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and embodied in an Act which was passed by large majorities. An agricultural policy was thus framed and endorsed with every demonstration that it was regarded as of vital importance to the nation. The one supreme merit claimed for it, whatever defects in detail it might possess, was that it was permanent; and Parliament was invited to insert a very unusual, if not unprecedented, provision which, so far as was consistent with constitutional practice, pledged it not to alter the Act without giving four years' notice. There were certain sceptical persons who were not impressed by this imposing parade of resolution, and who warned farmers that in any case no pledges, however solemn, could bind the next Government or the next Parliament. But even the most cynical refrained from suggesting their repudiation by the same Government and the same Parliament. The policy and the pledges were, however, abandoned and repudiated within six months-one of the most remarkable examples of tergiversation in political history. And perhaps even more remarkable still was the fact that the Prime Minister and the late Minister for Agriculture, who had made themselves prominently responsible for the policy, left the explanation of the Government's action to the present Minister of Agriculture, who had no personal responsibility for the policy.
The Agriculture Act, which received the Royal Assent on Dec. 23, 1920, re-enacted the provisions of the Corn Production Act, 1917, with certain modifications. The Act of 1917 guaranteed for every acre of wheat and oats produced the payment of a sum equal, in the case of wheat to four times, and in the case of oats five times, the difference between the average market price and the following prices per quarter:
S. d. 1917.
38 6 1918-19
32 0 1920-22
24 0 In the place of this scale the Agriculture Act substituted a scheme which involved a calculation-by Commissioners appointed for the purpose-of the cost of production of wheat and oats in each year, and of the
extent to which the cost differed from that of the • standard' year 1919.
year 1919. The minimum prices in each year to be substituted for those in the Corn Production Act were to be such sums as were calculated to bear the same relation to the prices of the standard' year-i.e. Wheat, 68s. per 504 lbs.; Oats, 46s. per 336 lbs.-as the calculated difference in the cost of production.
In a Memorandum (Cmd. 741) laid before the House of Commons explaining the financial provisions of the Agriculture Bill, the hope was expressed that it would stimulate production and secure an increased acreage of wheat and oats in the United Kingdom.' It was suggested that the wheat area might be increased from 2,370,000 acres (at which it stood in 1919) to 4,000,000 acres, and the oats area from 5,118,000 acres to 6,000,000 acres. If these hopes were fulfilled it was pointed out that a difference of ls. between the minimum and the average price would involve a payment from the Exchequer of 2,300,0001. It is evident that market prices in this country are not dependent upon, and do not follow closely, the cost of production, although in the long run the cost of production must be adjusted to the price. But the assumption that in the same year cost of production and prices would move so harmoniously that the difference, on the basis of calculation adopted, would not exceed 1s. per quarter was singularly optimistic. It was stated in the Memorandum, quite truly, that it was 'impossible to forecast accurately the probable liability on public funds in respect of the guaranteed minimum prices,' although it was added that 'there seems no likelihood of prices falling at any time to anything approaching the pre-war figures.' As regards immediate liability, the confident statement was made that there is no likelihood of any such fall in the world prices of wheat as would render the guarantee operative in respect of the 1921 crop.'
As regards oats, however, it was admitted that the average market price 'might fall to a figure which would render the guarantee operative in the financial year 1922–23.'
Within three or four months after the passing of the Act it became apparent to the most casual observer of the economic situation that the expectations of the Government would be falsified, and that the liability
they had undertaken would involve substantial pay. ments. Taking the view that the Agriculture Act was
. a bargain with farmers, negotiations were opened with the National Farmers' Union; and an agreement was made that the Act should be repealed in consideration of a payment in respect of the 1921 crop of 31. per acre for wheat and 4l. per acre for oats, the provision of a sum of 1,000,0001. for agricultural education and research, and the retention of Part II of the Act, wbich is for the exclusive benefit of tenant farmers. The other parties concerned in the settled agricultural policy' of the Government were the agricultural labourers and the State. The former had secured the benefit of a legal minimum wage, and the latter had received some degree of assurance that agricultural land should be properly cultivated.
Out of the wreckage of the agricultural policy, which had been announced with so much enthusiasm and acclaimed with so much fervour, there has emerged, after the payment of some 18,000,0001. in settlement of the farmers' claim, (1) a contribution of 1,000,0001. towards the promotion of agricultural education and research, (2) some additional security for tenant farmers' capital, and (3) a system, in England and Wales, of Conciliation Committees for fixing by agreement rates of wages in agriculture. The principle that the State should attempt by direct action to stimulate increased production and secure improved cultivation-which was the basis of the policy-has been definitely abandoned. It has been not only abandoned but discredited. The abandonment of the policy is justified on the ground that it was inistaken and unsound, and that it is better for agriculture that the State should refrain from any such action as that contemplated in the Agriculture Act. The Repeal Act is commended, therefore, not only as the reversal of an unsound policy, but the recantation of a fundamental error.
Confronted with this situation, what are the present prospects of British agriculture? In the first place, it may be regarded as satisfactory that the air has been cleared. The bright visions of a vast extension of arable cultivation, of a nation which should be self-sufficient
in its food supplies, of a large increase of the rural population enjoying large profits or high wages, have faded like an unsubstantial pageant and left not a rack behind. We have returned to the realm of realities. The practical question remains, what will the nation do?
In the revulsion of feeling from the ill-starred attempt of the Government to deal with agriculture, many were disposed to say that the best service any Government can render is to leave it alone. This is not possible. The nation cannot ignore agriculture or treat the rural population as negligible. The question of the land and its utilisation remains of eternal interest to the whole community, and no Government can long profess indifference to it.
Two of the three classes concerned in agriculture have more or less formulated their demands. The National Farmers' Union has issued a statement of policy containing thirty-three items, of which nearly all call for fresh legislation. The most novel and at the same time the most drastic of their proposals are that agricultural land, being the farmers' raw material, should be exempt from rates; and that a ‘Board of Agriculture’ should be constituted 'on a more representative basis,' and should be responsible for the formulation of national agricultural policy.' The Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture, which include landowners as well as farmers, have issued an agricultural legislative programme. This, as befits a body having long experience of the possibilities of parliamentary action, is more limited in its range and more cautious in its demands, only ten subjects being suggested as requiring the attention of the Legislature.
The demands of the agricultural labourers are embodied in a pamphlet issued by the Labour Party, entitled “The Labour Party and the Countryside. It differs from both the statements above referred to in professing to formulate a complete agricultural policy and not in asking for legislation for the benefit of only one class of agriculturists. As Lord Ernle * has trenchantly observed, The Government's abandonment of its policy leaves the Labour Party in sole possession of
* The Times,' Dec. 19, 1921.
the field. They are the one section of the community which has put forward a definite programme with regard to agriculture and rural life. At present they have no competitor.' With many of the suggestions of the Labour Party there would be a large measure of agreement among agriculturists, but it is stated quite clearly that the substitution of public for private ownership-in other words, the Nationalisation of the Landunderlies in principle all the proposals.
To the principle of Land Nationalisation there is certainly no general assent; and by those engaged in agriculture-other than as labourers—it is commonly rejected with contumely. But it would be idle to deny that the issue is one which must be faced, and it would be equally idle to deny that a plausible case for a drastic change in our present land system can be formulated. Apart from theoretical arguments for the transfer of agricultural land from private to public ownership, there are two main lines of attack on the present system, viz. (1) That there are certain incidents in the present system which are prejudicial to the national interests ; and (2) that the present system has not only failed to secure the maximum production from the land, but that in fact production has declined, and is declining, under it. The first point is stated in some detail by the Labour Party as follows:
The Labour Party traces many of the evils of the present agricultural system, as well as much of the past oppression of the rural workers, to the power given to individuals by the private ownership of land. Though some landowners are eager to improve their own land, the landlord class, as a whole, with its bulwarks in the lawyers and land agents and in the House of Lords, is found obstructing every national reform concerning land. Here and there large tracts of land lie undeveloped or under-cultivated, or are used in ways hostile to the utmost food-production, because of the arbitrary decision, or the neglect, of private owners. The difficulties put by private ownership in the way of housing, extension of small holdings and land reclamation, are well known. The extortionate prices demanded whenever land has to be compulsorily taken for allotments or small holdings, railways, schools, waterworks, or other public needs, have been often exposed. Even more serious is the fact that, with