§ EARL DE LA WARR had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That this House regrets the new cuts in feeding stuffs for dairy cows, pigs and poultry, which will cause grave loss and hardship to producers and consumers alike; and calls on His Majesty's Government: (1) To give a clear lead to the agricultural industry in the form of detailed production requirements for a minimum period of four years based on an estimate of the food needs of the country for that period; and (2) To state what steps it intends to take to ensure the provision of an adequate supply of the labour machinery and other requirements necessary for achieving such production. The noble Earl said: My Lords, at the beginning of this month the Minister of Food announced the virtual certainty of bread rationing, and the Minister of Agriculture told producers—that is, farmers, backyard poultry keepers, in fact, anyone connected with the keeping of livestock—of what he himself described as "a truly disastrous cut" in feeding stuffs. In actual fact, it means that from October I rations for dairy cows will be reduced by 40 per cent., those for calves by 25 per cent., and for commercial pigs and poultry by 50 per cent. The figure varies to some extent, according to the size of the holdings. I very much doubt if many of us have yet realized just how disastrous these cuts are likely to prove, and it might perhaps be helpful if I were to illustrate their effect by concrete example.
§ If we take the case of a 100-acre farm, which before the war was carrying 500 chickens, then existing rations to-day would enable that same farm to feed approximately 100 chickens. In another place Members were told of a 1,500 acre farm which is carrying 1,600 chickens 1222 at the present time. How many of us realize that as from October I neither of those farms will be able to draw any official ration whatsoever, although it is true that on the larger farm, with tail corn and processed swill, it may be possible to maintain approximately 500 chickens. At this point I would digress for a moment because I think that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has not received sufficient thanks or credit, either from the country or from the farmers, for what he has done in pressing the provision of processed swill. In point of fact, it is impossible to calculate the amount of extra food that we owe to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison. Even with tail corn and processed swill, however, this larger farm, which in the past produced something like 15,000 dozen eggs a year, will in the future he able to produce only something under 5,000 dozen eggs a year. The reduction in the number of pigs will be on a comparable scale throughout the country.
§ With regard to milk, it has been estimated that the reduction is likely to be between 100,000,000 and 150,000,000 gallons a year. The first figure represents; approximately one month's supply. The, amount of the reduction must of necessity vary according to the nature of the hay and the grain harvest—whether it is good or bad—but already we can make a rather unhappy guess as to what the hay harvest this year is likely to be, Something over 50 per cent. of our milk supply to-day goes to priority consumers, that is, to schools, mothers and infants. Unless priority milk is going to be cut—and Miss Ellen Wilkinson has lately suggested that there is to be an increase in the amount: of milk for schools—the fell force of the blow will fall on the non-priority consumers, that is, the consumers who at the moment receive under 50 per cent. of the total milk supply. The blow will, of course, be felt much more severely in the winter than in the summer, and it looks as though we shall be fortunate if the winter ration of milk is about one-and-a-half pints per head per week. Up to a few days ago, the ration was three pints a week; it has just been reduced to two-and-a-half.
§ This, in brief, is the position that we are to discuss to-day. I think that your Lordships will agree, from the few facts that I have laid before you, that these 1223 cuts will be disastrous. They will be disastrous for the farmer, especially the small farmer, who was driven out of pig and poultry production at the beginning of the war and who has never really shared in the greater general prosperity on the larger farms. He received some encouragement from the Minister of Agriculture as lately as December to build up his stocks once again. Now he is receiving this new blow, and it is far more severe than any blow he received during the war. Not only will the small farmer be hit, but the housewife will also be hit. Before the Minister of Food went to the United States (and I rather think he has repeated this within the last few days since he returned) he seemed to be extremely hopeful of giving the consumer greater variety. As to whether a changeover from shell egg to dried egg and from fresh milk to dried milk or evaporated milk is considered a welcome form of variety I leave your Lordships to formulate your own opinion. But let us look at the position. We shall have fewer shell eggs, less pork, less bacon and, almost most serious of all, less lard. We shall have less milk, and in the long run less beef, because there will not be rations for the rearing of steer calves for fattening. It will be a bitter blow to the housewife, because it is precisely for an increase of that type of foodstuff I have mentioned that she has been most longing and of which she most thinks when she is promised greater variety.
§ How has all this come about? Is it due to the inevitable aftermath of war, something that we have to acept with resignation? Is it the "inscrutable hand of Providence" or "world conditions" as the Minister of Agriculture has frequently and variously described it? In part it is. We must all agree that many harvests throughout the world have been extremely disappointing. We all know that the price regulation policy, particularly in the United States, has been of such a character that it has paid the farmer better to feed his grain to livestock rather than to put it on the market to be sold for human foodstuffs. We all know that the feeding of Western Europe has been particularly difficult owing to the fact that the great plains in the east, which in the past were the granary of Europe, have been shut off behind the "iron curtain." But although that is all true, I cannot help feeling it 1224 is a very dangerous half-truth. Its danger lies in the fact that it tempts us to sit back and accept a situation that I do not believe need in fact be entirely accepted.
§ If the Government will recognize that certain mistakes, mistakes of omission and commission, have in fact been made, then I believe that those mistakes need not be final. They can at least resolve not to repeat them, and in many cases they can reverse decisions to which they have already come. Therefore, I do feel it is worth while stressing the point that we should not allow ourselves to shelter behind that phrase "world conditions" even though in part that excuse does exist. Those "world conditions," however bad, are no excuse for not having faced up to the situation on September 4 last year when the International Wheat Conference issued a very grave warning of the impending storm.
§ The main defence, so far as I can see, has been to attack the former Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hudson, for the decision that he took in the previous June. I am not going to make much of the point that that was a decision not only of one Minister but of the whole Coalition Cabinet; that there was no protest from any other member of the Cabinet, nor any protest then from the present Minister, who was, at that time, in part responsible for the policy of the Department. But to contend that a Minister must sit doing nothing from September of last year to February of this year, because his predecessor had done something in June, three months before, is surely an extraordinarily poor, and I might almost say, a fantastically weak defence. There is no question that Mr. Hudson would have reversed that decision in the light of the declaration of the Wheat Conference. I think we are entitled to claim that if we look at his whole war-time record. What was that record? It was a continuing proof of power of rapid decision in the light of changing events. If I were asked to express in one sentence the reason why Mr. Hudson was a success as Minister of Agriculture, and Mr. Williams has not hitherto been a success as Minister of Agriculture, it would be simply that Mr. Hudson was always and Mr. Williams has never been prepared to face up to the worst before it actually overwhelmed him. That is all I am going to say about the past.1225
§ What are we going to do about the future? We may be angry, we may be indignant about the past, but looking back is not going to feed us. I must confess that in looking at the future I feel rather more encouraged. Difficult though the picture of the future is, there are in fact things that even now can be done. First, I would urge the Government to press forward with the change in policy that it has already made of attempting to purchase feeding stuffs from the Argentine. The fact that they have in the last week or two sent out a heavyweight delegation to the Argentine is very much to be welcomed. I think we are entitled to ask ourselves why, if it was worth while sending it to-day, it was not worth while sending it last September, when they were first told about the impending crisis, or last February when they first realized the crisis. The sending of this delegation confirms what many of us have thought for a long time, that the Argentine is the one free unregulated market in the world, and that the food is there. We know the food is there. We read in The Times the other day that Russia has not only been buying linseed there but actually shipping it. However, those were not very large quantities.
§ I gave the noble Lord the reference to the figures I am going to give now. I hope perhaps he will be able to comment on them. Looking in the shipping register, I find that there is no less than 150,000 tons of maize from the Argentine afloat on the sea at the present time. The absurd thing is that of that 150,000 tons, only 8,000 tons are coming to this country; the rest is going to France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Trieste and Poland. I repeat that only 8,000 tons of that 150,000 tons is in fact coming to this country. If these other countries are able to buy from the Argentine, why cannot we? Why have we not in the past—perhaps we may be able to do so in the future—been able to buy from the Argentine as have these countries? If, as has been hinted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer begrudges the dollars for their purchase, then would it not be right to say to him that this 70,000 tons of evaporated milk which we hear he is now engaged in purchasing, even if he is able to acquire it at 1945 prices—and there are not many things in the world to-day that can be purchased at 1945 prices—would cost him between 1226 £3,000,000 and £3,500,000. For that amount of foreign exchange it would be possible to buy sufficient feeding stuffs, even at the comparatively high price of something like £20 a ton, to produce 65,000,000 gallons of fresh milk. The milk equivalent of 70,000 tons of evaporated milk is only 33,000,000 gallons. That is exactly half the amount, and it is tinned instead of fresh. That simply means that in this, as in almost every other case that exists, it nearly always pays to buy the raw material rather than the finished product. If we had done so, not only would we have the milk fresh instead of tinned but we would not at the same time, as we are now doing, be destroying the future productive effort of the country.
§ Secondly, it seems to me—I am quite sure it will seem the same to your Lordships—to be utterly intolerable that we should have to slaughter our livestock for lack of feeding stuffs, in order to release supplies for countries that are not slaughtering theirs. During the last few days we have read of nearly 500,000 day-old chicks being flown from the United States to Czechoslovakia. We know that in Germany the livestock figures are very much nearer those of pre-war days than are ours. We also know that not only in Germany but in a great many other European countries that are now receiving relief, the people are maintaining not only a livestock population that we are not allowed to maintain but also a black market that makes nonsense of the rations in terms of calories that are always being quoted to us. I suggest that that portion of Germany that is under our control, the British zone, should be compelled to push their farmers at least as drastically as we are pushing ours in the direction of slaughtering livestock and of increasing the ploughed-up acreage. In regard to areas that we do not control, our representatives on the Combined Food Board must be instructed to insist that food relief should be given to countries only on condition that they pursue an agricultural policy at least as drastic as we are pursuing—we who have contributed so much to relief already. I do not think it is necessary to stress now my next point, because I think the Government realize it, but I do hope we have seen the last of our misplaced generosity in giving up claims to supplies that we cannot spare.1227
§ Thirdly, and most important of all—I keep it to the last because it is most important—there is the question of our home production. Home production is well over half our source of national food supplies, a source that according to the President of the Farmers' Union may be "immeasurably increased." If that is to be done we need a new sense of urgency, a drive, a leadership and a sense of looking ahead that I regret to say does not begin to exist at the present moment. This really is the kernel of the whole matter. There is a very considerable amount of agreement on policy; the needs of the situation are fairly clear, but with no sense of urgency in the Departments responsible for dealing with these problems, with no set production policy. With requests coming like bombshells in February asking for wheat that should have been sown in September or October, and with other requests coming like bomb-shells in June asking for more feeding stuffs that should have been sown in the Spring, we are really not going to get very much out of appeals to the farmer to grow wheat or to make himself more self-supporting in the matter of silage or anything else. Of course, the land of this country can grow more; we all know that. We could grow more grain, we could grow more forage crops, and we could dry a good deal more grass, which is as good a feeding stuff as can be imported, if we could only get delivery of the driers. But we are far past the day of appealing to the farmer; the farmer and his workers are doing their best and have been doing their best for the last six years. The laws that govern the land and the seasons are inexorable, and you cannot produce more food from your land without a long-term production programme. I use that phrase deliberately rather than the phrase "long-term policy," because we are not discussing policy to-day; we are discussing production programmes. If there is no long-term production programme, then chaos will ensue and production will decrease rather than increase.
§ I therefore put forward the suggestion that the Government should henceforth formulate their plan and see to it that it is driven through. But although a plan a lead and a long-term programme are essential, they are not enough. The food is there lying in the soil, but it has to be 1228 extracted. We must have labour, and we must have houses for that labour. I myself believe that housing is probably three-quarters of the kernel of the labour problem. Then we must have new machinery and spare parts for existing machinery; and we must have the feeding stuffs too. But first of all we must have labour, for no good farmer wants to sow when he is not sure that he is going to have the labour to reap. I know I have asked this in your Lordships' House before, but how many of us realize that one-third of the labour on British land at the moment is German labour? Therefore I say to the Government that they should guarantee that amount of labour for a long period, and I would define that period as being sufficiently long to enable the Government to get houses built for the labour we really want on our land, namely, British labour. If we are going to increase production, we need more labour, but at least let us have a guarantee that our existing labour force will be maintained.
§ I wonder if we really appreciate the desperation of the problem. Let us allow our imaginations to run for a moment, and try to envisage the situation as it would be if one-third of the labour were withdrawn from the British farms at the present time, and what it would mean to the farmer and to the consumer. I earnestly appeal to the Government not to sit back until this problem, like the foodstuff problem, overwhelms them. A settled wages policy, houses, and amenities—all these are needed, and I hope that the Government are going to tackle the problem of their provision here and now, and without further delay. Here, as an aside, is a question I should like to ask them. How much propaganda is now being done amongst the men who are about to be demobilized from the Forces, to encourage them to come on to the land? I am informed that extremely little is being done, and that in fact some commanding officers actually advise against it. I would ask the noble Lord—I do not expect an answer to-day—to look into the point.
§ Then there is the question of machinery. Machinery is now almost impossible to obtain, and there are thousands of machines at the present moment lying idle in our farm-yards for lack of spare parts. I know the difficulties. We cannot throw all the blame for this on the 1229 Government and I am only putting this to them as something which needs attention. If we are short of labour—and we know the practical difficulties with which the Government is faced in providing that labour—then at least let us have the maximum supply of labour-saving machinery that will enable us to make the best use of existing labour. I stress this point. It is a matter of fundamental importance—of sufficient importance for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be asked here and now to review his whole policy as regards the allocation of dollars for imports in order that a much larger allocation may be made to ensure a large increase in imported machinery. Incidentally, I hope I am not going to be told later on that we are importing 500 combines, because that is just playing with the problem. If it is in the noble Lord's brief, I hope he will strike it out. Let us also encourage the home production of machinery. Deliveries are just beginning to come to hand, but they are extremely slow, partly because of shortage of labour and partly because we are, I am told, exporting a very large quantity of farm machinery which is badly needed on our farms.
§ Perhaps I may be allowed to sum up. First, let the Government revise their import programme for feeding stuffs, and abandon what seems to me to be the crazy policy of destroying productive power in this country in order to save exchange which then has to be spent to a far larger extent on the imported final products instead of the imported raw materials. Then let the Government insist in the British zone in Germany, and let them urge elsewhere, that other countries, especially those on relief, should pursue at least as drastic a food and agricultural policy as we are doing here. Above all, let them realize that the time has passed when we can afford to be quixotic. Let them put an entirely new impetus and sense of urgency into the home food production front, both by letting the farmer know what the country needs and what are the Government's exact production targets, and by seeing to it that the farmer has the tools for producing up to those targets. If the position is as desperate as the Ministers of Agriculture and Food have lately told us, then I suggest that we need desperate remedies rather than nice, quiet, sound departmental action. Finally, let us, in this House, be quite clear as to where the responsibility lies 1230 —the responsibility not only for the blunders that have been made, but for those things that can and must be done.
§ The two Ministers directly responsible are the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture. One Minister has already made way for a successor who it is hoped will show more drive and courage than his predecessor, or at any rate be more successful. But the responsibility rests ultimately with the Government as a whole. When the country is facing the present desperate food situation it should not be necessary for the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food to fight the Minister of Labour for labour, the Minister of Health for rural houses, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for dollars in order to acquire essential raw materials for production, namely, machinery and feeding stuffs. Nor should the country have to accept the action of Mr. Morrison in giving away large quantities of food, or claims to large quantities of food, only a few days before the announcement of these disastrous cuts. Therefore, without in any way modifying our regret at the failure of Mr. Williams to obtain the necessary co-operation from his colleagues, it must I think be firmly and early asserted that the responsibility for ensuring the proper feeding of our people rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Government as a whole. I bog to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House regrets the new cuts in feeding stuffs for dairy cows, pigs and poultry, which will cause grave loss and hardship to producers and consumers alike; and calls on His Majesty's Government:
- (1) To give a clear lead to the agricultural industry in the form of detailed production requirements for a minimum period of four years based on an estimate of the food needs of the country for that period; and
- (2) To state what steps; it intends to take to ensure the provision of an adequate supply of the labour machinery and other requirements necessary for achieving such production.—(Earl DeLa Warr.)
§ 3.12 p.m.
My Lords, in rising to support the noble Earl's Motion I want more particularly to deal with the second part of it rather than the first. It asks 1231 for a statement of steps to be taken to ensure the provision of an adequate supply of the labour, machinery and other requirements necessary for achieving such production, and that in the context of the first part of the Motion dealing with the four-year plan. I do not want to go over the ground over which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, with so much greater knowledge than I possess has already passed, except to say that it does seem to me that the various developments which have taken place in the field of agriculture show at any rate a certain lack of coherence. The Party to which noble Lords opposite belong—as indeed I think every Party in this country—have always in the course of their pronouncements advocated prosperous agriculture, well-balanced agriculture, in this largely industrial community in which we live. How much of that can the present Government say that they have achieved in the course of nearly a year since they have been in power? It seems to me that what has happened displays not so much a desire to carry out that programme as a certain lack—if the noble Earl will forgive me—of coherence in what is being done. Not only has the agricultural industry not received the support which it deserves and which it was promised, but certain things have happened which in point of fact have had the effect of creating obstacles.
When in the summer of last year Mr. Hudson perhaps wrongly—or perhaps he would have altered his view later—sought to adjust the balance between arable farming and livestock rearing in the manner which is known to your Lordships, there was an attempt at any rate to keep a balance between the different sides of farming which would enable the farmer to budget on the certainty of returns from each of the two or three activities in which he was engaged. What has happened since then? That balance has been disturbed and nothing has been put in its place. It has been disturbed in two major respects. In the first place, the cuts in feeding stuffs for livestock have made it in fact impossible for the farmer to get a return from the livestock side of his industry, while the diminution of profitability that he suffered in wheat growing had not been restored to make up for the loss. The balance which was thought to be made in June, having been 1232 disturbed, has not been restored, with the result that to-day both sides of his activities look less promising. That is not helping agriculture.
The second major respect in which this balance has been disturbed has been in relation to wages. In the course of a debate in your Lordships' House in February, I think everybody in this House felt the reasonableness of a rise in agricultural wages. Some of your Lordships in fact felt that that rise ought to go further than that which will begin on July 1. That rise, without any corresponding adjustment in prices, is the second element which has thrown out the balance of farm budgets. I submit that those two financial aspects have not been an encouragement to agriculture and are not consistent with the undertakings which were held out.
There is a third aspect which seems to me to fall into the same category. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, touched on the matter of housing for rural workers. I think it is probably accepted by all your Lordships that the main difficulty in providing labour in the agricultural industry to-day arises from lack of accommodation. I do not suppose that there is any member of your Lordships' House concerned with these things who has not had the experience of being able to get labour if that labour could be housed.
What exactly has been done in the course of the last twelve months to improve that situation? The first major action in this category was taken by suspending the operation of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts and by not proceeding with the amending Bill which had been tabled. Is that helpful to agriculture? Has that helped to provide more houses? The second item in this same category is that of repairs to houses. The allowance within which permits could be granted without reference to higher authority was dropped from£100 to£10 Your Lordships will recollect that for many months before rural district councils were allowed to issue permits without reference to higher authority, these repairs were limited to£10. Later on that ceiling was raised to£100. That interval set back repairs to rural workers' houses all over the country. The combination of those two factors, that of the requirement for permits for repairs up to£10 or£100, as the case may be, and the 1233 decision of the Government not to proceed with the amending Bill to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act have had the effect, if my information is right, that practically nothing has been done throughout the country for rural workers' housing.
In the course of debates, in your Lordships' House and in another place, spokesmen for the Government have stated that rural housing was progressing quite favourably. They have pointed to figures which purport to show that rural district councils have in many instances got on quicker with their housing programmes than urban district councils or the authorities of larger communities. That may be so, but that is not providing housing for rural workers. The present policy is that houses built by rural district councils shall be built in, or on the edge of, inhabited centres, villages and small towns. But cows do not live in villages, and rural workers want houses where they work, not in villages and towns. That is a fact that appears to have escaped the attention of the Ministry of Health. If it has not escaped the attention of the Ministry, why is the argument produced that rural district councils have built so many houses and that, therefore, the situation in rural districts is better for rural workers? In fact, it is not. Who inhabit houses on the edges of villages that are built by rural district councils? Why, the postman, the butcher, the butcher's assistant, the garage-keeper, the mechanic—not the cowman or the shepherd. This has nothing to do with the problem at all.
These are only some of the points which I would wish to bring out. There are many more which could be brought to the notice of your Lordships, were it not that I do not wish to detain the House, to show that so far from anything having been done to help agriculture in the course of the last ten months numerous obstacles have been placed in its way, with the result that the position is less good, less favourable, than it was twelve months ago. I think that that is an unanswerable contention. Without going back over past mistakes and discussing the attribution of blame to past Governments or individuals, is there not only one answer—that which is contained in the suggestion of the noble Earl—to have 1234 a four-year plan or programme. What I want particularly to urge[...] that the plan should not only cover a plan for agricultural production, tillage, livestock rearing with all that goes with it in the way of foodstuffs, machinery and so forth, but that it should be a four-year plan for the rehabilitation of the industry; that is to say, a four-year plan which will cover rural housing for rural workers on farms, and not for the inhabitants of villages far and wide all over the country. Further, that plan should cover the rehabilitation of farm buildings and the provision of machinery.
To emphasize one point which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made, I would like to ask the noble Earl who I understand is going to speak for the Government if he can say for instance how many farmers at the instance of the war agricultural executive committees in the various counties have been urged to buy or have been helped to buy such things as grass drying plants or silos. Many farmers have done such things of their own initiative, but how many who have failed have been urged to do so by what I may call official Government machinery, and how many have been assisted to do so if they have been willing? The provision of that sort of equipment is obviously a first priority and is certainly a first priority ahead of exports, for reasons which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has mentioned, and which I do not intend to reiterate. I do urge that there should: be a plan. Noble Lords sitting opposite are very keen on planning, and here is an opportunity for long-term planning on which everyone will agree. There should be a plan extending over a period of at least four years to cover not only the agricultural programme but the equipment of agriculture. May I say in conclusion that this situation appears to me—and will, I feel, appear to your Lordships also—of such urgency that it is not a matter in which politics can be played. We are all at one in wanting a plan and in wanting it announced and carried into effect quickly. If there have been mistakes let us cease talking about those mistakes and discuss what we can do next. That is the basis of the noble Earl's Motion. If the impression which I have is right, we are in for a period of food difficulties not for one year but for as many years as will be covered by a four-year plan. We happen this year, if the 1235 reports are correct, to be in the phenomenally lucky situation of having had a sixth or a seventh excellent harvest in succession—the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, will correct me if I am wrong—in North America, without one bad harvest intervening. The present food situation in this country, and indeed in the world, is so near the margin, as I see it, that it only requires one bad harvest in Canada or America, or any of the other major food-producing areas, to create a disaster such as we have not yet seen in spite of all the terrible things that have happened in the past. Is it reasonable to expect that that run of good harvests which has now extended over six or seven years will continue unbroken for the next four years?
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, I must confess that it was with some surprise that I first read the Motion which the noble Earl has put down for discussion to-day. It was not the first part of the Motion, which relates to the drastic cut in feeding stuffs which surprised me. I can assure the noble Earl that no one is more concerned than my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and myself about these cuts or regrets them more deeply. It is indeed a tragic action that we have been forced to take, but I do stress the fact that we have been forced to take the action, and I think that any other Government in our position would have been driven to make these drastic cuts. The last part of the noble Earl's Motion in which he asks for a statement on what are His Majesty's Government doing in regard to labour, machinery, and other requirements, is extremely pertinent to our discussion this afternoon. Labour is a subject which we have often discussed in this House, and it is the key to the whole agricultural situation. Wherever we turn, whatever industry we examine, we find that labour provides us with the great difficulty with which we are now faced.
But things might well be worse in the agricultural industry at the moment. Apart from the ordinary Class A releases of men who have gone back into agriculture, the 18,000 Class B releases which were promised by the Government 1236 are all back in the industry. In consequence, very few agricultural workers who are willing to accept release are still left in the Forces today. We have lost a large part of the Women's Land Army, as a result of the release scheme, but the recruiting campaign has met with a good deal of success. We have 6,000 new members, and well over 500 more new members are joining each week. The loss of Italian prisoner labour has almost entirely been counter-balanced by German prisoner labour, and we hope this summer to have at least as many prisoners working in agriculture as we had last summer; and probably there will be more. We have also concentrated on obtaining extra help from schools and from various volunteer organizations for the harvest. We badly need volunteers for this harvest, as we did for the last harvest, and we hope to have a good response to this appeal.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rennell has said, where the situation begins to get complicated and difficult is in the years to come. The noble Lord was perfectly correct when he said that the key to the future would be housing. The Government's policy should be, and is, to attract labour into agriculture by providing amenities and by providing better houses. Undoubtedly the increase in the minimum wage will help towards this, but we believe that fundamentally it is better houses, better transport, better water supplies and a supply of electricity which will together make a better life in the rural areas, that will attract the labour and so finally solve the problem which has been facing us for so long. As the noble Lord, Lord Rennell also pointed out, we have been faced with terrible difficulties in housing. We have had shortages both of labour and materials, and we are faced with the neglect of years in the rural districts, as well as with the devastation of war and all the drawbacks and difficulties which followed. But we are tackling this problem with resolution and energy, and I think the results will soon begin to appear.
The position with regard to machinery and fertilizers is much more clear. The noble Lord should bear in mind that this country already possesses one of the most highly mechanized agricultural industries in the world, if not the most highly mechanized. In spite of difficulties, obstacles and "bottlenecks," the agricultural engineering industry has gone 1237 forward, and is developing on a very considerable scale. Where we are meeting difficulties is in regard to the supply of spare parts from the United States. That difficulty has nothing to do with dollars. We do not grudge the dollars for buying the spare parts. The difficulty is due to labour problems and other events in that country which are beyond our control. But I would stress that this is a temporary difficulty. Over the whole field of the production of agricultural implements and machinery we are going ahead, and we should soon be in a very strong position. As regards fertilizers, there was a very great increase in the quantity used during the war. Obviously this must continue. Nitrogen and phosphates should be available in quantities sufficient to meet all reasonable demands. It is extremely doubtful, I am afraid, whether there will be any increase in the supply of potash, for we are dependent on other countries for a large part of our supplies. But we are doing our best to obtain as much as we can to meet our requirements.
I now come to the other part of the noble Earl's Motion, the part which I must confess to regarding with some surprise. We on these Benches do very much pride ourselves on being planners, and I must say that it is with some embarrassment that we read the noble Earl's Motion on the Paper. We have often heen criticized by noble Lords opposite, and told that planning is excessive and that we should release controls to let private enterprise have free play. This proposal by the noble Earl, that we should state our production requirements for a minimum period of four years—and I stress that it is a minimum—is planning with a vengeance! It is planning with a rigidity which no one on this side of the House or on these Benches would have dreamed of putting into operation.
What is the noble Earl really advocating? He is advocating that we should plan our production requirements not for six months, twelve months or eighteen months, but for a minimum of four years. We realize that the noble Earl has the agricultural industry very much at heart, and that he has rendered extremely valuable services to it, but with all due respect to the noble Earl, such an idea as he is now advocating seems utterly impracticable to us. If the noble Earl could tell us what the exportable surpluses from 1238 Canada, from the United States, from South America, and from Australia will be for the next four years, if he can tell us what outside assistance India and Burma and the Far East generally will need; how far European countries will have recovered; and what our responsibility will be in our zone in Germany within four years, then. I admit it would be possible—although perhaps unwise—to stereotype our plans far production and to fix our requirements for that period.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
If I may interrupt for a moment, ought we not in any event, as things are, to grow the very maximum amount of food?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I certainly think that we should plan for four years, and plan on the assumption of the woman, taking the risk of having exportable surpluses. I do not think the consideration." which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has introduced about exportable surpluses or outside assistance should in any way modify the fact that we must have a precise and accurate plan based on the assumption of the worst possible food situation in the next four years. Without that minimum period four years, I do not think we can have an effective plan.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I think, with due respect to the noble Earl, he is perhaps overlooking the fact that we are very largely dependent for our food and feeding stuff on outside sources of supply. We are a small island but we have a very large population. To deal with the noble Earl's suggestion that we should take the very worst possible outlook and plan on that, I am going to say that there are only two possibilities. We can either take the:, or we can say, "Things may get better." If we say, "All right, things are going to be as bad, if not worse, for the next four or five years as they are at present," it means that we have to keep an artificial cereal acreage. It means that we have to grow wheat far in excess of what is proper and right for this country, and I think that would be a disastrous course. If in two years' time we do get a succession of good harvests, if the world recovers unexpectedly quicker than we think, which is always 1239 possible, then we shall have so fixed our production that our livestock industry cannot recover, so that we are producing wheat on unsuitable land—
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I still think that is the case. However, we are faced with this paradox, that on the one hand the noble Earl is advising us to be inflexible in our requirements, and on the other side the Opposition Party is criticizing us because we have not been sufficiently flexible and have not upset and altered the plans of the former Minister of Agriculture within a few weeks. We cannot be both flexible and inflexible. However, the basic thing that I want to say is that I do think that the only practical and only wise course which could have been taken is that which His Majesty's Government took, which was to guarantee markets, to guarantee security to the farmer, so that he would not be subject to fluctuations, and at the same time be able to plan our production and to alter our planning according to how world conditions change. That has been the policy and the plan of His Majesty's Government. However, I should like to stress that the Government do realize, and realize very fully, how serious the situation is. The situation is very serious indeed, and in fact if the House will forgive me for interrupting the thread of the speech for a moment, I should like to read a statement by the Minister of Food which very much affects us all at this time. The Minister's statement is as follows:
"The Government have decided to introduce as from July 21, 1946, a scheme of bread and flour rationing. I need scarcely emphasize to the House that the Government have only reached this decision because they are convinced that to fail to ration bread and flour at the present time would be to take an unjustifiable risk with the basic foodstuff of the British people. The Government are determined that every family in this country shall be sure of its share of bread, and that that share shall be, in so far as is humanly possible, adequate to the individual needs of its members. In present circumstances of a grave world shortage of cereals, the only way of ensuring this is by a well-thought-out 1240 scheme of bread and flour rationing. The scheme will cover bread, flour and flour confectionery. Measured in terms of ounces of bread per day, the rations for different groups will be as follows:
Ounces. Children under 1 2 Children from 1 to 5 4 Children from 5 to 11 8 Adolescents from 11 to 18 12 Expectant mothers and women manual workers 11 Men manual workers 15 Other adults 9
§ The men and women manual workers who will receive the higher scales will number some 12,000,000.
§ The statutory scale of provisions for seamen will be adhered to.
§ The above figures refer to the position if the whole ration is taken up in bread. But the housewife will be free to take up any part or all her rations in flour or flour confectionery instead of bread, and to shop wherever she pleases. The ration will be measured in bread units—one 1 lb. 12 oz. loaf will cost 4 bread units; 1 lb. of flour will cost 3 bread units; and 1 lb. of flour confectionery will cost 2 bread units.
§ Except in the cases of adolescents of 11 to 18 and of manual workers, the necessary coupons are already in the ration book, namely, L, M, G. J, and F. The adolescent group will obtain additional coupons from a food office, while manual workers will apply through their employers, or if they are self-employed, through the local office of the Ministry of Labour and National Service.
§ Allowances to catering establishments and institutions will be similarly restricted, but I am making special provision to safeguard the supply of bread and flour to the "meal-on-the-job" scheme, whether in the form of industrial canteens or of packed meals, which is already a feature of the rationing system, particularly for workers engaged in very heavy manual work. I am also making special provision for those workers who have no access to canteens and who now enjoy the special cheese ration. These manual workers will be able to secure coupons for an additional 6 bread units per week to assist them in providing packed meals from home.1241
§ Special authorization, e.g. for the benefit of agricultural workers at harvest time, will be granted for bread as for other rationed foods.
§ We do not consider, however, that even the above careful gradings as between different consumers will sufficiently meet the wide variations which exist in individual and family needs for bread. A special feature of the bread-rationing scheme will therefore be that the bread unit coupons will be interchangeable at the food office with ordinary points. The rate of exchange will be at the rate of one bread unit for one point, but for efficiency in control the food offices will only make the exchanges in multiples of 8 at any time during each four-week period. In other words you will not be able to change less than 8 bread units into 8 points or vice versa. This provision will have two effects. On the one hand it will offer an inducement to families which use less bread and flour than their ration to abstain from drawing their full ration and so obtain some extra points on which they can draw other foodstuffs. On the other hand it will enable any family which finds that it needs more than its bread ration to supplement that ration by sacrificing some of the family's supply of points.
§ I do not for one moment under-estimate the gravity of the step, which conditions of world famine or near famine in many lands have compelled us to take; but the Government would be unworthy to hold office if it flinched from this measure and so risked a breakdown in the bread supply of the people.
§ I have one good piece of news to give the House. As the supply of one foodstuff becomes more difficult it is sometimes possible to provide some relief and variety in another direction. Our meat supply enables me to announce that the meat ration will be increased by 2d. a week from 1s. 2d. to 1s. 4d., as from July 21 next. The increase will be in carcase meat, so that the ration will then be 1s. 2d. of carcase meat and 2d. worth of canned meat. In addition we shall increase meat supplies for manufacturing purposes, mainly sausages, by about 20 per cent. as from August 11."
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I wonder if I might interrupt the noble Earl. Can he say what it is intended, as a result of that 1242 rationing scheme, to save in the course of the year?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I think the noble Earl will appreciate that I cannot very well go into those details. That is really a matter for the Ministry of Food, but I will bear the point in mind.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I do not know. I think the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will answer that when it comes to his turn to wind up the debate. That is rather a discouraging and sad statement, but I do at least think it emphasizes the seriousness of our debate to-day and of the extremely critical position, and in a way it helps to justify, or at least to explain, the drastic cut in animal feeding stuffs which the Government have been forced, extremely unwillingly, to make. I am very glad of one thing the noble Earl said—that he did not wish to go too deeply into the past. I think that if blame arises for this situation it must be shared by a lot of different people. It must be shared by the late Government and the late Minister of Agriculture, by this Government and by the Combined Food Board, and many others, as well as by the weather which has (and there is no denying it) brought about unparalleled disasters in droughts and failures of harvest.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Perhaps the noble Earl, as he has laid the blame on the late Government and I was one of the Ministers chiefly concerned, would say in exactly what respect he makes that charge.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I had hoped not to have to dig into the past, but if the noble Lord wishes to go into those past facts I am only too willing to do so. The reason why we attribute the blame to the late Government was because of the statement of the last Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hudson, who did decide this policy of going back to livestock at the expense of wheat production. I think there can be no denying that that was the original responsibility. The criticism that has been levelled at us has been that we did not change that policy quickly enough.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Yes, in the light of new events. At the same time the noble Earl is saying we ought to have a fixed plan of production for four years.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
I really do not think it is fair to continually interrupt the speaker. The noble Lord will have an opportunity to speak later on.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I think I am always courteous. I was only going to ask the noble Earl, who did himself give way to me, whether he thinks that the original decision, made at the time of the Coalition Government, was then wrong, or right?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I was not a member of that Government so I do not want to arbitrate on that point. Whether the decision at the time was right or wrong, I do not want to argue it, but the decision was made; there is no doubt about that.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
The point I was trying to make was that if there is blame, it must be shared between different organizations; because do not let us forget that there is not a crisis merely in British agriculture, a crisis only in this country, but a catastrophe facing the whole world. This brings me to a point on which I think we fundamentally disagree—I hope not, but there may be a great difference of opinion between noble Lords on that side of the House and on this. When this position became apparent, that is to say, in December, the Government could have adopted one or other of two policies. They could either have said: "We will stick by Hot Springs and the agreement that we made there; we will try to co-operate and collaborate with the other nations of the world in fighting world famine, in fighting this disaster which threatens us"; or we could have taken the alternative policy of saying: "In view of the disastrous state of affairs, we will go back on our agreements and try and get what food we can in the open market, not considering the Combined Food Board organization or anything 1244 else." I personally feel convinced that had we taken that second course, we would not have been as well off as we are to-day. But in any case, certainly neither this Government nor, I believe, any other Government, could have adopted the second course. We should have been left scrambling in rising markets to try and get what food we could, not only for ourselves but for India and all the different responsibilities we have, and the price would have been tremendous—I do not mean the price only in dollars and pounds but the price in sympathy and good will of all the peoples of the world. We should have had the hostility of the other nations instead of their friendship, and the one big advance we have made in getting countries to agree to try and help each other in this situation would have been utterly lost.
This being so, if you grant me that premise you must also, I suggest, grant me the corollary to it, which is that we are limited as to what we can get by the allocations of the Combined Food Board. We can get only our share; we can get only what we are allowed. We can argue and discuss and press, and we have done so very forcibly, not without success. I should like to answer the noble Earl's question about the maize from the Argentine. First, the maize from the Argentine does come under the allocations of the Combined Food Board. Secondly, the Argentine allows it to be exported only for human consumption, and we cannot import this grain for feeding animals. Thirdly, there was no shortage of dollars. We were not unwilling to spend money for this; we are only too willing to do so. If shortage there was, it was a shortage of shipping, all ships having been diverted to carry wheat which was assumed to be far more essential than maize in the circumstances.
I come now to our solution in this country. It is admitted that we can get only so much grain and feeding stuffs. What can we do to make the position here better in regard to our own crops and our own feeding stuffs for animals? As the past has been dug up by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin—
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I should like to say this. One of the things for which we have been criticised very 1245 strongly is for not having restored the acreage payment to£4 for wheat. That, I remind the noble Earl, was the decision of the late Minister for Agriculture. We have been asked, "Why do you not restore this payment, and why incidentally did you not restore it in December last?" I would like for a moment to remind noble Lords—I think I hardly need remind the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, though perhaps some others might like to have their memories refreshed—why this actual acreage payment was made. It was in order to compensate farmers for growing wheat on marginal land, land which could be used to far better purpose for growing barley or oats, but on which in time of war, shipping space being the fundamental necessity, we thought that wheat must be grown, even if the yield was miserable. The position now, however, has changed utterly. What we want is wheat and cereals. Wheat is still very important, but it is no good forcing farmers to grow wheat on a field that will not grow wheat, when they might more usefully produce from it barley or some other grain.
Of course, there are many other important considerations, such as the fact that it would have cost a vast amount of money and that it is very doubtful whether we would in fact have got very much more grain by doing it at that late date. As those of your Lordships who have had farming experience will know, the great majority of wheat is sown in the autumn, and it would not really have made very much difference. Two other considerations come into the picture. One is that the noble Lord should remember that even if we had got this extra amount of wheat, it would not have been a complete net gain; in other words, it would have been taken into consideration by the Combined Food Board in our general allocation. Then we were very reluctant to upset the whole price structure which had been agreed before with the farmers, and if we had done it we might well have completely lost their confidence. They would have argued: "If you can alter prices like that, what about those guaranteed markets and prices you are offering us?" They would have said, "If you can alter the price upwards, you can also alter it downwards." There are very good reasons for not putting on that acreage payment. We aim this year at the target of 2,500,000 1246 acres of wheat, and this will be attained, if necessary by direction. Any of your Lordships who farm will know that it is no light burden that we are putting on the farming community but a very heavy burden indeed, and we are only doing it to help the tremendous world shortage of the wheat which we so badly need.
With regard to livestock—which is really what the Motion chiefly talks about—in view of the world situation, we cannot increase our imports. We look to—and we hope to give a lead to—the farming community generally, and we call upon their tremendous spirit and the talent for improvisation which this country has always shown in a time of real crisis. From Whitehall we can plan, co-ordinate and advise, but it is the farmer and the farm worker who actually produce the goods. We appeal to them to do everything they can from their own resources to make up for the lack of feeding stuffs, and I should like to quote a few examples of how this might be done. One which has been mentioned is that we should not tolerate any waste of feeding stuffs at all in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison (who, I hope, will tell us something about his work), has done a very great service in his part of the world by collecting waste for feeding pigs and other livestock and I hope that in this time of emergency that will spread throughout the whole country. Another example—just one of many—is that a great deal of our grain is lost through rats, rabbits and various pests. We have had a campaign in being for some time designed to diminish their numbers, and I hope that the community in general will join in and try really to exterminate these animals as far as possible. I should like to stress the fact that rabbits do far more harm than their food value does good. One of the reasons why their numbers are so large in parts of the country is because people think, "This is a lovely Sunday dinner," forgetting the amount of damage done by the rabbit, which is not visible but which is, all the same, formidable. Lastly, as an example, I hope we can, encourage more silage. We have been indulging in a propaganda campaign, but for some reason the farming community have not taken to it as they might have done. However, I hope that in the present circumstances it will be made on an increasing scale.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I have had notice of that question, which I cannot answer offhand. I will, however, send the noble Lord an answer afterwards. Although I have kept your Lordships long enough, I should like to emphasize one point. This, as has been said before to-day, should not be a question of Party politics; it should be above it altogether. It is a national problem, and not only a national problem, but one which affects the whole human race to-day. We are faced with a very serious position, and I believe that the farming community will, as it has before, rise to the occasion. I believe that we shall redouble our efforts, triumph over our difficulties, and again achieve victory.
§ 4.7 p.m.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, speaking at this stage of the debate I find myself in a certain difficulty. First of all, we have had an announcement of very grave importance on the subject of bread-rationing, which is inclined to switch one's mind to that and divert it from the exact subject which we are discussing. The second reason is that I was hoping to be able to start my speech by saying that I was glad that the question of politics and personalities had been kept out of this altogether, but unfortunately the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, seems to have brought it in. It comes in the course of his speech, shall we say, so I cannot make that particular remark.
I must, however, comment straight away on two things which the noble Earl said in the course of his speech. In replying to the argument that this Government should have restored the subsidy on wheat to£4 at the earliest opportunity, he seemed to indicate that wheat had not got all that importance. At any rate, that was the way in which I interpreted his words. Coming hard on the heels of his announcement with regard to bread-rationing (and bread-rationing on a scale which I think is as low as the lowest estimate which has appeared in any of the newspapers), it struck me as a singularly flippant remark, and it strengthened one impression, which I have had all through. When he had that controversy 1248 with my noble friend Earl De La Warr about planning ahead for four years, and when he indicated that it was the Government's view that they ought not to foresee the worst, it seemed to me, as it has seemed to me for some long time, that His Majesty's Government were prepared almost to gamble with our food supply. The farmer in his wisdom—and this is well known to anybody who has any knowledge of farmers—has a cautionary pessimism which leads him always to prepare for the worst, but he has always been enabled to keep hope just alive in his breast. It seems to me that over our food—and in this case it is literally almost our daily bread—His Majesty's Government are allowing hope to triumph instead of showing a proper pessimism which would ensure that we should get at least the minimum.
The origin of this debate lies in a recent announcement with regard to cuts in feeding stuffs for livestock. Like everyone else, I deplore that announcement and I consider it, quite candidly, to be one of the greatest disasters which have faced the agricultural industry of this country. It has set back the restoration of a proper and balanced agriculture in this country by some years, because it means that the numbers of livestock will be reduced, and it takes some years to restore those numbers. I am quite aware that His Majesty's Government, and in particular the Minister of Agriculture, appreciate the really grave nature of those cuts.
I do not need to refer to that any further except to say that it will be almost a death blow to a very large number of small farmers whose farms are so situated and whose economy is such that they are not suited to the profitable production of the staple and basic foodstuffs. They rely more particularly perhaps on pigs and poultry and the rearing of young livestock and in that way they perform an extremely useful function in this country. They have had a difficult time during the war, and it has unfortunately fallen to this Government to make that difficult time far more difficult and indeed in many cases quite impossible. What its effect will be on milk production on the bigger farms I do not pretend to guess, but undoubtedly we shall be far shorter of milk in the coming winter than we have been so far even during the worst of the war years.
1249 I am not going to blame His Majesty's Government for a world shortage of food. I would like to, as I would like to blame them for the awful weather we have been having which is bedevilling the mind. I cannot say that either. It is very comforting to me, as it is always very nice, to blame people for things over which they have no control. But I am going to blame them for not having had sufficient foresight or courage to bring forward their necessary measures of control in time to enable the farmer to restore the situation so far as he is able. I do not think that that can be laid at the door of the Ministry of Agriculture. I believe that the fault lies with the Ministry of Food and with what the noble Lord, Lord Rennell mentioned, a certain lack of coherence. There has been I think a lack of sufficient contact between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture, and a complete lack of understanding by the Ministry of Food of the needs of the agricultural community.
Take the two recent instances. The full facts of the wheat situation were disclosed to the country in February of this year, far too late for any appeal by the Minister of Agriculture to be of any effect in increasing the wheat acreage of this country. I personally believe that that disclosure could have been made in the autumn. There was a debate in another place only eight days ago on the subject of agriculture and the Minister of Agriculture in that debate actually quoted what was said by the International Wheat Board on September 4. That was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in moving his Motion, but I think it will be just as well if I read it to your Lordships. It is quite short.After reviewing the present and prospective world wheat position they conclude that if the feeling of wheat to livestock is rigidly controlled and extraction rates are maintained there should be enough wheat to go round.There are enough conditional factors in that brief statement to make almost anyone suspicious. The Minister himself went on to say:Indeed there is little definite evidence of actual shortage of wheat until the end of December. There may have been doubts and apprehensions in some people's minds.I wonder, in whose minds? I wonder why those doubts and apprehensions were not in the mind of the Minister of Food at the very least, and that he did not communicate 1250 those doubts and apprehensions to the Minister of Agriculture. It is true that the Minister of Agriculture, in a speech on September 19 at Manchester seemed to indicate that he had possibly some doubts and apprehensions because he informed the farmers on that occasion that they should grow as much wheat as they could both in their own interests and in the national interest. But that may mean merely that the Minister of Agriculture had imbibed some of that country pessimism which is inherent in the farming community and which we would like to see in those who control our food. Anyhow, the fact is there. That statement was one which I think would have been taken at its lowest value by any reasonable person who was not going to gamble with our food. Any reasonable person would have taken the necessary steps then and there in order to put the situation right.
There is a very great difference between controlling our food in war and controlling our food in peace. In war-time Ministers of Food and Ministers of Agriculture had to contend with the Possibility of excessive sinkings of ships and cargoes, lack of shipping, demands by the Service Departments for ships and other events which took place unexpectedly and suddenly. Quite rightly a situation had to be dealt with as and when it arose, and during the war on more then one occasion the farmers were called upon at short notice to increase the production of this or that particular commodity. They complained bitterly, but they generally succeeded in doing the job in spite of grave difficulty. But peace-time is very different. In peace-time you expect, and in fact it generally happens, that ships laden with food leave port on a specified day and arrive more or less to time. It is possible to unload the ships and the storehouse is not bombed. In fact, you might almost say that peace-time should be a planner's paradise for food. That is where I feel the present Government have so signally failed.
The noble Lord himself said that they were the Party who prided themselves on their planning, but it is just in this respect, so far as our food is concerned, that they have failed and failed miserably. They have beautiful long-term plans, but long-term plans need at the same time short-term implementation, and it is in short-term implementation that this Government seem to have failed. They are 1251 living in clouds of plans on paper and not realizing what there is in the way of detail which is necessary to fill in those plans and ensure that we get what we want when we want it and when we ought to have it.
I do not think I need rub in that point any further except to point out that, in addition to the fact that we were told about the necessity of wheat only in February when it was too late to alter the situation, we were not told about the cuts in rations for livestock until June, far too late for any farmer to do anything this year to provide extra food for his livestock in the winter. I do beg of the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that they get not only information but first-hand in-formation at the right time from the Ministry of Food as to world conditions, and to ensure that they can get sufficient knowledge in time for the farmer to do what he wants to do and what he needs to do and what the country wants him to do at the right time of year. The Ministry of Agriculture realize that agriculture is a seasonal business; that is to say, there are certain times and seasons when, if you want to be successful, you must either plant or reap and so on. But I very much doubt whether the Ministry of Food have realized that. I very much doubt if other Ministries have realized that, and I am very sorry to say that I am afraid that in spite of the importance that our food supply has to-day, agriculture is still the "slavey" of other Government Departments. We are the baby or the "slavey," whichever term you like to use, to whom no attention is paid until the last moment. But it is we who are concerned with the country's food.
May I now deal very briefly with certain points in the last part of Earl De La Warr's Motion. It really amounts to this: agriculture if it is going to do its job properly must have the tools with which to do it. I know—perhaps I have greater knowledge of the agricultural machinery side than many of your Lordships because of my connection with the Machinery Development Board—that it is often difficult to get machinery out of America. It is not a matter of lack of dollars—that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon has made clear. It is equally difficult to get spare parts out of America. It is true to say that there are hundreds and thousands of machines, mostly American machines 1252 bought during the war, which are standing idle to-day owing to lack of spare parts. This question of spare parts has been the subject of resolutions by the Board, over which I preside, for at least two years. We have no control over the production side; we can only pass resolutions, and we pass pretty emphatic resolutions sometimes. But we have no control—it is a matter for the Ministry of Production.
We are told that there are bottlenecks here, bottlenecks there and so forth, and, at the same time that we see machinery being sent out to U.N.R.R.A., we see our crops rotting in the ground because we cannot get the agricultural machinery needed to save those crops which would go to keep life in our bodies. Once again the Ministry of Agriculture is being left in the lurch by another Government Department. There is not that coherence that there should be, that realization of essentials. If action had been taken—and I am blaming the last Government and this Government and all the Departments concerned—when the Machinery Development Board first started agitating about spare parts, I have no doubt that those spare parts would be in process of being manufactured to-day in this country in sufficient quantity to supply the need. But they are not being manufactured—at least not in sufficient quantity—and, as a result, machines which are of vital importance to agriculture are standing idle in large numbers at this very day.
On the question of housing which, quite rightly, has been stated to be the real crux of the whole problem, there is one point, which I think has not been made so far in the debate, which I should like to make. That is, that it is not only new houses that we want. Labour is not coming back to agriculture in the numbers that we require. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, pointed out quite correctly that 30 per cent. of the labour on the land to-day is German prisoner-of war labour. We cannot expect to keep that for ever and we do not want to. We want a permanent British labour staff on our farms, a staff adequate in numbers to do the job. Houses are necessary to accommodate the members of that staff, but one of the reasons why the young men of to-day are not coming back to the land is because the landowners and the farmers are unable not only to 1253 build new houses but to obtain materials to modernize, to bring up to date, bring up to the standard of even the temporary prefabricated dwellings which are now to be seen in towns, the cottages which exist at present. Moreover, a young man cannot buy those necessary amenities which the young woman who has married that young man feels that she is entitled to have. He cannot get electricity brought into his village. He cannot buy the washing machine, the electric cooker and all the other things which he and his wife feel they must have. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, mentioned water. Equally, there is difficulty in getting water supplies, and if you do get water laid on, it is very difficult to get the material to put in the necessary drainage. I am not certain that you are allowed to do that sort of thing unless it is going to increase accommodation. We shall not get the labour staff we want, the right type of labour on our farms, unless we give these people the amenities which they feel they have a right to expect, the amenities which—and this is much more important—their wives see their sisters in the towns possess. These people are not going to go on living in the country if they cannot have these amenities. The women will persuade their husband to get jobs in the towns and not to stay in the country. I do beg of the noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Agriculture in this House to keep that point very clearly in mind.
There is only one other point I wish to mention, and I mention it with some diffidence. Listening to the noble Earl's long statement about bread rationing it was a little difficult to see just how that was going to affect the agricultural worker. But if I understood him aright, the agricultural worker, who presumably is a heavy manual worker, will get a ration of fifteen ounces of bread per day, and there may be certain extras under certain circumstances. Agriculture is a seasonal occupation. The old saying is that you must make hay while the sun shines. Equally you cannot harvest your corn if the sun is not shining. You can harvest your corn only so long as the sun is shining, which means that you have got to work overtime. Now every day in the week the farm labourer has to take out to the fields a packed lunch, which means, in all probability, considerably more bread than the noble Earl and I eat in a 1254 whole day or even in two days. If the labourer is working overtime he has got to take out a packed tea as well, and he will want a bit of supper when he comes home exhausted in the evening. I hope that when the Government get down to details of the bread rationing scheme they will ensure that the agricultural labourer, for harvest-time at least, gets some especially favourable terms, otherwise we shall not be able to ask these men to work extra hard to get in the harvest which, if Providence is kind, may be a very good harvest this year.
We shall have to work hard to get it in, and we must have plenty of food to keep these men on their legs throughout the harvest. I have seen several war-time harvests, and I have seen the exhaustion of the men at the end of them. I have had to ask my men to work overtime when I knew that I ought not to. They have usually been willing, but they have told me that they could not do it very often because they just had not enough food to make up a packed lunch. I will take it a little further: they just had not enough to put between the slices of bread. If they are not to have the slices of bread they will have nothing at all. I hope that the noble Earl will remember that, when he is considering the requirements of the agricultural industry, and will think of the tools necessary to help the workers with their job.
I do not know that I entirely agree with the solution to the problem proposed by my noble friend, Earl De La Warr. As I have said in this House before, I am constitutionally an anti-planner, and I look rather askance at anything which calls itself a Four Year Plan. I hope that he will not press his Motion to any extreme, because that would put me in some difficulty. But I earnestly trust that the outcome of this debate will be to strengthen the hands of the Minister of Agriculture, so that his Department can take its right and proper place among other Departments. I hope they will throw their weight about, and insist that agriculture means food. Nobody can do anything without food, and the demands of the Minister of Agriculture must have a degree of priority which they have never yet had.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, it is now some three months since we debated this 1255 self-same subject of agriculture. The position, in so far as agriculture and food are concerned, has not materially altered, except that it has deteriorated somewhat. Many reasons have been given for that. One of the noble Lords said that he regretted personalities entering into discussions in this House. I think it is very difficult to keep personalities out, and I do not consider it is a bad thing to examine the careers of some of the persons responsible for this matter. So far as the wheat situation is concerned, I think it is due precisely to what Mr. Hudson said—faulty price fixing of agricultural commodities. The prices are out of balance, and in some cases there seems to be no sense or reason in the difference between the prices of certain of the commodities. He made a statement in another place on March 5, in which he said the real reason why we were suffering from a shortage of wheat in the chief producing countries of the world was faulty prices. On April 5 he confirmed that, when he stated that the real reason for the shortages from which we were suffering was that the judgment of the price-fixing authorities was at fault.
I do not blame him for taking off the acreage payments. I may stand alone in this House in that respect, but I think it is the worst form of subsidy that could be given to any industry in this country. I know of cases where the£10 per acre acreage payment for growing potatoes was given, yet where not a single potato was made available to the country, and the nation has not benefited one halfpenny by it. You may blame shortage of machinery and labour for what happened, but no attempt was ever made to plough up the crop of potatoes grown. The man received his£10 per acre, but not one single potato was ever marketed. I consider that a system of acreage payments of that kind, whether in wheat, potatoes or any other commodity is one which should not receive the support of the Minister of Agriculture. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House and myself have for nearly twenty years fought in our own Party, almost in the wilderness, to influence them to adopt a balanced price level for agricultural commodities, so that we could get a properly balanced agricultural economy in the countryside. Some of the noble Lords who have spoken have expected too much 1256 of the Government. The Government have not been in office very long. You can blame them if you like, but in this case I would share the blame. I would say that the present Minister of Agriculture and the late Minister, when they were Parliamentary Secretary and Minister respectively, are both to blame. As I suppose the right hand should know what the left hand does, so there should have been complete discussions between them. But I think none of us can very well escape some responsibility for the present dilemma. So far as noble Lords on the other side of the House are concerned, the less they say in blaming the present Minister of Agriculture the better it will be for them.
The problem seems to be, how are we to get out of this dilemma? As I have said, no Party seems to be blameless. Although someone was talking about the shortage of labour, I can remember the time when there was a surplus of labour. I can remember the time, when I was a boy, when the whole of the village was out of work during the winter months. That was at a time—I had better say it—when Toryism ruled in the countryside. They not only ruled in so far as employment was concerned, but they ruled our lives in every way. In the inter-war years, agriculture went down to its lowest depths of despair. The Tories allowed price levels to fall to such an extent that nearly every farmer was so heavily in debt to different seed agents and machinery suppliers that none of them dared sue the farmers, because nearly the whole of the farming industry would have gone bankrupt. All they could do was to ask the farmers to pay a little of what was owing. I think that was a very sensible idea. But who cared about it? It is no good saying, "We had not the power." They had powers in the other House to do it. For fifty years we suffered long hours, low wages, and bad housing conditions, and I think it is true to say, so far as the countryside is concerned, that "Whatever a man soweth, that also shall he reap." Man is now reaping what he has sown in the years and years of neglect of the countryside.
The housing problem has been mentioned. There has been a housing problem ever since I can remember. I do not recall a new place being built in the village where I was born. Repairs, also, have 1257 been neglected. It is true that during the last few years they have been neglected because there has not been the labour available to do anything. And bad as was the state of the housing seven or eight years ago, it is much worse at the present time. If there is available labour, and I believe there is, I ask the noble Viscount who will reply for the Government to remember that there is some labour in country villages which is not being used because they cannot get the materials to carry out the repairs. I am perfectly certain there are local materials which could be used, and some materials which could be purchased, to enable many of the repairs to be carried out in the villages. I do not say that without knowledge, because I happen to be about to carry out some big repairs on a farmstead. The Minister of Agriculture, in my experience, has been very helpful in supporting the grant of licences for the repair of farmsteads and farmhouses in my county. I hope and trust that local labour will be extensively used so that the necessary repairs can be carried out.
The noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches has stated that houses were not required in villages, because he said the cows do not live in the villages. I do not know of a village in North Lincolnshire where the cows are not fetched from the pasture land outside into the villages. During the winter they are housed for the most part in the villages, with the exception of the homesteads that lie between village and village. We do want houses in the villages. We want houses near to the farms and next to the work. That is a very big problem. It is not the only problem. It is not one bit of use in your Lordships' House making a special demand for rural areas or any other areas. Houses are so badly needed that I suppose the Ministry of Health is at its wits' end to balance the demand between the countryside and the great urban districts and cities. The solution to this problem lies in the provision of more houses, more labour and an unlimited supply of materials; then I think myself that the building of houses in the rural areas and in the towns would rather balance itself. The solution lies in getting an adequate supply of building materials so that the necessary repairs may be carried out.
With regard to the future of agriculture, all I can say is that, in my view, what 1258 the farmers want is security. They have been let down so many times—they have not been let down by this Government—that they have almost lost complete faith in politics or Party Government. What they want is some assurance that they are going to have stabilized economic prices; that they are going to have water supplies; that they are going to have electricity; that they are going to have houses, and that prices of their commodities will be so fixed that they will be enabled to pay the rural worker a wage equal to that paid to the urban worker. Only by that means will you prevent healthy, able-bodied young men leaving the villages and going to the towns and big industries. It is essential to raise the level of the wages of the agricultural worker to that of other labourers in other industries. I may say, speaking of my own farmers in Lincolnshire—I have met them on many occasions and spoken to them, and they to me—that I have never yet found one who does not want his man to be paid as good a wage as that paid to any other labourer in the country, and who does not want him to be as well-housed as anyone else. These farmers believe—and I am certain it is true—that unless and until the agricultural labourer is raised to the level of the other labouring classes of the country, you will never retain on the countryside the brains and the brawn that we so much need if our villages are Once more to become the constant pride they used to be to every one of us who was born in them. That is the general view expressed by the farming community. It is accepted by the labour in the community. We know that in the past we used to draw the men of brawn from the villages into the town to do heavy industrial work, part of which is now being done by heavy machinery. We used to look to country villages to provide us with the fine fellows for the police forces in Manchester and Liverpool. I can tell you of such men who have gone from the villages in the district where I live. We want to put the agricultural labourers on a level with the rest of the community, and if that were done I think the difficulty so far as labour is concerned would soon resolve itself.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD HAZLERIGG
My Lords, when I first entered your Lordships' House, not so very long ago, one kindly disposed person said to me that he understood that 1259 I was an authority on agriculture. I answered, "God forbid!" I have known only three or four people whom I could call authorities on agriculture. However, after fifty years of farming I fancy that I know a little about grassland—enough at least to know that it is uneconomic to plough up good feeding land. But I do not think that many people could call themselves authorities on farming in general. One can see the difference between the different parts of the country in the remark made by Lord Rennell about where cows in his part of the country are kept, and in the statement made by Lord Quibell as to where those in the Eastern Counties are kept—apparently around homesteads outside the villages in the one case, and inside the villages in the other. I must say that I think cows ought always to live outside villages. As a newcomer to your Lordships' House, I have been very much impressed and very much interested in your Lordships' debates. Your Lordships all seem to have a standard of eloquence to which I can never hope to attain, and I am filled with awe at the marvellous courtesy with which you conduct your debates. I am therefore going to be very short, because the less I say, the less chance I have of over-stepping those limits of courtesy. I shall make just three points, and they have all been made much more ably before, as I expected, but I do want to press them home. I do not want to blame anyone, but I think we can take it from this debate as far as we have gone, that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food were not quite quick enough on the uptake last September.
Now as to the future, I want to make three points. I gather that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, agrees at least with one of them, and that is regarding labour. We are asked to plan for these next three or four years, but I think it may be agreed that it is rather impossible to ask any one at present for an entirely planned agriculture for four years ahead. But we can plan certain things. We can plan labour. I understand that during this next harvest the provision of labour will be more or less all right. We have German prisoners of war now, but are we going to have those German prisoners of war for the succeeding two harvests? We can produce the corn, but 1260 we cannot gather it unless we have those I men or some others. I would like to get Englishmen, but I doubt if there are Englishmen at present to take the place of these German prisoners of war. If there were, as your Lordships have heard already, we cannot possibly get the houses for that number in the next year or two. That is the first point I wish to make. I hope the Minister of Agriculture and the heads of other departments will think of the labour situation for the next two years after this harvest.
The next point I wish to make is about machinery. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, has been able to say a great deal more, and knows a great deal more, about machinery than I know. There is no doubt that we are going to be short of machinery for this harvest. I know one farm, which was a good 1,000-acre farm, mostly of grassland but now with 600 acres of plough and on which there are four tractors, a combine and many other mechanical appliances. Two tractors have broken down. Two more tractors were ordered in February of this year, but they have not been delivered. We only got excuses. Being of an inquiring turn of mind I asked an acquaintance of mine to go to the place where those tractors are made and make some inquiries. When he came back he told me that he saw there in the yard line upon line of tractors all ready for delivery, but every one of them was for export. Surely that is carrying austerity to the countryside a little too far. We urgently need those tractors this year, and I implore the Minister of Agriculture to wake up his colleagues, whoever they may be, who are supposed to manage this particular subject, and to tell them that the British farmer must have priority over all other countries for all the machinery produced in this country for the next three or four months at least. I think that would help very much indeed.
Then I come to the question of amenities, and I do not think I can refrain from one small personality. The mover of this Motion said very little about amenities, but he did just mention the subject. It made me chuckle, because I think if you took a vote in South Leicestershire where I live as to who was the most unpopular man in your Lordships' House it would be the mover of this Motion because, rightly or wrongly, by a Resolution which he cajoled your Lordships to 1261 send to the Select Committee, he is supposed to have stopped the Manifold water scheme, that very excellent scheme which was going to supply about eleven villages and hundreds of farms in my part of the world. It rather amused me to think how even the best-intentioned person may sometimes do almost as much harm as he does good by a perfectly good Resolution. I have asked people to believe that a Select Committee is not always moved by Resolutions from your Lordships' House. I have told them that the Select Committee are like umpires at cricket—they never give reasons for their decisions. But I cannot persuade the people of Leicestershire that there is not a very deep-laid plot to prevent them from getting water. I do hope in those two subjects of labour and machinery the Minister will get in touch with his colleagues and do everything he can to help our position this year and in the future.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I find it rather difficult to follow the last speaker because he has been so concise. I do feel that this debate is an important one, because on all sides of the House it is agreed that we have suffered a grievous calamity. With other speakers I think it would be a futile thing to seek for scapegoats in this matter, and to me at all events it seems quite obvious that neither the late Minister, and still less the present Minister, can be held responsible for our troubles. After all, a Minister can hardly be expected to go round the harvest-fields of the world to decide whether the harvest is going to be or has been good. He must trust to the advice given to him by his advisers. We shall never know in this House who those advisers have been. Clearly their advice was very bad. Clearly we are suffering from the advice that those mysterious "they" gave. The people of this country are suffering and will suffer more privation. Some privation they must have, but they will suffer more privation than there need have been if the position had been declared earlier. Those privations have culminated in the grievous announcement we have heard to-day. As has been pointed out, the consequences for the small farmer—and the farmer after all is only following out what he believes to be the policy of the Government—are that he will feel the result in his pocket, and there will be, I 1262 fear, many cases in which he will be brought near to ruin.
Nearly everything I intended to say has been mentioned but one thing has not. The confidence of the farmer has been lost. I do not think in the fifty years during which I, like my noble friend the last speaker, have been associated with agriculture, I have known the confidence of the farmer sink quite so low. The reasons for that loss of confidence are worth studying. I have endeavoured to tabulate them. The first quite clearly is this. The farmer has been staggered by this miscalculation or mistake. After all, he has surely been tried pretty hard. He was told months after the harvest had been got in—not before, but after—that there was ample wheat and that he need not grow wheat, Orders were no longer issued. Then within two months he was told that not only was there a grievous shortage of wheat but that that shortage would exist for at least two or three years. The farmer naturally said: "How am I to believe that extraordinary statement from the man who made that ghastly mistake two months ago and who gives me no evidence whatever to show that he is right now when he was wrong then?"
The second reason arises from the policy on prices. The farmer has been told repeatedly that he can look forward to stability of prices which will give him a reasonable margin of profit, and that when his expenses go up those prices will be reviewed and if necessary they will be increased. He has had two fresh burdens put upon him. As the noble Lord, Lord Quibell said, the last thing he begrudges is the wages, but he has seen approximately fifteen shillings a week added to the wages of every man he employs. Your Lordships realize what that means. It means that on a farm, shall we say, of 200 acres in my neighbourhood his expenses have been increased by more than the whole rent of the farm. There would be an outcry if a grasping landlord had doubled the rent of the farm all round. But that increase in expenses has been made and he has had no increase in his prices at all. He does not understand these promises which appear to him not to have been fulfilled. He is still astonished, as indeed I am, that during the time when wheat was wanted the price of wheat lagged behind the price of barley which he was told was not 1263 wanted so much. He finds that difficult to understand, and so do I. Now I come to a third point, and a rather difficult one—a point I hardly like bringing forward, though it should be brought forward. The farmer feels a sense of frustration at the interminable delays in getting decisions from the various Ministries with which he has to deal. I am sure that those of your Lordships who are members of war agricultural executive committees, when you go through your minutes, will see, as I see, a long list of items saying that a reply is still awaited from the Ministry. Those items remain on the agenda week after week, month after month, sometimes for more than a year. I would say that the average time it takes to-day to get an answer is a matter of five weeks, and if the matter involves other Departments the time taken is much longer. There is a great tendency to what is called "pass the buck." In that case, round it goes and the delay becomes really intolerable. I have heard farmers say—indeed it is a widespread joke in my part of the country—that they believe that there is competition among the various Ministries and Departments to see which can put the biggest obstacles in the way of food production. Furthermore, there is a hot favourite for the prize—the emphasis, I may say, being on the "hot" rather than on the "favourite." It would be invidious to name the favourite, but I am glad to be able to tell the noble Earl that it is not the Ministry of Agriculture.
The position regarding labour is, of course, one of the reasons for loss of confidence. The farmer is short of labour now. In my part of the country—and I am sure in others—haysel will run right into the harvest this year, and how it is going to be coped with I do not know. Without prisoner-of-war labour, neither the haysel nor the harvest will be got in. The farmer looks to the future, and he asks, "Where is the labour coming from?" It has been truly pointed out that the housing problem may be, and no doubt is, a great factor, and I myself am glad to see so many houses rising from the ground in my part of the country and everywhere else. I believe it will not be very long before we may find reason to congratulate the Minister of Health. But what the farmer asks is, "How many of these cottages are going to be inhabited by 1264 agricultural workers?" We have had Council houses before, quite a few, but after some years, how many of them are occupied by agricultural workers? Very few. I should like to ask what steps are being taken to ensure that some, at all events, will be occupied by agricultural workers.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, saw objections to houses being sited in villages, but I cannot see that at all. I am one of those who are glad to see houses sited in villages. There must be, as everyone with sense knows, a certain number of houses tied to a particular job, in the same way as the farmhouse, the rectory, and No. 10, Downing Street are tied. But apart from that, the more houses there are in villages which are not tied, the better the landowner will be pleased, for every tied house he has makes him so much out of pocket every year. If it is a new house which is being put up, the amount by which he is out of pocket may well be at least£40. You can be assured that houses in villages will be welcomed. What, however, I am not so clear about is this. The temptation is to put them, not in villages but in blocks of thirty or forty on the outskirts of or inside towns and the reason for that is quite obvious. Every Council likes to say it has put up so many houses and beaten its neighbour, and it is much easier to put up a lot together in one place than it is to scatter them round the villages. But when they are in the towns they are not inhabited by agricultural workers.
Machinery has been dealt with, but I would like to emphasize the importance of that, because in a minor way I have had some experience. For my sins I have been, since the outbreak of war, the chairman of a machinery committee, and I know the situation from the farmer's point of view. What I wish particularly to point out is the position with regard to binders, which is very serious indeed. I believe there are large quantities of binders which are not only out of order now but which for want of spare parts to put them in working order will not be available by harvest. I hope the noble Earl is using every endeavour to put that right.
There are two other small points. Your Lordships may say that the first is not very small; it is the question of nationalization. That is frightening a good many farmers. Your Lordships must remember that over 1265 one-third of the land in this country to-day is farmed by the owner-occupier, and that proportion is increasing every day. The distant rumbling of nationalization, not from the noble Earl, not from the Ministry of Agriculture, but from some people pretty high up, does not tend to establish confidence among owner-occupiers. There is one more thing, and it is not confined to agriculture. The farmer, like other people, is intensely worried by the drop in the value of the money he receives. You may say that he gets his profit. Of course, there may be a loss, but if he does make a profit and he tries to buy anything, he finds that each pound of profit buys less and less, and he is thereby frightened.
The question is how to restore confidence, because it is absolutely essential to restore it if you are to get full production. I do not think that is really so difficult, in a way, but it will be a long task. In the first place you have to get rid of the conspiracy of silence that has been going on. You must tell the farmer what you want him to do, and explain why you want him to do it. You must tell him why a situation has arisen. Do not worry about explaining the past; explain the present position, because that is what he does not understand. Give him a programme, and give him the right prices. Above all, when new prices are fixed, as I presume they will be, see that when the farmer gets orders to grow a crop, he is not thereby penalized in any monetary sense. If he is ordered to grow wheat instead of barley, the price he gets for his wheat should at all events not be less than the price he would have got for barley had he grown it. Then if you reverse that competition I told you of, give the prize to those people who increase production as against those who slow it down, tackle the machinery question and lay off nationalization, you may win back in due time the confidence of the farmer that has been so rudely shaken. That will be a long and uphill task. There has never been a truer saying than, Facilis descensus Averni, sed revocare gradum, hoc opus, hic Labor est.
Before I sit down I want to make one constructive suggestion which is not oratorical. We know that our flocks and herds and fowls will be short of protein, and as the result of that shortage people will go short of milk, eggs and meat. I should like to ask the noble Earl. Who 1266 did touch on the fringe of that subject just now, whether he and his Ministry are examining all the possible methods of increasing our protein ration. I would give him one suggestion which was put to me by a very practical agriculturist, a big farmer who is almost a national figure. He said: "I wonder if they have thought of this. There are vast abattoirs scattered throughout the country. All the blood from those abattoirs goes straight down the drain." That substance I believe is not only very full of protein but I believe it is capable of being easily processed. There are other substances like waste fish, and so on, which can be used, and I would like the noble Earl to assure me categorically that the Ministry are examining these things. I noted the other day that during the last quarter of the year there were 5,000 more civil servants. I thought that rather a remarkable thing, but no doubt they are doing good work. Possibly a few of them might be spared to assist in some of these methods of increasing the protein ration.
I have spoken too long, but before I sit down I should like to say one last thing. The speech which preceded mine was in fact the maiden speech of the noble Lord, and I believe your Lordships would wish me to congratulate him on it. I, of course, have heard the noble Lord in other places very often, and it seems to me that he has all the qualities your Lordships desire. He does not speak unless he knows what he is talking about, he does not speak at great length, he speaks with humour and you can hear what he says. I beg to support the noble Earl.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if. I do not follow the wide course of the debate but confine what I have to say to merely one phase of it, the question of feeding stuffs. Listening to this very interesting debate, my mind went back to another place when, just after the war began, I had the temerity foolishly to gate-crash into an agricultural debate and put forward some views of my own. In those days, as noble Lords who have sat in another place will know, an agricultural debate was recognized as an occasion upon which townsmen representatives kept out of the way. If they did venture to enter the House they were looked upon with disfavour. Soon after the war began, when the feeding stuffs crisis arose, as a 1267 mere townsman I took part in an agricultural debate, and I have never regretted having done so, because the country Members afterwards admitted me to their fraternity and allowed me to sit when an agricultural discussion was taking place. I hope for the same kindly treatment here if I venture to take part in an agricultural debate.
The crisis at that time was caused by the U-Boat menace. Our ships were being sunk so rapidly that there arose a great necessity to save our tonnage. I made a suggestion at that time that the townspeople should help in trying to solve the problem of the shortage of feeding stuffs. I, with a number of other people in a part of London, experimented to see whether we could collect waste food in an organized way and with what results. The results were certainly astonishing. Without any difficulty whatsoever we collected waste food to the amount of 30 cwt. per 1,000 of the population per month. It worked out in one district alone at the rate of somewhere about 30 tons a week. Perhaps noble Lords who know so much more about the country than I do will forgive my '' ignorance, as I have learned largely from hearsay, but I have always understood that a pig eats a ton of food during its life. When we talk about feeding stuffs from kitchen waste—a matter in which I have been interested for some years—I always think along the lines that every ton collected is another pig.
The suggestion I ventured to make on that occasion aroused some interest, and I was encouraged to invite the Members of another place to go and see the experiment for themselves and to express their opinion as to whether the townspeople could be of any help to the country people in this connexion. Sixty Members of Parliament came down to see that experiment. After that there was a good deal of interest, and of course the Cabinet had to take notice. A conference was held by Sir Andrew Duncan, Lord Woolton and Mr. Hudson, who was at that time Minister of Agriculture, and an inter-departmental committee was set up with two Members of Parliament on it, in order to try within a few days—because time was short and the situation was desperate—to see what could be done. We reported in ten days, and as a result of the work an organization was set up (which still exists) to install throughout the country, as rapidly as 1268 possible, machinery for concentrating and sterilizing kitchen waste collected from the inhabitants of the towns. The progress was remarkable. I will not detain your Lordships by going into the details of what took place, except to say that during the war years the local authorities who operated the system of collecting the kitchen waste collected 2,000,000 tons, which was some contribution at any rate in what was a very difficult time.
What perhaps will be considered by agriculturists in your Lordships' House as of almost equal importance is that over 75 per cent. of that amount was effectively sterilized and therefore free from any danger of causing either foot and mouth disease or swine fever. That, in itself, results in a very considerable saving of money. Some of your Lordships who follow these matters closely will know that before the war the cost to the nation of foot and mouth disease was usually round about£1,000,000 a year. It has fallen since to a matter of£20,000 to£30,000 in one year. I am not going to say that that is wholly due to the work I have been roughly describing, but that work has made a contribution and can make a further contribution towards it.
Our pig population has fallen since prewar days from 4,500,000 to 1,500,000. I hope your Lordships will not think I am overstating the case when I say that I believe the Government and the public generally have not recognized fully the great debt they owe to the townspeople and the local authorities who administer the affairs of the townspeople, for that contribution. Had it not been for that 2,000,000 tons of kitchen waste collected by the townspeople during the war to feed the pig and poultry population, I believe that the pig population would have disappeared from these islands altogether. The collections are still proceeding. Your Lordships may be interested to know that they are going on at the rate of 450,000 tons a year, seventy-five per cent. of which is effectively sterilized. When I tell you that the collection of this material and the destruction of it by burying or burning used to cost local authorities fifteen shillings a ton, you will get some idea of the change that has taken place. I have not mentioned this merely in order to dwell on the past; I have done so because we are to-day in the midst of another crisis and I want to see whether the townspeople cannot make yet a 1269 further contribution towards helping other people in the country.
I propose to make some suggestions as to how townspeople can give assistance again; to consider whether this collection of kitchen waste can be increased, and if so how. When this scheme was put forward by the three Ministries—the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Supply—and the Waste Food Board was set up and they did me the honour of asking me to be chairman, it was expected that it would be only an emergency scheme; that it would be a scheme which would be operated during the war and afterwards discarded. But an extraordinary and surprising thing has happened. That scheme—apart altogether from the value of the foodstuffs collected—is going to be a permanent feature of our towns, and it is going to be so because the housewives like the idea of getting rid of their potato peelings and their other kitchen waste speedily, of getting all that material away from their homes; and, further, because the local authorities have discovered that it has helped to bring about an immense improvement in public health, particularly in the health of the children. This scheme has resulted in there being fewer flies about, and, indeed, it has effected a general improvement.
Therefore, to my knowledge, some forty or fifty important municipalities at this moment are prepared to make this a permanent feature of their local life. There are at present something like 225,000 waste food bins set out on pavements in our streets. I do not like these bins—I hate the sight of them. I do not suppose any of your Lordships likes them either. Many of these bins are getting worn out and they will soon be unfit for use. Local authorities are anxious to get them out of the streets because they are untidy and unsightly, and moreover it is not too easy a matter for the housewife to go out to one of these bins with her kitchen waste material daily. So, as I say, over forty large and important municipalities are now anxious to change the system entirely. Instead of having these unsightly waste food bins stuck out in the streets they are proposing to replace them by giving a container to every housewife and to arrange for collection of the material placed in it every two days or so. Experiments have taken place to that end in two places, and I 1270 think that your Lordships may be interested to know what the result has been. The experiments have been conducted in two outer London areas, and in both cases the amount of kitchen waste collected by the new method has been more than double that previously collected, and the quality has been vastly improved. The new idea has also been welcomed by the housewives.
Now I come to the difficulties. I have tried very briefly, and without detaining your Lordships over long, to deal with three matters. May I summarize. First of all I have spoken a of a properly organized collection, on a permanent basis, of kitchen waste, to produce in normal times 1,000,000 tons of wholesome food for pigs and poultry per annum, and thereby to effect a considerable saving in our imports of cereals. I make that statement with the knowledge that I have as chairman of the Waste Food Board responsible for this work since its inception. I think that, properly organized, instead of 450,000 tons it will be possible to get 1,000,000 tons of food of better quality than is being collected now. My second point is that this, would considerably reduce the vast expenditure which results from recurring epidemics of foot and mouth disease and swine fever, thereby saving the country a considerable amount of money. The third point is that it would bring about a much needed improvement in the health of our town populations, especially the children.
And now I want to ask the Government to do three things. First, I ask them to give us the tools in order that we may do the job. By the tools I mean the containers. Strange as it may seem, the Waste Food Board is now operating under the Board of Trade. The reason for that I do not understand; it is not for me to try to ferret out these things. I suggest to the Government that they look at the question of the general set-up of this business because it seems to me to be wrong. Resolutions are being passed all over the country calling upon the Ministry of Agriculture to get more foodstuffs. The Ministry of Agriculture is not responsible for the collection of food waste. At the present time, in order to carry out the proposals which I have brought to the notice of your Lordships it is necessary to get containers, and these can only be obtained through the influence of the Board of Trade. So I 1271 make an appeal to the Government in this matter. I understand that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, is going to reply, and I ask him if he will be good enough to bring this to the notice of the Government and to endeavour to use some persuasion on the Board of Trade in order that these containers may be obtained.
The next request which I propose to make—if it is not effective to-day I shall renew at a later date in this House—arises in this way. Strangely enough, many municipal authorities in this country strongly object to purchasing containers for this purpose because purchase tax is attached to them. Their argument is that they are proposing to buy these containers in order to help the Government out of a very difficult situation. They say that they are making no profit out of the business—indeed they are going to give the containers to the housewives—and yet they have to pay sixteen and two-thirds per cent. purchase tax. I have been watching closely recent proceedings in another place—it is not easy in view of the long night and day sittings—in order to see whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has included such articles in the concessions which he has made. Up to now I have not noticed that he has done so. May I make the suggestion to him—if it is possible that my words may reach him—that the local authorities concerned with the collection of waste food would be pleased to vouch that containers upon which no tax is paid will be used solely for the collection of waste food in order to help the country out of its difficulties.
Finally, I would be glad if the Government would look into the whole set-up of this matter. It was started, as some noble Lords know, by the Minister of Supply, with the active help and assistance of the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture. The Ministry of Supply have now dropped out of the picture altogether, and the Board of Trade have taken it over. But local authorities know little or nothing of the Board of Trade; municipalities are not accustomed to dealing with that Department. The Board have the ready assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food, but, strangely enough, another Government Department, the Ministry of Health, which has more to do with local authorities and upon which, 1272 more than all the other Government Departments put together, the success of this depends, will not have anything to do with it. The Ministry of Health have never been connected with it in any way. I think the set-up is a little confused, and I would be glad if the Government would look into it. Every resolution I have seen on the matter, and statements made by members of the Government in another place, have all indicated that the Government are prepared to help in every way a drive for additional feeding stuffs to help maintain our pig and poultry stocks.
I suggest that one of the ways the Government can help is for the Cabinet to look into the set-up of this organization, to see that at least one Government Department is responsible and that that Department has a full understanding of the problem. The staff of the Waste Food Board was suddenly changed from the Ministry of Supply to the Board of Trade, and there is nobody at the Board of Trade who knows anything about it. As a result, the staff are carrying on without any real understanding of the problem. I am sorry if I have put it more plainly than I should have done, but somebody has to say these things. As I said, I, in my innocence, "gatecrashed" into the agricultural debate in another place and achieved something. I should like to try to do something in your Lordships' House, and I hope that what I have said may have some effect in increasing the amounts of feeding stuffs made available, and, above all, in helping to cement good feelings between town people and country people.
§ 5.32 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to say at once that I am quite sure that everybody in the House has listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, with the greatest interest. Some of us have little knowledge, but some have much greater knowledge, of the wonderful work for which the noble Lord has been very largely responsible, and of the example he put before various municipalities, an example which has been followed with great benefit by the country. The noble Lord need have no diffidence at having expressed himself so clearly and forcefully in his recommendations to the Government.
When one speaks rather late in a debate, it is always rather difficult 1273 because, unless one is picking up some particular subject, so much of the ground on which one intends to speak has already been covered. In this case I find myself in precisely that position. The Motion is one which would probably receive the support of the overwhelming majority of the members of your Lordships' House, because it endeavours to secure for the agricultural industry some assurance of consistency and, at any rate up to a point, a long-term policy. I do not wish to repeat what has been said so much better by others, but it does seem to me that, given the conditions under which the country is existing at the present time, and given the condition of a world shortage of food, it is of the utmost importance that food production in this country should be ensured as far as possible by a policy of steady and persistent encouragement on the part of the Government of the day. Such a policy should be a source of strength to the Government, both in negotiating for the amount of food which we must still import and also, from the wider point of view, in the strength of the nation, vis-à-vis other countries. The maximum production of food here is of the utmost importance. Such a policy can be implemented, I believe, on the lines of the principles laid down and to which this House expressed its approval in a previous debate on the general policy of His Majesty's Government.
A maximum food production is of course dependent on a number of considerations. There must be adequate maintenance of equipment, renewal of obsolete equipment, and up-to-date improvements required by labour. This last, of course, includes the provision of amenities such as electricity and main water supplies, and housing, about which I should like to say a word in a moment. Development is also necessary in mechanization for farming. So much has already been said about housing that I do not propose to elaborate that point at any length. I quite agree with what has already been said. The lack of adequate housing, as I think noble Lords opposite have said, is the main reason for the non-return of labour to the land at the present time. One thing I would suggest we have learned from our experience is that it is necessary to treat agricultural housing on a different basis from that on which housing is treated in 1274 urban areas. After all, landlords desire to have houses built to let. They want to ensure the use of local labour, which is essential, and a substantial proportion of houses should be built by individual land-owners. At the present time local authorities are very much over-burdened, and I would suggest, especially in outlying districts, that responsibility for housing should be passed to landowners.
May I also appeal to the Government to reconsider what I think is a prejudice on their part against tied houses? The ultimate objective, we should all agree, is to produce a sufficient number of free houses, but for the present I would strongly urge that tied houses are very necessary indeed. In many cases, in remote districts, they are essential for the adequate housing of stockmen and men in a similar capacity. Attention has been directed in this debate to the re-conditioning of existing houses. Recently the Minister of Agriculture agreed to approve of more being done in this direction, but the Housing (Rural Workers') Act has not been renewed. I venture to think that that has been a source of great weakness in the provision of houses in the countryside. I would remind His Majesty's Government that under that Act the whole benefit was to go to the tenant. I should also like to call your Lordships' attention to the third report of the Rural Housing Sub-Committee of 1944, which says:Reconditioning, both necessary and urgent in rural districts, can be carried out by many small builders not large enough to tackle new buildings effectively. Much of the labour is immobile and normally employed on repairs and re-conditioning.I would therefore make an appeal to His Majesty's Government to reconsider their attitude with regard to this particular aspect of the housing problem, with a view to doing more to encourage the reconditioning of existing properties. Of course, as things stand at present with regard to building and repairs and to the maintenance of farm building and equipment, there are adverse circumstances, one of which has been the shortage of labour, which has been diverted to employment by local authorities. There have been difficulties and delays with regard to getting licences for materials. I would suggest that all essential farm and cottage repairs really need equal priority with the housing programme. This would contribute quite considerably to the provision of adequate 1275 houses for the country labourer. I would suggest that the present limit of£10 per annum plus£2 per month is really a ludicrously low figure considering the present level of costs.
There is also the question of water supplies and electric light, and it is quite clear that, until the position is improved by Government and other action, the landlord is unable to make his contribution in that regard. Another suggestion I would like to recommend for the noble Earl's consideration is that it should be possible for certificates to be got from the county war agricultural executive committees. Those committees should be allowed to give certificates according to the urgency and importance of the work. I would venture to urge upon His Majesty's Government several things that have already been alluded to, in particular, that the lack of proper housing is one of the main causes of the difficulty in getting adequate permanent labour on the land. It has been stated that what is wanted now is not prisoner-of-war labour, and that, as soon as it is possible to overcome these practical difficulties of housing, those houses should be occupied by the workmen of our own country. I suggest that the Government could materially improve the position by giving more active encouragement, as I have said, to reconditioning and to removing the disabilities on private enterprise building. That means, of course, allowing individuals in suitable cases to do the work rather than concentrating excessive work and responsibility on local authorities. Rural district councils between the wars had not too good a record in building. I would also urge drastic simplification of existing restrictions and controls.
The Motion which my noble friend has put 'before the house is not one which can be treated merely from the point of view of the agricultural industry itself. After all, the purpose of agriculture is not merely to ensure an adequate living for those engaged in it. It is also to produce food, and with that in mind, in view of the present shortage, it would seem to be folly to go on in the way in which we are at the present time. It is essential that something drastic, something thorough and something with more foresight in it is required as an agricultural policy, and I venture to think that the proposal made in the Motion which is before the House 1276 is one of the best ways in which such a policy can be secured.
§ 5.45 p.m.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in this debate, because unfortunately I was unable to be present earlier when a number of your Lordships spoke. I do intervene, however, because some of your Lordships may remember that for three years prior to the war I was the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture in your Lordships' House, and I did not, I think, miss a single agricultural debate during that period. Since the conclusion of the war I have spent the greater part of my time in trying to bring myself up to date with the agricultural legislation which was enacted during the war years, and of which I could not avail myself during that period. It is clear from the debate to which I have listened that we are all cognizant of the fact that, in spite of the wartime emergency steps that it was necessary to take in this country to revive food production at home, and in spite of the fact that a large proportion of people in the world to-day have empty bellies, British agriculture is in a plight generally little better than that in which it was in 1939. I refer particularly to the price level structure and the total output of various primary commodities of this country.
The second part of my noble friend's Motion concerns labour machinery. The social structure is not yet sufficiently attractive either to recruit townspeople to farming or to stem the drift of the tide from the countryside to the town. The approach to agriculture and farming since the war has, to some extent, been different from the approach we took between the years 1936 and 1939. I am quite clear that it is no longer of any avail for His Majesty's Government, or any section of the community, to pay lip-service to the importance of the largest single industry in the country. We want to treat this industry, if I may submit the point, as if it were a war-time operation, and deal with essentialities. The greatest essentiality in my view, if the countryside is to be revived, is to give the country folk, and particularly the wife of the agricultural labourer, amenities comparable to those in the town. So far as my experience has gone in the last year, I see practically no improvement in the provision of electricity, either for farming purposes or for 1277 domestic purposes in agricultural dwellings. Housing in the countryside is worse than it was in pre-war years owing to the fact that there was neither the labour nor the materials to put it in order during the period from 1939 to 1945. To-day one can obtain a W.B.A. licence permitting either the building of a new house or such reconditioning as may be necessary, only provided that the building or the reconditioning will allow an extra family to be housed. The consequence is that a great number of houses in the last seven years have been getting shamefully dilapidated. Not only is it a question of being unable to improve, but it is a question of being unable to maintain.
With the emphasis that the Government is now placing on housing generally as a national issue, what do the country people see? They see new houses going up in urban areas, or suburban areas, provided with electricity, with bathrooms, and with modern necessities, whereas nothing, or very little, is done for the key man of farming, the agricultural labourer. Is it surprising, under those conditions, that we get a very formidable drift from the country to the town? Is it surprising that His Majesty's Government have failed in their recruiting scheme, launched at the conclusion of the war, to get the numbers into the industry which were originally expected? I believe the townspeople to-day, owing to the paramount importance of the food situation in this country and in the world, would warmly endorse and approve a bold scheme by His Majesty's Government to get electricity to the countryside and to subsidize both district councils and private enterprise, so that within a given target date there will be erected houses solely for the purpose of the agricultural industry.
That does embrace, I submit, the farmer as well as the agricultural labourer. We are, in my part of the world, now getting to the condition where there is a percentage of houses suitable for the farm labourer, whereas the farmer, a man of substance farming anything from 300 to 500 acres, is living in an old farmstead, and by no good will on the part of the landowner and no amount of pressure on the various Ministries can he get his house improved. It puts such a farmer in a very invidious position, and I would go so far as to say that it is an intolerable position for his wife who, more often than not, has to feed a number of persons 1278 within the house, either prisoners of war or agricultural labourers who have not got houses of their own, while she has got none of the modern facilities that her husband's employees are enjoying. Therefore I do hope the noble Earl will press the Ministry of Agriculture to revise the present system of issuing W.B.A. licences or permits for the improvement of farmsteads, so that some progress can be made at this very acute time in making equal provision for farmsteads as for other types of dwelling.
I do not want at this stage of the debate to take up your Lordships' time by referring to the all-important matter of the first part of my noble friend's Motion, but I would say that what it states is as true to-day as it ever has been. When I was responsible for replying on behalf of the Government before the war to many of your Lordships whom I see present at this debate to-day, I used to be told that the farmer, if he was going to have sufficient confidence to produce the maximum out of the soil of the country, must have faith in the word of the Government. That faith, so far as I can see, has gone, and it is now for His Majesty's Government to take most stringent and active steps to restore it; otherwise they will find, in spite of anything that may be said, that the industry will slowly but surely dwindle and that in time, when the prisoner-of-war labour has been repatriated, it will not have the necessary force and strength to maintain the fertility of our soil. If agriculture should ever reach that depth, then I consider that the repercussions on the industrial life of this country will be such that we shall have to rate ourselves as a second-class Power. Therefore I hope this Government will, not from any narrow view but from the widest conception, take into account the vast fund of information which your Lordships' House is able to provide in regard to this subject, so that more stringent action can be taken at the earliest date.
§ 5.55 p.m.
THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE
My Lords, I shall not detain you for more than two minutes, but there are two things I wish to say. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in replying to the early part of the debate, said that housing is being attacked with resolution and energy. I think he must have appreciated from the speeches which have fallen from several 1279 of your Lordships that housing, the lack of it or the quality of it, is really at the root of the difficulty. I would like to press what has already been said by two recent speakers, that this matter should be taken into very careful consideration again from the point of view of resuscitating the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. In Scotland we had quite a different experience of that Act from that which was experienced in England, and I think we have been able to prove there the value of that measure. The value having been proved, the Act should be resuscitated. It should not be considered that because we have made an advance, therefore no further advance is needed. Surely it is obvious that to keep a house in repair, to bring it up to a proper state in order to accommodate families, is an easier and quicker job than building a new house. As has been pointed out, it can be undertaken by workmen who are not employed on the bigger housing schemes. Therefore every encouragement should be given to that method of procedure.
The other point I want to stress, because I do not think it has been stressed to-day, is the effect which the recent Order has had, particularly on the small farmer, the smallholder. Those who were dependent for their living on smallholdings went in largely for pigs and poultry, and by the recent development the whole of that is threatened. The Government, in their conception and in their plan, as stressed by the noble Earl who introduced the Motion, should make provision for the smallholder. He is a valuable asset to this country, and if provision is made for the smallholder under such schemes of co-operation as have been already put into operation and approved by the Land Settlement Association, I think we can show that he can be a useful member of the community; that he can contribute 'his part to the feeding of the community; that it gives him an opportunity of putting his foot on the ladder of independence, and that it gives his family the chance of being brought up in wholesome surroundings. I do urge, with all the power I can bring, that His Majesty's Government, in making their plan, should make provision for smallholdings.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, I am going to detain your Lordships only for 1280 a very few minutes. I feel very pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, is going to reply to this debate, because it is almost five years ago since he and I took part in a debate in 1941, when your Lordships' House passed the Resolution which I then had the honour to move that an agreed long-term policy for agriculture was essential in the national interest. That was nearly five years ago, and an agreed long-term policy is even more essential at this juncture of our history than it was then, because the situation is even more serious. Arising out of the debate this afternoon we have heard a great many excellent suggestions from all sides of the House, and I think it proves, as I hope was proved in 1941, that agriculture can be regarded by your Lordships' House on a non-political basis. Whatever Government is in power, the people have to eat, and it is very unfortunate when political prejudice comes into agriculture.
There is one word which I used in 1941—I do not wish to repeat myself—and that is the word "security." Security is absolutely essential for agriculture and, as I have said many times since 1941, for forestry. Unless the landowner, the farmer and the agricultural worker can have security, it is perfectly hopeless to try to increase food production. I do not say this from any political point of view, but I do hope that His Majesty's Government will not make with agriculture the mistake which I feel they are making with the steel trade. In another place we have heard that the steel trade is going to be nationalized at some future date, such as two years from now, and the plans which that trade, as a private trade, willingly put forward may not come to fruition because of this threat of nationalization which is hanging over it. In 1941 the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, myself and others, discussed the future of agriculture and the policy for agriculture on, as I have said before, a non-political basis. I feel that if the landowner, the farmer and the worker can be given security, they can all in their individual ways help to increase the production of food. If, on the other hand, landowners feel that after the next General Election they are going to be nationalized, they will obviously not be quite so willing or so ready to do the improvements to farm buildings, cottages 1281 and roads which are so essential if food production is to be increased.
A little time ago an organization of landowners, of which I happen to be chairman, asked its members how much per acre should be spent on equipment, and, taking the average of all the replies, it was found that a sum of roughly£15 per acre could be spent on improving farm equipment. If that sum were spent, it would, of course, very much improve the productivity of those farms. I appeal to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison (whom I have always regarded as a most broad-minded champion of agriculture) to look at this from the point of view of security for the parties interested in agriculture. I hope that small Party prejudices will not creep in, and that we shall all be able to go forward, in this extremely serious time, to improve food production.
There is only one other subject which I should like to mention, and that is the subject of cottages, to which reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. In the opinion of those who farm, agriculture must be a combined operation. In my opinion, it is impossible for the rural authorities to provide all the houses for agricultural workers, even if such a thing were desirable. There are many farmers and landowners who would be willing to provide cottages if they were given reasonable terms on which to provide them. In out-of-the-way farms, cottages must be connected up with the farm or be tied cottages. I do not wish in any way to bring Party prejudice to bear on this matter but a year or two ago I had the honour of taking part in a combined conference convened by the Royal Agricultural Society of England on the subject of long-term agricultural policy, at which the noble Lord, Lord Courthope, presided. At that conference there were representatives of the National Union of Agricultural Workers and the Transport and General Workers' Union, and the subject of tied cottages was, of course, brought up. There are certain jobs in this country which really necessitate having a tied cottage. I suppose one of the most eminent examples is the Prime Minister, who usually lives in No. 10, Downing Street. I do not believe any member of the Party opposite would say that that was a hardship on him, for he is near his job, but it is an example of a tied house. It is 1282 the same with other eminent people, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and many others, including the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would like to make a plea to members of the Party opposite—in other words, members of the Government—not to force this tied cottage issue too much, because there are many jobs on farms which it would be impossible to fill if it were not for tied cottages. I hope it will be made possible for landowners and farmers to build cottages on their farms which will be tied cottages and which will go with the job.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer, but I felt that I should back up the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, on this matter. It is time agriculture was looked at from a non-political and non-prejudiced point of view, and that any of these prejudices which exist should, if possible, be removed so that landowners, workers and farmers can all go forward together to remedy this exceedingly serious situation.
§ 6.7 p.m.
My Lords, I am going to detain you for only two or three minutes, but I feel that I must rise to support the noble Earl's Motion because I do not want it to be said in twenty or twenty-five years' time that I did not try to do something to help agriculture. I am particularly interested in smallholders, in the men who have quite small properties of ten or fifteen acres. I met a number of them during my service, and only a day or two ago I had a letter from one of my old shipmates in which he said that he was forced to give up his little property (it was quite small, twelve-and-a-half acres, but it did grow food) because he was unable to get accommodation for somebody to help him. One knows that the housing situation is very difficult. During the war I myself tried in my own little place of ten acres to start a market garden. We produced a certain amount of stuff, but now my gardener has died. He lived in the village, and I have no cottage, and I do not know what I am going to do. It looks as if our efforts will have to go to waste, and there must be hundreds of other cases like that. The point I would stress is that we have won this war—there is no doubt about it—but it is farcical when you go abroad to France and Belgium and see the food there. In 1283 one meal you can eat sufficient calories to keep you going for a week over here. You may say that it is black market. Possibly it is, and possibly it is not, but it is no more expensive to eat in that way than it is to go out to dinner in the West End of London. But that is not the point. I purposely went to a workman's cottage at St. Cloud on the outskirts of Paris and I said to the man, "May I have lunch?" He replied, "Certainly," and I had the best and biggest omelette I have ever had. Does not that really make you think? France has been occupied; Belgium has been occupied; England has always been free—but where are we? I read in Hansard the other day a discussion in which it was said that the Germans were laughing at us because of the food we were sending them, and I can tell you that quite a number of other countries are laughing. Why should they laugh at us?
I want to say only one more thing. I believe the L.C.C. own or run a large number of farms, and that during the war they did not cut the number of cattle on those farms but increased them. I would urge His Majesty's Government to see that all help is given to the farmers, no matter how small the place, in the way of silage and so on.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I think we shall all agree that we have had a useful discussion this afternoon. If in the part that I take in it I trespass a little on to the food side, especially in view of the announcement the noble Earl was courteous enough to make during the middle of his speech, I think that that is probably very much akin to the subject under discussion. After all, the growing of more and better crops, the breeding and fattening of more pigs or more store cattle, the incubating and bringing up of chickens and the rearing and maturing of more much cows all have the one ultimate object of giving better and more varied food to the people who consume it—and they deserve it. They deserve the most abundant supplies not only of the basic foodstuffs but of everything that can give them a fuller and more varied diet. I see that the present Minister of Food on taking office said that it was his ambition to give the people a more varied diet. Oddly enough, I said the same thing when I took 1284 that office. To some extent I succeeded, and I hope that he will succeed too, because I know that that is what the people of this country need.
But when talking about a more varied diet, let us realize the things upon which that depends in ordinary houses. I am not now discussing the kind of people who occasionally indulge in an oyster or some caviare if they can get it from Russia, or something of that sort. In the ordinary household up and down this country the things that make for the more varied diet are more eggs, more butter or other fats, and more milk. Those in the main are the things which matter, unless you also contribute things like raisins, currants and other dried fruits. But the main things are the eggs, the butter or lard and the milk. What distresses me about the present situation is that it means less of each of those main articles.
The Government took the decision last summer to try and expand livestock production and grow less wheat. I hope I was not discourteous when I interrupted the noble Earl, because I hate being that. It was a Government decision. It was largely based upon information which, as the present Minister of Agriculture said in another place, was made available through me and through sources to which I had the most direct access. I went to Washington, but I was not content with Washington and went to Ottawa and Montreal as well to check the figures I had been given in Washington. About Easter of last year all the figures showed hat there was ample wheat and other cereals in the world at that time. That was even after the droughts about which we heard. Let us all remember in discussing these things—because we may as well be right on our facts—that the droughts in the southern hemisphere took place in the months of November and December, 1944, and January and February, 1945. The decision again to increase our livestock was a right decision to take, I am certain, and I am also certain that all those concerned will also think it was a right decision to take at that time. The then Minister of Agriculture and I were the two primary people concerned but if I may mention the third it was the present Prime Minister.
Now the factor which came into the picture after that decision to expand the animal part of our farming was the 1285 failure of the monsoon in India. The factor which of course we had not to deal with at that time was the question of feeding the people of Germany. Those are the two new factors which have arisen since the present Government took power. The thing we were always watching at the Ministry of Food throughout the years of war was our stocks of cereals. Every week I had a return of those stocks on my desk and we never let it go down below twelve weeks' supply and usually I tried to keep, it up to about fourteen weeks' supply, with three or four weeks of flour on top of that. We kept substantial stocks of wheat in hand and arrangements were made to get enough wheat to carry us right on.
I am not going very deeply to-day into the question of whether the decision ought to have been announced to farmers in September of last year or not, or whether it was only known in December as has been said. Suffice it just for me to make this one comment in passing. A member of the Government, Miss Wilkinson, as early as October, made a speech somewhat off the record—I should not perhaps say off the record but call it a public speech out of turn—about bread rationing. She was certainly told that it was not for her to say whether there was bread rationing or not. Therefore in October I fancy that some people in the Government had a pretty good suspicion that something ought to be done about it, and it would have been better if instead of Miss Wilkinson merely making those remarks to a gathering of teachers or somebody like that, somebody had told the farmers.
However, passing from that, I would really like to know what has happened about those large stocks which were left. I believe the time has come—the people of this country like being told the truth—when the Government ought to say what their stocks are. It was quite impossible to do so during the war, because if the Germans had found that we were running low in our sugar or running low in our wheat it would have given them an indication of where we had to ship things from and they could easily have sent submarines between here and Cuba knowing that the volume of shipping was coming from there. But I cannot see any real reason at all for not telling the people the truth now about the stocks. Tell them what they were, and tell them 1286 to what they have now descended. I know the arguments put up against that. It is said "That would give people all over the world an idea of what you want to buy, and they can put the prices up because they think you are in difficulty."
Would any government ration bread if they were not in difficulties with their stocks. Has not this action announced to the whole world that that is the case? Still less, if I may say so, is there any reason for not disclosing the cereal stocks, because the greater part, if not the whole, of the wheat coming to this country comes from Canada. They know there the extent of our stocks; we tell their Government. An arrangement has been made—there have long been different agreements in force and there is either a new one or an old one in force now—by which the Canadians send us our wheat at a particular specially approved price, so really that argument can obviously not apply to our stocks of wheat. I see no reason why we should not now know what those stocks are. It is a curious thing that vast numbers of people outside this country know what they are, but very few people inside this country know.
Now I come—and I intend to be quite frank—to what I think are the mistakes that this Government has made. First of all it has been quite properly said by the Minister of Agriculture that we have already reason to know (I am taking this from the report of the debate on June 18) that the exporting nations will not export for animals. Well we are entitled as much as any other country to maintain our livestock production. Other countries can do it on their own produce, but to a great extent we must rely on imported produce. One of the great advantages of reducing the extraction rate from 85 to 80 per cent, was that I got 340,000 tons of extra feeding stuffs for our livestock for that year. When foreign countries are reluctant to export for animal feeding, I say, without in the least wishing to be offensive, that it is the highest folly to raise the extraction rate and lose 300,000 tons on the first jump-up, and another 300,000 torts (actually I think it is more, something like 680,000 tons altogether) on the second jump-up and as a result have to take this drastic policy with the farmers of our country. There was a very good argument to use to any countries who wanted to stop us importing so much 1287 wheat. It could be said to them, "It is no good you telling us our extraction rate ought to be up to 85 or 90. What is yours?" That could be said to practically every exporting country in the world. Our rate, even when it was 80, was higher than their rate. I think that it was wrong and foolish to alter the extraction rate and thereby lose this amount of feeding stuffs, on which so many programmes depend.
First I come to the milk programme. The Minister of Agriculture himself has told us the milk supply is going down. Estimates are made, and I do not know which will be right. The noble Viscount who is to wind up this debate knows about this matter as well as anybody here, because I had the honour to present him with a churn when his war agricultural executive committee in Buckinghamshire had the best record for increased winter milk production. He knows particularly well how wise it was to act as we then did. At the Ministry of Food, our nutritional experts were always emphasizing that the thing that was most important was to try to increase milk production. Do not let it be thought that I am trying to claim credit for the Ministry of Food in this connexion. We asked the Ministry of Agriculture to arrange it, we asked the farmers to do their part, we asked for the co-operation of the farm workers, especially the land girls—and the cows, I had almost forgotten them. We asked our farming community and they did the job for us. We always insisted that the maximum amount of feeding stuffs should be directed to milk production. A sad reversal of that policy is revealed now when we find that part of the feeding stuffs programme has got to be cut. It is a sad reversal when we find that it has got to be cut for the pigs and poultry as well, right down to where it was before we started to make any of these improvements.
I believe that, for another reason, we would have done very much better not to alter this extraction rate. After all—certainly with an extraction rate varied from 85 to 90—we are being given in our bread a great deal of bran. When the rate was 80to 85 there was not so much, but when it is at 90 practically only the husks are left behind. I believe that these figures which I am about to give are right. I apologize at once for talking about 1288 these things in calories, but when you are comparing the feeding of a cow and a human being, they have, I am told, only calories in common. A pound of bran eaten by a man yields 636 calories. I would sooner get my calories another way, but I am told that that is a fact. One pound of bran fed to a cow yields on the average, I am informed, 2.47 pounds of milk. One pound of milk drunk by a man (and I gather that this is an appropriate moment for my noble friend Lord Quibell to interrupt me) yields 300 calories.
This means that you get 740 calories fed into the human being, as against only 636 calories if he eats the bran. Therefore, let us go on feeding the bran to the cows and not reduce our milk production. I am speaking now, of course, only in calories. There is not the slightest doubt that milk is far better as a protective food, and certainly no doubt that it is more pleasant to take than bran. For the reasons I have given I think it was an entirely wrong decision to alter the extraction rate level.
I think that the Government were wrong to give away the 200,000 tons of wheat which the Minister of Food gave away early this year, and I think it was wrong for the Lord President of the Council to give away another 200,000 tons of wheat hypothecated to us. It was not here, I know, but it would have been on its way by now, and it would have prevented the situation in which we now find ourselves. I am not quite sure whether the noble Earl, the Parliamentary Secretary, was quite correct in what he said about the Argentine. The only agreements which we had with regard to the Argentine, unless they have been altered lately, were these. The Argentine had no representatives on the Combined Food Board. At one time they would not have been persona grata if they had applied for membership. The only agreement which we had with regard to the Argentine was that we should buy on behalf of the Combined Food Board all the meat to be got from the Argentine and that the Americas should buy all their linseed and fats. At that time we had control of all the shipping that would go there, and the agreements were all right so long as America and Britain were the only countries which could get the goods away from the Argentine.
1289 At the present moment there is nothing whatever to prevent anybody who has the money, or who can obtain credit, going to the Argentine and buying maize, or whatever else you will. I think the noble Earl must be wrong, because I am quite certain that the figures given as to what is on the high seas from the Argentine for France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Holland, Norway, Sweden and ourselves, do not represent allocations from the Combined Food Board. The Argentine is one of the free markets, and I think we ourselves ought to have obtained more maize from the Argentine than we have done over the last twelve months. At one time the people of the Argentine were in the position of having to burn maize. That was a deplorable state of affairs, but they could not get coal from us and America would not supply them with oil. As a result, they could not run their railways except by burning maize, linseed, or some other feeding stuff. I am glad to say that we came to an agreement when I was in Washington that that state of affairs should cease.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
We made the arrangement so that they could get the necessary fuel. If the arrangement did not work I am sorry.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
The burning of maize and linseed ought to have ceased then. At any rate the preliminary steps were taken, and I hoped they had cured that evil. I know the noble Viscount has the latest figures, and I accept from him that it is not cured. I hope some pressure will be put on the Argentine to realize that it is a crime against humanity to burn feeding stuffs at the present time, and that arrangements will be made for supplies of the necessary fuel to be made available to the people for their basic needs. We ought to be able to get as much from the Argentine as other people are getting, if not more. We should be able to do this because we always did in the past and because, if the Argentine people looked at it in the right way, they would realize that their future market is here, and that some other demands are only a flash in the pan. I hope that immediate steps will be taken to get more maize out of the Argentine for this country.
1290 Having regard to the surrender of the 400,000 tons of wheat, and the altering of the extraction rate, it seems to me that the Government here have preferred to supply our food to other countries abroad—whose needs are of course great—rather than maintain the basic rations of our people in this country. That is a thing which I should never have allowed if I were still Minister of Food, because I believe that the people of this country should be the last to be asked to make further sacrifices. Bread rationing will be a serious thing in a very large number of homes. The Maltese, I know, rely upon bread for a greater part of their diet than do many people in this country but it is interesting to look at the bread ration of the Maltese, both during the siege of that gallant little island and afterwards. Manual workers in this country, 12,000,000 of them, are to receive 15 oz. of bread a day. Adolescents will receive 12 oz., and ordinary adults 9 oz., a day. For the greater part of the time of their siege, the bread-ration for the men of Malta was 16 oz. a day. The lowest to which it descended was 10½oz., and when, with a great effort, we got more wheat through to the island the ration was raised to 21 oz. a day. I am told that it is now about 28 oz. a day. We have got through the days of the war, and we in this country ought not now to be in the same position as people under siege.
The people upon whom bread rationing will react most severely are the people for whom I was always most concerned when I was Minister of Food, the people with only one ration book, or two ration books in a home. The old people who cannot get out to the canteen for their mid-day meal. I am sure that if noble Lords think this over, they will realize that I am right. I know the great argument against doing anything for these people is the argument against differential rations. But I introduced differential rations for old people in the case of tea. In bread rationing we are to have differential rationing. We have different allowances for different ages, and for different categories. The people who ought to be looked after are those couples who are living alone, who cannot get out and obtain other supplies from outside. I suppose by this action—which need not have come if we had not parted with all this grain—a large number of confectioners will be put completely out of 'business, because people are not going 1291 to buy cakes if to obtain them means that they have to lose part of their bread ration.
It is a sad and grievous step to have had to take after nearly a year of so-called peace. It is a step which we were able to avoid right through the war, when we were losing ships which were sunk with great cargoes of grain, and when we had a number of our granaries knocked to" blazes by bombs. I think myself that this could have been avoided. What really has happened? Every other country which cut down its livestock during the war is now building it up again. Our farmers, on the contrary, will now have to start to kill off some of their milking cows, some of their pigs, and some of the young poultry that might have been laying eggs for us. Every other member of the United Nations is either already living quite luxuriantly or is expanding its consumption. I do not mean to include Germany, and I do not include all parts of India either. I am talking about countries like the United States and the countries of South America, and I am talking about our Dominions as well.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I think that the choice was not that put by the noble Earl, the Parliamentary Secretary. It was not a choice between throwing over the Combined Food Board and Hot Springs and going out into hurly-burly competition. Whatever the words he used I think that was what he implied. I am not misrepresenting him, I hope. It was not that choice at all, because nobody who had anything to do with the feeding of this country would want to go away from the Combined Food Board. I blame the Government because I know the problem, because I know the struggle I had before I agreed to sugar going out of our coffers or fats going from our supplies to the liberated countries. The Government ought to have ensured that others were reduced to the same level as ourselves. That is what happened in my negotiations both with the United States and with Canada. They agreed to come down to our level. What other country has now imposed bread rationing? None. What other country has had to adopt a policy of killing off a great number of its livestock? None. Yet we are imposing upon our people these sacrifices when they have 1292 taken enough already without additional sacrifices being imposed upon them.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I should like in the first place, lest I forget it at the end of my speech, to interpose an announcement with respect to a change of business. I should inform your Lordships that we have arranged through the usual channels that the Commons message on your Lordships' Amendments to the Borrowing (Control and Guarantees) Bill will be considered as first business on Wednesday next, July 3. I shall put a Motion on the Paper for suspension of Standing Orders to enable us to take the message as first business that afternoon.
Every one of us, as we all ought to be, was greatly impressed with the weight and value of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, to which we have just listened. I myself feel that he has spoken from beginning to end in the spirit of fair and constructive criticism which always characterizes his speeches and which makes us grateful to him for them. Before I deal with the points which the noble Lord made in his speech, may I just mention a number of relatively minor points which have emerged in the debate, and on which at this hour I shall not spend much time. I do not think that there is any difference between us on the importance of getting additional labour for agriculture. I myself have drawn attention at various times to the position which might arise in 1947 or 1948 when the prisoners of war will, very likely, largely have gone, and to the difficulty which our agriculturists will find for several years with regard to supplies of labour. I think we shall have to make a much greater effort to attract, in addition to the young men, a greater number of young women to this industry, and I believe that conditions can be made more attractive than they have been hitherto. Several noble Lords referred to rural housing, and I do not differ from anything they said as to the gravity and importance of it.
I do not want at any length to go into past history with regard both to the shortage of labour and the miserable inadequacy of housing in our villages. We are facing the results of long years of relative neglect. Neither this Government 1293 nor any other Government could refurnish our villages with decent cottages except in terms of years and it will need the building up in this country of confidence in the industry and good conditions of employment over many years before we shah attract to it and keep in it the supplies of labour that it requires. That is a long-term business. I do not know whether the noble Earl who moved the Resolution expected that this Government could in a few months' time from some place or other, or by some conjuring trick or other, produce sufficient quantities of labour to deal with the problem, but if he or anyone else has got that marvellous and invaluable secret, the country would be greatly indebted to them if they would divulge it, because every industry at the present time is short of labour, and it is a long-term difficulty. I sincerely hope that it will not be made the subject of Party political strife. If it is, it will be very disadvantageous to more than one Party. I am quite sure of that, and the issue will not be shirked. I should like to join with several noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison. I sincerely hope that as the result of what he said—we shall take great notice of it—a more co-operative and well-directed effort will be made in the near future to make use of the very valuable work which he and others have already been doing. I am sure that vast quantities of good animal food have been thrown away for generations and there is a great opportunity of making much better use of it.
With regard to the shortage of machinery, I do not differ at all from what some noble Lords have said, but I do know our agricultural machinery makers are really getting into their stride in a remarkably efficient way, and before long I think we shall overtake a good part of the arrears. At the same time it is not an easy matter, as noble Lords will appreciate, to obtain a sufficient quantity of spare parts for foreign-made machines. I can say, however, that every effort is being made—and it is not a question of dollars—to reinforce our supplies in that respect. But even if you have the machines you must have the men and women who know how to use them. There is a very serious shortage there, and I am afraid will be for some time to come. I can accept no responsibility, but I can say that this Govern 1294 ment will do whatever they can—it is their duty to do whatever they can—to help in all these directions.
Before I come to the main issue of the discussion I would like to reply to the question which was put to us by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, with regard to the estimated saving through bread and flour rationing. I understand that the saving in a year will be about six per cent., which is a small amount; in other words, that the ration scales which have been devised practically make use of the same amount of bread and flour supplies as we normally absorb. However, the great value of the system when your supplies are in danger, and particularly when, shall I say, your pipeline supplies are in danger, is that you have control over distribution. That, of course, is the real value when you are in a difficult position, apart from any saving as a result of that system.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
May I interrupt the noble Viscount? I know he has a long speech to make, but is this six per cent. saving on the normal consumption of flour and wheat at 100,000 tons a week?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I should like notice of the question as to the it100,000 tons a week. I understand it is the saving on a normal annual consumption. Whether I should base that on a figure of 100,000 tons a week or not, perhaps the noble Lord opposite knows better than I do.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
As to that, I cannot say any more. I am informed the statement I made correct as to the annual average consumption. I would now like to make reference to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. The gravamen of his charge—because it is a charge—related to three matters. He challenged the Government's decision and action in allowing certain supplies to be diverted to other countries. I am quite sure that if noble Lords opposite had been in our place they would have done the same. In saying that, I agree with the noble Lord, and nobody could agree with him more wholeheartedly, that the people of this country are entitled to everything that can be provided for them". No country in the world deserves better. 1295 But at the same time I want the noble Lord to remember that, notwithstanding the disastrous sinkings that were occurring at the time of his Ministry, there are other circumstances which have arisen since the so-called peace which have completely altered the situation. In the first place, you have U.N.R.R.A. The demands of U.N.R.R.A. were not there in the noble Lord's time as they are now and have been during the last nine months.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Yes, but that was a mere bagatelle compared with what we have had since then. I can assure the noble Lord that had he totalled up, as we and as the Combined Food Board have had to total up, the demands of U.N.R.R.A. for Poland, Czechoslovakia, China and a vast number of countries which were not in the picture so far as responsibilities were concerned, he would have found he would have to submit, whether he liked it or not, as we have had to submit. That is the plain English of it. We were not masters of the supply; it was not our supply. The destination of the bulk supplies, as he knows and nobody better, was determined by the decisions of the Combined Food Board, and the Combined Food Board had to take into account the prodigious demands of U.N.R.R.A. in terms of millions of tons, not tens of thousands, all over the world; and it was that accumulation of demands, focussed upon the supplies controlled by the Combined Food Board, that left us no option but to go without supplies we would just as earnestly have liked to have as noble Lords apposite. Those supplies were not in our larder and we could not get them in it; we were not allowed to have them in it, according to the decisions of the Combined Food Board, because of the accumulation of these prodigious demands. That really is the long and short of it. Take the case of the last, shall we say, surrender affecting the 200,000 tons not yet received. That has never been shipped.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The noble Lord knows perfectly well that the situation is that they were prospective supplies.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
It is, of course, a grotesque position, but it is true that the fruits of victory are that we are having to help feed a lot of people in our zone in Germany at the expense of the British taxpayer. It is grotesque, I know, but it is a fact. We could not do anything other than that, and neither could the noble Lord have done had he been in office. The fact is that western Germany and all those regions normally get large supplies from the Danubian basin and from east of the Oder, and they have not been getting any. If you are going to get coal from the Ruhr you have got to give the coalminers something to eat, and coal is the basic supply of the industries of our zone. I wish it were possible—but it is not possible—to publish some of the communications we have had representing to us the position that would arise and was arising in that zone. It was the accumulation of these distresses and the absolute necessity of keeping life going in that area that compelled the Government, who were just as reluctant as the noble Lord would have been, to agree to the diversion of supplies to these places. That is the only reason for it, and it was unavoidable. The noble Lord did make one surprising statement, and I think that he saw my eyebrows go up and modified it a bit. He talked about countries all over the world living in luxury.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
That is not quite the way I put it. I said there were some countries living in luxury.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I think you have trimmed it a bit. I am not going to make play on it but I think you went a little further than you originally intended to. If that observation were addressed to Mr. La Guardia, I do not think the noble Lord would find that Mr. La Guardia would agree with him. We hear about people who go to Belgium and France and who say that they have had a big meal served up to them, perhaps through the medium of the black market. I think that is true, and I do not deny it. But it is a fact that hundreds of millions of people—not a few odd ones—are on the verge of starvation now, and that the demands on the Combined Food Board are entirely different from anything that were made during the war. That is the whole cause of the trouble and 1297 I am absolutely confident that if the noble Lord had been in our Cabinet he would have done exactly the same thing as we did.
The noble Lord asked us about the stock position and I must say that I rather sympathize with him there. I have looked at these figures of stocks, of course, scores of times, and I must confess that I have not been very much wiser after I have looked at them. After all, if the ordinary person is told that stocks amount to 600,000 tons, 700,000 tons, 800,000 tons, or whatever the figure is, what does that mean to him? He is really not much wiser. However, there are serious disadvantages, I understand, of commercial and other characters, which would arise if precise regular statements of the stock position were made. I myself do not think it matters either way. The noble Lord may take it from me that if we could have kept our stocks free from the demands of U.N.R.R.A. and others, and if we could have kept them at the number of weeks' supply which he quoted, we should never have introduced bread-rationing. I only wish we could have done it, and in my previous remarks I have indicated the reasons why we have not been able to do so. I make no apology whatever, because I am quite sure we could not have done anything else with any sense of responsibility. It was the same desperate thing which compelled us—although we hated to do it—to raise the extraction rate. We knew perfectly well what the result would be; of course we did. I share the noble Lord's view that it is shocking that some countries which have been making immense demands on U.N.R.R.A. should have kept their numbers of livestock at such a high percentage of the pre-war numbers, because that must have meant that in some of those places animals were being fed with cereals of one form or another. But we cannot deal with the whole world; I think we have quite enough on our plate as it is. There is a great deal of mal-administration in some places, but we cannot deal with it. The facts are, however, that whilst that is so in country districts, the great bulk of the populations of those countries are in sore need, and that is the reason why we have had to deal with the matter as we have done.
Now let me come to the charge of the noble Earl (which was partly, but only 1298 limply, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who knows so much better) about what should have been the decision last September. I am quite sure that if the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, had been Minister of Agriculture last September, he would not have altered the decision, because the facts then were not available. There were more troubles in the world than the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred to. There was the failure of the monsoon in India last autumn, there were the great floods in the rice area, and there was serious drought in South Africa. We had, therefore, to divert some supplies in those directions which we would have liked to have had ourselves. The contention of the noble Earl, roughly, is that these calamities have come upon us because we did not decide last September or October, or whenever it was, greatly to increase the wheat acreage. I suggest that it is a non sequitur. Supposing that by some prescience (which nobody had or could have had) there had been time to sow a couple of hundred thousand additional acres of autumn wheat last autumn under great pressure, in the main that would have used acreage which perhaps in the spring would have been devoted to a spring crop, and in any case a large part of the increased acreage would have been marginal land. I think the late Minister of Agriculture was entirely right in not encouraging the special use of a lot of this marginal land and I gravely doubt whether the increased supplies that would have been available would have been of any substantial amount. But the noble Lord has lost sight of the fact that if they had been substantial, the Combined Food Board would have heard all about it, would have taken them into account in assessing the supplies allowed to us, and we should not, in fact, have been any better off. Then, of course, it would have deprived us of a considerable quantity of barley and oats—particularly barley, which is more suited to animal feeding than wheat. I am quite sure that if we had increased the acreage of wheat (which, as a matter of fact, nobody at that time, I am certain, would have decided to do in terms of sound agriculture) it would not have made any substantial difference to our supplies, and as for making up the loss which we suffered through not having sufficient feeding stuffs with which to feed our livestock, it would 1299 have been a mere trifle as compared with the amount which we are now having to go without. As a matter of fact, it is really not related to the case in terms of food supplies.
The noble Earl suggested that during the last week or two—I think those were his words—we had been making some show of getting additional supplies from the Argentine. Really, I wish he were better informed!For months past we have been making representations and doing what we can to get increased supplies from the Argentine. Apropos of that, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, will allow me to correct a statement which I made about the burning of maize in railway engines. I said it was after the time of the negotiations to which he himself was a party, or words to that effect, and that is correct. That is correct, because early in the year I myself was much concerned with the authorities of the Union of South Africa, in trying to divert to them additional supplies of wheat and maize. They had a serious shortage in the Union and we had to do everything we could to be helpful and get additional supplies diverted to the Union. At that time, although I believe it has been largely stopped since—that is the slight correction I wanted to make—maize was being fed into railway engines. It was going on for some considerable time after the precise date referred to.
We have been making the greatest possible efforts to get supplies from the Argentine and I do not pretend to divine the precise reasons why we have not got them. I think if the noble Lord addressed his inquiries to the new President of the Argentine he might perhaps get more light on the subject than that which I can supply. There is no doubt that there are large supplies of food in the Argentine and there has not been exported as much as we should have liked. We have a very important and authoritative Mission out there and I sincerely hope that their efforts will be crowned with success. It is not because of lack of effort that we have not been getting supplies from the Argentine, and that applies to others besides ourselves.
The noble Earl made one or two picturesque observations in which he exhorted us not to sit back, spoke about the carelessness with which we dealt with the housing position, urged us to accept 1300 our responsibility like men with regard to machinery, and said a few other things of that kind of which I made a note. I do not think I need do more than recite them to your Lordships. I come now to another part of the noble Earl's Motion which interests me very much. It is paragraph 2 which reads:To give a clear lead to the agricultural industry in the form of detailed production requirements for a minimum period of four years based on an estimate of the food needs of the country for that period.That is an exceedingly interesting proposition. I myself have been one of those who have done my best for certainly twentyfive years to campaign in the interests of increased food production. I have said that in this country we are not making anything like enough use of our land, and that is still true notwithstanding the great increases during the war. I am perfectly certain that the advances of science in getting better leys have increased the stock-carrying capacity of hundreds and thousands of acres of grassland as much as three or four times, or even more. The amount of grassland which can still be improved by the same processes is immense. We have only just begun. I would be the last to suggest—and nobody if I may say so who has studied this matter would be foolish enough to suggest—that a plan of production should be stereotyped four years hence. I am quite sure that if energy is put into it we shall immensely increase our productive capacity before four years are over just as we did during the war.
We know that there should be an increase in our milking herds, and we want an immense increase in our annual milk production, but I would not like to stereotype that in a plan laid down now. I think the example of the late Minister of Agriculture was a very good one, although he was working under different conditions. He formulated plans according to the prospects each year. He generally asked for more than the people said they were able to produce, and I will give him credit—being myself one of those he bullied—that he generally got it. But that is a very different thing from setting out a programme in detail. Mind you, the noble Earl wants details. He wants to know the number of milking cows, the acres of cabbages, the acres of wheat and all the rest of it, four years hence. No greater disservice could be 1301 done to this expanding industry than to lay down such details. It would be complete folly to attempt to do it. For my part, I am completely confident that with the security which now lies behind the industry, which this Government have provided for it, we shall see a great expansion in the production. I do not know whether that will be within the next four years, because we are under great difficulties and it will take some considerable time at the best to overcome this terrible setback which affects our livestock industry, but I am sure that anything in this form would be just folly—that is all. I sincerely hope that none of the noble Lords opposite will give any countenance to it.
Finally, may I revert to an observation which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, on another matter. He recalled that he and I in 1941 took part in a discussion in your Lordships' House in which we suggested the need for the formulation of an agreed policy—"agreed" was the word—on agriculture. "Agreed" means in this sense agreed as far as is humanly possible, remote from Party considerations. I think I can say without any overstatement that for many years past I myself have actively done whatever I could to promote an agreed policy. There has been however a note of Party consideration introduced into this subject which personally I deplore. I think it will be a grave mistake in policy if this subject is to become the subject of Party political controversy as it may easily do if we go on like this. It will not be my fault if it does, but if it does, I want to assure the noble Earl that he may be inventing a weapon in the form of a boomerang which may be a very unpleasant instrument. We are not afraid of controversy. We do not want to make it a Party matter. This country is faced, apart from these war emergencies—which pray God will pass in time—with the necessity of atoning for fifty years of neglect. You will not atone for it by making the subject an acrimonious Party political controversy. So far as I am concerned, I consider that this Resolution is deplorably worded, and if effect were given to it it would have disastrous consequences in agriculture.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I think your Lordships will forgive me if 1302 I express a good deal of surprise at the closing words of the noble Viscount who has just spoken. I really do suggest that noble Lords who sit opposite must get themselves out of this spirit which makes them feel that if at any time Parliament dares to exercise its right to criticize mismanagement, or in any way to make proposals, it is only done from motives of Party politics. Really, we lose our whole right of effective criticism if there is anything at all in what the noble Viscount has just said. I could not help feeling that the noble, Viscount's speech was an interesting one. It was certainly a cri de cœur of complete helplessness in view of what is happening with regard to the Combined Food Board, and in the light of other international events. It was a cry of complete helplessness with regard to the supply, of what I call the tools of production for agriculture in this country—that is, the provision of machinery and labour. Incidentally—this is a very small point but I think that sometimes these small points are worth using as illustrations—both the Earl of Huntingdon and Viscount Addison have said that there is no question of limiting the amount of machinery coming over here because of shortage of dollars. I would like to tell them that I myself had the experience only a month ago of asking for a permit from the Ministry for the importation of a very important new labour-saving machine, and my application was definitely turned down on the ground of shortage of dollars. However, as I say, that is a small point.
What particularly disappointed me about the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, was that so far as I could note neither of them made the slightest attempt to answer the real points that are at issue before your Lordships to-day. What, very simply, are those points? The first I put very shortly because I place least emphasis on it. I did try to deal with the reasons that seem to me to have led up to this present situation and with certain charges of mismanagement of our affairs. But I was very careful to make it clear that we could not blame the Government for everything that happened. I think on that the whole House has been extremely fair. With regard to the expression of complete helplessness by Viscount Addison concerning demands made on us from U.N.R.R.A. and other 1303 quarters, surely that strengthens the whole point of the case that has been put by a great number of noble Lords to-day. If we are helpless in view of these international events, is not the case doubled and trebled in strength for giving more attention to matters which do come under our direct control, and evincing a greater sense of urgency in dealing with them? I instanced in this connexion the matter of purchases from a free market in the Argentine, the need that there is for us to assert the power we possess to enforce on Germany an equally drastic policy to that which we have imposed on ourselves, and finally, and most important of all, the necessity of ensuring that we increase the sense of urgency that we put into our own policy of home production.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.