§ 4.8 p.m.
Mr. Hector McNeil (Greenock)
I beg to move,That this House, noting the widespread doubt and disquiet aroused by recent ministerial statements on food production, regrets the failure of the Government to announce a clear and firm policy for British agriculture.I do not pretend otherwise than that it was unusual that we should put down a Motion in these terms at this time, but I am sure that it will be readily accepted in most parts of the House that we did not put down this form of words at all lightly. Since 1947, when the Agriculture Act was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), whose illness and absence is regretted, I know, on both sides of the House, there has been a high degree of agreement throughout the main parties upon our agricultural objectives.
When we were in Government, we enjoyed the support and co-operation of many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I need not spend time assuring the House that we would have been anxious to reciprocate if the Government had continued to pursue the objectives which we laid down for British agriculture which they had supported, and which undoubtedly, up to this moment, are objectives acceptable to the agricultural community and to the nation as a whole.
Whatever lip-service the Government may continue to extend towards an expanding agricultural policy, whatever global figures they may offer us, their action in recent months has so alarmed and distressed the farmers of this country, and I have no doubt many anxious housewives and retailers, that it plainly became our inescapable duty to put down such a Motion as this so that the Government might have an opportunity of displaying their intentions—if, indeed, they are able to frame their intentions—and of explaining to us and to the country this most damaging and unexpected and unexplained change of agricultural policy.
It was common ground between us, and I hope it still is, that in terms of defence, in terms of the economic stability of our nation, and in terms of the social welfare 1494 of our nation, this country should continue progressively each year up to a certain point to produce more of its food than we did before the war. A 60 per cent. increase on the 1938 figure by 1956 was the declared intention of the Government—
I said it was their declaration. I hope to examine how far we may hope to find that declaration implemented. There are to be found still on the other side of the House hon. Gentlemen who affirm that it is the business of Britain to manufacture and to fabricate. and that it is the business of overseas primary producers to produce cheaply the food we need. Once upon a time that was a view held widely in various sectors of this country, but these hopes are delusions for a variety of reasons with which the House is quite familiar.
Increasing overseas populations, the increasing powers of consumption of those peoples, the determination of various nations to take charge of some part of their own manufacture and fabrication has meant that those days of unlimited cheap food are over and done with, and I, for one, am no more sorry than I am that the days of sweated cotton and near-slave labour in our coal mines are over and done with. I have reached the firm conclusion that any country which consistently neglects its fields will run down in its biological vitality and I believe that Britain, in renewing its attention to this field, will recreate the spirit of its own people. At any rate, as far as this debate is concerned, the idea of cheap food, or any variant of it, no longer has any acceptance on either side of this House.
When we were the Government, we stated and initiated a plan for increased food production in peacetime. That was a revolution. The present Government supported it at that time and, in their election campaign and on their assumption of Government, promised to follow through upon that plan. There is a publication with which we are familiar called "Britain Strong and Free." Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not as fond of it as they once were, and we do not hear it quoted as frequently as we once did. Yet there are some delightful phrases to be found in it. In regard to agriculture, I came across this one on State buying 1495 which my right hon. Friend used recently but which there is no harm in remembering again:It has resulted in the housewife having to spend a lot more money for the little meat she gets.I do not hear any cheers from the opposite side of the House. I thought that hon. Gentlemen might have an opportunity of remembering their election affirmations, of cheering them and of adhering to them and explaining to us why, despite those assurances and despite the undoubted genius that resides on the benches opposite there were slight difficulties in the recent negotiations which might be summed up as "plus £30 per ton."
The hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to deploy that argument recently, but he did not do so. It cannot be deployed because it is apart from the fact. We now get apologies and explanations from the benches opposite. On the subject of our immediate consideration, the Tory Party say in the next paragraph:We shall maintain our system"—note "our system"—of guaranteed prices and assured markets for farm products"—
Hon. Gentlemen opposite must be a little patient. These are not inventions of mine, these are their own words which we are entitled to examine and which we shall examine. They continue:Such stability is essential for a good wage for farm workers as well as for full production.The substance of our charge and the point of this inquiry is that the Government have apparently wilfully destroyed the confidence which existed in British farming. And in the process of sliding from their policies of guaranteed prices they have endangered assured markets and have so recklessly attacked the foundations of a planned agricultural economy that the expansion programme 1496 to which they paid lip-service can no longer be assured.
As a result the safety of our country is to some degree in danger in the event of war and in peace the wealth and welfare of our community is comparably in danger. This threat to the stability of the British agricultural industry, this enfeebling of the confidence which had undoubtedly grown up in that industry since the introduction of the 1947 Act, is not one of immediately recent growth but has become most marked in the last three months.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture felt it necessary to go to Northallerton on 11th January to tell the farmers with all the honesty and eloquence which he could employ, that they would not be let down; but that did not arrest the worries of the farmers. He left some of them with the impression that it was not a case of being let down but that they would be pushed down good and hard by this Government. Do not take my word alone on that. Sir James Turner, President of the Farmers' Union, opening the annual meeting—
I think I am right in saying that it is the N.F.U., which can scarcely mean the English Farmers' Union. I agree that there are separate unions for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and what I shall quote from Sir James Turner is said much more sharply by members of the two sister organisations. They are rarely divided when their distress is as great as it is at the moment. Sir James Turner said:The nation will be faced within a measurable time with a danger of food shortage unless the farming community are enabled to increase production. The crisis continues. So does the lack of an overall policy to meet it. There has been no fundamental change since the last annual meeting except that a vital year has drifted by.That is pretty strong language—stronger than we employ on the Order Paper; and it is employed not by a Member of the Opposition but by a man who is pre-eminently able to speak for the English farmer, by a man who has ready and immediate access to the Minister and a man who has known what is happening inside the doors of the Ministry of Agriculture. Perhaps if we 1497 knew what was happening inside the doors of the Treasury, that would be more germane to our immediate consideration.
This legitimate anger about the lack of policy has suddenly crystallised. I think it first occurred because thoughtful and responsible members of the farming community began to worry that they might be discerning the re-emergence of the traditional Tory policy, with which we became appallingly familiar in the years when the Tories ruled between the wars. They felt that perhaps they were once more seeing a fight between the Minister of Agriculture and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were certain that the Minister was being defeated in that contest and they were not at all sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would prove to be any kind of victor they could cheerfully accept.
Everyone knows that if the rate of agricultural expansion initiated by the Labour Government is to be maintained —and no one on the other side of the House has publicly denied that to be a necessity—then capital must be found for the industry and the requisite physical priorities arranged so that capital goods and capital buildings match the paper programme. In Government we did that with a high degree of success. I admit, as we should all be anxious to admit, that this capital did not wholly and exclusively find its way to those who had proved their ability to use it efficiently and always in the needs of the nation, just as I admit that we did not discover the methods to ensure that the inefficient members of the agricultural industry yielded their places to the young, energetic and frequently well-qualified men whom we wanted to have in the industry and whom the country must have in the industry if it is to be a success.
We were wrestling with that kind of problem, and, with the co-operation of the farming industry, I have no doubt that we should have found, as we shall find, fairly satisfactory answers to problems of that kind. But there was no perfection, and we do not claim perfection, in the joint planning which we undertook with the farmers and the representatives of the farm workers.
1498 At any rate, British agricultural production in that period climbed steadily. If we take 100 as representing agricultural production in our country in the years 1936 to 1939, then in 1946–47 it had climbed to 125, in 1950–51 to 140— and in 1951–52 to 144—a very substantial performance by any standard. In all this time, the food was finding its way to the people who needed it at prices which they could afford. The farmer could budget accurately and the farm labourer had approximately reasonable wages, which had so long been denied him. The expansion was maintained, among other reasons, because this necessary capital was finding its way into the industry—£82 million in 1949, £84 million in 1950 and £89 million in 1951: not enough by the calculations of many of us, including myself, to achieve the efficiency which the country needed, and needs, from this industry; but the basic condition of expansion was being met.
I think that the first threat to expansion, therefore, came with the Chancellor's decision to restrict credits and to make money dear. It is quite true that subsequently he exhorted the banks to make an exception in favour of the farmers, but the small British farmer no doubt came to the conclusion that the familiar Tory technique was to be enforced.
Last December we had the Commonwealth Economic Conference. No one on this side of the House will quarrel with the need for economic development in the Commonwealth and in our Colonies. Indeed, we have proved by our acts, quite apart from our words, that this has been our policy. Moreover, I do not want to trench on the discussion which is scheduled for tomorrow. But the decision and the announcement to set up a Commonwealth Investment Corporation, coming on top of this policy of dear money being pursued by the Government, and unaccompanied by any declaration about the Government's intention about capital for British agriculture, immediately renewed the anxiety discernible at that date among British farmers.
Here is a quotation, not from any Socialist propaganda and not even from "The Tribune." It is from the current number of the "Dairy Farmer," 1499 in an editorial headed in bold type, "Bad Business," which says:On many occasions in the history of this paper we have said that the real enemy of farming in this country is Big Business. … We now find it once again necessary after little more than 12 years of comparative prosperity for British farmers to warn readers that this attack on their interests may well be renewed almost immediately.The article continues:Steps have now been taken that herald a return to the bad old days. The Commonwealth Conference, recently concluded, gave its blessing to the establishment of a Commonwealth Investment Corporation by leading City interests and industrial and commercial concerns. One of the principal aims of this Corporation is more food from the Commonwealth countries. Now that in itself would not be a bad thing, but it is apparently unaccompanied by any effort to step up investment in food production at home …It concludes:We must press for a greater measure of public investment in home farming. The N.F.U., commenting on the Commonwealth Conference decisions, hopes that some of the forthcoming money will be invested in this country. Some hopes"—says the Editor of the "Dairy Farmer"—where City interests are concerned. Such Big Business is Bad Business—for us.Hon. Members may think that that fear is misplaced. If they do, if they find difficulty in understanding why a technical journal like that should place that editorial before its readers, of course there is all the more reason for the Government to bring relief from these fears and these anxieties and to restore the confidence which their recent actions have brought about in this industry. I must therefore ask the Minister or the Joint Under-Secretary, if he is following me—
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will be following the right hon. Gentleman.
I have no comment to make, but I should have thought that on a Motion as severe as this the right hon. Gentleman—whose many duties I understand as easily as anyone in the House—in the normal Parliamentary usage, would be making the reply.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will agree that 1500 it is surely desirable to have a reply from someone who knows something about the subject.
At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman is nominated by the Government and paid for the task of doing something about this industry. I know my limitations, but a Government must never apologise for their limitations; they must get rid of the man if he cannot do the job.
I must ask the Joint Under-Secretary, who is to reply—so that the fears of the farmers may be allayed or confirmed and so that this debate may proceed in a constructive fashion to tell us at the beginning of the debate whether the Government still adhere to their declared intention of increasing the 1938 figure in 1954 by 60 per cent. and if so, what capital sum it is proposed to inject into the industry in the oncoming year? That figure must be in possession of the Joint Under-Secretary.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it must be in the possession of the hon. Gentleman because, the February Price Review is now about to take place and that calculation must have been made. The hon. Gentleman cannot tell us that he is going into these discussions and is to treat the farmers in this fashion. The figure must be in his possession. I invite him to meet the fears of the farmers and the difficulties of this House by telling us now that figure is, and to tell us further what is the tentative figure which the Government set for their capital injection for the succeeding years of the plan.
This is very necessary because the Joint Under-Secretary knows that the bungling and vacillations of the Government have already lost us opportunities of matching this programme physically. He knows, for example, that John Deer's, who would have made machinery available, have been driven out of the country by the stupidity of the Government. Will he tell us what physical controls the Government mean to employ to match the programme with the capital assets which the farming community must have if this programme is to be implemented? 1501 This brings me to the second of the events which have created alarm, and perhaps anger, among farmers—the mystery of the decontrol of feedingstuffs and cereals. I put on one side, as a subject not to be discussed just now, the interesting mystery of the national loaf. It is a remarkable feat of logic to tell this House and the people of the country that by great effort and ingenuity there can be excluded from the loaf the natural elements the people need for their health but that by equal effort and greater ingenuity these are to be replaced with some synthetic chemicals. I put that aside. I rather hoped that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) might have been in his place to chastise the Government on that subject. My main purpose for the moment is to deal with the cereals and feedingstuffs.
The House will remember that, following the February Price Review last year, the Government announced, with considerable support, that they would continue the existing subsidy on feedingstuffs. The discussion can be found in paragraph 16 of the White Paper issued after the last Review. Farmers must have judged from the directness of the language in that paragraph that it indicated a definite stand by the Government. The Government admitted the financial difficulties which are always present and with which we sympathise, but they went on to say:Apart from the financial considerations it is impossible, until its end can be foreseen, to relax the present controls over cereal feedingstuffs, both home-grown and imported.That statement was unambiguous enough. It was doubtless designed in that precise form to comfort the farmer and to confirm him in his purpose. But now we have had a complete somersault. On 3rd December the Government announced the removal of controls on supplies and prices of feedingstuffs and the end of the subsidy.
It is true that the Government promised by methods not discussed, that the growing crops would, if necessary, be bought by the Ministry of Food under existing arrangements. It is true that in some vague and undisclosed fashion the Government proposed to match demand with supplies through commercial channels although they say that commercial channels will not be able to buy in an uncontrolled fashion, at least from the dollar 1502 areas. It should also be said that overseas supplies have been better and that the Ministry of Food, from published figures, have been able to buy more cheaply than previously was the case. That is all that I can find to be said in favour of the action of the Government.
On the other hand, it must be made quite plain that almost every section of the farmers have objected to the hurried and apparently ill-considered fashion in which this change of policy has been effected and have exhibited their alarm about the possible consequences, not only to their own industry, but also to the consumers in the country. Again, Sir James Turner, speaking for the industry said:in the vast and complex operation of turning over from controls to a freer economy, fundamental changes to which the Unions were not opposed in principle although they entertained majority reservations on many points of detail, there was need to ensure that a system of free markets remained, soundly based on stability and confidence"—thus reverting, as he is perfectly entitled to do, to the Government's original language. These were very substantial reservations and pretty strong language. But the hon. Gentleman opposite, who apparently objects to Sir James Turner speaking for the farming community, will probably have noted what the Ulster Farmers' Union said in commenting upon this situation. They said:at a time when the economy of the country calls for full production, it is disturbing to learn that steps are to be taken which are likely to impose a further increase in the cost of production in very essential food commodities like bacon, milk and eggs through an increase in the price of feedingstuffs.So that Sir James Turner used undertones while the Ulstermen made their position very plain indeed.
Therefore, the first question that must be answered by the Government, and which has not been answered anywhere by the Government, is who urged this strange step upon them and what factors dictated the taking of this strange step at this particular time? For our part, we make it emphatically clear that as long as feedingstuffs remain in short supply—and that will certainly be for as long as we are short of dollars—there is an overwhelming case for continuing a system of rationing and of controlled prices. 1503 Even if this argument is not accepted by the Government, they must tell us why such a major step was taken without adequate consultation with the interests affected. They must tell us, even if they were optimistic, though I can find no reason for their optimism, why they not only did not fail to have adequate consultation but did not provide adequate alternative machinery far the process, both of which would easily have been possible and still can easily be possible if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to swallow his words, as a courageous and sensible man would, and delay any of these changes until 1954.
The farmers did not ask for the change. Is that not true? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us of any representative farmers' organisation that publicly asked for this change. Certainly the consumers did not ask for it. I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman can even quote an opinion from the Housewives' League in support of it; I am quite sure he cannot. It is very strange that we have not heard from them on this subject: they used to be alarmed about food prices. The farm workers did not ask for the change. The Government have given no indication of who motivated the somersault—who pushed the Government.
The "Observer," in a very critical leader, said:No one can say for certain how any Government makes up its mind, but it looks rather as though this particular decision is not so much a part of a well-thought-out, coherent policy for British farming as a move in a general, and rather haphazard process of scrapping the machinery of Socialist planning.We can all realise the anxiety of the Government to implement one of their promises. We can all realise that there must have been people who put down money for the last election campaign and who are getting a little anxious because the results promised have not been offered to them. We on this side of the House think, and a great mass of people will think with us, that it is utterly unjustifiable that the food supplies of this country should be risked or jeopardised to meet the political whims or the unseen pressures of people inside or outside the Tory Party.
There are obviously a number of precise questions to which the House is entitled to an answer. I suspect that the 1504 Joint Under-Secretary will not give an answer. I suspect that he will tell us that we must wait until the Prime Minister goes to the Farmers' Union on 17th February. I warn him that this House would view that as an unusual discourtesy, even from a Government that is not always too careful of the courtesies of this House. I warn him further that, as he knows, as a practical farmer, there is so much perplexity and disorder already discernible in the ranks of the farmers that he has an obligation immediately to put at their disposal and at the disposal of this House any information which he has about the precise plans of the Government in relation to the consequences of the changes which they are enforcing upon the industry.
First, what do the Government propose to do if, as seems certain, the prices of cereals jump immediately in consequence of their decision? A Lincoln farmer with whom I talked over the week-end told me that he was getting offers now for dried grass of £31 per ton, an increase of £2 per ton. I note that William Adair, writing this week in the "Farming News," says that the best opinion he can get is that five months from now oats will have increased by £10 per ton. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Food, by a slip for which I am indebted, told us this afternoon that 50s. was the figure he was quoting as the increase.
§ The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)
It would have appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT as a written answer in any event
I am grateful that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman answered the wrong Question at what was the right time so far as I am concerned.
All the experts are agreed that oil cake feeds will carry an even higher increase than cereals, though for quite understandable reasons no one is willing to predict what the increase will be. The Government must tell us if it is their intention, in the February Price Review, to make a calculation and a contribution towards meeting these increases. The House will understand that unless they do so the farmer will be driven to pass them on completely to the consumer, or in some cases to go out of business.
The Government must also tell us, or attempt to tell us, what they are going to 1505 do to protect the small farmer, whose contribution to our food supply is very substantial indeed. If there is to be a free-for-all, there must obviously be a big temptation for the big farmer, with the resources at his disposal, to go ahead and use his credit to buy up stocks at the expense of the small man. If there is to be no rationing and no control, it is exceedingly doubtful if the small man can be expected to take the risks when he cannot make exact calculations.
Apart altogether from that consideration, even if the small farmer were willing to take the risks, I cannot see the banks being willing to back his possible mistake. I am not sure that the same argument does not apply to the small merchant, whose buying has been carried on Government account but will no longer be so carried. But perhaps I am native about the whole business, and it is the Government's hope and intention to kill both the small farmer and the small merchant.
I shall be very glad to be assured that it is nonsense. If it is nonsense, the hon. Gentleman will tell us what is the Government's plan to protect these small farmers and small merchants, because we are not the only people asking that question. It is being voiced up and down the country, and is reflected in many of the trade journals.
The Joint Under-Secretary ought also in the same context to tell us at what date price control and the rationing of feedingstuffs is to end. The White Paper is very vague, no doubt because at the time the right hon. Gentleman had not really had time to consider what his plans should be. The first guess would be October, but I heard over the weekend both August and July mentioned. It would be helpful to the House, and much more helpful to both farmers and merchants, to be told as quickly as possible what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
In view of these almost certain increases, what is the Government's intention in relation to milk? Anxious as we are about beef and mutton, we must continue to be even more anxious about milk. It will be a great disadvantage to the country if the milk intake is reduced. Even before the right hon. Gentleman 1506 made his announcement, there were shufflings indicating that the price was going up again. It went up last February, and I thought it looked as if it was going up again, probably by 4d. a gallon. These increases must leave every dairy farmer in the country wondering what on earth he is to do. He knows that the consumer is already moving off from buying milk at its existing price.
Do the Government intend to provide for that in the February Price Review? Once again it must be remembered that there is a limit to the burden the consumer can carry, and if he reacts unfavourably to a further increase in price, we shall be harming an essential part of an industry which I think deserves very considerate treatment from the Ministry. The dairy farmers of this country have played an important and honourable part both during the war years and since 1947.
In the White Paper published after the last February Price Review, the Government once more, and in quite unambiguous language, declared their anxiety to push up the production of beef. Just before I demitted office, I had the pleasure—because, like many others, I shared that objective—of setting up a Hill Beef Commission. It has been in operation for 15 months and we have heard nothing about it. I have heard some disturbing rumours which I hope are ill-founded. I had hoped that the proposed Commission would get to work in the neighbouring glen to Glen Locky, where the Joint Under-Secretary, with his partner, played a most distinguished part before he became a Minister. There the glen is alive and activity is to be seen; but in the neighbouring Glen Lyon there is not a flicker.
I heard of a most interesting scheme relating to 20,000 acres of a property on Loch Ardside; 15,000 acres in the possession of the Forestry Commission and 5,000 acres in the possession of a private proprietor who was anxious to sell. So far as I know, nothing has happened there. I heard of another reclaiming scheme, though I would make it plain that I may be wrong about this. A journalist told me that a tenant had an obstructive clause in his lease by which he was not permitted to carry cattle. Why? Because the landlord feared that grouse eggs might be trampled on by the cattle.
What a lot of synthetic indignation. If hon. Gentlemen are so certain I am wrong, and I may be wrong—
§ Major D. McCallum (Argyll)
Why do cattle go where the grouse have been? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me anywhere in Scotland where cattle go near where the grouse are breeding?
I do not know of any reason. I know this, that in Great Britain there is an excess of two million acres of moorland, heathland and rough grazing which could be improved. I know that if the Government were in earnest about pushing ahead with the development of these acres, more grouse nests might be displaced, and that if the cattle are not trampling over grouse eggs just now, then in some parts of the country they should be.
At any rate, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman is so certain about the good intentions of the Government, he will assist me in obtaining a reply from the Joint Under-Secretary as to what is happening about the two schemes to which I have referred. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will assure us that, after 15 months, we can have at any rate an interim report from this Commission about what has been done. The country will scarcely believe that they are in earnest about the larger questions relating to food production if there is no energy displayed about such a comparatively small thing.
I cannot leave the subject of the agricultural policy of the Government without referring to the egg fiasco. We know the Government's lame excuse, that too large a proportion of eggs were finding their way on to the black market. The Minister speaks as if when a burglar enters one's house one should throw up all the windows and let in all the burglars. It was an avoidance of Governmental responsibility. There were plenty of devices offered and advice given by which the matter could have been controlled, but the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues ran away. Even if they were anxious to run away, surely they had an obligation, and the House expected to see them conduct the retreat in an orderly fashion. But there is no evidence of either thought or order in the retreat.
1508 Shall we be told what consultation they had with the industry before the decision was jumped? I am told, and perhaps this will be denied, that no consultation took place with the Farmers' Union in Scotland upon this subject. I should be glad to be informed that I am wrong, but that is what I am told; and screams from other parts of the country make it plain there was not adequate consultation with anyone. Therefore, may we be told what interim arrangements are to be set up? It will be plain to the House that there is no time to be lost. If we get a burst of mild weather we may have a flush of eggs as early as March, in less than two months, and there is still no indication from the Government about what they mean to do. This is haphazard beyond justification, and nothing that I can say will give expression to the alarm and derision to be encountered in this sector of the agricultural industry.
Above all, it is quite plain that none of the right hon. Gentlemen has given any thought to the rights and needs of the egg consumers in the country. Any violent fluctuations in the price of eggs, as a consequence of this panic decision by the Government, will without doubt mean that within 12 months there will be the beginning of a shortage of home-produced eggs. If the price drops below 3s. 6d. a dozen, the Minister will know from his own experience, and so will the hon. Gentleman, that there will be a slaughter of poultry in the country.
If, on the other hand, as now seems more likely, the price rises to 6s., 6s. 6d. or 7s. 6d. a dozen, the wise men in the industry will get out in an orderly fashion while the going is good. Let us not make any mistake. These people, looking at the comparable figures in relation to duck eggs, know from their own experience and from their own figures that a price of 7s. 6d. means that there will be a recession in egg prices, and they are not going to be left in the ditch, but will get out.
Moreover, the increase in the price of cereals which we have been discussing will exacerbate the difficulties of the producer, not immediately, but in the on-coming scarce season, with his eggs. I do not disguise the fact that we, in common with a great many people, think that these decisions are bad, but if the Minister wants to allay the panic, keep 1509 his packing stations open and safeguard the position of the retailer, he has the alternative, for the time being at least, of abandoning his folly and reinstating the old arrangement.
That is desirable even if the Government does not accept our basic case. I am asking the Joint Under-Secretary to face the fact that the industry does not now have the time to make any workable alternative scheme apply. Let him consult these people, and then come back and tell us that they have agreed to put off this decision until the spring of 1954.
What the Government must believe is that in these things they are gambling with the food supplies of the people. They may entertain very high hopes that the gamble is going to come off, but we on this side, in Government and out of it, do not think that any party or any Government has any right to gamble with anything so essential as food supplies. The whim of the Tory Party, the brain-wave of the right hon. Gentleman—or of one of his "overlords "—the pressure of the people always behind the Tory Party and willing to back the big interests both in agriculture and distribution—these are quite substantial elements, but they do not justify exposing the whole countryside to a possible scarcity of food and the certainty of increases in food prices.
I want to make two other points in conclusion. The Government are destroying the machinery by which the farmers, large and small, have been able to see with approximate certainty that they would be able to remain solvent, and at the same time, the Government must admit, they are systematically destroying the sanctions and methods by which the national planning of the industry was possible. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite know well what is the position. They are not so wicked or so foolish as to believe that they can say to a farmer, through any of the machinery at their disposal, that he must conform to their plans if they are asking him to undertake financial risks. Development in gross quantities is not enough. It has to be development according to a plan, and the right hon. Gentleman has thrown away his sanction and his opportunity when he has taken his guarantees away from the farmer with the rapidity that he has shown here.
Secondly, I suppose the Government will tell us—or perhaps the Prime Minis- 1510 ter will tell either us or the National Farmers' Union on 17th February—that it will be marketing schemes which will be the alternative. Of course, we could meet the difficulties of some farmers, and certainly those of the large farmers, by setting up a powerful marketing machine which would control its prices by controlling the size of the supplies.
If that is the mind of the Government, then they should disabuse themselves immediately, because the people of this country will not again be subjected to such a process. They will not allow restrictionist monopolies, even if they are disguised as marketing boards, to behave in that fashion. If either the Joint Under-Secretary or the right hon. Gentleman himself is going to tell us that that is the course which the Government intend to pursue, he must therefore give us an assurance that the consumers' interests will not only be carefully considered but carefully safeguarded in any such scheme. I am bound to say also to the right hon. Gentleman that, in order to get a marketing scheme, he will need a two-thirds vote, and if he thinks that he will get it in the egg-producing sector of the industry, then he seriously deludes himself.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) has asked a large number of questions, and I shall do my best as I go along to deal with some of them, but it will be quite impossible, unless I speak for the same length of time as the right hon. Gentleman himself, to give answers to all of them.
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? He will not get away as easily as that. I am sure that I am speaking for every one of my colleagues when I say that, if the hon. Gentleman wants the time to answer all the questions, he can have it. What he lacks is not time but the information and the ability.
§ Mr. Snadden
The right hon. Gentleman asks me two questions at the beginning of our discussion which he wished to have answered. The first was about our policy announced in the White Paper, and he asked if the objective was still 60 per cent. The answer is that it is, and that has already been announced by my right hon. Friend in a speech made the other day. 1511 Another question was put in regard to the capital injection, on which he asked whether or not I was in a position to give the sum that would be required for this year in order to carry out the objective. Obviously, that sum cannot be disclosed before the discussion on the Price Review, but I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that, at the 1952 Price Review, the capital injection of £30 million was continued by this Government, despite the intention, announced by his own Government, that this capital injection was to be progressively reduced. It is just as well that we should bear that in mind—that this Government, because of its desire for increased production, maintains the capital injection at the previous figure—
§ Mr. G. Brown
Would the hon. Gentleman say how much can be set against that £30 million which his Government have continued in respect of capital injection in regard to the increased charges on the £197 million of bank loans to farmers?
§ Mr. Snadden
I could not answer that without notice, but, if it is possible to get the answer, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will deal with it when he replies.
Before dealing with the important Motion before the House, I think it is necessary to have a clear picture in our minds as to the present position, and that it is necessary to provide the House with a background for this debate by reviewing the policy developments and the progress of the industry up to date. It is impossible to see what the picture is unless we do that. In 1947, at the time of the first severe post-war economic crisis, the net agricultural production of the United Kingdom had substantially declined from the war-time peak level of 1943.
The Labour Government announced its expansion programme in the autumn of 1947, which had as its objective the passing of the level of the wartime peak of 1943 by attaining an increase amounting to 50 per cent. above pre-war by 1952. That was a five-year programme. Such measures—those of us who are interested will remember—as the ploughing up grant and calf subsidy, together with the injection into the industry of substantial capital sums by way of 1512 price increases led to a rapid expansion in farm output, particularly livestock.
From 1947 to 1950, milk, meat and eggs were produced in increasing quantities from flocks and herds in this country which were expanding in numbers. An interesting point arises here, and I am trying to give the picture to the House. Much of this increase was due to increased supplies of imported feeding-stuffs, because, on examination of our tillage figures, we found that our main crops had declined during the same period.
In actual fact, the fall in our tillage acreage by 1951 was no less than 700,000 acres since 1947. It was therefore clear that the expansion of the numbers of livestock had been accompanied by a dangerous decline in the acreage of home-grown feedingstuffs, and by 1950, although the high level of 1943 had been regained, the upward trend in numbers of cattle, sheep and poultry had lost its impetus and the output of 1951 was little higher than the previous year.
Fewer calves were being retained for rearing, milk production was static, and the laying birds were fewer. Only the expanding pig population held out any hope at all of our increasing our meat ration to any substantial extent. Pigs, again, are very dependent on imported feeding-stuffs, and, at the same time, the tillage acreage of the United Kingdom continued to dwindle.
That was the situation which this Government faced when they took office towards the end of 1951. Therefore, as my right hon. Friend has often stated, action had to be taken quickly to arrest this fall and restore confidence. So we did two things. We announced and published in a White Paper, Cmd. 8556–that is the last Price Review paper which I have here— a new expansion programme, the objective of which is to raise the net output by 1956 to a level of at least 60 per cent. above pre-war.
I want to make a point which I think is of great importance. We made it perfectly clear at that time that this figure was not a final goal, but one which we believed to be reasonably possible having regard to the fact that the check to expansion to which I have referred, particularly in cultivation and tillage, had to be reversed before we could proceed 1513 to increase production. That is a very important point.
Secondly, in our Price Award, we announced price increases and also new or continued production grants or subsidies to enable the industry to achieve the objective laid down in the White Paper. At that time, the Government attached the greatest possible importance to the decline in our tillage acreage throughout the country, and so we brought back the ploughing up grant, and since then have extended its scope.
Next, we brought in a fertiliser subsidy, and there we took care, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will remember, to ensure that the subsidy was particularly adapted to the needs of the small farmer and the crofter, and in order to encourage the rearing of more calves we brought in a calf subsidy. Through our Marginal Agricultural Production scheme in Scotland—and here I come to a point raised by the right hon. Gentleman—we increased assistance to rearers of hill cattle by offering them £3 a head in order to cover the cost of winter keep which is the principal problem relating to the maintenance of cattle on the hills in Scotland.
The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that one reason we did that was the recommendation of the Hill Lands Commission That commission, if I may say so, are in a rather different category from any other kind of commission, in that they are a continuing body; they do not put out a report once and for all. They are giving very valuable advice and helping us to survey the lands in Scotland suitable for exploitation for this idea of cattle on the hills.
The most direct incentive, of course, was provided by increasing commodity prices at the Annual Review when special emphasis was laid on beef. A year has not yet passed since these measures were announced, and it is obviously far too early to expect startling results. But we can say that already encouraging signs are visible. Of greatest significance is the reversal of the alarming downward trend in tillage. If we cannot reverse that fall, we cannot expect to expand the livestock of the United Kingdom.
1514 In 1952–our latest figures are the June returns—taking the United Kingdom as a whole, there were 170,000 more acres under tillage than in the previous year. Looking at cattle, the numbers of heifers in calf have been increasing—I particularly extracted these figures—more calves are being retained for rearing, sheep are recovering very fast after the disaster of the 1947 storm, and although I cannot say it for England and Wales, I can say for Scotland that the number of ewes today is greater than at any time since 1940. As for pigs, we all know that pig numbers today are the highest on record.
A year ago the rate of expansion had slowed down to a point where it was stationary; indeed, there were distinct signs that our production was going to decline in spite of the announcement of the four—year expansion programme. Now, as a result of the measures we have taken, and with the co-operation—and I emphasise this—of the farming industry, of which I am very proud to be a member, we appear successfully to have passed the critical point and are moving towards the objective laid down in our policy statement, to which I have referred in the White Paper.
The best test, to me at any rate, of a policy is the very simple one of whether it works or not. If we apply that test then no one can deny that in the short space of one year our policy has been remarkably successful. Nor can anyone deny that we have shown the industry in the clearest possible terms the direction in which we want to go, that we have provided the right incentives and that the steps we have taken have laid the foundation—I am making no greater claim than that—for the long-term policy on which discussions have been initiated with the National Farmers' Union.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Would the hon. Gentleman say how this increase in the first year of his Government compares with the 8½ per cent. increase, I think it was, in the first year of our expansion programme? It is obviously a good deal less, but can he tell us how much less?
§ Mr. Snadden
It is not possible to say off-hand. I will have a look at it, and if the answer can be given I shall be certainly very glad to give it. 1515 So much for the background, the policy developments and the progress which we have achieved. I attempted specially to make that clear so that other hon. Members may know precisely what are the facts of progress in this industry since 1947. Looking to the future—and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock stressed this—we in the Government are perfectly well aware of farmers' difficulties and fears, if I may use that latter word. There are many difficulties. As a producer myself I have a fair notion of what they are. There are the difficulties of capital, labour, housing, water and electricity on which one could go into great detail if there were time to do so today.
§ Mr. Snadden
I am coming to other difficulties later on. I do not want to concentrate on physical difficulties when we are debating a greater issue with regard to de-control. We are doing all we can and will continue to do so within the resources available to us to help the producer to solve these problems. I should like to say something about farmers' fears, about the terms of the Motion tabled by the Opposition and some of the remarks by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned de-control. Do I understand that he is now dealing, or has been dealing, with the problems arising from de-control or is he dealing with the natural problems arising from the difficulty of increasing production?
§ Mr. Snadden
No, the reason why I spoke as I did to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was that the major issue in this debate was the wide question of moving from a controlled economy into de-control, and if I start to go into questions of labour, water, housing and electricity, obviously I shall speak for far too long. I wish to deal with the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock directed my attention.
§ Mr. Snadden
I should have said that the biggest factor apparent to this Government when we entered office was the lack of confidence in the policy of the Labour Party. That is why we introduced our new 1956 programme, and the mere fact that we have had such a large increase in production and such a response already, indicates that confidence has returned.
I do not complain about the questions put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock and I shall do my best to answer them. It is quite true that there has been some apprehension in the minds of farmers regarding the future. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but I think that there has been exaggeration about the strength and weight of it. I am admitting that there has been some apprehension in the minds of farmers about the future because we are about to move from the straitjacket of control into a freer economy. It is equally true that some farmers are afraid lest in the change-over the Government may run away from their responsibilities under the 1947 Act which, in Section 1, guaranteed prices and assured markets.
We recognise the apprehension of those who share these fears. They have lived so long under controls that it is only natural that there should be some fear when some major change of this character is to come about. I want to say to the House that there is no foundation for these fears. I think that everybody desires—and I am quite certain that the vast majority of farmers desire—to see as much freedom as possible.
§ Mr. Snadden
It is certainly an essential feature of the policy on which the Government took office that when possible we should shake off controls and move into a freer economy. It is the Government's belief that such an objective, apart altogether from its general effect on the financial position of the country, gives opportunities for the exercise of enterprise that are lacking in an economy of controls. It would be very unwise of us if we swept away all controls in a day. Everyone knows that. In my opinion de-control requires as much careful planning as the imposition 1517 of controls. We recognise that. I think that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock hears what has actually happened in this matter he will realise that we have recognised it.
But it is obvious that the methods of implementing the guarantees under the 1947 Act within a framework of a general policy of de-control require very careful thought. Indeed, the methods to be employed may have to be different for every single commodity. One has to think of all that, and we are well aware of it. Circumstances have dictated to some extent the order in which the commodities should be dealt with.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock referred to eggs. I will not enlarge upon that subject because I understand that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for Agriculture will be speaking about that and will make a fuller statement.
May I respectfully suggest that, since there is a Motion on the Order Paper, if the debate is to proceed in any constructive fashion the House had better be in possession of information at the beginning of the debate? That is the point of the Motion.
§ Mr. Snadden
I wanted to explain in relation to eggs the point that I made a moment ago—that to some extent circumstances had dictated the order of the change. In the case of eggs it was the breakdown of the distribution scheme which necessitated the decision which was announced by the Minister of Food on 26th November. It was pure force of circumstance, because of what was going on in the black market and the complete breakdown of the distribution scheme, that compelled the decision to make the first change in the case of eggs. In the case of cereals, it was not only the breakdown but also the inequities of the feeding stuffs rationing scheme, coupled with the Government's view that subsidisation of feeding stuffs should be brought to an end as soon as possible, as foreshadowed in the White Paper last year. Full warning was given that subsidisation was not likely to be carried on for ever.
The Opposition Motion refers to… the widespread doubt and disquiet aroused by recent ministerial statements on food production.…1518 But from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock it seemed to me clear that the reference was to what had happened because of de-control rather than because of food production policy. I think that I have shown that in food production policy we are moving steadily towards the objective laid down in the White Paper.
If apprehension existed in the early stages of discussion with the National Farmers' Unions' representatives as to the reconciliation of the Government's objectives with the implementation of the 1947 Act…which in Section 1 guarantees prices and assured markets…this has now been largely dispelled by the publication of the White Paper on cereals and feeding-stuffs and by the clear assurance given by my right hon. and gallant Friend to the National Farmers' Unions that the system of Price Reviews and the principles of the 1947 Act would be maintained in conditions of less rigid control and that the Government would work out appropriate methods for dealing with each commodity in full consultation with the National Farmers' Unions. To the best of my knowledge these assurances. have been received with satisfaction by the farming community. They way is now clear to pursue the promised consultations with a view to ensuring that the necessary changes are accomplished in a smooth and orderly manner.
I want to deal with a more practical issue which impinges on some of the questions discussed by the right hon. Gentleman. I refer to the effect on the farming community of de-control. The House will be aware that cereal prices for the 1953 harvest were fixed last year. These prices stand. There is no change whatever. They were fixed in the last Price Review. The Ministry of Food will be prepared to buy any cereals offered under existing arrangements, and will continue to so until permanent alternative arrangements for implementing the price and market guarantees are in operation.
These arrangements will be discussed with the National Farmers' Union. Therefore, farmers need have no anxiety about the future marketing of their cereals. Nothing will be done until the farming leaders and the Government have got together. There is plenty of time to carry into effect any method that may be chosen.
§ Mr. G. Brown
This is most important. This is the nearest we have got yet to any statement of policy. For 1953 the farmers will be paid at the prices to be fixed at the Price Review —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] At the prices fixed at the last Price Review. In 1954 the undertaking is that the cereals are still to be bought by the Government. How are the prices for 1954 to be fixed in view of the fact that the market will then be free and there will be nothing by to fix either the costs of production or the price at which the imports are to be bought?
§ Mr. Snadden
The 1953 prices were fixed at the last Price Review and they stand. That will mean that the fixed price for wheat will become the minimum. There will be no maximum for oats or barley for the 1953 harvest. Unless a method is struck, in consultation with the National Farmers' Unions, before the Price Review, I should imagine that the 1954 prices will have to be struck at this Review.
§ Mr. G. Brown
With great respect —[Interruption.]—the Government have chosen their own order of batting. They must not complain. The Joint Under-Secretary says that he imagines that for the 1954 grain crops the prices will be struck on the basis used now. How can that be done? The prices at which the imports are coming in in that year will not be known. The costs of production will not be able to be fixed because they also will be free. How, in fact, will the Government fix prices for 1954? Or is Sir James Turner right in saying that the Government do not seem to know?
§ Mr. Snadden
I repeat that the 1953 harvest prices are settled and that the 1954 prices, unless there is a new method, will be fixed at this Price Review by projecting the costs of production forward into the future, in exactly the same way as that used now.
The hon. Gentleman says that for 1954 the costs will be projected forward as at present; but the hon. 1520 Gentleman, for whose practical experience I have the greatest respect, knows that that is possible, and has been possible, because the prices are controlled. The point of this argument is that prices are to be de-controlled. Sir James Turner has discussed the same point. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us upon what basis these calculations are to be made?
§ Mr. Snadden
I have answered the question about 1953 and 1954. I think that I have given the correct answer. As regards feedingstuffs, the impending increase in price estimated to be in the neighbourhood of £2 10s. per ton due to the removal of the remaining part of the subsidy, will be taken into account at the forthcoming Price Review. This question has its relation to the small farmer especially the farmer in the remoter areas. We recognise that there is a special anxiety in the minds of the small farmers on this matter. I can give an undertaking that this problem will receive special consideration by the Government. The rise in the price of feedingstuffs will be taken into account at the Price Review which is to take place shortly. The right hon. Gentleman made some remarks about—
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The Joint Under-Secretary has said that the Government will take into account the plight of these small farmers who fear that they will not get a fair share of feedingstuffs. Surely, it is his duty to tell us what steps the Government propose to take to protect the small farmers.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
On a point of order. Is it correct for a debate of this nature to be turned into what appears to be a Committee stage?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The Minister gave way, but as many hon. Members wish to speak I think we should get on with the discussion.
§ Mr. Snadden
I may not have made my point clear. I was not referring to the scarcity of feedingstuffs and the inability of the men in the remote areas to get them. I was thinking more in terms of increased costs of freight. I wish to point out that we are aware of the special anxiety in the minds of these people, and that will be taken into account in our Price Review. The estimated increase of £2 10s. in the price due to the removal of the subsidy will also be taken into account at the forthcoming Price Review.
I submit that I have shown that in the short space of one year our policy has been remarkably successful; that we have indicated clearly in the White Paper what that policy is; that specific assurances have been given on guarantees, and that the methods to be used in order to implement these guarantees will be worked out in consultation with the leaders of the National Farmers' Unions. I am at a loss to understand what clearer or firmer policy is necessary or possible within the constitutional limits to which any Government is subject.
§ Mr. Snadden
The point was made that a free market would be bad for production. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the lack of confidence and the disquiet within the industry. In my view, farmers will do much better in a free economy than under control. In a free economy we can get rid of a great many things which hamper production. We can get rid of rationing coupons and forms. The efficient farmer should be glad no longer to be insulated against the fresh air of free competition. Fixed prices have hampering effects upon enterprise.
The stability experienced over the past seven to 12 years arose as a result of the war and the methods that were available during the war. But it is not the kind of stability by which men seek opportunities of developing skill and enterprise. In fact, it is the kind of stability which could quite easily lead to stagnation. We believe that the policy on which we are embarking will lead to 1522 increased efficiency and to the benefit of agriculture.
§ Mr. Snadden
I said at the beginning of my speech—and it has been repeated —that there is no such intention.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I do not want to enter into a competition in statistics of production over the last year to 18 months. If the Joint Under-Secretary takes credit, as he has done, for certain increases in production in certain fields, nobody on this side of the House will in any way wish to discourage the efforts of the farming community which have led to those undoubted increases. We are only too glad to pay our tribute to the efforts which have led to those increases in production, which we do not deny.
I was glad indeed that the Joint Under-Secretary was fair minded enough —probably he could hardly have been decently otherwise—to say that the confidence underlying this claimed increase in production was based upon the assurance that he had given to the farmers that there would be a continuity of the Labour Government's policy over the more fundamental field. I should like to ask him this question. If he claims, at the same time, rather inconsistently, that the increase in current production is due largely to the removal of certain controls, can he tell us what fundamental de-control has led to that increase? To what does he attribute it?
§ Mr. MacMillan
He did. He argued latterly in his speech that the surge of confidence and the increase in production were based upon the de-controls and the assurance of further de-controls.
§ Mr. MacMillan
His claim came very close to that, especially in his perorations. He also suggested that further controls would be removed and that this would lead to a further expansion in production. I do not think he can deny that he suggested that. At the same time, he presented us with a picture of the agri- 1523 cultural industry asking for more and more assurances and guarantees of the kind which could not be given, except on the basis of the retention of the most important controls which were in operation during the period of office of the last Government. I do not want to argue in detail the question of the increases or decreases in pig production, meat and all the rest of it. I think that hon. Members will be concerned with a number of other points which I should like to put forward.
I am glad to say that throughout this country there is a growing concern and an awareness of a shrinkage in the amount of agricultural land available for growing food. I am not among those who blame the Forestry Commission for irresponsible expansion and reafforestation. I think the Forestry Commission, especially in late years, have been very closely in touch with the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. I do blame them to some extent for not being more helpful to agriculture with regard to shelter belts.
Another public body which has been blamed a great deal, in ignorance, for taking over and sterilising agricultural land, or land which might be useful for agriculture—the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board—has now been completely vindicated and has justified its policy in relation to agricultural land. It has been shown that the Hydro-Electric Board have not only assisted agricultural production throughout their area of operations, but have, in fact, on balance, extended the area of cultivation in the North of Scotland.
Other public bodies have, however, encroached upon what has been and what could be developed into good agricultural arable and pasture land. For example, local authorities have taken over much excellent land for housing. There are cases of productive land having been taken over for schools, hospitals, reservoirs, cemeteries, industrial estates, aerodromes, Army and Navy training areas and the rest. When we add these to other natural factors, like erosion, flooding and bracken, we find that the loss of agricultural land available for food production in this country has been quite alarming, and something must be done about it.
1524 We are more and more conscious of the increasing population of the world and of the greater pressure upon world food resources. We are increasingly conscious, also, as our own need for home-grown food increases, that the land for growing it is declining sharply. I should like to know whether it is possible for the Minister to give us some broad picture of a positive policy to prevent taking over any more agricultural land where that can possibly be avoided. It is an important point, and when we are discussing details we sometimes overlook some of the main dangers.
Another point with which I am very concerned—I believe other hon. Members must be also—is the lack of opportunity for new farmers to acquire farms, especially farms to let, and, unless they are wealthy, farms to buy and lease. Throughout the country trained and experienced practical farmers, farm managers, grieves and trained land workers are looking around for opportunities to farm on their own behalf, and it is almost impossible for them to obtain a farm to rent anywhere. Turning to farm purchase, we find that the market is limited to those with plenty of money to spend.
It is not only a question of buying a farm. Farms have to be equipped and there are considerations like the purchase of acclimatised stock. The Government have not been helpful to those people. They have made it more difficult and more expensive for them to borrow money from the banks. Only those who have from their own resources money with which to buy at the inflated prices of today are able to undertake farming.
Where farms are rented, the general experience has been that they are kept as far as possible in the family. In the case of leased farms, the owners snatch back the farms as soon as the lease has expired and they refuse to re-lease them. That is a common complaint. It is not my personal complaint, but I know it is perfectly true, although my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) may quarrel with me for that very reason. What happens when a good, capable and ambitious farm worker wants to buy? It is admitted that he is squeezed out of the market by the prevailing high prices. The ironic thing about this exclusive market is that we, as taxpayers, have by subsidies, assured markets and guaranteed 1525 prices, created and boosted the high value of farmland over the past years.
Having done that we must admit that we also have responsibility for ensuring that capable and experienced men should be given an opportunity to enter farming. I should like the Minister to give an assurance that these men, who are very often able, practical and experienced, should have an opportunity to compete with the almost exclusive hobby farmers and syndicate speculators. Where farms are taken over we must devise and in some way apply much better practical tests of capacity than at present. At the moment anybody with money can buy up land all over the place and all he does is to put in somebody with the brain and experience to run it. But the person with that brain and experience who has not the money to buy has no chance of any kind. I want to know whether the Government are attempting to develop some policy with a view to early action to assist these potential new entries. Otherwise we shall find ourselves in pretty grim difficulties with regard to the next generation of farmers.
Another matter which is causing considerable concern in some parts, especially in the Highlands of Scotland, is that many wealthy Highland landlords—and landlords who own land in the Highlands but who are by no means Highlanders; men who never used to see their tenants and their estate throughout the year—are becoming forestry and farming-conscious. They are finding it profitable to go back to the Highlands which their forebears have depopulated and neglected for generations past. I could give names but it would be unfair to exclude those whom I did not name or have time to.
I think the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) knows some of them, and I am sure that he does not approve of the policy of ousting the present farmers at the end of their leases or merging farm by farm as they become vacant into massive and extensive estates under the ownership of dukes and others till recently absentee landlords of the far North. When are the Government going to make some attempt to control this merger movement? Is there going to be any limit to this multiple farming or are we to see yet a further exclusion of new tenant farmers and 1526 people who are unable to pay as much money as the Duke of Sutherland or the Duke of Argyll? Is any action being taken on those lines?
I want to ask a further question with regard to new entrants into agriculture because it is vital that we should have new blood in this industry. What is happening with regard to the creation of new smallholdings? I have asked this question many times previously. There has been a lack of a land settlement policy for quite a number of years. How many thousands of applicants are there in Scotland, England and Wales who applied since the war and before the war and who are still on the Department's waiting lists? These people are waiting not only for holdings but for even a statement of land settlement. Special committees have been set up and have reported and other committees have commented and made recommendations with regard to the need for a land settlement policy. When are we to have it? Have the Government any ideas on this matter? Do they intend to do anything practical to bring it into operation in the neat future?
Perhaps I may take an example from my own constituency. So many disenchanted crofters and small holders have left and are leaving the Highlands and drifting away from the land to the cities and overseas. On the other hand, a number of men from North Uist have claimed some local land to enlarge their holdings to an economic size. The Joint Under-Secretary knows this case and knows very well what is happening at Balmartin. These are men who are anxious to stay on the land where they were born and to cultivate it to the limit; but the Government seem to give them no sympathy or support and apparently prefer to see this land passing from hand to hand among speculative buyers who come and go almost from year to year, leaving doubt and uncertainty, however good their own individual intentions may be as proprietors. I am not criticising the present proprietor in this case; he is a good one. Nevertheless there is this uncertainty and sense of injustice among the people who are capable indigenous cultivators, anxious to make the most use of this land.
That is only one local example where land raiding is taking place; but I can 1527 see others coming and I may as well give notice of the fact. The land of North Uist is not the only land which is affected. This case is symptomatic of the uncertainty and dissatisfaction which is caused through the lack of a land settlement policy and an opportunity for these existing holdings to expand sufficiently to become economic units.
There is another direction in which the people of Scotland believe they can make a very considerable contribution to the food supplies of this country, and that is in regard to beef production. I think I speak for all hon. Members, especially those from the Highlands, when I say that we are quite confident that we can do this. We can now base that confidence upon the experience of certain far-seeing, vigorous and enterprising men like Lord Lovat, Hobbs and others who, though they may be more fortunate than ordinary people in that they have more capital and certain other resources than the small farmer or crofter, have, nevertheless, made successful efforts to show that beef production can be very considerably increased in the North-West Highlands of Scotland.
But there are certain obstacles, especially for the smaller producers, and those obstacles must be known to the Government. The Joint Under-Secretary said that he was anxious about the special difficulties created by the Government's own policy in the near future with regard to feedingstuffs. One of the obstacles to greater production of beef in the Highlands is the lack of local winter keep and of money to buy what is available by importation of winter keep.
The Joint Under-Secretary referred to the special difficulties of the "remoter" farmers. He farms in Perthshire and some areas there are far from supplies. That may be difficult enough, but it is a much more difficult thing to farm in North Argyll. And crofting and farming in the Outer Hebrides is as difficult again so far as feed supply is concerned. The lack of what is available of winter keep and the cost of transport—especially the sea freight charges—are the two main obstacles to getting more beef from the Highlands of Scotland. We must increase our winter keep if we are to increase the livestock in that area.
1528 There are various ways of doing it. There are difficulties of climate and weather, especially rain, with regard to producing winter keep in the North-West, but local capacity for growing cattle food is no measure of the potential capacity for producing more beef; only imported winter feed being made available more cheaply and plentifully. What is happening about the electrical drying of hay? We have been talking about it for years but we are not getting much nearer practical results. Its use on a much bigger scale is needed. Farmers, especially those in the North-West, are asking why the Government cannot assist in the provision of hay drying racks at harvest time. This would be of very considerable assistance to people who have to dry their crop along fences and all sorts of unsuitable places.
I would ask the Minister—or, rather, the Joint Under-Secretary, since the Minister does not believe himself in barking when he has a whole kennel to bark for him—if the Government have taken into consideration the desirability of scheduling—to employ a term applied in industrial development schemes—certain areas in the North-East of Scotland, north of Aberdeen, through the Black Isle to Caithness, for growing much greater quantities of winter keep and concentrating upon it, rather than leaving so much of it, as at present, from the national point of view, rather unprofitably and unproductively under mixed farming of various kinds.
Have the Government taken into consideration the desirability of getting away from so much commercial and, particularly, strategic dependence upon imported winter keep? There is the possibility of developing a tremendous amount more of our own right along the North-East coast of Scotland, which would provide much of the winter needs of a greatly increased Highland livestock population.
I have already questioned the Minister earlier in my speech about the need, if we are to put more cattle on the hills, for the provision of shelter for them. For years I have been repeating over and over again, in the House and in Committee, the plea for the Forestry Commission and the Department of Agriculture to come together and to get on with a programme of shelter belt planning in the Highlands 1529 and the Islands. I do not for one moment believe that it is not possible in the Islands as well as on the mainland. For, even with all the winter keep in the world, there cannot but be a much smaller increase in beef unless there is also the shelter for the cattle in that area.
I understood the Joint Under-Secretary, when talking about abandoning feeding-stuffs to the free play of the market and to the profiteers, as they inevitably will be abandoned, to be giving an assurance that the Government were taking into account in a practical and financial form the special difficulties of the farmers of the North-West and of the Highlands and the Isles. I hope that that consideration will be practical and adequate to meet these crofters' and farmers' special needs.
I hope that the Government will have regard not only to the special need for these financial concessions, or give subsidies, but that they will tackle the real problem of transport. I hope that, in consultation, the Ministry of Transport, the Treasury and the Scottish Office, will get down to the question of trying to equalise freight charges for the Islands and the furthermost parts of the Highlands. Why cannot we have an implementation of all the recommendations that have been made that we should have an extension to the railhead limits of the tapering system of declining charges over the long distances in the Highlands, over which the imported feedingstuffs among other things have to be drawn?
Why cannot we have a statement of policy and some action to equalise sea freight charges, so that people in the Islands will not be penalised for the accident of their geographical remoteness? The North-West and the Islands are one of the few places where it is possible—and, I believe, eminently possible —to increase the food production of this country in the form of livestock. Since that is so, we really must do something to meet the special difficulties of the people in that area. As long as we give them only empty words and promises, we shall to a large extent still have cause to complain—although I have no personal complaint or appearance of it at the moment—of empty bellies in return for those empty words.
The Minister said that he did not want to go into questions like roads, electricity, 1530 and water supplies. But, if man does not live by bread alone, neither does the farmer or crofter live by producing the city dweller's bread alone; and we must treat the farmer and the crofter and the other food producers and the foresters of the North in the same way as other citizens elsewhere. I should like to have any reasonable answer to the question: Why should a farmer's or crofter's wife in the Western Islands, or the Shetlands or the Orkneys, have to trudge through "dub and mire" for every pail of water which she needs for drinking, cooking or washing purposes?
Why should the standard of milk production hygiene among farmers and crofters often have to be lower than they would like, because they have no water supplies? Why should milk still have to be imported to places like the Outer Hebrides from the mainland, when there is considerable scope for increasing milk production in those areas, given equal opportunity with other areas—if they were no longer penalised by the heavy freight charges and all the other disabilities from which they are suffering? Why should the crofters and farmers in the North-West Highlands and Islands have the worst roads in Great Britain, and yet be expected to produce on something like the same scale as people with good roads and the people with all these facilities and basic services elsewhere in the country?
It is high time that the Government faced up to the special difficulties of these outlying areas, because I think that it is only to these areas that we can hopefully turn for the biggest increase in food production so far as livestock is concerned, given equal opportunity with other parts of Great Britain.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Major D. McCallum (Argyll)
I regard myself as very fortunate in being able to follow the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), because he has outlined a number of points about how Highland and Island agriculture can be developed in the North-West. He will forgive me if I do not follow him altogether closely on these matters, because I do not want to delay the House very long and I wish to turn to the larger aspects with which, I gather, the debate is primarily concerned. 1531 The gist of the complaints that I have heard so far from the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) and others on the Front Bench opposite is that the Government have no policy. They ask, "What is its long-term policy?" Surely, the Government's long-term policy is to produce more food; that seems to me as plain as can be. The party opposite are, constantly reiterating the cry, "What is your policy?" It is, in fact, on very much the same lines as the policy of the previous Government in seeking to produce more food in this country; and the places where we can produce more food are the hill lands and the marginal farms of this country, the Highlands of Scotland and the hills of Wales. It is extraordinary behaviour by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to keep up the chorus of, "What is your policy? Give us a long-term policy." It is the same policy as was followed when the right hon. Member for Greenock was sitting on this side of the House, except that now it is working better.
I wish to reinforce something that the hon. Member for the Western Isles said. If the Government are looking—and certainly they are—for growing more beef and mutton, those parts of the country that I have mentioned are worthy of being looked at; and in order to achieve this increased production, special arrangements for help must be made. In referring to supplies of feedingstuffs, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary said that special arrangements might be made for the smaller and remote farmers. I make a plea not so much for the remote farmers, but for all the marginal and hill land farmers on the mainland of Scotland.
The right hon. Member for Greenock said that only during the past weekend he had been talking to a farmer who told him that the de-control of feeding-stuffs would lead to chaos, or something to that effect. I, too, was talking to a farmer at the weekend, and my impression, especially among small farmers, is that they welcome wholeheartedly the de-control of feedingstuffs. "At last," the smallholder says, "we do not now have to wait to get feedingstuffs because we did not have any poultry or pigs in 1939." We can get them now no matter when we had the poultry or the pigs." 1532 That is a very important consideration in the development of the drive for more meat in this country.
There are two ways to help materially greater production. The first is some means of overcoming excessive freight charges in the far North, both to the Islands and the mainland. The Government will tell us—I have been told frequently—that we have a special subsidy today of £3 per breeding hill cow in order to help the production of winter keep. It has to be, in many cases, bought, say, in Stirling or Perth and transported to the Islands and the North-West, and £3 a cow is not sufficient to cover that very great difference in the freight charges, and it seems rather unfair that, no matter where the hill farmer, the marginal farmer, may be, the same subsidy is granted to him. It is so whether he be conveniently close to Stirling or Perth, or whether he be in a far, remote place.
I reinforce the plea that has already been made that some means should be found to overcome this difficulty of the freight charges. I know it is a very severe difficulty. Many Governments have tried to solve it. As yet, none has been able to do so. I feel certain, however, that if this Government will lay their head to it, really get down to it, they will find a solution of it.
Another and equal handicap to the increase of the production of livestock on the hill farms and marginal farms is the lack of capital. Would it not be possible—I want to put this suggestion to the Government—would it not be possible to arrange some form of loan corporation—an agricultural loan corporation? I know there is one already, but I mean one, a particular one, for the purpose of enabling farmers, particularly small farmers, to acquire livestock. I know I shall be told that there are hill farming schemes which will help every farmer to pay for the increased cost of repairing buildings, fencing, and so on. I am not talking about that. I am talking about acquiring livestock, acquiring cattle, to help the farmer to build up his stock.
It can be done. I know several cases in the North-West Highlands of farmers, both small and medium farmers, who are being obliged to close down by reason of the very fact that they have not sufficient means at their disposal substantially 1533 to increase their breeding stock, although they may have the necessary ground for the purpose. Is my proposal possible? Could it be put to the Hill Lands Commission? What is its recommendation on the suggestion? Could it think of some solution for this particular difficulty? I am quite ready to admit that, so far as the banks have been concerned, they have been extremely far-sighted in meeting the wishes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give agriculture a particularly generous slant in the matter of restricted credits, and I know that in Scotland that has been so; but here is something that the banks, at any rate in Scotland, are not allowed to do: they cannot advance money to farmers against livestock, taking livestock as security. Could there be some form of Government loan organisation whereby loans could be made against the security of the livestock?
The hon. Member for the Western Isles referred to the difficulty of men nowadays, particularly small men, in getting farms of their own. I would suggest to him and to all hon. Members opposite that the most considerable reason for that difficulty has arisen because of the Act of 1948, which has so affected security of tenure that hardly a single agricultural executive committee in this country will give a certificate of bad husbandry against a farmer in order that he should quit to allow a good farmer to come in. This is an inevitable consequence of the 1948 Act, so I do not think it is for hon. Members opposite to grumble about it.
I do not want to detain the House any longer. I have put the two points I was particularly anxious to make. Finally, I would observe this. We have seen now the results of the Groundnut Scheme in East Africa. We cannot even carry out what we thought for last year. Why not shut it down altogether and spend that money, which was being used on the Groundnut Scheme in East Africa, in the Highlands of Scotland for the production of more livestock? Then we shall get the livestock.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not here at the moment, though, of course, we understand and sympathise with his absence. He has, of course, had to go round to Bedford Square to 1534 apologise and explain. Indeed, after the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, he has plenty to apologise for and to explain, because that indeed was a speech, if ever one was made, to alarm every farmer in the country.
Ever since the return of this Government. there has been in the countryside a malaise in the farming community. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That malaise has increased until it has reached the proportions of a crisis of confidence. It is that loss of confidence that we had hoped might have been disposed of by this debate today. Instead of that, what have we heard from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland? First, that the scheme for the injection of money to increase production, an injection which, when it occurred in 1947–a period of farmer confidence—produced in the first year an increase of over 8½ per cent., has in fact produced nothing at all now.
The hon. Gentleman said that he hoped we had successfully passed the critical point and were moving towards the objective. Translated into English what that means is that the effort to increase production had not produced anything, but we were now beginning to hope we were not in reverse. That is what it really amounts to, and that is what in reality he is saying—that this injection of money is not producing the result which it did before, and which we all hoped it would.
The answer is quite a simple one. It is the one which I put to the hon. Gentleman. It is lack of confidence in the Government's policy. I have talked to farmers in a great many districts. I have yet to meet one farmer who is not engaged in seeking to reduce his capital commitments. I told the House the other day how, as an executor and trustee, last summer I had to dispose of three farms with vacant possession in Northamptonshire. There was not a single bid at the auction for one of them. Our agents were John D. Wood, and they told me they were having that experience all over the place. I believe the market for vacant farms is a far better test of confidence in agriculture than any accountant's figures as to profits. That is the state of affairs, and it is really that crisis of confidence which we are facing today. 1535 We hoped—all of us, because we all wish to see British agriculture prosperous and increasing—that agriculture was one of the things on which we had a joint policy. Now, from the mouth of the Joint Under-Secretary, we have had a categorical repudiation of every principle behind the 1947 Act, while at the same time he says the Government are going to maintain the Act. I know that that is not the point of view of the Minister of Agriculture, but the Minister of Agriculture is not in the Cabinet, although he is a Member of the Government running a policy fundamentally inconsistent with the 1947 Agriculture Act. That is the trouble.
The two questions to which the farmers want answers are these: How do you fix prices which you can no longer control? How do you guarantee markets which you can no longer plan? In other words, how can the 1947 Act, which is eminently a planning instrument, be maintained within a planned economy when the planned economy of which it is a part is destroyed? Those are the fundamental questions to which farmers require answers.
Let us consider what the 1947 Act did. Its basic purpose was to provide that farmers should produce, not for a shifting speculative market, but for a contract. The State made a contract with the farmer to take the produce at a contract price. That is what was done when prices were fixed in February; a contract was fixed between the farmers and the nation. It has sometimes been referred to as "featherbedding." That is nonsense. It is not "featherbedding" when, over an industry, a contract is made for a price prior to production. That was the basis of the 1947 Act.
Because the farmer worked to a contract, he was able to concentrate upon the technical problems of production, and he was not diverted by having to be salesman, higgler and marketeer; he could get on with the job of production instead of having to do the marketing job, the bargaining job and the dealing job. As a result we have seen a vast improvement in technical production on our farms. Farming has improved technically more Than any comparable industry over a similar period, and, it has done so very largely because by the 1947 Act, and 1536 by the war-time Orders which preceded it, the farmer has been freed from the diversions of the market and has been left a clear field in which to concentrate upon improved technical production.
We have asked the Secretary of State for Scotland—and everybody has observed the utter failure of his answer—how, for instance, a price can be fixed in February which is of any use to any farmer unless we are able to control the cost factors which build up to the price fixed. For instance, if a price is being fixed for meat this February, how is that done if control is lost of the price of the feedingstuffs which are one of the main factors in the eventual price for the meat the price of which is to be fixed?
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I am following the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument very carefully, but I think it is fallacious. Surely all these prices have, to a great extent, to be based upon estimates. The hon. and learned Gentleman is particularly concerned in his county with beef. Surely there are a hundred and one estimates of the different prices of beef production, and I should have thought that if his argument were sound it would never have been possible to have arrived at a guaranteed price for beef. Surely there must be some estimating.
§ Mr. Paget
Of course, there is an element of estimating, but previously when the price for beef has been fixed it has been fixed upon the basis of a controlled price for the feedingstuffs which were going to be the beef. [HON. MEMBERS: "Grass."] Grass is one of the elements. A substantial element in the cost of feeding are feedingstuffs the price of which was previously in the control of the Government, but which now passes out of the control of the Government. Nobody can set about producing beef with any confidence if he has no idea what the price of the feedingstuffs will be during the period of that production.
That is just an example of the sort of problem we are up against when trying to fix prices in an uncontrolled economy. It is one of the things which cannot be done in the least satisfactorily. Nor can production be shaped. The whole advantage of the price fixing system was that by varying the prices in February the emphasis of agricultural 1537 production could be shifted, with less milk, more meat, more cereals, or whatever it might be. That was done by moving the prices.
But when prices are no longer controlled, so that the farmer who is making his production plan thinks not of a fixed price but only of a fixed minimum, we cease to have the capacity to control that shape. For instance, if the price of meat is uncontrolled, the meat producer will not be concerned with a minimum guarantee; he will be concerned with a price something like 50 per cent. higher than that being made on the Argentine meat bargain. Therefore, there will be a shift of emphasis over which the community—and remember, the community is ultimately paying for this—ceases to exercise any control.
That is "featherbedding" if ever there was any, because "featherbedding" consists in putting a bottom price underneath which will take the unmerchantable, while leaving the top of the market to be exploited to the limit of what the market will take. That is in classic terms what "featherbedding" means. It means that the Government are left with the unmerchantable, the unsuccessful end of production—the whole of the risk is what it amounts to—while leaving the high prices to the producer. That is the only way in which a guarantee can work if the markets are freed and that is something which the rest of the community will not long endure.
Farmers may be tempted by that sort of idea now, but Sir James Turner and the people at Bedford Square are not tempted by that sort of idea. They have seen it before and they know what happens, because that sort of "featherbedding" is not tolerable to the rest of the community. What invariably happens is that the industrial interests—and remember that when it comes to the pinch the industrial interests control the party opposite—win. When there is a showdown between agriculture and industry, industry wins every time. That is why every single time there has been a Conservative Government in peace-time, agriculture has been betrayed. [Interruption.] It has happened every time since Peel repealed the corn laws.
§ Mr. Paget
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the Corn Production Act. That is an extremely good example. It is an instance of a Conservative Government once again betraying agriculture. Every farmer knows, or at least the wise ones know, that this "featherbedding" policy which, when we take it out of planning, take it out of controls and take out the advantage to the community—and that is the sort of policy on which the Government are now advancing—ends in the repeal of the Corn Production Act. That is what the farmers fear. That is why there is lack of confidence.
Broadly speaking, the 1947 system worked very well. It had some disadvantages. It was said that in order to call for production from the least fertile acres, one had to put too high a price on the fertile acres. In fact, on the whole, the fertile acres tend to be the big farms. High labour costs on the big farm as against the small farm, where the farmer and his family do so much of the work, somewhat cancel out that disadvantage. On balance, the 1947 system worked pretty well, and the earnings of the big farmer were not so much in comparison with the capital invested, as the earnings on a similar amount of capital in any other prosperous industry. It worked pretty justly. The community got the shape of production which it desired at a pretty fair price. That was tolerable to the community.
But this system of a free market and "featherbedding" is not going to be tolerable to the rest of the community. It is ultimately going to be completely ruinous to agriculture. If we consider meat, for instance, how are we going to fix the meat prices? Are we going to have variable prices, according to how the grain goes on the market? The farmers are also putting the grain on the market. That is going to put the thing on to a cost-plus basis. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was quite unable to tell us how this sort of thing works out.
With regard to the marketing boards, the Lucas Committee, when considering this matter, said very emphatically indeed that if the taxpayer was going to pay for 1539 a substantial part of production, it would be wholly intolerable to the taxpayer to allow the marketing boards to indulge in monopoly selling against the taxpayer. If we introduce marketing boards, are they going to market a proportion of the crop at the highest price they can get and leave another portion to the taxpayer at the under-pinned price? How long will the community stand that? How do we work these essential planning provisions when we have destroyed the planning of which they are a part?
Meanwhile, we are going to lose production? The farming community know this road; they have trodden this road before. The wiser ones are getting out. Everybody is pulling in his production. At increased cost, in chaos and in muddle we are going to have falling production and a return to the sort of countryside which we saw between the wars.
I urge the Minister, when he replies, to say very definitely indeed that the reply which he heard from the farmers—"We are not in favour of a free market; we are in favour of security for our market under the 1947 Act and the planning and the controlled market which it involves"—remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government, and that they are going to stick to that policy in spite of the economists and the industrialists, who, once again, are trying to wreck the foundations of agriculture.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lambert (Torrington)
In listening to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I could not make up my mind whether he felt that the farmers were "featherbedded" or were not. No doubt his hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), if be is lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, will carry on the argument.
I feel that the hon. and learned Gentleman is quite wrong when he said that the farming community have never had any confidence in the Government and the party which supports the Government. One has only to look around the country to see how few rural constituencies return Socialist Members. Again, he said that the farming community are scared of the old days returning. I think that everyone in the farming community realises quite well that the economic position of the 1540 country has changed and that for many years to come this country will want all the food that it can produce.
In Devonshire, we always say that if a farmer can grumble he is half-way to becoming a good farmer. When I saw the terms of this Motion, and its reference to "widespread doubt and disquiet," I felt that the Opposition were mistaking a little healthy grumbling for disquiet and doubt. On looking at the names of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who signed this Motion, one realises that, with the possible exception of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), none of the signatories knows anything about farming.
I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who was the previous Minister for Agriculture, is unwell, and I hope that he will soon be completely restored to health.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make what comments he likes about our knowledge or lack of knowledge of agriculture, but will he comment on the report in the "Farmers Weekly" of 30th January, which stated, with reference to the annual general meeting of the National Farmers' Union, that most evident was the anxiety of the delegates about the present uncertainty in farming policy? Does the hon. Gentleman think that they know nothing about it either?
§ Mr. Lambert
I should like to answer the right hon. Gentleman, but the speeches so far have been extremely long and many of my hon. Friends are hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. However, had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley been well, I am sure the Motion would not have been put on the Order Paper.
We have heard a great deal about the shortage of capital in the farming industry. Every other industry in the country is suffering from the same thing. The only cure for the shortage of capital is a reduction in taxation, and unless we are able to achieve that, I am afraid that not only the production of food but all other production in the country must fall. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has attempted to minimise 1541 the effects which the shortage of capital is having upon food production. I thought he was very wise when he introduced the fertiliser subsidy. The great thing about that subsidy is that the farmer can get it without having to fill in any forms or keep any records. In fact, the subsidy can be collected by the merchant before the farmer has even paid for the fertilisers which he uses.
§ Mr. Lambert
That is surely comparatively simple compared with what the farmer has to do to get other subsidies. Again, thanks to the foresight of my right hon. Friend, the number of quarterly returns that the farmer has to make has been very much reduced. The principle on which the fertiliser supply is based is the right one, for the farmer can only get it if he uses more fertiliser. It follows the principle established before the war with the lime subsidy.
I wish I could say the same of the calf subsidy, to get which the farmer has to keep many records and fill in many forms. When I heard the Minister say that he was making the administration of the subsidy more efficient, I was a little dubious. As soon as one hears of a Government Department being made mare efficient, one immediately suspects that the number of officials is to be increased or else the ordinary public will not get such good service. In the case of the calf subsidy, the farming community is not getting as good a service as it had in the past. A few full-time men are qualified to mark the calves, and there is a growing delay in the payment cf the subsidy. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister that the subsidy will be paid this year for all the calves born in 1951 which qualify for it.
My constituents have two main complaints; one is that they cannot get mains electricity and the other is that they cannot get feedingstuffs. They are particularly sensitive about electricity. In 1945 we were told that if electricity was nationalised there would no longer be a profit motive and so all the rural areas would soon have an electricity supply. When that did not come about at once, the Socialist Government said that it was due to a shortage of materials.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that since the South-Western Area Electricity Board took over the electrification of the South-West, there has been a greater increase each year than there was when the industry was in private hands?
§ Mr. Lambert
As the hon. Gentleman will see in a minute, I am grateful to him for interrupting me, but, before answering him—which I can do with facts—I should like to continue my speech.
We were told that the reason there was not more electricity for the countryside was the shortage of materials, and we were assured that as soon as materials were available, as a result of the nationalisation of electricity the countryside would be put on the mains. I have here a letter dated 29th January from the Chairman of the South-Western Area Electricity Board to whom I wrote about someone who was not able to get a mains supply. He writes:The comment that some rural areas may never receive a supply if schemes have to pay their own way is very pertinent. As you know, the publicly-owned electricity supply industry must be managed so that the revenue meets expenditure. It follows that we"—that is, the Board—have an obligation to ensure that the costs of providing electricity whether for rural districts, new housing estates or industry, must be recovered in general from the revenues obtained from these supplies. Any departure from this principle results in undue charges to other consumers … a considerable proportion of the South-West is so sparsely populated that the revenue to be earned, even from a full use of supply by the residents, could not by itself support the necessary expenditure on providing and maintaining electricity services. I recognise the serious implications of this in view of the importance of electricity in increasing home food production.
§ Mr. Hayman
Would the hon. Gentleman, then, be prepared to support the consultative council for the South-West Area by asking the Government to give a subsidy to enable electricity to be supplied to remote parts? It would, of course, increase taxation.
§ Mr. Lambert
What I should like to see is the Government enabling the Electricity Board to adopt the policies which the old private enterprise companies pursued. They took the profit which they made in the more thickly populated districts and applied it to the provision of electricity in the rural areas.
§ Mr. Lambert
I hope the Government will find time to enable the nationalised industries to do what the private enterprise companies did.
We have heard a great deal about feedingstuffs. Every farmer whom I have met has always complained that it is wrong that feedingstuffs should be allocated on the basis of the amount used on the farm in 1939. This was remedied to a certain extent by the extended rationing scheme introduced by the Labour Government, but that scheme is based, first, on the amount of land and, second, on the amount of stock carried on the land, and therefore it does not benefit the small man. Again, to get the extra feedingstuffs, the farmer has to keep tremendous records and fill in a large number of forms, and I am told that very few get their full entitlement. Having done all this, the farmer then gets coupons and that is where the next complaint comes. He presents his coupons to the agricultural merchant and he finds that what he can get depends on what he bought in 1939. The older farmer has an advantage over the newcomer.
This is particularly so in the case of pig breeders. Pork is now paid for on a quality basis. The farming community, knowing that this was to take place, paid particular attention to the breeding and feeding of their pigs. They are urged to use as much home-produced feedingstuffs as possible, but if they are going to fatten their pigs properly they must be able to purchase wheatings. When a farmer who only started farming after the war presents a cereal coupon, the merchant will only give wheatings to the extent of 10 or 20 per cent. of the face value of that coupon. The precise amounts vary from month to month, so the farmer cannot plan ahead. Yet a man who was a substantial pig keeper in 1939 is able to go direct to the miller for his feedingstuffs and get wheatings on his cereal coupon to the extent of 100 per cent. of the face value of those coupons.
If administratively it is not possible to ensure a fair distribution of feedingstuffs, surely the Government are right in scrapping the whole scheme. As one farmer 1544 said to me, "In the past I had to go by night to my neighbour's farm to collect feedingstuffs. Now I can get them by day."
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Member is putting an interesting point and one which is perhaps the only real argument in favour of what is being done; but does not he realise that changing the scheme of distribution does not add one single ton to the amount of grain to be distributed? Therefore, if one man gets more feedingstuffs it is because someone else is getting less.
§ Mr. Lambert
In answer to that interruption, an awful lot of feedingstuffs are moved by night. Moreover, the Government in the White Paper say that if the price rises unduly, they will authorise the use of foreign currency to purchase more.
In conclusion, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food on their decision to scrap this feedingstuffs' rationing scheme. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be successful when he urges the Chancellor to reduce taxation and equally successful in urging the Minister of Fuel and Power to alter the nationalised electricity undertaking so that it can give the same priority to rural areas as privately-owned companies used to do in the past.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
I hope that the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Lambert) will forgive me if I do not follow him through the difficulties which the south-western farmers are suffering in regard to feedingstuffs and electricity. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed the view that there is today in the agricultural industry apprehension and fear as to the future. This has not arisen just in recent months. It first began when the interest charges on loans were increased, and from that day to the present time all the indications given by the Government have tended to emphasise a return to what we understood as being the situation when farming was free.
The Joint Under-Secretary, when making his statement, said that these fears and apprehensions arise because farmers have lived so long under controls. I should say that in a large part they are 1545 due to so many farmers having experience of living in pre-war years under no controls. They are afraid that those conditions will return. I hope that that is not so. To a great extent it cannot be so, because the food situation of the world is completely different from what it was in those days, and whatever Government policy may be, that must reflect itself in the necessity of the farmers in this country producing more and more food.
The haphazard way in which the announcement of egg de-rationing and feedingstuffs de-rationing and de-control was made has added to the fear and apprehension. There is a widespread feeling in the farming industry that, before eggs are de-rationed, there should be a definite marketing scheme so that they can be marketed in an orderly fashion. Unless they are so marketed, many of the packing stations will go out of business. Direct sale from farm to shop will take place. The multiple shops are prepared to take eggs direct from the farmer and that will put the packing stations out of business. But it is the packing stations which keep in being the grading of eggs as well as the security and the guarantee to the farmer. Before eggs are completely derationed, there should be an agreement with the National Farmers' Union in order to establish a proper egg marketing scheme.
Another thing that is causing disquiet in the minds of farmers and egg producers is the statements made by the Ministry of Food. The Labour Government had experience of statements made by the Ministry of Food almost in contradiction to the statements made by the Ministry of Agriculture. It has occurred again. Two statements made by the Ministry of Food have given the impression that we may be returning to a prewar industrial outlook. Such an outlook so dominated the country before the war that it imperilled the agricultural industry.
On the subject of the de-rationing of eggs, the Minister said that in the event of a shortage arising he would take steps to meet the threat by importing more eggs. Only last weekend we heard that the Ministry were preparing contracts for the importation of more and more bacon. Those are the things which create suspicion in the minds of the farmers, who are beginning to think that we are going 1546 back to the old days. When the Labour Government were in power, they were continually criticised because they did not import more feedingstuffs instead of importing bacon and eggs direct. We seem to be going back to that state of affairs in which more bacon and eggs will be imported.
Why are the Government not prepared to import feedingstuffs so that the eggs and bacon can be produced here? We farmers have shown over the last two years what can be done in the production of bacon. If we get the feedingstuffs we can continue, and can increase production more and more. But that is not the policy of the Ministry of Food; they are to import the finished article, in the event of a shortage.
Those statements bring me to the de-rationing of feedingstuffs. Decontrol will undoubtedly mean an increase in the price of feedingstuffs. That is admitted. Has this increase to be borne by the farmer or by the consumer? We are told that account will be taken of it in the Price Review which is taking place. Perhaps I may interject a word here to the Minister of Agriculture. For the removal of doubt in the minds of farmers, will he please see that the result of the Price Review on this occasion is issued as quickly as possible? Last year it went over many weeks, and much uncertainty was created.
Are the farmers to be reimbursed for the whole of the increase in the price of feedingstuffs, or is the increase to be shared between the consumer and the farmer? That is a vital point. In many areas the point of consumer price-resistance has been reached and it will affect agricultural production. In the "Northern Daily Telegraph," a newspaper issued in Blackburn, we learned only on Saturday last that a reporter had been around Blackburn and had found that any number of eggs were available for customers in the Blackburn shops. There is a glut. The newspaper report was headed "An egg glut." Lancashire is the great egg-producing county in this country, but in the textile areas the 5d. egg cannot be bought in the quantities in which it is being produced. If the price increase is to be passed on to the consumer, I am afraid that price resistance by the consumer will be such that agricultural production will suffer. 1547 Derationing holds an unpredictable possibility. What was the fault with the rationing scheme? In the first place, it was based on an out-of-date foundation. The June, 1939, figure was completely out-of-date. It was fantastic. All kinds of changes have taken place since it was set up, and, as the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Lambert) said, some farmers could not get sufficient coupons while other farmers got more coupons than they required. It is necessary to make the system up-to-date, but that will be a tremendous task. I recognise that it will mean a review of the whole agricultural situation from one end of the country to the other.
The second factor is that there is an over-all shortage of feedingstuffs in the country. We cannot get what we want. We cannot expand either on pig production or on poultry production. We cannot give our dairy cattle the amount of feedingstuffs we want to give them, and we have difficulty in getting the calf ration. If feedingstuffs are taken off the ration completely, letting newcomers who want to do so start with poultry and pigs and letting dairy farmers buy all they want, the present shortage will become critical. I understand that it is only when the situation becomes critical that the Government are prepared to take action. In the White Paper, the Government say they will be prepared:… in the event of any critical shortage of supplies leading to a serious upward tendency of prices, to consider authorising such additional imports needed to maintain a livestock population which is expanding.To do that the Government will have to increase more and more the import of feedingstuffs.
What is a "critical situation"? Have we to start running out of feedingstuffs? Is the farmer to go to his merchant and find not enough feedingstuffs there to meet the stock requirements of his farm before the situation becomes critical? If so, the situation will be chaotic. Before there is any de-rationing of feedingstuffs, the Government should be completely sure that there will be sufficient in the country to meet the demand.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
One factor which the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned is the possibility that some 1548 Farmers in this country will grow more feedingstuffs.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I was just coming to that point. It seems that this is the Government's whip to agriculture to compel farmers who have not been growing what they should to grow it.
§ Mr. Kenyon
It should have been done the other way. Why should those with feedingstuffs requirements be at the mercy of those who have not been pulling their weight? The Government should have put orders on them and should' have compelled them to grow more. Thousands of acres that could be growing feedingstuffs are not doing so. The Government should have taken action in another way.
Freedom in the feedingstuffs market will lead to the men with money or with good farms being able to get as much feedingstuffs as they want, because they can buy in big quantities. What about the little farms? What about the man with 20, 30 or 40 acres who buys one ton or two tons? The merchant will deliver to the big man first his big quantity because it will mean only one journey and one lot of labour. If he has to go round to three or four different farms with the same quantity, he will just leave them out. The problem bristles with difficulty and with the possibility of a reduction in production.
I recognise the progress which has been made since the Government brought in their programme. It is there, and it is no use our closing our eyes to it. It would have been a tragedy if it had not been there, after what the Government have done. I cannot accept the present figures, however. The figures for comparison are the June returns and not the intermediate returns. Before commenting on the increases, I shall wait until the June figures have come in.
Hon. Members and the National Farmers' Union are asking for a longterm policy. The only policy that is before farmers today, and the only policy that can be before farmers, is 100 per cent. production from the land which is in their control. I should like the National Farmers' Union to say what they call a long-term policy. These men 1549 are the leaders of the agricultural industry; they know it from A to Z. It is easy to ask any Government for a long-term policy, but let them put one forward for us to see. Then perhaps we should be able to measure things better than we can now.
I do not know what a long-term policy is. I know how to plan for a long-term policy, but whether at the end of that long term it will benefit either myself or the country, I do not know. It all depends on the circumstances which arise in the development of that policy. If it means that at the end of 10 years the Government must guarantee a figure which they lay down now, no Government can do it. So let the National Farmers' Union put down what they consider to be a long-term policy.
One of the things that is working against more agricultural production is the call-up of agricultural workers. I know all the arguments in favour of equality in all industries and amongst all families, but agriculture stands apart. It does so because the agricultural worker is not a mass producer, he does not work in a group in a factory or mine; often he is a solitary worker. Farmers and farm workers who have been in the industry for years develop what is known as stock sense. It is useless for the Ministry to say, "You can get another man through the labour exchange." A man from a labour exchange cannot bring in a herd of cattle in the morning and instinctively know that one of the cows has something wrong with it, but the stockman can.
How many people from a labour exchange could take a shepherd's job and lamb a flock of sheep with all the mal-presentations involved, some easy, some difficult? Again the solitary workers on isolated farms in different parts of the country know the local circumstances and are impossible to replace. Yet they are being taken. I read in one of the agricultural journals some time ago that out of every 100 men from the land who went into the Services, only 30 went back to agriculture. That is a tragedy.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I hope he will make it clear that full-time stockmen are outside the call-up and that we 1550 only call up men from agriculture at the age of 18.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I know that argument, but I will give one or two instances of the way the call-up is working in practice, and of the resulting injury to agriculture. The reason 70 out of every 100 do not return to agriculture is because of the change from that solitary way of life to the group way of life in the Services and because of the change in the social conditions.
In reply to the hon. Gentleman, I will give three instances from my own constituency. The first concerns a farm of 28½ acres where the farmer had seven milk cows and a number of young stock worked by himself and his son. The son was called up and the farmer was unable to carry on because he was not in good health. However, since he wanted that farm to be there when his son came back, he sold his stock and the farm will be doing nothing until the return of that young man.
The second case is of a small farm of 13½ acres which some parents bought for their boy on which there is a mortgage of £1,500. The son has built up the farm so that he has brought cows into milk production and has pigs and poultry also. On reaching the age of 18, he was called up and cannot be replaced. The stock has had to be sold and the farm will be empty until he returns. The agricultural committee cannot step in because 12 months' notice has to be given.
In the third case the farmer had 68 milkers and followers and a large part of his farm is arable. He and his two sons and one man are all fully occupied and the farm is at 100 per cent. production. It is a fine farm. The youngest son has been called up and the farmer cannot get another man from the labour exchange. He has had to sell 20 of his milkers and the herd will remain at only 48 until the son comes back. That is the way the call-up is working in regard to agriculture.
If we want more production, we must have more money. I am glad to see the hon. Baronet the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) in his place, because he has a great knowledge of banking and finance. I want to support what the hon. and gallant Member for Argyle (Major McCallum) said on this 1551 subject. We cannot get the money we require for agriculture, and so there is a shortage of production. Proof of that shortage is in the continual pouring out of subsidies. If there were no shortage, those subsidies would not be there.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) spoke about farmers not buying farms. One of the reasons is that they cannot get the money. Building societies today will not lend money to farmers on farms unless the buildings are in first-class condition and are T.T. farms. Farmers may go to the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, which means 6 per cent. interest. The Corporation want £25 down before they start and they will grant only two-thirds of the value of the property, and the farmer knows that if he gets a mortgage on his back he needs to keep as much capital as possible for stock and as working capital. If, however, he has to find one-third of the cost of the farm, his capital becomes tied up, together with the in-goings of the farm also. This is tragic and is one of the reasons farmers cannot buy farms as freely as they wish. This all wants looking into.
I agree that the banks are doing their share and are doing well for agriculture, but a bank has its limitations. The bank is prepared to lend money to the farmer up to the point of its normal procedure. The bank has regard for a farmer's creditworthiness, it considers the business that goes through his account and considers his stock. Then, according to its normal practice it will grant him a loan for the development of his farm, and so forth, and for stock, up to a certain point.
The Government are asking for an abnormal production; they want more than the farmers are producing. As a way out, I suggest to the Minister that over and above what the bank will grant, the Government should give a guarantee to the bank for the farm. I reject completely the suggestion of a farmers' bank, which certain associations have proposed. This suggestion of mine has the advantage that it would be done through the ordinary bank. The bank manager knows the farmer and can assist him and can guarantee up to a certain point all the help that is possible. If, along with the agricultural officer for the area, the farmer were able to discuss 1552 his full programme and then to agree on a required figure with the bank manager. and if the Government would then grant over and above what the bank would allow, we should overcome some, at any rate, of this lending difficulty. By so doing, we should enable the farmer to build up his stock.
There is something which I get tired of with the banks. If a farmer is putting buildings on to his land, they will lend money because the value is always there, but they will not, as the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll pointed out, lend the amount of money that they should lend for stock. It is out of the stock production and the crop production of his farm that a farmer ought to be able to put up his buildings. This is where the banks fall down.
The tenant is in a far worse position than the owner-occupier. He has no guarantee whatever. He has merely his credit-worthiness, his business and his stock. The bank will look at his position, but he has no guarantee. His stock can die overnight and he may lose it; it is not security. What is happening is that the tenant farmers get what they can from the bank and then go to the mortgage societies, to the dealers who make loans, to the provender merchant, who advances a certain amount, and to machinery merchants, who allow a certain amount, with the result that in the end they are in debt all over the place. This is a bad thing, and it could all be overcome if the Government, instead of giving these subsidies, would give credit—what the farmer requires—over and above what the bank will give, so that he can go on with his production.
As a Labour Government, we were criticised for the money which we spent abroad. It was often said from these benches when hon. Members opposite occupied them that the money which was spent in Africa and elsewhere should have been spent here. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Very well; now is the opportunity to do it. Hon. Members opposite are not doing now as much as we did then.
§ Mr. Kenyon
Let the right hon. Gentleman put forward a bold policy for the development of the marginal and under- 1553 developed lands of this country, and if he provides the farmers with credit, they will fulfil the policy and will produce the goods.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
The debate was opened by the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) and I formed the opinion that he was much more concerned about the political aspect than about the seriousness of British agriculture. I know that quite a number of the arguments which he put forward about the way in which British agriculture has been progressing during the last two or three years were not his sincere views. Of course that kind of progress started in 1950, before we came into office. That was the time when we had the first fall in milk and when livestock had reached their peak.
Mention has been made of giving more freedom to the farmer. I have always regarded the farmer as one of the greatest admirers of freedom that we have, and we have always considered ourselves a free people and have always wanted our freedom back again. Another of the arguments that we hear is that there is fear in the industry that we shall have a repetition of what happened in the early 1920's. The argument that is put forward is that we must produce all the food we can at home and that there is not enough of it in the world.
Conditions are entirely different today to what they were in the 1920's. In those days we were a creditor, and not a debtor, nation; we had not had six years of Socialism. On account of our financial resources, we were then in a position to get our food where we wished in the world. I suggest, however, that it will be very many years before this nation is again in its creditor position of the 1920's. Hence, the farmers have nothing whatever to fear on that account.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for stating most emphatically in the House that we as a Government stand by the first part of the Agriculture Act, 1947, and that it is untrue for anyone to say that it has ever been our intention to get away from the guaranteed price to the farmer.
§ Mr. Crouch
The Act is on the Statute Book, and I challenge the hon. Member or anyone else to find any responsible Member of this Government who has ever stated that we would repeal the first part of the Act.
§ Mr. Crouch
We have accepted it. Conservatives are rather different from other politicians. Once we have accepted, we have accepted. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about steel?"] I pass on to what in my view would do more to get greater production in the industry than a number of things which have been suggested. I think it would be wiser to cease to chase the "C" farmers and to give encouragement to the "A" farmers by giving more relief from taxation for new machinery and buildings, for development of marginal land. I feel that the Chancellor could give greater opportunity for increased production in that way than could be provided by measures taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
Another matter discussed in this debate has been the question of banks and the difficulty of getting money. I suggest top any hon. Member who knows of a farmer who is credit-worthy but unable to get credit that he should get in touch with the Minister of Agriculture. I think it would be exceedingly difficult to find anyone who is credit-worthy not being given credit by the banks. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) made great play about the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and tried to suggest that it is on the responsibility of this Government that the Corporation only advanced two-thirds of the purchase price of an agricultural property. That has been the position since the inception of the Corporation which, if my memory serves me aright, was about 1928.
The farming community, in spite of what has been said by hon. Members in the Opposition, welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that we are to have very much freer trading in feeding-stuffs and the removal of controls. Representing an agricultural constituency, the only thing in my experience about which 1555 farmers are concerned is the question of the agricultural call-up. Agriculturists do not want to avoid the call-up for one moment; they feel that there should be some members of the industry serving in Her Majesty's Forces. But they would like the Minister to give greater latitude than has been given up to now, especially with regard to the smaller farms. If greater latitude could be given in exemptions I am sure it would be much appreciated.
This is more of a political debate than a serious debate on the condition of agriculture. At the time of the last General Election the cry of the Socialists was, "If you send the Conservative Party back to power; if you have the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) as Prime Minister, we shall be involved in war." That one has gone by the board. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not know yet."]
At the beginning of last year the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) started another hare and said that there would be one million unemployed in this country before Christmas. As late as November last year he said he may have been wrong about one million unemployed, but he was sure there would be half a million unemployed by Christmas. That has gone wrong. Now the latest hare, the one for 1953, is that of suggesting that there is fear in the agricultural industry that the Government are going to let the farmers down and not stand by the guaranteed prices. We shall see this hare die the same death as did the other two.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
It may not be inappropriate that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) should bring his hares into this debate because, heaven knows, we are talking about an industrial tortoise. I should like someone to tell me how it is that 43 acres sold just outside Droitwich immediately before Christmas fetched £7,500 if the conditions of this industry are as parlous as we are told they are. This industry does not want more money; what this industry needs is better seeds, better breeds, and better farming. I was hoping for what I might call a "featherbed" repentance on these 1556 benches this afternoon, but I remain dismayed.
We are taking part in this debate against a very sombre background. If we cannot solve the balance of payments problem this country will face financial bankruptcy and mass unemployment. That is why I believe it is of the utmost importance that we should do everything possible to get this industry going. Who can doubt that if we could get agriculture and coal going full speed, and keep them at full speed, the whole of our troubles will vanish like butter in the sun? That is the background against which this debate is taking place.
I am astonished that instead of, hearing about what the farmers are entitled to we have not heard something about what the nation is entitled to from the farmers. I have said before, and will endeavour not to repeat myself, that this nation has been very good to the farming community. I cannot understand all this talk about the shortage of capital, because the former Minister of Agriculture, addressing a Press conference in May, 1950, said, and here I quote the "Manchester Guardian," that between the commencement of the war and that date £650 million new capital had found its way into the industry. He was giving me a backhander at the moment and I make no complaint about that. He was indicating what the farmers were doing with profits. But that is the material question. It was said that the capital of the industry had increased from £350 million pre-war to £1,000 million at the moment—May, 1950.
Since then there have been these further capital injections through the February Price Review mechanism, one of £40 million and two of £30 million, so another £100 million has gone in since my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Agriculture made that statement. I should have thought that £750 million new capital in 12 years for an industry that employs fewer than 530,000 regular workers was pretty good going. Indeed, I would have thought it a very generous allocation compared with that which any other industry has been able to procure.
I wish to say a word or two about productivity because this is the key to the farmer's problems, presuming he has any. Farm profits at £300 million compared with £59 million pre-war present 1557 a very pleasing picture, but taxpayers and housewives—even those with the keenest eyesight—are not yet able to see those benefits in terms of increased efficiency, productivity and lower costs reflecting themselves in lower selling prices that we were led to expect when the 1947 Act was passed.
I believe that we ought now to have an impartial investigation into the present state of the industry and into the working of the 1947 Act. After all, General Eisenhower's first action after it became known that he would be President was the appointment of a commission to advise him on what future American farm policy should be. That is in a country with £10,000 million worth of gold at Fort Knox and the highest productivity in the world; they can have what standard of living they like; it is merely a matter of the re-distribution of national income. Surely in this country, confronted as we are with a balance of payments problem, we need an investigation even more.
The British farmer has been spoon-fed with feedingstuffs by the farmers of India, Australia and the Argentine for all too long, and now, because of the balance of payments problem, he is required to develop the latent resources and fertility of his own land. To the extent that the Minister thinks that that will be promoted by what is now being done—and after all who will bother to produce what they want themselves if the State will pay a large part of the cost of imported feedingstuffs?—to the extent the Minister is trying to induce this industry to accept self help as its motto in the future, I think he is right.
What great opportunities this industry has to help itself. Let me refresh the memory of the House with some figures which relate to feedingstuffs and other commodities. In Denmark, where there is no advantage of soil or climate, there was produced in 1950, per acre, 33 per cent. more wheat, 37 per cent. more barley, 26 per cent. more oats, 19 per cent. more sugar beet and 24 per cent. more milk per cow. In the light of those figures very great opportunities present themselves to the British agricultural industry for the practice of self-help.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
The hon. Member has been dealing with the figures for Denmark. A little earlier he 1558 talked of America. Would it not be fair to give us the figures of production per acre in America?
§ Mr. Evans
I always select the figures which best suit my argument.
No one can take a train journey in this country without becoming aware of the fact that many of our farms are little more than exercise grounds for female animals of no ancestral eminence, and whose only claim to distinction is their appetite. Here lies the solution to the problems of the industry itself and a big part of the answer to the balance of payments problem. The last time we discussed this subject the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) asked me about the butter fat content of Danish milk. I have been able to ascertain that since the turn of the century it has risen by 45 per cent. whereas one in five of the samples taken by the Birmingham city analyst in the first quarter of this year were the worst for 70 years and below minimum standards. That will perhaps answer the hon. Member for Yarmouth.
I know that Britain has the best farmers in the world, men like the Yorkshireman whose cows produce 1,800 gallons of milk per year compared with a national average of 596; men like the Buckinghamshire farmer reported in the "Farmers Weekly" last week to be producing more than 100,000 gallons of milk per year at an all-the-year-round cost of 1s. 0½d. per gallon. These men should' be presented with a gold medal as big as a frying pan. Of course there are many farmers in this country, as "The Times" pointed out recently in one of its many excellent articles on this subject, producing between 30 and 35 cwt. of wheat per acre at a cost of £10 per ton on very moderate land. This compares with a national average of 21 cwt. per acre and a world price for wheat of £30 per ton.
Of course we have these good farmers, but what we have to take into account is the national average, which is simply lamentable.
I should not want to indicate that I disagree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. I was disagreeing with his use of the word "lamentable." Perhaps while I am on my feet, he will forgive me for putting to him a point which, with his fair-mindedness, he would agree—that in his comparison with Denmark there is another factor of which he must take account and of which he has not taken account. Danish high yields are in part due to the intensive application of manpower. We have not the manpower to apply in that way. Therefore, the figures are not strictly comparable.
§ Mr. Evans
I do not know; we should have to argue about that. That is one of the reasons why I want this impartial inquiry. The average size of the Danish dairy farm is 37 acres. Here, in this House, there are men who own not one farm but half a dozen, and it is the possession of so much land which enables them to farm half-cock and still get a very substantial living. Those are some of the things into which I should want the Commission I propose to inquire.
My complaint about the 1947 Act as it is carried out is that it is fixing prices on a national basis, which is bound to have bad effects. There are 70,000 farms in this country of between one and five acres; I should call them allotments, not farms. There are another 68,000 farms of between five and 14 and three-quarter acres. At the other end of the scale there are the farms of over 150 acres which account for more than half the total national acreage available for agricultural purposes. How can we fix a price which enables the man farming between one acre and 15 acres to live, without giving the fellow farming 150 acres and over windfall profits which brings him into the highest Surtax brackets far too early, and sours his whole attitude to the question of productivity and acreage yields?
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I presume that when he makes that statement the hon. Member realises that a great many of the commodities grown by British farmers have been selling at under the world price?
§ Mr. Evans
I think I had better return to that. I was hoping to have a word or two on that matter. The fact is that the National Farmers' Union has been 1560 responsible for a great deal of tendentious propaganda—which they can well afford, of course, out of their £250,000 a year income—but on that subject it has been particularly shocking.
If we take the main farm products like wheat, oats, barley, bacon, eggs, pork, beef, mutton and lamb, in the last year the British farmer has had £72 million more than he would have had if he had been paid the price paid for overseas supplies. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants the details he can have them. The British farmer was under-paid on commodities like wheat by £12 million, and he was over-paid on the other commodities by, roughly, £84 million; so that last year the British farmer, had he been paid the same price for those commodities as was paid to his overseas competitors, would have had £72 million less.
At the moment the British farmer is having 1s. a 1b. more for his bacon than his overseas competitor. He is having 1s. a 1b. more for his mutton and lamb. He is having over 1s. a dozen more for his eggs—and he is going to put up the price of eggs again. Further than that, as I shall not tire of reminding the House, he is having more money for a gallon of milk—3s. 2½d.—than we are paying the Danes for 1 1b. of butter; and it takes 2½d gallons of milk to make 1 1b. of butter. These are the questions to which we would like an answer. How does it come about that the Danes, who after all enjoy a high standard of living, are able to produce farm products often more palatable, and so much more cheaply, than British farmers?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
As the hon. Member has chosen wheat and milk as two of his items, will he bear in mind that not every dairy farmer grows wheat?
§ Mr. Evans
I think we ought to take the industry as a whole. I realise the impossibility of fixing a national price which is fair to all.
Last week was held the annual conference of the National Farmers' Union, and there were a lot of farmers staying at the hotel where I stay. One came up to me and said, "How are you doing?" I said, "All right." He said, "What is going to happen at the February Farm Price Review?" I said, "You won't get a brass farthing." He said, "We shall want it." Then he said, "What about 1561 these feedingstuff subsidies? "I said," You must start growing your feeding-stuffs. My constituents are tired of producing railway trains and motor cars and nuts and bolts to pay for your feeding-stuffs. You must start growing them." He walked away, and I went on with my breakfast. Again he came back, and he said, "You know, Evans, what is really retarding production in the agricultural industry, don't you?" He said, "Taxation."
They cannot afford to pay for feeding-stuffs without us subsidising them. That is one story. The other story is that high taxation is retarding productivity. I think, as I have said before, that it is about time we had an impartial investigation into this industry. It is certainly in the doldrums. The first thing I would do would be to get the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Transport together. I think the farmers think that these, "Go slow" notices up and down the country are meant for them. They are not, they are meant for the motorists.
I know that this nation needs a healthy, stable, self-reliant industry, and provided the return in productivity and diminishing costs is commensurate with the sacrifices made by the rest of the nation on behalf of agriculture—they have been very considerable—I do not mind what they have. But I want to know what is to be done about acreage yields. We talk about marginal acres—sometimes I think I shall be like Mary Queen of Scots, and when I die they will find, "marginal acres" engraved on my heart. I would like to hear less about opencast mining, marginal acres, land taken for schools, cheap loans and taxation relief, and more about acreage yields.
This is the solution to our problem. If the National Farmers' Union, with its huge income and magnificent propaganda machine, the best this country has ever seen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgusting."]—no, I admire ability. This is a very powerful and well-run organisation. In fact, there have been no such successful raiders since the Picts and Scots. The annual foray from Bedford Square to Whitehall is about due again. That makes me very anxious. When they go away I always look to see if the Cenotaph is still there.
I would ask the leaders of the National Farmers' Union whether they do not think 1562 they would serve their day and age better if, instead of constantly caterwauling for higher prices, they turned to the subject of acreage yields, because here is the solution to one half of the problems of this nation. And so, practising a good deal of restraint and without saying anything of an offensive character, I conclude by saying that I hope they will quickly get over the attack of the sulks from which they are now suffering; I hope the Minister will stand very firm, both in the matter of feedingstuffs and prices, at this February Farm Price Review, and I hope more than anything that the National Farmers' Union leaders, who have such a great opportunity, will start to talk in terms of acreage yields instead of, "Gimme."
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Williams
On a point of order. In view of the fact that one hour and 30 minutes have been taken by hon. Members on the other side of the House, do you think it would be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to call two hon. Members from this side?
§ Mr. Baldwin
The hon. Member for Wednesbury has been very good entertainment value, and I am sure we should all regret it if he did not take part in an agricultural debate. I do not propose to follow him very fully, however, because the hon. Member lives in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. He is a very good travelling companion for a delegation to Africa on the subject of federation, but when he talks about agriculture he is completely "phoney." He tells me he cannot get a farm. I would advise him to get in touch with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who has got three farms which he cannot sell, and I would invite the hon. Gentleman to take one of them and let me come to take his stock-taking valuation in order to see if he can prove that he can produce wheat at £10 per acre and milk at 1s. 0½d. a gallon.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans
I did not say that. It was "The Times" that said it in one of the two special articles in November last.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I do not believe it; it is not true. They did not take into account the overheads, and so on. As far as acreage is concerned, this country is quite the best country in the world for acreage production, bar Denmark.
There is one thing on which I do agree with the hon. Gentleman, and that is the commission of inquiry. I think that what this country wants to know is the truth about the farming industry, and I am going to suggest to my right hon. Friend, as I have done before, that he should call in his 13 liaison officers whom he has appointed, and who are practical men, to form a committee to take evidence and publish the results of their inquiry so as to advise the Minister how the land of this country should be dealt with.
When I saw this Motion on the Order Paper, I wondered what the line of country was going to be. I thought we should hear something about a long-term policy, and I could not see how the Opposition were going to get any credit for bringing that point forward, because they had five years in office and did not themselves produce a long-term policy. In all the criticisms that have been made today, not one of them has suggested what the long-term policy of the Government should be. Nor have the National Farmers' Union indicated what should be the long-term policy of the Government, and I challenge anybody to produce what may be called a long-term policy in the sense of something that will give the farming industry confidence.
May I say, in passing, that the reason the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has not been able to sell his farms is probably that he has in mind the very high prices that were in existence when cheap money was available and is not yet prepared to take present-time prices now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stopped the cheap money which pushed up the prices of farms to a ridiculous extent. I am very glad that the Chancellor has done what he did, because the same thing as was taking place during a period of inflation after the last war was also taking place in a similar period after the first war, when farmers put lodestones around their necks in buying farms at extravagant prices and were "broke" forever afterwards. I am very glad that the Chancellor took up that point.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
The hon. Gentleman talks about cheap money after the First World War. That is news to a good many of us. I thought it was then 6 or 7 per cent.
§ Mr. Baldwin
It was a period of inflation, and it is my belief that cheap money led farmers to pay extravagant prices for farms to the extent of 300 or 400 per cent. above their value. I say that that did no good to the farmers of this country, and certainly no good to the young farmers who wanted to get on. Therefore, this long-term policy that we hear about is a mere fallacy.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on freeing the industry in regard to feeding-stuffs, though I hope that he will not think that that is the "kiss of death," because I had something to say with regard to that matter some time ago. What has been obvious in this debate is that hon. Members opposite cannot make up their minds what exactly they want. One half of the industry is grumbling because the industry will be freed and prices will not be guaranteed, while the other half grumbles they will not be able to buy feedingstuffs because they will be so dear.
I suggest both to the farmers and to the Opposition that they should wait until the effects of this policy are seen. What the Minister can do, and has promised to do, is to protect them during the transitional period by seeing that prices do not rise too high and that price guarantee will operate. I do not agree with several hon. Members who have said that the small farmer is against freeing feedingstuffs. My experience among small farmers is that they are only too delighted that they will be able to buy these feedingstuffs freely without being based on the 1939 coupon.
This Motion really is a censure Motion on the late Government. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary produced some interesting figures. He showed that the drop in arable acreage from 1948 to 1951 was 1 million acres, that the drop in the number of calves in the years 1949 to 1951 was 300,000, and that the number of the labour force which left the land in three years was 45,000. Is it not the Opposition who should therefore pass a vote of censure on themselves?
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), who opened the debate, used the usual "phoney" 1565 figures about increases in production since 1947, but I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary debunked that one. The increased production was due to there being more feedingstuffs available, and therefore there was a bigger production in eggs and bacon. Consequently, the figures given are not the actual figures and do not show the production increase up to what is claimed. The actual figures show a decrease in production, and that was the state of affairs which my right hon. Friend the Minister took over from the Opposition.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Gentleman says that the figure for calves dropped by 300,000 from 1949 to 1951. I have the statistics here, which give the figures for all the different types of cattle, but there is no particular heading for calves, and not one of these headings shows a drop of 300,000. Indeed, cattle on the whole showed an increase of 370,000 between the years which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. No one year shows a decrease by 300,000.
§ Mr. Baldwin
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the White Paper issued at the time of the Price Review in 1952, in paragraph 7, contained the figures I have just quoted. Did anybody challenge that statement when it was made in the White Paper? There are the figures. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman challenge them when they came out in the White Paper? Does he agree that there was a falling production when the Conservative Party came into office, and that that is what we have inherited?
I want to say a few words now with regard to a statement which has been attributed to me to the effect that I want to sweep away all the subsidies. I want to sweep the subsidies away, admittedly, in the right order and after due protection for those farmers who have been brought up on that system.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton would not agree that the farmer knew anything at all about marketing. He said that the farmer was a producer and should leave the marketing to somebody else. I wonder whether the motor car industry would be inclined to do the same. However, I agree with what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about marketing boards. I am not 1566 in favour of marketing boards. If the farmers want to sell their produce through a board, let them start a co-operative marketing board.
The hon. and learned Gentleman also said that it was impossible to work a scheme that was fair to the consumer. I want to disabuse his mind of that. Before the war, there was a scheme known as the Deficiency Payments Scheme under which the farmer got his guaranteed price and the consumer had the benefit of cheap imported foods. The result was that they were both satisfied.
I was one of the strongest critics of the 1947 Bill when it was going through the House, and I have not altered my mind since. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying what they have done with guaranteed prices. They were on a sellers' market. Today the market price has to stand the test of cheaper produce from abroad if we have the money to pay for it.
I would remind the hon. and learned Member of what the former Minister of Agriculture said in the Committee stage of the 1947 Bill in answer to a question which some of us put to him. We asked what would happen to the guaranteed price if and when prices abroad were lower than our own price so that we could not compete. The Minister replied that when that time came all the relevant factors would be taken into account.
What is the relevant factor in an industrial country? It is cheap food from abroad in order to keep down wages in industry and that is the factor which farmers must face. What hon. Member would get on a platform and tell his constituents that he advocates giving farmers £30 a ton for wheat which can be bought abroad at £20 a ton and that they, the consumers in this country, will have to pay the difference?
§ Mr. Baldwin
I would work it on a deficiency payment. I would give farmers, a guaranteed price and would put a levy on imported produce to create a fund from which to pay the deficiency. That has never been suggested by the Opposition. They are trying to make the farmers believe that had they been in office they would have given them the guaranteed 1567 price and taken steps to limit the importations from abroad. It is no good giving a guaranteed price unless there is control of imports. The Opposition should be practical about the matter.
When I made my little outburst in October, I was sorry that my hon. Friend said in reply that I had taken on myself the heavy responsibility of saying what should be done without putting forward a plan for doing it. He said that I had not made any suggestion how we were to get the increased production of £250 million worth of food in two or three years' time.
I am going to repeat what I said then, because I made some suggestions on that occasion, and I think they are worth going into. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should give them more consideration than they have been given up to now. In this country we have between 16 and 17 million acres of rough grazing and common land. In my own county there are 37,000 acres scheduled as rough grazing and common land. I do not believe that those acres should be so scheduled, and I suggest to my hon. Friend that he should get the county executive committees to trace those acres down to the farms from which they originated to see what they consist of. When they have done that, they should take steps to see that those acres do not remain in their present state.
I know that common land is political dynamite, but the commons today are not in the majority of cases worth a shilling an acre to the common holders. I suggest that the commons should be treated on their individual merits and, after consultation between representatives of the county executive committees. the rural district council, the commoners, and, if one likes, the Ramblers' Association, those commons should be brought into production.
I am quite certain that if the common holders were told that, instead of having rights over common land which was no use to them, they were to have 10, 15 or 20 acres of land to add to their holdings provided they brought it into production, the majority of them would welcome the proposal. In this way they would be doing more for the country and more for themselves.
1568 I now want to say a word about the inefficient farmer. The 1947 Act has been acclaimed by the Opposition as the tenant farmer's charter. To my mind, it is his tombstone. The Act was intended to give security of tenure to the good farmer, but it is being used to bolster up those who should not be bolstered up. There has been a lot of correspondence in the "Daily Telegraph" recently on the subject, including a letter from one of my hon. Friends; but the writers of the letters have not got the matter quite right.
The farmer who is dispossessed is not, in fact, dispossessed by the county executive committee. All that the county executive committee have to do is to uphold an ordinary notice to quit given by a landlord. The county executive committee do have to dispossess an owner-occupier if necessary, but that power is used to a very limited extent. It is strange for me, a one-time tenant farmer, to be saying this, but I maintain that the country cannot afford inefficient farmers who are not doing a proper job. They should have no protection under the 1947 Act, but should be subjected to the ordinary procedure. The 1923 Act gave the farmer all the security he wanted by the fact that the landlord had to pay a year or two years' rent for disturbance if there was dispossession.
§ Mr. Hayman
Would the hon. Gentleman say what percentage of tenant farmers he would consider inefficient and whether he would still retain the benefits of the 1947 Act for the efficient tenant farmers?
§ Mr. Baldwin
Yes, I would retain the benefits of the 1947 Act for the efficient tenant farmers. The effect of using the 1947 Act to protect all farmers would be this. There are very few landlords today who, if they had a farm coming into their possession, either because the tenant had given it up or had died, would not either sell it or take it into their own possession for farming. What is the good of that to young farmers waiting to get into a farm?
I say that the security of the 1947 Act should be given to the inefficient farmer. That would mean that there would be more opportunities for the young farmers, the smallholders and farm labourers to rent a farm. What we are doing under 1569 the 1947 Act is to take one of the rungs out of the ladder of advance, which I think is a great mistake.
If those farms are graded and the security is taken away from the "C" farmer, there is a little bit of spur behind, which has always helped in this old country. A bit of spur behind and a little carrot in front is the way to obtain good results. If the "C" farmers knew that they were not going to receive protection, they would take steps to be upgraded.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Would the hon. Member impose some form of farming test on new tenants? Would he bar those people who have a lot of money to squander and who like to put it into the land, in order to meet his own point that the sons of farmers and people brought up in agriculture should have the chance of becoming working farmers?
§ Mr. Baldwin
I am not in favour of that. We have benefited over the last 80 or 100 years from rich industrialists bringing money into the farming industry and improving buildings and so on. I am not against anyone coming into the industry provided that he is not inefficient. If he is inefficient he should be turned out just like anybody else. When these rich people come into farming, they do not try to do the farming themselves. They employ a young farmer as a manager and that is for him a step towards something better.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I cannot go further into that. I must get on.
On the subject of increasing the labour force in this country, I must emphasise that we cannot produce more from our land unless we secure more farm workers. The way to secure them is to see that they are paid as highly as are any industrial workers, that they are given good cottages reasonably close to a transport system and with the amenities which their wives would expect to find in a town. We must have that, and we could get that if we were allowed to leave more of our capital on the job than we are permitted to do at the present time. [Interruption.] I do not believe in agriculture being a funk-hole for anybody. I have seen the same sons and fathers 1570 go in two world wars. But it seems strange to me that agricultural workers should be called up for two years' training and then when war comes they should be told that they will not be doing the job for which they have been trained. They should be left on the farms and trained to serve in the Home Guard, where their services could be much more useful to this nation in time of war.
Increased output from the land depends upon capital. We cannot increase production unless we obtain more capital. I do not want that capital provided in the way of cheap money or anything of that kind. We should be allowed to keep more of the money which we make provided we plough it back into the industry. The Government should follow the example set in Australia; that is to say, if we want to increase the productivity of our land by capital improvement, the cost should be paid out of current account and should not be liable to Income Tax. I am aware that it can be written off in 10 years under present legislation. If a man is prepared to spend money on improving buildings and so on, it would be much better to allow him to keep his money, provided he obtains a certificate to the effect that he is spending it on capital improvement.
I am delighted to think that we are doing away with subsidies. I would say to the farmer, "You need not be afraid of the 1930s. Those days will never come again. We are a great debtor nation. We shall never close the trade gap unless we produce more from our land. Have a good heart, go on and increase, and do not be afraid of the future."
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I had a rather long and, I thought, a rather good speech to make in this debate, but having regard to the short time remaining I shall spare the House it and confine myself to one or two questions. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) will forgive me if I do not follow his interesting speech.
I should like to say a few words to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) about his reference to the Danes. We in Orkney have had some experience of them. We had the Danish farmers 1571 over for a fortnight's conference. Denmark is an agricultural country and it looks at all matters through the eyes of a rural people whose main industry is agriculture. That has not been the case in this industrialised country of ours.
Agriculture affects Danish education, the Danes' way of life, and the importance they attach to rural amenities, such as telephones and light and water. When we compare Danish agriculture with the agriculture of this country, it is not only a question of comparing their methods and their land but of comparing a predominantly rural country with a predominantly urban one. If we want their results we must change our views and outlook and must look at things in the countryside through the eyes of countrymen and not through the eyes of townspeople.
I turn to my first question, which is about the provision of capital. In North Scotland it is the crying need of the farmer and the crofter. I ask the Minister who is to reply to this debate how he proposes that the small farmer and crofter is to provide himself with capital. I suggest that the Government might at least consider the setting up of a land development board to which they could make over whatever amount they feel can be reasonably spent on land development, at least in the Highlands, and allow them some latitude in the manner of spending it.
Putting capital into land and farm buildings and roads would secure better results than would any other means. If the Government do not like that idea, they might suggest something else, or let them do the necessary work through the Scottish Office. I know that there are the Livestock Rearing Act, marginal grants and so on, but in every case they are not designed to meet the specific needs of the crofting communities and they all leave a balance to be found which the farmer or crofter is not able to supply. As a result, we are not getting the development in the Highlands and Islands that the country needs.
I understood the Joint Under-Secretary of State to say that the guaranteed price remains the corner-stone of Government policy. I think that it is generally agreed that the guaranteed price has favoured the big farmer and the farmer on good land and has been much less favourable to the 1572 smaller farmer or the farmer on poor land. Both receive the same price, but the small farmer, particularly in Scotland, has extra costs, especially for freight, and his profits are correspondingly less. The big farmer on good land is also not paying an economic rent and therefore he is comparatively far better off than is the small farmer. I do not know how we can get over that nowadays, but that is the root of the matter.
I think that more capital for small farmers will do something to enable them to improve their holdings, and thereby improve their profits. They could also be given help over marketing, and with technical advice, for I agree with the hon. Member for Wednesbury that we must improve our technical methods a great deal. There is no doubt that today the guaranteed price is not an entirely satisfactory instrument from the point of view of the crofter and the small farmer in the north.
I should like to be assured that we shall have some further information about the Government's intentions when they de-control eggs. How are eggs to be marketed when rationing ceases? What is to happen to the packing stations? The Government assure us that they will support a guaranteed price. How is it to be done? Who, for instance, will pay the freight on eggs from my constituency to the south? We are assured that the Government have thought these matters out, but we should very much like to know in more detail the answers to these questions.
The same applies, to some extent, to feedingstuffs. I must say that I am glad to hear that there is some chance that the Government might buy more feeding-stuffs from abroad, because in the long run it must be made possible for us to buy more. Again, can the Government give us some more details how they intend to help the small and remote farmers? If it is true that the price of feedingstuffs will rise by £2 to £3 a ton, that will be a very serious matter for many small farmers and crofters in Northern Scotland. We are told that the Government recognise that, but these men are waiting to hear exactly how they are to be helped and how the guarantee is to be carried out.
Those are the main questions I want to ask. It is vital in this industry of 1573 agriculture to have some continuity, and to have some regard for the fact that it is not a homogeneous industry. I think the hon. Member for Wednesbury makes a mistake in his references to average prices and yields. Land in this country varies, and the sizes of farms vary, as do the conditions of life. In the north we have the greatest need for an improvement of our transport services, water supplies, amenities, and so on, and we have to contend with natural disadvantages which do not affect the south. We are very anxious at this time, when there seems to be some change in the Government's policy, to know exactly how we shall be affected and how our needs will be met.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
Having listened to this debate all the afternoon, I have been struck by the little attention paid by hon. Members opposite to the vote of censure in the Motion under discussion. They seem to be quite unaware of the very serious perturbation in the farming industry and the extreme apprehension amongst townspeople about the policy Her Majesty's Government are pursuing towards the agricultural industry.
The crux of this matter is that this country built up its wealth during the 19th Century because it had a lead on the other countries in the Industrial Revolution. With the repeal of the Corn Laws and a policy of cheap food in return for successful manufactures being exported abroad, this country was able to develop a considerable proportion of its present-day wealth, but the terms of trade which were running in our favour in the 19th Century have begun progressively to run against us since the 1930s.
Many people do not realise the great magnitude of the economic difficulties facing us at the moment, in the second half of the 20th Century. It is no good talking about working a little harder, producing just a little bit more and hoping for the best. I believe that we are at the beginning of a long period of economic hardship and difficulty, and we must try to see our way out of these difficulties. The basis of starting on this task is to see how we can feed ourselves and maintain our standard of life in our own homes, first by increasing our home food production and secondly by step- 1574 ping up those industries which can successfully compete in world markets.
We are confronted with a situation in which the terms of trade are running progressively against us, yet the Government are allowing our agricultural industry to drift into this dangerous period without any long-term far-sighted policy. That is the gravamen of the charge we make against the Government tonight. We are faced with a situation in which this country will be progressively in a tougher economic spot, and our one hope of getting out of those economic difficulties is to have a thriving, prosperous agricultural industry with confidence in its future here at home, yet Her Majesty's Government are not facing that problem at the moment. They have taken all the work of the 1947 Agriculture Act and all the achievements of the 1945–50 Labour Government, and bit by bit, scratching bits of fretwork, they have started to pull it to pieces. They are creating a situation in which their crime will be, not against the farming industry alone, but against the British people and the future of the British nation.
That is what we are discussing tonight, and I should briefly like to make two careful points to the Minister. The basic raw material of farming is land. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) said, it is important to ensure that that land is farmed to the fullest extent, but it is only possible to do so if we see that the people who farm that land are the most competent to undertake the job. If we are to achieve 100 per cent. agricultural production from the land at our disposal, we must take very rapid and urgent steps to see that there are attracted to the industry and retained in it people who will benefit our food production.
One of the long laments which we hear in agricultural debates and debates about Wales or the Highlands of Scotland is the fact that we have a drift from the rural areas. We are always moaning about this drift from the rural areas, and many people talk about the loss of amenities in the rural areas. I think that the real reason for the drift from the rural areas, which has gone on for so long, has been the lack of equality of opportunity for farm workers of the rural areas. Many of these young farm workers of initiative are forced to leave the rural areas and go to the towns because there is no hope 1575 of their ever being able to farm in their own right. What chance is there of a farm worker in a village such as I live in in Wales farming in his own right unless he wins a football pool?—none at all.
If we are to get any substantial increase in our food production we have to create a reversal of that drift, so that the son of the cotton operative in Blackburn and the son of the vehicle fitter in Coventry will go on to the land of Wales or the land of Devonshire because there are better opportunities for him there and a better chance of his leading the kind of life which he wants to lead than in the towns. Until we can get a drift from the towns to the rural areas, as well as a drift from the rural areas to the towns, we are not going to get a magnificent food production and confidence in the future of the agricultural industry. We want to show people there is gold in "them there Welsh Hills."
The present one-way traffic from the rural areas to the towns is clearly indicative of the lack of confidence which exists in the rural communities of Britain in the future opportunities of their industry. The party opposite must address themselves to this point here and now. In four, five, or 10 years' time it will be too late. We have to create a set of conditions in which it will be possible for the farmworker, or the son of a farmer, or anyone else, who can show that he has the necessary initiative, energy and capacity for hardwork to reach the top in the farming industry. That is the basic essential—to try and get a new opportunity into this industry. We can only do that if we tackle this problem in a comprehensive way.
No one would think of sending the "Queen Mary" to sea with Sir Bernard Docker in the captain's cabin because he was able to pay the highest price for the captain's cabin. But we still allow people to farm the land of Britain, which is a national asset, without any yardstick to judge whether they are confident to farm that land. In the same way, that it is essential for the skipper of a ship to have a skipper's ticket in his pocket, it is, I think, equally essential to see that the person who farms Britain's limited land at this critical time has the necessary experience and competence to undertake that farming.
1576 I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not here. I shall be interested to hear his statement of policy.
§ Mr. Donnelly
We shall not get confidence in the farming industry from the town side with things as they are. We want to get the confidence of the people, described by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), and see that the people farming the land of Britain are the most competent people to do it.
I disagree with many of the arguments of the hon. Member for Wednesbury. He talked about an inquiry into the agricultural industry, and he talked a lot about featherbedding the farmer. He will go down in history as part of the music-hall folklore of farming. He is not really concerning himself with featherbedding. Actually he wants to know who is committing adultery in the featherbed at the moment, when he demands this inquiry.
The second point I should like to make is this: That having said that it is essential to see that the people who farm our land can show some competence in the farming of that land, and that it is essential that there should be equality of opportunity for people in the industry, so that we can hold the people with the most initiative and energy in the industry, I think that we should take more urgent and rapid steps to see that the educational facilities of this industry are increased.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was at the Ministry of Agriculture, and during the later days of the Labour Government, there was talk of county agricultural colleges. I do not mind whether we have county agricultural colleges or a system of extra-mural departments as in the case of universities but in this instance in relation to central agricultural colleges, or whatever it may be, but the essential condition of creating more competent farming, fewer rule of thumb methods and a more scientific approach to the farming industry is to step up the educational facilities for the industry.
One of the most useful things the Government can do is to embark upon long-term investment in the industry by 1577 stepping up the educational facilities which exist. We appreciate the work which has been done by the National Agricultural Advisory Service and, in a disinterested fashion, by the Young Farmers' Clubs, but it is not enough to leave the work as it is now. The Minister would do well to address himself to that point because, without a considerable increase in agricultural educational services, we shall not have the land of Britain farmed to its maximum efficiency.
This is very important, because far too much is being done at the moment in a haphazard fashion and far too little attention is being paid to the necessity for giving everybody an opportunity of going to the top on their merits and not on the merits of anyone else. I can well appreciate that the party opposite are not particularly interested in equality of opportunity, because we know that half the Government Front Bench would not be here but for their ancestors. Many hon. Members opposite sit in this House solely because they are living on their ancestors, and some of them seem almost to be eating their ancestors.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I was merely taking the analogy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite and saying that they were applying to the farming industry what they applied to politics. In the language of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), what they are doing in farming is what they have done in politics, and that is they have behaved like a set of political cannibals. I emphasise the word "political" because I do not wish to share the fate of misrepresentation, the lot of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale.
I have spoken briefly about the need for equality of opportunity in the industry, but we cannot achieve that in the long run unless we are prepared to face up to the land question. While we are confronted with the anomalies which exist in land tenure in Britain at the moment it is inevitable that we should be confronted with difficulties in the 1578 administration of the agricultural industry. Speaking purely for myself, I cannot see how we can tackle the problem unless we get better estate management and more efficient means of ensuring that the people who actually undertake the farming are the people most competent to do it, and unless the farm rents of Great Britain are commensurate with the changes which have taken place in agriculture since the repeal of the Corn Laws.
There is a good deal of truth in the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury that there is a considerable lack of incentive for some farmers of more fertile land as their money is going in taxation and their rents are out of proportion to the new state which exists in agriculture and the new importance which has been given to the industry since the end of the war. I cannot go into the ramifications of this subject as time is short.
I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture has returned and, if I may, I should like to extend to him a warm welcome on behalf of this side of the House. What we have been saying is that there is a considerable lack of confidence in the industry, which is manifested in the fact that many of the best farm workers are leaving the industry because of lack of opportunity and lack of confidence in the way the right hon. Gentleman is conducting his stewardship, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury.
This Motion on the Order Paper is something which in no sense expresses party politics. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh, but they would be laughing on the other side of their faces if they went to a meeting of the National Farmers' Union. Hon. Gentlemen would do well to see the dangerous situation which exists, and the Minister cannot afford to ignore it because, if he does, the crime will not be against the industry but against the nation.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)
I am bound to say that, in view of the time, I felt that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) made an unnecessarily long speech. He started off by complaining that very few of my hon. Friends addressed themselves to the terms of the Motion we are debating. It did not seem to me that the hon. Member's 1579 speech was devoted to the terms of the Motion either. However, I propose to confine myself strictly to its terms, and I will begin by saying that although its terms are deceptively moderate, they are, in my opinion, highly misleading.
It is true, as my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland admitted in his opening speech, that there is among farmers a certain amount of apprehension about the future. That apprehension may be widespread in the sense that it is diffused, but it is certainly not widespread in the sense that it is considerable in extent. Not only are the terms of this Motion misleading, they are also an ill-timed and mischievous attempt on the part of the party opposite to exploit for party reasons such disquiet and apprehension as may exist in the country. I do not think the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was particularly designed to avoid spreading alarm and despondency in the industry.
Let us assume for one moment that the terms of the Motion are correct and that this disquiet is widespread in the country. If that is so, nothing could be more calculated to do damage to agriculture and to the national economy as a whole than the exploitation of that disquiet. This disquiet, uncertainty, apprehension, or whatever it is called, is the one thing above all others which will discourage and prevent agricultural expansion in this country, which is one of the most vital needs for us today.
In passing, I would add that it ill becomes the party opposite to accuse the Government of causing disquiet and doubt in the agricultural industry when the party opposite, or at any rate the party within the party opposite, is now advocating the nationalisation of the land. If there is anything which is going to cause disquiet in the farming industry it is talk about the nationalisation of the land.
There is no doubt that the decision to decontrol cereals and feedingstuffs is one of the biggest steps to freedom that Her Majesty's Government have yet taken. I welcome it wholeheartedly as such. I believe it will mean that more feeding-stuffs will be grown at home because of 1580 the increased supplies which will be demanded by pig keepers and poultry keepers. Indeed, I do not believe that we shall ever get increased agricultural production at home unless we have a freer economy. We have had rigidity for 14 years, and the signs now are that it has outlived its purpose. The signs are the slowing down of the 1947 expansion programme and the decline in arable acreage since 1948. Happily, this decline has been put into reverse by the policy of my right hon. Friend, a fact upon which he is to be warmly congratulated.
It is understandable that after 14 years of rigidity and Government control producers have got used to that state of affairs. Farmers are intensely conservative people, in more senses than one; they do not like change. It is safe to say that, as a general rule, it is always to the advantage of consumers that restrictions upon freedom should be removed. But there are always some controls which benefit some producers. Controls hamper and irritate, but they enable the producer to know where he is. They perpetuate scarcity, but they give to the producer his profit margin on which he can rely. Controls discourage enterprise and initiative, but they give producers a sense of security. That is why there is a feeling of apprehension now.
This feeling is undoubtedly accentuated by gloomy folk, prophets of woe, who make speeches and write letters to local newspapers, forecasting the worst. They are not many in number, but the influence they exert is out of proportion to their number. If one wants to be gloomy there is nothing difficult about it. The world might end to-morrow; by some magic the split in the party opposite might be healed tomorrow; the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) might be the next President of the T.U.C. These things could happen, but they are not likely to happen. There is all the difference in the world between possibility and probability. In the agricultural world the prophets of woe are, by their pronouncements, able to counteract the effect of the arguments and pledges of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. Indeed, they can do much to slow down any movement in the direction of expanding production.
I have only a couple of minutes left, but I want to say this about the vital 1581 matter of expanding production. I have asked the farmers in my constituency lately what the chances are of getting it, and many of them have showed doubt, for two main reasons. The first reason is the shortage of capital, particularly working capital, which has been much discussed today, and the inability of the farmer to create his own capital out of savings from his profits. The other reason why the farmers have doubts about increased production is the lack of longterm policy. That point has been exploited in some speeches today and in the terms of the Motion. It is quite unwarranted, because this demand has existed for years; it was not met by the party opposite when in office; and they know as well as I do that it is a demand which cannot be met because nobody really knows what it means.
I am happy to say that I believe the farmers today are in such a strong position that they do not need further evidence of its strength. They have the 1947 Act. They have the pledge of the Minister that the Government stands by the Act's fundamental principle of guaranteed markets and prices. They have the pledge of the Conservative Party to which I belong that it is our policy to give first place in the home market to the home producer. They have the unassailable and inescapable facts of the world situation of increasing populations and of a decreasing supply of food.
I commend to my right hon. and gallant Friend the first reason why farmers have doubts of increased production, namely, the shortage of working capital because of high taxation. The second obstacle, the alleged absence of a long-term policy, I believe to be apparent rather than real. It is, therefore, an obstacle which can be removed, but only by constant repetition of the three guarantees of security which I have enumerated; and the reminder of those guarantees will come best from my right hon. and gallant Friend and his colleagues.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
This debate has been interesting for a number of reasons, but for none quite so much as the belated discovery of every hon. Member on the opposite side of the House, including, as far as I can gather by his gestures, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, 1582 that a long-term agricultural policy is not a good thing to demand of the Government. Hon. Members have vied with one another on the benches opposite, including the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh), in saying what a silly thing it is to ask for a long-term policy. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) said that the only policy we can have is to get full production.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
Would the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to cite a single occasion when I have said that?
§ Mr. Brown
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I do not think the Minister will deny it. Twice since the February Price Review it has been said. I happened to be looking at "The Farmers Weekly" for 2nd January. The editorial called "A year for action" said:How much longer, for instance, are we to wait for the Government's long-promised statement of policy? As far back as January, 1952, Mr. G. R. H. Nugent, the Parliamentary Secretary, spoke about the importance of the forthcoming statement which would be made on a long-term policy for agriculture.I have not seen a single letter from the hon. Gentleman to "The Farmers Weekly" accusing them of misrepresentation or misreporting. For as long as I can remember in this House, certainly ever since the last Price Review, they have all said that we were to have a long-term policy. Do not let them dodge it now.
When the Minister brought the results of the last Price Review to the House, he announced certain changes and said in his speech about the Price Review that this would put him in a position to negotiate and to discuss with the National 1583 Farmers' Union the terms of the long-term policy. When the Agriculture (Calf Subsidies) Bill and the ploughing-up and fertiliser schemes were before the House, we were told repeatedly that these were just the pieces that would fit into the long-term policy.
Now, after 16 months of the Government's performance, or lack of performance, in office, we get the first major debate on agriculture. Incidentally, to the hon. Member who said that we were playing politics in putting down the Motion, I am bound to point out that, as far as I can see, the Government would have gone on for 10 years without providing time for a debate on agriculture; and when we do have a debate, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is put up. I was for four years a member of the union of Under-Secretaries, and I know that, whenever an Under-Secretary is put up to open a major debate, particularly when a Motion of no confidence has been tabled, it inevitably means that there is nothing to be said.
First, the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland was put up to make a speech while the Secretary of State sat there. The hon. Gentleman was put up, obviously, because there was nothing that the Government could say, and I felt extremely sympathetic towards him in his unhappy ordeal. Then, at the very end of the day, the Minister of Agriculture is to come in himself, having carefully waited for enough points to be raised so that he would have precious little time left to deal with a long-term policy. For instance, he has to deal with the egg scheme.
We have been told all day that it is unfair and even improper to ask for a long-term policy for agriculture. That is what is fundamentally the matter in the industry at the moment. It is no use saying that the Government did not promise a policy. They did, and they are on record as doing so again and again. If they now say, "We have not got one; we cannot produce one; nobody knows what it should be"—these are all phrases that have been used this afternoon —what can be expected of the industry except that it begins to doubt what the Government are doing?
I have with me a whole bunch of agricultural journals. People have said that 1584 there is not much discontent, fear or worry in the industry. The first of these journals is "The Farmers Weekly," of 2nd January, from which I have already quoted. Next, "The Farmer and Stockbreeder" of 6th January:Ulster producers worried. Industry is faced with a 'Substantial loss of security'.In the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" of 27th January the Vice-President of the National Farmers' Union talks about the Minister's promise when the right hon. Gentleman said, "Oh, we will not let you down. We will see that guarantees are kept." What did the N.F.U. Vice-President say? He said:Agriculture has had bland assurances before. We recognise them.…He said:If the words that were reported have the meaning which the ordinary farmer would take them to have then I think we may be getting somewhere. What we have to find out now is what is the meaning of the words.…In "The Farmers Weekly," of 16th January, a leading article is headed "More Fog" and says:The farmer is now in a quandary. He cannot help wondering. … At a time like this, Ministerial shadow-boxing is as disappointing as it is futile."The Farmers Weekly" of 30th January says that the smaller farmersare now genuinely worried by the implications of feedingstuff de-control.What does this freedom mean?It seems certain that the price.…will fluctuate and the question is being asked— how, then, can a forward system … be maintained. … The present bewilderment felt by the farmer stems from the same sort of feeling which followed the announcement of egg de-control—namely, that the Government have opened up the highroad to freedom without, as yet, giving him any reliable signposts along the route.I have other quotations, but I do not intend to go through them all.
What is the use of going through the whole day with the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland trying to pretend the whole time that there is not the content, uncertainty, doubt and disquiet to which the Motion refers? Of course there is, and everyone knows it except perhaps hon. Members opposite.
There is nothing new about this. Agriculture could not have been sold in 1921 and treated as it was in the 1920s and 1930s if agricultural representatives in the 1585 party opposite had chosen to stand up for agriculture, but they did not. The agricultural party were always the largest group in this House. They could have stopped Chamberlain's Kettering speech and the repeal of the Corn Production Act. But they did not. Instead of giving voice to what we all know are the fears in the industry, and instead of co-operating with us to try to force from the Minister a firm statement of policy, they have all reacted as Tory politicians first and agriculturalists a long way after.
I was in Suffolk over the weekend in a good Tory area as far as I know, and I walked around almost the whole day with Tory farmers. It is nonsense to pretend that they are not worried. Everyone of them was. I saw one farmer of Wantisden Heath who had reclaimed 600 acres and done a very good job on most unattractive unyielding soil. He said, "I could not have done this without the guaranteed prices you were operating. I could not have gone on without the certainty of the market at the other end." I asked, What now?" He was a good Tory and very anxious not to commit himself by using words which he thought I wanted him to use, but he said, "I cannot go on if the guarantees are not to remain. I cannot do any more unless I have cheap money with which to do it."
That is the reaction of the fellows who are doing the job. When it comes to the question of the Minister having promised not to let them down, I was with another farmer and he said, "Tell him this from me. In 1919 my elder brother went to a meeting addressed by an equally distinguished Minister of Agriculture and he assured him that he would not let him down. He went and bought a farm and started farming. Two years later they had him out and all he could salvage from the wreck was £500."
The present Minister of Agriculture is not in the Cabinet. I think he gave himself an intolerable and impossible task by taking his post without ensuring that he would have a seat in the Cabinet. He is not where policy is made and he is allowing himself to lose his own reputation by assuring farmers that nothing will go wrong, while everyone knows that policy rests elsewhere and does not rest with him. I believe that the reason we have this mess over the egg de-control scheme and over the feedingstuffs Order 1586 is that the recent announcement was made before the Minister was in a position to know what he wanted to do and how to do it, and the decision was not his. Will the right hon. Gentleman challenge that? He did not choose the timing of either of these things, nor the form of the announcement. The decisions were made by others, and it is for him to choose whether he is prepared to make that quite clear; but, in deference to his own reputation, he should make it quite clear.
On the unhappy speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, I have little to say. He did not tell us what sort of policy the Government have. He tried to prove that they produced more in their first year. I agree with hon. Members on this side of the House that we do not want a long argument trying to take away any credit from the Government. If more food is being produced, we shall support them and try to get still more. If because of that they get some political credit, so be it. What we want is more food produced.
The figures have gone up in the Government's first year. I have the figures for all the years in which we were in office if the right hon. Gentleman wants to challenge them. If he looks at them and then at the figures for his first year, he will discover that whereas the Government have pushed up the rate of production a little as compared with the last year of our expansion programme, when admittedly the impetus was dying off—as it always does at the end of an expansion programme—in their first year they have not reached anything like the rate of increase which we reached in our first year. When the impetus runs off their programme, there will be no increase, there will be a minus quantity. That is the real criticism; they have not set their sights anything like high enough, nor have they sought to produce a policy which would enable them to carry it out.
Those who have said that we have had a year adrift are absolutely right. Sir James Turner, who has not always gained my complete and undying commendation for things he has said at different times, is nevertheless absolutely right when he says that we are one year further on in which we have merely drifted in the industry. Nothing has been done to provide any of the aids to agricultural production which are required. There has been 1587 a cut in credit for the tenant farmer and the small owner-occupier. Nothing has been done to deal with the capital investment required in the industry. Nothing has been done to deal with the need for buildings, for grass dryers, slaughter-houses, etc. Less is being done in all these directions than we did a year ago.
The Minister's great contribution to re-equipping this industry has been to reduce the physical resources made available. Can he, during this debate, tell us the figures? My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who would dearly have loved to be doing tonight what I am now doing so less effectively, always gave, in all these debates, the figures of what was going on in the country in respect of capital equipment, electrification, water supplies and the rest. Would the Minister like to tell us what has happened this year and compare it with the previous year or two. We know that there has been a 15 per cent. cut in steel or pipes made available —one or the other. More cannot be done with less physical resources, yet such a decrease has been taking place in this year of drift.
There are no targets. My right hon. Friend talked about the 60 per cent. increase over pre-war which the Government say they hope to reach by 1956, but that is not an expansion programme in the sense that the programme of my right hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley and Greenock (Mr. McNeil) was. This is a pious hope. No one knows whether it matters if the whole of the increase is obtained in potatoes and there is no increase in coarse grains. No one knows whether it matters if the increase is all attained in milk and there is no increase in meat. There are no targets, no priorities, no division between one form of production and another. It is a general pious hope, and so long as the value at the end of it adds up to that figure, even if it be in some product which is not wanted, a target such as this will have been met.
When the Minister says, as the Joint Under-Secretary was briefed to say earlier today on this question of credit, that the farmers have not been held up by the Chancellor's dear money policy, it really is not playing fair. There has been a decrease in bank lending to 1588 farmers. It is no use pretending that there has not; the figures are here. They were published in the "Farmer and Stockbreeder." They had decreased by about £3 million at a time when additional borrowing is obviously needed if the additional intensive effort that is going on is to be financed. The dearer money policy and the restriction of credit policy is hampering production, and will go on doing so.
Quite apart from the restricting of credit by the banks, quite apart from the 5½ per cent. rate which is discouraging farmers from borrowing, I can give an example from Suffolk, which I have learned this weekend, of how restriction occurs. A small agricultural engineering business had an overdraft of £7,000 at the bank. That had been growing because the business had been giving credit more and more to their customers as money became tighter and tighter for farmers. The bank went to that company and said, "Under the instructions of the Chancellor this overdraft must be reduced. We want it brought down to £3,500." The director, himself a farmer, said, "If I do that I shall have to pull in money from my customers, which means that you are restricting credit to the farmers." The bank official said, "I am sorry, but those are the instructions."
Now, that agricultural engineering firm has reduced its overdraft by half by calling in more money, by refusing to supply except to those who will pay cash; and of course the end of it is less credit and less money to finance the operations of the farming industry. The Minister is misleading us and himself—he cannot mislead the industry, because they know—in saying that a deliberate restriction of credit is not going on. Quite obviously, if there is less money about, less operations will be financed.
I have always said that the farming community must understand that they, just as other industries, cannot expect to finance the operations of this year wholly out of the earnings of last year, and recourse must be had to borrowing for that purpose. It is no use telling the farmers that if they are prevented from obtaining the money they need to go on with. Because all this is known to be happening, it is no wonder that the English, the Scottish and the Ulster 1589 N.F.U., and meetings of farmers all round the country, are saying, "We are very worried about what is going to happen."
Reference has been made to the Corn Production Act and its repeal. However unjustified it may be, the Tory Party cannot avoid the fact that they have a long record on this matter. They did repeal the Corn Production Act, 1921, and that is remembered. They did vote against Part I of the Agriculture Act, 1947, in the Committee stage. I know that they produced good reasons for doing so, but they did it, every one of them. They have that record and people half suspect that they will break this down if they can. Let us look at the two things which have been raised—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
In his castigation of the Tory Party's past, would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the attitude of Socialist Members to the Royal Commission on corn production which sat after the war, and that they were in a majority against the continuing of the Act?
§ Mr. Brown
It is no use saying, "Hear, hear," with all respect to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance, whose contribution we have missed so much today. We have not the responsibility at the moment, whereas the Tory Party have, and so it is the Tory Party's record that matters—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh,"] Oh, yes. One does not suspect the people who cannot do any harm because they have not the power. The people who have the power today are the ones to suspect. They are the ones whose record matters. Therefore, it is the record of the Tory Party which matters. They did these things, whatever encouragement they got from other sources, and that is really what matters. [Laughter.] That sort of guffawing is no answer to the argument, and no contribution to it either.
Now may I look at two other things which are of particular interest? The Minister has been the instrument—I will not say he has done it, I make that distinction, because I think that the Minister of Food and the Chancellor of 1590 the Exchequer should be replying to this debate—for the announcement, without consultation with the N.F.U., of the egg de-control scheme before a producer marketing board had even been discussed. The Minister knows as well as I do that a producer marketing board cannot be set up in six months; and not only can it not handle this year's eggs, but it cannot handle next year's either. And even when we have it, how are we to guarantee the price?
I think we are entitled to an answer from the Minister. He has now had 16 months in office, and he is the Minister. He gets, not the full salary, but four-fifths of it, and we ought to have four-fifths of the normal attention to business. If he comes to the House with a policy we are entitled to know how he intends to operate it. Is there to be a deficiency payment on eggs? Will the producers be told, "You may sell all the eggs you can at any price you like, but if at any time in the year—say, in the spring—you find you have several hundred millions of eggs which you cannot sell, we will buy them from you at a guaranteed floor price"? I hope the Minister will tell us, because that will mean a terrific overpayment in the first year, in which case there will be a most almighty crash in the second year. Not only will the consumer not stand for that, but neither will Birmingham nor Manchester nor the other industrial centres of the country.
One of the things which those of us who have been at the Ministry know very clearly is that the only way in which a protective supporting policy for British agriculture can be obtained is by consulting the industrial consumer and the financial interests in the country. If we can persuade them that it is better, we can carry it through, but if not, we are bound to run into trouble. If there is to be a floor support policy of that kind, is there to be such a price for eggs as will cause the producers to drop a lot of money and be out of business in the second year, or, is it to be a high price, in which case the guarantees will not be repeated the following year?
Then there is the matter of detail which the Joint Under-Secretary could not answer. If we do not know what quantities of feedingstuffs are to be available for the hens, how are we to fix the price which is to be guaranteed for 1591 the eggs? We do not know what the egg production will be, and we cannot forecast it at any figure. It may vary widely up or down during the year. How, then, will the Government fix the guaranteed price? I think the Minister must tell us; he really ought to know. That is also true of milk and of beef.
In regard to the feedingstuffs which he is to de-control, the Minister says—and this has been taken by various hon. Gentlemen as a sop to their consciences —that in the end, if they run short under the guarantee, he will then make currency available to buy the necessary feeding-stuffs to meet the demand. The demand will be greater than in peacetime. Is the Minister prepared to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, in fact, told the millers and the merchants that they can have the currency they need, be it dollars or anything else, to buy enough coarse grains to meet whatever demand there may be? Has he told them that? I do not believe that he has. If he had done so, the words in the White Paper would not be what they are. I have had some experience with words like these—more than either farmers outside or some hon. Members here. The White Paper states:… during the first year after the end of feedingstuffs rationing, the Government will be prepared, in the event of any critical shortage of supplies"—that is, a shortage must have occurred, and it must be critical—leading to a serious upward tendency of prices,"—prices must not only rise, but rise seriously—to consider authorising"—and so on. There is no promise to find currency. The merchants have not been told they can have the currency. After all this, the Government will "consider authorising" it. The Parliamentary Secretary is a poultry man, and he ought to be frightened for his fellow poultry-keepers about this. No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say, when that time comes, that he has considered it, and that he cannot do it in the circumstances.
I ask the Minister to tell us tonight how the price guarantees are to be operated in this system. What kind of payments 1592 are to be made? Are they deficiency payments which he has in mind, or are they floor supports? Does he visualise a floor support being the minimum price or the actual price? I beg farmers and their representatives to remember that under the 1947 Act we have hitherto guaranteed both the minimum price in advance and the actual price one harvest in advance. One of these is to disappear. Which is it—the minimum or the actual price? Let us know something about these arrangements in order that we may see whether we can get enough feedingstuffs.
From here onwards, the question of the long-term policy is linked up with these two things. May I ask the Minister one other question? It always puzzles me that this courageous Government talk a lot about marketing boards for poultry. for eggs, for pigs—and we have had some experience of trying to run one there—and for potatoes—and we have had experience of that, too.
The Minister already has one marketing board in a position to take over those powers and to act as a pilot for the whole thing. The Milk Marketing Board could do it. But does this courageous Government let the Milk Marketing Board be the pilot? Would the Ministry of Food be willing to have that Board as the pilot? The one body that could be the pilot they do not allow to do it. They talk with a lot of courage about many other fields where it is going to take couple of years to do it, and where all the experience we have had in the past has been extremely frightening.
The Minister has a lot of questions to answer on this, and I do not budge from the views of the National Farmers' Union. The objection to this lack of confidence and the situation which the Minister and the Government are creating is not so serious to the farmers as to the consumers. The farmers are only there to serve the consumers, but because of the position which exists in the industry one has to have regard to the views of the farmers. One will not get the utmost production whether of coal, steel, or anything else if the producers are unhappy and worried.
The N.F.U. have issued a statement on feedingstuffs. I do not believe that any hon. Member opposite who sits for an agricultural constituency could have read it. I do not believe that they have done 1593 their county constituencies the courtesy of even looking at the statement sent to them.
§ Mr. Brown
Because nobody has referred to it all day, and because every hon. Member opposite has denied it all day, The hon. Member has not been here, unfortunately, but every hon. Member opposite has said that it did not exist.
I want the Minister to deal with those criticisms and to do something else, too. A long-term policy for agriculture must deal with certain things. There must be a food production plan, and there must be some targets and priorities within it. There must be price guarantees, provision for credit facilities and for adequate capital investment in the industry. There must be some arrangement either to enable private enterprise to do it, or, as I think even better, for the State to step into that partnership. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nationalisation."] No, not nationalisation. Why run off on those sloppy, silly, slogans? [Laughter.] I can wait; it all comes out of the Minister's time. It is this willingness to jeer with silly little political jibes instead of dealing with the things about which the farmers outside are talking that is causing the trouble.
I did not say that we should nationalise the land, but when I was in Suffolk on Saturday—and I hope the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Hare), if he is present, will support me on this—I saw an area in which there are 8,000 acres of this sandy land doing nothing. But there was one patch of 600 acres which one courageous tenant farmer has cultivated off his own bat, relying on the guarantees and security given under the 1947 Act. But the other thousands of acres are not being cultivated, and will not be cultivated. Why should not the State see that help is given to bring those acres under cultivation?
There is much more that one could say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is a great pity hon. Members opposite have not said it all day, but there is no question about the disquiet and the doubt that exist in the industry. There is no doubt that much of it has been 1594 aroused by recent Ministerial statements. There is no doubt of the failure to produce the clear and firm policy which we were told we were going to have, and because there is no such policy we ask the House to note the disquiet and the doubt, and to regret with us the, failure of the Government to producea clear and firm policy for British agriculture.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Sir Thomas Dugdale)
Before I come to answer the many admittedly very important points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and by other hon. Members, I think that the whole House will expect me to open with a very brief statement on the flood disaster as far as the agricultural industry is concerned.
Last Saturday evening an abnormal tide surge created havoc on both sides of the North Sea. Major breaches in sea defences took place along the English coast from East Yorkshire right down to Kent. Emergency arrangements developed by my Department after the 1947 floods for bringing in assistance from the Services to river boards came immediately into play, and I should like the House to know how effectively they worked. Late that night and early on Sunday morning military and other help was on the spot in all coastal areas. Stocks of sand bags, and other special equipment, are being supplied. My Department's regional engineers were in touch throughout the day and have been attached to each of the river boards chiefly affected for liaison purposes.
As events developed it was clear that the disaster was far beyond the scope of first-aid measures. Saturday morning's tide was not abnormal; but the evening tide was two hours earlier than predicted and maintained itself at a high level for several hours. At all places along the East Coast it was six feet and more above the predicted level. It was accompanied by strong winds and heavy wave action.
Sea defences must be designed to deal with the worst anticipated tidal levels. For example, the defences along the Essex coast are maintained above the level of the record tides of 1949. On Saturday night tides were between one foot and two feet above this level and disaster was inevitable. As a result of these unpre- 1595 cedented conditions, sea defences over a great length of coastline were overtopped and breached in many places and the sea has penetrated far inland. Some 250,000 acres have been flooded by sea water. In the Essex area alone there have been some 280 major or minor breaches in sea defences.
Our fishing industry has also not escaped. There has been a good deal of damage at East Coast ports, particularly to inshore fishing vessels and some of the harbours and shore establishments; while at sea a Fleetwood trawler appears unhappily to be lost with all hands, and we may yet receive other reports of loss or damage.
It is already clear that this disaster confronts us with the need for reinstatement of sea defences along a great length of our coastline. This will present one of the greatest civil engineering problems that we have ever had to face. The Government accept full responsibility for mobilising assistance to river boards in this vital task. Practical steps are already being taken, and I hope to make a further announcement in a few days' time.
The House, I know, would like to join with me in conveying a message of sympathy to all who have suffered loss and damage in this great catastrophe and their appreciation of the ready help that has been so unstintingly given by all persons and authorities concerned. It is in this spirit that I believe we shall face and surmount this disaster whatever problems it may raise for us. I thought that the House would like to have that statement of the position and of the results of the events of the weekend.
I turn now to try to answer some of the main questions raised during this debate. Before coming to the theme underlying the whole debate, I should like to answer a few of the specific questions which were put. First, there was the subject of the call-up of agricultural workers, to which the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) referred. The Government have given very careful thought to this matter, but it is not possible to restore to agricultural workers complete protection against call-up, simply because the 1596 manpower needs of the Forces for their current commitments cannot be met without a substantial contribution from agriculture.
We have, however, considered how far, without making any radical change, we could make further adjustments in the interests of food production. Two changes which will, I think, be helpful are being made, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour stated in reply to a Question today. The first is that he proposes to discontinue calling up men in medical grade III employed in agriculture. This will, in effect, mean that about 800 more young men per age class will stay on the land. Secondly, it is proposed to introduce greater flexibility in dealing with stockmen. This point was raised by the hon. Member for Chorley, in particular.
Up to the present applications for deferment in respect of young men because they were stockmen have been eligible for consideration only if the man was working substantially full-time in connection with stock. In future, applications will be admitted for consideration so long as the man is either throughout the year or for a not inconsiderable part of the year spending substantially more than half his time on work in connection with stock. Applications for deferment in respect of stockmen brought within the field of eligibility by this change will be considered on their individual merits by the same machinery and under the same considerations as other cases. On a different and more limited point, it is also proposed to be more generous than last year in allowing young men liable for National Service to start courses at farm institutes this autumn.
These changes, following the concessions which we made earlier on, will show clearly that the Government have very much in mind the need to encourage home food production, and the difficulties in this regard. As a result of this, in future well under half the young men in agriculture per age class will be called up. As my right hon. and learned Friend said in reply to the Question to which I have already referred, 8,224 young farmers and farmworkers were called up in 1952, and it is expected that the figure in 1953 will be in the region of 6,000.
That is the position as far as the call-up is concerned. On the general question of 1597 manpower, the Government will do all they can to help the industry to provide the living conditions and amenities which I am sure the whole House would agree are so important in this connection. Houses, electricity, water supplies and transport services are fundamental to the maintenance of an adequate labour force. We are already seeing what can be done to speed up the provision and expansion of the amenities and services in those rural areas where the greatest difficulties are to be expected. I am convinced that a prosperous industry combined with decent rural houses, equipped with the services to which the urban housewife has been accustomed, will, in the long-run, prove the key to solving the manpower problem.
We who have the interests of the agricultural industry at heart, as I think we all have, have great reason to be profoundly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for the impetus which he has imparted to the housing drive in the past year, which has met with the same success in the villages as in the towns. In 1952, the annual rate of completion of houses in the rural areas was some 25 per cent. more than in 1951. We are also expecting in this connection farmers and landowners to make the fullest possible use of the provisions of the Housing Acts, particularly the Act of 1952, for the improvement of existing accommodation for farm workers. That is all I intend to say in regard to that all-important problem this evening.
I now come to what, I think, is in all our minds at this time, more perhaps than any other particular question, and that is the step that the Government are taking to try to introduce greater freedom into agricultural economy. I say at once that I make no apology for this move towards greater freedom. We believe fundamentally that by getting rid of some of the present rigidities we shall enable the healthy wind of enterprise, initiative and freedom to sweep away the cobwebs of 12 years of control. Far from being anxious about this, we believe that in this way we can hope for greater agricultural production, which is as important today as it has ever been in our history.
I fully realise, and I accept what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper said in his closing speech for the Opposition, that there is anxiety. I 1598 accept that absolutely, because after 12 years of regimentation it is not easy for farmers or any other members of the community to adjust themselves to the prospects of freedom. I realise, too, that freedom must not be the freedom to face an agricultural depression or the freedom to misuse our scarce resources of land in this country.
My colleagues and I have repeatedly said that we stand firmly behind the provisions of Part I of the Agricultural Act, and this problem which we have to face, and which we are in the process of trying to solve in consultation with the industry, is to adjust the method of providing guaranteed prices and assured markets to the conditions of freedom. I would ask the House to follow me here, because it has not been mentioned today and I think that it is important that it should be remembered, that this adjustment was contemplated even at the very date when the Agricultural Bill of 1947 was introduced in this House.
Let me quote—and I think the House should have it on record because there has been so much confused thought today —from the speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), whom we are all of us very sad not to see in his place today, when he moved the Second Reading of this Bill on 27th January, 1947. What did he say? I will remind the House, because some Members were not here then and some have obviously forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman said this:Stability is not necessarily synonymous with rigidity. Agriculture is composed of many different forms of production. Conditions vary widely, village by village, county by county, and area by area. Therefore, no single panacea can provide uniformity throughout the industry. The method of providing stability will vary accordingly. I think that it would be clearly wrong to attempt to lay down prices too far in advance or the conditions to be applied to any particular commodity.I entirely agree with those sentiments.
The right hon. Gentleman later in his speech said:The actual provision for any commodity may be a guaranteed fixed price, a deficiency payment related to the standard price, such as we had in regard to wheat in pre-war days, an acreage payment, such as we have for both wheat and potatoes today, or it may be a subsidy, or a price calculated according to a formula relating prices to feedingstuffs. Whichever method is applied, it will be after 1599 careful consideration in the light of all the circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 628–31.]
§ Mr. G. Brown
All that was typed out long before I and My hon. Friends addressed the House. I did not ask the Minister what my right hon. Friend said were a number of variations in 1947; I asked the Minister which ones he is using now to implement the action he is taking.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I shall come to that in good time. It is right that these statements should be on record.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It is clear from that statement that even at that time it was realised that, as we approached more normal conditions, the methods of implementing guaranteed prices and assured markets would need to be changed. It is the process of change that we are now discussing. I see no reason why, with goodwill and patience, and the fullest practicable consultation with representatives of the farmers and all the other interests, we should not arrive at conclusions which are reasonable and satisfactory from all points of view.
It has been suggested that one possible way of combining the stability of the Agriculture Act and freedom from control would be to use the machinery of the Agricultural Marketing Acts through which to operate guaranteed prices and assured markets. This has already been done for wool, and similar arrangements may be practicable for other commodities, but there is no universal solution—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
—which can be applied to every product as it is decontrolled.
Now I come to the definite statement that I can make on this, and I can go no further. All these matters must be for consultation with the industry. Each product has its own special problems and difficulties, and the arrangements must be adapted to the circumstances of each. The House must accept that. It is no good for me at the end of the debate on this early day in February to indicate which method we propose to use. We shall use the method which we 1600 believe to be the most appropriate in the best interests of the producers, after consultation with them, and the consumers.
We can easily appreciate that it would be improper to ask the right hon. Gentleman to discuss these details, which are properly details for the conferences, but surely we are not going to be asked to believe that the Government, having decided on these steps, had no proposals in principle to make to the National Farmers' Union, and if it did, surely we are entitled to know what the principles were?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I come now to the decisions already taken, and I will come straight away to the de-control of feedingstuffs.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I shall come to that in a minute. With regard to the decontrol of feedingstuffs, that is all set out perfectly clearly in the White Paper. There are really only two points about the de-control of feedingstuffs and cereals which are worrying the House.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The first is the question of whether, when de-control takes place, there will be a sufficient supply. The rate of imports after de-control will, in the first place, be sufficient to maintain the present supply of feedingstuffs, and during the first year after the end of feedingstuffs rationing—I come now to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper said—the Government will be prepared, in the event of any critical shortage of supplies leading to a serious upward trend in prices, to consider authorising such additional imports as may be needed to maintain a livestock population which is expanding in conformity with the White Paper programme issued after the 1952 Review.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you could ask the Minister not to read at all. I think there is a rule in this House against the reading of speeches.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is frequently broken by Ministers. The Minister's time is short, and I deprecate the raising of these points of order at this time.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper. I am satisfied with the supply position when de-control takes place. If I had not been satisfied I should not have allowed myself to be a party to the particular policy which has my entire support. I am satisfied that the supply position—
§ Mr. Brown
Does that mean that no extra currency is going to be required? Does the Minister—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister was not here. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister has not chosen to listen to the debate and he should keep quiet. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] I never answer that kind of call. I am asking the Minister, does he not think that any currency will be required, and, if he does, is he saying that dollars will be made available?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I do not say at all that I do not think any currency will be required, but if the right hon. Gentleman will read the White Paper carefully—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
If the right hon. Gentleman will read the White Paper carefully he will see that there are definitely circumstances mentioned in the White Paper which would enable dollars to be used in exceptional circumstances.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The right hon. Gentleman should look at paragraph 5, as it deals with the matter. I cannot answer all the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I will go on to the next point—[Interruption.]
These are all questions of interest which we have put and to which we want answers, and the Prime Minister should not interrupt.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The second point of concern to the House was the implementation of Part I of the Agriculture Act after de-control. There was some confusion in 1602 the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) when he opened the debate for he raised the question of 1954 in paragraph 3. It says that it is realised that the Minister of Food would be ready to buy any supplies offered under existing arrangements, after the 1953 harvest and then it goes on to say:Further, these arrangements will continue until the new permanent arrangements for implementing the price and market guarantees under the Agriculture Act, 1947 can be settled.There is no difficulty about that.
At the Annual Review this month the guaranteed price for cereals for the 1954 harvest will be fixed in exactly the same way as in previous years, that is, by reference to economic conditions in the industry as indicated in the statistical data which we normally use. I would say at once that the sooner permanent arrangements can be made as to the best way to handle the question of cereals the better it will be.
I am confident that farmers will welcome this freedom to buy what feeding-stuffs they need without any restriction. Any rationing scheme must be restrictive, but for pig and poultry producers feedingstuffs rationing is particularly so. It has been so largely based on 1939 conditions. To have changed the basis would, I admit, have helped a number of farmers while upsetting others. I am convinced that the right course has been taken, by doing away with rationing altogether. Livestock owners should continue to grow more coarse grains and fodder on their own holdings. I am certain that they will respond freely to that suggestion.
The right hon. Gentleman would now like me to say a word about eggs. I have to admit at once that I can only tell him four-fifths of the story at the moment. The decision to de-control eggs was a Government decision. Before that was taken, nobody was consulted. It was taken on broad lines of policy, which was a Government responsibility. Immediately that decision had been taken, discussions took place with the National Farmers' Unions of the three countries. We have not yet reached agreement with the representatives of the farmers as to the most suitable interim or long-term arrangements for marketing 1603 and for guaranteeing prices. Discussions are still proceeding. I hope to be able to resolve the difficulties over the next week or so. I cannot say more at this stage, but I hope it will not be long before an announcement can be made that marketing and price guarantee arrangements will take the place of present arrangements, after de-control in the spring. Now, as to long-term policy.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Hon. Gentlemen have criticised the Government for making no announcement about long-term policy. I refer them to paragraph 12 of the White Paper which we issued in the spring of 1952. They will there see the intention of the Government to increase production by 60 per cent. above pre-war. That stands. More generally, it is the policy of the Government to establish greater freedom for agriculture. We believe that that freedom will give greater efficiency and a quicker response to the needs of the consumer.
§ I could say a very great deal about the 1947 programme, but I would only say that the House should note what Her Majesty's Government have done to put new life into the agricultural industry during this year. When we took over in the autumn of 1951 the industry was in a depressed condition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Look at the facts. Between December, 1950, and December, 1951, the number of calves decreased by 133,000. Between December, 1951, and December, 1952, they increased by 128,000.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I have only time to say, in conclusion, that it would be the greatest pity if the House sought to divide on this issue tonight because, for the last 12 years, we have controlled the industry as a combined operation.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes. 199; Noes. 254.1607
|Division No. 72.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m|
|Acland, Sir Richard||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Adams, Richard||Deer, G.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Albu, A. H.||Delargy, H. J.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Dodds, N. N.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Donnelly, D. L.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)|
|Baird, J.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Balfour, A.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.|
|Bartley, P.||Edelman, M.||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Ballenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)|
|Bence, C. R.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Benson, G.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)|
|Beswick, F.||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Fernyhough, E.||Jones, T. W (Merioneth)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Fienburgh, W.||Keenan, W.|
|Blackburn, F.||Follick, M.||Kenyon, C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Foot, M. M.||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Boardman, H.||Freeman, John (Watford)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon A. G||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Gibson, C. W.||Lewis, Arthur|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Glanville, James||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Brookway, A. F.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||McInnes, J.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||McLeavy, F.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||McNeill, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||MacPherson, Malcom (Stirling)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hamilton, W. W.||Messer, F.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hargreaves, A.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Clunie, J.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Mitchison, G. R|
|Coldrick, W.||Hastings, S.||Monslow, W.|
|Collick, P. H.||Hayman, F. H.||Moody, A. S.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Herbison, Miss M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hobson, C. R.||Moyle, A.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Mulley, F. W|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Houghton, Douglas||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Orbach, M.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Oswald, T.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Weitzman, D.|
|Padley, W. E.||Slater, J.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Paget, R. T.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)||West, D. G.|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Parker, J.||Sparks, J. A.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Paton, J.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Wigg, George|
|Peart, T. F.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Plummer, Sir Leslie||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Popplewell, E.||Summerskill, Rt, Hon. E.||Willey, F. T.|
|Porter, G.||Swingler, S. T.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Sylvester, G. O.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Aberlillery)|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Proctor, W. T.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Rankin, John||Thomas, David (Aberdare)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Reid, William (Camlachie)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Ross, William||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Yates, V. F.|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Tomney, F.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Short, E. W.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||Viant, S. P.||Mr. Pearson and|
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Wallace, H. W.||Mr. Arthur Allen.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Cuthbert, W. N.||Holt, A. F.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Hope, Lord John|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||De la Bère, Sir Rupert||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Arbuthnot, John||Deedes, W. F.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Digby, S. Wingfield||Horobin, I. M.|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Harsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Donner, P. W.||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Barber, Anthony||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Drayson, G. B.||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Drewe, C.||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Duthie, W. S.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.||Jennings, R.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Erroll, F. J.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Finlay, Graeme||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)|
|Birch, Nigel||Fisher, Nigel||Jones, A. (Hall Green)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Black, C. W.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Kaberry, D.|
|Boothby, R. J. C||Fort, R.||Keeling, Sir Edward|
|Bossom, A. C.||Foster, John||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Bowen, E. R.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Lambton, Viscount|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Langford-Holt, J. A.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Law, Rt. Hon, R. K.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Glyn, Sir Ralph||Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Godber, J. B.||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Gough, C. F. H.||Lindsay, Martin|
|Bullard, D. G.||Gower, H. R.||Linstead, H. N.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Graham, Sir Fergus||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Burden F. F. A.||Grimond, J.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Campbell, Sir David||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Low, A. R. W.|
|Carr, Robert||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Carson, Hen. E||Harden, J. R. E.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Channon, H.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||McCallum, Major D.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W)||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Cole, Norman||Hay, John||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Colegate, W. A.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Heald, Sir Lionel||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Heath, Edward||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Higgs, J. M. C.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hollis, M. C.||Marples, A. E.|
|Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Remnant, Hon. P.||Summers, G. S.|
|Maude, Angus||Renton, D. L. M.||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Teeling, W.|
|Medlicott, Brig. F.||Robertson, Sir David||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Mellor, Sir John||Robson-Brown, W.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Molson, A. H. E.||Roper, Sir Harold||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas||Russell, R. S.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R (Croydon, W.)|
|Nabarro, G. D. N.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur||Turton, R. H|
|Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas||Vane, W. M F.|
|Nugent, G. R. H.||Scott, R. Donald||Vosper, D. F.|
|Nutting, Anthony||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Oakshott, H. D.||Shepherd, William||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Walker-Smith, D C.|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Smithers, Feter (Winchester)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Osborne, C.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Perkins, W. R. D.||Snadden, W. McN.||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Soames, Capt. C.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Peyton, J. W. W.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Speir, R. M.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Pitman, I. J.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Wills, G.|
|Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Stevens, G. P.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Prior-Paymer, Brig. O. L.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Profumo, J. D.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M|
|Raikes, Sir Victor||Storey, S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Rayner, Brig. R.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Redmayne, M.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Sir Herbert Butcher.|
Question put, and agreed to.