§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move,That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government for agriculture.
§ 11.9 a.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
On a point of Order. The Government will recollect, Sir, that I addressed a 667 question to them yesterday on whether a representative of the Scottish Office would take part in this most important Debate on United Kingdom agricultural policy. I am sure I speak on behalf of my Scottish friends in all parts of the House when I ask the Government now whether it is intended that a Scottish Minister should answer any Scottish points which are raised today.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I think it is within the recollection of every Member of the House that a Debate of this description is usually taken by Ministers for England and Wales, just as, in the case of a Scottish agricultural Debate, English Ministers never intervene, and English and Welsh Members sit in fear and trepidation. I should have thought that, in the normal course of events, English Ministers concerned would be responsible for this Debate. That, of course, would not debar any Member representing a Scottish constituency from making his contribution. I can assure my hon. Friend that a representative of the Scottish Office will be on the Front Bench as soon as he can leave the Ministerial Committee which he is now attending.
§ Mr. Stewart
With great respect, may I submit that this Debate is quite exceptional? We are about to hear the Government's United Kingdom policy for agriculture in view of the present acute food crisis, and it is in those special circumstances that I claim that a representative of the Scottish Office, which is responsible for agriculture in a large and very important part of the United Kingdom, ought to take part in this Debate.
§ Mr. Williams
My hon. Friend will not be unaware that the Government set apart Thursday and Friday of this week for an agricultural Debate, which was to deal largely with their long-term agricultural policy. It was deemed wise by the Opposition, however, to insist on the first day being devoted exclusively to the world food crisis. It was claimed that Thursday, the first of the two days, should be devoted to an all round Debate on the world food situation. That Debate occurred yesterday, and the Government are in no way responsible for the present position.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Was it not the case that yesterday the 668 Leader of the House gave a firm undertaking with regard to a Scottish Minister being present today; and is it not the case that there are special reasons why Scottish Members who speak today should have a reply from a Scottish Minister, seeing that Scotland is an English-occupied country?
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
The answer to the Minister's point is that if the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill had not been debated in this House, we should have had an agricultural Debate at the proper time. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart), this is a Debate on United Kingdom policy, and the only difference so far as Scotland is concerned is the important one of administration, the Scottish administration different from the English and Welsh. Many Scottish Members would like to have more information on this matter. Do I understand that it is now agreed that a special day will be given to Scottish Members to debate that part of the Government's policy which is peculiar to Scotland? If we get that assurance we may make some progress.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
This Debate affects agriculture throughout the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland no less than anywhere else. The Minister will realise that, belonging as I do to a much more diffident and retiring race than the Scottish Members, I have not pressed for the attendance on the Front Bench of a representative of the Home Office and of the Ministry of Supply, who are concerned with flax prices. I am therefore relying on the Minister, if I am fortunate enough to be able to address a few remarks to the House, to convey those remarks to the Ministers of those two Departments.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
Apart from the issue of a Scottish Minister being present, I wonder whether I might ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, about the scope of today's Debate. Last night, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Minister of Agriculture would have some observations to make today in reply to questions which were put in yesterday's Debate. We all welcome that, but I was in some doubt whether this Motion would allow it. Could you give us sufficient latitude, Sir, to enable us to do what I am sure the 669 whole House would like to do, that is, to deal with those parts of yesterday's Debate which particularly concern the Minister of Agriculture?
§ Mr. T. Williams
I can only say that I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, and would be glad if the Debate could be more comprehensive than the actual terms of the Motion would seem to allow.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House will be aware of the Rule that we ought not to refer to the previous day's Debate but it is laid down that, in exceptional circumstances, that Rule can be waived. In my view, having regard to the fact that these two days' Debates are being taken together, exceptional circumstances do exist, and therefore that Rule can be waived.
§ Mr. Eden
I am sorry to keep intervening, but it is important to get this clear. The Leader of the House is not here, and I do not press for an answer now, but I know the right hon. Gentleman will realise—all the more so if we are today continuing yesterday's discussion—that we shall want time for a discussion on long-term agricultural policy at some appropriate opportunity.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that arrangements can be made through the usual channels and perhaps we might be able to pick up at a later stage where we leave off today. May I now turn to the Motion?
When this Debate was originally proposed, I had hoped to speak on some of the wider aspects of Government policy. My statement of 15th November was necessarily short, and was deliberately confined to certain essentials and fundamental features of policy. I had hoped to deal much more fully today, not only with those particular features, but also with other aspects of long-term policy to which the Government attach the greatest importance. I think, however, that the House would wish me today to deal mainly with the immediate problems that face us in the light of the critical world food situation, but I hope to make some reference, no matter how briefly, to that statement of 15th November and future policy, if only to supply hon. Members with some information they have been seeking.
670 The position created by the ravages of war was very much in the minds of those who attended the Hot Springs Conference, and during the period of world food shortage which was envisaged and has now developed grievously beyond our fears, Governments were asked to encourage the production of the maximum food for direct human consumption. In this country the need throughout the war to save shipping was preeminent, and for six years we were forced to expand our acreage of grain and potatoes to the utmost of our capacity. There is no denying what the strain on our agriculture and the fertility of the soil has been. We had drastically to restrict the supply of both home grown and imported feeding stuffs, and we have only been able to maintain a very much reduced number of pigs, poultry and sheep, as well as retarding our beef production. On the credit side we succeeded in maintaining and increasing the quantity of milk sold off farms, which at least helped to provide a partial replacement of meat in our people's diet. This increase in liquid sales of milk necessarily brought about a cut in supplies for the manufacturing market. I ought here to say that under all the difficulties confronting our dairy farmers they performed a magnificent feat which siege conditions dictated, and they helped us very materially to overcome the crisis.
But in order to get the maximum production of human foodstuffs for the critical harvests of 1943 and 1944 we urged fanners to pay no regard to the future. We regarded that cereal year as the crisis year, and everything was subordinated to the maximum output of grain. Our tillage acreage was increased to the highest possible point, and foods for direct consumption, particularly wheat and potatoes, were the major point at which we aimed. It was realised by my predecessor that the production of exhaustive cereal crops could not continue indefinitely. He decided, quite wisely, after the 1944 harvest, to give greater weight to the land's long term needs, and to start recovery of livestock in this country and a return to a better balanced crop rotation. So far as his anticipations were concerned about the war they were actually correct. As part of his new policy, after consultation with the three national farmers' unions in February, 1945, it was agreed that if it was possible 671 to release wheat growing substantially from compulsion the acreage payment on wheat would be reduced from£4 to£2 per acre.
This acreage payment, which formed a large part of many speeches made in this House yesterday, was originally intended to stimulate wheat production on marginal land where results could not be expected to be good but where the growing of wheat was actually enforced by directions from the War Executive Committees. The reduction of that payment represented a small reduction in the total gross proceeds per acre of wheat, certainly not more than 11 to 11½ per cent. The final decision, however, as to whether directions should be issued or not, and as to whether the acreage payment should be reduced from£4 to£2 was deferred until later in 1945, and if it was found possible to reduce the acreage payment, then the right hon. Gentleman undertook to issue no directions. He took his decision on the basis of the advice and guidance of the then Minister of Food, now Lord Llewellin. That ex-Minister of Food unfortunately allowed himself to fall into error the other day, by charging the world food crisis to the presence of a Socialist Government in this country. But when the right hon. Gentleman took his decision on the wheat acreage payment, he did so on the advice tendered by the ex-Minister of Food, who at that time was perfectly right, on the basis of the best calculations that could be made. But it is grossly unfair of the noble Lord now to forget his share of responsibility when guiding the Minister of Agriculture last year.
The world is now faced with a catastrophic change in the situation which only became apparent long after the autumn sowing in this country. Indeed, the worst blows fell after the Minister of Food's return from Washington in January, and to all those hon. and right hon. Members who imagine that we could have issued directions early last autumn to grow more wheat, I can only say that the calculations made by all the exporting countries did not justify steps being taken in that direction. Nevertheless it it true to say that I at least have continually urged upon farmers the necessity 672 of growing the maximum amount of wheat on suitable land—not on marginal land. I have appealed through the Press, the radio and this House. I have repeated those appeals at the Middlesex Guildhall and at Norwich in January. It would be quite untrue to say that the country has not been warned of the potential dangers of the world food situation.
Although no precise information is yet available as to autumn sowings, quite contrary to the gloomy prophecies of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), preliminary estimates based upon a 60 percent. sample indicates that autumn sowings in 1945 will be found to be as much as autumn sowings in 1944, and they may actually be slightly in excess. It will be remembered, in 1945, the wheat acreage had fallen by no less than 940,000 acres, not due to my right hon. Friend's incapacity or inability or lack of capable prophecies, not due to a Socialist Government or to a world crisis, but due almost entirely to the weather in the autumn of 1944. It is true, of course, that the decline in wheat growing was infinitely more rapid than we expected, but it is no use moving a vote of censure against the weather, for that would have little or no effect. There was, therefore, confronting us in 1945 that colossal decrease in acreage from 1944. My right hon. predecessor opposite knows perfectly well, both from Ministerial experience and from practical farming knowledge, that the step he took was absolutely sound and nothing said in yesterday's Debate can make it less sound than it was in the beginning. The major cause of the fall was not the absence of directions to produce wheat or a reduction in the acreage payment. It was, as I have stated, almost entirely due to weather conditions. There may have been a farmer here and there who desired to get back to a more sensible rotation cropping, who wanted to do a bit more re-seeding than cereal growing, but on the whole the drastic change that occurred was due to the weather.
In view of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman who led the Debate yesterday, and subsequent speeches from various parts of the House, I should like to call attention to the White Paper issued on Wednesday. It is a remarkable fact that so many hon. Members in this House 673 seem to imagine that the Minister of Agriculture or the agricultural industry has got something in the nature of a "penny in the slot" possibility about it. One cannot put a penny in the slot and expect cereals to emerge there and then. It is a seasonal industry and yet with all the difficulties of wheat growing in this country, the diversity of soils and climates and so forth, what do the world figures actually show? The figures in fact show, taking Canada, the United States of America, Australia, Argentina, Burma, India and Siam, that this is the only country which in 1945 showed an increase in wheat acreage over 1938. Just take the figures in this White Paper. Canada's wheat acreage decreased from 25,900,000 acres in 1938 to 23,400,000 acres; the United States acreage decreased from 78,000,000 to 68,000,000; Argentina from 21,000,000 to 14,000,000; while in this small country our wheat acreage in 1938 was 1,900,000 acres but in 1945 after that very disastrous weather in the autumn of 1944, it was 2,200,000 acres. There is another figure the relevance of which will become apparent in a moment or two. The increase of barley grown in this country between 1938 and 1945 was from 988,000 acres to 2,216,000 acres last year. At least that indicates that as far as my right hon. Friend opposite was concerned in the course of the war, and as far as the present Government are now concerned, we have nothing to be ashamed of with regard to wheat production in this country.
Many people are asking, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) asked yesterday, Why are we not restoring the acreage payment, and why not give direction to fanners to grow more spring wheat? There are several reasons. First, it will have to apply, to be fair, to all farmers who responded to our appeal in the autumn of last year, to make the same acreage payment that we make to anybody who sows wheat in the spring. We have to be fair, all round, to those who respond on every occasion an appeal is made. That would mean if we increased the acreage payment from£2 to£4, we should be called upon to£2 per acre extra for at least 2,000,000 acres. Notice this, that in a normal year, if autumn weather is reasonably good, spring sowings represent anywhere between five and six per cent. Five per cent. of 2,000,000 674 acres is 100,000 acres. Assuming the£2 acreage payment is made and that we in crease spring sowings by 50 per cent. we should get an extra 50,000 acres of spring wheat, of course, but at a cost of£80 per ton. I would like hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to think about that. If we doubled the spring sowings at our direction and increased the payment and we got an extra 100,000 acres of wheat in the spring, it would still cost£40 per ton extra. That is an absolutely fantastic suggestion to anybody who knows any thing about the subject. There is just this additional—
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I am not quite sure I have followed the Minister's arithmetic. Could he tell us what he anticipates the spring acreage is going to be anyhow, and what he thinks it could be put up to if directions were served?
§ Mr. Williams
I am hoping that the increase in spring sowings will be as large without the£2 per acre as it would be with it.
§ Mr. Hudson
The Minister was doing a sum. Would he give us the figures of what he anticipates spring sowings are going to be?
§ Mr. Williams
I am no greater prophet than my right hon. Friend. I am only prepared to make an appeal and to hope for the best. If the farmers respond in 1946 as they responded from 1939 to 1945,I have no doubt at all but that we shall get as much spring sown wheat on land that is reasonably suitable for it as we should have done with this extra payment. May I repeat that the acreage payment originally was intended as a form of compensation to encourage the growing of wheat on marginal land? For instance, it was given at a time when we needed wheat more than any other single commodity not only to save shipping but also to save lives. In a famine-stricken world the need now is for maximum weight of cereals, and I would rather have barley and oats if land is quite unsuited to wheat. Be it remembered that to the extent to which we increase our spring sowings of wheat it must of necessity, in some cases at all events, be a diversion from barley, and the net result to the nation would be that perhaps we might even get a less quantity of grain.
675 But I have a more profound objection to restoring the£2 per acre payment than any financial one. My most important objection is its possible effects upon the price structure. Now this price structure started in February, 1945, with my right hon. Friend and predecessor in office and is an essential feature of the Government's permanent policy. If we were to start now tampering with that price-fixing scheme there is the possibility that it may completely destroy the farmer's faith in the stability of the system. If the Government were to alter prices within six months of the harvest, when the idea is to give at least 18 months' notice of what we are expecting the industry to do, that would be the effect. For reasons therefore other than any substantial change in cost—cost need not matter if it is a question of a famine—I think it is too dangerous an expedient to depend upon.
After all, none better than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-port (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington that there are many farmers in this country who have not yet forgotten the Corn Production Act and stability for six months and complete disaster for 20 years. This House ought to hesitate before taking any steps calculated to destroy the confidence which we have tried to build up during these few years. Some farmers may not regard an upward change in prices as a breach of faith, but there are all the implications of a possible downward variation in future, and discerning farmers would not allow that possibility to pass unnoticed, because it strikes at the foundations of their confidence in Government policy, which is recognised by all Parties as being fundamental. I am not prepared to destroy it at the first blow that overtakes us, not even for the hon. Member for Chippenham, who made such a fervent appeal that we should destroy the confidence of the farmers yesterday.
I am also asked why we do not issue directions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport could answer that question very simply. Certainly, the question is only asked, I believe, because of a good deal of honest-to-goodness misunderstanding, perhaps ignorance in some quarters and also because of politics in 676 certain odd spots also. My right hon. Friend knows very well that farmers have been asked for their cropping proposals for the following year in June of the current year. Once these cropping proposals were known, members of the district committees went to every farm to discuss the crops to be sown in the succeeding autumn and spring. So we were able to achieve remarkable results during the war, but there is no chance for the district committees to visit every farm in every county in the few weeks remaining to us before spring sowing takes place. Consequently, the issue of directions could not be effective, and certainly would cause more disturbance than it would give us in results. Therefore, I could not turn back on the decision of my right hon. Friend of last year to reduce the payment and not to issue directions for 1946. I think that the whole problem is too serious for amateurish tinkering of this kind. I would not shirk control if it was necessary, but, as we have said many times, though hon. Members opposite may not believe us, we do not want control for control's sake, and I hope they will tell their farmers in their Divisions what they were doing in the House of Commons when they insisted that we should exercise more control over farmers in regard to wheat. I propose to tackle the fundamental problem in another way by dealing with the total tillage acreage. It was mainly a large tillage area that brought success in the war, and a great proportion of such tillage must bring cereals in its rotation, and I am confident that farmers will plant as much acreage as possible in this way. Wheat must have pride of place on suitable land, but we want as much barley and oats where better yields are possible.
As part of the return to a sound cropping rotation and the restoration of livestock, my right hon. Friend who started the movement, and I entirely agree with him, provisionally agreed with the executive committees to reduce the tillage acreage in 1946 by 450,000 acres. There would be similar reductions in 1947 and 1948, and I have now informed the committees that it is my unquestionable duty to insist that these plans must be postponed to meet the immediate world crisis. The committee will issue a call to all farmers to put under tillage at least the same area in 1946 as we had in 1945. This will, of course, be subject to appeal 677 by farmers to the Executive Committee in individual cases.
§ Mr. Williams
For both. If the hon. Gentleman will wait and see where I am going, he will understand. The ploughing up of seed leys and grassland to achieve this acreage means postponement of the livestock increase; it will mean additional calls on labour, machinery and fertilisers, and that means more anxiety, work and worry for farmers and district committees, but it seems there is no escape from this policy. We simply cannot allow a large fall in tillage in face of a world famine. The increase of a higher compulsory tillage acreage will also help cereal sowings in 1947. The present great shortage is so severe that a high level of tillage in 1947 seems to be essential. I am taking this opportunity to warn farmers that this is our objective for 1947 so that they can revise their plans well ahead and know exactly what is going to be asked of them.
The present policy is apparently similar to our wartime policy, but it does differ in certain fundamentals. Wheat was all important then, even to the extent of growing wheat on unsuitable land. Now, we must aim at the maximum of wheat and other cereals. Barley is a good crop for either animals or humans, and oats are not to be sneezed at as feeding stuffs. Therefore, maximum cereals should be our aim. This ought to give us more wheat in 1947 than in 1945 or 1946, but we cannot expert, and I think it would be unreasonable for us to try, to go back to the peak year of 1943–44.
Now I must read very carefully this statement which refers to the ploughing up of land to achieve the object of which I have just spoken. The statement is as follows:
I have one very important thing to add about the maintenance of the tillage acreage. Since this will involve the ploughing up of some land that has been laid down to seeds in pursuance of the Government's policy to return to a more normal rotation of cropping, the Government propose, as an immediate and temporary measure, that the ploughing up grant of£2 an acre should be extended to grassland that has been down for three years or longer, instead of, as heretofore, to grassland 678 that has been down for seven years or longer. It is intended that this new grant shall be payable primarily on land sown to a seeds mixture during 1943 or earlier and ploughed after 5th February, 1946, for cropping for the 1946 harvest. Where, however, an Agricultural Executive Committee certifies that land which was so sown requires a bare or bastard fallow before cropping, it will be eligible for grant if it is sown in the autumn to crops for the harvest of 1947. Committees are being asked to take all necessary action to secure the desired area of tillage, having regard to the circumstances of each farm. There will be no change in the existing policy about directions to grow specific crops. In the meantime, farmers who have ploughed such land since the 5th February or intend to plough in the near future should notify their Committees as soon as possible. I have every confidence that the Government will have the wholehearted sup port of farmers organisations and their members in this new drive to secure the highest possible area under tillage crops at this critical time.
As my right hon. Friend will appreciate, it is quite impossible to talk about the future prices of wheat and cereals. The annual review has just started with the N.F.U. I cannot anticipate Government decisions, but these prices will be announced as soon as humanly possible. Hon. Members may ask what about the labour required for this enhanced programme. We shall require more labour in 1946 than we did in 1945, and I think the best thing I can do is to give some picture indicating how the land lies in that respect. We understand that in the middle of last year there were, approximately, 90,000 agricultural workers or farmers in the Forces. We anticipate that 50 per cent. of those will have returned to the land by the end of April. Class B men are already coming out in large numbers, and the House will be pleased to learn that no less than 4,000 had been released by the end of January. Also, as my right hon. Friend recently announced, the call-up has been entirely suspended until after the next harvest. A further appeal to the Women's Land Army to remain—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Will farmers' sons be included in the release of agricultural workers and farmers?
§ Mr. Williams
Agricultural workers, farmers and farmers' sons are all in the same category. They will all be eligible for release under Class B. [HON. MEMBERS: "All of them?"] I think I said my right hon. Friend announced that there would be no call-up until after the harvest, and that Category B makes no discrimination between farm workers and farmers. If a man is in the Forces and wishes to return to agriculture, he gets the opportunity to do so under Class B.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Byers (Dorset, Northern)
That only applies up to the 18,000, and not to all agricultural workers in the Forces.
§ Mr. Williams
I must remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that if the first 18,000 who receive the invitation are not willing to respond, another 18,000 will immediately be asked, and, perhaps, a third 18,000 until we get the number we want. Therefore, if we fail to get the 18,000 fairly quickly, it will be because the men are not anxious to leave the Forces. However, they are coming out and, as I said, no less than 4,000 had been released by the end of January.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I know of cases of agricultural workers in Class B whose release has been applied for but has not been given.
§ Mr. Williams
If my hon. Friend will submit such a case to the Ministry of Labour and National Service, I am quite sure they will look into it. The Ministry of Labour are just as anxious as hon. Members to get the 18,000 agricultural workers out of the Forces as quickly as possible. Even while they are on the way, consideration is being given to the question of offering the same privilege to a further batch later on. So far as labour is concerned, we shall adopt all the wartime measures to ensure that not only do we get the crops sown, but that they are harvested, too. We shall make the fullest use of prisoners of war throughout this period, consistent, of course, with the safeguarding of the interests of British workers. Machinery exists for the immediate investigation of any complaint in respect of that. After very careful consideration, I have decided that, in future, farmers will be called upon to pay all prisoners the rate for the job. I think that is the right 680 thing to do and that it will remove any fear on the part of the workers that prisoners are being used to their exclusion. This policy will begin to operate from 1st April, but one cannot be so definite in regard to the future. I wish I could be a prophet. The Government have the duty to see that all possible labour is made available when required, and I do not think they will fail in that direction.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, before he leaves the point, whether I am to understand from what he said that we are going to keep the prisoners until the end of the 1947 harvest?
§ Mr. Hudson
The Minister said 1946 and 1947. Does he mean we are going to be assured of prisoner labour until the end of the 1947 harvest? Secondly, are any steps to be taken by the War Office to relax the present limits on what can be done to induce prisoners to work? I do not dissent, for a moment, from the proposition that we should pay prisoners the same as British labourers, but the point is, are we going to get the work out of them, and is the War Office going to relax conditions so that we can offer to individual prisoners some incentive to give of their best? That is most important.
§ Mr. Williams
My right hon. Friend knows as well as I do that we have, approximately, 147,000 Italian and German prisoners working in agriculture at this moment. He knows, also, that the value of the German or Italian prisoners' work largely depends on the good sense of those in charge of that form of labour. He is bound to agree that no Government can do anything to determine whether men on a farm shall work heartily or less heartily. I am afraid the question my right hon. Friend asks is one that I am unable to reply to at the moment. All I can say is that the billeting of German prisoners has already started on a modest scale where co operation has been available, and that anything else that can be done by the War Office or other Service Departments will be done to see that we get the best out of them.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but I am speaking from personal experience. I have employed both German and Italian prisoners of war on my own farm, and I know perfectly well that when there was a definite incentive given, we got a great deal more work out of the men. When, as the result of War Office instructions being strictly interpreted, those supplementary methods were stopped, we got no work out of them. After all, they are human beings. If we are to ask farmers to pay the same wages to foreigners as to Englishmen, we should make it possible for the farmers to get the equivalent amount of work out of them.
§ Mr. Williams
The question raised by my right hon. Friend is an extremely delicate one, as he knows. Whether he wants the Government to relax control or to exercise some more power over prisoners than is at present exercised, and has been for these past two or three years, I do not know. All I can say is that when I have spoken to farmers who are employing three, four, five or six prisoners of war, they have told me that they are quite satisfied that the men are doing a reasonable job of work.
§ Mr. Williams
For the rate for the job. I do not believe that farmers will complain. If my right hon. Friend has got any really constructive suggestion to make as to what he thinks the War Office or anybody else ought to do, and what inducements they ought to offer as the result of his practical knowledge of employing German and Italian prisoners, we shall be pleased to look into it.
§ Mr. Hudson
Of course, there is a practical suggestion to make. It is that the men should be allowed a certain amount of cash. I know perfectly well, from my own experience, that if we had been allowed to offer a bonus we should have got double the output.
§ Mr. Williams
Anyhow, any farmer who happens to read my right hon. Friend's suggestions will, perhaps, take note of them. I have already said that if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make a constructive suggestion to the War Office or the Government, we shall be very happy to look at it. I am sure 682 he would not expect me, without notice of the question, to tell him this morning exactly what the War Office has in mind with regard to German and Italian prisoners.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South Western)
For greater clarification of this matter, could my right hon. Friend say whether, in future, the prisoners will be paid by time rates or piece rates in so far as they are working on, say, the sugar beet crop, either hoeing or lifting?
§ Mr. Williams
As far as I know, they will be paid in future as they have been in the past, unless the War Office deems it wise for one reason or another to make any change in their future terms of employment.
§ Mr. Dye
That is where the great difficulty has arisen. Where the Government have charged the farmer at a rate per acre for the work done, prisoners have not worked and there has been no incentive on the part of the farmer to get them to work. Therefore, if they were charged by the day, then the incentive would be there for the farmer to see that the prisoner did a certain amount of work during the day.
§ Mr. Williams
There again, I shall have to ask my hon. Friend, who is a practical farmer and who employs prisoners or knows where they are employed, if he has any constructive suggestion to make on what we ought to do with German or Italian prisoners in future, to make the suggestion. I know prisoners are good, bad and indifferent in their work under existing conditions, but if a case can be submitted, I am not unwilling to consult my right hon. Friend and to consider whether better arrangements can be made to ensure the maximum amount of work. I was trying to say—but it is very difficult with all these interjections—that these drastic steps which the Government are taking at the behest of the House because of the world crisis, will call for a good deal of energy, efforts and good will on the part of farmers and farm workers, but I am convinced that they will no more fail us today than they failed us in war time.
As to future policy, I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree, looking at the clock and bearing in mind the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, that I can make only a very brief review of 683 future policy in relation to our long-term proposals. I have no time for the details on the more general aspects of our policy. Opportunity, I hope, will be found later on for discussion, perhaps when legislation is introduced. I am now engaged, however, in discussion with the various interests concerned as to the powers, functions and constitution of future county committees. I have already announced that when reconstituted they will be selected from panels of names forwarded by the interested parties and partly selected direct because of professional, technical or expert knowledge of some phase or type of agriculture or horticulture in some part of the country. I hope, if possible, to reconstitute these committees under my existing powers as an interim measure. Then perhaps we shall see exactly how they work out between now and the time when we can introduce legislation to make such reconstitutions permanent.
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
I am sorry to interrupt, but may I submit that to start now at 12 o'clock on a discussion of long-term policy, when all the other matters covering the immediate position have to be reviewed, would make this Debate quite impossible? May I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his decision to go on with the discussion of the long-term policy? Could we not confine this Debate to the present position and have a further Debate on long-term policy?
§ Mr. Williams
If it meets the wishes of the House, I shall be most happy to draw to a sudden conclusion. I had intended to say something about the suggested powers which the Government intended to take, either to take over land by voluntary agreement or, to take over land where estate management—
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
May I interrupt? There is, after all, a Motion on the Paper. If the right hon. Gentleman is not moving it that is all right, and I would agree with the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York), but if he is moving the Motion it is only fair that he should be allowed to deal with long-term policy.
§ Mr. Williams
I do not want to prolong this argument but I must review very briefly certain matters involved in 684 the long-term policy, and I do not wish to rob somebody of the opportunity of making a speech. I undertake to be as brief as possible. With regard to county committees, we hope to reconstitute them at an early date. That will remove uncertainty from the minds of agricultural executive committees, and we shall get some experience as to just how they are going to work. The future committees will be integrated with the National Agricultural Advisory Service. They will be charged with the general responsibility of promoting the efficiency and well-being of agriculture, and I intend that there shall be one body, and not two as some people have suggested. I want to make that perfectly clear. The committees will also act as local agents, and exercise powers of control and undertake other executive duties just as they have done during the course of the war. They will need a new administrative staff in addition to the technical staff of the advisory service. Suitable men— and I wish to emphasise this—on existing staffs will be needed, although no definite guarantee of permanent employment can be given until legislation is through. The county committees will have power to serve compulsory directions in future just as they had that power in war, but, except for special circumstances, these powers will not normally be used except on farms under supervision.
One word about appeal tribunals. It has already been announced that certain appeal tribunals were being set up where there are questions of termination of a tenancy or failure to apply the rules of good husbandry or good estate management, and in all such cases the farmers will have power to go to a tribunal if they so desire. Permanent tribunals will be built on similar lines unless, of course, experience within the next eight or nine months indicates that certain changes ought to be made. Eight such tribunals will correspond with the regions of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. Two of them are already in operation. The first cases will soon be heard, and the other six regional tribunals will be set up once the nominations are complete. I have deferred any such dispossession cases until tribunals can deal with them, so as not to be unfair to any farmer who perhaps deserves being dispossessed, and so that he has an opportunity of going to 685 a tribunal. Tenants and owners will be informed of their rights, and should they decide to go to a tribunal they will be able to take along a friend or a member of the legal profession to deal with their cases.
This, perhaps, is one of the most important things that affects the minds of many hon. Members opposite. We suggested that we should take powers to acquire land. We also suggested that to look after that land we should have to establish a land commission. My present powers of acquisition of land are absolutely nil, except under the Forestry Commission. Of course, we hold land taken over from farmers during the course of the war, but even that must be handed back or offered back within five years after the end of the war. Therefore, if the Ministry of Agriculture require an experimental farm to assist the National Agricultural Advisory Service in its work, I would have to go to the Minister of Works and ask him to buy such a farm for the purpose named. It seems to me that it is a very desirable development, and we shall need special experimental farms in all parts of the country under different conditions so that farmers will be able to see the results of research translated into practical work on the farms. But, to get such a farm, we should have to go to the Minister of Works and ask him to buy it for us.
I will give one or two examples to indicate what we have in mind when we talk about taking over land by voluntary negotiation, taking over land which no private fanner or number of farmers would equip, or taking over land from landowners who fail to fulfil the normal conditions. If a landowner should be dispossessed at a valuation, it is clear his land would have to be taken over. We have no power at the moment to do that and if it is fair and reasonable to dispossess the farmer, it is no less fair to see that the landowner is in the same position. If there should be a landowner who desires to sell his estate, and prefers to sell to the Government, at the moment the Ministry of Agriculture has no power to enter into negotiations. Therefore, to buy voluntarily is a good thing to do. There are large areas which were rehabilitated during the course of the war in the Fens, for instance, where none but the State can provide proper equipment to see that that land is cultivated 686 over the years. That seems a reasonable proposition, and a Land Commission would be needed to develop any such properties taken over on behalf of agriculture and the nation. Discussions on these things are proceeding with the various organisations and I am quite sure a happy solution will be found.
Horticulture is of growing importance in this country. It is of course essentially different from the main agricultural crops and other methods are necessary to safeguard its interests. The marketing problems are fundamentally different from those in the main agricultural industry. Details are being worked out in conjunction with the horticulture industry's representatives who will be able to benefit materially as a result of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. I can assure horticulturists that not only have they not been forgotten, but the Ministry appreciate the great part they can play in the production of essential vegetables and fruit which we require.
As far as we can, we are pressing on with the educational side of our policy and we hope to establish the National Advisory Service on 1st October, in spite of all the difficulties of accommodation and otherwise. We also propose to establish several experimental farms and horticultural stations where farmers will see the practical application of research as they have seen it at demonstrations conducted during the war on varying soils and under varying climatic conditions. Side by side with the National Advisory Service, agricultural education ought also to be developed and hon. Members will have seen the report on higher education published two weeks ago. Details obviously require examination, but I agree generally with the committee's outlook and recommend the report to universities, colleges and others interested.
There is also a report on farm buildings, and a further report on the mission which went to the United States recently to look into the question of farm buildings there. The Agricultural Improvements Council have these two reports in hand, and steps will be taken shortly to investigate many of the recommendations which were made. Meanwhile, we are doing our best to secure the best use of materials and labour and hon. Members will be glad to learn that my hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has agreed to add to our release under Category B, no less than 4,000 687 more men who will be able to help in the work of building maintenance in the countryside. I am pleased to learn that rural district councils, curiously enough for the first time, have got well ahead of the towns in obtaining approval for tenders for new houses. The special rates of Exchequer subsidy for agriculture are extremely generous and ought to be an encouragement to every rural district council. We hope the rents of these houses will be 7s. 6d. net, and that, I think, is a real gift to the countryside. The Minister of Works is working on a scheme for permanent prefabricated houses in rural areas to supplement traditional methods of building.
I want to refer briefly to the question of animal health. Some journalists seem to imagine that because the Ministry of Agriculture are not talking of their activities in regard to animal health that they have completely forgotten it. Animal husbandry—livestock improvement—is the very keystone of our agricultural economy. Maximum efficiency is essential to meet our national needs and the ultimate prospect of British farming. Good breeding therefore—and this is not the first time those words have been used; my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport used them so often that they sent me dizzy—must become the general practice, and we are offering all the assistance and advice we can to commercial breeders and other farmers. The threefold improvement policy is, a consistent campaign to get farmers to use good stock and sound breeding, eradication of disease, and up-to-date stock management and economical feeding, which means making the best use of such feeding stuffs as are available.
I would like to say a word on animal disease and the unremitting fight which has been going on for some time to reduce the crippling losses which have affected farmers for so long There has been one limiting factor recently, the shortage of veterinary surgeons, a handicap which has been slowly removed as veterinary surgeons come back from the armed forces, but many more are needed. They ought perhaps to be more highly trained, and I am making arrangements for facilities in private practice. The Loveday Report recognised that better facilities should be provided for more research. Discussions with the Royal College of Veterinary Sur- 688 geons and the Universities have not been without some difficulties. I can, however, say that we have reached a substantial measure of, agreement, and concrete proposals are before the Government; and I hope very shortly to be able to make a statement.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether that means that in his talks with the veterinary college, he has settled the question of university training?
§ Mr. Williams
I think we have reached a very large measure of agreement, so much so, that concrete proposals are before the Government. It is clear that in animal health questions all concerned must work together—Government, veterinary surgeons, farmers and workers—and if we are to achieve the highest possible standard of production, I think it is fair to say that, in the last analysis, the farmer is the keyman. Any advance which he makes in one direction, will certainly help him to make advances in other directions.
I apologise for taking so much of the time of the House, and I would like to end on this note. The key-note of Government policy is to raise the whole standard of farming to the level of the best, and so to preserve the heritage of this small island and achieve those ideals of Hot Springs—high farming, decent standards of living on the land, and good food in plenty. I remember reading a speech made by the late Earl Lloyd George when he was introducing his social insurance schemes. It was one of those terrific speeches which could only be made by him. He described the poverty and the wealth of this country, and he also described the steps that were to be taken so that poverty in this country should tend to vanish. His last few words were something like this. He said, "There is a saying in my country that when the mist rises from the hilltop it is going to-be a fine day." If our policy can be carried to its fruition, it is going to be a fine day for agriculture.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Wadsworth (Buckrose)
On a point of Order. I think there will be a certain amount of confusion if some Members-speak on the short-term policy in the present national emergency and others on the long-term policy. We have only 689 a few hours left. Agriculture is the most important industry in this country, yet we are having to crowd our speeches into the two or three hours left. Could not the Leader of the House be approached with a view to having this Debate confined to the short-term policy and giving us a day later on for the other aspect of the matter?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Motion before the House is:
That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government for agriculture.I think that the discussion must include questions of long-term policy.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
Is it the Government's intention to finish this Debate today? There have been some conversations earlier on this subject, and if we are to discuss both sides of the question—short-term policy and long-term policy—it can hardly be said that we can do it in one day of four hours. In the circumstances I would ask the Government whether, at the end of the day, it would be possible to leave the Motion over, so that we can take it up again on another occasion.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I think my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said yesterday that a further opportunity would be provided through the normal channels, and I have no objection whatever to moving the adjournment of the Debate at the end of the day, so that it can be carried on later when a day can be found.
§ Mr. C. Williams
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the House and of agriculture for giving this extra day?
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
May I begin by also expressing my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for so quickly agreeing to what seemed obviously to be a very sensible and helpful suggestion from the benches behind me? Indeed, I think that the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had to devote sc much of his speech to dealing with the current problem shows that we shall have to have another day.
I would like briefly to deal first with the long-term policy as expressed and expounded by the right hon. Gentleman on 15th November. He has been since then 690 the recipient of a large number of congratulations on having issued that policy. I think that he thoroughly deserves those congratulations. It is, of course, a fact, which he would be the last to deny, that this policy is based very largely on the work that he and I did together during the Coalition Government, and it is also based very largely on the conference, held I think in 1943, by the Royal Agricultural Society. The mere fact that there is such a large measure of agreement in the different parts of the industry on what a long-term policy should contain ought not, in my view, in any way to diminish the credit due to the right hon. Gentleman for having made that policy his own. Still more, I think, is he to be congratulated on his success in persuading his colleagues and, more particularly, the Prime Minister. When I was in America I heard that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was going to be the guest of honour at a dinner of the N.F.U., and when I got back I read his speech; and I am bound to say I rubbed my eyes in astonishment when I remembered the sort of views he used to hold about agriculture and, more especially, about farmers. I could not help being reminded of that old saying about there being more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repented. I only hope that this is repentance, and not merely the result of having won an unexpectedly large number of seats in the country districts.
As far as Members on this side are concerned, we naturally accept and welcome in broad outline the statement made on 15th November. When it comes to submitting in a Bill the legislation that will be necessary to implement many of these points, then, of course, we shall naturally be free to criticise in detail, and that is more especially true of the proposal for a Land Commission. There are many Members of my party who doubt whether the case for a Land Commission has been made out. I quite realise that the right hon. Gentleman did not have much time to deal with that today. There are others who doubt whether a Land Commission is the most appropriate method of achieving the desired end. Apart from that, I think, we welcome particularly the guarantee of stability of prices and markets, although I confess that I shall be interested to see, when the Bill comes before the House, how the Government have reconciled the necessity for import 691 control, which was stressed in another place by the Dominions Secretary, with the terms of the Commercial Agreement attached to the United States Loan Agreement, to which, I understand, we are committed.
I was also interested and pleased to see the emphasis laid on efficiency, as the quid pro quo for a guaranteed market. Members on all sides of the House will remember I have consistently advocated this, even at the price of considerable personal unpopularity. I am very glad, indeed, to see it has now been accepted not only by the right hon. Gentleman's party but also by the Farmers' Union. I was also very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the composition of the war agricultural committees or their successors, and to hear that he was going to reconstitute them, so that we shall see how they work before the Bill comes in. I am glad that he agrees with us that the purpose in setting up these committees and in selecting the personnel for them is to have a thoroughly competent committee in every county; whose word will be accepted by the different parties in agriculture in each county; which, above all, can claim to be free from sectional interests; and whose aim will be to promote agricultural efficiency. I was glad to hear his brief description of how they are going to work. We shall naturally welcome details about the Agriculture Advisory Service when the time comes, but I thought the right hon. Gentleman was very wise in saying right away that the service will come into operation in October and in making clear that it is a really necessary thing for the future that men besides ordinary technical people will be required and should have a chance of securing employment.
I was also interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's statement that, although he proposes to ask for permanent powers of direction, they will be confined to cases where the farmer or the landlord is under supervision. That is a wise decision on his part, and it is one, I am sure, that will be widely welcomed by Members on this side of the House. At the same time, in view of what I am going to say in a moment about the temporary emergency, I hope he will not consider discarding directions today. I think he is bound to 692 continue that policy in force until we have got through the emergency.
There is another point worthy of being raised today, especially as this Debate is to be continued, about which I should very much like to hear the views of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Government. It is an essential part of our long-term policy, and in some ways, I think, it has a bearing even on the immediate wage policy, not only in agriculture but also in industry, which the Government will have eventually to formulate. I refer to the place subsidies hold and should hold in our economic life. As the House knows, I have consistently warned farmers against relying on subsidies, on the ground that sooner or later the Chancellor of the Exchequer would kick. Subsidies in the past have usually been regarded as a help to primary producers. But they have for some time past, increasingly in the last months and years, come to be regarded primarily as a means of keeping down the cost of living.
The bald facts of the situation are that for the last two or three generations the industrial population of this country has become accustomed to living at the primary producers' expense. It has now become generally recognised, not only by my party but also, judging by what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs said in another place on 4th December, by the Labour Party, that the practice of paying the least possible price to the primary producer, whether in this country or the United States of America or in one of our Dominions or wherever he is, is unsound because, in the last analysis, it hurts the industrial population itself. It is generally recognised now, especially since Hot Springs, that the primary producer, wherever he is in the world, is entitled to a fair return for his labour, to prices which will enable him to pay reasonable wages to his men, and to have a reasonable return on the fixed capital sunk in the industry.
But I want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that the urban population are still unwilling to pay an adequate price for their food, and that the habit is steadily growing of relying on subsidies to the consumer—not, as in prewar days, at the expense of the primary producer, but today at the expense of the general taxpayer at large. The present subsidies 693 on food in this country run to some£300 million. The ostensible reason is to prevent the cost of living rising over a purely arbitrary figure, be it noted. The same thing is happening in the United States of America. When I was there last month I found great difficulty in getting any accurate figure of what the present food subsidies in the United States amount to, but it is quite clear that they are greater than those paid here. In my view their total is very substantially greater than those we are paying. The result of this is that a wholly artificial basis of the price structure has grown up, not only in absolute prices as far as individual items of foodstuffs are concerned, but in a wholly artificial relationship between the different foodstuffs themselves—and that is the real danger. Unless the process is checked and, indeed, unless the engine is put into reverse we are running a serious risk of having another Corn Production Act throughout the world. We have a price structure today which results in adequate remuneration for farmers and primary producers for particular items of production; yet it is wholly artificial, and may result in the new policy of paying reasonable returns to primary producers, proving to have been built on foundations of sand.
May I take one illustration of what is happening today? It was widely supposed before the war that the United States and Canada could produce wheat much more cheaply than we could, and that was the basis of the argument we so often heard made by economists, that it was in the interests of this country that our agricultural production should be limited and confined wholly to the production of protective foods such as milk and vegetables, and that for the remainder, the large group of cereal products, for example, we should rely on imports from overseas countries who produce more cheaply, so the argument ran, and, therefore, more economically, than we could. What is the position today? Wheat in Chicago is fetching 1 dollar 80 cents a bushel. The Americans at that price are having to subsidise, directly or indirectly, the price of bread. The 1 dollar 80 cents in America corresponds to a price of 72s. a quarter in this country. The price of wheat today with an acreage payment of£4 is approximately 78s. The price in the next harvest at£2 per acre is approximately 68s. In Canada the price of wheat for export to this country is 1 dollar 55 cents. 694 That corresponds roughly to 62s. a quarter. To the American as to the Canadian prices have to be added the cost of insurance, freight, and all the incidental charges necessary to bring wheat from Fort William to this country.
We have the situation today, therefore, that wheat is being produced in this country at prices below what it costs to deliver Canadian or American wheat to our mills. That is a sound argument for destroying that of the economists, but, all the same, I think the position is fundamentally unsound. The cost of living index in this country and in the United States of America was based on the pre-last war conditions when, I think everyone will agree, the amount of money available to the ordinary industrial worker for spending on items other than food was considerably lower than it is today. In other words, the proportion he had to spend on food was considerably higher than it is today. I believe that if we want to avoid a repetition of the Corn Production Act we ought to be examining the question whether, slowly and by stages, if you like, but inexorably, the price paid for food should be brought into closer relationship with the actual cost of production. If the industrial worker is going to claim a reasonable return for his labour, he ought to be prepared to pay a price for his food that bears a reasonable relation to its actual cost of production here or in the rest of the world. That does not eliminate or exclude provisions for social services such as school meals or milk for mothers, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that this question was under examination in the last days of the Coalition Government. I believe this inquiry ought to be pushed and a definite conclusion reached, because without it I do not believe any long-term policy that we may work out in this House could be regarded as sound or could provide that essential confidence in the minds of the farmers to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
I am bound to confess that when I got home the other day I felt that it was a mistake to try to confine both these subjects in to-day's Debate. I am most grateful to the Minister and to the House generally for their courtesy in waiting until I came home, but if I had been in the Minister's shoes I should have con- 695 centrated on the examination of the present emergency. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech very properly assumed responsibility for what has recently occurred. I am not at all sure that he is not to be commiserated with. He is a Member of the Government which won the recent election on, among other things, the claim that they were the only people who knew how to plan and co-ordinate the nation's effort. I feel that it is pretty bad luck on him to emerge as the first victim to prove to the country that, whatever else they can do, they cannot co-ordinate. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has been the victim of his colleagues.
Let me remind the House how they have treated him. Very early in the life-time of this Government, the Minister of Health himself announced that the Housing of Rural Workers Act was not to be renewed. It became clear, in the course of Debate in this House, that this decision had been reached by the Minister of Health without previously telling the Minister of Agriculture what he was going to do or consulting him. It seems that we are now faced with another example of lack of co-ordination. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman had really appreciated the information that has been given by the Minister of Food as to how serious was the situation that was developing last autumn, and how it has since developed, he would, despite what he said today about acreage payment and the reasons he gave, have gone to the National Farmers' Union, put the case before them, and said "We have got, at all costs, to increase our wheat acreage." I should certainly have done that in his place. I am certain that he would have put the facts before them, as we now know them to be, if he had been fully informed then by the Minister of Food of the position. Since the Debate of yesterday, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) put seaching questions to the Minister of Food, which were never answered, the Minister of Agriculture in Canada is reported in the Press this morning to have said that all these tendencies were known last summer—not last autumn, but last summer. Knowing what he did in October, I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman made his 696 statement on 15th November in which he said that cropping directions were going to be limited to beet and potatoes.
§ Mr. T. Williams
If these indications were known last summer why was it not possible to issue directions?
§ Mr. Hudson
My right hon. Friend and myself were both responsible. In February, on the best advice we could get at the time, there was a reasonable probability of getting maize from the Argentine, and a reasonable probability that the world wheat harvests were likely to be adequate. My own personal view, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about directions, is that even at this eleventh hour he ought to issue directions for the sowing of spring wheat to the full extent of the availability of seed. If he did that, I think he ought, in all fairness, to compensate the farmers who are subject to those directions. I do not believe that the farmers as a whole would use, and I am quite certain the leaders of the N.F.U. would not use the argument ho used, and would not say this represented any breach of faith.
Then again, if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food had really apprised him of the desperate situation which was arising, I cannot conceive the Minister of Agriculture not issuing a warning about pigs and poultry last October. The Minister himself has got a very special personal responsibility in that. He and I together asked farmers, and encouraged them, to increase their breeding stocks on the promise that, if they did so, adequate rations for the increased numbers would be available in due course. Quite recently, the right hon. Gentleman came to the House and told the farmers that that promise was not going to be honoured. Let the House realise that this is the first time that a ration has not been honoured. I submit that it is nothing to be proud of on the part of the party opposite that that first dishonouring of a promise was made by the Labour Government eight months after the end of hostilities. Surely the right hon. Gentleman could have issued a warning to farmers last October, and the farmers would not then have been engaged in this increase of their stocks of poultry and pigs which has been going on for at least six months unchecked. Many of them are going to incur a very heavy loss, and I suggest that there is a moral obligation on His 697 Majesty's Government, and particularly on my right hon. Friend, to see that some ex gratia payment is made to them for, at any rate, a proportion of the losses which they have incurred. These losses have not been incurred as the result of any natural calamity here—bad harvest or bad weather—but as a direct result of the Government failing to honour the promise they made.
The right hon. Gentleman has been let down again on another matter. He talked about a long-term policy, and the necessity for maintaining in 1946 the tillage acreage of 1945 and increasing it, if possible, in 1947. That is dependent entirely upon adequate supplies of labour. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to come here and defend his colleagues, but the facts of the matter are against him. He said that the Minister of Labour was very keen to get as many men as possible for agriculture. It is very odd, if he was, that on 24th January he announced a further call-up of 8,000, and it was only as the result of pressure from this side of the House that the Prime Minister came down the next day and said that the call-up was to be postponed.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)
If the right hon. Gentleman will make an investigation he will find that the pressure came from this side.
§ Mr. Hudson
All right, have it that way. It merely shows that both sides of the House had considerable doubt about the bona fides of the claim of the Minister of Labour. Before I went away last Autumn, the Minister of Agriculture was talking about getting 10,000 men out under Class B and he now says that on 21st January there were 4,000 released. That is a pretty poor response, after four months—4,000 as against a target of 10,000.
§ Mr. Hudson
Whatever it is, it is a poor response. And the right hon. Gentleman must be disappointed in his heart of hearts. Then he said that we were going to get more labour, and he instanced 90,000 men in the Forces whom he expects to be out. Will he say what proportion of that 90,000 are in fact going back to the land or that he expects to go back to the land? Some inquiries have been made in my own county of 698 Wiltshire and we find that fewer than 50 per cent. are going back. This rather upsets the right hon. Gentleman's calculations. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I am much obliged for that interruption, for it leads me to my next point. The main reason is that they cannot get houses. What is being done to encourage the building of houses? The Minister said that the new terms for the agricultural subsidy are generous. I maintain that they are useless. Local authorities, with all the resources of rates and taxes behind them, are to receive£28 a year for 60 years. At the present rate of building costs in my own rural district I am informed that that would mean a payment by the occupier of 13s. 6d. a week in rent and rates. When the right hon. Gentleman and I were working together we made certain calculations and came to the conclusion that the maximum an agricultural worker could be expected to pay, the upper limit, was 11s. a week. If 11s. was almost too much, 13s. 6d. is quite impossible, and therefore I repeat that the subsidy is useless.
Furthermore, what about the private subsidy, the subsidy to the farmer who wants to build a cottage for his own man? The local authority, with the rates at their back, are to get£28 a year for 60 years. The private farmer is to be given£15 a year for 40 years. Why the discrimination? What chance is there of a man being able to build under those circumstances?
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I really do not follow this argument. The right hon. Gentleman says that the men will not go back to the country because there are no houses. But his hon. Friends behind him say there are no houses in the towns either. Where then do he suggest these land workers go?
§ Mr. Hudson
I say that if we want men to come back to the country we must build houses in the country. I was not responsible for the towns, otherwise the situation would have been much better. Over and above the disability to which I have just referred—the fact that the private individual can get only£15 a year for 40 years instead of£28 a year for 60 years—there is another nigger in the woodpile in the last Section of that Act. I am advised that that Section will result in no subsidy being payable 699 to a farmer who wishes to build a cottage for his own workman. I find it difficult to believe that political discrimination has gone that far. In order to be thoroughly fair, I took the precaution, the day before yesterday, of asking the Minister of Health whether this was so, and asked him to let me know before this Debate. As a further precaution I asked his private secretary to let me know yesterday. I have not had an answer from either. I find it impossible to believe, but hon. Members on this side of the House who are lawyers tell me they think that is the effect of this Section. How, in the face of that, can the Minister say he is going to get the labour?
The right hon. Gentleman made a great point today, as did his Under-Secretary the other day in another place, that the Minister of Labour, under Class B releases, was going to allocate 4,000 men to agriculture.
§ Mr. Hudson
This is a drop in the ocean, not even a drop in the bucket. It would not even deal with the situation in Wales let alone the United Kingdom. It would have been far better if the Minister had made it his business, not only to renew the Housing of Rural Workers Act, but to have returned months ago the thousands, even tens of thousands, of workers withdrawn from the country in order to deal with urgent bomb damage in London. It would have been much better for people in the country as a whole to have been assured of food in their bellies during the coming months than for the people in London to have been assured of a roof over their heads. The whole picture is a melancholy one. I am sorry to have to say it but it is the result of in action of right hon. Members of the Government. They have done too little too late. I believe that if the necessary labour, material and machinery are provided farmers will still do their best to meet the urgent requirements of the country, but I also believe that these results will be much less than they would have been if earlier steps had been taken by the Government opposite.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Randall (Clitheroe)
Like so many others who have risen from these benches recently, I desire to ask for the indul- 700 gence of the House, because this is my maiden speech. I could have wished for the opportunity of intervening in another very notable Debate this week, because of my 20 years as a postman in the City of London, and I do not enter this Debate with the same courage, because life in the City of London is a long way from the countryside. The knowledge I have gained of the countryside comes partly from the fact that the soil is in my blood—my father was an agricultural labourer, and was penalised for his convictions—and partly from the talks I have had with my constituents since I have been up in Lancashire. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) would be present on this occasion because I had the opportunity of stealing his audience during a great event in 1945, and I wanted to thank him very much for providing me with the opportunity of addressing an audience of farmers. The hon. Member is not present today, but I shall take the opportunity of meeting him on another occasion.
I desire to say—and I have consulted with a number of farmers—that the statement of my right hon. Friend on 15th November last year has been given a very warm welcome by the industry. It will give confidence to that industry, which represents something like 6 per cent. of the population of this country. They welcome it firstly because it plans ahead and secondly because it shows a fair return for capital and labour. This they regard as just as important in peace as it was in war. Security in wartime was necessary but it is not all-sufficient. We must also have security in the days of peace. In war prosperity on the land was surely one of the country's armaments? In peace then, prosperity on the land, coupled with equitable distribution of the world's food resources, is surely the key to the expansion of international trade and the foundation of lasting peace. The plan of our Government offers to industry, first a four-year price guarantee, secondly overlapping periods, and thirdly annual revisions regarding costs. In the view of the farmers I have consulted it is a workable scheme. They are convinced that the guarantee is not too long-term, and that this is an advantage for two reasons; if it were too long-term it would not produce stability, and it could not take into account unpredictable developments in national and international affairs. For 701 those reasons the farmers in my part of the country feel that the Government's long-term plan is acceptable to them.
I particularly desire to refer to some of the problems in my constituency and to the passage in the Minister's statement to the House where he said:The annual price reviews instituted in February, 1945, will be continued, together with the provision for special reviews in exceptional circumstances.It is those "special reviews in exceptional circumstances" to which I desire to direct attention. There are areas in this country which have exceptional circumstances, and North-East Lancashire is one of them. In fact, I had not been very long in my constituency when I was told that they have eight months winter and four months "damn bad weather." This has a serious effect upon the farming in that part of the country. The land is marginal, it" is high, it is split into small farms, and this makes their occupation of dairy farming particularly difficult. Before the war, they tell me, they depended on milk, eggs and pigs, and they had to have heavy stocking in order to make a turnover with the help of imported concentrates. These were restricted during the war. Poultry and pigs were the casualties and had to go, and the only thing they had left was the milk. This provided their only income. In addition, the condition of these farms is such that they suffer under other disabilities. The great majority of the farms fail to qualify for the wheat, butter, sheep and hill cattle subsidies, and therefore they have had to depend entirely upon milk production and the milk they could get as a result of that work.
Meagre rations—and this is the point of my entrance into this discussion—have been insufficient to keep the cattle of that part of the country in good condition. The milk yield is down, and the figures prove it. In 1937–38 in Lancashire there were 741 gallons per cow; in the rest of the country, 732. In 1943–44 there were 589 gallons per cow in Lancashire, but the rest of the country was 682. Lancashire finds itself 150 gallons down as compared with the rest of the country, which is only 50. Surely—and I put it to my right hon. Friend—this challenges the method of allocation? Something ought to be done for the farmers in this 702 part of the country. They have had their casualties—they have lost their pigs and poultry—and now they find that their income is down as the result of the lower yield of the cow because of the lack of feeding stuffs. I find, also, that before the war the average depreciation per cow in Lancashire was£5, now it is£15 to£20. In addition, a third of the cows passing through the collecting centres are only fit for manufacturing purposes, and in my discussions with the farmers they tell me that they used the phrase, "It is down th' alley." The condition of the cows is such that they are almost milked to death in order to get the greatest possible yield and they are only fit for manufacturing purposes when they are taken to the collecting centres.
Lancashire surely is in need. It must have more feeding stuffs, and, if the problem of the world shortage is such that they cannot be given these, I suggest to the Minister that there should be a more equitable distribution in accordance with needs. I want to ask my right hon. Friend two questions. Would he review the allocation of feeding stuffs? In the Southern parts of the country, where they are able to get the silage, where they are able to put by for the winter period, ought it not to be possible to have a re-allocation of feeding stuffs in order that those other parts of the country which are under these difficulties may have the benefit? My second question to the Minister is: Could he assure me that, when the grain is available, the needs of the distressed areas will come first? I think these people in my constituency, suffering as they have done, making their great contribution to the war effort, should be given the first opportunity when things get easier.
I want now to make some suggestions to my right hon. Friend. I want to put it to him that the producer wholesalers are the worst hit of all producers. The retailers have a reasonable margin of profit but I think the producers have a real grievance. Cannot the Milk Marketing Board distribute all the milk rather than that it should be done by the retailer, with the exception, possibly, of the hamlets and the villages? Surely the Milk Marketing Board can distribute this country's milk and so help to bridge that gap which exists between the cost of pro- 703 duction and the coat of distribution. If the figures are looked at, it will be found that there is a greater margin of profit for the distributor than there is for the producer. There is a case for the examination of marketing and distribution. My other suggestion is this: Because of the lateness of the spring in the North might the farmers there be given March prices through April? This would help them, because they are unable to put their cows out in. April, as do the rest of the country. They have to keep their cows under winter conditions so, surely, they should be given the opportunity of having the March prices during April, namely, 2s. 3d. a gallon as against 1s. 8½d.
Those are the points I desire to put to the Minister. I have been glad of the opportunity of entering into this Debate. I want also to thank the Minister for the help he has given me on a number of occasions, and for the assistance he gave with regard to a deputation of farmers from North-East Lancashire. It was appreciated by them, and I feel confident that the policy adumbrated by the Government will prevent that cynicism which descended upon the country after the last war. I believe there is a future for agriculture, and its future is a good one, I think, because of the policy set out by the Government.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
This morning a Scottish hon. Member whose speeches on subjects which apply to Scotland are weighty and fruitful, reminded me that there was a Minister of Agriculture for Northern Ireland. So there is, but agricultural policy there is really dominated by the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, and I would say frankly to begin with that I have very little complaint to make about the right hon. Gentleman in his dealings with Northern Ireland. However, our agriculture is not, of course, organised with a view to the advantages of Northern Ireland, but with a view to the advantages of the United Kingdom as a whole. If it were simply for our own advantage, there would be no rationing at all, any more than there is in Eire. We should be able to get on with our own meat, with our own eggs, with our own butter if it were not for the needs of the sister island over here. In our endeavour to play our part in the 704 world task I think we have made remarkable efforts, and have succeeded very well.
Here I would like to say with what great pleasure and interest I listened to the speech from the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall). I was surprised to hear that it was his first effort; he spoke with great sincerity. Moreover, I was particularly pleased with what he said because so many of the problems he put before the House are similar to those which are facing farmers in my constituency. I have the pleasure of knowing the beautiful, but rather bleak, country around Clitheroe, and I can agree with many of the statements the hon. Gentleman made. I hope we shall have the pleasure of hearing his fruitful interventions in our Debates in future, particularly when they are connected with agriculture and the Post Office.
Northern Ireland's contribution to Britain's food supplies has been very large, but the position of the farmer there is now rendered critical, by two things particularly. One is the danger of a reduction of the rations for poultry and pigs. The pig industry has suffered terribly already owing to the reduction of imported foodstuffs, and as regards poultry, I do not think the tremendous efforts which have been made to try and keep up egg and milk production in Ulster, for the benefit of this country, have been fully appreciated. In Northern Ireland, the farmers are owner-occupiers; there are no landlords, and the country people live, to a very large extent, on their own eggs and potatoes. Nevertheless, three out of four eggs have been sent to this country. Last year, Northern Ireland sent to Great Britain 270,000,000 eggs—a formidable total. I am much concerned with the reduction in the ration, and I hope the Government will bear in mind the suggestion, made yesterday from this side of the House, that it will be possible to import more maize, or "yellow meal," as we call it, because this is a most valuable asset in pig and poultry production. It has been suggested that the maize is there, in South America, but that owing to difficulties between the United States and the Argentine and the shortage of shipping, it was not always available. However, I hope the Government will address themselves to this question.
705 The Northern Ireland farmer has not very many paid crops on which he can rely. One of his most important is flax and I do not think he has had a square deal in this matter. Previously, when he got£10 acreage payment, and a decent price, it was more or less all right, but this year the position is lamentable. I know the Minister of Agriculture is not the villain of the piece; it is the Minister of Supply. I also know that it would be unreasonable to expect a representative of that Ministry or the Home Office to be here today, although I did see the Home Secretary pass like a meteor across the Treasury Bench, and I wished that he could have stayed a little longer. The economics of farming in Northern Ireland require that the farmer should be able to rely on his paid crops to keep himself going. The present position as regards flax will prevent him from doing that. The farmer has a serious grievance in this matter. It may be urged that our main problem is connected with food. But let us remember that linen will be one of our most useful exports for obtaining dollars, which can be used for food, fertilisers, dried eggs, and the like. We are not a grain country. Compulsory ploughing has made it difficult for farmers because it is not their natural type of agriculture. We have even grown wheat, and if we had had warning in time we should have made our contribution to Britain's food supplies this year with winter wheat. It is completely futile in Northern Ireland to try to grow spring wheat; it has to be winter wheat or none a all. Of course, the Government did not tell us what they wanted in time, so nothing can now be done.
In order to keep farming healthy in Northern Ireland a reasonable return for flax is essential. Otherwise, the whole budget of the farmer is unbalanced. Northern Ireland farmers are not, as a rule, prosperous people. They farm on small farms, which are frequently family farms. I appeal strongly to the Minister of Agriculture to make contact with the Ministry of Supply in order that this matter should be put right. As I have said, the contribution we make to Britain's food supplies is very large. Even last year, when there was a call for further milk, the quantity of liquid milk was increased from 20,000 to 34,000 gallons. Further, we increased cur tillage by a larger proportion than any other 706 part of the United Kingdom. All this is the work of the farmers in Northern Ireland, and it is for them that I appeal today. They have played up to the calls which have been made upon them by the Minister of Agriculture, and it is up to this Government to treat them right, and not let them down in the matter of flax prices.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert (South Molton)
In rising to address this House for the first time, I am very grateful for the indulgence which it is customary to extend to Members who are making their maiden speeches. I assure the House that I will do my best, so far as is possible, to keep controversy from my speech. It is a great privilege for me to be allowed to take part in this Debate on agriculture, because I have the honour to represent the South Molton division, a division which has the distinction of being the largest in area in the country. That division, more over, is almost entirely agricultural. If I may make a personal point, it is also a great pleasure for me to speak today, because I have succeeded my father as the Member for the South Molton division.
I believe he had the distinction of being the only Member of Parliament who described himself as a yeoman farmer, and the cause of agriculture has always been, and always will be, very dear to his heart. The farming community as a whole have every reason to be proud of the part they have played in the war. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) made heavy demands upon them. They always met those demands with good will and to the utmost of their ability. We in Devonshire were particularly lucky in our war agricultural committee under the able direction of the chairman and the chief executive officer. The demands of the Ministry were interpreted with good will and commonsense, and we in Devonshire were enabled to produce our quota of food to the full.
Now, once again, the farming community are told that upon their efforts will depend whether the country goes hungry in the coming year. If they are to produce the maximum quantity of food from the land it is essential that we should have a prosperous, efficient and well-balanced agriculture, and this, I hope, is the policy of all political parties. It is 707 essential, in trying to discover how to make agriculture prosperous/ to look into the past history of the industry. For 60 or 70 years England's greatest industry has been in a state of depression; things have gone from bad to worse. About 60 years ago, in 1880, railways were built in the Dominions, the United States of America and other parts of the world, the performance of ships was improved by the reciprocating engine, and refrigeration. From then on food was imported into this country from all parts of the world in ever increasing quantities, and the farmer had to contend with low and uncertain prices. This went on right up to 1939, with the exception of the years of the Great War, 1914–18. Then prices rose, and agriculture became prosperous. Promises were made for the future, but when this country, in 1919thought it had got peace for all time and plenty of food, the agricultural community was again forgotten, and prices continued on that disastrous downward path.
It was not until 1931 that the then Government of the day realised that unless prices were stabilised the agricultural industry would go bankrupt, and a start was made. We had the Wheat Act, the Livestock Act and the various marketing boards, and undoubtedly they had a very beneficial effect on the industry as a whole. But things had become very bad by then. To give the House some idea of the extent of the depression, farm land in 1871 let for£240 per 100 acres, taking England as a whole. By 1945 rents had fallen from£240 per 100 acres to£140, a fall of£100 during the last 70 years. That does not take into account the fall in the purchasing power of the£ sterling. Taking that as 6s.8d. farm rents today are one-fifth of what they were in 1870. This appalling depression has had two serious effects on agriculture. First, the farm labourer has been leaving the land in ever increasing numbers. Between 1923 and 1929, 110,000 men left the land, that is, 16 per cent, of the total number of workers on the land in 1923. Second, in the countryside we never have had those amenities—I refer to electric light, piped water and sanitation—which are regarded as essential in towns. The standard of living of the farm workers and the farmers has always had to be lower than that of the urban population 708 During the late war agriculture again had a tremendous stimulus. The farmer has been given every aid—mechanisation, technical advice—but one thing we have not been able to do is to bring back the men and women to the land. The number now permanently employed is smaller than it was in 1939.
The farming community as a whole were very grateful when they heard the Minister's policy, as announced on 15th November, that it was proposed to carry on with the Coalition Government's policy of fixed prices. But in the intervening period they have become a little dubious as to their future. They realise that they are living in an artificial world. Food subsidies alone are between£200 million and 300 million per year. They wonder how long these subsidies can go on. They also realise that the shortage of farm labour is extremely acute and becoming worse every day. I hope I am not being controversial if I say that the farming community doubt whether the Government are taking any action to attract people to the land. I think they are justified in their doubts. During the war, because of the shortage of labour, we used Italian prisoners of war. They are now leaving us, and as we have now to grow more food we are getting Germans. What is to happen when the Germans return to their country? That is the problem that faces us today. The farmer immediately thinks of his son or his workman who is in the Armed Forces. He is amazed when he finds that agriculture, so far as Class B release is concerned, is put on a much lower priority than either building or mining.
Again, he realises, as all of us who are connected with the agricultural industry realise, that if we are to attract men to the land we must give them a living which compares favourably with the living provided for men in other industries. It came as a great shock to the Devon farming community when they heard that the Agricultural Workers Housing Act was suspended. We in Devon have made a great deal of use of the facilities offered by that Act. We are told that at some future date houses will be provided for the agricultural community. We hope they will be, but there are not many signs at present. Again, we people in Devon are a little dubious in regard to houses provided by the Government. In my own village in 1920, six houses were built under 709 the Addison housing scheme. Never, to my knowledge, has an agricultural labourer been allowed to live in one of those houses. The tenants are almost entirely retired men and women from industrial areas.
Then again the farmer looks at the conditions in the Women's Land Army. The Women's Land Army has done very valuable work during the war. Why is it that their conditions of employment compare so unfavourably with conditions of employment in the other women's Services? Only the other day I had a letter from a woman who looks after the Women's Land Army on a war agricultural committee. She put as a postcript to this letter:I as a civil servant know I should not write this to you, but we who organised the W.L.A. all feel ashamed at the conditions under which they have to work. We know that the majority will leave the land as soon as they can.Does that give the farming community the feeling that the Government are out to help them solve their labour problem? I urge the Government to put the highest priority on attracting men and women back to the land because farmers must have confidence not only that they can sell their commodities at a reasonable price but that they can get the men and women to work the land. Unless they have confidence they cannot make plans for the future. Believe me, it has been very forcibly represented to me in the past two days that unless we have adequate plans we cannot expect an adequate supply of food.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
It is a very great pleasure to me to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). Particularly am I happy to follow him, because I really wanted to emphasise some of the things he has said. He has given us a very interesting historical survey of what has happened in agriculture over the past twenty years. It is very valuable to this House to have a survey of that kind. It is particularly valuable this morning since' the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has told us how much pleasure there is among the ranks opposite over one sinner who has repented. I think he was referring to the Prime Minister. How much greater must be the joy in what I think ore usually 710 calls the ''serried ranks'' on this side of the House over the way in which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have rushed to embrace the policy which we have advocated for so many years, but which hon. Members opposite held in greatest contempt up to the beginning of this war.
I have only to remind hon. Members of the notorious speech made on the eve of the war by the right hon. Gentleman the then Conservative Prime Minister at Kettering—a speech which is not forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman then said:The idea that we can be starved out in war seems to me to be entirely fallacious. We can depend upon the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine to keep open trade routes and to import all things necessary.We have always felt that production in this country must be of such a high character that not merely in wartime when trade routes could not be kept open, but in ordinary normal times, we could provide a great deal of the food needed in this land. It is a stabilising policy of that kind, which the Government are now putting forward and with it, I am sure, not only Members on these benches but also Members opposite will entirely agree. But I do want to utter a word of warning on a matter which the hon. Member for South Molton has already mentioned. I hope very much that the hon. Member, who spoke so well, will continue, time after time, if he speaks in agricultural Debates, to impress upon the Government that however good a policy we may have it will remain only a paper policy unless we have got the labour to carry it out.
I cannot agree with the right hon. Member for Southport that if we once had houses everybody would flock back to the land, because I know that is not true. I cannot really follow his argument. I know he is naturally interested in the houses, but the Minister told us—and, if I remember aright, the right hon. Gentleman was among those who cheered him—that rural district councils were well ahead of everyone else in their plans for housing, with more contracts accepted and more houses likely to go up in the spring. I accept that. I think it is true and I think it will have some effect in inducing men to go back to the land. But I want to make various other suggestions which will have a greater effect. One of them 711 is that if the men knew they were going to have a square deal as far as their wages are concerned, they would not be so reluctant to return to the land as they are at present. They have got an Agricultural Wages Board. They have asked for an advance in their wages which will put the agricultural industry in fair competition against the days when men are not adscripted to the land as at the present time. I say that£4 10s. is by no means an outrageous wage for the men who do the valuable work that our agricultural workers do today. It is by no means an outrageous wage for which to ask and for them to expect to get.
I would like to see the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Labour going down to the Agricultural Wages Board, as the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Agriculture went down to the Agricultural Wages Board when men first had the Control of Engagement Order put upon them, and when they were told, "You will have to make these wages worth while." The position is exactly the same today. They, unlike a great majority of workers, continue to be adscripted to the land. I think we should find a very different position if the Control of Engagement Order was taken off. We should find these men leaving the land in numbers which would alarm the Government and everybody in this country who is interested in agriculture. Therefore, I would like to see the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Labour going down and saying, "As long as the Control of Engagement Order is kept upon the land workers, they must have the kind of wages which, when that control is taken off, will put them in the proper standard for competition with workers in other industries."
That, I think, is the first thing. What do independent members of the Agricultural Wages Board say? They say, "It will cost£50,000,000 to do this. Who is going to pay? Is the consumer going to pay for it? Is the taxpayer going to pay for it?" I do not think it is necessary that either should pay. I have been looking at some figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-port, in a Debate in this House, about the enormous increase in the amount of agricultural output in this country— 712 £300 million more today than in 1939. That makes a very broad margin out of which you can get£50 million. That is not the only place from which it could be got. I want to remind this House that it is nearly 23 years since the publication of the Linlithgow Report on the question of the cost of distribution. In spite of many things that have happened that one would have expected to have brought down costs of distribution in these days, they are still 33⅓ per cent, of the bill. Those who support the farmers say that the whole question of distribution and the cost of it should be looked into very seriously. The Linlithgow Report—I think I have got the figures right—stated that£1,198 million were paid by customers over the counter in retail shops, and that neither the importer of the goods nor the producer of the goods got any of that money. That was the whole cost of distribution. Something has to be done over this question. Once these costs are looked into, once that problem is solved, I believe we shall have another great pool from which the wages of the agricultural worker can be drawn.
So I contend that wages must first be put right. I do not think we are going far enough. There is something wrong in the whole way in which the Ministry of Agriculture goes about this problem. It is said that it is very difficult to recruit miners for the pits, but the Minister of Fuel and Power recruited some of the best men to get on with that job. He got some attractive speakers, including one who had done good work over the radio, to undertake this work. I should like to see the Minister of Agriculture making a more imaginative approach to this question in trying to attract men back to the land. During the years between the wars, we lost something like 200,000 men off the land, and the position is much more serious today, because it is camouflaged in two or three ways. First, it is camouflaged by the Italian prisoners, although I know I have seen a good many Italian prisoners lying about in the sun and whistling at the girls as they go by. I have not seen Germans doing that; I think they have done a very good job on the land and we could not do without them. But the time will come when they will have to go. We cannot keep them here for ever. So they camouflage the real position to a certain extent.
713 Next, there is the Women's Land Army. We could have done a great deal more to make the land more attractive for these girls, who have gone through very hard times, done very hard work and been passed off with the basest ingratitude. We have done nothing at all to encourage them to stay on the land. I would have liked to see every one of these girls given the opportunity of training for six months or a year and then sent back as skilled workers on the land. I wish we could do it. We ought to do something to encourage them to stay on the land as skilled workers. At harvest time, too, we have had child labour—a disgraceful thing, but we had to depend upon it. I suppose we shall have some more in the coming harvest. Then we have had harvest camps, though I think that probably the people who used to go to them will this year want a holiday and will not want to go on the land. All these things are camouflaging the real position, which is already very difficult—adscription to the land of the ordinary workers, the Control of Engagement Order, the prisoners of war, the Women's Land Army and those casual workers who came down to the harvest camps.
What is the Minister really doing about this? What are his plans for recruitment? What is the use of this miserable 1,000 young men whom he says are being trained? I think that 5,000 or even 10,000 would not have been too many to expect in a situation of this kind. What is the Minister doing to try to show to people the great value and importance of this work on the land? I think we should have got more than 1,000 men for training if we had done something on the lines I have been indicating. There is too much of the old idea of a 70s. a week job and leave it at that. There is more in working on the land than a 70s. a week job. There is something which finds a response in the hearts of a great many people, and we have to find the way to get that response. I believe there is a great deal to be said for showing a man that, if he goes on to the land, it is no longer a case of 70s. a week and leave it at that. I believe we can get a method of grading which will not only induce men to come out of the Army on to the land, but which will induce boys and girls still at school to believe that it is no longer a case of 714 " once an agricultural labourer, always an agricultural labourer."
I would like to see something imaginative done in the way of getting people back to the land. I speak particularly to the Parliamentary Secretary, who I know is a very sympathetic person. General Wolfe was not the only man who, going into battle, felt a nostalgic longing for his own countryside, the early morning in June, the midday sun in the harvest fields and the stars at night. Just as with Wolfe when he went to his last great battle at the Heights of Abraham, there have been many men, who have fought during this war on whose hearts a pattern of their own home countryside was graven when they went into battle, fought during this war, on whose hearts in the most difficult times. We have to find that spot in their hearts, and try to bring them back to the land. It is well worth doing, it has such an enormous community value, and such an enormous value for the individual himself. I believe that we could do a great deal in the way of recruitment if we set about it in an imaginative way—the way which would get the right response from the men.
I wish to say a word now about long-term policy. This is not only a question of boys and girls in the countryside, but also of the boys and girls in the town schools. The only way I know in which a boy or girl in a town school can get a first-class training is to do something wrong and get sent to one of those admirable institutions provided by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. A first-class training in agriculture is given in approved schools in this country, where people are training boys and girls to induce them to go to work on the land when they get the opportunity. I would like to see that method extended not only to our schools in the countryside, but to the town schools as well, and the teachers instructing the children in proper appreciation of the countryside. We cannot now say to a boy just leaving school, "Would you like to be a farmer's boy?" He would probably say "No, I should be lonely, and I do not want to leave my mum and dad." During the period of evacuation in this country, I saw something which was most moving. I saw a great many children in the evacuation areas, and some of the most happy effects 715 of that evacuation were to be seen among the boys and girls from the slums of our great cities who had gone to the farms, particularly in Wales, where the people were so kind to them, and in other places. They told me that they never wanted to leave the farms again. It is true that there were boys who carried a few of their town habits into the countryside and liked making a bet on which pig was going to farrow first, but, nevertheless, they delighted in the countryside. What a good thing it would be if the boys and girls, after a year or two in our secondary schools, could go down to the country to a farm, and go to a country school to see if they liked it. I believe that if they left the towns and went to live with the farmer and his family, and went to the country school, we should find that the drift from the land back to the town would not be nearly so great as the drift from the town to the land. That would be a good thing both for the health of the children and for agriculture.
There have been some first-class reports on agricultural education. Mr. Deputy-Speaker and I were concerned in the Report of the Luxmore Committee. There was also the Report of the Lovedale Committee. They were both first-class Reports, but I fail to see anything which has been carried out as the result of the great amount of time and money spent in taking evidence and preparing those Reports. Why is it that, even now, we have not got at least one farm institute in every county in the country? There should not be a county without a farm institute. Every report on agricultural education has advocated that and I think it should be done at once. It is important to train men as veterinary surgeons. That is a real and vital need in the service of agriculture. As the question of the education of the veterinary surgeon has been raised, I would direct the attention of my right hon. Friend in that connection to what has been done by the Ministry of Education in the training of teachers. The training for veterinary surgeons is one of the most expensive and exclusive in this country. We want veterinary surgeons, and we want them badly. We shall require a very much closer supervision of the bovine population in this country with the likelihood of increased diseases such as contagious abortion, tuberculosis and others.
716 I hope that my right hon. Friend will take this matter in hand and see that the boys and girls in our schools who are suitable for this training get it free. If free training to become a teacher can be given to a suitable candidate, then free training to become a veterinary surgeon can be given to a candidate who loves animals and is tender and patient with them. The Education Act says that no boy or girl shall lack training for any career owing to the lack of money. I am sure that if the Minister will take up this question of recruitment and training with imagination and zeal, we shall not find it difficult, in the next few years, to make up deficiences which are at present intolerable. Work on the land is work, as I have already said, to which anyone may go with delight, and with the knowledge that it is something well worth while. It needs only that little bit of advertisement and imagination which I want the Minister to supply to make its advantages known.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Peters-field)
I intend to be brief because I realise that it is impossible in the time allowed to deal in any comprehensive way with this long-term scheme. I am sure there is general agreement with the Government's proposal to establish a system of assured markets and guaranteed prices for the principal agricultural products. This system of fixing prices ahead is a very wise one, and will give the farmer that assurance of price stability which is so important to him. I would emphasise and add to the words of caution uttered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) as to the inevitability, in due course, of the system of subsidies falling out of practice in this country. A time will come when not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer will begin to query and object to the system of subsidies running into hundreds of millions, but when the taxpayers of this country will begin to jib at it also. I hope every effort will be made to avoid doing anything to increase the costs which must necessarily fall upon agriculture, the costs which farmers might reasonably expect, under this system, that they would be recouped for in the shape of increased prices. We ought to aim towards stability of prices, but very definitely not towards increased prices, if we can avoid it.
717 The Minister proposes to constitute on a permanent basis county committees similar to the war agricultural executive committees. It is not out of place to say that the war agricultural executive committees have done the most admirable and self-sacrificing work. This is mainly because they are composed of practical agriculturists who have given up their time to looking after other people's farms at a time when they had jobs of their own to do. It has been their war work, and has been immensely valuable. I hope that when the new committees come to be formed that the invariable qualification for every member of these committees will be that he is himself a practical and experienced agriculturist. If that is done, it will make all the difference, not only to the way in which their work is carried out, but to the way their directions and advice are received and acquiesced in by the farming community. No doubt there have been some cases where the proceedings of war agricultural executive committees have been queried, and even criticised. Perhaps there have been some cases where they have been wrong—after all, they are only human— and possibly it has been due to the fact that the members have been so overworked and so concerned with their own necessary business that they have had to leave too much to their permanent officials. It is quite certain that farmers do not take the same notice of and do not acquiesce in the same way in the advice and directions of permanent officials as they do in those of real, genuine, practical agriculturists.
Therefore, I hope that what has been outlined by my right hon. Friend the Minister, as to the considerably increased staffs for administration purposes, will not mean that too much power will pass into the hands of the permanent officials. In my view it should reside as far as possible in the hands of the members themselves. Although it is quite obvious that the functions of. those committees must continue and be of great importance for some time to come in view of the present food situation, yet their actual detailed work, as affairs approach normality, will be very much less. Therefore, it is to be hoped that the members themselves will have the time to carry out their functions without leaving too much to their permanent officials.
718 One more thing I would say on this point. I believe it was a weakness of these committees that they were not open to any form of local criticism or questioning as to the carrying out of their duties. I agree it was inevitable that they should have to work directly on the orders of the Minister and without any kind of outside criticism during the war years, but that will not be the same in the future. I believe it would have strengthened their hands if their proceedings could have been brought into the light of day and could have been liable to local criticism, especially by some responsible body. I think many things which were misunderstood, and perhaps misjudged, by the public would have been better understood and, indeed, justified if that could have been the case. I hope it will be the case, and I hope the Minister will give some consideration to making that possible in the future. We do not want Star Chambers. We want committees whose proceedings are open and plain to all the districts or counties over which they are operating.
I would suggest that the most effective system of control—and I think we all agree there must be control in some measure—would be for county committees to enforce the terms of leases and agreements respecting good husbandry. Practically every lease contains a clause or clauses relating to good husbandry. I suggest the leases should be inspected by the county committees and, if approved, the committees should give effect to those leases through the owners or their accredited agents, and not through permanent officials. I believe that system would be satisfactory to all concerned. Just as leases invariably contain certain obligations laid down for the tenants, so they also invariably specify certain obligations for the landowners. I suggest that under the system which I am advocating, dealing through the owners or their accredited agents, the obligations of the landowner could be enforced properly, and the obligations of the tenant as to good husbandry could also be enforced. I think they could be enforced with a minimum of expense to the country and with a minimum of officialdom also. I hope very much, and I believe everybody hopes, that there will be a minimum of interference with these committees from Whitehall. Farming from Whitehall has become a term very frequently used in 719 the country, perhaps unnecessarily sometimes, but it is a practice of which everybody concerned has a horror, and I hope the Minister will not attempt to indulge in it to any extent. On the other hand, there is the case of the owner-occupier to be dealt with. He has no lease with himself; he has no agreement as to his obligations as an owner. In those cases I suggest again he might be dealt with direct by county committees, and should be required to observe the principles of good husbandry as laid down in the Act of 1923.
I will say one word on the present situation. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he was not going to issue directions to deal with the present necessity for growing spring wheat in particular, and more grain in general. It is a very difficult situation. Directions, I believe, as the Minister himself said, would take much too long. It is a very long business to go over all the farms in detail and to issue directions. I am absolutely certain, not only because of my own conviction but from what I have heard from responsible persons, that the fanners will respond in no uncertain way to the appeal of my right hon. Friend to do everything they possibly can to meet this unexpected and unpleasant crisis. It is not going to be easy because we have had a very wet winter—that is common knowledge—and a great deal of land which might in other winters have been ploughed has not been ploughed. It may be some considerable time before we have a sufficiently dry spell and before the land is fit to do anything with. Then there is the question of the possibility of having to plough up some of the leys which have been recently laid down at very considerable expense. I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the question of the£4 acreage grant, at any rate for those farmers who go out of their way to respond to his appeal and to grow more wheat this spring. There are varieties of spring wheat which have given good results but, as my right hon. Friend well knows, the sowing of spring wheat is not so popular with farmers, and very often is not successful. The ploughing up of ley ground recently laid down, assuming the weather permits it, is an expensive business and upsets all arrangements for cultivation. I suggest, to encourage farmers to grow the 720 utmost possible acreage of wheat sown this spring, my right hon. Friend might consider the extension once more to those farmers who do grow wheat, of the£4 acreage grant.
There are various remarks which I might have made but which I will not make as I know the time is very short. I would like, however, to add one suggestion to those which have already been made and with which, I think, there is a very great measure of agreement in the House, as to the importance of adequate housing and conditions for agricultural workers. I believe one of the great deterrents to families settling in the country is the quite natural hankering of the wives for lights, shops, pavements, places of amusement and the amenities of towns generally. Those other amenities of towns cannot be brought to the farm—it is no good thinking they can—but it can be made possible for the women and others to get to the towns and to enjoy those amenities reasonably easily if only adequate bus services could be made available and if they could be reasonably frequent and economical.
I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to approach his right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport to see whether something cannot be done on these lines. If it is a case of subsidy, I believe such a small subsidy is cheap compared with subsidies for housing and other purposes and would be well worth it if residents in the country could be brought more into touch with the amenities of the town. A corollary to that, is the question of children getting to school, which is a very real problem in country districts where they often have considerable distances to go. There are arrangements for taking children to school, but they are not sufficient, and in my personal experience too many difficulties are made by local education authorities in the matter of children using bus services. It would be a very great help if these services could be extended and made more easily accessible to children. The Minister might approach his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education to see whether a very much improved school bus service could be provided in rural districts and the rule against children not being allowed to use them if they live less than two miles from the school relaxed A child who lives a mile and three quarters, or very nearly two miles, away from the school has to walk. 721 I think the rule might be much more liberally interpreted.
I hope the Minister will not pursue his idea of a Land Commission. Once again, it would be a case of farming and landowning from Whitehall, and of officialdom. It would not be popular, and I do not believe it would be profitable, and the Minister would do much better to keep clear of it altogether. If he wants to run experimental farms—and I think there will be general agreement that such farms are desirable—why not extend the system which exists at present and is successful in many counties—the county council farms and the county council farm institutes and farm schools, also? That would be a much more desirable way of proceeding than to have a Land Commission owning land in different counties and farming it for experimental or other purposes. I hope the Minister will reconsider that point. I think it is perhaps the most contentious part of his proposals, and I hope he will see his way to modify it. In other respects, I welcome the scheme generally and hope it will be carried into effect at the earliest possible moment.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Stubbs (Cambridgeshire)
Like many others, I crave the indulgence of the House in this, my first speech. I come to this House after 27 years of work on the countryside and can claim to know something about rural industries. I am glad we are going to have another opportunity to speak on the long-term policy. I am sure we are all pleased that in the activities of the United Nations Organisation the International Agricultural Organisation will include all the findings of the Hot Springs Conference, and I hope to have an opportunity at some future date to speak on the long-term policy. I believe food production is not a question to be settled by landlords, or by farmers, or farm workers, only; it must be a national and international problem. It seems tragic to have to say that it is only in wartime that agriculture finds its proper place in the national life, when there is a danger of the nation being starved into submission. In the first world war the nation realised as never before the danger of allowing land to go out of cultivation. In the terrible submarine warfare no one in this House or outside could say how 722 near we were to being starved into submission. At that time the wages paid to men on the land were 10s. to 12s. a week as a minimum. Special work as a horse-keeper, ploughman or shepherd was about 18s.
The farm worker was treated more like a beast of burden than a human being, and was housed worse than cattle with a standard of living lower than that of any criminal in any gaol. When the cost of living was going up there was no change in the farm workers' wages, until the 1917 Corn Production Act, which gave the farm worker a minimum standard of wages of 25s. a week, and wage boards were set up. I was chairman of the works side of my board in Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, and I am chairman now of my side. I have been through this great struggle of the men on the land for a living wage. During the years of the war we got from 25s. to£2 5s., and the Coalition Government of 1921, made up of Conservatives and Liberals, repealed the Corn Production Act, under which four years' notice should have been given before repealing. Farmers were doing well during the war years, aided by the banks. When that Act was repealed farmer after farmer went through the bankruptcy court. Smallholders went through the bankruptcy court, and even the men who were put on the land had to get off the land because they could not make ends meet.
We have not forgotten that. As the Foreign Minister said in the Debate on the Trade Disputes Bill, in three months after 1921 wages fell from£2 5s. a week to a miserable 25s. a week, again a pauperised wage for a man who is doing a skilled job. I think it has all been a mistake to talk of "farm labourers." There is no such thing as a farm labourer. They are all skilled men and ought not to have been called labourers at all. We went through hell in those years and there was no change again from 1925 until there was a Labour Government that put back the Wages Board which was so ruthlessly destroyed by the Liberal and Tory Government. We marched on again until the beginning of this war, when we again faced the great danger of starvation, the gravest weapon that Hitler had in his hand. Hitler thought he could starve this country into submission. Millions of acres of land 723 that was broken up in the war of 1914–18 all went out of existence, drains all got into a bad condition, and 60,000 of the best men that any nation could possess left the land.
Such was the position we faced in 1939 when the war broke out. The Government set up again the war agricultural executive committees—I was a member of my home county war agricultural executive committee before I came here—and I want to pay tribute to the splendid and wonderful work that has been done through their activities. They tramped for miles and miles, they had to do things nobody cared to do, and I am surprised—in a way, possibly, I should not be—that hon. Members on the other side of the House are asking the Minister for a balance sheet, a profit and loss account. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say, "Hear, hear," again, but it was not a question at that time as to whether it paid or not. It was a question of food. It was food that we wanted. We could not go into the question of profit and loss, but knowing something about it, I am not so sure when we take into account the scarcity of labour and the type of men we had to have, that that balance sheet will not show a decent return in a good many instances.
I want to go back to the war of 1914–18 and the years that followed up to 1921. Land had gone out of cultivation, drainage work had gone back and, owing to the policy of the Conservative Party—if you can call it a policy at all—it happened again. It is a contractionist policy. They could not find work for 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 unemployed, while there was drainage work needed in Cambridgeshire that would have absorbed the greater part of those unemployed, and would have prevented the position we had to face at the beginning of this war in 1939. We are here again, in the building up of these wages, in a deadlock. Before the war the Minister of Labour set up a committee of inquiry into the cost of living in the countryside as well as in the towns. The report has never been seen and I should very much have liked to see it. Those who took part in the inquiry tried to get the actual cost of living by getting budgets filled up, both in the towns and in the countryside. The value of a man's wages 724 is determined surely by translating the money into its real value, in terms of the goods it can buy.
I have here some recent budgets from the wives of farm workers, and I want to quote two or three to show what is really happening in the countryside. Here is a family budget—it is signed and anyone can look at it—of a family of five with an income of 70s. The wife says that 5s. is kept by the husband for pocket money, and this is how the£3 5s. remaining is spent. Rent, 7s. 7d.—not an agricultural cottage at 15s., it is most likely a council house; coal, very economical, 3s. 9d. 1 cwt.; it must be a council house because it has got electric light. That is quite different from my day, when we burnt only paraffin oil, and I used to go out and play marbles and forget I had left the lamp burning. When I went in and saw the ceiling all smothered in smoke, I got a good hiding for leaving the lamp on. Here we see electric lighting in the council houses, built not by private enterprise but by State enterprise. Groceries,£1 5s. for five people; butcher, 6s. 6d.; milk, 2s. 4d.; bread 3s. 9d.; school dinner for one child, 2s.; clothes, 2s.; insurance, 3s.; daily paper— "Daily Herald" I hope, not the "Daily Mail" nor yet the "Daily Express"— 10d.; doctor's bill, 3s.; a total of approximately£3 2s. 9d. That is the standard of life on this measly low 70s. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite think they can cut anything off that? The farm worker's wife in my opinion, is much cleverer than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He can call money in, but this poor woman cannot. She has to make her money do.
Here is a budget of a family with two children: Groceries, 25s. for four persons; meat, 4s. 1d.; milk,.5s. 1½d.; bread. 5s.; rent—again a council house, I suppose— 7s. 7d.; coal, 4s.; papers, 1s. 2d.; insurance, 2s. 5d.; dinner for one child at school, 2s.; sundries, 2s.; clothing, 5s. This woman has spent£3 3s. 6½., leaving 7s. for all the other things, such as pots and pans. There is nothing here for holidays, and nothing much for recreation. I am trying to urge the House to get down to what is wrong with the countryside. Deep down in their hearts and souls, the people in the countryside are sick to death of this low standard of life. The Minister can have these budgets if he likes, because something should be done about this problem. Many hon. 725 Members must realise that something must be done about it. What can the woman, with a meat bill of 4s. 1d., give to the man who has to go out and do a hard day's work down in the fen? What can she put out for the man? If it is eaten at the weekend it is gone. A man wrote to me a few months ago about this, and said that his wife had put him up a roast potato, a bit of cheese, and some bread and margarine, on which he had to do a hard day's work. He said, "Thank God, there's a public-house nearby, where I can get a pint of beer to wash it down.
If you want to know why a man will not stop on the land, there is the reason; it is the tragedy of the two main industries of the country, coal on one side and farming on the other. The miner says to his son, "Work where you will, but you are not going down the mine," and the farm worker says to his boy, "Go and get a job in the town, lad, get on your bike and work somewhere else, but you are not going on the land." This industry has been hopeless and cheerless, and it offers no inducement for young men to stop on the land. Something must be done about the deadlock we are facing at the moment over the application by the men for a 90s. minimum. The Minister did not give the figure—I do not suppose he knows—of the number of men coming out now and the proportion who are returning to the land. They are not going back. Men are drifting away from the land every day. The essential thing in the policy that we are proposing to put into operation is manpower; unless the men are there we shall find ourselves in Queer Street with whatever we propose to do in the next two years to increase production.
I want to say a word or two with regard to houses, and not only houses but the sanitation that is lacking, the miserable schools, and the lack of amenities in the countryside. I know of race-horses that are far better housed than some farm workers, and which have more attention paid to them than is ever paid to the farm worker. I know villages close to New-market where there is practically no sanitation, where mothers pick up their children and carry them to school across puddles of water from the cesspool in the garden. Such are the housing conditions in the rural areas. Can you wonder that you cannot get the people to stay there? Some villages in the Isle of Ely, as well 726 as in the county I have the honour to represent, have no water supplies, not even a clean supply of water with which to wash a new-born baby. They are still using water out of the rivers. These things must be altered if we are to make agricultural life attractive and to get people back to the land.
I have one word to say as a member of a war agricultural executive committee. We have constructed in Cambridgeshire 25 miles of roads. We have brought into cultivation land that has been derelict between the two wars. We have broken up new land. We have had record crops in some places for the first time in history—record crops from land that was derelict. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman first of all what is to become of these roads. I believe landlords who benefit from them must pay a betterment charge, but who really is to own these roads? Are we to put the charge on to the landlord, who in turn is to pass it on to the farmers? That is a problem to which we want an answer, because it is troubling our people in our area as well as in many others. What is to happen about these roads?
I believe in regard to the short-term policy that we can improve production from land already under cultivation, apart from cultivating more acres. We have not reached the limit and peak of production, and I certainly believe we can still get more food by better farming and better organisation. Of course, we want more labour on the land.
I should like to know from the Minister what his policy is to be about distributive charges, a very important matter. Nothing is said here about marketing, about the middlemen and agents who come between the producer and consumer and bleed both. We want to know something about that. The Linlithgow Committee after the 1914–18 War looked into producers' prices and the prices paid by the consumers, and found the difference between what the producers got and what the consumers paid was£500 million. It is more than that now. We want to know something, too, about land syndicates that buy up land all over the place and sell it to farmers at high prices. If the farmers are to be bled that way by paying high prices for land, how can they put capital into the industry? Farmers are alarmed about what is happening. Some legislation 727 ought to be passed to stop that sort of thing—the buying of land and pushing it on to the fanners at increased prices.
This is my first speech on this all important problem. This food problem is a very serious thing. I hope that the Minister will find some way out of this deadlock. We have no moral right to keep our farm workers under the Control of Engagement Order, when they are receiving wages far less than in other industries. How do we expect to get men at `1s. 5½d. an hour to come back to the land against 2S. 0d. an hour paid to ordinary labourers? Whether this Order is removed or not, it is a fact that men will not come into this industry unless they are paid wages comparable with those in other industries. I believe that the land of this country should be a storehouse for the common people, and not the pleasure ground of the rich. We should make the best use of the land which we possess in order that every man, woman and child in the nation may have the benefits of a God-given right.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
I offer my sincere thanks and heartiest congratulations to the hon. Member who has just delivered his maiden speech. He represents a constituency in which I spent some very happy years, and I feel sure that his constituents will rejoice that he has chosen agriculture as the subject on which to make his maiden speech. In this House we are somewhat familiar with the dulcet tones of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Quintin Hogg), and I hope that we shall have ample opportunity of comparing the styles of speech of these two Members for ancient university towns.
§ Mr. Bowen
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, but it is in the same area Yesterday and today certain criticisms and accusations have been made against the Government in relation to agriculture. There have been allegations of lack of cooperation between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture, and that the Minister of Agriculture has failed to take the farmers into his confidence and failed to give reasonable notice of a change of conditions. I would respectfully say that, in my judgment, these allegations have been substantiated. I 728 am not going to develop them, because I want to speak on the general agricultural policy of the Government, and on the statement which the Minister made on 14th November and his statement today. Those statements, I feel sure, will receive the ready support of the farmers of this country and, in particular, of the farmers of Wales.
The questions of guaranteed markets and fixed prices are not matters of real dispute in the farming industry today. I think that the farmers, particularly the farmers of Wales, will say "Good, but for heaven's sake get on with the job. We do not quarrel with the policy or programme, but we do urge the Government to get on with its performance." Mention has been made of the difficulties over the labour problem, and I am not going to reiterate what has been said about that, but I feel from my own experience, and the criticisms of it which I have received, that the question of getting farm workers and those engaged in the farming industry generally out of the Forces is not being pursued with the expedition which it deserves. Only this week, I brought to the notice of the Minister the case of a key man, who was urgently needed in connection with the sowing programme. His release from, the Army had been recommended by the war agricultural executive committee and by the Minister himself, but the War Office refused to take any action. This man, I am assured, has been twiddling his thumbs in Germany, and he still remains in the Forces. It is idle and, indeed, hypocritical to talk about the urgency of the food situation, if the Government are not going to handle the release of agricultural workers now in the Forces with greater expedition than they have done.
§ Mr. Steele (Lanark)
Would the hon. Gentleman inform the House of the group number of this particular man because, as I understand it, even in the release of agricultural workers, the age plus service group applies?
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Surely in the light of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture said earlier today, the 729 group number has no relevance. My right hon. Friend, as I understood him, said that if he could not get the 10,000 from the earlier groups, one went on adding groups until one got the 10,000. We have heard this morning that we have got only 4,000 out of the 10,000.
§ Mr. Bowen
I thank my right hon. Friend for the assistance which he has given me in making my point. In agriculture, in my part of the world, we welcome the advent of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, and small farmers in particular look to receive great benefit from the activities of that service. For once I find myself in agreement with the judgment of the Minister of Agriculture in relation to Welsh matters. He has decided to treat Wales as a unit. His judgment has gone even further in the right direction. He has said that the headquarters of that service, in respect of Wales, should be located in my constituency. I hope that whatever pressure is brought to bear on him that he will not reconsider that decision in any light which is unfavourable to Aberystwyth. May I add that adequate recognition of the status of the Welsh Secretary in the Ministry would be particularly welcome to Welsh farmers and I think it would be a very neat tribute to the Welsh farmer for the part he has played during this war. I welcome the continuance of many of the features of our wartime agricultural programme—the continuance and development of the activities of the Milk Marketing Board and of the grading system in force in relation to cattle. I also welcome the continuance of centralised purchasing, and I hope it will not be too long before we shall be able to concentrate not so much, as was inevitable during the war, on weight as on quality.
The question of animal feeding stuffs has already been raised' but I make no apology for raising it again. There is a drop in the total milk production in this country, there is a drop in the yield per cow, and there is a drop in the amount of stock held. All that is due to inability to obtain adequate animal feeding stuffs. The problem is a difficult one, but I ask that the Minister should search out diligently every possible source of animal feeding stuffs for the farms of this country. I have mentioned this only in connection with cattle, but I think it is equally important in connection with poultry. We 730 heard a great deal yesterday about dried egg and about the importation of eggs. The importation of eggs into this country costs three times as much as would the importation of the necessary quantity of feeding stuffs to produce the eggs here. If we could get the feeding stuffs we should save dollar exchange and provide employment and increased purchasing power for our people. With regard to subsidies, those I should have liked mentioned in the Minister's statements in November and today are what I call constructive subsidies for leying, ditching and water supply. I hope that before long we shall hear something from the Minister on the subject of constructive subsidies.
On the question of seeds, 1 ask the Minister to encourage the home production of the very best varieties, and I suggest to him that, in that respect, plant breeding research was of invaluable help to us throughout the war years in enabling us to make the maximum effort on the food production front. I ask him particularly to extend his wholehearted support to the research at the plant breeding station in Aberystwyth. The most practical support is a financial one. During the war this research work was strictly limited. Many of the staff have been lent to war agricultural executive committees, but I hope the Minister will do all in his power to see that the work continues and that the valuable contribution towards improvement in seeds already made is maintained.
I do not want to go into the general issues of the labour problem, but I should like to deal with one or two ways in which I think the farmers in my particular part of the world might be assisted. The question of providing electricity is one point. If electricity were provided in the rural and agricultural areas in Wales it would not only help in the amenity problem but would also be a substantial help in the labour problem. I ask the Minister to invite the Agricultural Machinery Development Board to go more closely into the question of providing suitable machinery for this type of farming. The machinery being produced at present is quite unsuitable for the small, hilly farms in my county There is the question of providing a machinery pool, and a labour pool, and I do think that all these matters should be pursued in the hope of affording a valuable contribution to the 731 solution of the labour problem of farmers in that part of the country.
Then there are the questions of housing, of water supply, and of general amenities for workers in the agricultural community. I feel that so far we have heard nothing from this Government which is going to be of any real assistance to farmers in Wales, either from the point of view of houses or farm buildings In my area the position is that over 50 per cent of the agricultural holdings are under 30 acres, over 90 percent are under 100 acres, and I believe there are only about six which are over 300 acres.
Incidentally, most of these holdings are owned by the people who farm them. What help is offered by the Government at present to people who own small farms of 30, 40, or 50 acres to improve the condition of their houses and to provide proper accommodation for their workers? In many cases the farms, particularly in North Cardiganshire, are becoming derelict for the simple reason that the farm houses are becoming uninhabitable. Farms are going out of tillage because there is no place for the people who should work them to live in. The cost of a new house would be considerably more than the economic value of the farm as a whole. I maintain that until the Government take amore active, more virile and more practical interest in the problem in connection with housing, water, and electricity, we shall not get a prosperous agricultural industry or, what is of more immediate consequence, the high level of food production which this country so badly needs today.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
May I, without being presumptuous, register on this, the first occasion I have addressed the House, a protest against this very important subject of agriculture, the most important in the country, being relegated to only part of a day, and that a most unimportant day? I think I shall be voicing the views of many Members who represent rural constituencies on both sides of the House when I say that we have waited with a great deal of patience through six weary months, hoping that our great industry would have a full time Debate, and I felt very distressed, a few weeks ago, when the Leader of the House was asked for a two day Debate on agri- 732 culture, to hear him reply that ii he kept on slipping in two days a week on various subjects there would not be time for the great and glorious legislation which we are told lies ahead. Providing the food of this country may not be glorious but I am sure the House will agree that it is great. 1 am glad to know that this Debate is now to be adjourned to another day, and I hope more than one day will be given to it then.
Having registered my protest I now proceed to welcome the long-term policy announcement of the Minister for Agriculture. I have little in the way of criticism to offer, and I do not propose to offer it at this stage. 1 know there is some debate as to the origin of the child, but at any rate the Minister is entitled to the credit of bringing it into the light of day, and I can only say that so far as lies in my power I will give him assistance to rear it to a strong and vigorous maturity. I approach this subject from a point of view other than that of pounds, shillings and pence. I submit that this country is faced today with two long-term problems, one the declining birth rate, the other the standstill in the development of our Empire. I suggest that the approach to both these problems is a vigorous and live agriculture. The subject should be approached, therefore, not from the outlook of the largest production per man but rather from the standpoint of maintaining the largest number of men, women and children in the healthy countryside. We have to realise that it is from the countryside that the lifeblood of this nation and this Empire is drawn, and I could not help thinking of that when the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. MacDonald) a few nights ago referred to the rugged crofters of Scotland, who are self-employed and not receiving as much as£75 a year as "the lifeblood of this country." With that I agree, and if there is any doubt, I would ask any hon. Member who has gone anywhere throughout the Empire, if he has found any part of it in which one of our friends from over the Border has not been doing his job. In fact I think they ought to be entitled to wear the badge of the Royal Artillery— Semper et Ubique—which my Latin tells me means "Everywhere, at all times."
It is not only of the crofts of Scotland that I want to speak, but also of the hills of Wales and the marginal land in 733 this country which is 80 to 85 per cent. of the whole. When the long-term policy is agreed, I hope that people living on these out-of-the-way farms and on these hills will be considered and some arrangement made in price-fixing which will enable them to live as well as the people on the big open farms on the best land. We have seen cottage after cottage disappear, land falling into disuse and the population down to vanishing point, and if we are to maintain our health as a nation we must alter that position.
I want to deal with agriculture for three reasons. First, it is the only source of real wealth. This nation has been built up on cheap coal, and in the course of doing so holes have been made in the ground which have only been filled with water, as far as I know. A devastated countryside has resulted. But the agriculturist can go on to the same acre of land year after year, and, if he manages it properly, can produce real wealth, and that is the only way to build up the life of this country. Secondly, it is an industry which cannot over-produce. It is also an industry which will have no unemployment, for there is unlimited work available in the countryside if that work is made worth while. Thirdly, if I may give a personal touch, I can speak on behalf of all three partners in this industry. I want to make it quite clear that it is no good one partner of the industry pulling against the others. We have all to pull together if we are to win through to what we deserve. I started my life on the land somewhat early, for my father decided that I was doing no good at school and took me away at the age of 13 to work beside the farm workers in the fields. I may say those were the three happiest years of my life, but after that I decided that there was not the money in it for my ambitions and I took another job. However, I maintained my interest in the land and became a tenant farmer on the same farm after my father finished. Eventually my landlord died and I became the owner of the farm. So I can speak on behalf of the workmen, the tenant farmers, and the landowners.
I will deal first with the landowners. I know it is seldom in this House that one hears a good word spoken on their behalf, but I venture to suggest that they are one one of the most ill-used members of our 734 society. They are often abused because their cottages and farmhouses have tumbled down. The reason for that is that, owing to the industrial age, the land has been neglected and there has been no money left on the estates to do those repairs. Today the rents on the big estates of this country are no higher than they were 50 or 60 years ago, and I can produce proof of that. I want to point out that unless rents are raised and landlords are put in a position to make those repairs, then some other action will be necessary, because it is quite obvious that they cannot build and repair on the rentals they are now receiving.
Let us now turn to the farmer, who is perhaps the mainspring of the whole job. It is to him that the other partners in the industry have to look before they get their returns, and I hope when the Minister reviews his food prices he will make such terms as will enable the farmer to pay those good wages and give the landlord the return which he deserves. I will say this, although I have welcomed the plan of the Minister as a good plan, that it is of no use unless a good superstructure is built upon it. That superstructure can only be built by a proper range of prices, and I hope that if there is any tussle between the Minister of Agriculture and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the staying power and the toughness of the Minister of Agriculture will be sufficient to pull over the line the extra weight of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Now I come to what is the main problem facing our industry today, that is labour. I quite agree that there should be a rise of wages for the farm worker. I have advocated that for some time. I see no reason at all why the farm worker, who is an extremely skilled man, should not be entitled to receive wages comparable to his opposite number in the town. If anybody does not think the farm worker's job is a skilled one, I suggest they should clear out a length of ditch themselves and then put a farm hand to do the same job on the next length. I think they will then agree that he is a skilled man. Therefore, I advocate that his wages should be comparable to the town worker, and that if he gets that wage the town worker should not then demand an increase in his wages.
I know that money has to be found. It cannot be found out of the prices at present being paid, but there are two 735 other sources from which it could be found. One is from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the form of a subsidy; the other is from the consumer of this country. I submit that it is the consumer who should be called upon to pay that wage. I think to pay an extra 10s. would mean another£20 million increase in wages. That increase means one halfpenny per head per day from the population of this country or, in a family of four persons, one cigarette less per day, one pint of beer less a week. When one realises that for every£1 spent in consumable goods, the figures are 10s. 8d. spent on food and 9s. 4d. on drink and tobacco, I do not think it is any hardship to ask the consumers of this country to pay a little more for their food and a little less for drink and tobacco.
There is another way of finding the money, and I make this suggestion to the Chancellor. At the present time he is collecting money in the form of P.A.Y.E., or other forms of Income Tax, from the lower income ranges. That money is paid into the Exchequer, from the Exchequer to the Ministry of Food, and by the Ministry of Food in the form of a subsidy to keep down the cost of living. That is a very roundabout and expensive way of arriving at the same position, and I suggest that the rate of Income Tax on the lower incomes should be eliminated, and the money spent directly on a rise in the price of food. That would solve another problem which is hitting industry all along the line, and that is absenteeism. At the present time men in all industries work when it is worth their while to put in that little extra work, and they do not attend at the pit or the farm or any other industry if it is not. I think if they were paid their full wage and a little more in the way of food, there would not be the absenteeism that there is at present.
In addition to wages, I fully agree with what has been said in regard to housing. It is our biggest problem at present and one of the reasons why men are not coming readily out of the Army into the countryside is because we have no cottages or houses for them to go into. I hope, therefore, that every step will be taken to give priority to cottages in country districts. I am not suggesting that those cottages should all be built, as is being done now, in villages or at some considerable distance from the farm where the 736 man has to work. These cottages should be placed somewhere reasonably adjacent to a man's work. I think it is very much harder on the man who is doing the work to have to go two or three miles to it than for his wife who wants to live in a village or adjacent to a town. I ask the Minister to press for a certain number, at least, of these cottages to be built somewhere away from the village, so that the man can get his work close at hand.
May I say a word with regard to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act? I think it was a tragedy that the Minister of Health did away with this very useful Measure. I can speak with some experience, because I have put up for myself and other people something like a dozen cottages, and if anyone doubts the value of that Act I suggest they should visit those cottages and ask the people in them who gets the benefit—whether it is they themselves or the landowner. I know the objection is possibly rather a political one, because the Cottages are what is called "tied" cottages. I know that is like a red rag to a bull to hon. Members on the other side of the House. The question of injustice is one aspect. There are cases of injustice, there will be cases of injustice in any walk of life, but these few cases are magnified into something which really does not exist. I say that if there is any injustice it will be if the "tie" is taken off that cottage. The injustice will be to the man one wants to employ and whom one wants to put into that cottage to do his job of work. If that man cannot get into that cottage and has to cover two or three miles morning and night to get to and from his work, he is the man who will suffer.
If that "tied" cottage is done away with, is it right to suggest that a man in that cottage, who is right on one's doorstep, should be entitled to go and work for a neighbouring farmer, and that the owner of that farm, who does not own the cottage, is to get the benefit of that cottage? The answer to the "tied" cottage is to let the councils proceed with the building of their cottages, and let men have an opportunity of going into the "tied" cottage or the council house. All I ask is that we private people should have the right to build these cottages on the same terms as council houses. If and when there are redundant cottages in the country, the empty ones will be the council 737 cottages and our "tied" cottages will still be full. Too much has been said about amenities being possible only if all these cottages are built close together. That is not correct. Most of our farm houses require electric light and running water. When they get those amenities, running water and light can be put in the "tied" cottages adjacent to the farm. There is no difficulty in that, and they are just as likely to get the amenities, as those cottages which are clustered together in villages.
I end by appealing to this House to recognise this industry of ours as of vital importance. Our population has reached the lowest point since England was a cultivated area. During the years between the wars we lost men at the rate of 10,000 per year. I would say to the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs), with regard to the wages he mentioned, that it was no good his party putting on the Wages Board the fixing of a standard wage which was not dictated by anything in the way of price levels. The result of that standard wage was that men could not be employed; there was not the money to employ them, and they drifted from the country into the towns to swell the unemployed already there. A Wages Board which fixes a wage which is not in relation to the price level will not function. Between the wars the industrialists had their time. They worked hard and accumulated wealth, and because we were a creditor nation we could keep 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 people on the dole in moral decay. I hope that such a time may never come again. May I finish with a thought for the weekend, in a few words penned by Oliver Goldsmith many years ago?Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;…A time there was, ere England's griefs began, When every rood of ground maintained its man;
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) on the admirable maiden speech he has just made. He comes to this House with great practical knowledge of his subject, and I think we all enjoyed very much listening to what he had to say. I hope he will take part in an our agricultural 738 Debates in the future. He mentioned the "tied" cottage, and I cannot help feeling in connection with that problem that there is one point which we tend to forget, and that is the future of our agricultural workers. The pool from which we must draw in the future will depend upon whether or not the children of existing farm workers grow up on the land. If we take the workers four or five miles away from their work, the children will not go out with their fathers and their brothers and learn about cattle and ploughing and so on. The result will be they will drift away to the cinema and the town. It is not only a question of the landlord; it is a question of the future of the agricultural workers of this country.
It falls to me, I understand, to end this Debate today. I feel I would describe the Debate as something of an Irish stew. We have had the leavings of yesterday brought in and long-term policy tacked ore to it. I do not complain about that because the Government have given way,, but I do not intend to talk too much about what took place yesterday. Most of the arguments have been thrashed out, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has given his answer. What I would like to say on that subject is in reference to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the psychological effect of the cutting of the acreage payment. The truth really is that, as far as the farming community was concerned, the shock of the recent announcement was stunning. The farmers are bewildered. I am one myself, and I know what the psychological effect was on my own mind when the acreage payment was cut. I said to myself, "Well, the Government apparently do not need any wheat. There must be bags of wheat throughout the world." The result was I did not sow any, over and above what I required to thatch my potato pits. I am certain there are many other farmers throughout the country who came to the same conclusion and, therefore, did not sow wheat.
The present difficulties in which we find ourselves can be summed up in this way. Have we adequate labour to meet the job we are now called upon to carry out? It does seem to me strange that today, I am informed, meetings are taking place in this country to discuss a reduction in the hours of farm workers. That 739 may be something that has to come along in time, but it does seem extraordinary that now when we are facing a world shortage of food we should actually be discussing a reduction in the hours of work. I am told that the hours of workers may be reduced from 50 to 47 hours in Scotland and from 50 to 48 hours in England and Wales.
On the other question of labour, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that he was asking the Women's Land Army to do everything possible to help us. Will he not reconsider the question of giving these girls a gratuity? Here is an excellent opportunity. Will not the right hon. Gentleman now go back on the previous decision? Let us give these girls the gratuity to which many of us feel they are entitled. I can say on this question of scarcity, deplorable as it is, that today after these long years of war without a rationed loaf, we are now in a position where the rationing of bread is just round the corner. It does seem extraordinary. I can say this as a farmer. The right hon. Gentleman can be perfectly certain that the farmers will do their job. They will go into khaki again along with the loaf.
In regard to long-term policy, it would be silly to deny that the Government's pronouncements on agricultural policy have met with very great satisfaction throughout the country from the agricultural industry, both North and South of the Border. It is not surprising to me, at any rate, because this policy really gives expression to the consensus of informed agricultural opinion throughout the country and continues what was done by the late Coalition Government. I cannot help feeling that the former Minister and Mr. Tom Johnston have not been given sufficient credit for the magnificent work they did during the war. If we look at this policy, we find that its foundations were well and truly laid by the right hon. Member for Southport, and Mr. Tom Johnston, the former Secretary of State for Scotland. Those foundations have been built upon and extended, especially in regard to the price structure and assured markets. In paying my rather belated tribute to these two right hon. Gentlemen, who did such a magnificent job during the war, I am perfectly certain that the responsible Ministers 740 opposite will be only too willing to join. Their job is over, but their work goes on.
The important question is—Where do we go from here? There is a good deal that we want to know before we can precisely assess the true meaning and value, in terms of British agriculture, of the Government's recent statement. Current events have brought us very sharply up against a position of acute scarcity. We are now in a great world shortage of food, but sooner or later we hope the period of scarcity will pass away. Sooner or later, the 48 million people of this country will be compelled to go into the international market and import food in exchange for their products, and, sooner or later we shall have to face the old familiar problem of how to maintain a flourishing home agriculture in face of imports and prevent prices declining to a level that will jeopardise our own home industry.
I say to myself, "Is this really a long-term policy, or is it based upon economic necessity?" I think that is what we have to look at. Is it really the intention of the Government to embark upon a policy which will mean the maximum production of those foods which we are most capable of producing, which would be the only sensible policy to pursue, or are we going to embark upon a policy of restriction, based upon the American Loan Agreement? I have read it many times, and we have seen Debates in this House and another place, and I am not satisfied about it. I want to know whether the reference to quantitative limitation in the Minister's statement means that, after the scarcity period has passed away, we are going to embark again upon a policy of restriction of production.
Why do I say that? It is because previous Governments failed to produce an agricultural policy because of trading agreements, and I want to know whether we are going to be hamstrung at the start by the American Loan, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) fears. One thing is certain, and I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will agree. Any agreement that will prevent the expansion of home food production will be unacceptable. We hear a great deal about efficiency, and I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman in front of me on the 741 policy he followed all through the war in regard to efficiency, because I do not believe that agricultural progress lies along the road of old-fashioned ideas, but on the practical approach to the problem. What produces efficiency? I would not say prices, I would not say agricultural executive committees; I would say it was the full opportunity to produce. If an industry has full opportunity to produce, it can become efficient. Hence, it is an important thing to know what method is to be employed in regard to quantitative limitation.
There is no indication in the Government's statement of what method is to be employed in order to produce what is called an "assured market." I would like to know, for example, whether, it is proposed to adopt the method of bulk purchase or merely the control of imports. Several hon. Members have raised that point today. We also want to know what part, if any, the home producer is going to play in organised marketing. The permanent establishment of the Minister of Food must mean that all marketing schemes reported on by postwar committees must be revised, but can the right hon. Gentleman say whether producers' boards will play a part or not? How, for example, is the grain market to be operated? Here I slip in my first Scottish point. Are oats to be given parity of treatment with wheat? Everybody knows that the Wheat Act worked very well for the wheat farmers, but it ruined scores of others in the North-East—not only in Scotland—because it crashed the price of oats. One Scottish Secretary barely escaped with his life as a consequence, and I hope my right hon. Friend will take note of that fact.
Then why is wool excluded from the range of guaranteed prices? That is a very serious thing to the hill industry. The hill industry is more important than many people think. If wool is to be missed out, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that his policy will not be received with satisfaction by the hill sheep industry. What is our livestock policy to be? Every one who is interested, realises that on livestock everything depends. It is the sheet-anchor of British farming, but there is nothing in the policy to tell us what we are going to do about it. Then, again, there is this awful question of labour. What is going to be done about that question, which, in turn, raises the thorny question 742 of wages? These are some of the questions which have been raised this afternoon. I admit they are not all, but we have not time to deal with more. They are so interdependent in character that, if the Government fail to make a job of each one of them, the whole policy may easily crash in ruin at their feet.
I have hitherto taken the view that it was not possible during the war to say what target we should aim at because of the various factors outside our control. But, surely, we are now in a different position. Bretton Woods and the American Loan Agreement point the way to future trade standards, and surely the Ministry of Food could not have been established without consultation with the Dominions. Surely, at long last, we are in a position to answer a question so often asked by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—What place is British agriculture to take in our national economy? By that I mean, what acreage are we going to aim at and what is to be our livestock target? Until producers know what target we are aiming at, they cannot be accused of inefficiency. Agriculture marches along not in short steps of a year or two at a time, but in long strides of rotation: over years. In my part of the world the rotations may be as long as seven years. Until we know what the target is, and until the farming community is taken into our confidence, it is impossible to say whether real efficiency can be obtained.
If it is true that we are now entering an era of planning, surely a national food production plan is the first thing we should produce. If we had had one earlier, we might not have had the present trouble.
I do not wish to go into the question of prices in much detail, and I would only say this. We are all agreed about stability and the necessity for avoiding violent fluctuations in prices; which was the great trouble prior to this war, but we should remember that guaranteed prices in this country are of no use unless there are guaranteed prices in all countries. It is true to say, as has been said by many people who are more informed than I, that British agriculture for that reason is really part of a world agricultural policy, and we can only hope that the World Food Organisation at present at work will be able to reach that goal. I say to the right hon. Gentleman the 743 Minister of Agriculture that, whatever method is employed here in establishing a new price structure about which we have heard so much, two things are imperative-Future prices must be based upon wages as a prime cost, and upon quality going right through the structure. I do not mean quality in just one or two commodities; I mean a quality payment for all commodities. We know what happened during the war in regard to quality. There has been a good deal of talk outside Parliament about quality, but not much talk inside Parliament. No price structure will be effective or acceptable unless it is based upon a quality payment all through it, because that will have the effect of discouraging the farmer who aims at an attractive quantity price, ignoring what his place can produce. At the same time it will encourage the really progressive farmer to strive for ever higher quality output. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman is negotiating on these points he will press for a quality payment through the whole price structure.
I mentioned wool a few minutes ago; I could say a lot about it, but I will only say this. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to realise that this is not merely a Scottish question. So often when one raises the question of wool, English Members get up and walk out. It is true that two-thirds of the entire surface of Scotland produces wool, and we have 8,000,000 sheep, which in proportion is considerably more than in England, but, nevertheless, in the Northern areas such as Westmorland, Cumberland and the hilly areas of England, wool is important. Wool is, in fact, the pivot of sheep farming, and yet it is missed out of the guaranteed price scale. I thought the Minister of Supply would have been here today to listen to this Debate because he is concerned about wool. I expect we will be told by the Parliamentary Secretary or the Scottish Minister, whoever is to wind up this Debate, that this question is one for the Minister of Supply. That is not good enough. We have heard that for too long. If it is a question for the Minister of Supply, let him come here and tell us what the answer is.
I want to say a word about the livestock policy. I have already mentioned the fact that we can have no agricultural policy in this country without a livestock policy, because 80 per cent. of Scotland's output 744 and 70 per cent. of the output of England and Wales comes from livestock. The livestock industry must, first and foremost, be put upon a strong basis. I do not deny, though I live in a country where we produce more meat than milk, that milk must be given first priority, but if the Minister were to ask any housewife, or any worker in a heavy industry, or any miner, what he or she wanted today more than anything else, the answer would not be milk; it would be meat, fats and sugar. If the Minister of Fuel and Power could be told that he was going to have an increased ration of beef for his miners, I think we would see production change. That is at the moment what the housewives want. Anyone who has studied the livestock position knows we are facing today a world meat famine, as well as a world wheat famine. The Argentine, one of the world's greatest producers of meat has had her capacity vastly reduced. People here do not want calories, they want steak and chops. We are in danger of getting used to shortages rather than making efforts to prevent them.
Cannot something be done about utilising our own natural resources? I can speak from experience in the matter of hill land. Millions of acres in England and Wales, and in Scotland, are asking to be turned into a great reservoir to increase our meat supplies. We have all the natural resources, but are not taking advantage of them, and the reason is that there is no long-term cattle policy for the hill country. The best thing the Government did for the hill lands during the war was to introduce the cattle subsidy scheme and the scheme for marginal lands. But we will never secure the reservoir of store cattle which we want in order to increase our meat ration, until we have a long-term policy, because no practical man is going to start forming great herds in the hills and breeding cattle when he knows that the whole business is based on a subsidy which might be here today and gone tomorrow. We want it in a permanent form. If the right hon. Gentleman asks how it can be done, I should say it can be done through the Hill Sheep Industry Bill based on the Balfour and De La Warr Reports. When are we to get that Bill?
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of animal health, and while I welcome what he said, it seemed to me 745 rather remarkable that in a postwar state merit of policy there was nothing to indicate what is the long-term policy for the promotion of animal health. Losses today are enormous from abortion, mastitis, sterility and tuberculosis. I do not know what the losses are in terms of millions of pounds, but I know that they amount to something like 200 million gallons of milk per annum. As a result, efficiency is lowered. Has the right hon. Gentleman really studied a plan for the long-term need which is the eradication of tuberculosis? In Scotland the whole county of Ayr is free from tuberculosis today, and we are about to have the whole area from the Solway to the Clyde completely freed. That has all been done by the enterprise of the farmers. If my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) were here, he would tell me that Carmarthen have done the same. They have, and I am glad that they have. But steps are overdue now to tackle this thing on a long-term basis. This cannot be cleaned up in a year or two, but we could get busy on an area scheme throughout the country. If we do not do so, but go on as we have been doing, it means that the disease is passed on in the markets in unloading reactors with the result that the disease is perpetuated elsewhere.
There is a serious gap in the long-term policy because of the omission to indicate whether or not the Government are to assume any continuing responsibility in the scheme of labour. My experience of farming—and I do not farm just for fun—showed me that prior to the war operations on the farm were so spaced and far apart that I could rely almost entirely on my permanent staff to carry out the work. With the quickening up due to mechanisation and the larger amount of tillage area which we have today, everything comes on top of us, and we are working continuously not with a permanent staff, but mostly with pooled labour from outside. I want to ask the Minister to tell us if in the long-term policy he will adopt a continuing responsibility for labour.
Much has been said on the question of control. It is generally agreed that if the farmer is to be guaranteed a market based upon costs he must be prepared to accept some degree of control. We all agree about that, because a farmer or landlord should not be guaranteed prices and then be allowed to farm badly. It 746 would not make sense, and the vast majority agree on that. But, during the war, the British farmer farmed well, not because he was compelled to farm well from Whitehall or Edinburgh; he farmed well because he wanted to farm well and had the opportunity to farm well and, above all, because it paid him to farm well. The vital question today is how far is the control and direction which we accepted from the right hon. Gentleman during the war to be carried into times of peace? Is the farmer in exchange for guaranteed prices to be confined in the strait jacket of Government control or is he to have reasonable liberty of action. We can discuss that at another time in more detail. If the hon. Gentleman can answer these questions, I shall be much obliged. There are many other points we could talk about, but I assume that the Scottish questions are to be left until a Scottish day. I think we have had a very interesting Debate, and only regret we have been so pressed for time.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
We have had a very interesting Debate today, and I am sure it is fully appreciated, on every side of the House, that it is necessary that it should be continued on another occasion. More hon. Members must have been disappointed in the course of the Debate than have had the satisfaction of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, and let me say that I did not expect at the beginning of the Debate to be seeking to catch your eye at all. It is rather as a result of what happened at the end of my right hon. Friend's speech that it has become desirable for me to speak instead of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. Let me at the outset offer my congratulations to the three hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches in the course of the Debate. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs), and my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall). They all made moving speeches, and all spoke with an obviously intimate knowledge of the subject under review.
I do not propose to say very much more than has been said about the Government's long-term policy. It has been generally welcomed in all 747 parts of the House, and what we have to tell about it at the moment is well known. A number of hon. Members, in the course of this Debate, and many people throughout the country, have said that this policy might well commend itself to all sections of the industry, because it has proved a success during the war, and my right hon. Friend has been congratulated on following so faithfully the policy laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) when he was Minister of Agriculture. But I seem to remember that my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Agriculture has been advocating just such a policy for something like 20 years. This is the first time he has had the opportunity of translating his policy into Government policy.
I think all of us will appreciate the need for this proposed system of guaranteed prices and assured markets. The country cannot afford further to allow this industry to be engaged in the gamble of recurrent depressions, and in the general insecurity, that has been prevalent in the industry during the period between the two wars. The industry is far too important, far too fundamental, to our national economy to allow that element of gambling to come into it in the future. During the war years, the industry— farmers and farm workers alike—played a magnificent part. We have got into a new difficulty, a new emergency. We have made an appeal to the farmers and farm workers again to try to help us out of it, and we all have the utmost confidence that the industry will respond this time, as it has done in the last six years. But since we are all required again to make an appeal to the industry, we should be further reinforced—consolidated, if you like—in our resolve that the prosperity that has been evident in the industry during this emergency of the war—and I for see an emergency continuing for the next four years or more—must not be followed by a period of neglect and consequent distress. Farming, incidentally, I ought to observe, must be made to attract the best type of worker. The tendency during the last years, during my working lifetime, has been for the farming industry to attract the residue, to take what is left after other more remunerative 748 employments have been filled. That must not be allowed to continue.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport in dealing with the new subsidy proposed by my right hon. Friend said, I think, that he welcomed the subsidy but feared that we would have to turn the engine round the other way, put the engine in reverse, and try to get away from supporting this industry on the basis of subsidy He said that the subsidies in recent years had been given to assist the production of primary products, and that the urban dweller had been getting the advantage of the subsidies rather than the industry I take it he was saying to us today that we must make the consumer pay for the primary products, pay for the foodstuffs in a direct fashion rather than by this indirect means of subsidy. If that is what he was saying, I have considerable sympathy with him. I do not like subsidies at all. I think consumers ought at the earliest possible moment to pay the full value, the true price, of the foodstuffs produced in this country. We should ask the consumers to pay for the good, clean, wholesome food that the land of this country can provide. I say that in the long run that must be so. I do not say it can happen tomorrow, but as consumer goods, the products of the manufacturing industries, come into more plentiful supply, become cheaper and more easily and readily obtainable by the people of this country, we ought to reverse the policy of the subsidies and make the consumer pay for the clean, good, wholesome food that our countryside can produce
Earlier, my right hon. Friend described to the House the machinery he proposed to set up to take the place of the war agricultural executive committees in England and Wales. It may be desirable, in the minute or two still at my disposal, that I should say something about the machinery we propose to set up in Scotland. We have not reached final conclusions as to. the actual form of the machinery, but there is to be quite a difference from the administration proposed for England and Wales. We are at the moment engaged in discussions with many of the organisations concerned—I am referring to the agricultural executive committees themselves, the National Farmers' Union, the Land and Property Federation, and the Scottish Farm Servants' Union. But further examination 749 of the difficult issues involved is necessary. Representatives of the agricultural colleges are being met. I believe, indeed, that a meeting has been fixed for next week, after which it is hoped we shall very soon be able to draft proposals in some reasonably concrete shape. In the light, however, of the discussions that have already taken place, I think I can indicate to the House the lines on which the future organisation is likely to be built.
We propose to have local committees—I think that I can refer to them as local committees,—approximately equal in number to the present agricultural executive committees, and these will be set up by the Secretary of State. They will consist of members appointed by him, together with members selected from panels nominated by the representative organisations, including those to which I have referred. We do not, however, propose to give these committees executive authority in Scotland. We propose to make their functions advisory and educational. They will be, in a measure, responsible for demonstration farms, young farmers' clubs and so on, and the agricultural colleges will work in very close co-operation with them. In addition, we propose to set up area or regional committees, numbering six, 10 or 12 in the whole of Scotland.
§ Mr. Fraser
These committees will number six to 12 in the whole of Scotland. Their functions will be disciplinary and executive. They will be appointed by the Secretary of State. It is hoped that they will be representative in that they will be drawn from persons who are representative of various interests, but they will not be nominated by those interests. These people will be nominated by the Secretary of State and answerable to him and not to any other organisation. That is the plan which we have in mind at the moment. This roughly is the sort of instrument which we shall provide in Scotland. As I have already indicated, no finally agreed plans have yet been laid before the interests concerned, although we have had many discussions with them.
Perhaps I should say a word about the present emergency and the steps proposed to be taken in Scotland, where we wanted 1,00,000 acres of wheat in 1946. The 750 estimated acreage we were expecting before this new emergency arose was 80,000 acres, so we were going to drop 20,000. We have made an appeal to the industry, and I am sure they are going to respond and to sow what additional acreage they can, although we fully appreciate that only in a few favoured districts can spring wheat be sown with any certainty of getting a worth-while crop. However, substantial increases should be possible in barley and oats.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Does that mean that this year's wheat acreage in Scotland will fall below peacetime acreage?
§ Mr. Hudson
The peacetime figure was 100,000 Acres, and the figure the right hon. Gentleman gives, 80,000 acres, means a drop of 20,000.
§ Mr. Fraser
I think the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. What we had asked for was 100,000 acres. We estimated that before we made our recent appeal they were going to give us 80,000 and, as I say, we appreciate that they cannot do very much in the way of providing extra wheat in 1946 as the result of spring sowing, although we do believe that substantial increases in barley and oats are possible. The Agricultural Executive Committees promised last week that they would do everything they could to help in this matter. The targets in 1946 were—barley 1,715,000 acres, oats 1,150,000. I am sure that it should be possible to produce oats, at any rate, in much larger quantities, and those who know more about the industry than I do agree. This should be especially helpful to meet the deficiency of foodstuffs on dairy farms and thus assist to safeguard our milk supplies. We are also doing what we can to bring airfields back into cultivation without delay, and I am sure we shall meet with a measure of success.
The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) asked me some questions about livestock policy. Before the war our livestock and livestock products accounted, as the hon. Member said, for 80 per cent. of the value of Scotland's agricultural output. We are truly appreciative of the need to build up our livestock population again, and a decision reached this year, with the agreement of the Fanners' 751 Union, to give a subsidy of£5 10s. for cows and£1 10s. for young stock, compared with a level£3 in the south, reflects the desire to encourage cattle breeding and rearing on- the high land in Scotland. I have no time left and will only observe that we shall further discuss farming with reference to wool and sheep rearing when we introduce our Hill Farming Bill at an early date.
§ Ordered: ''That the Debate be now adjourned."— [Mr. Joseph Henderson.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next