LORD BROCKET moved to resolve, That an agreed long-term policy for agriculture is essential in the interests of the nation. The noble Lord said: My Lords, some of your Lordships may recollect that in the very important agricultural debate introduced by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, on May 21, the noble Earl said that that debate was not the exact time to discuss long-term policy. Since that debate we have had in your Lordships' House a debate on planning in which the noble Lord, Lord Reith, made two very important speeches, on July 17. In his speech he said, regarding the central planning authority:
The Minister of Agriculture has been closely in consultation throughout, and quite clearly the central planning authority has to subserve—that term has been used this afternoon—national policy in agriculture which he, I believe, is in the process, the urgent process, of formulating.
Later Lord Reith further said:
Before a central planning authority in its final form can be established a vast amount of work has to be done on agriculture, industrial development, and transport.
Your Lordships will therefore notice that the Minister of Agriculture is in process of forming a long-term policy.
§ In view of the fact that he is at present in process of formulating it, we must not be disappointed if the noble Duke does not produce the detailed policy this afternoon. We do not expect that in any way at the moment. We hope it will be produced in due course, and that it will be a long-term policy which will be satisfactory to all the interests in agriculture and to the nation in general. I—and some friends of mine agreed with me, and, in fact, persuaded me to put down this Motion—considered that it might be a great help for your Lordships to debate long-term policy. It might even be a help to the Minister of Agriculture and to the noble Duke to hear some of the views which your Lordships who are more experienced than I am will put forward.
§ I get about a good deal in agricultural circles, and if there is one thing which is in any way holding back the absolute one hundred per cent. effort of farmers it is the lingering doubt in their minds that after this war is over the same thing will happen to them as befell them after the last war. Your Lordships will remember that during the last war increased production in agriculture was pushed ahead as much as possible. Farmers, owing to the very nature of their business, have to budget ahead, and they did budget ahead. After that war there were large sales of land at which many of them bought their land at high prices, and that land has been a millstone round their necks ever since. As a matter of interest I may mention that, four years ago, I purchased a farm which my father had sold after the last wax. The tenant said to me how delighted he was that I had the farm again and he had not to pay the tithes and other charges, which he did not think would be quite so heavy. It is true to say that farmers all over the country have this lingering doubt that the same thing will happen again. They do not trust those whom they call the politicians as much as some of us politicians think they should trust us. Therefore this debate this afternoon, if it elicits from the noble Duke that the Government have a long-term policy in preparation, and intend not to let agriculture down after the war, if it does nothing else, will have done a great deal of good.
§ In the years between the two wars agriculture, although a certain number of 980 measures were brought in to help it, was not really subject to a sufficiently long-term policy I think I can say this, however, that the recent Ministers of Agriculture, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith and Mr. Hudson, have really done a vast amount of good. It is only right to pay just tribute where tribute is due. If one goes about the country one can see—I am glad the Prime Minister said this yesterday—better crops than we have had for years. I only hope that no misfortune will befall them before they are gathered in. I trust that farmers will keep a weather eye open for any enemy action on these crops.
§ In my Motion I have stated that "an agreed long-term policy of agriculture is essential in the interests of the nation." I discussed the form of the Motion with one or two noble Lords before putting it down. We came to the conclusion that the word "agreed" was an absolutely necessary word. In our political system we cannot have any long-term policy unless the various political Parties are agreed on it, and unless a subject like agriculture is as far as possible removed from the cockpit of Party politics. It is quite hopeless, I am sure your Lordships will agree, to have five years of one policy, then a General Election, and then four or five years of another policy. That is bad for any form of industry, and particularly bad for agriculture. Therefore, as in this war all classes and all political Parties are welded together to win the war, I hope political Parties will agree between themselves on a policy for agriculture which will give agriculture its rightful place in times of peace. In addition, other interests than those of the British Isles are involved. The British Dominions beyond the seas and the Colonies are involved; and also we are having very solid and great help in our war effort from the United States. No doubt the United States will also be involved, and their interests will have to be considered. But, before the Empire and other countries have to be consulted, the long-term policy must be agreed between members of the various political Parties.
§ I do not wish this afternoon in any way to appear controversial or dogmatic because, as I said before, many of your Lordships have your own very excellent views on agriculture. I feel that mine 981 are, perhaps, very humble views, but they are views which I have formed as the result both of study and experience. The key word, in my opinion, for agriculture and for the long-term policy should be "security." This word "security" divides itself into the following points: (1), security for the land itself by the maintenance of fertility; (2), security of good wages and improved amenities for the farm worker; (3), security and guaranteed reasonably profitable prices for the farmer; (4), security of tenure for the efficient landowner; and (5), security for the provision of adequate finance.
§ I am not going to take very long in discussing each of these subjects, because there are several of your Lordships who wish to speak, but I think it will be generally agreed that the maintenance of fertility is absolutely essential. Neither the farmer, nor the farm worker, nor the landowner nor in fact anyone who has any interest in the land can exist if fertility is all drawn out of the land and nothing is put back. We are getting to the stage of this war when it begins to look as if planning for three years of war would have to be extended. In many parts of the country the second or the third white straw crop is now growing, and it is very important that part of the land which is at present under straw crops should be seeded down, so that we should get back the fertility which was stored up when the land was under grass.
§ I am very glad indeed as an ordinary Back-Bencher to welcome the assurance that the lime subsidy is continued to 1944. I also am glad, in view of the difficulties which so many of us experienced in getting slag, that the money which has been devoted to the basic slag subsidy, should be spread over other fertilizers, but it is also important that no more cattle than is absolutely necessary should be killed. I am glad to say that it now appears as if the fears of farmers that large quantities of these cattle which make manure for the land would have to be killed are, to a certain extent, being reduced or dissipated. I know there are other noble Lords who may perhaps talk about the necessity for the preservation of fertility, but I feel it is absolutely right to put that point as No. 1 of any long-term agricultural programme.982
§ The second point under the head of security is good wages and improved amenities for the farm worker. I would not like in any way to trespass on to the subject of agricultural wages, which is now so much before the country, but I yesterday heard Mr. Bevin in the other place say that wages always followed prices up and that wages always followed prices down. In agriculture prices now are following wages, and if farm-workers wages are put up—and, if I may say so, I think they deserve all they get—prices will have to conform with those extra wages or the farmer will not be able to make a living. In the past, all wage standards in the country have been built up from the low, much too low wage standards of agricultural workers, and I hope it will be possible in the long-term policy that agricultural workers shall be given a wage which, when calculated with the different allowances and amenities, such as very low-rented houses and perhaps free milk and so on, will be no lower than any other wage standards in the towns. It is very necessary that men should be kept on the land, and I feel that this inequality in agricultural wages has been one of the reasons why so many farm-workers have left their work and gone to the towns.
§ I have the words "improved amenities" also in this point No. 2. Now in 1926 the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was passed—a very good Act for improving rural cottages, but an Act which has not been used as much as it should have been used. Acts of that kind should be really used, and owners of houses should be encouraged to use them. In addition there are other Acts which enable landowners and local councils to build cottages for agricultural workers. I hope that building under those Acts will be stimulated. It is also essential that as far as possible water supply and drainage should be improved in the villages, and, if possible, electricity should be brought to villages. There is no doubt that all these three things would help very much in making the life of the agricultural worker living in a village, or near a farm, more attractive. I have also, later on, a little to say about landowners. I do hope, after this war, that it will be possible for many landowners and big farmers to live at their places in the country. It looks to me as if, after 983 this war, the standards of living of many people will be very different from what they were before the war, and I hope that it will be possible, and in fact I think that it will probably be necessary, for many people to devote themselves to a country life and to produce the food they are going to eat. If that is so, I hope that in the villages we shall not always see that the larger house is empty, because when you have leadership in the villages I feel sure there is much more life and much more attraction for the workers on the land to live in those villages.
§ My third point is security and guaranteed reasonably profitable prices for the farmer. No elaboration is really needed for this point, but I think it is a fact that the farmer cannot exist, nor can he pay his larm workers, if the prices he is allowed to enjoy are not reasonably profitable. Speaking as a Back-Bench Conservative I would be quite willing to agree, for my own part, with some of the schemes which the noble Lord who sits on the Front Bench opposite (Lord Addison) brought forward when I first got into the House of Commons, and which at that time were not always so acceptable to the members of my Party as they may be now. I do not think members of any Party would wish to stick to Party remedies. I feel that the question is far too serious for that, and the necessity for the long-term policy is far too great.
§ It is quite possible that there may be a necessity for a certain extent of control, for a continuation of control. You may have what I have heard called "the wheat scheme" applied to the meat scheme, and you may have lots of other schemes. I do not intend to take up your Lordships' time by going into those schemes this afternoon, but I feel sure that Lord Addison will agree with me that it is absolutely necessary that some scheme should be brought in which, while enabling foreign foodstuffs to come into this country at a reasonable price, does not permit them to come in at such a price and with such freedom that the English farmer is entirely ruined. If I might add one word on that point it is this. I have very often talked to farmers and they have said "Well, we would like to have taxes or tariffs on foreign foodstuffs, but what happens when the Empire foodstuffs 984 come in and ruin us just as much as the foreign foodstuffs?" That is a point which, before this war, the Conservative Party perhaps did not quite regard with sufficient seriousness. I feel certain that if the farmer is ruined he does not much mind whether he is ruined by his Canadian cousin or by somebody outside the Empire.
§ I come to my fourth point, security of tenure for the efficient landowner. This is a point on which I do not mean to be controversial. It may seem in your Lordships' House, where there are so many landowners and so many practical farmers, that I am making a plea for landowners, and to a certain extent I am, because I think in the structure of farming they are very necessary. But I have put in the word "efficient" and I have put it in for this reason, that at the present time nobody in the country would wish to allow inefficiency. The war agricultural executive committees arc turning out inefficient farmers. I am just going to take over three farms the tenants of which are being turned out. I have been trying to get rid of them for years, but under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, I have been unable to do so. Now the committees are coming to my aid, and I certainly hope that some such committees, their lineal descendants, will continue after the war. I have put in the word "efficient" because I think that the good and efficient landowner does play his part in the life of the countryside, and it is necessary if he is going to remain in the economic system of the countryside that he should be enabled to be efficient.
I do not think I can do better than quote a few sentences from a book called The Hope of a New World which was written by the Archbishop of York about a year ago. In that book, on page 53, he says:
It must, however, be recognised, that the rural landlord discharges many social functions, and ownership of agricultural land, subject to consideration of the public welfare, should not be subject to the same restrictions as ownership of industrial stocks and shares; moreover, as family tradition is in this field a valuable social asset, I should personally urge the total exemption of all agricultural land from Death Duties.
Further on, at page 57, he discusses bureaucracy, and he says:
But the bane of our democracy is the red-tape in the clerical departments of national
and municipal offices. To let this loose upon rural England would lead to calamity.
The present system combines all the disadvantages. We leave the private landlord in possession and make it impossible for him properly to discharge the social responsibilities of his station.
What I would suggest in that connection is that there would be some sort of Commission formed—I do not suggest the exact composition of it—which would give a certificate to a landowner or to an owner-occupier that his estate is in what one might call reasonably good order, and that on the issue of such a certificate Death Duties should not be charged on the estate until it is sold.
§ We are always willing, in this country, to try to get the best we can out of a system, and whereas it may be put forward with righteousness that there is room far some such Commission as the Forestry Commission to deal with derelict land—that of course is a suggestion which might come from the other side of your Lordships' House—I think that before a system of land ownership which has lasted eight or nine centuries comes to an end, it is right that we should try and make it possible for a good landowner, as the Archbishop of York says, to fulfil his social functions. I would also say that his functions are not only social. He plays a great part. At present one cannot get labour, but when it is possible to get labour the landowner can do a very great deal in the repair and improvement of buildings and in forestry. I would add two or three words on that point. I would like it to be possible for improvements of farm buildings to be brought into maintenance claims. That perhaps is rather a technical point, but nearly all your Lordships know all about maintenance claims. I think if improvements could be included in maintenance claims, that would be a very good way of bringing farm buildings up to date.
§ The last point I would like to make about the landowner is in relation to forestry. It is almost impossible for landowners to do what they should in the way of afforestation unless they know that they will have security of tenure. Very few landowners are planting oak trees at present. They often plant conifers, larch and so on, because they feel that the crop will mature in a reasonably short time, whereas if they plant oak trees their successors may not be owners of the land 986 when the oak trees come to maturity. I do not wish to trespass on the preserves of the Royal English Forestry Society or the Royal Scottish Forestry Society—I know that they and the Forestry Commission are working very hard trying to work out a forestry policy—but I would like to say that if it is necessary in the ordinary business of landowning and of agriculture for a landowner to have security, it is all the more necessary for the planter of trees to Have security.
§ My fifth point is that there should be security by the provision of adequate finance. If an owner or an owner-occupier has security, I cannot help feeling that either the banks or whatever corporation may be set up would be more willing to lend him money at a low rate of interest to enable him to make improvements on the land he owns or on the land he farms. I do not intend to say much about finance except that agriculture has suffered for many years; from lack of it, and I feel that in anything like a long-term policy some system of credit is absolutely necessary. If one goes to other countries one finds that money is lent to a landowner to be repaid over thirty years, and I have seen a great many improvements made in farm buildings and farm houses, and generally on the estates of landowners, out of money which the landowners are gradually repaying over thirty years. I think something of that kind might be very useful in this country. It may be that the noble Duke when he replies will only be able to reply in what I might perhaps call a preliminary fashion to-day, but I hope that when the Minister of Agriculture in due course announces his long-term policy it will be the foundation of a healthy, prosperous and good agriculture for many years when peace returns to this country. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That an agreed long-term policy for agriculture is essential in the interests of the nation.—(Lord Brocket.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I think that there could be no division of opinion anywhere, in view of our tragic war experience, on the argument that there should be an agricultural policy in this country which will lead to a better use of the land. I think that every one of us whose business it has been during the 987 present war to go about the country and take part, sometimes, in the efforts that are being made to increase production, has been reminded sadly enough of the state of affairs that prevailed in the last war, when somewhat similar efforts were made. Much energy was devoted to those efforts, and we were all of one accord that we must never allow the mistakes which then happened to recur. I can recall very readily many promises that were made to that effect. I recall, too, very vividly what happened afterwards. We are still suffering in this country—I will say a word or two on this subject in a minute—from the tragic disappointment which ensued.
The other day, at the invitation of the Minister of Agriculture, I, with many more, went to see some very enterprising work which is being carried out in the County of Huntingdon, where land which had been allowed to revert to briars and bushes has been brought back into cultivation. We saw hundreds of acres of very good crops growing on land which within the last two years was a wilderness, but as we went along the bumpy road—if you could call it a road—which provided access to these fields, the thing which struck many of us was that whichever way you looked you could not see a house. There were no houses; they had disappeared. There was a village not far off, where we assembled, but I was told, on inquiry, that the population had dwindled to a few tens almost; much less than a hundred. That was a place which, clearly, was once a prosperous village. Another village, which would normally have supplied the labour to be employed on the land now being reclaimed, had disappeared altogether, and there was nothing there but a few tumbledown cottages.
In the county where I live, I know one part where there is something like a thousand acres of good land, like this in Huntingdon, which two years ago, was a place where thistles and brambles grew and little else, but which is now yielding good crops. These are cases which could be multiplied a hundredfold as we know; they are not fancy illustrations. This land is good land which is being used now as it ought to be used; that is, scientifically for the production of the food which it is suitable for growing. But apart from 988 this we all know that from one end of the country to the other farm buildings, farm roads and other things which go to make the conduct of farming possible are in a deplorable state of dilapidation. At the same time, just as in the case of these villages in Huntingdon, so from one end of the country to the other the skilled men have gone, and the bright boys of the families for years past have sought to find jobs somewhere else.
I have myself taken the view for a long time, and have said in season and out of season, that our land is worth something better than that; that taking it altogether we have some of the finest land in the world, and although we may grumble at the weather with unfailing regularity, we have for the purpose of food production a very excellent climate, taking the country as a whole. There is no doubt also that we have still remaining craftsmen in husbandry and different branches of agriculture, and in stock-rearing, who are unsurpassed in the world. That is why it is that for generations past they have come to British farmers from distant places to stock their herds. Well, I do not think there is any question as to what the reason is, at rock bottom, for the declension. It is that the nation has not thought it worth while, during the last fifty years, to have a policy which ensures the efficient use of our land. That is why it is that this deplorable state of affairs has gradually arisen. I think that the discredit for this rests equally on all Parties. If we are to prevent a repetition after this war of the disgraceful decline that followed after the last war, and that had been setting in for many years before that time, then we must have such agreement upon this matter of prime importance as will lead to a sustained, developing and prosperous industry in our countryside. Unless we can obtain agreement on this matter the inevitable will recur.
I should like, if I may, to pay a modest tribute to the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture and to the lines upon which they are proceeding. I think they are laying the foundation for what, if we have the good sense to preserve it, will provide security and improvement in agriculture. The biggest obstacle which everyone experiences is the obstacle which is presented by the minds of the farmers and all others concerned with the land. They 989 always ask the question—everyone of us who has had anything to do with this matter has been asked it, I am sure, scores of times—"What is going to happen afterwards?". Whenever we ask a farmer to spend money—and these things cost money—to plough up land and undertake a series of cultivations which must inevitably extend over a number of years, he is entitled to know within reason what is going to happen. The memory of 1921 has done more to poison the efforts of this time than anything else. I hope that we shall with one accord decide that this discreditable experience shall not be repeated.
There are, I think, certain admitted essentials. I shall diligently steer clear of saying anything which might in any way present the slightest difficulty to the noble Duke and to his colleagues. I shall certainly not introduce any controversial element at all. I think, however, that it is recognised by everybody that we must have a system which will arrest this shocking neglect of good land, and that cannot be done unless, at the same time, there is a system which provides adequate equipment. I remember that when I was Minister of Agriculture there was provided for me a return of what was necessary to bring farm equipment up to a reasonable standard. By that I mean the provision of such things as adequate farm roads. We were in Huntingdonshire the other day, and any one who has been there and has seen the fields over which we tramped will appreciate the need for adequate farm roads; how they are going to cart the corn from those distant reclaimed fields, I dread to contemplate. Adequate farm roads are essential to the proper conduct of the industry, and that is even more true of buildings. The figure given to me in 1931 was that the expenditure called for would be in the neighbourhood of £250,000,000. It is a big figure, although it is nothing compared with what is being spent in these days. To the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, or compared with the Budget with which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack presented us the other day, £250,000,000 is a mere bagatelle. I say with complete confidence, however, that if we can devise a system which will provide for the adequate re-equipment, on scientific, up-to-date lines, of our farms, it would be one of the best investments that the nation 990 could possibly make, whether it cost £250,000,000 or twice that figure.
But we must have a system which will give confidence to those engaged in the industry. I myself was responsible for introducing the Agricultural Marketing Act, which, as we have been reminded, incurred some criticism; but, whatever we may say about that measure or about the things which have followed from it, it is evident that there must be a system which will enable the producer to feel that he can rely on obtaining a fair price for his product, and not be subject to the absurd variation under which he gets, say 35s. for a lamb one September and 25s. a year later for an equally good animal. Nobody can conduct an industry on that basis. As a matter of fact, agriculture is the only industry in the country which has been habitually conducted on the basis of a gamble. It is necessary for us to frame a policy which will emancipate it from that hazard and, unless we do, there is no hope that enterprising, knowledgeable people will put their minds and hearts into the industry.
Another essential is to have a system which will provide a proper life and proper opportunity for the agricultural labourer. He is probably the most highly skilled workman in the country, and it is entirely wrong that we have ever allowed a habit of speech to grow up which has treated him as if he were the lowest class in the labouring world. He is not. I am a countryman myself, and I must admit possessing the prejudices which arise therefrom; but I regard the skilled agricultural labourer as belonging to the first class of skilled labour, and I say that he ought to have a decent chance in life. We must therefore secure, not only to him but to his boys and girls, the amenities and schools and cottages and so on that are worthy of his work and which will, moreover, help to keep him on the land. In times past, as we all know, these men have looked for jobs for their boys on the railways, or anywhere except where they are themselves. It is not that they do not love the land and the country; they do, but they feel that it does not give them chance enough. That has been the case for a long time, and no industry can prosper if year after year the bright young men drift away from it.
991 We must make it attractive for brains and enterprise to remain in the industry. That is why I think we shall have to contemplate a different form, in many respects, for many of our agricultural processes, and perhaps in some cases a different form of farming, so as to give a hierarchy of different types in the industry. At all events, it is clear that we ought to have an industry where, just as in other great industries, a young man with brains can make headway apart from the fact of having capital. In every other industry young fellows with brains can get on simply because they have brains, but in farming unless you have a certain amount of capital you cannot farm. That has been a big handicap for a long time.
There is another point which should be mentioned. Apart from the fact that we cannot look forward to making our countryside what it ought to be unless we can have an agreed policy on this matter, we ought to take care that we do not postpone the effort unduly. I foresee that after the war there will be such a scramble to get back somehow to some ordered and peaceful system that we shall be rushed too much, and we shall be likely to overlook the possibilities of agreement which present themselves to us now. It is very necessary, therefore, that every effort should be made to make progress with this endeavour. I say this with confidence, because I know that the Minister of Agriculture is using considerable efforts to make progress now, and I should like to take this opportunity of wishing him well. It seems to me that these are the two quite simple essentials that we must have before us: we ought to have a policy which will make a right and full use of our land, and a policy which will give life and hope and opportunity to those who work on the land. If we get those two things we shall have the essentials. Speaking entirely for myself, I do not think that it would be impossible, or that it would be even very difficult, to arrive at a sufficient agreement. But I do think that it will be necessary as a part of any agreement for the future that it should be embodied in a form which will not be subject to the vicissitudes of accidental political changes, because this is a long-term business anyhow, and we must have that in mind when we deal with it. I will end with this simple sentence. I 992 think the Minister of Agriculture to-day—and I envy him—has a glorious opportunity. I hope he will seize it.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, it seems to be in no way surprising that it should have been desired to have a debate on general agricultural policy before we disperse to resume again in the autumn, and I think it is natural, as was explained by both the noble Lords, Lord Brocket and Lord Addison, to look forward to something in the nature of a long-term policy—far more than it is possible to consider long-term policy in connection with a great many international affairs. I was glad to note that Lord Brocket did not expect the noble Duke who represents the Ministry of Agriculture in your Lordships' House to be able to-day to give anything like a detailed or categorical answer to questions of long-term policy. It is quite clear that it is too soon to attempt to do that. At the same time, I altogether agree with Lord Addison that whenever the war ends a great number of questions affecting agriculture will at once become active and demand consideration.
I think it is possible that the phrase "a long-term Government policy" may create some alarm in a section of the agricultural community, which may fear an indefinite continuance of restrictions and prohibitions, and I imagine that some of them would say: "We trust that the Government policy will interfere with us as little as possible and leave us to work out our business with as much regard as possible to individual capacity and enterprise." The old-fashioned type of farmer, whom many of us can remember, has always been an ingrained individualist, but no doubt the younger generation of farmers who have been brought up in agricultural colleges, take a wider view; still, I think it is fair to say that the British farmer remains much of an individualist. That is a quality which has been recognised by the noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench.
Although it has been the declared policy of the Opposition Party to eliminate the landlord as far as possible, there is never a question of abolishing the tenant or of curtailing the business of farming as an enterprise. When I speak of eliminating the landlord, of course I am aware that 993 confiscation has never been at all the policy of the Opposition Party. It is intended that if the land is nationalised compensation should be paid for the landlord's interests, although it is not, on such a scale as the landlord would think adequate. Therefore it must be understood that in any policy the agricultural tenant will remain, and it is also obvious that the farm worker, of whom the mover of the Motion spoke sympathetically, has to be specially considered in any form of long-term policy. It is agreed by everybody that agricultural wages in the past were miserably low, although there were some compensations which made the figure not quite so miserable as it appeared. It is quite clear that the unions of land workers are fully aware of the power they possess of combining for a reasonable wage.
That is, of course, one of the elements in considering what is really the essential point of this whole debate—namely, can British farming be made to pay the producer? because it is quite evident that the profit to the producer cannot be increased by raising the prices of the necessities of life which are the main products of our British farms. It seems to me useless to adduce instances of exceptional farmers who have been able to work their land at a profit while their neighbours have not done so. All of us who have been connected with the land know instances of remarkable men who, by some acts of almost genius, such as their special skill in jobbing cattle or inducing their neighbours to pay regular sums for the assistance of haulage and so on, have been able to go on from being smallholders to getting the tenancy of quite a considerable farm. But what has to be considered is how an average hard-working man is able to get on.
That brings us in turn to the old controversy, now just one hundred years old, between Free Trade and Protection as applied to agriculture. It is just one hundred years since Sir Robert Peel formed his Government and began by reducing a great number of duties on all sorts of imports, culminating five years later in the abolition of the Corn Laws. After a period when the dispute appeared to be dormant it again revived and, as we all know, without going into history, this country has become a definitely Protectionist country. Protection for farmers, 994 of course, cuts both ways. A man may receive £5 a ton more for his potatoes or 10s. a quarter more for his wheat, and may find that the higher prices he has to pay for agricultural implements or foreign mineral imports make something like a balance between his loss and his gain, and therefore the duties on the purely agriculture import are not very much use to him.
It is also true that nobody in this country is going to submit to the ruin of our great national agriculture. I do not hold that this need become at all an insoluble question. I think now that the most enthusiastic Protectionist realizes, particularly since the last war, that the interpretation which in some countries, especially in the newly-formed countries, has been given to the rather overworked phrase "self-determination" by translating it into pure economic selfishness, has not proved to be to the advantage of anybody, even of those countries themselves. On the other hand, the most convinced Free Trader equally realises that to return at once to a system of free imports of all kinds, including agricultural produce, would dislocate a great number of industries and would undoubtedly prove the ruin of a great many individual farmers. Therefore the whole of that question will have to be very carefully considered with a view to devising whatever arrangements can be made for keeping agriculture alive. From the point of view of my noble friends on these Benches, subsidies when they have to be paid are greatly preferable to tariffs and quotas for the reasons which I gave a few moments ago.
I certainly by no means fear that in a long-term policy an arrangement cannot be made which would prove to be reasonably satisfactory even to the theorists on both sides of the question. It is reasonable to say that agriculture must, in a degree, be subject to the rules which govern the means of national defence, which by common consent have never been subject to free importation. The analogy cannot be pressed too far, but to a point it may reasonably be held that some form of "protection", if that is the word, of agriculture, as such, can be regarded as being on a different footing from a great many forms of keeping alive industries which could not otherwise permanently be carried on.
995 It is not necessary to attempt to indicate the various methods by which either the Central Government or local bodies can give assistance to agriculture in the coming years. For one thing, I trust it will be agreed that every help ought to be given to what is really the most distinctive and, in some respects, most valuable feature in our whole system of agriculture. I mean the preservation and assistance of those special breeds of different kinds of stock for which this island is so celebrated. The export of the different breeds of horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs which are so famous, and which it is quite unnecessary to enumerate in this House, is a source, and a continuing source, of wealth to this country. It has to be borne in mind that when animals of special breeds are exported it is not merely a single transaction, like the export of a ton of coal, but it is a transaction which has to be continually repeated, because the types of the different breeds, as I think some of your Lordships who travel in foreign countries recognise, tend to alter and always to deteriorate in other parts of the world.
One of the most striking instances of that is close to home. It is one of the lamentable features of the occupation of the Channel Islands that most of us do not know what is happening to the two famous breeds of cattle there. Those of your Lordships who have had the pleasure of possessing herds of either of these beautiful breeds will remember how, every two or three years, it is always necessary to go back to the island bull or there will be a perceptible change in the character of the herd. The same thing is true of all the different breeds of cattle and horses, both in North and South America, South Africa and some of the other Dominions. Therefore, any sort of assistance to the societies that deal with those animals by ensuring means of transport, and low freights and other advantages that can be given, will, I am sure, be found to be advantageous. There are, of course, other means of encouraging these special breeds through central and local societies. I would merely say in conclusion that I am sure it is a mistake to take a gloomy view of the future of British agriculture, and I repeat once more that so far as possible Government assistance should 996 be of an advisory rather than of a dictatorial form, leaving as much scope as possible for individual skill and even for healthy rivalry and competition.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, most of us have either taken part or listened to the debates in the past either in this House or in another place when the use of the land was discussed, and, casting our minds back, we have recollections of great divergencies of opinion. Those of us who had to fight Elections, particularly in cities, will remember the conflict of opinion which manifested itself at election time over the whole question of food production, farming and agriculture I find, speaking now, after a member of each of the three Parties has spoken, that instead of a sharp conflict and cleavage of opinion there is a great measure of agreement, and an even greater desire to achieve a still greater measure of agreement. I am myself substantially in agreement with most of the views which have been put before your Lordships. That being the case, I will try not to cover exactly the same points as previous speakers.
I think we would all agree that in these days, when one has to look forward to post-war planning, agriculture must also receive attention. We have read in the Press recently that the three political Parties either have set up, or are setting up, committees on reconstruction, and that being the case it is quite right that: your Lordships should now be taking part: in a discussion as to planning for the future of this major and most important: industry. Although the personnel of your Lordships' House will not change after the next Election, I shall be very much surprised if there is not a very substantial alteration of the personnel in another place. Nobody can forecast what kind of country we are going to have if the war continues, or even if it were to end at once. That being the case I think we are indebted to the noble Lord or having given us this opportunity of discussing this big question. He and others very rightly pointed out that one cannot merely discuss this as a national issue. We have to take into consideration our relationship with the Dominions, and our relationship with the United States, with whom, I say quite frankly, I hope as the war goes on we shall find ourselves cooperating to an ever greater extent. That fact undoubtedly must be taken into consideration 997 when we are discussing the future of British farming.
Future planning of agriculture provides special difficulties. Agriculture is going through a period of change, of revolution. We talk of the new technique of agriculture. By that we mean use of the discoveries associated with the physicist, the engineer, the chemist, the biologist. And that change has not finished yet. One of the difficulties in planning for agriculture is to know exactly what discoveries are going to be made in the near future. One might take for instance the very recent discoveries connected with grass drying, the increased use of ensilage, the management of grassland associated with the name of Professor Stapledon. These recent discoveries affect profoundly the whole course of British agriculture. It would be undesirable to do anything to stabilize agriculture as it is today. Every discovery tends to upset the programme or the management of individual farms. We have to be very careful, when looking ahead and planning as we ought to do, to remember that we cannot chloroform the inventor and we ought not to try to by-pass inventions. Any planning of agriculture must allow for the periodic modification of the structure of agriculture.
People apply different tests as to whether agriculture is in a flourishing condition. Agriculture is tested sometimes according to the number' of acres under cereals or the number of people employed on the land. Those two tests must inevitably be vitally influenced by the development of mechanisation and by inventions and discoveries. It seems to me that the real test as to whether agriculure is in a good condition or not is the quantity of food produced per acre. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, brought out the fact that many farms in many parts of the country are not producing what they ought to be producing, and might be producing with proper application of modern science and modern methods. Another test undoubtedly is the standard of living of people associated with agriculture, and by that I mean both farmers and labourers.
As I see it, agriculture faces two big dangers. There is first the fact that periodically producers of food in this country are faced with serious world slumps in prices, slumps in prices which 998 they cannot foresee, over which they have no control whatever, and which can spell ruin, even for the most efficient farmer. When the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, talked of security I would differentiate in the use of the term "security." I think the community ought to be asked to guarantee efficient farmers against ruin by guaranteeing bottom prices. I do not think it would be fair to ask the community as a whole to guarantee profit, because if you guarantee a profit to agriculture why not to the coal mining or any other industry? One has to bear that essential difference in mind. The next danger which faces agriculture is a danger which many of us have experienced in the past, and that is an electoral slump affecting the Party that comes forward with an agricultural programme. I remember that at my first Parliamentary election I was faced with the so-called dear food bogey. Today the position is different, even though the effects of recent legislation and administration and lines of policy were not entirely foreseen when introduced. We find that we can help farmers, not by making home-produced food dear, but cheapening it by subsidizing the consumption of health foods, and thereby getting the interest and support of the town voter, of the parents and of all who are interested in the rising generation.
It seems to me, speaking as a social reformer, that the next problem facing us is that of malnutrition. We have dealt with housing, with education and so on. We have laid the foundation. There is still a problem of malnutrition in this country. By that I do not mean starvation or malnutrition which manifests itself in rickets or other diseases; but there is a very large amount of malnutrition which can be described as sub-normal health, a form of malnutrition which may lead, at different times, to some disease because the individual's power of resistance has been diminished through not having enough of the right food. Every impartial inquirer who has looked into the question will say that even in this country and in the United States of America, two of the countries with perhaps the highest standard of living, there is a real problem of malnutrition.
If we can link up the solution of that problem with our agricultural policy we shall find that the interest of the town 999 voter, the consumer, will be to vote for our agricultural policy instead of our being faced, as in the past, with votes against dear food. I do not need to go into the various steps taken in recent years to subsidize the consumption of health foods. We know that the cheap milk scheme has led to an enormous increase in the consumption of milk, and has brought prosperity to countless farms. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has been responsible for a measure whereby pregnant women and nursing mothers with small incomes are guaranteed a quantity of milk for themselves and for their children under five years of age. There have been various other steps, taken little by little, which are going to spell prosperity for British agriculture. The mother whose child has been benefited by cheap or free milk is going to vote for our agricultural policy, and we are going to get a measure of security for agricultural policy if it is associated with a policy of combating malnutrition.
Obviously, that is not the whole policy. I merely bring it forward as being the corner stone of an agricultural policy. Health foods, milk, vegetables, eggs, fruit, are produced in all parts of this country, and as one noble Lord who spoke earlier indicated, our climate is very good for the production of health foods. Health foods are foods where freshness counts, and in this matter we have an advantage over competitors. So far as we get this policy of better nutrition adopted by the State, whether nationally or through local authorities, and so far as we get health food subsidies, and thereby cheapen these health foods, we shall get electoral security for farmers. I, for one, would not be afraid to advocate on any platform giving many young children free food—for I believe that the money so spent would be well spent—in the same way as we have free education. I could quote countless instances where young children who have received proper food are not only better physically but better mentally also, better able to get full advantage from the very large expenditure of money on their education.
I am not going to examine every commodity. I have said that we were going through an era of change due to new 1000 discoveries. I hope that the noble Lord and those who are associated with him, when they are planning for the future, will plan for a large expenditure of money on research, more particularly in respect of the eradication and diminution of animal diseases. I remember a speech which was made before the war by the then Minister of Agriculture. I think he said that in the opinion of the Department of which he was head, the cost to the country of preventible animal disease was something in the neighbourhood of £14,000,000 a year, but, whatever the exact figure may have been, everybody who has had anything to do with agriculture knows that with cows, with beef production, with sheep, and with poultry there is a large amount of preventible disease which could be and ought to be eradicated. I think it very important that this should be taken into consideration.
Undoubtedly there will be an increased demand for increased production of what I call health foods. I think that as regards beef we ought to concentrate more on the improvement of quality rather than on developing the quantity of the beef that is produced here. Our best beef cattle are the best in the world, but I think most people would agree that when you get away from the best the average quality of much of our live stock is not nearly so good as it ought to be. That is partly due to the fact that we have been slow—much slower than they have been in Ireland for instance—in eliminating scrub bulls. The result is that we have a number of animals either being prepared for market or being put on the market which we should be far better without. This is important because increased milk production means an increase in the quantity of cow-beef. It is very important, therefore, that we should do all we can to improve the general quality.
Previous speakers have referred to the desirability of bringing the agricultural labourer into the picture. I believe that there is a great deal that can be done. You have only to go into rural districts to see the need for improvement in water supplies, for bringing electricity into the villages and for providing better food and a greater amount of food for school children in schools in rural districts; that is to say, the need there is for improvement in our social services. If we do all these we shall do a great deal to 1001 check the exodus from rural districts into the cities. But however much we do for agriculture, I think we have got to face the fact that we shall never go back to the agricultural population of the last century. Those who talk about large increases in the rural population—I think I have even seen it put at a million more people on the land—have never attempted, I am convinced, to study this question judicially and with an impartial mind. What we have got to do is to see that the standard of living of those who are asked to work on farms is raised. If we do this we shall do a great deal to stop the exodus from the land into the cities.
Reference has been made to the part which the landowner has to play. In this country we have grown up under the system of landlord and tenant, but as every noble Lord knows the landlord's position and functions have "been changing. Death Duties, high taxation, sales of estates, are some of the things which have brought about complete change, and so have the Acts connected with agricultural holdings, the Acts intended to give tenant farmers increased security or compensation for improvement. I think I am not exaggerating when I say that very frequently these Acts have tended to shield inefficiency and retard improvement, and we have got to take that into consideration. Whatever it may be, the result is that many estates have run down, buildings are in need of repair, and roads are in need of repair or of being remade. To-day a large number of farms require a big expenditure of capital; expenditure on such a scale as most landowners cannot contemplate.
There is need for a scheme for long-term investment of capital. One of the noble Lords who spoke earlier in the debate referred to the possibility of having a Land Improvement Commission. I think that in the Forestry Commission and in the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation we have precedents which might help us. I do not suggest that it is necessary to have one Land Improvement Commission for the country as a whole. I think it might be done by regions. The Commission might be assisted in acquiring land in those districts referred to by Lord Addison where land is obviously being under-farmed. I think that where a man succeeds to an agricultural estate he should be given the option, if he so 1002 desires, of paying the Death Duties in kind rather than in cash. I do not think that it should be a matter of compulsion, but I think that he should be given the choice. In these ways we should be able to have experiments to see how we could make it possible for capital to be invested by the nation in quantities which I do not believe the private landowner is in a position to do; capital invested in making roads, in improving water supplies and matters of that sort—experiments which we might gardually adopt and expand.
Before sitting down I would only add that I think that this debate has shown the need for including agriculture in our planning for the future. Agriculture is undoubtedly one of the greatest industries we have. The difficulty in dealing with it arises because it is both a science and an art. It provides us with food, and it provides many people with a mode of life which it is very desirable to assist and perpetuate. Moreover, it is intimately bound up with the well-being and welfare of consumers. In addition to that the way in which we develop and plan our agriculture must affect and influence the amenities and beauties of the countryside. I am convinced that national necessity requires careful planning, and in no other phase of our national life can we get a beter return if we plan wisely.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE DUKE OF NORFOLK)
My Lords, we have this afternoon, I think your Lordships will agree, had a most interesting discussion on this great industry. It is clearly important that among the various industries which are being discussed in connection with post-war policy agriculture should be included; but when the noble Lord who moved this Motion approached me, I told him that any Government reply on such a debate as this must depend on the timing of the debate, and that I was not quite certain that this was the right moment for the matter to be widely discussed. I hope, therefore, that I shall not disappoint him with the answer which I give this afternoon, for there is indeed nothing that I can say which can add to the statement made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture last November. He then said:The Government, representative as it is of all major political Parties, recognises the importance 1003 of maintaining after the war a healthy and well-balanced agriculture as an essential and permanent feature of national policy.I repeat that nothing that I can say can add to or detract from that statement.
The Government are fully alive to the necessity of working out a comprehensive long-term agricultural policy. They are also certain that all Parties must be agreed upon this matter. The necessity of avoiding a repetition of the disasters which overtook agriculture in the years that have passed means that we must very carefully consider not only the political Parties but also the various interests which are connected with agriculture. If we are to achieve the results desired by all those interested, we must consider not only our people at home, but overseas countries and the Dominions. We are still in the very early stages, however, and I cannot to-day give any details to your Lordships; but I will say that we have given to very many points, in broad outline, a great deal of consideration. I can also say that His Majesty's Government are firmly resolved that they will do their very utmost to see that the impoverished state and neglected condition into which agriculture fell between the last Great War and this shall never happen again.
There is, in a debate such as this, a possible danger that the farming community as a whole may get it into their heads that the three Parties are not agreed. I do not think that anything that has been said here this afternoon could give that impression. If it does, I can assure your Lordships that there is nothing further from the truth. Meanwhile, it is our immediate job to win this war, and nothing should distract the farmers from the business which lies to their hand. It is important at this moment to produce an ever-increasing amount of food and to maintain the reviving confidence among farmers. The Government have given a guarantee of fixed prices for at least one year after the war, the object being to ensure stability for a length of time sufficient for the introduction of this long-term policy. All the points raised by noble Lords in this debate will be of value in the discussions which are, and will be, taking 1004 place, and naturally I shall pass them on to my right honourable friend. I am confident that co-operation and good will throughout will achieve the desired results and that people may live in comfort on the land, producing a reasonable living and producing food in abundance from the land which is their inheritance.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, I feel that although, as I suggested in my few remarks, I did not expect the noble Duke to go into any detail on the policy that is being thrashed out at the present time, his speech will serve to give confidence to the agricultural community. I also feel that the debate which we have had this afternoon will serve a useful purpose in helping His Majesty's Government to formulate the policy which is so essential. I assume that the Motion which I have moved is accepted by the Government, and therefore I presume that a vote will be taken upon it.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ BOROUGH OF ST. IVES (HUNTINGDONSHIRE) ORDER.
§ RURAL DISTRICT OF WINDSOR (PARISH OF SUNNINGHILL) ORDER.
THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire, I beg to move that these Orders be approved.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.