§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OFAGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE DUKE OF NORFOLK)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I should like to make it clear at the outset that apart from one or two clauses there is not very much in it that is new, and that to a large extent the Bill follows its predecessors, the two Miscellaneous Agriculture Bills of 1940, I do not propose to deal with any matters outside those which are connected with this Bill, but I would, in passing, say that we have increased output and production of food very largely in the last year or two, and further legislation is really necessary to enable us to continue with our effort. The Bill does three main things; first, it provides the necessary legislative authority for the continuation for a further period of the subsidy to lime and the land drainage grants initiated by the Agriculture Acts of 1937; secondly, arising out of our experiences in the last year, it proposes the extension of certain of our powers for dealing with the drainage of agriculture land and for improving facilities of upland and fenland farms; and, thirdly, it confers certain powers to acquire land which has been requisitioned on agricultural grounds so as to ensure that expenditure of public money on improving the land shall be recovered by the State as far as practicable.
The Bill is dealt with to a certain extent by reference, and it may be to your Lordships' advantage if I run through it briefly, clause by clause. Clause 1 extends until July 31, 1944, the period for making Exchequer contributions towards the purchase of lime for agricultural land, but it transfers direct responsibility for the administration of this subsidy from the Land Fertility Committee to the Minister of Agriculture. The 268 similar subsidy to basic slag is definitely terminated as from July 31 last; this carries out the policy which was announced in another place on June 12. I think it is generally agreed that the subsidy on lime for agricultural land should be continued. I am sure it would be the wish, anyhow in your Lordships' House, that that should be so. Difficulties connected with labour, fuel and transport are, of course, the main obstacles to the production and use of this lime and basic slag, but the new regional organization is to a certain degree overcoming some of the difficulties, and it is certainly hoped that during next year we shall have increased the output of lime for agriculture by 75 per cent. over and above that of 1940–41. The expenditure on the lime subsidy for 1941 is estimated at £1,500,000, and it is probable that that will be increased in the future. In view of these developments, which could not appropriately be brought under the fertility scheme which was set up under the Agriculture Act of 1937, direct responsibility for the administration of the arrangements has been transferred to the Agricultural Ministers. Full use is being made of the machinery which was set up by that fertility scheme, and we owe our thanks to the noble Lord and his Committee for the services which they rendered.
As for basic slag, the war, of course, has brought about very substantial changes in the fertilizer position, and supplies of fertilizers generally are controlled by the Ministry of Supply in close consultation with the Ministers concerned. At the same time all possible economies in distribution and transport of home-produced phosphatic fertilizers are essential, and it was accordingly decided that the money previously expended on the subsidy to basic slag should be utilized for the benefit of phosphatic fertilizers generally. I do not think that there is anything further in Clause 1 to which I need draw your Lordships' attention.
§ Clause 2 is connected with drainage. I would like to say here that there is nothing really new in the clause. We all know the enormous importance of drainage in connection with agricultural land. We have undertaken some £2,500,000 worth of agricultural drainage schemes affecting some 2,000,000 acres since this war started, and the main part 269 of Clause 2 is to extend until July 31, 1944, the period in which the Exchequer grants my be made to drainage authorities under Section 15 of the Agriculture Act of 1937. These grants could not be made if this clause were not inserted in the Bill, as the present scheme would run out in July of next year.
§ Clause 3 amends Section 15 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act of 1940. This gives an opportunity for providing water for land where at this moment there may be no possibility of putting stock into certain fields. In carrying out the ploughing-up programme it has been found that, although some of the better pastures could be ploughed up at this moment and produce crops, there is no water in the other pastures for stock. This clause, therefore, is intended to enable grants to be made towards the supply of water in the same way as grants are made towards the cost of field drainage, the main idea being, as in other cases, to get further production of food.
§ Clause 4 enables advances to be made to drainage authorities in respect of minor drainage works which can be carried out by drainage boards and catchment boards under Section 15 of the Agriculture Act, 1937, and Section 14 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940. Schemes under these Acts have, in some cases, been private; or contributory schemes, that is to say, the balance of the cost, after payment of the 50 per cent. Exchequer grant, has not been paid back by drainage rates but by the owners of the land who have benefited by the execution of the works which have been carried, out. As repayment of this balance may take some time in coming forward, this clause allows the full amount of the cost of the scheme to be advanced by the drainage authority as the scheme progresses, and in that way it is hoped that there will be no delay in carrying out schemes which had, in some cases, been held up because the money was not forthcoming. This money is repayable over a period of five years at 4 per cent. interest. The 50 per cent. of course is a grant from the Exchequer and the other 50 per cent. will be recoverable by the drainage authority from the owners who have benefited by the work which has been carried out.
§ Clause 5 extends the provisions of Section 14 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous 270 War Provisions) Act, 1940, under which catchment boards may carry out minor drainage schemes outside a drainage district. This clause is to enable them to carry out such work inside a local drainage district provided that the consent of the drainage board or of the Minister has been first obtained. The cost of such schemes in excess of the Exchequer grant is recoverable from the owners of the land as in other cases where, under the original section, they were allowed to do work only outside a drainage district. This clause also confers on local drainage boards, in respect of schemes carried out by them within their districts, similar powers to those exercisable by catchment boards. Drainage boards will, in this way, be put in the same position as regards recovery of cost from the owners of the land benefited as that of the catchment boards at this moment. The maximum expenditure for which these schemes, whether carried out by catchment boards or drainage boards, may provide is increased under the clause from £5 to £10 per acre. It will be appreciated by your Lordships that, whereas the average cost is frequently below even £5, in war-time it may possibly be necessary to undertake schemes which would not be economic at other times. This extra expense is necessary, though there is no reason to suppose that it will extend the cost by a very great amount.
§ Subsection (4) of this clause is a new provision which is not included in the relevant Defence Regulation. It provides for the maintenance of works carried out by catchment boards outside local drainage schemes under the provisions of Section 14 of the Act of 1940, and for the recovery of the cost of maintenance from the occupiers of the land affected by the works. No provision at present exists for the maintenance of these works, but on the recommendation (and I may say on the agitation) of the drainage authorities, it was certainly necessary that something should be done, because watercourses, as your Lordships well know, must be maintained as deterioration soon sets in and continues.
§ Clauses 7 and 8 extend slightly the provisions of Section 2 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1940, relating to the improvements of ways over fenland. At present such improvement works can only be undertaken when the way is situated within an 271 internal drainage district. In practice it is found that some fenland ways which need improvement may be partly in and partly outside internal drainage districts and a few others may be fully outside an internal drainage district. The idea of Clause 7 is to bring in those which are partly without and partly within, and Clause 8 brings those which are fully outside into line. As the tenant will reap the immediate benefit from the hard roads which have been constructed, the owner of the land may recover from the tenant, in the form of additional rent, interest on the sum contributed by the owner towards the improvement of the road.
§ Clause 9 gives power to the Minister to acquire, by agreement or compulsorily, any agricultural land which may not have been cultivated or is not cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry. Certain lands and farms have been acquired in this way for the betterment of agriculture and the further production of food, and when land is so acquired it is acquired at its value when possession was taken, the value being determined in default of agreement by an official arbitrator. There will, I am sure, be no disposition among your Lordships to disagree with the proposition that the position is so vital as regards our food production that every step should be taken to see that the maximum possible output is maintained. The most satisfactory way in which this land can be dealt with is, of course, to find a reasonably good tenant and place him on the farm, but in cases where a considerable amount of capital expenditure may be needed that has not always been found possible as the tenant has no certainty of tenure for more than three years after the war. This clause will make it possible to place on a farm a farmer who is ready to sink his capital because he will be given a longer tenure than is at present possible.
§ Clause 10, on the other hand, is the clause which deals with what the Minister will do with that land after the war, and it lays down that within five years, after the end of the war, the Minister will offer to the original owner the land which was acquired during the war, provided that the Minister is quite certain that the land will be farmed and continued to be maintained in a way which is considered to fall under the rules of good husbandry.272
§ Should the original owner not wish to reacquire that land, then it may be put up for auction, or it may be let. In all cases where the figure of the sale is not agreed, it will be determined by arbitration. I think, perhaps, I had better just mention here that it will be observed that the common lands and lands owned by the National Trust are exempt from acquisition under Clause 9, and, therefore, they will not be connected in any way with Clause 10.
§ Now I go to a somewhat lighter subject; and that is Clause 11, which deals with bees. The importance of maintaining our bees cannot be over-estimated. They are vitally necessary, not only for the production of honey, but also for the proper pollination of our fruit blossoms. The National Beekeepers' Association have agreed that this legislation is necessary, and they are sending representatives to serve on the Advisory Committee which has been set up to advise the Minister in the exercise of these powers. Clauses 12 and 13 apply the provisions of the Bill to Scotland with modifications to suit conditions in that country. Clause 14 deals with Northern Ireland, which is only concerned with the lime subsidy. This Bill is introduced that we may sustain and maintain our efforts to produce the maximum amount of food in this country. It was very widely and fully discussed in another place, where it was very favourably and sympathetically received by all Parties. It is in that spirit that I ask your Lordships that you will, if you can see your way to do so, give a Second Reading to this Bill. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Duke of Norfolk.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, this is a very interesting Bill. It is, in some of its pieces, a very significant Bill, and I am sure that your Lordships will welcome very heartily many parts of it. May I, without being very long, make some comments on the individual clauses on the lines adopted by the noble Duke who moved the Second Reading? In respect of the first clause, I am sure that we all welcome the extension till 1944 of the subsidy in respect of lime. It is much better that we should know for some length of time ahead what we can do than that we should be obliged to 273 proceed from year to year. As I say, I am sure that we all welcome heartily the extension of this period until 1944. I cannot help but wish, though, that it had been found possible to do the same thing with regard to basic slag. I take it that the real cause for limitation there lies in the possibilities concerning supply. Therefore I make no comment, except to express regret that circumstances compel us so to limit the period in that instance.
I am sure we all welcome the same principle applied to the lands in respect of land drainage as mentioned in Clause 2. I shall be interested if the noble Duke can tell us at any time what procedure the Government have in mind with regard to improvements in the supply of water. There arc few subjects which in many districts are of more critical importance than that of improving the agricultural water supply. There are some parts of East Anglia now which are almost permanently immobilized, so to speak, as regards their full use, because of inadequate water supplies. This rather suggests a sort of piecemeal approach to the provision of water supplies and that may be inevitable as things are. But the ordinary owners, or at least large numbers of them, will not have access to the water. Their supply, in a large number of cases, will be derived from somewhere else. There is plenty of water, but it is not always available on a particular holding. Of course, as we all know and accept, the rational way to treat a water supply undertaking is to treat it as an engineering job, and bring the water economically from where it is to where it is wanted. I will not allow myself to drift into the subject of what I may call the parochial approach to the matter of water supplies, but so far as it goes this is a very welcome and important contribution to the improvement of lands where this method is available. I venture to prophesy, with a good deal of confidence that it will lead before long to a more comprehensive and, if I may so describe it, rational method of dealing with the provision of improved water supplies to agricultural land. So far as it goes this is a very important provision, and I am sure we all welcome it.
The same observation applies to the acquisition of power to undertake drainage schemes within or without a drainage district. I know that under the inspiration of the Minister at the present time a 274 considerable number of catchment boards are undertaking drainage works outside the proper limitations as defined on the map of the catchment areas. It is all to the good that they should, because it is extending the principle for which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, contended in his Report, that we should centralize more and more the authority dealing with drainage operations. I am not going into details, because it would not be appropriate to do so, but this at all events is another and a very important advance towards dealing with drainage as an engineering matter and not in terms of field boundaries.
The provisions with regard to fen roads puzzle me a little. Under Clause 7 the grants are made to the internal drainage boards to provide these roads, and they are required to maintain them; but Clause 8 provides that, with regard to roads of a similar character which are not within the area of an internal drainage board, the responsibility for the maintenance of the roads is—I think quite properly—placed upon the county road authorities. I suggest that, if it were possible, it would be a real improvement if the maintenance of these roads, whether they are within or without a drainage district, were placed under the charge of the county road authority, so that we should not have a divided responsibility, such as this will inevitably produce. We all know that some drainage boards are better than others, and that in some places the roads will be well maintained and in others they will not. Therefore I cannot help thinking that, so far as maintenance is concerned, we should aim at the whole of the roads, wherever they are, being maintained by the county road authority. I shall not try to visualize the adjustments as to costs and contributions which will have to be made. As things are, this is the only way of doing it; but it is not a very satisfactory method of adjusting contributions to maintenance, and I think that the contributions should be spread over the whole area. So far as this goes, however, it is a considerable and welcome advance, and I am sure that we are grateful for it.
I shall be more interested to discover what the reactions of your Lordships' House will be to Clauses 9 and 10. My own reactions, speaking from this Bench, 275 may perhaps be anticipated; I am very glad to see Clause 9 in the Bill. I think that it is a most important and valuable advance. There is no doubt that everybody who is familiar with the work of the county war agricultural executive committees knows very many cases in every county where land which has been derelict and neglected has been taken in hand and enormously improved and made productive. In a large number of cases, due to impoverishment and the lack of an agricultural policy for the last fifty years, and to a dozen other reasons, land has become in a derelict and neglected condition. It has been taken over by these committees, however, under the inspiration of the Ministry, and in a large number of cases—affecting, probably, scores of thousands of acres in the country as a whole—it has been enormously improved and brought into good cultivation. It is only right, therefore, that the expenditure which the State has incurred should be safeguarded as is here provided.
I have often been asked what is going to happen after the war, when a county executive committee has spent a great deal of money on land which has been neglected for, say, twenty or thirty years, and has brought it into good order and into a productive state. Who, it is asked, is going to inherit the benefit of this expenditure? I am glad to say that this provision. means that at all events the State will have the first claim, although, as provided subsequently, the Minister is required to offer the land for re-sale to the person therein defined, who may have a title of some kind in the land. We have not reached the end of the war yet—I wish we had!—and a great deal may happen before we do; but I do not like very much—it is not to be expected that I should—this compulsion on the Minister—for, if I read the strange words at the beginning of Clause 10 correctly, it is a compulsion on the Minister—to offer to re-sell the land to the person who, when possession of the land was taken, owned at least two-thirds of the estate of which it was a part, or in any other case to the person who, but for the acquisition of the land, would have owned it. Very often these have been very neglectful people and I have no doubt that in the large majority of cases they will not have the means to buy the land back. I rather 276 hope that they will not. The Minister, however, has to make the offer.
I know that Parliamentary draftsmen have always very good reasons for the way in which they express things, but I had to read this passage three or four times before I felt that I knew what it meant. The words are:Where the Minister has acquired any land he shall, at such time as he thinks fit but not in any case more than five years after the end of the war period, make to such person as is mentionedthe offer to buy back. I should have thought that many of these people were most undesirable owners.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
Perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord that it says that the offer need not be made if "the land could not or would not be properly managed and cultivated."
§ LORD ADDISON
Yes. I welcome those qualifications which the noble Duke has pointed out. It is quite probable that a large number of these people who have neglected their land will not be able to comply with the qualifications with which the Bill requires them to comply, and I shall not shed any tears over that; but there is an obligation upon the Minister to offer to re-sell to a limited class of person. It is true that these people must have had a title of sorts in the land before, but they have neglected the land, and they are not deserving owners; I could easily find many other owners who would be more deserving. I do not cavil at this provision, but I point it out in passing. It is a great deal better that that obligation should be attached to the purchase than that the Minister should be deprived of the proper opportunity of deriving benefit from the expenditure and labour and brains which have been employed in bringing this land into a good state of cultivation.
I think that in the majority of cases we shall all say that it is possible to find competent farmers not far away who will be able and glad to make good use of the land. In many cases I am sure that this neglected land has offered an opportunity to neighbouring and enterprising farmers to add to their farms; and in almost all cases, so far as I know, they are proving excellent tenants and doing the work very well indeed. One would be sorry to see them displaced afterwards. They have, 277 of course, a certain security of tenure for a term of years, as the noble Duke has pointed out; but it would be rather regrettable if a good tenant, who had made good use of this land, should be liable to be got rid of owing to the operations of Clause 10. However, the Minister has to be satisfied that the land will be maintained in good condition—that is an important qualification. Well, we are all accustomed in these days, and are only too happy, to surrender our predilections, and we all have got to, I am quite sure, if we are going to get agreement in questions of agriculture. This naturally is one of those cases in which one feels one is surrendering one's own predilections. At the same time, many of your Lordships might feel that you were surrendering some of yours in Clause 9. So that it is one of those characteristically British compromises which we are always adopting, and which somehow seem to work. I have no comments to make except in these general terms, and I feel sure that the Bill will receive the support for which the Minister asks.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will all agree that His Majesty's Government have done wisely in introducing this measure. Its passage through another place was perhaps rather hasty—more hurried than it would have been in ordinary times—and it may not have received hitherto the full consideration which some of its provisions, I think, demand. But it has, I am sure, in the eyes of the farming community the great merit that it tends to reduce the uncertainty which has oppressed them practically during the whole progress of the war so far. There are quite enough uncertainties attaching to the farmer's business owing to the peculiarities of our climate without their being added to by a series of doubts concerning what is going to happen not only in the distant but even in the immediate future. And therefore a great many of the provisions of this Bill will, I am sure, be heartily welcomed and none more than the continuance of the subsidy on lime. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the amount of improvement that can be carried out on land which has become sour and impoverished, especially in the last few years, by judicious liming.
I am not quite sure that the farmers will welcome quite so enthusiastically the 278 provision about basic slag. It is quite understandable that the difficulties of transport are what have been mainly in the minds of the Ministry in introducing this provision. I wonder whether more use might not have been made of water carriage in this regard, as in some other matters concerning both agriculture and building. I hope it will prove that the provisions which the Department has attempted to make with regard both to basic slag and super-phosphate may work out as I trust they will, though I cannot myself feel any absolute certainty on the subject.
I have little to say on the question of drainage, certainly not on that of the great arterial drainage schemes, but I welcome most heartily the assistance which can be given towards the minor drainage because, as we know, no cause has been more operative in causing the deterioration of farming land than the neglect of field drainage which has so largely been brought about by the shortage of labour on the land. The most important provisions of this Bill no doubt hinge on the recent work of the county agricultural committees and the cases in which they have been compelled to take over farms which have been neglected. We all, I am sure, appreciate the admirable work which, as a rule, has been done by those county committees. Like all institutions of the sort they vary in merit and are undoubtedly more active and more effective in some counties than in others. But, taken altogether, their work has been admirably and conscientiously performed. My impression is that the cases in which it has been found actually to be necessary to take over neglected land and to eliminate the previous farmer are fewer in number than might have been supposed. I am sure there are a great many cases in which the warnings issued by the committees have proved, and will prove even more in the future, to be thoroughly effective.
I think the same consideration applies, to some extent, to what is likely to happen when there is a question of the land being returned to the previous owner or occupier. I am sure there is a distinct number of cases in which the neglect which has caused the loss of the working of the land to the occupier for the time being has been brought about not mainly 279 by pure neglect or ignorance on the part of the tenant, but from sheer want of means, and in some cases of course the absence of the support which those landlords who have been able to do so have always desired to give to their tenants. I should hope, therefore, that there will be a distinct number of cases in which it will be found that the previous occupant is able to take over the land of which he was dispossessed and to work it.
The noble Duke passed rather lightly over the matter of commons and open spaces. It is, of course, true that a certain number of Metropolitan commons and some others are safeguarded by not, in fact, coming under the terms of the Bill, but my impression is that there is a great number of other open spaces and commons of a different kind which might be adversely affected by the fact that, during the stress of war-time, large parts of them have been put under cultivation which undoubtedly ought to be restored to their previous use as open spaces for the recreation of the people on the general ground of the health of the nation. I understand that communications have been passing between some of the societies specially interested in these subjects and the noble Duke's Department, and when we come to the Committee stage an Amendment or Amendments will be moved to make the intention of the Government quite clear and to safeguard these open spaces which are of such great value to the country. I have no more with which to trouble the House, and in conclusion would express the hope that the measure will find an easy and speedy passage through your Lordships' House.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I, like the two noble Lords opposite, welcome this Bill, viewing it as supplemental and emergency legislation. If it were put forward by the noble Duke as in any sense a permanent contribution either to land fertility on the one hand, or to efficient husbandry on the other, or as part of a long-range policy of agricultural improvement in this country, I should regard it as having but little claim to recommendation. Even in connexion with the subjects with which it deals, my few criticisms, which I hope may be deemed constructive, are mainly directed to its omissions rather than to its actual contents—in other words, to its extremely 280 restricted scope. For instance, land speculation is rife in this country to-day and is tending to increase. This is a subject that is not dealt with in the Bill. Moreover, land drainage, to which the noble Marquess has very specially referred as being all-important to the largely augmented output of food in this country, needs legislation of a much wider and more drastic scope than anything that this Bill or its predecessors since 1930, when the Land Drainage Act was passed, have contained. I think it is generally recognized throughout the country, amongst those who really understand the land drainage problem, that the time has come, and indeed is long past, when, instead of having your catchment boards and your internal drainage boards as separate authorities working more or less in watertight compartments, it is urgently necessary to have one authority exercising supreme control and working in intimate contact with any other authorities that may have delegated to them the detailed duties of land drainage.
The noble Lord opposite (Lord Addison) wondered what the reactions of some of us were on this side of the House to Clauses 9 and 10. I belong to a Party as well as to a class of the community which is supposed to have—and I think often unfairly supposed to have—an undue regard for vested interests. I want to say perfectly plainly—and I believe that I represent the views of the bulk of those who sit with me on this side of the House—that if these vested interests are those of the bad landlord, the inefficient farmer, or the reactionary local authority, to the detriment of the safety or security of the nation, I have no desire to see them safeguarded in any way, or even sympathetically considered by the Government of this country. I may say in passing how glad I was to hear the noble Lord opposite (Lord Addison), who has from time to time given very emphatic expression to his somewhat extreme views as regards the future of agricultural organization and land administration in this country, say that he himself was prepared to go a long- way to meet the views of those who sit on this side of the House in regard to land questions if we were prepared on our part to make a move in the same direction, viewing the problem, as I do, not from the point of view of the landowner, the farmer, or even the 281 farm worker, but solely from the point of view of the national interest.
As regards this difficult problem of land drainage, there is one further word I want to say. The noble Lord opposite spoke of divided responsibility. One reason for that divided responsibility, as I have always understood, is that when the Act of 1930 was passed—and I was myself absent in New Zealand when that Bill was before Parliament—the Government had it in mind to make the measure much more comprehensive and much more drastic but for the difficulty of meeting the views of the local authorities. Of course, the main trouble in connexion with the internal drainage boards is that they have a very limited amount of public money with which to carry out their schemes, and that involves some burden upon the local rates. This leads me to say what for a long time I have felt very strongly—and I acted as Chairman of the Royal Commission which was responsible for the Report that brought into existence the Act of 1930—that, bearing in mind that in matters of land drainage it is no good attempting to deal with single ownership, still less with a single farm, as the unit, but very often with a large area of land, and moreover bearing in mind the very serious detriment that the country at large suffers owing to the water-logged condition of such a large proportion of potentially fertile land, I am coming definitely to the conclusion—and I believe it will be the view of future Governments—that the whole of our arterial land drainage ought to be the work of the Government and that the whole cost should come out of the National Exchequer. In my judgment it would be an excellent investment and would very materially add to the safety and security of this country in times of emergency.
I had intended to raise in this connexion the difficulty of dealing with what I may call a recalcitrant or nonconforming owner in regard to waterlogged land—land which can only be effectively drained by a scheme covering a very much wider area than the farm unit. We have had great difficulties in my part of England in this connexion. I understand—I hope I am right in understanding—that under Clause 5 there will be some new power of dealing with what I call the recalcitrant owner of waterlogged land when one of these compre- 282 hensive schemes towards which the Government are prepared to pay 50 per cent. of the cost is forthcoming. At present, at any rate in my county, the internal drainage board has confessed its impotence to put any effective pressure, still less drastic compulsion, upon any individual who stands out, when he may be the cause—I know a certain case in which he is the cause—of the serious water-logging of several square miles of land, although, unless he chooses to come into the scheme and provide his quota towards the cost, it has not been possible to carry out the scheme.
I hope I am right—perhaps the noble Duke will give me a reply in regard to this—in believing that Clause 5 will enable internal drainage boards, or failing them catchment boards, to deal with such a case so as to enable a large-scale drainage scheme to be carried out. We have heard something from the Minister with regard to Italian prisoners. I hope and believe that these Italian prisoners will be available, particularly in those areas containing low-lying rich and potentially fertile land that is now seriously water-logged. I am particularly glad to hear that prisoners of the experience of those who have come from Italy will be available, for in no country in the world in recent years has a more systematic, scientific or comprehensive scheme of land drainage been carried out than in Italy. Fas est et ab hoste doceri.
The first clause of this Bill deals with the question of the supply of lime, and of a further subsidization by the Government of that lime, but I should like to make perfectly clear a matter upon which, by the way, some speeches in another place threw some doubt—first of all, that lime is not a fertilizer, and that lime, although very badly needed in large quantities for some parts of this country where the rainfall is high and the land is stiff, may, unless it is allocated in those areas where it is most needed, even do positive harm. When I was a student of the Royal Agricultural College—and I may take this opportunity of welcoming as the most distinguished ex-student of this institution the noble Marquess who sits opposite—I was reminded, as were all my fellow students, of an old couplet which contained at least a germ of- truth:Lime and lime without manureMakes both farm and farmer poor.283 Not very good poetry and not strictly accurate. If that couplet had been made to refer not only to the absence of farmyard manure, the best and most natural of all fertilizers, but also to lack of humus, about which we have come to know a great deal more in recent years, that old saying would be perfectly correct. In my judgment to-day there is a real danger in applying large quantities of lime to exhausted land, and I would venture to ask that the Minister should do all in his power to direct the application of lime, and its advocacy on the part of the county war agricultural committees, to those areas and in those places where the land is in a fair state of fertility so far as farmyard manure or humus is concerned.
In this connexion I notice that emphasis has been placed in this Bill—I think I am right in saying in this Bill, or at any rate in the description of this Bill—on crushed limestone as being more readily available and more likely to receive Government financial assistance than burnt lime. Limestone is, of course, of varying value according to the quarries whence it comes, and is slow in its operation compared with burnt lime. I would venture to hope that if labour is available (and labour seems to be the great crux in this connexion as in others), labour will be supplied generously towards those plants that arc concerned not merely in quarrying limestone, but in burning limestone, so as to provide lime in the sense in which farmers of the older school understood it—oxide of lime or hydrated lime that will have a speedy operation when applied to the land. Reference has been made in another place to the large numbers of small lime-kilns, of which there are hundreds in my county and the adjoining county of Monmouthshire, which are now wholly unused and derelict. I think it would be a great impetus to the application of lime in those areas where it is very badly wanted if some stimulus could be given to the reopening, with the help of a Government grant, of all those small lime-kilns from which lime used to be available and applied to abnormally acid land in days gone by.
I would venture to say that Rothamsted, which after all, is our oldest and greatest research station, has re- 284 peatedly pointed out that farmers, if they want to know whether their land is suffering from lime starvation, cannot do better than study the weeds which grow upon it, because it does not necessarily follow that because a farm is on the limestone therefore it is not extremely sour and requiring a surface dressing of lime. I live myself on the mountain limestone, and most of it is stiff land, and all of it will benefit from lime, and some of it cannot be expected to grow any good cróp except potatoes without it. Rothamsted has taught us to look to the weeds. If, for instance, there is an excessive amount of spurry on arable land or an excessive amount of sheep sorrel and Yorkshire fog on pasture or meadow land, you may be quite certain that lime is wanted. That is just the sort of advice which in my judgment can usefully be given by county war agricultural committees to the farmers, thereby enabling that lime to become available in larger quantities to be applied where it is most wanted.
I regret, as my noble friend opposite regrets, that basic slag is not going to receive the same financial subsidy as super-phosphate. Phosphate starvation is undoubtedly developing in this country. How far phosphate is to be provided except with the help of the United States I, for my part, do not know, but all scientific farmers and agricultural scientists know perfectly well that unless you maintain a balance of fertilization you may be doing positive harm. Nitrogen in various forms, particularly sulphate of ammonia, is available to-day, but unless that can be balanced by phosphates on the one hand and, if possible, by potash on the other hand, sooner or later the land and the crops are going to suffer. I know the difficulty. The difficulty in this country in regard to basic slag is one of transport, and I should very much like to know from the noble Duke that there is a probability of the transport of basic slag being improved in the early future.
The Minister in another place made a statement with which I should not be in entire agreement from my own experience and the experience of others. That statement was that basic slag and super-phosphate are, to all intents and purposes, interchangeable. Of course it is only in a very general way that that would be accurate. Both contain phos- 285 phates, of coarse, but it is the general experience that on the lighter land super-phosphate will have an effect which it certainly will not have on more acid and stiffer land, where basic slag has a far more beneficial effect. I look myself across the broad estuary of the Severn and see the Cotswold Hills with their very friable and soluble politic limestone. That land will benefit from super-phosphates, although with an acid reaction, whereas on the Welsh side of the estuary with its stiffer land and its heavier rainfall, super-phosphates will have far less effect in providing the necessary phosphates to the surface soil than will basic slag.
We have to face the fact, I suppose, that potash is going to be extremely scarce. Perhaps if the war lasts long it may not be available at all. That being so, I want to ask that the county war agricultural committees should be urged to advise farmers to use what is a readily available substitute—namely, wood ashes. While observing the black-out regulations it is desirable and still possible to burn hedge clippings and any top and lop wood that may be available or even the haulm of potatoes or other stemmy plants so as to convert them into wood ash to be applied instead of potash manure to such crops as potatoes, beans and peas. It would have a very remarkable and useful effect. We are advising that course now to all allotment holders and cottage gardeners in Gloucestershire, and I would very much like to see the same advice given officially from headquarters to farmers generally throughout the country, because potash is a manurial requisite except perhaps on the stiffer land where, if lime is applied, it will set free the potash from the clay. It is especially useful for potatoes which we are now being asked to grow, as I think quite correctly, in as large quantities as we can as a substitute for wheaten flour.
In connexion with water supplies I would like to say one word because the provision of temporary leys is now being advocated. I hope and believe that coupled with the ploughing up of pasture land for wheat growing and other purposes, there will be pressure put through the county war agricultural committees for the provision of temporary leys. If those temporary leys are going to be fed off by animals you must have a water supply. I should very much like to 286 know whether the contribution made under this Bill is intended to apply to the fields of the individual farmer who may put them down as temporary leys under the scheme of war food production so as to facilitate the provision of water for cattle that may be grazing on those temporary leys. This Bill, of course, will be largely a dead letter unless labour is available, and I do not know what prospects the noble Duke can hold out on behalf of the Ministry of success in fighting a battle, which I know they will have to fight, with other Departments to obtain a larger supply of labour for the various purposes to which the Bill relates. I most ardently hope that they will succeed in that. What is far more important than legislation is, its local administration.
I have only a few words more to say before I sit down. I noticed that the noble Duke referred apologetically to the clause dealing with bees. I understand that what is desired in connexion with bees is to advance further research in regard to what is known as foul-brood in addition to Isle of Wight bee disease. I was delighted to hear him put forward particularly not merely the production of honey but also the pollination or fertilization of fruit because in any area where there is serious bee disease fruit suffers very seriously. We have to bear in mind that 75 per cent. of our whole fruit consumption comes normally from overseas and cannot now come from overseas. It is therefore more than ever important that home-raised fruit should be available and that our fruit trees should not suffer from lack of proper pollination.
I had a very interesting and perhaps rather amusing experience when I was Chairman of the Royal Commission on Sugar Supply during the most critical period of the last war. The British Beekeepers' Association were insistent upon larger and larger supplies of sugar or some sugary substitute owing to the prevalence of Isle of Wight bee disease and the necessity of feeding the bees properly during cold weather to protect them against this disease. I got to the point where I really could not honestly issue any more sugar to the beekeepers, and I was rather troubled and distressed because I was told that my action was very much resented by the Royal Horticultural Society who were sending a deputation to me. These gentlemen arrived. They had on their faces an expression of extreme indignation 287 and I saw that I was going to have a troublesome time. I said to them that during the previous fortnight two sugar ships had been sunk, that there was only a fortnight's supply in the country, and that I did not intend to issue any more sugar in any form to beekeepers. The President or the Secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society replied: "We have come here to protest, and protest emphatically, about the amount of sugar that you have already given the bees. You have given them so much that they stay at home in the hives instead of coming out to fertilize our fruit."
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I think we are all agreed that this is a very practical Bill and a useful Bill. Like the last speaker, I find that the few points which I wish to make are on omissions from the Bill rather than upon anything that is in it. First of all there is one question which I would like to ask the noble Duke. Both the last speakers have mentioned the question of the leaving off of the basic slag subsidy. As I understand the working of the scheme, by linking basic slag with super-phosphate and having a general control price for all phosphates, farmers arc in fact gaining rather than losing because we shall be getting our super-phosphate at a cheaper rate. I would like the noble Duke, if he can do so, to confirm that point when he replies.
The Bill starts off with welcome provisions for continuing the lime subsidy, and certain alterations in legislation concerning land drainage. I think it is important in these days to concern ourselves with reality, and I want to put it to your Lordships that excellent as these provisions are—and they are excellent—they are not worth the paper upon which they are written unless we are going to have the labour. It is no good continuing the lime subsidy if men continue to be taken away from the quarries. It is no good talking about land drainage unless we have the men to dig out the ditches and clear out the streams. We are all, I think, aware of the present labour position. We have got an immense amount of extra work going on on the farms quite apart from the work such as ditching and land drainage which has not been done for years. I think I am right in saying that by next spring we shall have 288 ploughed up between four and live million acres. We lost a great number of men at the beginning of the war; some of our best men were in the Territorials. A great number, in spite of enactments which have been framed with a view to stopping it, have been drifting away from the industry to aerodromes and to other work. It is true that we have 20,000 or so quite excellent land girls. They have done magnificent work; but even if it were true—which it is not, and those responsible for the running of the Women's Land Army would be the first to admit it—that you can count one girl against one man, we should still be down considering what we have lost.
The requirements of the industry, taking into account the extra arable areas which we now have, amount to something like 40,000 to 50,000 extra men. A few months or weeks ago the Minister of Labour promised us what seemed to me the grossly inadequate number of 10,000 ex-black-coated workers. I believe that was an inadequate offer even if it had been fulfilled. Actually, I am told, it has been fulfilled to the extent of 300 or 400 ex-clerical workers. Throughout the counties there has been building of hostels. I know of one county alone where no fewer than nine special hostels have been put up for the reception of these new workers who have not arrived. Only one of these hostels has been used, and the purpose to which it has been put is that of a sick bay for land girls. The others erected at very heavy cost are, at the present moment, empty. Not only are the hostels empty but the land drainage of that county is held up.
I do not think it is necessary for myself or for anybody else to assure the Government and assure the country that whatever happens, whether short of labour or not, the farming industry is going to do everything in its power to meet the demands made upon it. But we do want a considered policy from the Government; not from the Ministry of Agriculture, not from the Ministry of Labour, but from the Government as a whole. We want the Government as a whole to say whether or not they believe that our work is of real importance and whether or not they are going to help to supply us with the men who are necessary. At the present moment, so far from the Government giving us more men, we are still under 289 sentence of losing in November another 10,000 men from the industry. When one reflects upon facts and figures one cannot help wondering whether a manpower policy has been thought out by the Government or not. I may perhaps have risked seeming irrelevant on this particular Bill, but it does seem to me that attention to this question of manpower is vital if we are going to make the provisions of this Bill mean anything at all.
There is one other point with which I wish to deal. I purposely leave out any special references to Clauses 9 and 10 for the simple reason that I am in complete agreement with them. I think that the provisions which they contain are excellent and the sooner they are passed into law the better. Therefore, I say nothing more about them. But there is an omission in that the bill does not deal with a matter to which I think Lord Bledisloe referred. That is the fact that at the present moment speculation in land values, in the purchase of land, is rife. The land s being bought up, call it as a speculation, call it as an investment, by men who do not know the land, who do not care for the land, and who have no intention of ever getting to know it or ever getting to care about it. The land is being bought just as you would buy diamonds in order to safeguard capital value. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, mentioned his own private views on the ownership of land. It is not a question of whether we believe in the private ownership of land or in land nationalization that is under discussion at the moment. We all believe that whoever owns the land, whether a private individual or the State, has got to care for the land and be prepared to understand it, and we are going to get the worst of every world if we allow this present system to continue.
I think we must all welcome the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary in another place, and of the Minister himself, on this particular point. I see that Mr. Tom Williams said;Let me say to the mover and seconder of the proposed new clause that my right honourable friend and myself are utterly opposed to speculation in land, and that the matter is receiving attention.Later in the debate, when this point was stressed, the Minister said: 290Obviously I cannot give any pledge on behalf of the Government, and I cannot commit my colleagues. All I can say, speaking as Minister of Agriculture, is that speculation in land is abhorrent to me.This point is not referred to in the Bill, and I think very many of us must regret that it is not. At the same time, I think that it would be quite out of place for any of us to think of putting down an Amendment in regard to it, because this is much too difficult and serious a point, in my view, to be dealt with by a private member. The Minister, however, has promised to consult with his colleagues on the matter, and has promised to give consideration to it. I should like to ask the noble Duke whether that consultation has yet taken place, and, if not, I should like him to repeat on behalf of the Government the pledge that that consultation will take place, and that serious consideration is being given to this problem. We must remember that this is not a post-war problem; this has to do with something which is happening at this very moment, every day. It is happening in two ways: unsuitable people are acquiring possession of the land for unsuitable purposes, and numbers of farmers are being driven to buy land at inflated prices in order to save themselves. This will put a burden round the neck of the industry for a long time to come.
I should like to ask the noble Duke a question about this, because one aspect of land speculation was dealt with on July 17 last by the noble Lord, Lord Reith. When discussing a Report of the Uthwatt Committee, he said:The Committee recommend that the compensation payable in public acquisition or control of land should not exceed sums based on the standard of values at March 31, 1939. The Government accept this principle, and legislation to give effect to it will be introduced in due course.That is an important statement, because it does make speculation in land values a very dangerous thing; but this was a debate, I think, referring mainly to the value of land in bombed areas. I should like to know from the noble Duke whether it applies to all land, urban and rural. If so, it will be of some assistance; but I repeat that it will be only of slight assistance, because it deals with the future, while we are dealing with an immediate problem. I do once again, therefore, urge the noble Duke, while not 291 asking him to insert anything in this Bill, to ensure that this mattter is given the serious and urgent consideration which it deserves.
My Lords, I do not intend to keep your Lordships very long, but I think perhaps I should say a few words on behalf of those with whom I am generally associated. I would begin by saying quite frankly that this is an excellent little Bill in its way, that it has been carefully thought out, that the various interests concerned have been properly consulted, and that it will undoubtedly have an easy passage through your Lordships' House. That being so, and the necessity of thinking of numbers of Amendments while discussing the Bill on Second Reading not being present, one may profitably turn one's mind to one or two directions in which agricultural policy ought to proceed. They have been mentioned before by previous speakers, and I desire in particular to associate myself with all that the noble Earl who has just sat down has said on the subject of man-power.
I should like to ask the noble Lords whether I did a very wrong thing about six months before war broke out, when there was a great push to increase the numbers of the Territorials. This push was made in my own village, as in many others, and I think that I took the chair at the meeting; at any rate I spoke at the meeting, and I made it abundantly clear that, in my own opinion, in the circumstances likely to occur in war it was as important for a skilled agricultural worker to remain working in agriculture as it was for him to join the Territorials and go overseas. Whether I was right or wrong, the bulk of my village took that hint, and we were left in consequence with a fair quota of agricultural labourers at the end of the first year of the war. A neighbouring village did not take the hint, and I am sorry to say that most of their men are now captives in Germany.
I do not know whether I was right or wrong, but I think that that little story emphasizes the fact that we must weigh this question of man-power with adequate scales. To-day I should take the same view. If the recruiting sergeant came round and said: "I want your shepherd, your cowman and your tractor-driver," I 292 should reply: "My shepherd, my cowman and my tractor-driver are more valuable where they are." If that is true to-day it was true before; but this subject was never properly thought out, and it has never been properly thought out yet. With regard to the black-coated workers whom Mr. Bevin promised us, speaking for my own part of the world I believe that only two men have been found by my county labour exchange who, in the view of the manager of the exchange, were suitable persons to draft into agriculture. Whether his view was quite dispassionate or not I do not know, but at any rate that is, I think, the correct figure.
On this same point, it must surely be obvious that when you are developing a business—and we are developing the business of agriculture to the very best of our ability—the personnel must be increased, and some of it must be adequately skilled personnel, what may be called management personnel. Take these excellent land girls. Put one man to ten land girls, and you have a gang which is very useful; but without that one man the gang may be almost useless. We have had an enormous increase in arable acreage, and we are asked for more; but we cannot produce it unless we have the labour and experience available. It is not only labour on the farms which is essential. We have been discussing water supply to-day. Who can find a plumber in his district to fit up water supply? You cannot find such a man. You have produce to take to market, but in many cases the necessary transport is not available. The number of people who are attracted to the orbit of agriculture and who are already in that orbit far exceeds the number employed on the farms themselves. You cannot carry on a business unless you provide for the article which you are producing being dealt with in all its stages—the raw material being collected, and the article being made and distributed and finally reaching the consumer. If any one of those steps is left out, you might as well not work at all. I do plead that, as my noble friend Lord De La Warr brought out so well, there should be a much more carefully thought-out policy regarding man-power on the part of the Government.
I now pass to the question of the virtual omission of any reference to maintenance in this Bill, except in the rather particular 293 case of the fen-ways. I suggest that when this and kindred matters are being discussed in the Cabinet, it should be suggested that a meeting should take place between Mr. Bevin and Signor Mussolini. I am sure they could exchange ideas with great profit to each other. A noble friend says it would be rather difficult to arrange, but Signor Mussolini had his Pontine Marshes, and he dealt with them, and he effected a permanent improvement to the Kingdom of Italy by carrying out that work They are beautifully made, and they are beautifully kept, or were when I was last there. That brings me to the particular question of the maintenance of drainage works. The Minister, in introducing the Bill in another place, made this rather cryptic remark:
Of course the question of the maintenance of drainage works after the war will have to be settled after the war, but meantime we must try to maintain the schemes which we have carrier! out.I do not quite understand, and I should like to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply what the exact bearing of that sentence was. On the one hand you have a statement which I think is an unfortunate one, that the question of the maintenance of drainage works after the war will have to be settled after the war, and, on the other hand, you have a statement that we must try to maintain the schemes which we have carried out.
Well, I hope that by 1944 at any rate, to which year this Bill extends operations, very many thousands of miles will have been carried out. I should hope that ultimately before the end of this war we shall have a complete system of drainage covering the whole country, in which case all the schemes will have to be maintained, as the Minister says, and yet apparently without a maintenance service or programme. Now I frankly do not understand that. I must say, in sympathy with what I think was said by Lord Bledisloe, that I am. forced to the conclusion that we must have something more like a national drainage service than we have had in the past, I consulted engineers on the point and found, as a rough guess, that if you were to appoint what are called lengthsmen on the highways, and used them for ditches, a good lengthsman would probably be able to deal with ten miles of watercourse, of a size slightly smaller than the size of those which fall to the catchment boards them- 294 selves to maintain. The smaller watercourses would require one man for twenty miles. I see great advantages in having these lengthsmen properly housed in the centres from which they are going to work. But whether you leave the smallest ditches of all to the farmer to clean or not, or indeed wherever you draw the dividing line, I am convinced that there must, somehow or other, be a national service, operating under the catchment boards for preference, whose power should be extended, if the maintenance of drainage works is really going to be upheld.
If noble Lords will cast their minds back to the last war, they will remember that we collected a nice number of German prisoners, and put a certain number of them to work on drainage, and they did it very well indeed, and in places—it was rather spotty—we were left with quite a good drainage system. Noble Lords will also unfortunately know that that drainage system has been almost entirely wasted, and at the present time huge sums of Government money are going to be paid out again in order to re-clean those ditches, which ought to have been kept clean. I hope that when another of these Bills comes along something really serious as to the maintenance of drainage works will be provided, and coupled with that it is absolutely necessary, not that we should have fewer men, but more men. We cannot get land girls to clean out watercourses. This is a most useful little Bill. It is one of the steps by which what was practically a desert in England is now being made fruitful. It ought to be a great inspiration to us that we have the task of growing more food laid on us—and it is an inspiration—and if Parliament will continue to give us help of the nature of this Bill I venture to think that the countryside of England will be something very different from what it was ten years ago.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I should like first of all to say how much I welcome this Bill. It seems to me that it will lend itself to greater efficiency in farming, and also help in retaining the fertility of the land, which is a vital necessity. I feel that we have to be a little careful in certain cases with regard to over-dosing the land with artificials of any sort. In the end, unless the humus is in some way or other protected, arti- 295 ficial upon artificial will eventually wreck it. I want to endorse everything that my noble friend Lord De La Warr said with regard to speculation. There is no doubt that speculation is going on, and I would like to go further than he did. I would like to ask the Minister on the Front Bench to convey to his right honourable friend the vital necessity of taking powers to stop what is going on to-day. Only last night I was rung up on the telephone to hear that farmers in a certain part of the country were being offered their farms back after the estate had been bought at an exhorbitant price. When they said they could not pay for them, or that they could give only so much, offers were made to lend them the money on interest. Now that sort of thing must be stopped. It is all wrong that such a thing should be possible where the very life of our country, which is our land, is concerned. I hope that my noble friend will convey to the Minister the remarks made in this House on speculation, because I am sure that something must be done.
I was a little sorry for what my noble friend Lord Addison said with regard to the landlords. I feel that there are some landlords who, through no fault of their own, have fallen on evil times, and I would like to see something in the Bill or something done for those landlords who at the end of the time desire to get back the land taken from their estates during the war because of bad farming by tenants they could not afford to get rid of. When that land comes back I should not only like to see that it is offered to them, as I understand from the Bill it will be, but that, if they still find themselves in financial difficulties, there will be some system of cheap credit to enable them to pay the difference between the value of the land when taken over and the value after the war. I put that forward as a suggestion so that if the Minister, having considered the whole matter, comes to the conclusion that the landlord is a good man, he should have cheap credit facilities to maintain his position.
§ LORD ADDISON
May I interrupt for one moment? I hope the noble Lord has not received, and will not spread, any impression that any words of mine lacked sympathy with the thousands of landlords who, owing to Death Duties, lack of 296 policy, and a hundred other reasons, have not been able to do what they would like to do with land. On many occasions I have said quite the contrary, and nothing which I said to-day would conflict with it.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I thank the noble Lord. I am very sorry if I misunderstood him, and I appreciate what he has said. Now as to the question of selling land in certain circumstances by auction. Does that mean that any buyer who comes along can buy it? I am not quite clear about that. There is mention that the land, if not wanted by the original owner, and if there is not a ready buyer, will be sold by auction. Something should be done to see that, when it is sold by auction, only a buyer who is likely to treat it well should be considered. I come to one other point, and I have finished. Certain land has been ploughed up. I take, as an instance, a golf course. Some golf clubs which are on commons, and have to pay rent for being allowed to play golf there, have been ploughed up. Even if the Minister were to say to them, "You must plough up a certain amount of this land," they are not in a position to do so, having no machinery and not being farmers in any sense of the word. What is going to be the position afterwards when this land, under Clause 10, I take it, will have to be farmed in future? I am getting back to what the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said. Is Clause 6 wide enough to enable those who have these pleasure grounds all over the country, which have been ploughed up, to get that land back to the purposes for which it has been used, in some cases, for many hundreds of years? Wishing the Bill every success and congratulating the Ministry on it, that is all I have to say.
§ THE SECRETARY OFSTATE FOR THE COLONIES (LORD MOYNE)
My Lords, I must first apologize for my absence from the greater part of this debate. It was only at the last moment that an interdepartmental matter had to come up at the Cabinet, and the arrangement under which I was going to hear all the points in this debate was upset. I hope the House will forgive me if my answers are, in consequence, somewhat inadequate. The Bill has, of course, been very carefully examined in another place, and I understand that a good many Amend- 297 ments have been accepted. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Addison) was uneasy about the omission of any provision to subsidize basic slag. The reason for that is that, unfortunately, that fertilizer is in very short supply, and it is felt that it is better to allow basic slag to be consumed as far as possible near the points of origin, and provide for other districts farther away a larger proportion of phosphatic manure. It is true that the basic slag subsidy lapsed two or three months ago, but through the Ministry of Supply prices are being stabilized, and it is hoped thereby to bring about some reduction in the price of other phosphatic fertilizers. It is recognized that basic slag is not the exact equivalent, for all types of land, of super-phosphate. It contains lime, and acts more slowly, but we have to consider transport problems, and it does seem best that the basic slag should be applied rather in accordance with geographical conditions. If anything can be done to improve transport facilities by water carriage, as the noble Marquess suggested, or otherwise, no opportunity will be lost of trying to meet the special need of individuals.
The land drainage proposals are, I fear, as the noble Lord opposite pointed out, rather piecemeal. The land drainage law is inevitably one of very great complication. We have some land in the catchment areas, some in the internal drainage areas, some in both, some in neither. Because of this great variation of condition, you cannot avoid very great complication. One point which has been raised, by Lord Bledisloe, I believe, is whether it is possible to prevent a single recalcitrant landowner from holding up necessary drainage works. Outside a local drainage district that object is achieved by Section 14 of the previous Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act which was passed last year, and which places on the landowners concerned a statutory liability for the cost, apart from Government grant, of any scheme carried out inside the catchment area. The present proposal is to give the same powers of forcing inefficient landowners to look after drainage outside the area of a local drainage district. If the powers which are being provided prove insufficient, the Minister can always fall back on his powers under the Defence Regulations, and by Clause 6 of the Bill 298 he will be entitled to recover betterment from the landowner.
Lord Phillimore was uneasy at what was said in the House of Commons to the effect that these Amendments were dealing with maintenance during the war, and did not cover the post-war conditions. That is undoubtedly the case. This is a war measure, and it does not profess to deal with all these agricultural problems except under war conditions. That does not mean that these matters are not recognized as of very great importance, because we hope that the improved efficiency which we have seen in our agriculture under the pressure of war will be maintained. These powers which have been taken for the maintenance of improved fertility must undoubtedly be dealt with when we codify the suitable provisions which have been passed in war-time and supplement them to deal with the new conditions of peace.
The noble Marquess, and I think the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, raised a question about speculation in land, and they were, I think, perhaps in some uncertainty as to how far the pledge of the Government to deal with land needed for public improvement is applicable to agricultural land. There was some mention of bombed land. That is no limitation whatever. That is only one example of land which may be likely to be taken over. The provision for securing that land should be taken over at a pre-war price applies to all land, but it has, of course, the limitation that that is so only when it is required for public purposes; and so it is an entirely separate question from the agricultural need which we are dealing with in this Bill. In this Bill we are dealing with the case of land which is to be taken over because it is inefficiently farmed and because the present methods of doing the work apart from the owner and charging betterment is not entirely satisfactory.
In this case we believe that the provisions for offering back to the owner the land which has been taken are satisfactory. I understand from what the noble Earl told me yesterday that he was rather uneasy on that point. It is a point of importance, but I think the answer is to be found in an Amendment which was passed in another place. I am not sure if I have it here, but it is an Amendment 299 to Clause 10 and it provides in Clause 10 (b) that:the Minister, after having given an opportunity to any persons appearing to him as likely to be affected of making representations and considered such representations madecan certify that in his opinion the land could not or would not be properly managed and cultivated. That I think does put the onus of proof on the former owner. Unless he can deal with the Ministry he cannot get his land back, and it was no doubt because of that Amendment that the noble Earl mentioned the matter.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
There was a question that I raised in the noble Lord's absence. The Minister in another place had pledged himself to consultation with his colleagues on this question of land speculation. He said that the system was abhorrent to him but that he could not commit his colleagues and he would consult with them. I asked the noble Duke in the noble Lord's absence whether he has yet had that consultation and whether anything can be said to the House on that point.
§ LORD MOYNE
I am afraid I cannot add anything to what my right honourable friend has already said. The House will recognize that the problem of dealing with speculation of land is one of extreme difficulty. It is most undesirable that we should do anything which would stop bona-fide sales of land. It cannot at all be assumed that all the cases which were quoted in another place were other than perfectly normal transactions where land had to be sold for Death Duties or other purposes, and the suggestions which were made to deal with this matter show how difficult it is. An Amendment was moved that land should be sold only at a local acreage price. Anybody familiar with the differing conditions of land, the different quality, the different state of its cultivation, would realize that you could not apply an average of that kind through any district or even from field to field. Therefore though I am sure that we detest anything in the way of unfair speculation in land, it would be very mischievous to the agricultural interest to prevent people from selling their land at its true value to which their hard work and their capital in the past would have contributed. I 300 am sure we are all just as keen as the noble Lords who raised this question that a solution should be found for this undesirable speculation, but we must be quite sure that we draw the line at speculation and leave on the right side of the line legitimate business.
I believe a point about commons was raised by the noble Marquess, and he also mentioned the case of the National Trust. The National Trust is specifically mentioned in Clause 9. They are given exemption by name in subsection (6) of that clause, and, of course, if the National Trust did find any of their land purchased, which I cannot think would arise, there would be no difficulty about their having it resold to them after the war, for nobody suggests for a moment they would not be fully qualified to deal with it.
§ LORD HARMSWORTH
May I ask a question on this point? It is not merely a matter of lands belonging to the National Trust. Such lands are only a very small portion of the lands which are affected by this subsection. I understand that in point of fact there is a possibility, and indeed a likelihood, of the Government tabling an Amendment to subsection (6). I would be very much obliged if my noble friend would tell me if that is about to be done, or should an Amendment be put down by a private member of this House?
§ LORD MOYNE
My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, the noble Duke has informed me that an Amendment has been drafted and will be put down. I would add that a good deal of the uneasiness that these provisions have engendered is due to the fact that people have not realized that in almost all cases these powers will be applied to owner-occupiers, and that they do not arise with tenanted land in the ordinary way, because if there is a case of neglect there the owner is, it he is a normal person, delighted to change his tenant. In peace-time conditions it would be difficult for him in many cases to do so, because he would have to pay a year's rent for disturbance, but now the county committee can come in and help him and they can get out a neglectful tenant without throwing that burden on the landowner. These particular evils do not arise generally in the case of tenanted land, therefore, and Clauses 9 and 10 are designed almost entirely to deal with the 301 cases of neglectful or incompetent owner-occupiers. I hope I have covered most of the points.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to "reply to a question which was raised on Clause 3 about the provision of water? It was welcomed by one noble Lord from the point of view of providing water for rural cottages. I understood that what was meant was the provision of water in fields for stock. Is it intended that these grants shall be used for the provision of drinking water for steadings and rural cottages, or are the grants to be confined purely to the provision of water in fields for stock? It is a matter which concerns us particularly in Scotland.
§ LORD MOYNE
The Bill was drafted to deal with water which might be required on temporary leys, but if the House feels that it should go further and should provide for the cases mentioned by my noble friend the Government would be very glad to go into the matter in Committee and see what Amendments should be made. I hope there are no other points of importance that I have missed, and I again apologize for seeming discourtesy in answering the debate without having heard it and having to rely upon second-hand information of what was said. I would like to say how much the Government appreciate the helpful way in which this Bill has been discussed. It touches many sore points which have been discussed with some heat in the past, by people who were united in their anxiety to see agriculture improved but divided as to the methods which they would apply. Under war conditions we have all sunk our former prejudices on difficult matters of land tenure and the rights of tenants and owners, and we have felt that: in the emergency of war we must have any legislation which is necessary to bring about the maximum production of food. It is a great encouragement to those who are working in this direction to see the support which these rather complicated provisions have received.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, might I have permission to ask a question which I should have asked before? I heard it said that basic slag was in short supply, and that rather surprised me, because during the year ended July, when 302 I was Chairman of the Land Fertility Committee, the production of basic slag was the biggest we had ever had. We anticipated that during the next twelve months the supply would be increased, so I was rather surprised to hear that the supply is now short. I am wondering what the Ministry has done with the basic slag.
§ LORD MOYNE
It may be that the supply has increased but that owing to the demand increasing far more rapidly the supply is proportionately shorter. It is recognized that many people who want slag have had to be satisfied with ground rock instead, but the Government feel that the stabilization of price is probably the best method that can be adopted to get the best distribution and to enable people to get their individual requirements as soon as possible.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
I thank the noble Lord. I am very relieved to hear what he has just said, because I had a fear that the Ministry might have mislaid it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.