HL Deb 06 December 1945 vol 138 cc456-78

5.50 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved by the Earl of Selborne on Tuesday last—namely, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the agricultural policy of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, in reopening this debate on agriculture, I would like to apologize for being the first speaker; there are others much better qualified than myself for that position. In drawing your Lordships' attention to several matters which previous speakers have mentioned on this very broad subject, my first point is that it seems essential that all sides of the House should support the Government's proposed four-year plan and that we should get it on to a permanent basis, an accepted permanent basis, I might say. I find farmers up and down the country very apathetic, and I hope that this new plan will not be treated like the guaranteed prices were treated after the last war. There is a certain amount of difference to-day compared with the position after the last war. Then we still had invisible exports in the shape of foreign investments. To-day the Government may hold them, but the individual cannot deal with them, and it ties capitalist hands very much. It is of vital importance that agriculture should not be let down again. We want food in this country so that we can use our money to buy the raw materials from abroad and re-export them.

Now I must come to my next point, which concerns the probable scarcity of labour in the next eighteen months, when we may see a large proportion of the German labour, prisoners of war, repatriated or taken from the industry. I believe that to-day—and I get my figures from previous speakers—one-third of the labour force for the production and cultivation of next year's harvest is German, or the workers are Italians who will be replaced by Germans next summer. So I want to bring home this point very forcefully, that we have got to attract not only the agriculturists back from the Forces into the industry, but the best type of young man and woman who have been serving their country for the last six years. I have spoken to many soldiers, both here and abroad, during this war and they say: "One thing is quite certain. I do not want to go back into a factory again." How can we recompense these serving men adequately? How can we attract them back? In the words of the Leader of this House, we can provide, cottages, or, as I should prefer to describe them, dwellings, because agricultural dwellings should be something more than cottages. To an agriculturist who is living on a farm, away from the town, the cinema and the local amusements, his home is his castle. It is his life and he wants a good home.

When I saw the Minister of Health the other night about this question, I told him that I had a small scheme for a little local land development at Romney Marsh, in Kent, where we are terribly short of cottages. I want to develop a certain area between Lydd, Hythe and Brookland for market gardening purposes this coming summer. I asked him how we stood as regards putting up cottages. He said: "Well, why don't you apply to the local rural district council?" I said that the local rural district council had a full programme for building new cottages for the existing agricultural population and that they were not in a position to extend their scheme for a new development. They have not got the machinery, the labour or the ability to deal with it and I asked him if I as a private individual and those living around me could build our own cottages. He then suggested that it would be very expensive. I said: "That does not matter, providing that we can produce the food, potatoes, cabbages and catch crops, such as turnip seeds and mustard seeds, next year." And the Government's plan supports us. I should therefore like to ask the noble Earl whether he can give me any details as to the Minister's proposals to help the agricultural landlord who wishes to erect cottages by private enterprise and not through the rural district council.

I think your Lordships will agree with me that if we can get these good substantial homes for the key-men in agriculture in the right places on the land and make them attractive and give them a good garden, we shall attract the right type of labour, because I hear on all sides —and I am on the local borough council at New Romney—of the tremendous difficulty which ex-Service men are having in finding a house to live in where they cart be alone with their families and not share them with two or three other families as their wives have had to do while their husbands have been serving abroad. I think I have pressed this point of cottages sufficiently.

The next thing I would like to ask—and I have not heard this mentioned by previous speakers—is that the agricultural labourer should be given a fair deal. I know it will be said, in reply, that his wages have gone up by the same percentage as or more than those of the industrial worker. That is not an answer because, owing to the apathy of previous Governments, the agricultural labourer was looked upon as a man of inferior intellect, as a low type of labourer, and the townsman was supposed to be so much better. That is not the case, and I hope I can get noble Lords' sympathy on that point. I have found, especially since returning from the war, that the agricultural labourer can do anything when he puts his back into it, but he will only put his back into it when he is confident that he is going to do some good and that he is not going to be let down. Let us see that this excellent body of men is not forgotten and treated as a depressed class. Let us see that the farm worker is encouraged and brought to his right level in the social scale. In fact, I say nothing is too good for these men.

Next, I should like to refer to the Land Army. The women of the Women's Land Army came to us at the beginning of the war, many from towns, offices and factories, and a few from the farms themselves. I am afraid we farmers did not appreciate them enough. When I first employed two land girls I reckoned that they were the most expensive labour on the farm. That was in 1940. When I came back from the Middle East in 1943, those two girls were doing practically the same job as the strongest man on the farm; they were excellent. They worked from daylight to dark, and their presence helped us. There were many jobs I saw them do which I thought it would have been impossible for any woman to do, and they did them cheerfully. I am afraid the Land Army have had a very poor deal from this Government. Their services have not been sufficiently acknowleged, either by way of gratuity-or wages, or by medal, in some cases, for length of service. When they started at the begin-fling of the war their wages seemed comparatively high, but the agricultural wage has gone up, and I think I am right in saying that the wage paid to the women in the Land Army has not gone up in the same proportion. Therefore, I appeal to your Lordships to press the Government to make some acknowledgment to this wonderful body of women and also to encourage the recruiting of more young women into this service in peace-time.

Now I would like to bring another point to your Lordships' notice—the fertility of our soil. During the war, we grass farmers had to plough up, as all your Lordships know, from nothing to 50 or 60 per cent. of arable land. We had not the buildings, the machinery or the cottages. The result was that we could not put any muck back on the soil; we could not buy cake to feed our cattle in the fields, and we could not replace muck with artificials because they were not available in sufficient quantity. I am suggesting that the Ministry of Agriculture has been draining the fertility or the grass farms by successive straw crops and that we should get something in compensation. What I am asking the support of your Lordships for is that we should get a grant. I suggest we should get 50 per cent. for the erection of cottages and farm buildings, and also a grant towards making private roads on farms to take the heavy machinery neces- sary to service farms and also for carrying off heavy crops, such as potatoes.

That brings me to my last point—water. I would like to see water not only to every cottage and every farm building, but to every field on every holding where it is not at present available. I know the answer to that is, "How are we to get water?" I am no engineer, but I would suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture should explore the possibility of establishing a national water system, linked with the electricity grid to supply the power to convey the water from the central Pennine Range and the mountains of Wales to the West Country and to the Eastern corn-drying and grazing dry belt. If some of my proposals may be incorporated in the Minister's Bill, I see a great future for agriculture.

We have seen what can be done in the war. The rough figure, I believe, today is that 60 per cent. of the country's food is grown in this country. That is roughly 100 per cent. increase on prewar days. Now, by intensive farming, why should we not set ourselves a target to grow 80 per cent. in the neat four years? That is only a 5 per cent. annual increase. We increased our production 100 per cent. in five years of war under very difficult conditions. Surely, in the next four years, it is not too much to ask us to increase our production further by 5 per cent. a year. We shall have far better facilities to do so. We shall have far better brains and younger men to work the land. I should like to finish up by asking the noble Earl opposite if he can give me any assurances on the points I have raised in my speech to-day.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, so much has already been said in this debate that there is really very little to which I can usefully draw your attention, but there are one or two points I should like to emphasize. First, I welcome the statement of the long-term agricultural policy. Many of us have been waiting for that for a very long time, and such a statement, in my own opinion, is very much overdue. I should not be surprised to hear that, in broad outline at least, the statement that has been made was in the mind of the late Minister to whom the present Minister was Under-Secretary. Be that as it may, however, it is a source of great gratification to those who, like myself, have been students for many years of this fundamental question of a policy for agriculture, and who have some practical experience, not only as landowners but also, or a time, as farmers.

It may not be very profitable to go back in history to determine who were the initiators in the first place of the principles underlying this particular policy, but it is of considerable satisfaction to myself, as President of the Rural Reconstruction Association, that at long last all political Parties, Labour and Conservative alike—though I am not quite sure about the Liberal Party—have come to realize the fundamental truth of the principles that were put forward by this Association so very many years ago. The name of Mr. Montagu Fordham, that veteran advocate of a sound agricultural policy, may be known to some of your Lordships, but those of us who know the history of this matter know that it was due in no small measure to his patient and persistent work that the ideas underlying the present policy have come, at long last, to fruition.

The welcome that has been extended from all parts of the House to the Government statement on policy has been a striking feature in this debate. Your Lordships may have noticed in the Press to-day the statement of the Minister to the Council of Agriculture for England. It was a very interesting and, as I am sure all who read it will agree, a very important statement, and there is an implication in it, as I read it, on which I should like reassurance from the noble Earl who is answering this debate. Mr. Williams appealed to the farmers to grow as much wheat as possible. He said that not only was there urgent need for all the wheat that could be grown, but there was also an assured market for it. He also said the Government desired to check land going back to grass. That was a phenomenon we saw a great deal of after the last war, and I would like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Nimburnholrne, said, with regard to the utmost importance of preventing the same occurrences that took place after the last war.

Now I gather from this statement today, from the whole tenor of his speech, and from the statement of policy of the Government as a whole, that it is the intention of His Majesty's present advisers to ensure the fullest possible development of the agricultural industry both as regards cropping and the raising of live stock. I suppose it is common knowledge that in the past there has been from financial and other powerful interests pressure for the restriction of the full development of agriculture here at home. Considerable pressure has been quite successful in the past in this direction, and I hope the Under-Secretary can give the House an assurance that this pressure, powerful as it was, and is, will be resisted. The lessons of the two great wars we endured have taught us, I hope, the overwhelming importance to the welfare of the State and its citizens individually of the creation of real wealth such as agriculture can produce. While the need for the full development of this industry is obvious on a short-term policy, in present circumstances in particular, it is not so obvious on the long-term policy. I hope, therefore, we may have the assurance for which I have asked.

There is no need for me to emphasize the points, made so much better than I could make them by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and others—the vital importance, for instance, of fixed prices and an assured market; the need for the active provision of rural houses and, as the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, said, that they should not he merely cottages but homes; the need for repairs to farms and farm buildings; though I am bound to say that on those two points I do not think we can derive as much satisfaction as we hoped for from the speech of the Leader of the House. Nor need I stress the necessity for the correlating of wages and prices, and for the control of imported food and feeding stuffs.

There is also the problem of distribution, and this has not been made much of in this debate. Really there is a crying need for a well-thought-out policy in the future. There is the policy being carried out now, initiated and developed during the war period; but I venture to say it is just as important that when things become more normal there should be a well-thought-out policy for distribution advocated by the Government. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has said it is agreed that "lowest prices possible to the producer" is not a sound policy also hope he will agree that the old cry for cheap food at any price is not a sound policy for the State, for agriculture, nor indeed for industry as a whole. I would only say, in conclusion, how welcome the statement of His Majesty's Government has been to all concerned in agriculture. But, after all, "By their fruits ye shall know them," and I only trust the policy may be fully implemented by the Government.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say first of all that I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for introducing this Motion, thus giving the Government a chance to amplify their previous statement of policy and, what is more important, making it possible for us on this side of the House to hear the extremely valuable opinion of this House on a subject on which it is pre-eminently qualified to give expert advice.

It is right to say, as noble Lords will have perceived, that behind the policy statement which was recently issued there are certain principles on which the Government are acting and intend to continue to act. The first of those principles to which they are committed is to secure that the people of this country shall have adequate food and an adequate diet. By that, I do not mean a diet just sufficient to keep them from starvation, but a diet which will create health and efficiency. Combined with that is the equally important principle that the agricultural industry of this country shall be a prosperous and efficient industry, that it shall have security and guaranteed markets and prices. The Government remember too well what happened after the last war and are determined that those conditions shall not exist after this one. It is largely for that reason that the Ministry of Food has been accepted as a permanent structure in the Government's organization. At the same time, we want to emphasize that we adhere to the Hot Spring agreement. We are prepared to collaborate and combine with other nations in securing not only a rise in the standard of life in this country but a rise in the general standard of life throughout the world. We believe that if this country is to be prosperous the standard of life in other countries must also be raised.

There is one other, and perhaps more controversial, principle which lies behind this policy statement. In the old clays it used to be accepted that the ownership of land gave the owner an absolute right to do with that land as he thought fit. That conception has gradually changed and it is now realized, I think, that the ownership of land is a trust, imposing certain duties on the owner. In this small island, which carries an extremely large population and where land is limited, we recognize that the ownership of good agricultural land entails the duty that that land should be properly farmed. That is also implicit in the policy statement.

I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Courthope, here to-day, but I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him on an extremely eloquent and able speech and to say that we hope he will attend frequently so that we may benefit by his wisdom and experience. He said that the Royal Agricultural Society had issued the following resolution: In return for a guaranteed price limit all owners and occupiers of rural land must accept an obligation to maintain a reasonable standard of good husbandry and good estate management and submit to the necessary measure of direction and guidance, subject to provision for appeal to an impartial tribunal. I felt that that resolution was so important that I should repeat it, for it is so closely allied to the principles which are behind our policy. It is gratifying to know that not only a large body like the Royal Agricultural Society but noble Lords on all sides of this House have supported in principle what lies behind this policy statement. In fact the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, used what I may say is a happy phrase; he said this was the Magna Charta of the agricultural industry.

I should also like to stress what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, because I think it is so important—namely, that this policy statement is actually a flexible instrument. I think noble Lords will agree that never before, not at any rate for perhaps hundreds of years, have conditions in this country and in the world generally been in such a state of flux as they are to-day. I think he would be a rash man who attempted to prophesy what might happen in the next ten years in practically any country in the world. We have therefore, on the one hand, the necessity of meeting these conditions, of being prepared to meet the different changes that may occur here and abroad; on the other hand, we have an industry which, more than any other industry, needs continuity and security. As no doubt your Lordships have seen, we have tried to combine those things by this policy. I claim for it that on the one hand it gives security to the agricultural industry, and on the other hand it allows for adaptation to meet changing needs and conditions.

I should like to go on from there to answer some of the questions which have been raised during the course of this extremely interesting debate. In the first place, the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, asked several questions, of which he was good enough to give us notice. He asked first whether guaranteed prices would be enough to enable an efficient fanner, on average land, to make a good living and to pay satisfactory wages. The answer to that is Yes. The annual and biennial price discussions will be based on economic data derived from a wide range of different types and sizes of farms. We recognize that there are all sorts of sizes of farms and all sorts of different soils and land. Therefore in arranging those prices we shall take into consideration the type of farm and the crops that are needed by the country.

The second question he asked was whether the Government would give a lead in the reorganization of marketing, or whether they would leave it to farmers to take the initiative. The answer to that is that the Government will certainly give a lead, but they will welcome it if all sections of the industry will contribute ideas and advice and will co-operate to the greatest possible extent. His third question was concerned with what steps the Government were going to take to deal with problems such as milk distribution and central slaughtering. Those questions come within the scope of plans to be worked out by the Government in connexion with the marketing and distribution of food. At this stage it is not possible to say what steps the Government will take: It is, however, well recognized that such problems as milk distribution and central slaughtering will have to be faced. With regard to central slaughtering valuable experience has been gained during the war, when there has been a concentration of slaughtering under the direct control of the Ministry of Food. That will be considered in the plan to be worked out.

Now I come to a much more difficult question—perhaps it could be described as a burning question—namely, what is going to be the rural housing policy of the Government; what is going to be their target? This question was also, if I remember, reinforced by the noble Lords, Lord Cromwell and Lord Nunburnholme. It is a question for the Ministry of Health. Both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture obviously recognize that this is a burning question and that houses must be provided. They recognize that if we are to get agricultural workers back on the land they must have houses to live in and amenities. Not only that, but farm buildings and farm equipment are in a deplorable condition throughout the country and must be made good. At the same time, as noble Lords know only too well, there is a shortage of materials, and, worse than that, a shortage of labour, so that there has to be a certain amount of give and take. With regard to housing in rural areas, however, I should like to call attention to the fact that the rural district councils are making good progress. At the last date for which figures are available, November 24, they had been authorized to obtain tenders for 12,290 houses, and tenders for 3,412 houses have been approved. This is a start in dealing with this problem; that is what I am trying to emphasize. This is a special problem, and labour and building materials will be used so far as possible to solve it. In particular, I should like to call the attention of the noble Lord to the fact that it is proposed to organize flying building squads, and, with the consent of rural authorities, they would become contractors to them to construct certain forms of prefabricated houses which lend themselves easily to quick construction with unskilled labour. There is a plan to obtain a new type of prefabricated house which can be used in rural areas and which can be constructed more easily and quickly than permanent houses.


Was I right in my assumption that private landowners who wished to build cottages to rent for their employees will' in fact not receive any assistance under the Government scheme?


That, of course, is again a question for the Ministry of Health. I think that the general attitude is that the first priority is going to be given to the rural district councils. The shortage of labour and material is great, and we do not want to take away any means of carrying out the building programmes which they envisage. On the other hand, if it does not interfere with such programmes, obviously the general policy would be to encourage all building -whatsoever. The main idea of the Government is to get on with the building programme, but the rural district councils will have priority in that respect.

Lord Courthope asked some very pertinent questions about sheep and cattle. The Government recognize the tremendous importance of maintaining the fertility of the soil, and particularly by folding sheep and other animals on the land. There is no doubt that this is valuable. The Government are aware of the importance of sheep on certain light soils in particular, but at the same time they do not see that they can give any special subsidy to sheep that are being folded; it would be impossible to do so. The value of the manure to the soil, however, is such that the recompense will surely come to such farmers that use these methods, in the form of increased crops. The wool situation is unlikely to have very much effect upon arable sheep: a relatively small proportion of the sheep farmer's income is derived from wool. The bulk of the cash return on a flock comes from sales of fat lambs and ewes. In pre-war days these flocks depended in part on the production of early lambs, particularly in the south of England, for which relatively high prices were obtained. This is more the answer, I think, than any question of profitability from wool.

Another question which Lord Court-hope asked was about cattle, and I should like to say that the Government propose to use the very best bulls in artificial insemination centres. They want not only to eliminate the scrub bull, which is obviously important, hut, what is even more important, to try to build up the general level of the herds of this country. The progress in artificial insemination centres has been slow, for various reasons. In the first place, the Government are not very anxious to encourage this matter to go forward very rapidly until they are quite certain what are going to be the effects, and what are the best methods. This is something which has to be built up slowly. In the second place, there is a shortage of labour for building. However, the scheme is going ahead, and there are two lines on which it may develop. One is a centre in small districts, so that one bull can be used in various herds round about. The other involves getting very high quality bulls indeed which can serve a wide field. Experiments are being carried out and we hope that progress will be made.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, asked some questions about small holdings. I feel that I cannot do better than refer the noble Viscount to a reply given to a question in another place by the Minister of Agriculture, who said that careful consideration was being given to the future policy in regard to small holdings and that the Department was fully aware of the success that attended the activities of the Land Settlement Association. The Government wish to be sympathetic, but again there is the pressing question of shortage of labour and of building materials, and it is felt to be wiser to use what labour and building materials are available in building cottages for agricultural workers and in equipping farms and farm buildings rather than in embarking immediately on a large programme of small holdings.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is fully aware of the fact that the majority of farms in this country are relatively small, and that our policy must be to help them and to look after their interests. Horticulture and market-gardening have not been forgotten in this statement. There should not be a big dividing line between them. At the same time, different methods may have to be employed for different kinds of produce. Many new machines are now being developed for the use of market gardens which will save labour and economize in running expenses. There is still a great deal to be learnt, but experiments will be undertaken on the subject, and we hope to encourage market gardeners to go forward and help us to feed our population.

The noble Viscount asked about discussion groups. These have already been started, and we hope that they will spread under the auspices of the new committees. The noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, whom 1 do not see here to-day, raised this question of committees, and suggested that the different services—the new committees, the Advisory Service and the old county councils service—might possibly overlap, and that this scheme might not be the most judicious method for developing the future of agriculture. I think I can reassure the noble Lord on this point. It is true that in the field of agricultural education and advice there will be these three bodies, but if do not think that the position will be quite as complicated as the noble Lord has suggested.

In the first place, a broad distinction can be drawn between education and advisory work. In fact, this distinction was the basis of the decision which was' reached by the Government of the day after the whole problem of post-war education had been reviewed by the Committee that sat under the Chairmanship of the late Lord Justice Luxmoore. It was then declared that the provincial and county advisory services should be unified in one National Advisory Service, directly under the Minister, and that agricultural education should be integrated with the general education structure and remain a function of local education authorities. In other words, education authorities would be responsible for the technical education of the adolescent, and the Advisory Service would be the body responsible for giving technical advice to the industry. This, as I say, is the broad line of demarcation. It is, obviously, desirable that there should be a close tic-up between the staffs of the Advisory Service and the local education authorities. Proposals are being worked out for securing this co-operation, and I do not think there-will he the slightest difficulty in arriving at an arrangement satisfactory to both sides.

Coming now to the position of the successors of the county war agricultural executive committees, as to these new committees, whatever they may be called, the Minister has made it clear that their primary duty will be to promote efficiency, and that they should work for this purpose in close association with the National Agricultural Advisory Service. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, who is chairman of one of those committees, and has first-hand knowledge of the extent to which advisory work has been developed in recent years, "These committees have done and are still doing extremely good work." We do value tremendously the work which has been done in the past, arid we do hope that in the future these committees are going to function most ably to help the industry.

The question of the proposed tribunals was raised by Lord Hazlerigg, who is not here. However, I should like to answer this question as it is very important. These bodies, when appealed to, are going to have the onus or duty of investigating the position when the management is inefficient and a good standard of husbandry has not been preserved. The Minister of Agriculture has said, in another place, that he is proposing to set up these independent regional bodies in England and Wales to which landowners, owner-occupiers and tenant farmers can appeal against a proposal to terminate a farm tenancy or to take possession of a farm in the interests of more efficient food production. The late Government were frequently pressed by the Council of Agriculture for England and Wales, the National Farmers' Union and other organizations and individuals to set up such bodies, but at that time a refusal was given as the inevitable slowing-up of food production could not be tolerated in war-time. It was acutally impossible to set up these food tribunals owing to the necessity for maximum food production.

Nevertheless, dispossession was only resorted to after every opportunity had been given to the party affected to state his case to the county war agricultural executive committee, and to carry out the committee's requirements in the way of improving his farming. The individual was always given that opportunity, and so far as we know these powers have always been extremely fairly and equitably exercised. The war, however, being over, everyone will agree that circumstances have now changed. As indicated in the statement of policy made by the noble Leader of the House on November 15, the Government now consider it necessary in the national interest to retain the power to dispossess, but urgency being not so vital a factor, the Minister has come to the conclusion that it would no longer be right and proper to refuse to agree to the setting up of some form of appeal body. It is proposed, therefore, to set up eight of these bodies on a non-statutory and ad hoc basis for an interim period pending the introduction of permanent legislation to give effect to proposals for agriculture contained in the Government policy statement. In cases where a county war agricultural executive committee have reached the conclusion that an owner or occupier should be dispossessed he will have the right, if he so desires, to state his case to one of these tribunals. The tribunal's report will be taken into account by the Minister before he makes his decision.

I must make it quite clear that the final decision must rest with the Minister in whom, under the emergency legislation, the ultimate power to dispossess must continue to reside, and who is responsible to Parliament. But I can give an assurance that, save in very exceptional cases, the Minister would have no hesitation in accepting the recommendation of the tribunals, which it is hoped will have the confidence of the farmer as well as of the Ministry. The tribunal would, if they saw fit, visit the land under consideration before making their recommendation to the Minister. It is proposed that the tribunals should consist of a Chairman with legal qualifications, together with one member selected from a list of persons nominated by the National Farmers' Union, and one member selected from a composite list of persons nominated by the Central Landowners' Association, the Land Agents Society and the Chartered Surveyors Institution, jointly. All the members, of course, will be appointed by the Minister who is in touch with the various organizations concerned and With suitable persons to act as Chairmen, with the view of setting up the tribunals at an early date.

I think I ought to add, in conclusion that the county war agricultural executive committees should continue to make every effort to induce had or inefficient farmers to improve their work and methods, and offer all possible guidance and assistance before applying for the Minister's consent to take drastic action; but where a farmer still refuses to comply with directions as to working his land in accordance with the rules of good husbandry (for example, by inadequate preparation of the land and cultivations, or failure to plant or harvest crops in due season), dispossession will my be resorted to after the farmer has had an opportunity to go before the new tribunal if he so desires.

I think that those are most of the questions arising from the last day's debate, but I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, that I will put his question about housing before my opposite number in the Ministry of Health. We very much sympathize with his scheme and his plans. His is the sort of initiative which I am sure that His Majesty's Government would want to encourage as much as possible. At the same time, I did not have notice of that question about the houses, and I shall have to defer it, but I shall see that he gets an answer to it. In regard to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who spoke afterwards, I should like to reassure him on the points which my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture made yesterday. We certainly want to check wheat excessively going back to grass. It is vital still to keep a very large percentage of wheat production going and we intend to take what measures are necessary. Certainly this pressure towards restriction that he talks about, if it materializes, will be resisted strenuously

I think I have now answered most of the questions and, I hope, to the satisfaction of the noble Lords. It has been an extremely interesting debate from my point of view as I have been able to hear different views expressed and to avail myself of your Lordships' advice. In conclusion, I hope that the House will appreciate our very earnest intention to create conditions which will make for the health of the agricultural industry. We welcome constructive criticism such as we have had in this debate, but we also hope that we shall get co-operation in order that agriculture may take that place of pride and eminence to which we desire to lead it.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his very full statement and for the valuable information he has just given us. But there is one remark which fell from him at the beginning of his speech about which I should like to say a word. He spoke—possibly I misunderstood him—as if the landowners of Great Britain as a whole did not regard their land as a trust but held the view that it was their private property with which they were entitled to, do exactly as they liked.


May I correct the noble Earl if I conveyed a wrong impression? What I was trying to say was that in past ages there used to be that conception but it has now been realized that it is a trust and a duty rather than a right.


I do not think that my noble friend is right in his history, if I may say so with great respect. From 1066 and before, the tenure of land has always been accompanied by duties to the State. It was related in the earliest times under the feudal system with military service, and it also has thrown upon landowners throughout the ages many civic duties such as being justices of the peace, attending Quarter Sessions and administrating the county before county councils were invented. I should like to say that not only the landowners of this country to-day but their fathers before them have always regarded land owner, ship as a trust. What we have complained about in recent years was that it was made very difficult for us to fulfil that trust. Crippling taxation and restrictions of powers on managing their property made it increasingly difficult for landowners to equip and maintain their properties as they would have wished to maintain them.

We rejoice that the noble Lords opposite and their colleagues in another place, representing, if I may say so, riot only the Socialist Party but also the Left Wing movement in this country, have now decided to make it possible for landowners to fulfil their proper function. The evil times through which the land has passed in the last fifty years no doubt brought about the break-up of a great many estates and the purchase of land by land speculators who had none of the traditions of the old landowners. It may be that some of those gentlemen very much need the attentions of the county war agricultural committee. Nobody on this side of the House will ever contend that ownership of land does not carry great responsibility. All we ask is that the exercise of this responsibility should be made possible.

I think that this debate has been very satisfactory in several respects. In the first place, it has elicited most important statements from the Leader of the House and from the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary, in regard to the prices which are going to be fixed. We now have it beyond all mariner of misunderstanding that the prices which are going to be fixed under the Government's policy will be such as will enable an efficient farmer, farming average land, to pay good wages and to make a fair profit. I was also very glad to hear the statement from the Leader of the House that he personally subscribed to the doctrine advanced from these Benches that 'the effect of Death Duties was disastrous to the proper equipment of the land. Holding those views as the Leader of the House does, I hope very much that he will use his influence in the Cabinet to convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer of their truth. I am sure that we shall never get the equipment of the land on a proper basis until that particular form of taxation is altered.

There are, however, several points which have not yet been cleared up by this debate: In the first place, there is a point which I think is still not quite clear and that is the relationship between the war committees and the Advisory Service. The noble Earl, the Under-Secretary, has just explained the relationship between the education services arid the Advisory Service but there must also be some correlation between the war committee and the Advisory Service.


May I say a word on that? It is an extremely important point that the noble Lord has raised. Very obviously there must be correlation and the closest contact for working together, but just at the moment, plans arc being discussed by the various parties interested in this and it is not possible to make a definite statement on the subject.


I am very glad to hear what my noble friend has just told us. May I express the hope that in the making of these plans the farmers, through the National Farmers' Union, will be fully consulted, because I feel sure my noble friend will agree with me when I say that success of the Advisory Service, in a very great measure, will depend upon the support that farmers give it? If they have confidence in the technical advisers and the scientists, and are prepared to welcome them as friends, and not as spies who might report on their land to the authority which may dispossess them, it will make a very great difference to the success of the Advisory Service. Therefore, as I have said, I hope the National Farmers' Union will be taken into full consultation in this matter.

There is one feature of the reply of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, with which I confess I was very greatly disappointed. It was that there is apparently in the Government's policy no target for milk or meat. The Government have launched out on their policy without knowing exactly where they are going, which seems to me to be an extraordinary state of affairs, and very bad planning. As I ventured to say in my earlier speech, noble Lords opposite are always telling us how important it is to plan everything. I should have thought that agriculture certainly needed planning as much as other things. If we are going to try to get the most out a the land, then, surely, we have to make up our minds how much of the land (roughly) is to be devoted to milk and how much to meat. That you can influence by your prices. You can influence the production of corn that way. Under the Wheat Act a target was set for wheat. When that target was exceeded the price fell. You can, by regulating your price, attain your target.

I cannot regard the policy of His Majesty's Government as complete until they have some idea in their minds as to how much milk they want the farmers of this country to produce and how much meat. Without this guidance it is going to be very difficult for farmers to make their own plans which have to be made many years ahead. If you are going to create a new herd, for instance, you have to build it up gradually. You have to plan and build the farm buildings, and the fruition of the individual farmer's plans may take seven or eight years at the least. If he has no target before him, no target fixed by the Government, it is going to make his task more hazardous and more difficult.

I confess I was also disappointed by the Government's reply in regard to fruit. I specifically asked the noble Viscount the Leader of the House if fruit growers were going to have any protection against gluts from abroad, and the only answer I got was that fruit growers would get the best advice from experts on fruit growing. That was hardly an answer to my question, though I should like to say that the work done by the great fruit research stations has been invaluable and has been of the greatest assistance to fruit growers. But what no scientist can prevent is a bumper crop in the United States of America, let us say, which may be two or three times the normal crop. In the past that has occurred and fruit has come over here at prices which really did not pay anybody. I hoped to obtain some assurance that the Government were not going to allow that sort of thing to occur, and I think it is very unfortunate that neither the noble Viscount the Leader of the House nor the Under-Secretary of State have, so far, felt able to give that assurance.

But I think the subject on which we are most disappointed is in regard to labour and cottages. I was glad to hear the noble Earl say just now that it is proposed to introduce a new prefabricated type of house for rural districts. That is a very welcome decision, and I hope that agriculture also—


May I say, in case I did not give the right impression, that we hope to introduce these houses? Experiments are being made, but the house is not completely decided on.


I thank my noble friend for his correction, though it does not add to my reassurance on the subject. I hope that the Government will also consider alloting to agriculture some of the temporary houses. I do not see why temporary houses should be confined to the towns. A great many of them could easily be put up in the country villages. I would like to say to His Majesty's Government that this is a matter which I do not think we can allow to rest where it now stands. As my noble friend Lord De La Warr pointed out, the situation is tremendously serious and, indeed, that was frankly admitted by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House himself, and by the noble Earl who has just spoken. What are the Government going to do about it?

The noble Earl has just said, in answer to my noble friend Lord O'Hagan, that the Government are not going to allow the cereal acreage to fall. But, my Lords, it has been allowed to fall; it is falling at the present moment. I think it was the noble Earl himself who announced a few (lays ago that the arable acreage in England for 1945 is 500,000 acres less than it was in 1944. That is a very big decline indeed, and the first decline that there has been, I think, since 1938 or, perhaps, even earlier. That is a very significant fact. The reduction of the tillage acreage in this country by over half a million acres in the last twelve months is, in my view, clue entirely to shortage of labour. The old men have been dying on us; they have not been able to do the work they were able to do five or six years ago, and the young men have been kept in the Army. There has been nobody to take the places of the old men. Now that the Italian prisoners are going away, the situation is immensely serious, and I would like to read to your Lordships what the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, said on Tuesday: I entirely agree as to the inadequacy of the cottages, and the crux of the case for the next few years is labour. I have great apprehension as to what will happen with the 1947 harvest. There may not be prisoners of war, as we have now, and perhaps a good many members of the Women's Land Army will have gone. Unless there is a substantial reinforcement of the labour forces in one way or another, we shall be in a very difficult position indeed in 1947 in getting in the harvest. That reads more like a speech of a member of the Opposition than one by a member of the Government.

I think we shall have to continue to press the Government until they have produced a plan to deal with this tremendous danger, and I should not have thought it was so difficult to find a plan. We have got millions of German prisoners of war. I recognize that the Italian prisoners of war should be sent back, but I do hope His Majesty's Government will insist on German prisoners of war being retained to cultivate the soil of this country until the houses have been built and our own agricultural Workers have been demobilized and have come back. Until we have our own labour supply functioning it would be folly to allow German prisoners of war to go home. I believe our Russian allies are going to keep many Germans for many years in Russia, repairing the devastation that the German Army wrought, and I do not think there is any reason why we should not keep German prisoners of war for two or three years, if necessary, until the land of this country can be properly cultivated by our own people. I do hope that the Cabinet will announce a decision to that effect very shortly.

I would like to say this to my noble friend the Under-Secretary, that only yesterday this House was debating the situation in Germany which has been created by millions of women and girls fleeing from the Russian occupied zone into the zone occupied by the British and American troops. That is causing a crisis in Western Germany where there is no housing accommodation for these women, where there is no occupation for them, and where they cannot be fitted into the social framework. I do not see any reason why some of them should not be allowed to come as voluntary workers to this country, as land girls and for any other work which they can usefully do. There is no real difficulty about labour if the Government will only take practical steps. I hope that the Cabinet will come to a decision about this, and that farmers will receive an assurance that the labour will be forthcoming to enable them to cultivate their fields properly, because without that they cannot hope to achieve the efficiency which it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to attain. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion that stands in my name.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.