MR. PROTHERO'S SPEECH. T A KING them as a whole, we find,
no small satisfaction in the proposals contained in Mr. Prothero's Corn Pro- ductioa Bill. The principle upon which it is founded is a sound one. We want national security of as perfect a kind as we can obtain, and the war has shown us that we cannot get this in the matter of food supplies even with what is from the militant point of view an invincible Navy and a vast mercantile marine. To be really independent, to be masters of our own fate, we must go further and grow enough corn in these islands, we will not say to be entirely self-supporting at all times and in all seasons, but to approach that ideal. We ought not to be satisfied unless the margin of supply from abroad is so limited that if we are forced to live "oil our own" we can do it without actual starvation and merely by economy. Mr. Prothero tells us that he is convinced we can grow eighty-two per cent. of the cereals we require. If that is possible, we agree that we shall have placed ourselves out of jeopardy, and that it is well worth while to do so. No one can des ire our children and grand- children to go through the anxieties, nay, the humiliations, which are besetting us at this moment. In order to accom- plish this desirable end, Mr. Prothero tells us that we shall have to add eight million acres to our existing arable area. With three-fifths of our total soil cultivated or under the plough the nation would be free from the nightmare of the submarine menace, or, we may add, some other menace of the sea or air not now in sight but by no means outside the range of imagination. But if we are to cultivate eight million more acres, we shall want something like a quarter of a million more men, as well as of course plenty more machines, to accomplish that result. Therefore we have got to do two things. We must encourage landowners and farmers to put new acres under the plough, and encourage more men to live by the land. Mr. Prothero's plan for doing this is thoroughly wise. He proceeds by way of bounties rather than by way of protection. He sees that if you want two blades of corn to grow where only one grew before, or one where there was nothing but a spire of grass, you must ensure it, not by employing the language of menace and telling people that whatever it costs to grow food they shall never get more than a fixed and exiguous price for their product, but by encouraging them in their great adventure, for such is all agricultural work. You must do your best to relieve them of the husbandman's haunting anxiety that he is ploughing the land in vain—that when his crop comes up he will not be able to sell it, or at any rate to sell it at a price which will enable him to meet the obligations which he has under- taken in order to get the corn to market. Mr. Prothero does not shake his fist in the farmer's face and say : You scoundrel, you grinder of the faces of the poor, you regrator—remember this, that a beneficent Government are never going to let you ask more than what they, and not you, shall deter- mine is a fair price for your product.' Instead of that, he tells the farmer in plain and honest terms that he shall be secured.against loss by a fixed minimum price. The Govern- ment undertake that if that minimum cannot be secured to him in the ordinary way, they will step in and "make good."
In order to obtain the necessary quarter of a million workers on the land Mr. Prothero proposes to es- tablish a minimum wage. That, again, is sound policy, though here care must be taken, by some system of economic as against extravagant house- building, that the boon given to the labourer with one hand shall not be taken away with the other by the interest paid on perky little brick villas with slate roofs as expensive as they are hideous. However, that is perhaps so obvious a fact that there is no fear of the Department concerned missing it. But there is a point which, to judge from the Bill and from Mr. Prothero's speech, the Government seem to have over- looked altogether, and yet it is one of great importance both in justice and expediency—though here we must put in a caveat against being thought to contrast those two conditions. Justice in the long run is never inexpedient. Unless great care is taken in regard to the position of the owners of the land, apart from that of the cultivators, we shall see a hideous injustice done, and with the worst possible results. Under the Bill the landlord will be forbidden, whatever the profits made by the cultivator—i.e., the farmer—to raise his rents. That sounds reasonable enough, and probably was necessary as part of the encouragement to the cultivator. The farmer is a timid person, and no doubt would imagine all sorts of attempts to take fram him some of the increased profits which he is making, and which we are glad to think he is making. At the same time, if no consideration is to be shown to the landlord, we are going to see a great rural tragedy. We are going to see the squires and small landowners of England, and also in a lesser degree of Scotland, swept off the face of the earth. And this not out of illwill, but because it is apparently worth nobody's while to think out the effects of the new changes upon the landlord's position. The landlord will still have to bear on his shoulders all the old burdens and arduous pecuniary obligations. He will pay Land Tax as usual, and, besides doing all the repairs to farmhouses, cottages, and fences, and, when there is a change in a farm, often paying large sums for illusory permanent improvements, he will have to pay also a greatly enhanced tithe. Remember that the tithe, to the great advantage of course of the rural clergy, is augmented by about twenty-five per cent., for it varies, as no doubt our readers know, with the price of cereals. As they rise in price, so rises the tithe. But the prices are now going to be kept permanently high, and therefore so will the tithe. This will prove on many estates- very great burden to the owner, who i debarred by the Billfrom reaping any advantage, for the present at any rate, from the increased profits from agriculture. But what is far more important is the question of mortgages. Almost every rural estate in England has mortgages upon it, either mortgages of a purely commercial kind, or mortgages to family trustees for the payment of sums to widows or younger children and other estate pensioners. Now these mortgages, if nothing is done to help the landlord, are going to break his back. Owing to the enormous increase in the rate of interest—it has practically doubled, or at all events has gone from 3/ to 6 per cent.—the landlord is going to be told, besome cases is being told already, that the mortgage rate upon his land will have to be raised by something very like 3 per cent. This raising in most cases will not be a wicked or a usurious act. It will he merely an act which trustees— and mortgages are constantly in the hands of trustees—will have to take in order to secure themselves from breaches of trust. Take an illustrative case. Twenty years ago Mrs. Jones, the widow of a country solicitor, was left with a sum of 140,000. Her trustees, wishing to obtain good security and a fair rate of interest, something better than could then be got in Consols, lent it to a neighbouring squire who wanted to build a new house or carry out some series of improvements, or, again, to buy some large tract of land to round off the estate. That interest has been regularly paid ever since. But now the trustees, knowing that if they call in the mortgage they can get 6 per cent.; will be inclined either to call it in, or else to tell the landlord that they must reluctantly increase his interest by 3 per cent.; and the landlord will have to pay. But in many cases this will be enough to break the small landlords altogether, and to cripple very seriously even big ones. It will sweep away the margin of income upon which the landlord in many cases has been living.