Jump to content
 

Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Torquay 1930

David Lloyd George (Liberal)

Location: Torquay

Commentary:

This conference was the first held since the Liberals joined Labour and the Conservatives to form a National Government in the wake of the Wall Street crash of 1929. The key problems at the time were unemployment - particularly Britain’s unbroken ten-year record of a million unemployed - and industry, where exports had yet to return to their pre-war levels, and international trade was in decline. To increase economic efficiency and reduce production costs, Lloyd George proposed drastic cuts in government spending, lower taxes, and the revival of the Trade Facilities Act. He also outlined measures to revitalise agriculture and alleviate the problem of overcrowded housing, which would themselves create jobs and tide the country over until the end of the depression.

I join with our Chairman in congratulating the Federation on one of the best gatherings it has been my privilege to attend. You seem to be here in very good numbers and even better spirits. I am afraid I shall have to beg your indulgence very considerably this morning, because it is my duty to review the very grave position of industry and employment, and indicate to you what, in the judgment not merely of myself but of my colleagues, will be the best contribution towards the solution of these serious problems. As you are aware, the head of the present Government was good enough to invite the co-operation of the other two parties. In my judgment the head of the Government took the right step. There is a national emergency, and men without distinction of party ought to give any assistance to the King’s Government in extricating the nation from its present difficulty. The Party in the House of Commons appointed Lord Lothian - whom I am delighted to see present for the first time at an Annual Meeting of the National Liberal Federation - Mr. Seebohm Rowntree and myself to meet representatives of the Government. I don’t know that any particular gratitude has been indicated to us. We met the representatives of the Government, and even gave up our holiday for that purpose. Let me sketch out how the matter appears to us. We are here representing one-fourth of this nation, a fact which is obscured by our representation in the House of Commons which has no relation to our strength in the country. If we were represented in Parliament on fair and honest principles we should have, not 58, but 141 members in the House of Commons. The millions we represent are bound up individually and collectively with the well-being of Britain, proud of its greatness, and deeply concerned about any condition of things which will effect its prosperity and lower its power and influence in the world. As such, we view the present state and prospect of our country, not as political partisans, but as patriotic members of a great community. It is very easy to make political capital out of the present state of the nation. It was never easier and never more tempting. Think, for instance, of the five and half years of Tory rule with its unbroken record of depression and unemployment; how they not only missed every opportunity of putting things right, failing even to apply remedies which they, themselves, believed in, but actually aggravated the difficulties by a series of in­conceivable blunders over gold, the American debt, the mines, rubber, agriculture, and finance. We are suffering today from the set-back they gave to our export trade. It might also be easy to say something about our present rulers, but I think it better I should defer that duty. All I would say generally is that there is no lack of material for criticism if that were helpful. What missiles there are to hand in the debris of failure scattered around! It is difficult to resist the temptation to pick up a few of them and hurl them at the appropriate persons. But I am not going to do so, and you have no idea what it costs me to refrain. There is more important work to be done. Let us help in doing it for the sake of our common country. Things look bad, and unless I am mistaken, we are in for worse. We have had enough of sloppy optimism from all Parties. Let us look the facts in the face and apply our minds patriotically to the task of averting disaster. At the last election the Liberal Party did face it. It put forward proposals for dealing with it. If those proposals had been put into operation, the situation would not have been as serious as it is today. I have no Ministerial secrets to reveal. I know no more of the plans and purposes of the Government than any one of you who has taken the trouble to read Ministerial statements. I therefore propose to give you my own views, fortified by those of the two colleagues chosen by the Liberal Party in the House of Commons to investigate the matter with me, and to make recommendations to the Government. We have at the present moment over 2,100,000 out of work. The figures are growing. That is not the most serious factor in the situation. Other industrial countries have also millions out of work, but that must not obscure the gravest fact in our national position. It is that underneath this sudden growth of the last eighteen months, there is a solid mass of unemployed which has lasted in this country for ten years. It is what I have called the ‘Refractory Million.’ Other countries have had their depressions and their booms, but whether trade is good or bad here and in the rest of the world we have had over ten years an unbroken record of a million unemployed. In the aggregate it has cost us £800,000,000 to maintain the workless and their families above hunger and privation. If world depression vanished like a cloud tomorrow, there would still be the problem of the million to be dealt with in this country. The subsidence of the deluge would only uncover that rock. The Ararat of the million will still be there. Let us consider for one moment what it means. It is due in the main to the failure of our export trade to re-ascend to the heights which it attained before the war. We are more dependent upon our export trade than any other country in the world. Thirty per cent of our manufactures are for export. We have still incomparably the greatest export percentage in the world. United States of America export only 10 per cent; Germany only a little over 20 per cent. The percentage in France is much lower than in Germany. In addition to our export trade, there is also our great international carrying trade. That has also suffered. So far we have only recovered about four-fifths of our pre-war international trade, perhaps slightly over, and our population is greater by millions, and our burdens by thousands of millions than they were before the war. A still more serious fact to be reckoned with is the fall in our proportion of international trade. In 1922 it was over 14 per cent. Last year it was only a little over 10 per cent. 1922 was the last year I held office. They do not seem to have done much better since I left, have they? But I am not egotistical enough to believe that that accounts for the difference. Not altogether. It is due to the fact that nations were stimulated by the war to manufacture for themselves, goods which formerly they purchased from us. We must reckon on that as a permanent factor in our trouble.

An Examination

What adds to our difficulty is the fact that we are the most densely populated country in the world, and have thus to provide maintenance for a very much greater number of people in proportion to our area than any other great land. Our great international trade, built up under the Free Trade system, enabled us to do so with comparative ease up to 1914. Had Germany been as thickly populated to the square mile as our country is, its population would have been not 63 millions, but 122 millions. France would have been not 40 millions, but 144 millions and the United States of America would have a population which exceeds that of the whole world today. That is a rapid summary of the situation with which we are confronted. It is much too grave a position to make party capital out of it. We can only succeed if we call a truce to factiousness between and inside all parties on the issue and work together as a people to find the best way out of our troubles. Other parties will say to us: ‘You have got your plans; so have we. Are you prepared to consider ours?’ I would rule nothing out of discussion. No proposal, no suggestion, no plan, seriously put forward by serious people, who have seriously thought them out. They may say: ‘Would you be prepared to examine the question of Tariffs without prejudice?’ Certainly I would, on one condition, that they also would be prepared to examine the Free Trade position without prejudice and in turn to review the working of all its methods and machinery. Whatever is decided let it not be done in a panic.

A frightened judgment is always a bad one. Let us examine the whole situation calmly. To Liberals I would say: ‘Do not act as if you were afraid of a re-examination of our fiscal system. We have nothing to fear. The more thoroughly it is examined the better for us, and anyhow it is going to be reconsidered whether we like it or not.’ To others I would say: ‘Do not risk losing our great shipping and international trade without first of all finding out whether there is not a better way out of our difficulties.’ Men in a tight corner are apt to put the whole of their wealth on the gaming table in the hope of retrieving their fortunes. Let us take care we do not gamble away our great international trade, because for the time being we are hard up. My business is to find out a better way. Liberals have been examining these proposals for four or five years in a series of most thorough investigations into economic and social problems, and the most systematic that have been conducted in this country certainly for over a generation. Most of the greatest experts on land and other aspects have been called in to contribute. A tribute to their standing is that when the present Government came in they set up an Economic Staff. The Government had to draw upon some of the very experts who had assisted us to prepare these programmes, and they are still there. I cannot see much impression which has been made up to the present, but that is not due to them.

The Better Way

Today I am going to point out the better way. It has this advan­tage for all parties, that it is not inconsistent with either or any of the several alternative fiscal systems proposed. We can all agree on one proposition: that to keep a million men and women in idleness for years at an enormous expense constitutes a national peril and that to find useful work for them to do is a national necessity. Can it be done? I say emphatically: ‘Yes.’ There are four essential conditions. The work which is found must be of a kind which would increase the national wealth and efficiency. Made work is worthless. The second is that it must be work of a kind that will stimulate, help, and encourage healthy industry. Not the kind of work that is provided by war for instance. That also is a stimulus for the time being. But it is like alcohol, it draws upon and consumes our reserves, and this at the end leaves us much weaker. It must be a kind which, like healthy food, stimulates energy, and at the same time builds up the tissues. Thirdly, assuming that the work contemplated is of a character which would ultimately have to be done in order to make the nation more efficient, then it ought to be accelerated and concentrated within the period of depression, not merely in order to find work for the unemployed, but to equip our industries to compete in our markets, and in the markets of the world against all corners, and, when the boom comes, to be ready to take full advantage of it. The period of unemployment ought to be like winter on a farm, a slack season of which a good farmer takes advantage to do the repairing, the renewing, the drainage, and other essential duties which cannot be attended to in the spring time and the harvest, when labour is engaged on other tasks. Lastly, I would stipulate that able-bodied men and women must accept the work for which they are physically adapted when it is offered them by the nation, or be deprived of the dole. I observe that the Russian Soviets, dominated by the working classes of Russia, have already issued a decree to that effect. But that decree did not come from Stalin in the first instance, but from St. Paul: ‘This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.’ How is work to be found for the workless immediately? The first thing to do is to remove every obstacle which exists in the way of the success and development of our industries. Many more men and women would then be enabled to find work in the trades to which they have been brought up.

Call a Conference

We recommend that the Government should at once call together a Conference representative of all industries and commercial interests, employers, trade unions, banks, and distributive trades, and should put the whole facts before them. It is the business of this Conference to review the position and determine, within a limited period, what steps could be taken with a view to increasing our efficiency and reducing the costs of production in order to enable us to compete more success­fully in the markets of the world. The banks should further be urged to agree on a policy of less restricted credit for financing industrial developments. The problem of industry is to reduce the costs of production without lowering the standards of living of the worker. I agree with President Hoover and leading industrialists like Mr. Henry Ford, that this can be accomplished by greater efficiency in production and in marketing. The right way to higher standards is to increase efficiency and also through the more effective use of the International Labour Office established by the Treaty of Versailles. But the Government itself must set the example by lowering its own costs. Expenditure is on too prodigious and too lavish a scale. We are even threatened with an increase in taxation. One is reminded of the famous classical phrase of Oscar Wilde to his doctor when he was dying, ‘I apologise to you. I am dying beyond my means.’ It seems to me that the British Government is dying beyond its means whenever I look at the gigantic expenditure going up year by year. I read the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech the other day in which he talked about the possibility of further taxation. So far from taxation being further increased it ought to be reduced. Expenditure is far too lavish.

I believe that with a determined effort this can be achieved. It is no use attempting it by ordinary Treasury methods. Exceptional methods must be taken and expenses cut down ruthlessly. The Government ought to follow the precedent which has been set by Australia in this respect. May I also recall another precedent which was highly successful - that which is known in history as the ‘Geddes Axe,’ whereby a number of business men were called together to scrutinise the whole of the estimates and make proposals for cutting down. I found when I was in the Treasury - for eight years or so - that you cannot cut down expenditure through Treasury machinery It is all right for a little saving here and there, but when you have got to cut down you must have an axe, and that is why we set up a Committee in 1921 of big business men to go through the whole of the departments, and in a couple of years the expen­diture was cut down by £300,000,000. It is a scandal that ten years after the war, with Locarno Pacts referring dangerous disputes to arbitration, Kellogg Pacts which have outlawed war altogether, we should still be spending £110,000,000 upon preparation for war. The whole cost of unemployment ought also to be scrutinised. One hears every day tales of unwarranted cadging on the dole - millions could be saved without impinging on meritorious claims. The industrial airship of Britain is weighed down with a load of unnecessary expenditure, whilst it is fighting its way through a terrible world gale. Economy - relentless economy - is an essential condition to industrial recovery. There were resolutions passed by the Labour Congress at Llandudno for additional pensions and family allowances which, in the present industrial and financial condition of this country, would be sheer lunacy.

Old Machinery

We must also revive the Trade Facilities Act, which helped so materially to reduce unemployment in 1922. We must revise and liberalise the conditions of our export credits, so as to enable us to capture business, like that which is available in Russia. Germany, which has none of our financial resources, is showing very much more enterprise and wisdom in that respect than we are. Our timidity there is depriving us of millions a year of excellent business which would provide work, more especially for our engineering trades. Further­more, when we come to the question of reducing taxation, I trust that special consideration will be given to industries which are expending large sums of money upon renewing, improving, and extending their equipment. In the U.S.A. the life of a machine is supposed to be, on an average, between two and three years. We keep old machinery on to compete for business in the world markets against countries which are armed with the latest devices of science. It is an unequal contest. Nothing would stimulate our industries more than such a readjust­ment of our taxation as would enable our industries to make deductions on a fairer scale for capital expenditure which they incur in improving their equipment. All these things are essential preliminaries to any serious and effective attempt at dealing with the grave condition of our trade and industry. They will take time to produce their full effect. But the influence on the numbers who are employed will be immediate and they represent only a part of what can be accomplished and ought to be attempted in the re-equipment and the reconditioning of this country for its great task in the world.

Before the last Election we submitted to the country a detailed list of plans of this character which we suggested could be imme­diately put into operation and which if executed with energy would, in the course of a single year, reduce the refractory million to normal proportions. They were all plans for necessary and useful work. We have since re-examined them in the face of official and other criticism, and the scrutiny to which they have been subjected has confirmed us in the conclusion to which we came upon the advice of some of the ablest experts available.

Question of Speed is Vital

I am not in a position to reveal what passed between Ministers and ourselves either on this question or any other. I think I am entitled to say this, that in so far as the proposals made before the last Election in reference to roads, telephones, drainage, and electricity are concerned, they are not challenged. The only difference of opinion is as to the speed at which they can be executed, and that, of course, is vital when you come to provide work for the unemployed. It makes all the difference whether a contract is to extend over five or ten years as far as the numbers engaged upon it are concerned. In substance their contention is that the obstacles are so great that they at any rate cannot go faster. Perhaps they are right. But, as you know, with a motor-car it is very largely a question of who drives and also the quality of the machine. It makes all the difference when you come to unem­ployment. It makes all the difference between employing scores of thousands and hundreds of thousands. I see Mr. Philip Snowden says the Government have already set aside £140,000,000 but he did not say over what time. Over a period of thirty years he could have said they had set aside a thousand millions, but it is all a question of time and concentration. At any rate, the actual quality and character of our work have not been impugned. It is all a question of the speed at which we shall go along. In submitting those proposals to the country we made it clear that we had others of a more far reaching character, more particularly those which had already formed part of the published Liberal programme. The most important from this point of view are those which deal with the all-important questions of agriculture and housing. As proposals of a similar character were also adopted by the Labour Party, I assumed that there would be no difficulty in getting complete co-operation and ensuring immediate action upon that basis provided the necessary courage, capacity, and enterprise were forthcoming. You ought to regard unemployment, not as a disaster - you ought to regard nothing that happens in life as a disaster - but as an opportunity.

Agriculture

I will now come to our proposals with regard to agriculture. These proposals we have submitted in detail to the Government, and I am very hopeful that they will work in with the plans which have been, and still are, under consideration by the Minister of Agriculture. This is pre-eminently the time and opportunity for restoring the position of our oldest and most important industry to its proper position in the national economy. From that position it has been gradually deposed by the phenomenal industrial development of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century. We built up our gigantic wealth so rapidly and so easily by the supremacy which we achieved in other industries that we overlooked and neglected the most fundamental industry of all - that of the cultivation of the soil. The result is that we are over-industrialised. The risks we ran of starvation during the Great War and our inability to find employment for a million of our workers since the War, taken together ought to convince the most sceptical and scornful of the peril of such a state of things. This is the only country that has allowed the industry of land cultivation to go downhill. Even the great industrial countries like Germany, France, Belgium and the U.S.A., whilst developing other and more remunerative industries, clung to the land. We, on the other hand, allowed our land to go out of cultivation, drew our best workers from the soil and treated the agricultural industry with complete neglect and contempt as if it were of no account. That is mainly the reason why we are the only country left with a problem of chronic unemployment. In the United States 26.3 per cent of the population are still on the soil. Germany, our greatest rival in Europe, has 30.5 per cent, France has 41.9 per cent, and Belgium, perhaps the most highly industrialised country on the Continent of Europe in comparison with its size, has 19.1 per cent of its population on the soil. Great Britain has only 7.2 per cent. It may be said that these other countries have maintained their population on the soil by protective tariffs. This is not true, at any rate of Belgium, where the tariffs are quite negligible, and it is not in the least true of Holland, which, whilst it maintains a great international trade, has still 23.6 per cent of its people on the land and is substantially a Free Trade country. Denmark, which has 34.8 per cent of its population on the land, is also Free Trade. In Holland and Denmark the agricultural population are highly prosperous. Even since 1921 our workers on the land have decreased by 108,000 and, during the last ten years, when there is so much unemployment, young workers from the country are still seeking and finding employment in our industrial areas and, being sturdy, strong fellows, are driving the town population on to the dole. Our land is steadily deteriorating. A good deal has gone out of cultivation during the last few years and still a larger proportion has sunk into a state of half cultivation. Despite the great advances which science has made in assisting the fertility of the soil, the productiveness of British land has during the last two or three decades, been practically stationary. On the other hand, European countries have steadily increased theirs from decade to decade. It is time that we should make a real national effort to restore the balance between agriculture and the other industries of this country, not only as a means of providing healthy employment - the healthiest of all for our population - but as a vital contribution to the national well-being. We have in this respect, at any rate, one advan­tage over our rivals. The very fact that we have neglected our land to a degree which is unknown amongst them has left us with an enormous margin to make up both as to cultivation and as to labour. They do not find it so easy to put more men on the soil, in spite of the fact that they are still making gigantic efforts. In Italy, which is a land of culti­vators, Mussolini is utilising the present difficulty of his country with regard to emigration and employment to reclaim millions of acres. He is using the credit of his country to develop great tracts of derelict land, with a view to planting 200,000 more families upon the soil. There they are even cultivating the hillsides. Carrying soil there. And you may have thought it was impossible to increase the population on the land in Italy. He has now got 80,000 men working on reclaim­ing marshes and derelict land, and he is going to settle 200,000 families on that reclaimed land. We are fortunate, at any rate, in this respect, that there is a greater opportunity for development in this country. In France there are 5,000,000 smallholdings under 25 acres. In Germany there are 5,000,000 under 50 acres; in Great Britain there are 250,000. Surely there you have a margin for accomplishment which ought to encourage us. The small family farm has withstood the agricultural depression with comparative success. That is acknow­ledged by the Official report of the Ministry of Agriculture. I come from a country of small family farms - there are not many big farms there - and they have all weathered the storm. There are no big labour bills because they work themselves, and everybody works, and a very good thing too. I do not believe in this doctrine of keeping children in idleness. They have got to be trained not merely in the alphabet and mathematics, but they have to be trained to work. Every great Liberal reformer, whether Chamberlain in 1884-5, Campbell-Banner­man and Lincolnshire, they have always seized upon this as a fundamental proposition in the agriculture of the country. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was almost fanatical on the subject. I always thought it was a tragedy he did not come into his own before his strength was exhausted. Believe me, from the little I saw of him, it would have made a great difference had he come in ten years sooner. He had the root of the matter in him. Nevertheless, in spite of the efforts to establish smallholdings in this country, made in the first instance by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and Lord Lincolnshire and afterwards by my Government in 1919, the numbers of the small family farms have gone down steadily in recent years. This is largely attributable to the fact that the landowners of this country have not the necessary resources to keep up the equipment upon these farms. Therefore, whenever there is a vacancy, there is a disposition to add these small farms on to an adjoining farm and thus avoid the heavy burden of repairs. This process is going on at an increasing rate throughout the whole of Great Britain. The Smallholdings Acts of the last twenty years have only been a partial success. Where they have been put into operation with energy they have been an unqualified success. The County Councils have been, as a rule, prejudiced, timid, and occasionally hostile. There are only a few Councils that have made a real effort to carry out the Acts. Had the remaining County Councils followed the example of these three or four, instead of about 30,000 smallholdings, we might have had 100,000. You would know what has actually happened if you were to talk to Mr. Fordham, who was one of the Commissioners and to whom we owe a great deal for the success of the Campbell-Bannerman Act. He could tell you what has been done in Cambridgeshire. He showed me a place with smallholders prospering, a population enormously increased and maintained on the land and everybody looking very happy. It was the happiest little com­munity I have ever seen. That is what you want on the land of England, instead of despair. The process was almost completely stopped by the Tory Act of 1925. I am very glad to see the announcement made by Dr. Addison that the Government have decided to take direct action by the State to establish small farms and cottage holdings. Whether the action of the Government will be successful or not depends upon the scale upon which they undertake it, the finance which they are prepared to put into it, and, above all, upon the drive which is put behind it. Is their plan merely a one-horse plough with a blunt coulter, or a full-powered and well-bladed tractor? Time counts if agriculture is to be saved and the young and vigorous are to be kept on the land. Even today, with 2,100,000 out of work, the sturdy young labourer is tramping the towns to find a job. Is there land available? There is always, and especially during a period of depression, land coming into the market and land which becomes vacant through death or departure. There is also another supply which could be made available and suitable. I have dealt with the way Mussolini is finding land for addi­tional settlers by reclaiming millions of acres of swamp and wilderness, and at the expense of the State doing what he calls ‘soil reconditioning.’ He is employing at the moment 80,000 men on that task alone, and this is without reference to those engaged on setting up the buildings. Here in this country you have millions of acres which were once highly cultivated, but have been allowed to become practically derelict. Post-war taxation has made landlordism bankrupt. Drains are neglected; land has become water-logged; buildings are falling into decay. There is more uncultivated and half cultivated land here in this country in pro­portion to its size than in any other country in Western Europe. There ought to be schemes of reclamation and reconditioning on a large scale with a view to settling on the soil a very considerable number of men who would thus earn a healthy and happy livelihood. Not only would employment be then found for a considerable number who are either out of a job themselves or keeping others out, but this country would be enriched permanently as a result. On land thus reconditioned, cleansed, drained, and fertilised, families could be settled and land fit for nothing else could be afforested. There are millions of acres of land in this country which are now almost entirely waste, which if it were in Germany, France, Holland, Denmark or Belgium, would be covered with forests.

Marketing, Transport and Advertising

The State would purchase the land, reclaim and recondition it, set up the necessary houses and buildings. It would also help, with its credit, the settlers to equip their holdings. Let me say at once, I am opposed to the State finding all and everything. In Italy the State are giving the settlers a grant to assist them in equipment. We must once more revive the pioneer spirit of this country. In itself such a revival would enrich and strengthen the nation. Where some­thing has already been attempted on these lines under the Acts of 1908 and 1919 the results have been good. The Ministry of Agriculture reported in 1925 that on a certain scheme of land settlement which had been undertaken on a number of arable farms from 1919-1925 the population maintained on the land had risen from 294 to 682. On another scheme it had risen from 97 to 548. On these two schemes the population maintained on the land increased as a result from 391 to 1,227. But we are told, and rightly so, that there is no use increasing production unless the cultivators can sell their commodities. I quite agree, and this is an essential part of the programme. Lord Oxford, when he was Prime Minister, appointed a Committee under the chair­manship of Lord Selborne to consider this problem of marketing our agricultural produce. That Committee came to the conclusion that there was £200,000,000 worth of food bought by this country from across the seas that could be raised here, and Lord Selborne certainly did not qualify the statement by saying that it would be dependent upon tariffs. £200,000,000 in that day would be nearly equivalent to £300,000,000 today. At the present moment we are paying a heavy subsidy to one very small branch of the agricultural industry - beet production. It is suggested by Mr. Baldwin that you should, by means of a quota, subsidise another branch, namely wheat. The lowest figure that I have heard mentioned would at present prices be equivalent to a subsidy of 50 per cent. This is what I am told. Wheat is being sold under thirty shillings. If anybody gets thirty shillings here he gets quite a good price. The farmer will tell you he cannot make it pay without something like fifty-five shillings. That really means forty-five shillings. I am a farmer myself. You will see what that means. If you have a quota at a fixed price which will make it pay for the farmer you are putting fifteen shillings on to thirty shillings, which is equivalent to 50 per cent. Unless you are very careful you will find a tariff of 50 per cent put on in the name of a quota. Who will pay it? The consumer. It will appear not in the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but in every household budget, and there are 8,000,000 or 10,000,000 of them in the country. Take care! And when you extend it to the Dominions it is no use to the Dominions unless there is a fixed price. What will it all mean? It will mean that the country with the heaviest taxation in the world, with a burden of 8,000,000,000 for an Imperial obligation which was just as much theirs as ours and with 2,000,000 unemployed, would be paying a subsidy to farmers at the ends of the earth who on the whole, taking it year by year, have been quite pros­perous. Examine these things very carefully. Don’t swallow them at a gulp. There’s a hook. Taking beet and wheat together they do not represent more than 5 per cent of the total production of our soil. We cannot compete with the new world in the production of wheat for a variety of reasons, which I need not enter into, and nothing short of a tariff of anything from 25 per cent to 50 per cent would enable us to do so. But that is not true of other products such as dairy and pig products, as Denmark has most successfully demonstrated. Most of this produce which comes from overseas has to be brought hundreds and even thousands of miles across the seas before it is landed in our ports. I know it is said that sea transport, even for long distances, is cheaper than rail transport for short distances, but that answer seems to assume that in these overseas countries the produce is raised on the quays and the animals reared and slaughtered on the wharfs. It is forgotten that they are produced far inland and brought by rail - some­times hundreds of miles to the port of embarkation. The real reason why this overseas produce is beating us in our own markets is because of better marketing, grading, collecting, advertising, selling, and trans­port arrangements in those countries. There the landlords help; the middleman helps; the Press helps; the railways help; the State helps; and the farmers help each other. Here you will often find them all helping themselves and not the industry. The result is that they all suffer. In all these directions our arrangements are casual, hap­hazard, unbusinesslike, and ramshackle. The Minister of Agriculture has brought in a Marketing Bill. All I can say about it now is that I am glad he has had the courage to bring in a challenging measure. I do not mind an element of compulsion, although I would have pre­ferred incentives to co-operation, but if necessary a certain element of compulsion in the background would be helpful. Dr. Addison will not, I am sure, be discouraged by criticism. The weakness of this Government so far has been that they are much more afraid of being criticised for going forward, than for standing still - or rather for messing around in the same old trodden and trampled spot. I should like to add a further word about transport because I think this vital. Here is the medium through which the State can render assistance to every branch of the industry in collecting as well as carrying commodities to and from the farm. We ought to see that every help is given to our agricultural industry by means of transport facilities as well as rates. Both are equally important. By this means you would give practical and substantial assistance to every branch of the industry. The only part of Mr. Churchill’s De-Rating Scheme which I commend is that where he allocated a sum to the reduction of the rates on agricultural produce. At the present moment our transport system is so organised as to give a distinct preference to foreign produce. I know the railway companies have got their answer. They say that the foreigner arranges his goods in such a way as to enable them to carry in bulk and therefore more cheaply. That must be got over. I say without hesitation that preference should, if necessary, be given to the home producer and not to the foreigner. I come to another point. If you create a large num­ber of small holdings, have you got men available to man them? With­out doubt. There is still a surplus population in the rural areas in spite of the great depopulation of the last forty or fifty years. You can see that from the growing unemployment amongst labourers in many parts of the country. As I pointed out there are many who are still leaving the countryside to seek employment elsewhere, then you have farmers’ sons and labourers’ sons who are coming to maturity, who can make excellent farmers. You have also miners - tens of thousands of them brought up on the soil - many of them crowded to the mines during the period of prosperity and a very great number during the war. You will also find men in every industry with a natural aptitude for the soil. There are nearly a million allotments in this country, which shows the craving even in our towns for a bit of land. They are all hungry for the land. Somehow or other the hunger comes down, either from the father or grandfather, and perhaps the great-grandfather; just something planted in the brain which has sprung from generations of cultivators and still breaks out in the form of a craving for the soil. In the case of a very large number of the people out of work, if they now had a little bit of land it would keep their hearts from breaking, their souls from rusting in idleness. Take the experience of the Society of Friends in organising allotments in South Wales. During this period of distress they have succeeded in securing or preserving 100,000 allotments for miners, thus saving tens of thousands of them during the depression from the misery and demoralisation of complete unem­ployment. In their judgment, arrived at after a very careful investiga­tion of those with whom they are dealing, 13 per cent of them are quite suitable for larger holdings. We also propose that a number of training farms should be set up here and there over the country in order to give the necessary training to a number of men with special aptitude who would like to earn their living on the land in some capacity - some for market-gardening, for fruit culture or chickens, for afforestation and for mixed farming, and also to teach them, more particularly those who are engaged in the smaller forms of culture, the rough carpentry which would be exceedingly useful to them in repairing and also in setting up the necessary hutment accommodation for their chickens, for their storage, and for the employment of their industry. In other countries you have a very large number of holdings of one, two and three acres which do not find employment all the year round for those who cultivate them, but which do provide work for them when their labour is not in demand for other tasks. They provide a reservoir of labour which is available for large farms in the country, and in Belgium especially for the docks. The casual labourer, therefore, in these countries when his services are not needed, does not stand in idleness in the market. He is usefully em­ployed in necessary work on his own little plot. There is no need for men of that kind to receive the dole. In the Welsh quarries you have quite a number of quarrymen who have their little crofts, and when things are slack in the quarries, they find work on their own land. It is the best way of draining the stagnant pool of unemployment which is poisoning our community. I propose to deal with the finance of the matter later. If you had a development of this kind, you would increase the production and consumption of healthy food. I do not care what anybody says, I cannot believe that these stale goods that come frozen from the ends of the earth are as good for the health of the community as the fresh produce of our own soil. We have too little of the fresh and vitalising produce of our own soil. Agriculture has been thrown on a rubbish heap clattering with empty tins. Agriculture is the only industry where there is no real attempt to push the business by advertising. You could increase considerably the consumption of healthy produce by that means. For instance, the consumption of milk in this country is exceedingly low. In the U.S.A. the consumption is three times as high per head of population as it is here. In Sweden it is four times as high. The time has come for making a great all-round national effort to restore the countryside to prosperity. Both in health and in wealth the country would be richer. This period of depression is pre-­eminently the opportunity, and if we let it go, agriculture, the most important of all our national industries, is doomed as far as Britain is concerned.

Housing and Town Planning

I now come to another very important branch of the problem - that of housing. I know a measure was carried last year to deal with the slums. If the question is left there, there is little hope of anything very drastic being accomplished, because the real solution of the problem lies in the alleviation of overcrowding. You do not want to rebuild slums. You want to clean them out by finding an outlet for a large part of the population to other more spacious centres. In these crowded districts there is no light, air, or elbow room. There are no playing grounds for the children. Take districts in London where millions live, there are practically no playing grounds for the children with the exception of disused churchyards. No wonder in these dis­tricts the infantile mortality is appalling. There is nothing comparable to these areas in squalor in any civilised country in the world. They are a national disgrace. My daughter and I went the other day to see some slums in Kensington, where you have some of the biggest houses and some of the richest people. We went up a street and said, ‘Where are the slums?’ but they said, ‘Here they are.’ They used to be some of the best houses in that quarter. What had made them slums? Overcrowding! We went down and found a man and wife and children living in two miserable rooms intended as cellars or store-houses. The man was earning. I said, ‘What are you doing living here?’ He replied, ‘Where could I live otherwise and be near my job?’ You must have an outlet to let them get outside and at the same time get, without much trouble, to their jobs. If you watch what is happening with the well-to-do population you will find amongst them a steady flight to the country. The town for them is the workshop and the counting house but the country is the dormitory. I would say, ‘If the well-to-do see that it is better for them to live outside and come into the town to their work, then it is equally good for those who are half as well off to do the same thing.’ Let the working man have the same chance. Liberalism means equality of opportunity for all classes. It does not mean equality. The Creator never intended it. It means an equal chance in life and for life. Give them life and give it more abundantly. That is the doctrine of Liberalism, and it comes from the highest authority. Wherever a tube is constructed or a new road, new suburbs spring up and houses are soon taken up by those whose income enables them to pay the rent for commodious houses, each with its little garden. Take the case of Golders Green. I remember opening the tube to that district over twenty years ago. It was then an area where there were practically no houses. Now the whole of that district is covered with quite attrac­tive habitations. Take the Kingston By-Pass, only opened a few years ago. Almost every weekend as I pass along it I discover a new cluster of houses springing up which I had never noticed before. It is true there is very little planning and laying out. It is all helter-skelter. Factory, villa, bungalow, cottage have been thrown up here and there without any well-conceived plan on a large scale. It is a question of quick profits as a driving motive for both surveyor and speculator. The difficulty is that the towns which empty their population into these areas have no control over them. In the Housing Act of 1919, power was given to the Local Authorities for setting up Town Regional Planning Committees, which could study the possibility of development in the countryside in terms of the housing needs of the town. There are at present eighty such Committees at work, planning out regions occupied by thirty million people, and comprising a total area of 21,000 square miles, or nearly a fourth of Great Britain. Over a thousand local authorities are involved in the areas thus being planned, which cover the territory likely to be developed in the near future. About thirty of these Committees have already completed the preparation of their regional plans. These plans show, even on a cursory examination, that there is a large amount of work waiting to be done, the carrying out of which is essential if the further development of the countryside is to take place in an orderly manner, instead of in the haphazard, waste­ful, and unsatisfactory way which has too often been followed in the past. In spite of all that, there has been no real move on, and this seems to me to be pre-eminently the opportunity to take advantage of the work which has already been accomplished in the way of surveying and planning and to make a real start. There are certain essential conditions to be observed if these developments are to be successfully carried out:

(a)  Access to work. Any new dormitory suburb for members of the working classes must be provided with means of transport for them to and from their work that will be adequate, quick and cheap. This means that broad avenues must be driven from it to the industrial centres where its residents are employed, and ample transport services provided by road, and often also by electric rail or tube. Fares for this transport must be within the means of the poorer wage-earners.

(b)  Gardens and Open Spaces. Provision must be made in these newly-developed districts for adequate open spaces and playing fields. In addition, it is of the utmost importance that an adequate proportion of the houses should be supplied with gardens large enough to make an important contribution to the livelihood of the families. Belgium affords a striking example of the advantage of this arrangement. Of the dockers who work in Antwerp, 80 per cent live in the surrounding country, and the bulk of them have substantial gardens attached to their houses. When there is no work at the docks they do not hang about all day waiting for something to turn up, but return home and work in their gardens. They keep hens, rabbits, and pigs, and often a sheep or goat, and grow potatoes and other vegetables. Thus when not working for wages they are profitably occupied on the soil. Seasonal workers, such as bricklayers, benefit in a similar way. We believe it would he possible to provide similar facilities in this country, which would be of inestimable advantage to many working people, especially to those whose employment is seasonal or irregular. The ability to work for oneself when other employment is slack might also relieve the pressure of claims to unemployment benefit. A discussion which we have had with expert town planners in close touch with what has been done has satis­fied us that several of the schemes are ripe for immediate action, and that a selection could be made upon the basis of which steps could be imme­diately taken and that is150,000 men could be turned on without loss of time to open up access to these areas, and prepare the ground on whatever points are agreed upon before actually beginning the building operations. We propose that immediate practical steps be taken to carry out a number of the more urgent and important public improvements which have been already approved and tabled by the local authorities concerned through their regional planning committee, attention being specially directed to those schemes which assist most effectually the develop­ment of new residential and industrial areas, and fit in best with national plans for housing, roads, electrical extension, water conservation and supply, etc. We further suggest that those regional planning committees which have not yet tabled definite schemes should be urged to proceed with all despatch, so that appropriate features in the plans for their areas can similarly be included in the expedited programme.

But the initiative must come from the Government. An Advisory Committee should be appointed forthwith consisting of, say, half a dozen experts and representatives of the local authorities to confer with the Government Departments concerned and to make recommendations as to the best method for carrying out and for financing the work. Then a Development Department should be set up for the purpose of carrying out these schemes. The plans could either be carried out by the depart­ment itself or the choice of an alternative should be given to the Local Authorities to do it themselves. If it is undertaken by the State, the State would have to find the capital. If it is undertaken by the Local Authorities the State might give assistance to the construction of the avenues or tubes necessary. The State would then recoup itself by a first charge on the enormous land values which would be created.

An example of the way in which new road construction increases the value of land is furnished by the experience of the Kingston By-Pass. Here land, which before the road was first contemplated, had an agricultural value of £30 to £50 per acre only, had to be purchased for road construction at £250 to £300 per acre; and building land previously worth £300 per acre had to be purchased for the Merton connection at an average of £1,250 per acre. Building land worth £100 per acre in 1921 was sold, when the road proposals became known, for £350, and is now offered at from £2,000 to £3,000. There is land worth £60 an acre before the road was contemplated, which sells at £1,800 near the road and at about £600 for back land. If the local authorities undertook the work, then naturally the first charge upon these reserves would be theirs, and, in any event, the surplus would go to them to assist in cheapening fares and in the ordinary tasks of local government. It is vital that not merely should there be facilities for enabling those who dwell in these suburbs to get to their work in the adjoining town quickly, but also cheaply, and here we suggest that transport arrangements should be subsidised out of these land values which have been created by the expenditure and enterprise of the State.

Finance of the Scheme

Now as to the finance of the scheme; we propose that a National Development Loan be raised for the purpose of carrying out these operations. You may say, ‘What about economy?’ Any business man will inform you that there is a great difference between cutting down current costs and investing capital sums in extension, re-equipment, and improvement of your works. The latter, if necessary, constitutes a truer economy than keeping an old inefficient plant going in order not to save money. It is no use saying that money is not available. Our credit is the best in Europe. We have made enormous sacrifices in taxation and in trade in order to restore it. Let us make the best use of it in order to increase the restoration of our own country ere it is too late. Our financial reserves are greater than those of any country in Europe. Did you observe the two issues that were put before the market this week? They were over subscribed thirty or forty times. This year at the present rate we should be raising £100,000,000 for investment abroad in enterprises practically none of which would bring any return to our trade. We raised £8,000,000,000 for the war. We have still £4,000,000,000 invested abroad. A loan representing less than one month’s expenditure during the war - that is £250,000,000, would enable us to prosecute schemes of amelioration and development through with energy for a period of two years from the date at which we were able to start off. You could find work this winter for half a million men, and as soon as the necessary legislation was carried through, you could make arrangements which would raise that figure to at least three-quarters of a million. Unemployment is costing us £100,000,000 a year. We are now actually borrowing to pay the dole. The loan will reach over £70,000,000 by Christmas. We can borrow for idleness, but not for useful healing work. And this is sound finance. You could raise your money on the security of the State. To give it a special character, you could allocate special assets as collateral security. In addition to the Road Fund, there would be the land which had been purchased and improved and equipped for the purpose of settlement. I do not antici­pate that you would get a full economic return on the land which would be equal to the interest and sinking fund paid by the State, but the collateral advantage of the community would be infinitely greater than that and at worst you would have a return of 2½ per cent on that land. Then, as I have pointed out, you would have the enormous site values created by State expenditure and enterprise. At the end of two years these assets would enable you to raise further funds to complete and extend the tasks undertaken without resorting to ordinary taxation. At the end of two years you could review the situation with regard to the state of trade and employment at that period. If the depression were over and we recovered our trade, there would be no labour available for further developments on a great scale. But if we had not quite struggled through then we could extend the operations for another two years until we had quite completed the undertakings which are so essential to the restoration of our countryside, the housing of our people in healthy surroundings, and the re-equipment of our industries.

Back to top

Home | About | Resources | Contact Copyright © British Political Speech 2017 | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy