§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Jackson
I was suggesting that the Minister should take further powers in respect of land taken over by other Government Departments. In my own district it has come to my notice recently that three large farms were acquired by a Government Department for building premises for storage. While expressing no view as to the urgency of the circumstances which necessitated the taking over of this land, I know that but for the action of the Minister, through the local war agricultural committee, many acres of growing crops would have been wasted.
1458 Almost by accident, it came to the knowledge of the local commissioner that the Government contractors had commenced operations, and were beginning, with their caterpillar excavators, to enter upon some hundreds of acres of standing corn, wheat, oats and other crops, prior to building operations. If the entry could have been delayed even for three weeks these crops could have been harvested and made available for human food. The local war agricultural committee were informed by the local commissioner of the destruction and waste which were taking place, and they immediately got to work. Through their enterprise and quick action, they were able to arrange for the bulk of these crops to be cut, put through a drying process, and converted into useful feeding stuffs for cattle. They were also able to lift the potatoes and market them locally, and to arrange for the standing hay crops in the meadows to be cut. All credit is doe to the Minister and the committee for the prompt action they took. According to my information, within a few hours of hearing what was happening, they tool steps to commence harvesting. Had it not been for this prompt action, these valuable crops would have been completely wasted. But my point is that if there had been greater co-operation between the Departments concerned it might have been possible to prevent any destruction of human food.
In Clause 5 I note that the Minister takes power to recover expenses undertaken to get rid of vermin, pests, etc. I was sorry to hear the other day the Minister say that he did not believe that very much damage was done by foxes in the country. I do not think that his reply is correct. He may not have had many complaints, but country people have long been thought to put up with the damage done by foxes without complaining, and I doubt very much whether he will hear of many complaints. But I know from personal experience in my own district how much damage to our food supplies foxes can do. I myself lost 13 lambs this spring out of a small flock of 100 ewes, and several of my neighbours suffered similar losses in larger or smaller percentages, and many others I know in the district have lost a great deal of their poultry. Much as we like to see the hunt—and what is more beautiful than the pack in full cry on a frosty November morning?—times like these are too serious 1459 to permit such a waste of human food, and I hope that the Minister will see that a very strict control of foxes is kept.
I should also like to see provision made in this Bill to give the Minister authority to empower war agricultural committees to deal with a state of things which have occurred in some districts of which I know. I have been given to understand on very praiseworthy information that some farmers are not employing at the present moment as many regular workers on their land as they were even a few months ago. Obviously, with so much more land under arable cultivation, they ought to be employing a great many more, and the reason that some of them give, and have given me, is that they cannot afford to pay the new and the higher wages. Farmers should be made to realise, however, that this year's crops in the main have been produced under lower wage levels, and I understand the Minister is prepared to review prices for next year's crop when these higher wages will be taken into consideration. Some power should be given to prevent farmers from getting rid of many of their regular men at the present juncture. However, the bulk of the farmers that I meet are prepared to pay these new wages, and they are satisfied that the new schedules of prices, with one or two exceptions, which, I hope, may be altered, are very fair. The prices that are perhaps not as good as they ought to be are those for potatoes, sugar beet and wool. Before I leave the question of prices there is a point which I would like the Minister to clear up for me, as I fear there may be some misunderstanding about it later. It is with regard to oats, and I think it applies partly to barley. The price of 14s. 6d., which is talked about so much, is, I understand, the maximum price, and when it was announced representations were made asking that there should be a bottom put in as well as a ceiling. A further announcement has been made that there is to be a standard price of 11s. 6d. per cwt. fixed under the Agricultural Development Act to provide a subsidy—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I cannot find anything in the Bill dealing with the price of oats.
§ Mr. Jackson
I will leave that point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not know 1460 whether I shall be in order if I refer to a branch of the industry in which I am most interested, namely, that of fruit growing. The county committees have the power to decide what acreage shall be cultivated in any district in an ensuing year. Though I agree with the Minister of Food in the policy which he propounded a few weeks ago when he stated that the most important foodstuffs to he produced were potatoes, milk and vegetables—and no one would quarrel with him on that—I would like him to have added fruit to the list. Although I know that that diet is quite adequate, it is very boring, and fruit would add to the enjoyment and quality of our diet. I understand that, taking it year in and year out, there is really a great deal more food value obtained from an acre of soft fruits such as gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, and even strawberries, than can be produced from an acre of grass. I also understand that under the regulations of the county committees this acreage is going down very badly, and I hope that the Minister will look into the matter and see whether he cannot alter his policy in some way and so allow more fruit to be grown. Unless more fruit is grown the soft fruits will become very dear and will only be available to rich people; poor people will not be able to have any at all.
I had hoped also that in this Bill the Minister would have been able to make some grant towards the grubbing-up of derelict orchards and the reconditioning of scrubland. I hope that he will think of that for some future occasion, and perhaps include it in his next Bill. From the information I receive from the counties I understand that they are now waiting anxiously for a lead from the Minister. They are anxious to know as soon as possible what areas he expects to be ploughed up this autumn and what particular crops he desires to be sown on the ploughed-up land. It will be a great help to farmers if they can get this information as soon as possible.
These are a few suggestions that I make as a practical farmer, and I hope that the Minister will give them his passing examination. I should like to congratulate him upon his visits to the various county committees, which have been very much appreciated. By doing this he has been able to make personal contact, not 1461 only with the members of these committees, but, what is still more important, with the chairmen of the committees, and he has thus been able, I am sure, to obtain information and local atmosphere which he could not assimilate very satisfactorily in any other way. I know that the party for which I am speaking to-day has been considered in the past mainly a party interested in urban areas. There may have been some justification for this view once upon a time, but I assure the Minister that it is not so to-day. He can go as far as he wishes in bringing about the rejuvenation of our countryside and the production of food in war time and in peace time, and he will find us always urging him on.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
The note of all the speeches since four o'clock has been one of gratitude: I should like to continue that harmony, and though I have no geographical constituency, it would be very ungrateful if anyone coming from that part of the country where I live did not say a word of thanks for the second Clause in this Bill. I think that, as far as concerns making the roads of the Fens practicable, the Clause now proposes to do everything which we can reasonably ask and perhaps do it in the right manner, but I wish to ask the Minister one question. It is whether in practice it is quite certain that what is here promised on paper can be done? There are some schemes undertaken already—there is certainly at least one scheme where the contractor has started, but has had to be stopped because he cannot foresee the date when he can get cement. It is true that whereas gravel and chalk roads might be made to increase food production for a year or two, I do not think that they would fulfil the object of the Bill, or that they could very easily be brought into the machinery of the Bill in respect to covering the cost. I think there will be no difficulty about recovering the cost if roads are properly done, but if roads are put down which from experience we know do not last, the recovery of cost will be extremely difficult. No one would ask that cement, which the military authorities, with their hands on their hearts, after having been asked three times, continue to assert to be absolutely necessary for Defence should be diverted to 1462 any other purpose. But I ask that the Minister should assure us that the military authorities and the Ministry of Supply, and, if necessary, the Ministry of Transport will be pressed in this connection so that we may be sure that these roads will be got on with quickly, because every week makes a very great difference. We should be assured that this work would not be held up for anything short of absolutely irresistible military considerations.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
I also would like to thank the Minister for various Clauses in this Bill. It is the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, and when the No. 1 Bill came before the House before the time of the present Minister of Agriculture some gaps were pointed out and some suggestions were made which the present Bill goes a long distance to meet. In particular, I think I shall be expressing the general opinion in the North-West of England when I say that we are very grateful for the tile drainage subsidy. If this had been done a few years ago the land, which will now be drained by this assistance, might have been improved so that it would have been in good heart at the present time when it is needed. However, we are very grateful for it now. I am sorry that the Minister did not tell us a little more about the Bill and especially about Clause 3, dealing with payments in connection with the eradication of bovine tuberculosis. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to tell us a little more about the scheme which, I believe, is going ahead well. We all welcome the continuation of the assistance. It is a big thing in itself, and I for one, at any rate, would like to hear some of the facts about its development.
I raised the question of soft roads, along with another hon. Member, on the No. 1 Bill, and I would like to ask a question in connection with Clause 2, which deals with the position. Is it really considered that the internal drainage boards are the right people to maintain roads. I ask that question with an open mind because I am not familiar personally with the conditions, but it seems to me that there must be a very definite reason why the local highway authority is not charged with this responsibility, 1463 and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can explain why this new departure and responsibility is placed upon the drainage authority. In the Debate on the No. 1 Bill we discussed the question of drainage, and as I have already said, the new provision for tile drainage meets the position to a large extent, and the considerable assistance which the Minister is to give by making grants to a scheme affecting only one farmer is a very welcome provision.
What strikes me about this Bill is that it deals with long-term improvements which will have an immediate effect on production. It involves a good deal of capital improvement for farming which will be very much welcomed, but what does leave a big gap is the subject discussed on the No. 1 Bill, namely, the question of credit. I regret that I have to return to this subject, but I ask the Minister, when he replies, to tell us whether it is not the case that, in the reports he has received from those who are conducting the survey at farms at the present time, one of the outstanding facts is the need for greater facilities for capital to increase production. I do not think it is necessary to make that case. It has been recognised that more capital is necessary. If it is not necessary, why is the Minister paying £2 an acre subsidy? If the industry has plenty of capital, why, in this Bill, is there provision to spread the capital cost that will fall on the landowner for drainage over five years? It is because he cannot afford to do it in one year. Surely the provision for machinery is an indirect way of assisting the farmer who cannot afford to buy it. In all these and other ways the Ministry of Agriculture, the Minister and the House, in passing legislation of this kind, have recognised that one of the outstanding needs of the industry at the present time is for both long-term and short-term capital. I think I see the Minister shaking his head, but I do ask him, What are his reports from those who are making the survey?
There has been legislation in the past which has tried to provide this capital, but it has not been a great success. We are now told that the banks are to provide capital, but there are difficulties about that. First, there is the rate of interest, which is a consideration, and I cannot 1464 believe that the farming community as a whole does not resent the fact that railway companies get their loans at 2½ per cent. while they have to pay 5 per cent. I have heard many farmers talking about that. Last time we discussed this question in the House I think it was stated that 1 per cent. one way or the other made very little difference to the farming community, but as a result of an answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) we have learned that the banks have lent approximately £50,000,000—
Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)
§ Mr. Roberts
One or two per cent. on that is a considerable sum, taking the agricultural community as a whole. If money is being lent at the present time at 4 or 5 per cent., that is, roughly speaking, £2,500,000—the difference between 5 per cent. and 2½ per cent. That is a sum which is equalled by many of the subsidies which are paid. There is a real problem here, and it is not only a question of interest. That perhaps is not the most important side of it—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think I must warn the hon. Member that he is entitled to criticise the lack of credit provisions of the Bill but not to discuss the details of a credit scheme.
§ Mr. Roberts
I bow to your Ruling, Sir, but I thought I was dealing broadly with the problem. After all, this Bill does make provision for increasing agricultural production, and the broad point I wanted to make was that I thought one of the main difficulties not yet tackled, although many have been tackled by the Ministry, was the question of the shortage of capital which does exist. There are provisions in this Bill in regard to taking over land in Scotland and elsewhere. If a farmer is turned out by force by the Minister for farming his land badly—an example of which we had in the south of England a few days ago, when a man resisted—there is put in as a tenant either the Ministry's own nominee or someone who has plenty of money. If it is the Ministry's nominee, the war agricultural executive take over, and they farm the land with abundant capital. Of course, they can make a difference. Farmers in the neighbourhood say "If Mr. So-and-so had had the advantages which the 1465 Minister of Agriculture has, with all the money of the State behind him, he could have made those fields produce crops." That is a very shrewed and sound view on the part of the farmers. The farming industry has been drained of its capital—
§ Mr. Roberts
By various circumstances. The Minister has recommended that in some instances a farm which is, perhaps, fattening cattle on grass at the present time, or dairying, should have all its stock removed and the land ploughed up for the growing of arable crops. I can think of farms where that would be a suitable procedure, but that will cost money, especially on the grazing farms where Irish cattle has been brought and is being grazed during the summer. How can the farmer meet his wages, seed and fertilizer bills, starting, as he should, to-morrow, with the prospect that he will get no income from that land until over a year hence? The Minister said he had chatted with the banks, which would give accommodation, but that is not the real way to deal with this difficult problem. I have an overdraft myself with a large bank. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are lucky."] I know I am lucky, and that many farmers cannot get one, and if I had not had some other securities, I dare say I should not have been so favourably treated. Once a year, or at more frequent intervals, my bank asks me for the present valuation of my stock, and my overdraft relates to the existing stock on my farm. The less stock I have, the more overdraft. I need to increase that stock. A bad farmer with very little stock gets very little accommodation, and there has been no evidence that the present working of the joint stock banks does meet this problem. It will, I know, be met eventually by the prices which the Minister has fixed, but that is a slow and expensive way of doing it. It will give considerable profits to the more tortunately placed farmer, but raising prices is a slow way of increasing production.
I see you looking at me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and perhaps I have said enough; but my final point to the Minister is 1466 this: It is recognised now that what was said on the Committee stage of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) (No. 1) Bill, about a requisite scheme, was perfectly correct. So far, £32,000 has been lent, which is absolutely derisory and of no importance whatever, but that Bill has done one thing and I think I may claim credit for having foreseen it. It has demarcated the class of man who is absolutely unworthy of credit. It has hastened the bankruptcy of farmers. People have said, "Mr. So-and-so had to go to the war agricultural executive committee for credit. He must be in a very had state."
Mr. De la Bère
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the people who are in extremis all the time are still required to pay 5 or 6 per cent.?
§ Mr. Roberts
I quite agree, but I will not labour the point any further, except to say that I hope the Minister will reconsider this matter. He has been very active and energetic, and we wish him every success, but I am sure he will agree with the industry that better credit facilities are needed. There are dozens of schemes pigeon-holed in the Ministry of Agriculture. It may be a difficult problem, but if it is, that is all the more reason why it should be tackled. It is not a problem which faces this country or farmers alone. I do not believe there is a single European or agricultural country in the world that does not provide special facilities for credit for farmers. It has been found to be universally necessary because of the special type of business that farming is. I ask, therefore, that this should have the consideration of the Minister and that when we have the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) (No. 3) Bill we shall have this gap filled.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Chislehurst)
As one who farms in a small way and who is interested in farming, through my family, which farms several thousand acres, I want, briefly, to make two practical suggestions. I think that if the Minister has his reports from different parts of the country he will find that some of the land which has been ploughed up has not produced satisfactory results because it was ploughed up with too light ploughs. It is very important indeed that new land, especially in some parts of the 1467 country, should be ploughed up with caterpillar tractors, heavy ploughs, and heavy disc harrows. I should be grateful if the Minister would again look into that and see whether caterpillar tractors could not be made available, through licensed contractors or county agricultural committees, so that a day should not be wasted and they could be sent round from farm to farm. This is of great importance and would greatly increase production.
There is another point on which I have had some communication with the Minister. It is a vital necessity that we should have more threshing plants ready for the Autumn. I know of one plant which never went out at all from the yard last year because they could not get men to work it and it was not in proper repair. I hope that as many new threshing plants as possible will be bought and that existing plants will be repaired and put into working order. Again it is so important that, when threshing plants go wrong, time should not be wasted by travelling from remote farms to remote farms. If they could be made centrally available, time would not be lost in going from farm to farm. I have been asked by my farming friends to put these two points before the Minister.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
We have had two or three very interesting speeches on this Bill. I was specially interested in the speech of the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). I think he must have influence with his bank manager. He went to see him and came out with an overdraft. When I went for one I was told to call again. This Bill is produced by the new Ministry of all the talents, but, I am afraid, with very little practical experience. They laboured very heavily to produce it but have produced only a very small Bill with a great deal of labour. I think the country was entitled to expect something more comprehensive and definite than this totally inadequate Measure. The ploughing-up of land in order to increase the production of food is on the right lines but is not nearly big enough in relation to the problem that confronts us. The policy aimed at should not only be to increase the acreage of arable land but to increase the productivity of land already under the 1468 plough, and to achieve this end several important aspects of the problem are involved. Firstly, the disposability of land has been put upon the agricultural committees, which in some cases consist of fairly substantial farmers who report their neighbours for inefficient farming to the war agricultural committee. This is very distasteful to them, and in many cases where action has not been taken that is the reason, though there is plenty of evidence that farming is not being efficiently done.
With regard to ploughing, labour is the first problem. We have it on the authority of the Minister that already over 40,000 skilled men have been taken out of the industry. If we are going to extend the area—and we ought to extend it very considerably—it is essential to take steps to provide skilled labour. Men have been taken into the Army who would have been contributing far more effectively to winning the war had they been allowed to stay on the farms. To talk about substitute labour to take the place of these highly skilled craftsmen is just talking nonsense. I have tried once or twice to get men who have been taken released. Only this week the only man on a small farm of about 60 acres has been taken. No one is left but a widow My next success in getting anyone released from the Army to go back to the land will be my first. I have failed in every attempt so far. Are there no means left to us to secure the release of a substantial number of these skilled craftsmen?
To increase the production of food is as important as to increase the production of ships—in fact, I think, more important at the present juncture. Indeed, if a real and determined effort is made in this direction, it will conserve shipping for use in bringing to our shores other essential raw materials and munitions so necessary for the successful prosecution of the war. As I understand it, the Bill in itself is a war effort, but I hope we shall not allow agriculture ever to go back to its previous condition. The task ahead of us is too important and urgent as a great defensive measure to be trifled with in these momentous days. I remember in my very early days in the Socialist movement reading a book called "Fields, Factories and Workshops," written by Prince Kropotkin, in which 1469 he answered the query, "Could England feed herself?" He answered it in the affirmative. That may be questioned, but it cannot be questioned that at the very least we could have doubled the amount of food we produce by a system of higher and more intensive cultivation. The book left a lasting impression on my mind that, if agriculture was neglected then, it has been neglected more since and is even to-day being neglected.
I believe that efficient labour and cheap money will have to be provided if the drive for increased production is to be successful. This presents some difficulties, but these can and must be overcome if the campaign is to succeed to the extent that we all so much desire. The hon. Member for North Cumberland went to his bank and marched out with an overdraft on the strength of the stock on his farm, which the bank manager assumed belonged to him, but it is not unknown for a farmer to obtain an overdraft on the strength of stock which happened to belong to someone else who was only paying for grazing, and the bank has been left with the baby. I think the whole problem would not now be so serious if heed had been taken of the appeals which some of us have made over the past decade for the fixing of a reasonable price for all agricultural produce, which in turn would have made possible the better cultivation of the soil and the retention on the land of the brain and the brawn so essential to this vital industry. In common with many others, therefore, I regret that cheaper money is not provided for this new development in agriculture. The hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) deserves great credit for his constant advocacy of this reform.
What is the present picture of things? In travelling from Crewe on Tuesday I saw a field in which there were three crops—docks, thistles and a little corn. That is a correct description of field after field. I went out at the week-end, and in one-half of a field of oats you could not see a single oat. The other half was pretty good. Half of the field was covered with thistles. Yet the House has passed an Act to compel the cutting down of noxious weeds, such as ragwort, thistles, and docks. That Act is very largely a dead letter, for two reasons. First, the farmers could not afford to pay for the 1470 labour to hoe the corn so that the thistles could be kept down and the corn finally smother them. Secondly, there was the difficulty of getting labour. No serious attempt has been made by the Minister to enforce the provisions of the Act. The dead hand of the administration has been put upon it, and where it has been a question of money being required, there has been the old statement "subject to the approval of the Treasury." The Act is a dead letter because of the difficulties of cost and labour. What does the Minister intend to do about this, for it is important that the matter should be dealt with now if the best use is to be made of the land? If it were not for the self-binder, I do not know how some of the corn would be cut. I have seen fields in which there was not enough corn to make bands to tie up the thistles. I hope that the Minister will do something to ensure that the provisions of this Act are carried out.
I should like now to refer to drainage. I could never understand why the Ministry should give a grant for mole drainage and not give one for tile drainage. The Minister has stated that tile drainage now comes within this Bill. If that is so, I cannot understand why, as mole drainage was specifically mentioned in the previous Act, tile drainage is not mentioned in this Bill. Anybody with any intelligence knows that over a very large part of the country, mole drainage would be of no use whatever. May I be told definitely whether tile drainage is included in this Bill? It is not mentioned.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ernest Brown)
As I shall be replying to the Debate, it might be of advantage if I dealt with this point now. Let me refer to our experience in Scotland. From 1912, under the general powers of the Department of Agriculture, they have done both mole and tile drainage, but in 1937 specific powers were given, without prejudice to the general powers. They were able to do both. The Minister of Agriculture cannot do both because he is limited specifically to mole drainage. That limitation is now removed.
§ Mr. Quibell
I hope that the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman will be noted, and that the fullest advantage will be taken of it. I could never understand why the Ministry should give 1471 a grant for mole drainage but not give one for the more permanent and beneficial system of tile drainage. I am pleased to have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that there is an improvement in that respect in the Bill.
§ Mr. Quibell
I am not forgetting that the Treasury have been pretty generous to Scotland. Land drainage is a most important element in the success or otherwise of the attempt to bring back into active cultivation large tracts of land which, at certain times, become waterlogged, and very frequently ruin in a few hours the whole efforts of the farmer for a year. I want to give a picture of two 10-acre fields which I saw a fortnight ago. Near Scunthorpe, where I live, the Scunthorpe council cleaned out one end of a drain, and the new Drainage Board which has been set up cleaned out the other end, but the middle part, into which some trees had fallen, seemed to belong to nobody; it was not known whether the farmers, the landlords, or the authorities—and if the authorities, which authority, since two were concerned—were responsible. The consequence was that there was flooding, because, although both authorities carried out their duties, nothing was done in the middle. Ten acres of wheat and 10 acres of potatoes were under water. At this time of the year, if water remains on potatoes for 24 hours, the potato crop is lost. I hope that the agricultural committees and the drainage authorities will get on with their work, and that every encouragement will be given to them. The Minister will receive all the help I can give him, both in the House and in the country, to induce them to do so; but he will find out that the fight which some of us have made for the past 10 years to get drainage done has been no small fight. But we shall not lose heart, but shall continue the fight until the land is properly drained and the farmers are given a chance to cultivate it.
The case to which I have just referred is not a rare one. How long are the farmers expected to suffer this sort of thing? I want to congratulate the Minister if he is going to take his courage in his hands and deal with his own Department, because it is there that the 1472 trouble has its beginning. Some four years ago I had an interview with officials at the Ministry. My hon. Friend who is now Parliamentary Secretary introduced me. A year ago, when I was speaking in the House, my hon. Friend interjected to say that I would soon he over there, where he is now sitting; but he beat me. I could not run as fast as he did. When I went to the Ministry, I stated the case regarding a drainage problem as briefly as I could. They said, "We are administering the Act." Not one suggestion was made for meeting the difficulties of the situation. One of those difficulties was finance. At the time, I protested, as I have often done in the House, against the imposition on agricultural labourers of a heavy drainage rate which they ought never to be called upon to bear. The only reply I got from the Department was that they were administering the Act. The consequence was that nothing was done. A year ago, I attempted again to move the Ministry. There was, again, the old old, story. Inquiries would be made, and an engineer would be sent down. He was sent down, and he reported the facts; but nothing was done. He reported that the facts were as I had given them to the Minister. They could not be denied, for I had given photographs of water in the fields nine inches or twelve inches deep, in July.
At long last, after writing letters and having interviews and talks behind the Speaker's Chair—which are sometimes more useful than speaking from these benches—a move was made. I believe that the present Minister has good intentions, but I hope that he will not lose them in the department. Last week, I received a letter from him stating that at long last the Department had suggested a survey of the district—10 years after the passing of the Act. They suggested a survey; they do not know really what to do with a huge area of rich agricultural land that would grow wheat, potatoes, or anything else. The Minister suggested certain other temporary measures—with which I am quite in agreement—as an expedient until more permanent works could be erected to deal with the problem. That survey should nave been made years ago, but the Treasury grants to the authority concerned were so inadequate as to preclude any possibility of the survey 1473 being made, and we are now suffering as a consequence, and having to pay a very big price for the continued neglect in that area. What has held up the schemes for drainage in that area? Lack of finance. In many other districts the same story is true. I raised this subject on a Motion in the House some years ago, and I withdrew the Motion because the Minister promised an inquiry and legislation to amend the financial provisions of the 1930 Act, to which this Bill and its little brother refer. Again, what was done? Nothing. The answer was that inquiry was being made, and so on. When I put down Questions in the House, the answer I received was that the inquiries were not yet concluded. Year after year that sort of thing went on, and the problem is still with us. I shall he confident that the Minister means business when I see the grants translated into concrete acts.
Mr. De la Bère
Does not the hon. Member realise that the Treasury never intended that anything should be done? That is quite clear.
§ Mr. Quibell
I think the hon. Member may he right. The Treasury did not intend to find the money, and what is more, the Department has hidden itself behind the Treasury. What are the qualifying words which are always used in matters affecting drainage? They are, "Subject to such conditions as the Treasury may approve." The only thing is that the Treasury does not approve, and consequently nothing is done. Again, these words are put into this Bill, and the Treasury's attitude is, "What extravagant fellows; fancy asking for £10,000 for the whole of Scotland." What a contribution that is to the problem. The dead hand of the Treasury is always at hand, ready and willing to sabotage any scheme—good or bad—whenever it is for drainage.
§ Mr. Quibell
Yes, or anything else. How long will the Minister and this House tolerate the undue use of Regulations and red tape by Departments to thwart efforts to reform and speed up procedure in the very anxious times in which we live? I have interviewed Departments about various matters, and I have frequently 1474 been met with the answer, "That would be creating a precedent." But what are we here for if it is not to create precedents? I appeal to the Minister that he should get on with the job, precedent or no precedent, with the rehabilitation of the great industry of agriculture, and that if officialdom stands in the way, he should take the House into his confidence. In present circumstances Parliament will give him the necessary power to deal with official obstruction to reform in procedure. I hope and trust that this will not be the last Bill, because it is not big enough. I hope the Minister will be big enough for his part, and that the country will be big enough to see that this great industry of agriculture is rehabilitated to enable it to feed this land of ours.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
I desire to say one word on this Bill, and to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on having given us this No. 2 Bill. I should like to re-echo what has been said by various speakers, in all parts of the House, in wishing the right hon. Gentleman well in the enormous task which he has undertaken. I hold the view that more and more his Department will become one of the most important Departments of State. Anyone who has observed the terrific difficulties of our merchant shipping, in making their way around the coasts of this country, will realise that more than ever we are going to depend on home production of food. The right hon. Gentleman has introduced a Bill, and it has met with approval on all sides of the House. I am perfectly certain that it is a very useful Bill, and that it will be very acceptable to the agricultural community.
Representing, as I do, a Suffolk constituency, which is a large arable district in a defence area, I should like to take this opportunity, particularly as the Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply to the Debate and knows the area to which I am referring, of appealing to him and the right hon. Gentleman not to forget the fact that this country is not made up of vast farms, but of a number of small farms. These small farms have been living for many years in a period of depression, and they are very anxious to play their part in the war effort and to achieve a maximum food production. From my own experience in the area to which I have referred, the essential problem— and this is 1475 the aspect of the problem to which the right hon. Gentleman is not directing sufficient attention and energy—is how farmers are going to carry on from month to month with an increased outlay for war production. They have had increased wages, and rightly so, but they have also had to spend more money in the purchase of seeding, implements and so on. If they are to produce a bigger quantity of home-grown food for the right hon. Gentleman, it means a bigger outlay of initial expenditure on their part. It is the money they have to find from week to week, and from month to month, which is their essential problem, and that is the reason why, when wages were increased, a number of farmers put off their men on to the Employment Exchanges. They simply had not the money to pay an extra wage. Many of these farmers may be depressed farmers, or poor farmers, or farmers going through very difficult conditions, but they are good farmers nevertheless and are all anxious to play their part in the national war effort.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied with the ordinary method of obtaining credit by a small farmer in a situation such as this mortgaged to the banks and in debt to the merchants. We shall need these farmers in the immediate future and after the war is over. Has the right hon. Gentleman visited this part of the country and seen the conditions for himself? Is he satisfied that these good yeoman producers of food can obtain capital to enable them to carry on an increased food production? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Secretary of State for Scotland not to close their minds to this problem. I appeal to the Government to go a little further and give increased facilities to the farmers through the agricultural war committees. You are going to spend millions of pounds before this war is over. You may economise by saving the button and lose the trousers. Will not the Minister create some simple machinery to enable these sound arable farmers to increase their food production and assist the national effort?
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)
It seems a little unfair to twit the Minister on the size of his Bill or its scope because he, himself, by his attitude towards it, indi- 1476 cated that he did not himself think very much of it. It took him very little time to scan its Clauses, but the significance of it, the Bill, is that it deals with long-term improvements, some of which are pretty long-term improvements, for the short-term food policy the Minister himself has in mind. One wonders how serious the Minister is in promoting these particular Clauses for reforms and developments. Clause 1 indicates that the Minister is once again calling upon the county war agricultural executives to do work for him. That, of course, is one of the things we welcome about it, although it has a significance, because it means that some of us will expect these committees to sit after the war is over. If that is not so it looks peculiarly difficult for them to enter into, say, works in the Fens involving road developments. I would like to ask the Minister for a word of explanation on that point. Does he really mean what he says? Is it intended that these committees shall undertake the work? If they are, they will be taking it over from the county councils.
§ Mr. Hudson indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Morgan
The Minister says "No." I know these roads very well, and I have struggled over them in winter-time, and the general view of the community is that the county councils were being pressed to do something in the matter. Whether that is so or not, the point is that the Minister is putting some pretty substantial duties on these particular county war agricultural committees, and before long we hope to have a statement as to where these committees stand in the permanent structure of agriculture, and how far we can expect them to function after the short-term policy has been worked out and the war is ended. Many hon. Members have alluded to the provision of credit, and some feel that these committees may have to be used as a medium for creating credit, not on the lines of No. 2 Bill, but on a more substantial basis. But now he has dealt with Fen roads. Has the Minister any intention of speeding up main drainage schemes in the Fens? It might be a funny affair if a great deal of this work was upset by the breakdown of the main Fen drainage, threatening the largest area of the richest part of the country. One hopes that the Minister will have something to say about the prospects of the main drainage system in the Fens as well as deal with these roads.
1477 I wish to raise another point, bearing on the permanency of these committees. The Minister includes references to the maintenance of grants for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis. He states in the Memorandum that it is not unreasonable to suppose that future expenditure will be somewhat less during the war period. Why is it going to be less during the war period? I should have thought there was a danger of the cattle being underfed during the war period, and that constitutional weaknesses are likely to be brought out as a result. The Memorandum on Clause 3 of the Bill states:It is unreasonable to suppose that future expenditure will be somewhat less during the war period.A figure of £1,773,000 is to be spent on this work. It makes one feel that if Ministries can advance such a sum for eliminating cattle disease—and to capitalise that expenditure as an annual expenditure it represents an enormous amount—then it seems that some very positive, sustained and actual approach should be made to this problem rather than annual allowances for clearing up a disease which seems to be so persistent.
The Minister admits, although he was rather sketchy on this point, that once again he is to call upon occupiers of land to undertake considerable capital outlays. I am convinced from the fact that he is giving his county committees powers that he expects many of the committees will have to undertake this work themselves. Why? Because the very people whose land will be in this state are precisely those who are incapable of carrying the work out themselves because they are not equipped with capital and cannot furnish the necessary credit. To that extent I submit that the problem of credit comes within the Bill. The Minister is having to provide county committees with powers and, what he will not grant to the farmers, capital and credit to do the work and to carry out schemes in the Bill. He would never dream of authorising the county committees to carry out drainage schemes with the equipment that many of the farmers have for the work. They are in an impossible position. The Minister will put his committees in a position to do this work, but he will withhold the same facilities from individual occupiers of land to do it. That is where his 1478 obstinacy seems to be most marked, and it is difficult to understand.
The right hon. Gentleman should be taking steps to place the farmers in a position to do their own work in the way that he is enabling the county committees to do the work on his own behalf. The fact that he is giving these powers to the committees is an indication of the extent to which he recognises that the farmers are ill-equipped for the job and that he is asking them to do more than they can do. The same thing is arising over wages. We have always stood for a proper wage standard on the land. That standard has now been improved, but it has been improved without full regard to the farmer's capacity to pay the wages and to carry out reconditioning work as well. It is significant that the very men who are wanted for this work are being turned off farms in harvest time because the farmer says, "I am spending no more on my farm than I can afford and no more than I paid out this same week last year. I will use my labour and carry out my undertakings to the degree that my capacity to pay is there, and no more." In consequence, men are being discharged who could do this work and whom the Minister will expect to do it. A farmer I know had to discharge such a mechanic whom he could not pay. And the man was recommended to the county committee, who will employ him. I have no objection to that. On this side of the House we have stood for a greater approximation to a central control of the layout of farming.
We want to see the central direction improved, but we are not in favour of driving men out of the industry in this way simply because the Government will not face dealing with the financial structure of the industry, or make the money interests come into line in this matter, or take measures to provide farmers with instruments of credit at which they will look. It is not a question of the rates of interest; it is the muddle into which the whole thing has got. The farmer is tied up in half-a-dozen different directions, and has got himself into such a tangle that he does not know what to do. Yet the Government are not helping him in this regard but are imposing new liabilities on him all the time. He has to pay increased wages and he is told that he will get good prices, but he will not get them for 1479 another year, and in the meantime he has to make an outlay for the wages. On that point, may I offer the Minister a modest suggestion? It is that instead of dribbling out wheat payments for the crop which is being sold now over the next 12 months, he should pay the farmer the maximum amount possible straight on the nail for his wheat.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am glad to hear it. I say this in the interest of keeping men on the farm. If the farmer knows that he will get right up to the 65s. a quarter, or whatever it is, it will help him to keep the men on the farms at this stage. Again, a man walked into my place from Cambridgeshire yesterday and said he had been turned out of his farm by the county committee at five days' notice. I told him he had no redress. It was again the story that all Members are telling the Minister. The man was financially embarrassed. The landlord had let him in on a low rent for the first two years, and had then graduated the rent upwards, recognising that the farmer was in this state. There is no scheme in the country whereby that land could be well farmed except by the willingness of this poor chap to try his hand at it. There is no financial background by which his farm could be brought into good condition. The Government schemes will be held up because of that fact. The Minister recognises it by allowing his committees to step in to do the work. He will burden the county committees with the job knowing that many individuals cannot do it, not because they are unskilled or unwilling or do not know that it wants doing, but because they are given no financial facilities to enable them to do it. That is the plea which the House is making.
This is a miserable little Bill. No. 1 has been dealt with in the House and we know that another must come. The feeling in the House is rising that if the Minister wants agriculture to be put in a state even to fulfil his short-term policy—some of us suspect that he has not a long-term policy—they must provide the facilities. When we see him announcing to the country that he is carrying out agricultural measures for food development and almost at the same time the 1480 Minister of Food says we have plenty of food in store, we begin to see that the two Ministers are not getting on too well together and that one is discounting the value of what the other is trying to do. We sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in that position. It is a little anomalous and droll to see Ministers countering one another in this way. We would support the Minister of Agriculture to a greater degree than we do if we felt sure that he was legislating, not for 18 months of war, but for another generation of farming. If he will undertake to introduce a real financial buttress to this industry for all time he will do the greatest thing in his period of office, whether it be long or short, and will meet the feeling which is growing in the House.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I am sure that every hon. Member agrees with the remarks of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) because it is clear that people who wondered how farmers carried on and how agriculture existed are appreciating now that under this strain the weaknesses in the industry are becoming plain. There is one thing which the Minister of Agriculture has done which is a tremendous step in the right direction. That is by himself going out into the country and meeting the war agricultural committees. There are some good committees and some bad, and some of them are very bad. The only way of levelling them up to a proper standard is by personal contact with the Minister and his officials. I know that in different parts of the country his visit has been greatly welcomed, and I am sure that he has taken into account a great deal that committees have told him as to local conditions.
In 1906, when I first went into politics, I was a member of a committee which was considering the possibility of setting up an agricultural credit bank. It was the project of Mr. Jesse Collings, a colleague of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. The present Minister of Aircraft Production, then recently arrived from Canada, and Mr., afterwards Sir, Gilbert Parker, then a Member of the House, were also on the committee. There is in the archives of the Ministry an enormous amount of evidence as to the need of having some system of agricultural credit. Every 1481 other agricultural country in Europe which looked to agriculture as one of its main industries has an agricultural credit system. Although I think that the criticism of the banks has been rather overdone, I believe that the policy of the amalgamation of the banks in this country has produced a completely new picture. In Scotland in the old days, when there were a large number of small banks, credit was left largely to the manager and the local board. They knew everybody and if they trusted the individual they advanced money. In those days it was always possible to get assistance for men who really knew their jobs.
Some of us are getting rather nervous about the powers of war agricultural committees, and the fact that there does not seem to be any appeal against them. An hon. Gentleman opposite quoted the case of a hard-working man who had gone into a farm and had been unable to make ends meet. The only thanks he got for his efforts to help agricultural production was to be flung out of his farm. I am not sure what appeal that man has got. There ought to be some kind of appeal if it is proved that he has not failed through stupidity or old age. If his accounts can be audited it ought to be possible to arrange some means whereby the services of a man who knows the land and is skilled are not lost. I doubt whether the agricultural committee could put in somebody else to make any greater success of the farm unless funds were available. I beg the Minister to realise that in some parts of the country agricultural committees are having a difficult task. The work is to a great extent voluntary, and more and more work is being put upon them. It will be an invidious task to peach on your neighbour's land and report that there is a field of thistles that ought to be cut. That is a task that should not be imposed on the local sub-committee of the war agricultural committee, but should be done from some central point.
With regard to drainage, I am a member of the Thames Conservancy Board, which is the largest catchment board in the country. A special drainage committee has been set up and this House has given that board special powers. We have had many meetings, and have asked various county war agricultural committees to submit schemes of work which should be undertaken. I think hon. Members will realise that it is futile to attempt 1482 either tile drainage or mole drainage unless the water courses below are cleared out, as otherwise the water which is being led from the land cannot get away, and catchment boards have been given powers which enable them to do the work and charge it to the owners and occupiers if they have not done it. But in a matter of this kind there must be a co-ordinated plan. Certain counties in the Thames catchment area have produced maps and plans and the work is being done now, but everybody must realise that unless the work is done at once we shall be in great difficulties in the coming winter.
There is another difficult matter which I should like to mention. I know that in view of the military exigencies arising from the danger of invasion a great many things have had to be done which with more mature consideration would not have been done, but what is to be said of cutting a tank ditch through flood banks in order to prevent tanks getting on to certain land when one end of the tank ditch is actually below the level of the main river, so that if there happens to be a slight rise in the river the water will be conducted at right angles to all the flood banks which have been created and thousands and thousands of acres will be flooded? That is what is happening at this moment. What is the position of a catchment board charged by this House with the duty of trying to carry out a drainage scheme when somebody comes along and without a "By your leave" or "With your leave," or without asking the opinion of any of the engineers, cuts through the flood banks?
Furthermore, contractors who were employed by many catchment boards have had all their plant either requisitioned or taken away by the military authorities. That is quite right when we are in danger of invasion, but there is also the danger of a shortage of food, and all I say is that there ought to be some authority which will insist that the skilled engineers charged with the responsible duties of drainage are consulted before some of these works are carried out. I do not think we ought to blame the military authorities altogether, because under the Defence Regulations they can do anything they like, including erecting fortifications on small islands which appear in some of our rivers which, after a few rains, will be at least four or 1483 five feet under water. But that is another story. This Bill is concerned with the drainage of the country, and I appeal to the Minister to set a time limit before which county war agricultural committees must put in their schemes. The Thames Conservancy Board have some of the best engineers in the country, and we can get the labour, but we must have the schemes, and if the right hon. Gentleman would set a time limit that would be very helpful. The Minister says that they are preparing them already. Some counties have done more than that, they have submitted them, and if some counties can do it I do not see why others should not.
Then there is the problem of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland is going to reply, I understand. There are not many Members representing Scottish constituencies who have addressed the House, and although I am no longer a Scottish Member, as I was at one time, I have certain interests in Scotland, and I would ask the Secretary of State to bear certain things in mind. Scottish agriculture, in the Highlands, at any rate, has gone through a very poor time in recent years. The problem of drainage in Scotland is one which has been very much complicated, though it is not often realised, by power schemes of one kind and another. People who study water supply sometimes do not appreciate the effects of the work of man in upsetting the work of Nature. Not only in Scotland, but in parts of the North of England as well we dam up a valley, lead water into that valley from the normal natural watercourses, and then lay great pipes to supply cities with that water. Somehow or other the water has to get to the sea, it has to find its level, and we are pouring thousands of millions of gallons down watercourses which Nature never designed to carry that volume of water. In certain parts of Scotland there are great power schemes which have dammed up various glens, and should there be even accidental bombing by enemy action, or sabotage, we should be faced with a serious situation, and might have a great deal of the land flooded, because I am afraid it is impossible adequately to guard all these vulnerable points.
1484 But in regard to normal drainage Scotland has not the same catchment system as exists in England, and I hope that one result of this Bill will be that more attention will be paid by the Scottish Office to the need for a comprehensive drainage system in Scotland. The situation there is difficult, because lairds are now impoverished. I remember fighting elections in Scotland in which a poster was used which was very popular. It showed a magnificent stag—it was far more than a royal; I think it had 18 or 20 points—prancing about on the top of a mountain with a background of heather and rocks and a burn. That was labelled "Scotland as it is." With it was another picture, showing apparently the same scene—there was the same elevation of a mountain peak—with a field of wheat in which the straw was at least four feet high, and that was labelled "Scotland as it ought to be." That was the sort of stuff that was put out to bemuse and bemuddle the urban population.
But that idea has gone for good. There would be no happy reception from the present Secretary of State for Scotland for any such futile suggestion. On the other hand, fluke has got into a good many of the grazing centres of Scotland, and flock masters are not being paid for the wool clip as promptly as they should be—although all sheep farmers are grateful to the Minister of Agriculture for the fight he has put up about it. I hope it will be remembered that Scottish agriculture in the Highlands and Islands does call for very special consideration. A good deal of that land is now in protected areas, where it is extremely difficult to get transport. The black-faced sheep are suffering as a result of neglect, partly due to the effect of Death Duties and so on, which has prevented proper drainage of the land. It is not possible now to get labour or plant. I believe the Scottish drainage system will require a Bill to itself, and I would ask the Board of Agriculture for Scotland to regard this as a really urgent matter, because in those poorish districts not only the big laird but the small crofter is feeling the difficulties of the times, and although this Bill may help in some ways, something more is wanted, something which will recognise that the needs of to-day call for a complete revision of the system of drainage North of the Tweed.
1485 Finally, I would say a word on the position of the average farmer in Scotland and England. He looks to the Minister of Agriculture to help him to obtain cash at the present time. No need is more clamant than the need to restore confidence to those who are engaged in agriculture. Farmers do not for a moment begrudge the increase of wages, they have wanted them for a long time; but, on the other hand, farmers have to pay, and rightly so, a heavy contribution towards unemployment insurance in agriculture, and now some farmers are saying "They cannot have it both ways. I am going to make use of the unemployment insurance scheme and am going to stand my men down and re-employ them when it is possible." That has brought an unsettling atmosphere into agriculture and the only way to put it right is to forestall the payments that are due. There are a certain number of war agricultural committees which have not yet paid up in respect of the land which has been explored for ploughing-up. And then there is the question of the wool clip. It will be of tremendous advantage to agriculture if, as the Minister has said, the wheat payment is to be made in a block sum.
It would be very helpful if the Minister could see his way to create some joint council or committee of the war agricultural committees in particular areas. There should be groups of war agricultural committees for the Wessex area, for East Anglia and for North-West England, and meetings should be arranged with bankers, merchants and everybody else concerned to see whether they cannot evolve some form of agricultural credit scheme for the district. Unless that is done, and done quickly, many farmers will be out of business, and I am sure there is an enormous quantity of land which the occupiers would be willing to cultivate better if they had the means to do it. It is a question of restoring confidence and providing credit. If the Minister of Agriculture continues as he has begun, stands up to objections from other Departments and recognises that we all look to him to carry through a forceful, offensive agricultural policy, he will find hon. Members in all parts of the House willing to support that policy, willing to carry it on after the war, and willing to make all the men engaged in agriculture feel that they are 1486 not in an industry which urban people look to only in times of stress, but are in an industry which is the lifeblood of the country, an industry which has to be supported because history shows that a country prospers in proportion as it recognises its obligations to the land, from which we have all sprung.
§ 6.58 p.m.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I do not think I should have ventured to rise if it had not been for the eloquent appeal to hon. Members from Scotland which my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) has just addressed to the House. I am certain we have all listened with considerable interest to the excellent plea which he made for farming in Scotland. The hon. Member has a lifelong association with the Northern Kingdom, although I had not realised in my ignorance that on one or two occasions before the last war he had actively intervened in the political field in Scotland. Having contested agricultural seats there, no Member is better qualified than he to address to us such remarks as he has made. There are two points in his speech which I should like to touch upon. First, I was wholeheartedly in agreement with him when he stressed the point that the talk about the crippling effect of the banks upon agriculture has been rather overdone. My hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) is looking at me with a not very friendly eye. He has taken a considerable part in bringing that question forward, and we all admire the gallant way in which he puts his point of view, but I am inclined to take the view of the hon. Member for Abingdon that the criticism has been rather overdone, in fact considerably overdone. I can speak at first hand only in regard to agricultural conditions in Scotland, and there I know that if the occupier of land satisfies the banks that he is really in earnest about his job, and has proved his worth in the way he goes about cultivating his acres, he will be quite easily accommodated. I am very glad that my hon. Friend, who knows so much about Scotland and who represents an English agricultural constituency in this House, has seen fit this afternoon to remind us of these things.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that, in Scotland, if a farmer is a success, 1487 the banks will back him, but if he is in difficulty they will not?
The hon. Gentleman must not seek to put more into my words than I intended them to convey. I said that if a man had proved his worth, in other words, his skill, and had given considerable evidence of his ability to till the land, the banks, if he were in difficulties, would make very little difficulty about his being accommodated. I hope that with that explanation the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon congratulated the Minister, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my offering him my congratulations also, on the excellent way in which he presented this Bill for Second Reading. We have had a very discursive Debate, and I do not want to go into the somewhat wider details that are almost outside the scope of the Bill and into which some hon. Members have gone this afternoon. I want to put one or two further points very briefly, and to ask for information about the actual Clauses, and, first of all, about Clause 4.
This somewhat narrow Clause antedates the directions to plough up land. But even the Minister went into the whole question of ploughing up land, and therefore I hope I shall be in order in speaking on the point. Many hon. Members have alluded to the fact that agriculturists will be required this winter to double the acreage that is now under the plough. In my own county, some 11,000 additional acres are to go under the plough during the coming autumn and winter. A fortnight ago, during the Debate in this House on the Vote for the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, I put one or two points to the Secretary of State who, I understand, is to reply on the Debate to-day. He knows that everyone, in Scotland and throughout the country, has done his very best, and that there have been only a few cases where people have been awkward in regard to ploughing up the extra acerage. In some cases there was considerable inconvenience last winter, and now people are being asked to redouble their efforts this winter. We shall naturally do our very best cheerfully to meet the increased responsibility, but the people who were in difficulties last winter will be placed in a very awkward position indeed.
1488 I suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Minister of Agriculture that they should not go on the lines of demanding a universal quota in certain cases. Some of is, myself included, have been trying to help in this situation. I have a holding which has been under grass for the last 70 years. There are about 200 acres. I asked the agricultural committee to take the whole acreage and put it under the plough, if they so desired, but they thanked me politely for my offer and said that I must bide my time and wait for this year. Other people who are in the same position as myself would gladly do a thing like that, in order to relieve other people. I merely put this out as a suggestion.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson) alluded to the position of private gardens. I assume he meant the gardens in the provincial towns and had in mind those gardens, large and small, which, increasingly, are going back, owing to labour difficulties. I ventured to interrupt the hon. Gentleman and to point out to him that the reason why those gardens are going back was largely owing to the inability of the owners of the gardens to pay the rate to which agricultural labourers are entitled. Owners of private gardens would wish to extend that rate of pay to those who work in their gardens, if they were in a position to do so. Landowners are a very small number of the community, and I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland realise that the farmer who is called upon to pay the standard minimum rate of 48s. a week to his men has a guarantee of prices, while the landowners who employ gardeners and estate workers have no such guarantee. These are such a small class in the community that I am certain that no Minister would wish to penalise them.
When the Secretary of State for Scotland replies, perhaps he will be good enough to explain Clause 8, to which the Minister of Agriculture just alluded in his opening speech. I am certain that there is nothing really sinister in the Clause, which makes what is described as further provisions for the requisitioning of land in Scotland. The hon. Member for Abingdon told us about an election poster of long ago: "Scotland as it is, and Scotland as it might be." The date 1489 was just before the great days of the Limehouse speeches of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is now the father of the House. As the hon. Member said, we have long since left far behind that kind of idea, even though it came from the father of the House, whom I was delighted to hear making an eloquent plea the other day on behalf of the landed interests. I hope the Minister will give that explanatory word.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
Scottish agriculture has been referred to by the two last speakers. Although mere South Briton I venture to say a word on the subject. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) referred to the serious difficulties from which Highland agriculturists have for so long been suffering. I always try to see the kinds of problem facing that marvellous country. Those who have studied it on its agricultural side have come to the conclusion, I have heard, that the problem of the Highland agriculturist arises from over-grazing with one particular animal, the sheep. After 1745, and the great rebellion of that year, the authorities took large blocks of cattle from the Highlands of Scotland in order to break the military power of the Highlanders. The clansmen had all their cattle taken away. Not since those days has there been any extensive mixed farming in the Highlands. The consequence is that what with the deer forests and the constant, everlasting grazing of sheep, you have bracken extending everywhere over the Highlands. That is true, not only of Scotland, but of the higher parts of this country, too. Sheep are eating out the best of the herbage and leaving the poorest, and loosening the soil, thus making it easier for the roots of the bracken to extend. The answer to the problem of the Highlands is the introduction of mixed farming. I saw an example of mixed farming in a great glen to the North-East of Fort William, which a few years ago had been developed by a member of another place, Lord Abinger, where most successful mixed farming had been practised on land which had once been derelict. Of course, it needs credit. I do not see how that is to be done unless the war agricultural committees in Scotland get together in some way, produce plans and see that they are followed.
1490 I desire to raise one or two points with regard to this Bill. In general it is a useful Bill. It does not go very far, but it fills up important gaps. We see the building of the new agriculture slowly rising, but we do not see any approach to the roof yet. However, that will be approached by the addition of a few more layers of bricks. In regard to the first Clause, it makes it possible for measures to be taken to assist upland field drainage. That is a very important factor. It may be true that it is no good draining your fields unless you have the lower watercourses drained first but the converse is also true. I have seen instances where that has been the case. Although the main watercourses, the main rivers, brooks and streams, have been cleaned out, still on the uplands or the semi-uplands, particularly in the clayey districts, you have fields with patches of bog or semi-bog. There has been no sign of that fact being recognised up to now, and until this Clause is put into operation, we shall never get the crops that we should. This last season I have seen cases of arable fields recently ploughed up which have produced only part crops—a good crop on one part of the field and a poor crop on another part of the field—just because there was no tile drainage or mole drainage or any kind of land drainage on that particular spot. That is where it seems to me that Clause I may be of importance. I hope that steps will be taken to press the war agricultural executive committees to let farmers know that there are these facilities and that farmers will be assisted.
In regard to the Clause concerning the making of payments in connection with the eradication of bovine tuberculosis, I am glad that that is to be extended. I do not share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) that the war-time feeding of cattle may tend to increase tuberculosis. On the contrary, I think it may mean that if farmers make use of their opportunities of making sileage and catch crops from arable land they may be able to feed their cattle in a far more healthy way than the everlasting feeding on imported cakes. At the same time, I agree with him that the maintenance of these bovine tuberculosis measures in war-time is as important as in peace-time. I should like to ask a question, if the Secretary of State 1491 for Scotland would take note of it: What is the position in regard to the cleaning up of the herds? I did not hear the whole of the Minister's speech, but I do not believe that he gave any facts about that matter. How many attested herds have we got in the country, and how many in relation to a year ago? Furthermore, could he say in what districts of the country we have the most attested herds? I ask for this reason. There is reason to believe that there are in the country certain districts which are more healthy and where it is easier to get clean herds than in others. I believe that in certain parts of Wales, over large parts of the county of Carmarthenshire, for instance, it is not absolutely clean but very nearly so. I am afraid that in my own county that is by no means the case. It may be due to climatic or other reasons. Has the Minister any information extending over the last year as to the areas where herds have been more particularly cleaned up as a result of this attested scheme?
In regard to the powers of the agricultural executive committees, there are two points about which I hope the Ministry will see that they are informed. I know of several cases last autumn where there was a distinct insufficiency of threshing machines. Farmers were kept waiting for quite a long time before they could get their corn threshed, and the consequence was that in some cases they did not get their land seeded as early as they otherwise would have done, with bad results for the winter corn. I hope the agricultural committees will be made aware of the importance of this matter, and that they will see to it that in those areas there are sufficient threshing machines to meet the increased arable acreage. If private enterprise will not provide them then perhaps they will step into the breach and do it themselves. The same applies to the repair of agricultural implements. Farmers often have difficulties and delays in getting agricultural implements repaired. I have reason to fear that men are being taken into the Army from some of the agricultural implement depots where repairs are carried out. If this is so this matter should be looked into with the military authority to make sure that we have the necessary skilled men. This is, after all, a most important war industry. If a farmer has his implements 1492 held up, if he wants repairs done and cannot get them done at the right time, there may be a serious loss in the return from that particular field. So often time is the essence of a good crop, and unless you get your seed bed made properly at the right time you will get deluges of rain or frost, or something will intervene, and you will not get the crop.
With regard to further powers of the war agricultural executive committees, a lot has been said about the importance of credits. Perhaps it is true that for many farmers the present rate of interest is not serious. For others, I think it is. The mere fact that in the last Bill dealing with agriculture the Minister inserted a Clause which gives the war committees power to extend credits for certain special purposes is an indication that all is not well. I am satisfied that for a great many of those who will be called upon to carry out important works in the near future, with additional expense for ploughing up land and obtaining implements, additional credit will be required, which they may find it hard to get. Therefore, I join with those who have stressed the importance of this matter. I would like to get an answer to a question which I put the other day when the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) raised this subject on the Adjournment. I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury how many applications have been made for credits under the Agriculture Act. Since the Bill has become an Act have there been any applications under the Section? The Financial Secretary said that it was a matter for the Minister of Agriculture. Now, I should like the Minister to answer the question.
There is another point in regard to wool. Assistance could very well be given to the small farmer who wants a little ready money. These farmers have their wool clip for the last summer, but in most cases they have not been able to get a penny for it. Everything has been held up by the Wool Control, which has not in many cases been very active. I know cases where farmers would have been able to get rid of most of their wool in ordinary times, but now the greater part has been stored. Steps should be taken to enable farmers to get an advance in cash on their wool clip. That would very much assist the small man, who will be called upon this autumn to under- 1493 take increased expenditure. Here he has something of value, which previously he has been able always to market, but which is now held up owing to war conditions. These are a few points on which I should like information; otherwise, I think the Bill is very useful.
§ 7.24 p.m.
Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)
I usually speak for only five minutes, and I always have to wait my turn in order to do so. To-day I have been fortunate: I have been waiting only three and a half hours; and, therefore, I shall confine my speech to three and a half minutes. I, personally, cannot praise this Bill. Bill the first was vilely reckoned; equally vile was Bill the second; and what mortal ever heard any good of Bill the third? The reason I say this—and I am confining myself to Bill No. 2—is because none of these Bills dealt with the root cause of all our troubles in agriculture. That root cause is lack of money. It is no good the Minister of Agriculture, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or even the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, denying this. It is quite clear, from every quarter of the country, that the root cause of our trouble is lack of money, lack of credit facilities, and, where credit facilities are available, the high cost in interest to the borrower.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) touched on this matter. He speaks with some authority, being himself a banker; and I think I am right in saying that he suggested that what is required is an agricultural credits Bill to deal with all these matters. I welcomed that suggestion very much. It showed the real dawn of sanity, coming from someone who has authority to speak. I hope that the Minister will look into that at the earliest opportunity. I very much enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). He touched on many of these subjects, and lent considerable weight to all that has been said on them. I think my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) did the same. The additional charge which the agricultural labourers' wages has made on the farmer was a very necessary one. I welcomed that increase for the agricultural labourer most whole-heartedly. I did not hesitate to vote against the Government upstairs in order that the agricultural labourer might have the increased wage. We defeated the 1494 Government on that; and, therefore, I am not complaining that the Government has done something, which is much overdue, for the agricultural labourer. But something should be done to enable the farmer to pay that increased wage. It is no good the Minister telling us—I think there is some allusion to it in this Bill—that there are maximum prices. Maximum prices are not the same thing as fixed or guaranteed prices. The maximum price is often not obtained. The reason why farm workers—I prefer that term to "agricultural labourers"—are being discharged to-day is simply the inability of the farmer to pay the higher rate of wages. That rate is not too high, but it is too high for the farmer to pay on the prices he believes he will get. He does not believe that he will get the maximum prices. That is something which will have to be altered at the earliest opportunity.
My hon. Friend opposite said that I was sometimes somewhat critical of the banks. I do not think, with great deference to him, that that is quite true. Many of the bankers of this country are lifelong friends of mine. I have nothing but the highest admiration for them. I have no quarrel with the banks, in their ordinary sphere, but I do not think that they have realised in the last few years the necessity for something being done for agriculture. I think that, in spite of assurances to the contrary, over a period of many years, with the Bank Rate at 2 per cent., overdraft charges at 5 per cent., and the amount outstanding at £53,000,000, the banks have done extremely well out of the money they have lent to the agriculturists of this country. There is proof positive in the fact that the bank balance sheets show each year that, after making allowances for bad and doubtful debts, they have earned some thousands of pounds. I am going to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether, in replying, he will not really, in a spirit of great friendliness and reasonableness, give us some assurance that these credits shall be tackled. Perhaps I am too impulsive at times, but I feel it from the heart. Therefore, I am going to sit down, after making this appeal: that this great industry, which can do more than all else for the national effort, shall have that to which it is rightly entitled, so that we shall be saved from starvation and any other perils which beset us during the war.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I am not, unfortunately, a rural dweller but an urban dweller, and therefore I must be excused from passing eulogies upon the Minister of Agriculture. It would appear that, generally speaking, this Bill marks an advance, but it does not go far enough. There is a part of the Bill—Clause 3—in which the urban dwellers of the country are particularly interested. The new cheap milk scheme will cause a greatly increased consumption of milk in the country, and it is therefore of vital importance to the State that the quality of the milk produced should be of an unassailable character. No one disputes that tuberculosis in cattle is the cause of tuberculosis in human beings, and all sections of the community are affected by this and other diseases due to tuberculous cattle and their products. One has merely to look at the annual report of the Ministry of Health to realise how serious is the problem of tuberculosis. I have, I think, mentioned previously in this House that every year there are no fewer than 60,000 fresh cases of tuberculosis in human beings.
Milk is not perhaps the prime factor in tuberculosis, but it certainly plays a part, and perhaps a leading part, in connection with it. Everyone will agree that the prevalence of this and kindred diseases is of vast cost to the State, and therefore all sections of the community are interested, and particularly the local authorities, which expend vast sums annually in combating what has been described as one of the great killing diseases. The State makes contributions to the local authorities, and private individuals suffer loss and disabilities from this disease, and if any steps can be taken to increase the protection of the community against the disease, they certainly ought to be taken. It is an interesting fact that, in spite of what is suggested in Clause 3, the continuing of an expenditure of some £773,000 per annum upon improving the quality of the herds in the matter of bovine tuberculosis which in the 7½ years will reach some £5,750,000, the Milk Marketing Board advise us that they are putting upon the market all this non-designated milk which any medical officer of health in the country will tell us is in the main tainted by excremental pollution on the one hand, and by various disease 1496 germs on the other, and that it is a definite source of injury to the community and ought to be dealt with. The Ministry of Health, which has been approached by medical officers of health, has expressed the fear that in the war period this difficulty cannot be dealt with, and when it was raised recently in a Question, it was stated that the Ministry of Food had the matter under consideration but that it was not very hopeful of dealing with it. Some 50 per cent. of the non-designated milk is dealt with by the large distributing agencies and is pasteurised, and it is therefore safe, or relatively safe, though much depends upon the bottling process, but that still leaves at least 25 per cent. of the milk consumed in this country which, under a proper and commonsense state of society, would not be permitted to be marketed in any way in its raw state.
I do not know of any section of the community which is similarly privileged as is undoubtedly this side of agriculture. It is permitted by the State and the various Ministries concerned, and in contradiction to the general interests of the community, to place an unwholesome and a dangerous food upon the market for human consumption. What other industry, trade or business is permitted to do that? No other section of agriculture could do so. Prosecutions would immediately ensue, but not in the case of milk which is impure. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) and my hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) made reference to Clause 3 of the Bill, and I am glad that they did so, as they are practical farmers. They have asked what progress has been made in this matter, because they realise the seriousness of the situation. I should like to know, if the Minister can tell us, the position with regard to the attested herds of the country? Is he pursuing a course which is really fruitful in the matter, or is there a continuation of the amount of tuberculosis in cattle that we have seen for years past?
Medical science tells us that tuberculosis is a disease attributable to three main causes—bad housing, a low standard of living, and improper food, in which one must include milk. We have almost solved our housing problem, and we are grateful to the 1497 Government for what has been done, and the standard of life has been raised in this country during the last few years, but still there remains this terrible drain upon the country from this source of tuberculosis. One hesitates to say that the large sum of money which has been expended, and which it is proposed to expend—£5,750,000 in the course of the next 7½ years—is wasted money, and it is also significant to remember, too, that over £2,000,000 sterling was expended in 1939, and a similar sum will be expended this year, in producing a better quality of milk for the consumers of the country, and yet we have an almost stationary position with regard to tuberculosis in this country.
What is the prime cause from which we are suffering? I do not believe it is through the great herds of this country; certainly it cannot be through the attested herds, but I believe it is through the hundreds of small farmers—many with only 15 to 20 cows—who are suffering from poverty and have not sufficient resources to obtain the necessary credit. They cannot avail themselves of the monetary efforts made by the Government to set up a higher standard of herd. These are the sources from which the Milk Marketing Board continues to supply this highly dangerous food to the community.
What must be done in the matter? I think it would pay the community many hundreds per cent. to take steps to eradicate these small, inefficient herds and farms. If that could be done, there would be a superior quality of milk produced. I see no reason why the agricultural industry should have greater protection than the engineering industry, with which I am associated, or with any other industry concerned with the welfare of the community. But, under the law, the agricultural industry is permitted to put on to the market, day by day, this improper food, and the powers of medical officers of health are quite insufficient to deal with the problem. If this suggestion that I have made cannot be carried out, then I think it is clearly the duty of the Ministry and other responsible parties to make sure that the products of these farms should be intercepted and treated before they are consumed. That is a just proposition. I speak on behalf of the leading municipalities in the north of England, to whom this problem is 1498 becoming increasingly acute from every point of view. This milk ought to be pasteurised; if it cannot, then it certainly should be manufactured into dried milk. The process of such manufacture frees it from all deleterious matter and dangerous germs. It would be in the interests of the country if really serious efforts were directed to increasing the welfare of the general body of citizens. It is not unreasonable to suggest that we in Britain should follow the example of the United States, which gives a pure pasteurised milk supply to all its citizens throughout the different States of that great country. We know that in certain Continental countries, particularly Denmark and Norway, a similar state of affairs prevails, yet we in the heart of the Empire have not taken the steps which ought to be taken forthwith in this direction. Let it be said by the Minister that this is of as great concern to him, the Ministry and the Government as any other affecting the welfare and safety of the population. If that be so, then this Bill will be beneficial to the whole community.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Maryhill)
I intervene only because of some of the remarks made with regard to Scottish agriculture and because I want to urge the Minister to deal, in his reply, with some of the points specifically raised by Members of this House. With all due respect to my hon. Friend who has just spoken, agriculturists, particularly in the war effort, have every right to make definite claims on the Government, first of all in view of the great national necessity for agriculture at the moment and, secondly, because neither the engineering industry, nor any other industry that I can think of, has to meet the bad weather, bad luck and many other misfortunes that fall on agriculture. Therefore, I think every effort that is seriously made to enable Ministers to understand the problems of the various interests and localities connected with agriculture ought to be made as often as possible in this House.
With regard to Scottish agriculture, while I represent an industrial constituency, my close association with the London self-government movement, the Highland crofters' movement and organisations of that kind have given me an insight into, and knowledge of, some of 1499 our agricultural problems in the North. The chief fault with regard to Scottish agriculture in the past has been the lack of encouragement in the Highlands by Government after Government. Successively, they have failed to recognise the very great difficulties in the North as regards the rigours of the climate and the encroachment of bracken. There has been very little Government effort since, I think, the last Commission, away back in the '80's. We cannot say to-day that the fault with Scottish agriculture is because of too much grazing, or this or that; the fault has been because the industry has been seriously neglected, despite the complaints of the farmers. I do not say that in a severely critical spirit, but we must recognise that fact, deal now with the problem as it faces us, and see whether this Bill will provide steps to make up some of the leeway.
I want to deal with the powers of our war agricultural committees in Scotland. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have criticised rather severely the composition of one particular committee. If we are to allow in these committees representation of separate interests, then I think the whole purpose of these committees fails. We shall not have broad, courageous schemes brought forward because of this clashing within the committees themselves. The composition of these committees could very fairly be examined closely by the Secretary of State, and he will find that interests are represented which ought not to be represented. He knows that there is hardly a single independent farmer in the Isle of Bute. The Marquess of Bute controls the very life of those farmers. They dare not even place certain pictures on the wall. He rules their lives. He has his representative on the war agricultural committee, and there is not a single ordinary farmer who will raise his voice if it is against the interests of the Marquess of Bute. The Minister knows it.
The Duke of Sutherland is represented on the Sutherland War Agricultural Committee by the man who is his factor and agent. Can anyone visualise the servant of the Duke of Sutherland saying that the Duke is failing in his duty? He is represented three times. He is represented by the factor and agent, by the factor and agent's son, and by another member.
1500 The committee is supposed to be composed of men who only have the interests of the country at heart, whose only desire is to bring more land into agricultural production and to promote schemes which will give the land the drainage it requires. The composition of the committees must be one of the Minister's first considerations, and he must see to it that they are composed not only of the big farmers or the big farmers' agents, or the landed proprietors' agents, but of practical working farmers and crofters whose only aim is to encourage agriculture and make a moderately paying proposition out of their piece of land and to try and give the country the food that is desired.
I should like now to deal with the powers of the Minister himself. If a farmer fails in his duty, and his drainage facilities are a hindrance not only to his own production but to the neighbouring farms, he can be dealt with by the Secretary of State. The war agricultural committees must first make a recommendation. The Scottish Secretary can then tell this individual that he must make the necessary repairs. But the individual can appeal to the Scottish Secretary, who then again goes over the case and, if he turns down the appeal, the individual who has been reported can say, "If you are going to make me do this work, if you are going to say that I am a danger to neighbouring farmers, I want compensation," and the whole case can be reconsidered. The Scottish Secretary makes a decision with regard to compensation, and, if the individual is not satisfied, he can go to the Land Court and fight the case there. The whole position is ridiculous. If we set up agricultural committees and they make recommendations, the Government representative ought to have the power to deal with that man as we would deal with one who was engaging in sabotage in factories or workshops. As long as you give all these powers of appealing and re-appealing, so long will you have delay.
I have put questions and failed to receive satisfactory replies, even to get any information at all with regard to the number of recommendations that have been made. I believe the acreage of land under production has increased and, after the scheme has been in operation for so long, I should like the Scottish Secretary to tell us how successful it has been, how 1501 many drainage recommendations have been made by the war agricultural committees and in how many cases this repair work has been carried out without compensation. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to see to it that all representations by small farmers and crofters who can show that their desire is merely to enlarge production in an agricultural sense are very carefully examined, because for far too long in the past they have been neglected, and bad feeling and hatred have been aroused in communities in the North of Scotland which were certainly bad for any agricultural production policy. I trust that the Minister will recognise that my intervention has been made merely for the purpose of placing before him the point of view of many farmers and crofters whose life has been spent on the land in order to draw from it, not great profit but a livelihood, and to provide the necessities of life for the general community. In peace-time many of these appeals and arguments would not apply very definitely, but in war-time every acre of land must be used and every opportunity must be given to the crofters and farmers, and the landed proprietors and those who desire to stop the progress of agriculture because of their own selfish interests must be dealt with as severely as anyone who is engaging in sabotage.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ernest Brown)
This Debate has followed the usual course of Second Reading Debates on Bills which the House as a whole is glad to see. On such occasions, three things happen which are very valuable from the point of view of the House, the country, and the Ministers concerned. First of all, a slight tribute is paid to the merits of the Bill and it is said that it is a small but useful Bill, although occasionally an impetuous Member calls it a sham. Secondly, there are demands for a bigger and more comprehensive Measure, and occasionally a Member states precisely what he means by that, but generally does not do so. Thirdly—and perhaps this is the most valuable of the three things—hon. Members raise wider issues, in so far as Mr. Speaker allows them to do so, and state what they would desire to see in the Bill, or what they think would have been in it if they had been the Minister producing 1502 it. In this Debate there has been no departure from that general rule. With regard to the Bill itself, all that is claimed for it by the Minister of Agriculture and myself—for we are both concerned, although not quite equally, for I am more concerned with some parts, and he with others—is that it is a useful Measure in the light of the experience which we have gained since the last Measure was passed. It has been quickly brought in to fill some gaps which we have discovered, in our desire to see the maximum production from the soil of this country at this time of strife and tumult.
I should like now to answer some of the questions that have been put to me, and one or two precise points that have been raised about the Bill. I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson) talking about the villages in the West Country which he and I know so well. I remember meetings in those villages more than 30 years ago, when he took the chair and I spoke. At those meetings the practical farmer was more in evidence than the politician, and that was true again to-day when the hon. Member spoke. He summed up the Bill very well when he said that it was in the right direction. I need not say anything more about the Bill as a whole, except to note that the House is pleased with it. To deal now with some of the points that have been raised, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor said that we ought to give greater power to the Agricultural Committees to take over gardens and to see that they are properly cultivated. I am not sure that would be a wise policy. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture informs me that what is happening in England and Wales is that the local authorities are encouraging the formation of horticultural committees to stimulate a movement towards the end which the hon. Member desires. In Scotland, we have a Gardens and Allotments Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Greig and that committee is actively engaged in this work. I am not sure that persuasion will not be much more successful than the rather arbitrary measure which the hon. Member suggested.
§ Mr. Brown
In England and Wales they are trying to get this done through the local authorities, and in Scotland we are doing it through the Gardens and Allotments Committee, and local authorities and other bodies. The hon. Member then spoke about wasteland and commons, and I do not think he was quite up to date in his reference to the powers which we have. I am assured that in England and Wales the committees have adequate powers to deal with problems of wasteland and commons. Action has been taken, is being taken, and will be taken. Another point made by the hon. Member, and echoed in the striking speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), concerned a problem which is a very difficult one for the Ministers in both countries, and for some individual farmers. I was glad to hear hon. Members recognise that military necessities are overriding, as all of us agree, but the difficulty arises when a local commander is presented with an urgent order, and is unable to have the necessary consultation and co-operation that ought to take place in order that great harm shall not be done. I can assure hon. Members that we have been very active in this matter. A great deal of administrative action has been taken already, and I am sure it is the wish of all concerned, the Service authorities equally with us, to ensure that in future there shall be the maximum co-operation to make certain, first, that what is wanted for the defence of the country shall be done, and done urgently; and secondly, that it shall be done in the light of the best local advice that can be given to ensure that there shall be the smallest amount of damage to agricultural interests and food production. I will not deal with the problems that have been raised about oats, because I think they are hardly in order on this Bill, as Mr. Deputy-Speaker hinted just now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Campridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) asked a question about the making of roads in the Fenlands. In the particular cases in which he is interested, the roads are being constructed of reinforced concrete, and I can assure him that urgent representations have been made to the Ministry of Supply with a view to ensuring that sufficient cement is available to enable the work to proceed on normal lines. The most urgent representations have been 1504 made, but my hon. Friend will understand that there are priorities in this matter. Furthermore, while the Ministry of Agriculture are in consultation with the Ministry of Transport as regards the possibility of using alternative materials for the construction of roads in the Fen areas, it is regarded as absolutely essential that such roads, however constructed, must be of a permanent nature, due regard being had to the character of the soil on which they are constructed. I believe that in Norfolk they are of opinion, and that their experience shows, that a road constructed with a chalk foundation, with gravel and a waterproof covering, will be perfectly satisfactory, provided that the waterproof covering is maintained in a proper manner. We are not in all cases confined merely to the use of this very important material, cement.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) spoke of the Bill as filling gaps, and was glad that, as I pointed out in an interruption in the course of the Debate, tile drainage, as well as mole drainage, is provided for under the Bill. The hon. Member asked whether the Internal Drainage Boards are the right organisation. He will understand that the local authorities in this case have no power to levy a special rate. The boards have that power. On the other hand, he must understand that what we are dealing with now are not roads under the charge of the local authority; they have not been made up, and have not been taken over. Therefore, the local authorities clearly could not be the originators of a scheme of this kind without a very long delay, and, of course, a complete recasting of the whole of our system in this respect. Other hon. Members have asked why the highway authorities should not take over responsibility for a Fen road which is not a highway. That is another and smaller side of the same problem.
§ Mr. Brown
That may be so. One of the purposes of the House is the expression of differences of opinion. I am explaining that the Ministry of Agriculture in this matter have chosen the appropriate and practical way of getting done a thing which everybody agrees ought to be done. I hope the hon. Member will welcome the step and that he will not try to cast doubts on the practicability of it, because it does not happen to be the kind of scheme which will appeal to him.
§ Mr. Quibell
I merely wish to ask whether or not the drainage authority is a more appropriate authority than a local authority.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member will understand that this scheme is carried out in connection with the drainage scheme. It is in pursuance of that purpose that we think this machinery is the appropriate machinery. For the moment I will not go into the questions raised in regard to credit by the hon. Member for North Cumberland and other hon. Members, because I hope to say a few words on that before I sit down. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) can be assured with regard to tractors that the points he has mentioned are in hand, and that we have not merely a great many more threshing machines for the forthcoming operations, but also that we have organised them on a regional basis. I will not pursue the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) and discuss what has taken place on more than one Minister's Vote on the question of Army releases. The House is well aware of the difficulties, and is well aware of the contradiction of interests between the need for Territorials in pre-war days, and the needs of agriculture, and how it was resolved. I have more than once pointed out that it was done on a balance of view. We all have to face the facts. The original procedure was adopted when the Territorials were not at full strength; then came the doubling of the Territorials; but since then two steps have been taken; firstly, we have lowered the age of reservation, and, secondly, the Army has done a great deal to grant suspensions for a considerable period on the one hand, and temporary suspension on the other. I do not think I need say any more about that.
§ Mr. Quibell
That does not answer the point that I made. I stated that in the last fortnight a key-man was taken from one farm of 60 acres. He was a key-man because he was the only man on the farm, and it was left to his widowed mother.
§ Mr. Brown
I did not reply to that, because I thought the Minister would look into it. However, the age of 18 is the reservation age, though it has been 21 for a long time. Therefore, I would prefer not to reply until the hon. Member produces the exact case to the Minister, who then, of course, can consider it.
§ Mr. Brown
Then there is no need to discuss it further on the Second Reading of this Bill.
The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) again raised the question of the small farmers in Suffolk, and the effect of military operations on their work. He again pleaded for some simple machinery in regard to money, whereas the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) raised the question of a long-term improvement and a short-term improvement. He will understand that not only in this Bill do we have to relate one to the other, but in a whole host of problems and many fields of Ministerial activities. He was a little ungenerous, and on reflection, I think, he will realise it, when he put the question of how serious the Minister is. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend in the short time he has been Minister of Agriculture has shown great proof of seriousness and drive. On reflection the hon. Member for Doncaster will, I think, agree that that is so, and he will realise that not only is the Minister serious, but also the war agricultural committees. Despite the reflection on the part of some hon. Members about that, I am sure that those who work closest with the committees and observe the unremitting labour they put in, will join with me in paying them the warmest tribute for an extraordinary fine piece of national service. One or two Members have said truly that they have some invidious tasks to perform. But there is another side. Those of us who know the countryside know that there is a strong feeling locally in regard to bad cultivators— a stronger feeling than anywhere else. It seems to 1507 me to be the right body to have—a local body knowing the facts and feeling most strongly about it—because they themselves are very often affected in their neighbouring farms by exceedingly bad cultivation. In any case these committees are doing their duties and are carrying them out well.
I was asked for the facts in regard to herds. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. D. Adams) pays a good deal of attention to this subject, and urges it constantly in this House. In March, 1939, there were 5,970, and in March, 1940, 15,530. Between March, 1940, and 30th June, 1940, the number had risen to 16,180. But we do not expect the rise to continue, as the Memorandum on the Bill points out, because when the war began we had to stop applications. The later rise is due to the fact that we did not bar the applications which had already been received. The largest numbers of attested herds are in South Wales and Ayrshire. It is curious that it should be Wales and Scotland and not, in this case, England. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon raised the question of the need for a comprehensive drainage scheme in the Highlands of Scotland. I have not yet had much about this question put before me, but I do know about the development of power schemes from previous Ministerial experience. As he knows, however, our drainage problems in Scotland have never been quite the same as those in England, because we have not the same number of long sluggish rivers finding their way slowly to the sea through flat land. In Scotland they are swifter and shorter, and there are quick running streams. That is why we have been ahead of England in regard to the smaller drainage, and because we have, since 1912, had the power to operate not only mole drainage hut tile drainage as well. I am not aware of the need for a comprehensive scheme, but next Wednesday I hope to go to Inverness and to visit other places and meet agricultural committees as well as representatives of the local authorities. I hope to be there for four or five days, and I will take up the point and find out whether local opinion agrees with the hon. Member's views. As regards other points raised on this matter I have here figures about the extent of drainage in Scotland, but as I hope to go to Scotland to-night, if I can finish this speech in time to catch 1508 my train, I shall not go into these details if the House will forgive me.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), I can assure him there is no sinister motive underlying Clause 8. It is an answer in part to my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson), who has not really appreciated it. I invite him to look at the Clause, and I am sure he will give the Minister marks for having done what he urged on a previous occasion. I can sum up the rest of the Debate by saying that it has turned on the plea that a great deal more agricultural credit is wanted. I will not discuss it at length now. I will just say a word in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère), who began his speech with a little doggerel. May I reply by reciting some doggerel which I wrote when he was speaking:My hon. Friend, he Member for EveshamThinks every successive Bill a sham,But pegs away for easy moneyAnd says the land will then be sunny.
§ Mr. Brown
I claim no merit for it, and if Members compare the doggerel of my hon. Friend the Member for Evesham with my effort, they can form their own conclusions.
I was glad to find that there was more than one opinion on the question of credit in the House to-day. On previous occasions the opinion has gone nearly all one way, but to-day I detected a note of doubt in the speeches of one or two Members as to whether it was as important as other people thought. Speaking as the Minister who represents agriculture in Scotland, I understand that the situation is much easier there than it is in England and Wales. I think the problem can be resolved into a question of psychology and of practical fact. People argue about the rate of interest being 5, 4, 3 or 2½ per cent., but there is really not much difference in terms of money on individual loans. It is no good quoting £53,000,000 as the amount of credit outstanding, because it is not one man who has borrowed that amount. It is hundreds of thousands of men. The psychology of it evidently affects Members as they go to their constituencies. I say on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister 1509 of Agriculture, who is very active visiting committees, that at the moment he is not convinced that he wants more power. He has made it plain in the last two months that if he were convinced that more powers were wanted—
§ Mr. Brown
For anything. If he were convinced, he would consider what powers were wanted, argue the matter, and get consent for the necessary legislation. Individual cases were given, but on the whole the facts do not quite bear out the general story. A question was put by my hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price), who asked for figures of grants made. They have been given to the House by way of question and answer, and I will see that he gets them. He will not find them encouraging from the point of view of making a story that there is a very widespread demand for more power. The same is true of the Agricultural Corporation. We shall take account of all that has been said about this matter, and I have no doubt that if there is a real case, it can be demonstrated by fact and supported by argument, and at the end the day will be won, as it generally is in this House. I commend this modest, useful and valuable Bill to the House.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
I take it that that section of the survey which is now being made, in which men are asked whether land is in the condition it is because of financial difficulties, will be seriously looked at?
§ Sir R. Glyn
I take it that my right hon. Friend does not want it to go forth that he and the Minister of Agriculture do not think the question of credit is important, because the attitude of the House in all parts to-day is that the provision of credit is of vital importance.
§ Mr. Brown
I have made that plain by the form of my reply. The point I was making is that my right hon. Friend, in his visits to county committees, has not been made aware of the urge for new powers which has been represented in the 1510 House. Both of us, however, take serious note of all the views that have been expressed by hon. Members, especially as they have been expressed in every part of the House.
§ Mr. David Adams
Has the right hon. Gentleman nothing to say with regard to small farms as the prime source of tuberculosis?
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Tuesday next.—[Sir J. Edmondson.]