to give us any idea of the steps they mean to take, and to put to them the same question that I asked the late Government last year: What are you going to do for the agricultural labourer? Do you intend to bring in a compulsory Wages Board Bill or a Minimum Wages Bill?
§ I do not think I need discuss the difference between those two. The wages board is the greater which includes the less, and if we cannot get the wages board, which we should prefer, we must 1104 be content with the minimum wage. When I asked the Question of the late Government, I was answered by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who, with his usual courtesy and frankness, said in effect: "No, we do not mean to bring in a Wages Board Bill or a Minimum Wage Bill; we mean to content ourselves with a Conciliation Bill." He described conciliation as meaning that farmers and labourers would sit together and that if and when they came to any absolute agreement, then, and then only, that upon which they had agreed would become the law of the land and would be made compulsory. I must say that I listened to that statement with a great deal of regret and disappointment. It is, of course, a beautiful idea. Yon can easily imagine the sort of thing that would take place by picturing to yourselves a coloured print of one of Morland's pictures in one of the print seller's windows, with the three labourers sitting in the centre of the picture, a boy wheeling a barrow with some manure in it, and a donkey looking over the hedge, with the setting sun on the left pouring down on an October evening, the men drinking from foaming pots and the farmer, the central figure, in top boots and the customary dress which "John Bull" is depicted as wearing in the cartoons of Punch now. All seems happy, contented and above board.
§ But look at the picture three hours afterwards. The sun has gone down and the long day come to a close. Nothing very much has been done between these two parties. Before they separated the labouring men would say to the farmer: "Now can we not come to some agreement about a Saturday half holiday?" or "Can we not come to some agreement about the tied cottages?" or "Can we not come to some agreement about a few-more allotments?" The farmer would turn to them and say: "No, we cannot come to any conclusion this afternoon Good day!" After bidding each other "Good day" they would go back to their cottages and nothing would have been done. That is, I think, a way of looking upon the delightful spectacle of the lion, if you call him a lion, lying down with the pastoral lamb. I think a man would be brave who, in his exuberance of heart, thought of laying six to four on the lamb. I said that that proposal gave me disappointment and regret. It did so all 1105 the more, because I think I can say without fear of contradiction that a minimum wage has been for the last seven or eight years one of the principal planks, if not the principal plank, of the Conservative advanced agricultural policy. Not only has that principle been adopted as part of the Conservative agricultural policy, but it has been satisfactorily called into active being and passed in two Acts of Parliament which have passed successfully through both Houses of the Legislature. It has been tried three times, and twice it has been successful.
§ I do not wish to delay the House more than a few moments. I may say, shortly, that the first occasion on which the minimum wage was brought into being was in 1917, at the time of one of the finest acts of statesmanship I venture to think we have ever seen on the Statute Book—namely, the Corn Production Act. Your Lordships will remember perfectly the circumstances in which it was carried. The country was threatened, if not with starvation, at least with a great scarcity of food, and it was owing entirely to the patriotism, the genius and the statesmanship of two men, Lord Ernle and Lord Rhondda, that the country was saved from the terrible calamity of a shortage of food. Lord Rhondda rationed the people, and Lord Ernle showed how the country could be made, in times of emergency, self-supporting. Instead of fourteen weeks supply of food being grown in the country forty-two weeks supply was grown. That was in 1918, and the country practically was saved. Not only did they do that, but they showed that in days to come there can be no danger of this country being starved in case of an invasion. I have not time to go into that now, but we know how self-supporting the country can be. You have only to bridge over—and it can be done—the time up to the next harvest and you will be immune from any dangers of submarines and any difficulty of getting food into this country.
§ There was Protection in that, but Lord Milner—and Lord Milner's word is his bond—said that on his honour, and on the honour of the Government, this was not supposed to be a Protectionist measure but was only a war measure, that they would never take advantage of it in any circumstances, and that Free Traders need not in the least be afraid 1106 of anything to be done in days to come. As a war measure the Liberal Party and the whole nation accepted it, and the Bill passed its Second Pleading in your Lordships' House without a Division. The war came to an end, happily, and so, unhappily, also did this Act of Parliament. All vanished into thin air. All the great advantages that were conferred by the Act disappeared.
§ Then we came to Act No. 2—the Minimum Wage Act. The Conservative Party brought in a Minimum Wage Bill. The war came to an end, and millions of men who had been out to fight for their country returned. Amongst them, of course, were agricultural labourers. I do not mean to say that agricultural labourers did any better in the war than any other class, but they did quit as well as anybody else. I know that in the county in which I live every single agricultural able-bodied man went to the Front and fought for his country, and for liberty and honour. He left his wife and children with the greatest confidence to his country. The country behaved admirably and looked after them. What helped that man amid the horrors of the trenches? It was the hope and belief that the old, horrible state of things in agriculture was over for ever and that he would come back, not, perhaps, to a new heaven and a new earth, but at any rate to a new England which he would help to fashion and in which he would have a new status. The Coalition Government behaved extraordinarily well. They met him half way. They said: "You have been out and fought for your country. You have come back. We have looked after your wife and children and now we will give you a minimum wage of 45s. a week for life, and if any horrible pettifogging cheese-paring Government ever comes into power they will not be able to take it away from you. It will be at least four years before these dreadful cheese-paring people will be able to effect their foul purpose.''
It was too good to be true. We could not believe it. What happened? Of course, they overloaded the ship. They tried to ride two horses at once, a very difficult performance, for if one horse jibs and the other goes on the acrobat, between the two, will find himself on his nose on the ground. That is what
happened. The Bill was overloaded with a proposal which staggered your Lordships. It was a proposal to give 96s. to the farmer for his wheat. I forget what it was for oats, but I know that Norfolk wanted something for barley and got snubbed for its pains. The expense was colossal. We asked Lord Lee of Fareham, who was then Minister of Agriculture, what it was going to cost, how many millions. Was it ten millions? Was it twenty millions? Was it eighty millions? Was it 100 millions? He treated the questions with disdain and gave us to understand that millions were nothing to a man of fashion. The Bill was got through by the cleverness of Lord Hylton and Lord Colebrook, two of the best Whips that ever served a Government. The Third Beading was passed late at night; a few minutes before midnight and a few days before Christmas—no doubt a romantic sort of time, a time of which Shakespeare speaks when he says—
'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world:
but a most extremely inconvenient time for respectable, I will not say middle-aged, members of the House of Lords to come down to the House and record their votes.
§ The Bill was passed, and can you imagine what the feelings of the agricultural labourer and his wife must have been when they thought that for ever and ever they were going to get 45s. a week and that nothing could disturb it. Yet what happened? Lord Lee of Fareham was rewarded for this great act of statesmanship by being raised with all the customary splendour to the name, state, title, degree and honour of Viscount of the United Kingdom, or what was left of it, and then made First Lord of the Admiralty. His Under-Secretary was raised to a high place in the Ministry of Agriculture, and to everybody's horror, within three or four months of the Bill being passed, we were told that the whole thing was at an end. The Bill was repealed, and these unfortunate men and women, who believed what they had been told, were thrown, not perhaps to the wolves but upon the law of supply and demand. Just conceive what the feelings 1108 of these unfortunate men and women must have been. When they came down to the law of supply and demand, what did it mean? It meant that they came down to 25s. a week, which is ordinarily known in the agricultural world as a starvation wage.
§ I am happy to say that starvation wages are not prevalent all over England. I have do figures with me and I speak under correction, but I do not think there are any starvation wages north of the Trent. There are some in the South of England but not all over the South. I think the line which is drawn is something like a serpent. It begins in Dorset, but misses Hampshire ; then goes into a portion of Wiltshire and turns north—I do not know why—and goes through a portion of Oxfordshire. Then, like foot-and-mouth disease, it takes a jump and arrives in the County of Essex and goes due north to Suffolk and the historic County of Norfolk. It is terrible to think that in some parts of England, in the greatest industry in the land, there are men, women and children who are living in bad houses, in bad conditions, with insufficient food and insufficient wages. It was this that to a great extent hastened the overthrow of the great Coalition Government.
§ With the fall of that Government came the third act in this strange and eventful history. The Conservative Party came into power with the good wishes of almost everybody. They found a new leader in Mr. Bonar Law, whose tragic death has been deplored by everybody of every shade of religious and political opinion. They went to the country and got a comfortable majority. As their leader, in succession to Mr. Bonar Law, they chose a most respected and honoured member of the lower House, and we were told that we were coming into the old moth-eaten and out-at-elbows policy of peace, retrenchment and reform. That lasted a little time, and everybody was quiet, except the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, being a man of marvellous honesty and of some determination, had the belief, or the obsession, or the delusion, or whatever you like to call it, that the country could only be saved by bringing in Protection for every industry except that of agriculture, which is one of the biggest industries of all. He had a snap Election. We all know what happened.1109
§ Naturally, he wished to get the support of the agricultural interest. What did he do? He promised them, for the third and last time, a minimum wage. He said, in effect: "If you will vote for me, I will guarantee to you a minimum wage of 30s. a week certain." Then the two horses' trick came in again, and he added that there was to be £l an acre for all the farmers who paid 30s. a week. The labourers knew, and everybody knew, that north of the Trent 30s. was being paid. What was the result? The farmers, who are already relieved of three-quarters of their rates by a grateful country, were to be given £1 an acre for all the land they cultivated, and this, in some instances, amounted to their rent. What would be the position of a tenant of a farm of that kind? He would have part, or perhaps the whole, of his rent paid for him, and three-quarters of his rates as well. I think that this was a very strong proposition to make to an intelligent country, and it met with the result that everybody expected. In the Home Counties the Liberal Party won fifteen seats, and the great Conservative majority melted like snow before the sun. That happened which everybody knew was certain and inevitable. For good or for evil, the Labour Government now occupies the seat of power.
§ That is practically all I have to say, but I will add a word in conclusion. I hold no brief for the Labour Party. For fifty-nine years consecutively I have had the honour of a seat in one of these Houses of Parliament. I was elected a Member of the House of Commons in Lord Palmerston's time in 1865. I was born a Liberal, I have voted for Liberal measures ever since, and I have never regretted a single vote that I have given. I was born a Liberal, and I hope that a Liberal I shall die. I hold no brief whatever for the Labour Party, but I do desire to make an appeal, not only to them but to the country as a whole, on this subject. I intended to begin with a quotation from Mr. Baldwin, but I forgot to do so. Mr. Baldwin said that if you wanted to secure the prosperity of this country the workers must be given a proper wage and some hope of an amelioration of their condition.
§ If that applies to the industrial population, it applies more than ever to the workers on the land, and I should like to conclude these remarks, with sincere 1110 thanks to your Lordships for having allowed me to make them, by giving a quotation from another distinguished statesman, who for many years led the great Conservative Party, though he did not belong to it, on the situation as it exists now that the Labour Party is in power. Mr. Lloyd George made a speech about three weeks ago. I do not know if your Lordships saw it—perhaps not, because speeches, as we know, are not very often reported now. It is not like the good old days Consule Planco, the days of Gladstone and Lord Randolph Churchill and others, when speeches were reported at length. Speeches are not reported now, but The Times gave Mr. Lloyd George half a column with a most extraordinarily good headline. The headline was "Socialists at the Plough," and this is the sort of semi-agricultural speech that the right hon. gentleman made on that occasion. He is reported to have said that a Socialist Government had come in under conditions where it could do the least harm—we all know what that means—and that he was all for leaving them for some time between the handles of the plough. There he followed the leaders on both sides and the general opinion of everybody was that the Government had come in under difficult conditions and that they must have fair play.
§ I need hardly add that any remarks that I have made—and I am sure this will apply equally to Lord Bledisloe and Lord Strachie—must in no way be supposed to indicate any attempt to harass the Government in the great difficulties in their way, for they have hardly yet had time to get info their stride. Mr. Lloyd George went on to say that the members of the Government "would have aching backs, and weary hearts, and very much wiser heads." As to the last phrase about "wiser heads," I suppose every one knows perfectly well that experience drives wisdom into everybody's head—into the heads of blockheads, or brainy heads, or any other sort of head, except, of course, the heads of the Royal House of Bourbon ; but on this subject I am not qualified to give any opinion, and it is no use my taking up the time of the House in discussing it.
§ But may I say one word about the aching hearts of the agricultural 1111 labourers, those hearts that have been over and over again wearied and broken by promises which were never fulfilled? May I say one word to remind you of the aching hearts of those men who, year in and year out, go on labouring for other people, and whose aching backs, in the words of the old quotation, "bear the burden of the world"? Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has put his hand to the plough. If he and his strong and able team—the leaders of which, and I am afraid I must also add some of his wheelers as well, seem a little bit as yet unaccustomed to official harness—can drive a straight furrow, if they can produce at this juncture a proper measure which will ensure a living wage to these men, then I feel from the bottom of my heart that it will not be the Peers of England who will stand in the way.
§ I have said before, and I will say again, that very many hard things have been said about this House, justly and unjustly, but our severest critic in the past—Junius, John Wilkes, and even, in Queen Victoria's time, the great Joseph Chamberlain himself, in the prime of his early, strong republican manhood—was unable to find one single word in which to blame the members of this House for the management of their agricultural estates. That those estates were enormous and vast is true, that your Lordships' powers were enormous and vast is true also, but on no occasion could Mr. Chamberlain find a single instance in respect of which he could throw a stone at the members of the House of Lords for the management of their estates. That being so, and it is gospel truth, if the Prime Minister of England can show us a way out of this horror, if he can produce a Bill which would put an end to a state of things which is not only a public scandal and a disgrace to our civilisation and common Christianity, but which, if continued much longer, may eventually end in being a menace and absolute danger to the Constitution under which we live—if he can do that, I do not believe that the House of Lords will be among those to stand in the way or to block his plans. It is in that earnest hope and firm conviction, and absolutely and entirely in that spirit, that I most respectfuly ask the Government the Question which stands in my name on the Paper.1112
§ LORD BLEDISLOE had the following Notice on the Paper:—
§ To ask His Majesty's Government whether they have taken any, and if any, what steps to formulate, in collaboration with the authoritative spokesmen of the two other political Parties, some basic and continuous Governmental policy in reference to British agriculture.
§ The noble Lord said : My Lords, to avoid iteration of argument, and also a second speech from the Lord President of the Council, it might be for the convenience of the House if I put now the Question which appears in my name on the Paper. I do not propose to follow the noble Marquess in the line which he has taken, firstly, because I have not the capacity or the inclination to do so, and secondly, because I have not the time in which to refute, as I should feel bound to do, the large number of what I believe to be inaccuracies contained in his speech. But I am sure the noble Marquess touched the hearts of all of us when he referred to his fifty-nine years of distinguished public service, during which I am sure he has been one of the most congenial companions in both Houses of Parliament, and entertained them with his humour as well as with his interest in our greatest industry.
§ The Question which the noble Marquess has addressed to the Government is one concerning what he describes as their land policy. My Question is of a somewhat different character. I ask them if they are in a position to adumbrate not merely their land policy, whatever "land policy" may mean, but at least the basis of a national agricultural policy which all Parties can conscientiously accept, and of which the Government's present proposals, whether they relate to co-operation, credit, or wages boards, can be shown to be an integral, essential and logical part. If you have no such agreed plan or policy you are merely trying to patch up a fabric which has no sound foundations and which is ultimately bound to collapse. You will waste a large amount of public money, as, in my judgment, you have in days past, on similar schemes. You will break many hearts in Britain's countryside, and you will probably leave our most vital industry in a state of still greater depression and still greater insecurity than it is in at the present time.1113
§ What I want to put before your Lordships is this, and L put it with all seriousness. British agriculture has too long been the shuttlecock of Party politics, and the British countryside, to-day, is extremely dissatisfied with all political Parties, and is incredulous of the promises of all politicians. There seems to me to be only throe possible alternatives. Either you must leave agriculture severely alone, as being of no special national importance, and if you do we shall all know where we are. There will be little or no arable farming, and the bulk of what I may call our "plant food" will come from abroad. Labour will be reduced to a minimum, and what is left of our agricultural population may win subsistence from the soil and will at least feel more secure than it does at present. The second alternative is to develop and pursue, as all other civilised countries in the world have done, some definite national plan for our greatest national industry, based, of course, upon the presumption that the nation obtains some benefit from raising on its own soil a due proportion of the food which it requires, and of the manhood upon which it must in national emergencies depend.
§ If that is going to be the alternative, as I hope it is, which this Government is prepared to adopt, there are certain questions which will have at once to be considered, and to be considered not piecemeal, but as part of a comprehensive whole. I may illustrate those questions, perhaps, by giving examples. Does national safety demand that at least one-third, or some other proportion, of our edible, starchy foods—I use those terms because I desire to include potatoes with cereal foods—or fatty foods, such as we get from pigs or cattle, shall be grown in Great Britain? If so, what foods, in what localities, and under what conditions? The noble Marquess told us just now, and I believe that it has been stated in another place, that for forty-two weeks during the war we managed to subsist upon the produce of our own "oil. I believe this to be wholly inaccurate. It can only be justified on the footing that the whole of the grain and provender grown for the purposes of our horses and for producing milk and meat passed into our own bodies, which, of course, it did not, and never could.
§ Then I ask whether considerations of national physique and the due retarda- 1114 tion of urban decadence, which is painfully evident to most of us at the present time, operate against the tendency to wholesale rural depopulation which is taking place now. Also, do small occupational units, whether under a peasant (by which I mean an ownership) system or a tenancy system make for agricultural enterprise, progress, and the maximum output of agricultural wealth ? Those are merely illustrations of the sort of question to which the Government would have to address itself if it attempted to frame a comprehensive national agricultural policy.
§ What is the third alternative? The third alternative is to vacillate between various mutually inconsistent agricultural policies, which change suddenly with Governments, or even sometimes with successive Sessions of a single Parliament. That, I say unhesitatingly, is far the worst of the three alternatives, because it destroys all sense of security, which is the very life-blood of the agricultural industry. If the second alternative is the right one, it is obvious, to my mind, as I believe it must be now to most of your Lordships' minds, that there must be some measure of agreement between the leaders of all three Parties in order to bring it into existence. And indeed, this appears to be not merely essential but very urgent if the three million acres and the 100,000 workers which have been lost to arable cultivation since the war terminated are not to be materially and rapidly augmented in the future.
§ Such a collaboration was, indeed, adumbrated in the King's Speech, read at the opening of Parliament. It is true it expressed the view, or the intention, of the Conservative Government, but it was definitely welcomed by the present Primo Minister as representing the Party which is now in power. I am not quite sure who is entitled to be regarded as the authoritative leader of the Liberal Party at the present time, but certainly that very forceful statesman, Mr. Lloyd George, has made no secret of his sympathy with this proposal, and has recently described the agricultural problem as the most serious and urgent which the nation has to face. With the present balance of Parties there appears to me to be an unprecedented opportunity for such collaboration, not merely to the 1115 advantage of the agricultural industry, but to the ultimate advantage and security of the nation.
§ In these circumstances I desire to ask—and I do it in no spirit of captious criticism—what is the Labour Government doing in this required direction ? Personally, I have no small confidence in the bona fides and in the chances of success of a Labour Government in this field of endeavour, and I will tell you why. Because, first of all, it is less shackled with our old fiscal controversies than the two older Parties are, and I am bound to confess that the Conservative Party at least has, in my judgment, been concentrating its attention far too long, as a means of relief to the agricultural industry, upon remedies for our rural maladies which no Government chemist in this country will ever dare to compound so long as we have, as we always shall have, a preponderantly urban community dominating the politics of this country. Secondly, I look to the Labour Party for initiative in this matter because it must in the very nature of things put consideration for the consumer, as distinct from either the producer or the middleman, in the foreground, and, as the very able Linlithgow Report has clearly shown, there is a marked identity of interest to-day between the agricultural producer and the urban consumer in placing some limitation at least upon the toll which is taken by the commercial elements which stand between the two.
§ And, thirdly, I think the Labour Party have some advantages over the other two Parties in this respect, that, in order to justify their name and their separate political existence they must do all in their power to help the agricultural under-dog—those whose struggle for economic existence is most severe. I refer, of course, to the agricultural worker, the so-called small-holder and the small farmer, and what I want to put forward very strongly is that if the Government can devise means whereby these classes of the agricultural community can be saved in an economic sense, the rest, in my judgment, can take care of themselves. The noble Marquess has put in a special plea for the agricultural worker. The fate of the agricultural worker depends upon the fate of the industry which employs him, unless, indeed, you are going to look for help 1116 from the taxpayers of the country in order to pay him an uneconomic remuneration for his toil; and if you are going to do that, that is subsidy, and the Government has already said it will have no truck with subsidy, any more than it will have truck with protective duties in order to help the industry.
§ What have the Government so far suggested by way of amelioration of the position? They have suggested, although so far they have not brought forward any concrete proposals, that there must be wages boards. I do not want to press the noble Lord opposite, but I should like-following up what the noble Marquess asked—to inquire of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, whether the Government do contemplate establishing wages boards to fix wages which the industry cannot afford to pay; because it seems to me to go to the whole root of the justification or otherwise of your system of wages boards. The next proposal which is being made by the Government is to promote research into foot-and-mouth disease. That, I am sure, is a most admirable work, and all of us sincerely hope that it may result in something tangible, something reliable in the way of information which will enable us to stamp out that desperately infectious disease which is decimating our livestock at the present time.
§ The next item on the programme is loans to co-operative societies and especially to trading and marketing bodies, and the establishment of a standing advisory committee to advise as to the parties to whom such loans should be made. Fourthly, comes the promotion of agricultural credit which is very badly needed indeed; only I do suggest in that connection that the Government should distinguish, as all Continental countries have done, between the land bank system on the one hand—that is to say, a system which enables loans to be granted for the acquisition of land and buildings and fixed plant—and, on the other hand, temporary loans for the purpose of carrying on the industry on the part of small people who are unable to find the money for their agricultural requisit s until their harvest is reaped.
§ In the forefront, I take it, the Government put wages boards or, at any rate, the consideration of the position and the remuneration of the agricultural worker. 1117 I do not know whether the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, can recall to mind a certain gathering which he and I attended about three months ago in a certain room at Christ-church, Oxford, when we met representatives from the very strong Agricultural Labourers' Union which operates in Oxfordshire. The impression left upon my mind, and possibly also upon his if be remained to hear what was said, was that the agricultural worker would indeed be glad to see a higher wage, but there was something that was of even greater importance to him than his monetary remuneration, and that was his outlook. In effect, he said, and two or three of them said in so many words: "For God's sake, give us a better outlook." They did not want to remain the whole of their lives workers in a groove for other employers, with no possibility of ever becoming independent agriculturist" themselves, employing labour for themselves, or being able to rise to a higher sphere either socially or industrially. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, who is well acquainted with this subject, will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe we are the only admittedly civilised country in the world where the agricultural worker has not a good prospect of advancement jut of "the routine of agricultural labour to which he is committed in this country.
§ The present Government express their consummate belief in the policy of agricultural co-operation. So do I, and so do many others. The Government quote, and in my judgment quite properly, Scandinavian experience by way of illustration of its advantages. I hope we shall not get tired of speaking about Denmark, because, even if the conditions are not the same, there is a great deal that we can usefully learn from Denmark. May I remind your Lordships that less than one hundred years ago Denmark was the poorest country for its population in the whole of the world, I believe, but certainly in the whole of Europe? To-day it is, and for some years past has been, for its population, the second richest country in the whole of the world, and it depends, I think I may say, exclusively or almost exclusively, upon agricultural production in a particularly poor country so far as nature has a say in the matter. But the success of Danish co-operation is based not only upon its export trade upon which so much emphasis is put by way of hostile 1118 criticism of co-operation in this country, but par excellence upon peasant prietorship; secondly, upon the uniform and high quality of its agricultural produce; and, thirdly, upon wise, sympathetic and well-informed Government direction : but never upon Government control. I venture to think that unless those three conditions or something like them exist in this country, you will never make co-operation succeed here as it does in the Scandinavian countries where it is to be found in its fullest development.
§ I hope that I am not wearying your Lordships, but may I for one moment ask whether it is fair criticism to say that because we are not an exporting country and, therefore, cannot organise our agricultural production for that purpose in the way that Denmark does, we have not in some directions every opportunity of promoting co-operation as Denmark herself does? The most successful co-operative developments in Denmark, curiously enough, are not in regard to the produce she exports at all, but in regard, first of all, to her magnificent milk supply to the city of Copenhagen (which contains no less than one-fifth of the whole of the Danish population) and in regard to her egg production, by means of which the Danish community are able, when eggs are scarce, to obtain an almost unlimited supply of them at a very reasonable price. If time permitted I should like to expatiate upon the system of milk supply for the city of Copenhagen as being the finest in the world and well worthy of imitation by ourselves in these days when our milk supply is condemned, and in my judgment very rightly condemned, for being either dirty or diseased, as it very often is.
§ Another reason why I do not think that you are going to foster co-operation to any material extent is that you have not yet got uniformity of produce, and without a good deal of spade work and organised Government direction you are not going to get good and uniform agricultural produce in the sense that Denmark is able to get it. Why should I who produce grade A milk combine with a number of people who are producing dirty or diseased milk, in order to obtain a common outlet in a market town? Why should those who are producing the sort of bacon pigs which bacon factories want—and only seven per cent. of the pigs 1119 which enter British bacon factories to-day are really good bacon pigs which would be accepted by a Danish bacon factory—receive no more for them than those who are producing third-, or fourth-, or fifth-rate pigs? If you are going to combine the good with the bad, the person who turns out produce of a high quality is going to suffer severely. It is a condition of successful co-operation that you should have some uniformity of excellence in agricultural production, so that all can confidently combine so far as its disposal is concerned.
§ Then the Government, I see, are inclined to look to the larger farmers, either individually or collectively, to promote agricultural co-operation. If that is the fact I hope they will forgive me for saying that it shows an entire misconception of the true principles of co-operation and its potentialities. The main purpose of cooperation, as it is carried out in other countries, has been to give a chance to the small agricultural producer in his inevitable competition with the, large agricultural producers by whom he is surrounded. It is, in fact, to equalise, as far as possible, economic conditions for his benefit. Can you expect the large farmers of this country to show a great and sincere zeal for the promotion of co-operation which, in a purely material sense, may even operate against their true interest?
§ I am inclined to think that if the Government would take the onus upon their own shoulders and, either themselves or through the Agricultural Organisation Society, group the small producers for the purpose of developing co-operation they would be far more likely to bring about co-operation which is going to be of commercial value in this country than if they leave it to the large farmers to organise. Co-operation may be desirable for the large farmers ; in some cases it is shown to be desirable. But it is absolutely essential to the economic existence of the small occupier. Their interests are by no means identical. Moreover, there are large farmers who have interests in distributing concerns of a non-co-operative character. In fact, their interests are, somewhat mutually conflicting in this matter.
§ Before I sit down may I beg this Government not to make what I regard as the most profound mistake which former Governments, particularly Liberal 1120 Governments, have made? I think it was brought to the most serious extreme in the case of the late Coalition Government, when statutory small holdings were created under considerable Government pressure without any attempt to set up the indispensable machinery which other countries provide to secure their economic salvation. If you are going to bring these small mea into separate economic holdings, for goodness' sake do build up alongside of them some co-operative machinery which will enable them to exist.
§ What has happened during the last few years ? Most of us who sit upon county agricultural committees know the sort of communications that we received from the Ministry of Agriculture, some of them of a most minatory nature, saying that as patriots it was our business to put these ex-soldiers on the land, and threatening us with penalties' if we did not. What is the state of these poor men now ? In the East of England, and over the greater part of the Midlands, these men are in a state of semi-starvation. Many of them have already been ruined, and I venture to say that statutory small holdings were never at a greater discount than they are at the present moment. Surely the day for that sort of agricultural policy has passed. If you are going to have an agricultural policy in the interests of the small man, I beg of you to make his existence economically possible, as other countries do when they follow the same course.
§ I do not wish to take up your Lordship' time except to ask one more question of the Government. What about the nationalisation of agricultural land? I do not ask this out of any hostile intention, but it really is quite impossible to look to the landowners of this country, who, if I may say so, are an eminently patriotic party, to help you in developing your agricultural projects, to act, as I should like to see them act, as the most trustworthy agents in the execution of your Government policy, if you are threatening them all the time with extermination. We do not know what your policy is, but what we do know-is that a certain body calling itself the Independent Labour Party issued a manifesto—I should have thought, to many members of the Government a most embarrassing document—about a month ago, in which it put the nationalisation 1121 of agricultural land amongst the measures that a Labour Government is expected to adopt in order to achieve the economic salvation of agriculture. I belong to, and to some extent speak for, what may be regarded now as the relatively unimportant class of the small country squires of this country. I am proud to belong to them. But what chance are these men going to have in the future of justifying their existence—their lots are sorry enough, in all conscience, at the present time—if they are told that before long they are going to be abolished as a class, and that as producers, or organisers of producers, nothing is expected of them?
§ I believe that if you treat your agricultural landowners with common decency, as they have been treated in other countries, and ask them to fulfil, as a great and important national duty, the development of their estates on the footing of maximum production, they will not fail you. If they cannot be producers is then at least give them some sort of incentive to be organisers of production, and I am sure they will not fail you. But if you talk about nationalisation, or allow those behind you to talk of nationalisation, as part of your policy, you will remove all remaining incentive to those who, I believe, could carry out your task best, and would put their hands to the plough. You will find that any substitute for the system of land ownership in this country is going to fall far short of the potentialities of the class to which I am proud to belong, and whose activities can be made of immeasurable value to the government of this country, and to its future stability.
§ I venture to ask the present Govern-meet whether they can, situated as they are, initiate—and I believe they will go down to posterity with a great and lasting reputation for their public spirit if they do—an entirely new agricultural policy founded not upon nationalisation, not upon wages boards, not upon this and that palliative, but upon sound, common-sense knowledge of the industry, and with a desire to attain maximum production of wealth from the land of this country? I think that the present Government have a unique opportunity, which may never recur, of bringing lasting stability to this, our basic industry, 1122 and thereby much needed stability to the whole body politic. I earnestly hope they will grasp it.
§ THE LOUD PRESIDENT OF THE COUKCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, I think it will be convenient if I intervene at this stage, and endeavour to answer the two notable speeches which we have heard from the noble Marquess and the noble Lord opposite, Lord Bledisloe. I need hardly say, in answer to the latter's peroration, if I may so call it, that we are intensely desirous to initiate and carry out the constructive policy which he has indicated, and I hope before I sit down that I shall be able to convince him that not only in many directions do we agree with what he has stated this afternoon—and we know the enormous experience he has had of these matters—but also with his way of carrying the ideas out. If I understand what the noble Lord has said, we not only agree with him, but we shall endeavour so far as possible to proceed on the lines he has indicated. I think, however, it would be convenient to separate my answer to the noble Marquess from that to the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, in order to keep the two matters distinct.
In answer to the noble Marquess I may say that the Government agree, I think, in all he said as regards wages boards and the status of the agricultural labourer, and if I attempt to correct his statements in one or two particulars, I hope he will not consider that I do so in a critical spirit, but in order that we may lead up accurately to the proposals which I shall state the Government are going to make. The first matter upon which I think the noble Marquess was in error was in regard to the Corn Production Act of 1917. The only minimum figure that I can find in that Act—and it is in accordance with my recollection—is a minimum figure of 25s.
§ LORD PARMOOR
That is only a minimum in this sense: that no farmer, or no cultivator, is to have the benefit of that Act if he does not pay a minimum wage of 25s. That, in my view, is a most inadequate minimum, and I am sure the noble Marquess will agree with me on that point. Apart from that, what we find in the Corn Production Act is not a fixed minimum but wages boards that can 1123 fix a minimum which almost necessarily must vary according to the conditions of agriculture in different parts of the country. In regard to what was called the Boscawen Act, he mentioned a figure of 45s. There was no minimum figure in the Boscawen Act at all. The principle was that the wages boards, acting partly locally, should consider what was the best economic wage that the industry could bear, and no doubt there was one case—there may have been more—in which the minimum was fixed at 45s. But that does not mean that there was anything like a general minimum wage of 45s. ; it only meant that a minimum of 45s. was fixed for those particular conditions. It meant that the conditions were such that a minimum wage of that amount was properly justified.
May I add this in reference to what the noble Marquess has said in regard to the minimum wage? We talk as though agriculture were one industry. So it is; it is the basic industry in the country. But the conditions under which it is carried on vary exceedingly as regards character of the soil, climate, conditions of markets and many other respects, and a minimum wage which may be very proper in one district may be wholly too low in another; a minimum wage may be justified in one district but most difficult to justify in another. May I give an illustration of what I mean? I know a farm which belongs to a connection of mine in Yorkshire. It is being carried on under the supervision of Leeds University, and so far has been very successful. The farm has been handed over as a research farm, although the owners are finding the capital and running the risk. Take the conditions there. The wage bill at the present time—I am not exaggerating at all—is two or three times the amount of the average wage bill on a similar farm. It is not only that the minimum wage paid is high, between 40s. and 50s. per week, but that the number of workers employed is very large. There you get conditions with which the noble Marquess would entirely agree—where a high rate of farming is carried on under the best conditions of research available, showing that they not only bring about a high average wage but also double the ordinary employment which farms of the same average character have given in the district.
1124 The noble Marquess was forcing an open door in what he said about the wages boards. No doubt he bears in mind what the Prime Minister said in his speech in the House of Commons on February 12. He stated that the Government proposed to set up again agricultural wages boards, but he went a bit further and said it was to be the first reform in the agricultural policy of the present Government. Let me also quote what Lord Ernle, then Mr. Prothero, said when the Commons were discussing the Corn Production Bill on April 24, 1917. What the noble Lord said then represents not only the view of the noble Marquess but the view of the great majority of your Lordships and of those who really interest themselves practically in agriculture. Your Lordships will recollect that when the wages boards were being fixed great advantages were to be given on the other side to the farmers.
Mr. Prothero referred to the amounts—I forget what they are—but this is what he said when repudiating the notion that the principle of the minimum wage was in any way dependent on a proposal for the benefit of the farmers:—I do not think it is a satisfactory way when paying a minimum wage to say that it is part of the bargain between the State and the agriculturist. I should prefer to put it on higher and more national grounds, and say that it is absolutely necessary for the national welfare that agricultural wages should be raised.I think that represents the view of the noble Marquess, and I am quite sure I may add—most of us are cognisant of the conditions of agriculture in our own districts—that there is no member of your Lordships' House who would not desire in some way or other that a decent living wage should, so far as possible, be assured to the agricultural labourer in all districts. The difficulty is that he has not the same power of bargaining as trades unionists in what are called our organised trades, but, apart from any economic doctrine or theoretical idea, it is quite right on national grounds that provision should be made in order that he may have what I call a decent living wage, having regard to the conditions of agriculture in the district in which he lives.
Let me carry this a little further in order to show how nearly we are all agreed on this basic principle as regards 1125 the reform of our agricultural system. Last Saturday there appeared in The Times, under the heading "The Nation and Agriculture," what was called the landowners' policy. I should never say, I would not say so here, that it is right to attack landowners on the ground that they have not always been in favour of a generous policy as regards the agricultural labourer. What they say is this: It comes from the Central Landowners' Association, who are talking about the central wages board and opposing it on the ground that local conditions are so different in different places that a central body cannot operate fairly. They say:The same objections do not apply to properly constituted machinery locally applied, even if it includes the appointment of an independent chairman and the registration of decisions.That, of course, is an incident as to how you set up your boards. I am dealing now with the question of principle. The statement goes on—Both sides will have confidence in their representatives,"—namely, the farmer or landowner on the one side and the labourer on the other—and substantial justice may be anticipated from them. Very careful consideration would be necessary for those who, by reason of old age, physical injury, or other defect are incapable of being employed at the full rate of wages.I welcome that statement from the Central Landowners' Association, and the Government welcome it, because it shows that the policy to which the Government if committed, wages boards, has the assent of the body which represents the landowners of this country.
On the following day the policy was referred to by the National Farmers' Union. They pointed out that they were more interested than the owners in the question of a minimum wage or wages boards. That is perfectly true. They accepted the proposition that two-thirds of the capital in the industry came from the owners. They did not question it. It was also put forward by the Central Landowners' Association. They said, in effect : "It is all very well for the owners to talk about wages boards, but we are the people really interested." I understand, however, that they did not object to the principle. As regards the application of the principle one has, of course, to consider the particular machinery.
1126 Accordingly the time has arrived when, apart from all controversy—if I may glance for a moment at Lord Bledisloe's remarks—all parties interested in this great industry are at one as to the basic foundation of further reform, and agree that we must have a wages board which will be properly constituted to deal with this question of wages in order to ensure as far as possible that every agricultural labourer shall have the advantages to which he is entitled. With regard to that which was said by Lord Bledisloe, I may say that I hope that we are on the highway to getting this great reform settled on a satisfactory basis. The actual Bill is being prepared.
May I add one word as regards another point to which the noble Marquess referred ? It is true that a year or two ago—I forget the exact date—we did deal with the question of conciliation by itself in this House. In other words, it was hoped that by conciliation between the parties interested we could get this wages question settled without further trouble or further machinery. Unfortunately, that process has worked out in a very unsatisfactory manner. I will tell your Lordships how it has worked out, because it denotes the absolute necessity of having 6ome other body than the local conciliation bodies by which to put a proper wage into operation if it becomes necessary to do so. I asked to be supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture with the results of the present conciliation system, and they have given me a note to this effect.
The system of fixing minimum rates of wage by voluntary conciliation committees has admittedly failed. Only 13 of the 63 agricultural conciliation committees have agreements in existence at the present time, and only 24 have reached agreements at any time since the autumn of 1922. These committees are composed of equal numbers of representatives of local employers and local workers, and the primary defect of the system has been that, when the two sides have failed to adjust their differing points of view, there has been no means of securing a decision. Although it has been open to the two sides to select an independent person to act as chairman and to empower him to vote, such a course has only been taken in one instance. In offering only a very low rate of wage the employers' side has always been in the 1127 strong position of knowing that, owing to the lack of organisation among agricultural workers, the individual workers will have to accept that rate if no agreement is reached by the conciliation committee, and they have known, further, that in most cases any independent chairman acceptable to the workers' side would have felt himself impelled to reject the rate offered by the employers, and that any form of arbitration would have resulted in a higher rate. The result is the breakdown of the conciliation committee machinery, which, of course, can only be expected to function successfully in industries where both sides are strongly organised, and where each side has other and equal resources if friendly negotiations fail.
I may tell your Lordships that there will be included, at any rate in some form, in the Bill which, I hope, is going to be introduced before Easter in another place, a method of conciliation, but a method by which either party to the conciliation committee may carry a point to a central tribunal, in order that the matter may be determined and that there may be a real sanction as regards the operation of these wages boards. I hope that the noble Marquess will be satisfied with the answer that I have given. So far as I know, there is no other matter which he raised in his Question with which it is in any sense my duty to deal at the present moment. I now propose, therefore, to leave the question of wages boards and to deal with the Questions addressed to me by the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe.
May I say first of all—because I have known him for so many years—that I think there is no one whose opinion is of greater weight upon matters of this kind than that of Lord Bledisloe? He has approached the question from a double standpoint—from the scientific side, and also from his enormous practical experience of his own farming and farming schemes. I agree with him, of course, as everyone would—perhaps, indeed, it is only a matter of words—that we ought to have a national agricultural policy, and I also agree with him, (and I sincerely hope that this Government may succeed in the attempt) that we ought to have a national agricultural policy that is likely to have continuity and stability. I think that is of the very greatest importance.
1128 The noble Lord put three alternatives. One alternative was, I imagine, really unthinkable—namely that of leaving matters as they are, or of allowing them to drift in the wrong direction. It is clear to my mind—and, after all, it is just about fifty years ago that I first began life as a, farmer—that matters cannot be allowed to drift on as they are drifting at the present time. I do not want to exaggerate what has been called the depression in agriculture. I think it has often been exaggerated. There is no depression as regards the grass lands, and there is not much depression as regards the mixed farms. Where the depression is really felt is in the great corn-growing districts of East Anglia and Lincolnshire.
May I give what I may call a homely illustration? People talk a great deal of depression in agriculture, but the other day I had a farm to let; it was a Chiltern hill farm, and by no means an inviting one, but I had fifty applications as soon as it was known that the farm was to let. I do not deal with these myself ; they are dealt with by my son, who is my agent in the country. All sorts of rents were suggested. No owner would think of accepting more than that which he considered a fair rent, and that went by, but in addition a large number of these applicants begged me to put their names upon a list, in order that they might have the first opportunity if, by chance, another farm became vacant. That does not look like a very depressed condition in agriculture. I admit that the farm to which I am referring was a comparatively small one of about 100 acres, and on a farm of that kind the wage question does not apply, because it is practically carried on by the man and his family. But here was the case of a poor farm, hilly and difficult to work, and there were fifty applications as soon as it was known that it was vacant. Do not let us be led away, therefore, by the thought that this depression in agriculture is depression of a kind which is wiping the industry out at the present time. That would be an entirely exaggerated view.
The second suggestion which was made by Lord Bledisloe, and which I want to deal with at greater length, because I, want to set out what our policy is under these heads, was the development of a definite national plan. That is a matter 1129 which I will come back to, because I think it is really the kernal and gist of the whole matter. Thirdly, he said that we must not vacillate between different Governments. Nothing can be worse than vacillation of that sort. I and the Government are entirely with him. Can we get a definite national agricultural policy, acceptable, so far as possible, to all people interested in the agricultural industry? The first step which I would like to call his attention to is this: You want to find the right people with whom to discuss a matter of this sort, and we have had very much in mind what the noble Lord has stated in addressing your Lordships. We have asked among others those whose names I will presently enumerate to give us the benefit of their views, in order that we may get a definite national plan, such as the noble Lord has referred to. The first name on my list is that of the noble Lord himself.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I am afraid I must interrupt the noble and learned Lord. I was asked to join a Committee on a different matter—namely, to decide upon the lines for marketing in a co-operative way.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My note is that the invitation was more general. Even so, the noble Lord's opinion is of great importance. I have here a number of other names. They are as follows:—Lord Clinton, Lord Northbrook, the Right Hon. Francis Acland, M.P., Sir Douglas Newton, M.P., Sir E. J. Russell, Mr. Christopher Turner, the Hon. E. C. Strutt, Mr. Hope Simpson, M.P., Mr. F. N. Blundell, M.P., Prof. T. B. Wood, and the National Farmers' Unions of England and Scotland, and the two Agricultural Workers' Unions.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I hope the noble and learned Lord will forgive me for again interrupting, but the matter is of enormous importance, and I think that if it is, reported in the Press to-morrow the question will at once arise as to whether these gentlemen have been approached with a view to trying to agree upon a national agricultural policy, or only upon one very small item in what may eventually become such a policy.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I agree, and I should be intensely sorry to be inaccurate On a point of this kind. Perhaps I had 1130 better read the words of the note given to me, and if the noble Lord wishes to pass any criticism upon it he will be pleased to do so. The note is as follows:—With regard to the particular point raised in Lord Bledisloe's Motion as to consultation with spokesmen of other political Parties as to an agricultural policy, some informal conversations have taken place with leading agricultural members of both Liberal and Conservative Parties. A number of prominent agriculturists were recently asked to send in their views on questions of agricultural policy and these are now receiving the consideration of the Minister.Among those asked for their views is the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe. That is right, is it?
§ LORD BLEDISLOE indicated assent.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I think the noble Lord will agree that that shows that we are proceeding upon the views indicated in his own Question. We are taking the views of leading agricultural members of both Parties, and we are asking, in order to get a definite national policy, those whom I have mentioned, and some others, for their views. I can say this to the noble Lord, and with authority, that if he thinks there has been any limitation in the questions addressed to him, I beg him to consider that that limitation is withdrawn, and to give us the full benefit of his ripe experience on this agricultural question.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I hope the noble and learned Lord will forgive me if I rise again. I think that in the observations he is making he is indicating that the Government have gone some way towards replying in the affirmative, but there is a great distinction between the leaders of the three political Parties and leading agriculturists of different political complexions.
§ LORD PARMOOR
What I read out referred to both, but I do not want to raise any further controversy with the noble Lord. All I can say, as to the suggestion of the noble Lord, is that it is our desire to do that, and we have taken the steps I have indicated. If they have not gone far enough, I hope that further steps will be taken, because it is of importance. It is a subject which comes home to my conscience more than any other political 1131 question. It has been part of my life, and it is a question on which I want to get a solution. The noble Lord has suggested that a solution might be found by getting some sort of agreement between Parties. If it can be done so much the better.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I will not quarrel with the noble Lord on words because we are both at one in substance. I want to say a word about Denmark. Everyone interested in farming ought to know the conditions in Denmark. I know the conditions of farming in many parts of Europe. Now, about Denmark. The other day there was a young student from Copenhagen University—a student in agriculture—who came over and stayed with my bailiff for about eight weeks, in order to compare the conditions in this country with those prevailing in Denmark. What the noble Lord has said is true, but this visitor told me something more which I should put in the forefront, and that is the question of agricultural education and agricultural research. What he told me was this. He said: "I am a University student, but I am also going to be an agriculturist. I have gone to the University for that purpose. I have a year off during my University career, in order to do practical work in farming. Really I act as labourer on the farm, in order to get practical experience. I am also allowed to travel, in order to obtain information. That is the reason I have come to England, and I was advised to come and stay with your bailiff."
What he told me was that the whole outlook with regard to agriculture differs in Denmark from that existing in England. In England the industrial centres attract the best men, while exactly the contrary happens in Denmark. In Denmark no young man of character and resource will take up anything but agriculture, and he said: "If you want to know the reason of our success, I will tell you what I believe it to be. During our University career, or after, we go to work for some particular farmer. We do not regard hours of labour, but simply try to make the farm on which we are working the best in the district." But that is not the real point. He says: "If after working the farmer 1132 gives us a good character for industry and resource, we can get credit—not from the Land Bank it is true, but from our banks—which enables us to set up and have a farm of our own."
Notice what that means. Of course, I suppose that any one who has a lot of Consols in his pocket in this country can get credit, but he cannot get credit on character and industry. But here is a man who says to himself: "I shall get my start if I obtain a good character from my University and from the man with whom I work ; I can go with that as an asset and get the money I want in order to start in the agricultural industry." And he further said: "If you find anyone in Denmark not in the agricultural industry, you know that he has failed, he has not been able to get the credit which he ought to have got from his character and industry. That is a fundamental difference between England and Denmark. In the one case the agricultural industry attracts all the best men, while in your country here it does not attract the best men." The reason of that is simply that we are a huge industrial population. Industrialism is the basis of our civilisation. In my opinion, it has gone too far, but, at any rate, the result is that agriculture has become almost a by-product of our ordinary civilised life. I certainly would do everything I possibly could to counteract that tendency. But you must recollect that it is no good referring to other countries unless you know the differences in the conditions under which agriculture is carried on there.
I really think that agriculture will, in a sense, be hopeless after a time unless it is brought up to date by means of proper agricultural education. Fortunately, movements have been set on foot in both of our older Universities, and in Leeds and other places, but not enough has been done. We are only on the threshold of what is necessary in respect of agricultural education if we are to place this great basic industry in a proper position. And the same is true of research. An enormous amount of research is essential in order to keep agricultural industry up to date. Look at what has been done, for instance, by agricultural research at Cambridge in the development of new wheats. That is one illustration. In the same way, you need research of that kind 1133 to cover the whole field of agriculture—amongst other things, as the noble Lord pointed out, into foot-and-mouth disease. Let no mistake be made, you have to keep your agriculture up to date, and you can only do that by encouraging agricultural education and agricultural research. Un-fortunately, the traditions of this country, as regards agricultural education and research, have not been very advanced. They have to be further encouraged and developed.
The noble Lord, after speaking of Denmark, referred to co-operation. What he said is quite true. You need cooperation for the smaller farmers. We should like to see it produce the marvellous effect which was produced at one time by Sir Horace Plunkett's work in Ireland. You cannot get that all at once. I should like to remind the noble Lord of something which he himself said—I forget whether it was in a conversation or in a speech—namely, that "You will not get successful co-operation until you have taught the farmers what it means. It is no good merely using the word 'co-operation'; you must go to the farmers and smallholders and show them what it means, and why it is necessary." In the same way, it is no good having agricultural research unless you bring the results of that research home to the practical farmer. The practical farmer in England believes in nothing except tradition. He believes that as the land has been cultivated, so it should be cultivated for all time. And, if you want him to utilise these new ideas to which I have called attention, you must encourage him, you must bring them to his door, you must show him in a practical way what their value really is. I believe that if that is done, if the benefits of co-operation are taught, if the effects of co-operation are brought home to the smallholder or the small farmer, you will have at any rate one direction in which, on a national basis, we may hope for an improvement in the condition of our agricultural industry.
Another point is credit. Of course, credit is necessary, and the great difficulty of many farmers is that they cannot get it. It was much easier in former days than it is now, because the farmer went to the local bank, his crops and so on were known to his neighbours, and he was given credit, much in the same way that the new Danish student is given credit 1134 on his character and industry. I wish that that could be restored. It is much the same as the banking system in America. Dr. Hadley, of Yale University, said, in effect: "The great distinction between your country and ours is this: we are proud where I live, by means of our local bank, to advance, as far as we can, the early efforts of young people who want to start in life. That is our object. Occasionally, of course, we find a mistake is made, but the system has been an enormous advantage on the whole." I want, if we can, to have something of the same system of credit as regards agriculture. Assuming that you have got a really promising student, who is vouched for by a considerable number of friends and neighbours, who know him, but whose only asset, after all, is his character—he probably has never seen a Consol in his life—that is the man who ought to be helped, that is the man we want to encourage in the agricultural industry, and I see no reason why that should not be done under a proper system of credit.
As regards allotments, about which the noble Marquess knows a good deal, they are, of course, to be encouraged in every way. But, in the case of the country—and I am now only stating my own view, though I feel it very strongly—I wish that the principle could be established that a garden should be attached to each country cottage, because there is an enormous difference in the practical advantage to a labourer, who, after all, leads a tiring life, if he can have his garden at hand, with all the amenities belonging to it, rather than an allotment, which may be two or three miles away. That is a proper principle, and I wish we had undertaken long before some system by which, when a cottage is built, an adequate garden should be attached to it.
I should like also to say a word on small holdings. If I may give an instance from practical experience I took statistics not long ago, and statistics were also published in reference to Yorkshire, which showed that a very large number of farmers there had either been labourers or were the sons of labourers. I think it was 50 per cent. of the whole of the tenant farmers. But I do not want to rely upon a particular figure that I have not got. I recollect doing, with some youthful enthusiasm many years ago, exactly what the noble Lord mentioned. I 1135 had a number of small holdings and I built small premises for them. What happened? In every case, after a certain number of years, the men begged me to take them back, and to take them back again on grounds which may appeal to some of your Lordships. They said: "We want to have our wages on Saturday night. We cannot stand the anxiety when a storm arises of wondering whether our little crops are going to be spoilt or not." I do not want to put too much weight on that, but I know that it operated practically in the instance I have given.
Let me say a word about the position of smallholders in reference to what the noble Lord said. I am told that their position is not so bad as has been suggested. A year ago a comprehensive inquiry made by the Ministry revealed that of some 18,000 men settled since the war only 6.5 per cent. had had to give up owing to financial loss.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
I think the noble Lord said "a year ago," Most of the crashes have come during the last few months.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The noble Lord is right. It may be that most of the crashes have come during the last few months; but I do not think they can have gone as far as the noble Lord suggests, when a year ago only 6.5 per cent. of the 18,000 men settled since the war had had to give up owing to financial loss. I really think that there is sometimes exaggeration in these matters. I am one of those who strongly hold that it is a great mistake to place a smallholder in uncongenial agricultural conditions. At any rate, up to a year ago only 6.5 per cent. of 18,000 men had given up through financial loss. I ought to have gone a little further in reply to the noble Lord. Last year they did better than in 1921 and 1922. Potatoes, vegetables, etc., fetched better prices, and while some of the men are still in difficulties, the position on the whole is hopeful and there is no lack of suitable applicants for any holding which 1136 falls vacant. I do not want to get into controversy with the noble Lord, but those are the statistics which are given to me. In these cases somewhat wide reaching statements are sometimes made which have to be analysed when one comes to matters of detail.
I have gone through the points upon my note and I do not think there is any other specific matter to which the noble Lord referred. I want, in conclusion, however, to say this to him and to all others who are interested in agriculture. I do not want to be controversial. There is no object in being controversial. We want to bring about a national settlement. No one feels more deeply than I do what a tremendous advantage to our national position a national settlement of the agricultural question would be. From what the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, or the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, has said, it does not appear to me that there is any difference between us in principle. There may be differences, of course, in the application of principle.
There always must be room for criticism, but if criticism has its say, without putting what is constructive on the other side, you will do nothing. I want to go beyond that. Never mind what has been said up to this date. On behalf of the Government I ask everyone who is interested in agriculture, and who wishes to have this great national policy, to come forward and to give his views. Out of those views and out of the consideration that I am certain the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government would give to them, I sincerely hope that this great question, which is one of the great questions of our economic life, may be settled on a national and definite basis.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, I do not desire to detain your Lordships for more than a minute or two, but I wish to make one remark upon the statement of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord President, in reference to wages boards. He was good enough to allude to a report of the Central Landowners' Association, and to approve of a statement which they made in regard to conciliation boards for wages. I am delighted to know that he approves; but I hope his enthusiasm for those proposals will not lead him to read into them more than they are intended to convey. I have seen, with very great 1137 regret, that the conciliation boards which were set up a year or two ago have, unfortunately, not been successful in this country. We see that in very few cases have agreements been arrived at. In a very large number of cases in which agreement has been reached, that agreement has not been respected by many of those whom the boards are supposed to represent.
There must be some form of collective bargaining in these days. I regret it exceedingly. I wish wet could deal entirely in the individual fashion of the past. But now that organisation is extreme on both sides, I am afraid we have to put up with some form of collective bargaining. So long as that collective bargaining is in the hands of the representatives of the employers and labourers in localities I have no fear but that we may get satisfactory results. We go so far as to say that, in order to make those boards effective, we will accept the idea of an independent chairman, with power for registering decisions. But the noble and learned Lord must not go any further than that. His concluding sentence led me to believe that while he accepted the idea of these local bodies with an independent chairman, there was to be, beyond that, some central body which would review their decisions. If that is so, we are going straight back to the national wages board to which we all so strongly object.
I regret, may I say, even from the noble and learned Lord's point of view, that he should bring any idea of a national wages board into the clauses of a Bill. It wall arouse the most extreme opposition. We all know how difficult it is to get agricultural Bills through both Houses of Parliament, and it seems to me to be unnecessary, when, as I believe, you can get all that you desire by means of the conciliation boards that we propose, to go out of your way to stir up opposition by going back to the central wages board to which great objection is bound to be taken.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that, thanks to the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, and my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, we have had an extremely interesting discussion. Although, possibly, my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire may sometimes have sacrificed strict 1138 accuracy for a more picturesque presentment, I am sure that the discussion we have had this afternoon has been not only of interest to the House itself but will have an important effect in the country. So far as I can understand the views of His Majesty's Government at the moment, we are to have in the course of the next few days a Bill introduced dealing with wages and conciliation. On the proposals of a Bill such as that we shall reserve our criticism until we have had an opportunity of seeing them in print. I hope His Majesty's Government will bear in mind, however, the warning which has just fallen from my noble friend Lord Clinton—namely, that while there is a feeling on all sides that adequate remuneration should be secured to all who are engaged in agriculture, it is a question of the method by which that result can be achieved.
I understand further that the Government contemplate calling together a body to be composed of gentlemen whose names were read out by the Lord President, although I did not gather that the noble Lord made any reference as to what this body was actually to inquire into.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I think we on this side of the House can thank the Government for the steps which they have taken, but, after all, they are only following out the suggestions that we ourselves made in the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of this Session. May I venture to remind your Lordships that the paragraph which was inserted in the King's Speech ran as follows:—The condition of agriculture remains a source of serious anxiety. My Ministers propose to summon a conference representative of all those interested in agriculture, and of the various political parties, with the object of arriving at an agreed policy, by which the acreage of arable land may be maintained, and regular employment at an adequate wage secured for the agricultural worker.I hope that the Government will go even a little further than the arable land, and that they will enter into the wider question of agriculture generally. We have not had the time to consider the names which were only read out across the floor, but, so fax as I am individually concerned, I think the Government, if I may say so, have succeeded in making a very useful list.
§ LORD CLINTON
Is not the noble Duke under a misapprehension? This body has never been called together. I gather that my name was mentioned among those upon it. I have never been invited to be a member of a body It is a fact that the Minister of Agriculture wrote to us individually, and asked for individual opinions, but there is no body in existence, so far as I am aware.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I gather that was the first step. I did not want to be too positive about it. I read from the actual paper what the conditions were.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I was hoping that the Government were going to follow the course we had been proposing to take in the convening of a conference representative of all interested in agriculture, and of the various political Parties. I was not aware that those whose names have been read out were to be consulted as individuals. I understood from the speech of the Lord President that there was to be a body which was to meet for the purpose of conference, such as we ourselves had contemplated. I entirely agree with the Lord President that in dealing with a great national industry like agriculture it is better if you can do so to avoid controversy, and look to matters upon which you can work together.
I trust that I shall adhere to the general line of conduct that he suggested. The Lord President answered with very great care and clearness, I think, almost all the questions that were suggested by the noble Marquess, and by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, but there was one question which he did not answer, and it is one in which both your Lordships' House and the country as a whole is much interested. His Majesty's Government must pardon us if we sometimes go beyond their immediate statements, and endeavour to ascertain the views of those who are very largely responsible for maintaining them in office at the moment. As Lord Bledisloe has reminded your Lordships this afternoon, an extremely able document was issued by the Independent Labour Party a short time ago. I believe it almost took the form of a Bill. Lord Bledisloe asked if the proposals of the Government were to be on the lines indicated in this document of the Independent Labour Party. We heard that His 1140 Majesty's Government were instituting an inquiry and a conference, and I trust that they are not yet wedded or committed to any precise Bill, and that, therefore, the proposals of the Independent Labour Party, although no doubt they will receive the consideration that they deserve, are not going to form the basis of the Government's agricultural policy.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I am glad to get that on the authority of the Lord President. It is a little difficult perhaps to make suggestions when we know that the whole subject is going to be inquired into, but I hope that the very important Report issued in November of last year by Lord Linlithgow's Committee will receive that consideration which it deserves. I have no doubt it has received, and is receiving, the best consideration of those who take a deep interest in this matter, but I regret that the amount of public interest which has so far been taken in it is not nearly what it deserves. I hope that a great deal more consideration will be given to it.
§ LORD PARMOOR
If I may interrupt the noble Duke for one moment, I ought to have mentioned it. I believe we are in harmony with almost every proposal made in that extraordinarily valuable Report of the Committee over which Lord Linlithgow presided.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I am glad to receive that assurance from the noble Lord. If we had been continuing in office I think we should have been able to give a great measure of support to the majority of the proposals contained in that Report. In considering these matters, whether by conference or by a consultation of individuals, I hope that we shall attempt to get at the bottom of the troubles from which the agricultural world is suffering. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it does no good to exaggerate the depression, but I would point out that at the present moment it is not merely the big arable areas that are suffering, though the industry generally is suffering from uncertainty and lack of 1141 security. It is due to the agricultural industry that those who are engaged in it should be relieved, so far as possible, of those anxieties, and of that lack of security. After all, it is of no use having inquiries and talking about wages boards unless the industry is going to be placed in a position in which it can be managed upon a sound economic basis. It is undoubtedly the case that at the present moment the industry is called upon to bear a heavier share of our national burdens than almost any other industry. This is not merely a question of whether this or that individual is able to make a satisfactory livelihood. It is a question which goes right to the very heart of our national existence. It is a mistake to regard this question purely as an agricultural one, for it is almost as important to the consumers as it is to the producers. When the Government are considering these matters I hope that they will endeavour still further to relieve the industry of those burdens which at present weigh so heavily upon it.
May I refer to one or two details contained in the Linlithgow Report? I hope that.we shall be able to look for some assistance in dealing with the problem of bringing the consumer and the producer into closer relationship with one another. I trust it will be a very long time indeed before British farmers lose their characteristic of individualism which has been one of their proudest boasts. By tradition, training and experience, they have justified a claim to individualism, and it will be a bad day not only for the race but for the industry if that characteristic disappears. At the same time, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that they have to be trained and must experience the value of co-operation and combination.
Let me recount a short experience of my own—and it will be an indication also of the progress which has been made. In the early part of the year 1920 I came home from Canada for five or six weeks. I made up my mind that I would not take part in any public business on this side, but, rather reluctantly, I was persuaded to take the chair at a meeting held in my county town of Derby in connection with the co-operative movement. During the few weeks I spent in England I saw a good deal that rather filled me with anxiety and a certain amount of 1142 fear as to what was coming over the country, but I confess that I was never more surprised in my life than to see at a meeting which was attended by from 1,200 to 1,500 farmers a resolution moved from the body of the hall to the effect that the capital of that company should be increased. It was suggested that there should be either an acreage contribution or a contribution per head of cattle. This resolution was moved and seconded, and carried by acclamation. I thought that indeed serious changes had taken place in this country when a large body of British farmers on their own initiative volunteered to add capital to a great industrial co-operative movement of that character. I do not know whether we have made the same progress since, but I am quite sure that farmers must inevitably see the benefit and importance of combination and co-operation.
The Government, whatever complexion it may have, can help. But the best help any Government can give is to encourage the farmers to do this themselves, and it is to the three parties interested in agriculture, landowners, tenants and labourers, that we must look for development and improvement in this respect. The Government can, of course, remove certain disabilities and difficulties. I do not wish to ask them to-day for subsidies or grants, but I do ask the Government to give, these great societies a full opportunity of doing their own work in their own way, and if we are able to work together on these lines, I am confident we shall be able to do a considerable amount to relieve the depression which is on the industry to-day.
I entirely agree with what has been said by Lord Bledisloe and the Lord President of the Council that we have to develop far more the opportunities for research and training. The two Universities with which I have the privilege to be connected are making, I hope, useful contributions in the direction of research. I am going to take part at Leeds very shortly in a movement for the further extension of the agricultural college. I trust we shall have the good wishes of the Government and be able further to develop our work on our present lines.
There is one other point, raised by Lord Bledisloe, to which I desire to refer. Certainly all of us who wish to work on the 1143 lines of co-operation do not contemplate that there should be any levelling down. What we are anxious to do is to level up. We want more systems of standardisation by which consumers can be satisfied that what they buy is the best. By the efforts of Lord Bledisloe and many others it has been possible to do this, and it will be a very retrograde step to contemplate any action by which these high standards should be diminished. In fact, efforts will have to be made to work up to the excellence they have achieved. I think we can thank the Lord President of the Council for the indications, both of a positive and negative character, that he has given us this afternoon. I can assure him, speaking I believe for all my colleagues on this side of the House, that while we shall carefully study proposals that are put before us we shall, if we can, be only too proud to give them our best assistance.
§ LORD PENTLAND
My Lords, there is one suggestion I should like to offer to the Lord President of the Council who, in his speech this afternoon, invited suggestions from any part of the House. Undoubtedly, there is a very general agreement, however arrived at and however slow the process, on the point that a minimum wage for agricultural workers must, in the end, become a charge on the industry if we are to do our utmost to secure the maximum productivity from the soil. The goal of all our efforts is to secure a maximum productivity from the soil. It is to that end that all the research work, co-operation and scientific investigation are directed ; but there is another important thing, too.
We want to attract the best brains in the country to the farming industry. The foundation of the whole thing is that farming shall be treated as a business, like any other business, that you should put the farmer, whether he is large or small, in such a position that it will be to his interest to use to his utmost all his skill and intelligence, and all his experience, in order to make the utmost use of whatever facilities you can afford him in the way of scientific knowledge and investigation, and that he should be able, without risking his capital, to cooperate with other farmers. That is what we want to arrive at.
May I suggest, following what Lord Bledisloe has told us, that in Denmark 1144 the foundation of farming is peasant proprietorship ? It is impossible to develop the point more fully at this hour of the evening, but I do implore the Government to consider that the foundation of the whole system, whether in Denmark, or in Ireland or in other parts of the world, is the security that the farmer has had that the profits of his efforts and of his capital is assured. It is this that induces him to put forth the utmost of his endeavours to make the soil of his own farm and of the country as a whole fruitful. In some parts of the world, this is done chiefly by securing fixity of tenure and fair rent. That was the principle adopted in Scotland, and extended there some years ago. But whether the method be peasant proprietorship or, as in parts of our own country, the method of fair rent and security of tenure, I would implore the Government to consider whether that is not the first and primary essential for giving full fruit to all the other ancillary of auxiliary methods which have been discussed so fully and have met with such a measure of agreement from all parts of your Lordships' House this afternoon.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, my peculiar position gives me access to the hearts of farmers and to the hearts of labourers alike, and I immensely welcome the statements that we have heard from the Lord President of the Council as to the efforts that are likely to be made to raise the question of agriculture above Party politics. At the same time, I do not feel quite certain that he laid so much stress as I could have wished to have heard laid upon the second part of the resolution that was read to us—namely, that all political Parties should be called in to combine in the matter. The impression left upon me by his speech was that the primary aim of the Government would be to collect individual opinions from persons of all political shades. Those opinions will, of course, be enormously important, because we need to know expert opinion, and if wise men put their heads together something good is likely to result. But there will be no great gain from such consultation unless a real effort is made to combine all political Parties and their heads in an attempt to raise our agricultural policy above Party enterprise and to place it in such a position as we see extended to our foreign policy.
1145 The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, I think very reasonably, pressed this point with the Lord President, and I hope the pressure he used will be reflected in the efforts of the Lord President in securing a great endeavour, when the three Parties in the State are so nearly evenly balanced, to raise this question in such a way that all may be united to give stability to the agricultural industry. It is stability, above everything else, that is wanted from the bottom to the top. If you look at the bottom, it is stability that the labourer wishes to have. He wishes to know that he can rely upon his steady wage, wet days or fine days, that he can look forward and be sure that he will bring home to his wife a certain sum, and will go on doing so. The noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, told us of the poverty in which some of our agricultural labourers live, and I am afraid the evidence of some of our hospitals only too clearly points in that direction. Only the other day I was hearing of the many ailments there treated that either arose from malnutrition or were encouraged by malnutrition. The labourer wants to be certain of his hire.
It is the same with the farmer. We have been discussing in a most interesting debate the question of conciliation boards, and so on. One or two noble Lords who spoke brought agriculture more closely into line, I thought, than is quite appropriate with other large industries and with factories. The parallel is really not quite close. In agriculture more men may be required at one time of the year than at another, and the farmer can make a push to get on without a pair of hands that on the whole he would be glad to have, but may not be able to afford if the wage paid is beyond that which his own cultivation justifies. There is always the danger that conciliation boards may provide wages on the right scale but may tend to exaggerate unemployment. You cannot compel a man to employ so many men on his farm if his farm does not justify the expenditure.
The farmer, above all men, wants stability. He wants to know that as he looks ahead—and he must make his plans a year ahead—he will not find that when half a year has gone his plans have been entirely spoilt by a change of policy. I, for one, can scarcely see how that is likely to come about unless not merely 1146 political experts from all Parties, but the heads of political Parties and the policies of those Parties are united together to secure a continuous policy in the matter of agriculture. The farmers want to know that they can trust in the Government of the future as well as in the Government of the day, and it will be a most blessed thing for them to know that when the Government of one day has passed away they can still trust in the continuity of the policy that has been initiated. I believe that if that policy were such as to encourage trust all round it would quickly be reflected in our fields; there would be greater effort, greater hope and an absence of that suspicion which is so prevalent in agriculture, as, indeed, in other commercial life and elsewhere. It will have been a good day for agriculture if the result of the Questions that have been put in the House this evening is to promote the stability of agricultural policy, which, I believe, is the one way to rescue our agriculture from the difficulties in which it finds itself to-day.
§ THE SECIIETABY OF STATE FOR INDIA (LORD OLIVIER)
My Lords, on one very small point I think it may be useful that I should supplement that which has transpired in the House this evening—namely, the question of education and research, to which both Lord Bledisloe and the Duke of Devonshire have referred. We are too often apt to forget the very great provision that has already be-en made by preceding Governments for research. We have the Development Fund, which already has money at its disposal, and into which, when the Corn Production Act was repealed, another allotment of £1,000,000 was placed, £850,000 being for expenditure in England. That amount is now being expended, and some £500,000 is being utilised for financing research institutes, including Universities, centres such as Rothamsted and certain agricultural colleges. That is to say, we are at present, I think, provided with reasonable funds for making use in that manner of all the available talent that we can find. It is made as a reproach generally against the Labour Party, and the members of the Independent Labour Party, that they are extremely addicted to theories, and I think I may say with 1147 confidence that they are quite as enthusiastic about agricultural education as the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloc.