§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.3 P.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colvill)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am sure the House will be sorry to learn that illness prevents my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture from being in his place to-day on the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill, which contains important provisions, some of which are applicable only to England and Wales, and I feel confident that I shall be voicing the feeling of all hon. Members when I express the hope that he may have a speedy recovery. As Secretary of State for Scotland, however, I am joint sponsor of this Measure with the Minister of Agriculture, and I am glad to have the privilege of moving the Second Reading of a Bill, which I hope will be of assistance in helping the war effort in a department of the home front which is of extreme importance at the present time. If, in dealing with those parts of the Bill which have no application North of the Border, I fail to explain some of the provisions with the lucidity one is accustomed to expect from my right hon. and gallant Friend, I am sure the House will bear with me. Hon. Members will be glad to hear that my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works who has had long and close association with the agricultural Department and is familiar with conditions in England and Wales, will be here to reply to the Debate.
This Bill is undoubtedly something of a mixed bag, and it is inevitable, in introducing a Bill of this kind, that the Minister must go into a little detail to explain its Clauses, because they relate to a wide number of subjects. I hope the House will agree that it is both desirable and necessary in order to enable farmers to fulfil the war-time tasks allotted to them. The Bill serves a two-fold purpose—it makes Amendments to the existing legislative machinery, necessitated by wartime conditions, and it gives statutory effect to certain lines of policy which have from time to time been announced to this 74 House. One thing I would stress, and that is that the Bill is a war-time Measure only. However great the temptation may be to try and make permanent alterations in existing legislation or to introduce new legislation of a permanent character under cover of the present emergency, we are not doing that in this Bill, though I hope that some of the proposals will have lasting beneficial effects on the fertility of our soil.
To go into details, Part I of the Bill is intended to effect some temporary Amendment of the Wheat Acts, 1932 and 1939, so as to remove difficulties in administration arising from war-time control of wheat and flour supplies. The House has so recently wrestled with the complexities of the Wheat Acts that I do not think hon. Members will expect me to outline their main principles. The first Amendment which we propose, in Clause 1, is to enable deficiency payments to be made in respect of shorter periods than a full cereal year, which is from 1st August to 31st July. Under the principal Acts one feature was that all growers obtained a uniform rate of deficiency payment, regardless of the actual price at which they as individuals sold their wheat. In peacetime this provision worked fairly since it encouraged growers to make the best possible price in a free market; but we are not in a free market any longer. In wartime prices for bulk of wheat are fixed by the Government and may be subject to abrupt changes, which would bring anomalies unless the amount of deficiency payments is adjusted at more frequent intervals.
Let me give an example of what I mean. From 1st August to 8th September the selling price was 4s. 3d. per cwt.; from 9th September to 20th October, it was fixed at 5s. 4d. per cwt.; and since then it has been fixed again at 7s. The House will see that in these circumstances the system of relating deficiency payments to the average price realised over the whole cereal year would work out very unfairly on most growers of wheat in periods of the year when the controlled price is less than the average price over the whole year. The system of basing deficiency payments on the average price for the whole cereal year means that growers must wait until the end of that year before they receive their full deficiency payment. We now propose to enable payments to 75 be made in full at more frequent intervals, and I think the House will agree that that is very desirable at a time when we are asking farmers to expand their production of foodstuffs. There again, in view of the need for expansion, we propose that there shall be no scaling down of deficiency payments if the anticipated supply exceeds the figure of 36,000,000 cwts. allowed for in the Acts as they stand at present.
The House will recall the nature of the machinery which was set up to deal with the question of fixing the standard price; this machinery is not suitable for war conditions. It enabled the price to be altered by an Order of the Minister, subject to confirmation by Parliament, if a committee which might be appointed in every third year, and at no more frequent intervals, reported that a variation was desirable. Hon. Members will see that that is not appropriate to war-time conditions. The committee, which was appointed just before the war, made its report early in September, when, of course, the war had started, and while it recommended no change in the standard price, which was10s. per cwt., it pointed out that that conclusion had been reached before the outbreak of war and had regard only to peace-time conditions. It expressed no opinion as to what should be the standard price under war conditions. Since the committee had already reported it could not, under the terms of the law, be called upon to report again for three years, and therefore the question of the standard price for the present cereal year to meet war conditions was considered by the Government. As hon. Members will recollect, their decision was announced in November last, namely that Parliament would be asked to approve the raising of the standard price from 10s. to 11s. per cwt., and Clause 2 implements that proposal.
In addition, the Clause enables the standard price to be varied in subsequent years, while the provisions of the Bill are in operation. This would be done by order of the Minister, made with the consent of the Treasury; and in case my Scottish friends may think I am forgetting the case of Scotland, I would mention that the Minister in Scottish matters will be the Secretary of State. A question also arises as to what is to happen with 76 regard to the standard price when the period of suspension comes to an end. In the ordinary way, when the special provisions of this Bill lapse—and that matter is dealt with in Clause 7—the price would revert to the normal 10s., but it is not possible now, obviously, to foresee what the conditions may be when that time comes. It has, therefore, been provided that in January of the last cereal year of the suspension period, the committee to which I have already referred will be appointed again in order to report to the Minister in good time as to the new price to be adopted. Other Clauses of this Part of the Bill are purely machinery, designed to relate the working of the Wheat Commission to war-time conditions.
Part II of the Bill deals with oats, rye, barley, and with ploughing. The House will recollect that under the Agricultural Development Act, 1939, there were provisions designed to limit the Exchequer liability in respect of oats and barley subsidy payment, provisions which would also have a limiting effect upon the acreage of those crops. I need not stress our present need for all the oats and barley wean get, and so Clause 8 aims to remove all such deterrents as were contained in the Act of last year. Clause 9 brings rye into the scope of price insurance. While rye is not grown extensively in the United Kingdom, it is nevertheless a valuable war-time crop, being of use both to man and beast, and in the last war was grown extensively. We wish, therefore, to encourage its growth. We have not any data about rye prices, and we propose, therefore, that land on which rye grows shall be treated as land under oats, to make oats the touchstone, excepting that in computing the acreage qualifying for oats subsidy payments, land under rye shall be disregarded. The reason is that the method of ascertaining average price of home-grown oats in the respective parts of the United Kingdom has been laid down, and it is important that the prices of oats should be weighted only by the acreage actually devoted to oats.
The House has heard a good deal about ploughing, and perhaps I do not need to say much more, but it is the very essence of our war-time policy. The House is well aware of the reasons for that policy, and on all sides of the House it has been agreed that it is a wise thing to do. The 77 very satisfactory response to the scheme before war began convinced the Government that the most fruitful and economical method of stimulating the food production campaign and to achieve the immediate aim of an additional 2,000,000 acres under the plough would be by extending the period during which these grants would be available. The campaign is making good progress, but we have to remember the effects of the weather. Nevertheless, we are very well satisfied in general with the progress that the campaign is showing. The Bill will accordingly enable the period during which land must be ploughed in order to earn the grants of £2 to be progressively extended by order. It is proposed that the first extension shall be to 31st March this year, which will cover land prepared for the current year's harvest, but we make extensions as necessary.
If the war continues we propose to make a further order extending the period sufficiently to afford the necessary assistance for the 1941 campaign, when it will be our aim to bring a further million or more acres back into arable cultivation. The second year's task will involve tackling the less favourable and more sub-marginal land, so that the cash help towards expenses of cultivation will be even more necessary than it is to-day, if that is to be satisfactorily dealt with. Certain further modifications for war purposes are also being made, including a provision to enable grants to be paid for land which would not grow a satisfactory arable crop, but which could be greatly improved by ploughing up and reseeding to grass. We think that it is very important to do this also. In view of the substantial area of grassland it is necessary to plough up it is essential to make the reduced area of permanent grass capable of carrying more stock by ploughing and reseeding.
It is also proposed, in order to meet the needs of smallholders and crofters—that will be a point of great interest to my Scottish friends—and allotment holders, that the minimum area to qualify for grant shall be reduced from two acres to one acre and to allow the grant to be paid in appropriate cases in respect of land, such as undeveloped land, which is not at present comprised in a farm. It will go further in a way which will help the crofting community. I do not want to have to go into the practice of the 78 crofter, but the crofter will be allowed to aggregate his land with that of other crofters for the purpose of getting the grant. Provision is made to enable smallholders and crofters to be grouped together in order to claim and qualify for land which otherwise would be too small to qualify. I am sure that in the Highlands this will bring into cultivation a reasonable amount of land and will help a very deserving section of the community.
It will, I think, be agreed that, while land drainage is at all times a matter of first-class importance, in war time it is of special importance, as the use of the land is of vital importance to us. That brings me to Part III of the Bill, which applies to England and Wales. The position in Scotland differs radically from that South of the Border, chiefly owing to the difference in the nature of the country and the absence on the whole of long sluggish rivers, which are to be found in many of the flatter parts of England and Wales, giving a special problem for which catchment boards are set up to deal. Our rivers, with one or two exceptions, know what they are about and make their way to the sea without dallying by the wayside. We have one or two slow rivers, but the problem of sluggish rivers being an English problem, our friends have devised a great machinery to meet it, and that machinery is being improved and strengthened by this part of the Bill. In order to explain what we are doing in the Bill, I shall have to give a brief sketch of the machinery which exists. Where there is a sluggish river with a bad outfall, the proper course for land drainage to follow is the reverse of the direction in which the water flows—it should proceed from the sea to the field in order to give a satisfactory outlet at every stage. The Land Drainage Act, 1930, recognised this principle. Since the passing of that Act, assistance has been given by the State at each stage from the sea upwards. First, we have the catchment boards, responsible for their main rivers, which are generally the arterial channels giving final outlet to the sea. They work on a big scale—dealing inter alia with such things as construction and maintenance of training walls, sea defences, great sluices and pumping stations.
The second stage in the process is the responsibility of drainage boards or internal drainage boards, whose districts are 79 mostly within catchment areas. The work of these boards is on a smaller scale than that of the catchment boards excepting in the Fens. They keep the smaller watercourses in good order, their work covering every type of watercourse from the main river up to and including farm ditches. In the absence of a drainage board the county councils are responsible for the kind of work which such a board would be expected to undertake. Drainage boards have always suffered, like many of us, from a lack of money. [Hon. Members: "Oh"!] I see that that stirs a responsive chord in the hearts of many hon. Members. Section 15 of the Agricultural Act, 1937, was designed to assist drainage boards and county councils by providing Exchequer grants in aid of work done by them. These grants were 50 per cent. for constructional work, such as the erection of pumping stations, sluices and culverts, and 33⅓ per cent. for non-constructional work, such as cleaning and deepening watercourses. However, for various reasons the response to the offer contained in the Agricultural Act has been uneven. In some parts of the country it has not been so much taken up as in others, but, broadly speaking, drainage boards have made good use of these facilities—county councils have done but little. This is quite understandable. Local authorities have many other preoccupations, especially in these days, and often they have no special qualified staff to deal with these technical questions.
It is important to remember that there are large areas of land—estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture at over 200,000 acres—needing drainage for which there is no drainage board at all, or none but a catchment board, which cannot receive grants under the present law for minor drainage work. That is part of the change that we are making. These catchment boards cannot receive grants for this type of work. Therefore, under the existing law, if county councils cannot deal, or are not disposed to deal, with this land, it cannot be dealt with at all, which must be wrong at a time like this. The obvious bodies to fill the gap are the catchment boards, where they exist, which have the necessary staff, organisation and machinery.
Clause 14 of the Bill, therefore, enables the catchment board to carry out schemes 80 for the drainage of such land at the request of the county war agriculture executive committee concerned. When that committee makes a request to the catchment board, they may then carry out such a scheme. The initiative we propose—and I think the House will agree—must lie with the county executive committees who are the agents of the Minister of Agriculture for the conduct of the food production campaign.
§ Mr. Colville
I thought that I had made it clear that we do not have this machinery in Scotland, and I am endeavouring to outline, first of all, the machinery existing South of the Border and the developments which are going to assist in this work. At the end of the Bill there is a Clause which refers to the special method that we are applying to drainage in Scotland. We have for some time given a grant of 50 per cent. to assist the drainage of land to be carried out by a farmer or owner, but we do not have this particular machinery for the reasons that I have explained.
Schemes are not necessarily confined to the area of the catchment board which carries them out, but may cover land in an adjacent county or catchment area, with the consent of the authority concerned. This will bring within the scope of the Clause some 30,000 acres outside catchment areas, in addition to the 200,000 acres within the catchment areas. Schemes will require the approval of the Minister and will receive an Exchequer grant of 50 per cent. of their cost. The remainder of the cost will be apportioned on a pre-determined basis among the owners of the land covered by each scheme. The cost of schemes is limited to £5 per acre of the land to be improved, which means, allowing for the grant, that the average cost to landowners will not exceed £2 10s. per acre, and provision is made for landowners to pay their share, if they so desire, in up to five annual instalments. Therefore, the actual cost of schemes is not expected to average more than £2 per acre, so that if the whole of the 230,000 acres which I mentioned as being capable of improvement under these provisions are dealt with, the cost to the Exchequer will be £230,000 on a 50 per cent. basis.
81 The final stage in the process of drainage work from sea to field is, of course, the drainage of the fields themselves. I mentioned to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that we possess powers in Scotland and that we have done something in that regard. We are proposing in this Bill to take powers to assist with what is called mole drainage. This process does not involve any cruelty to animals, but is the cheapest mechanical means of under-drainage. In Scotland we have not done that a very great deal, but we have power to do it, and in certain soils it is a very good way of dealing with the drainage of the soil. Clause 15 enables the Minister to make grants towards the castoff schemes submitted by owners or occupiers of agricultural land and approved by county war agricultural committees. The average cost of mole drainage is estimated at from 15s. to £3 per acre. The Government propose to give grants of 50 per cent. of the cost, subject to a maximum grant of £1 per acre. The actual cost to the Exchequer is estimated at 15s. per acre on the average so that if there are 200,000 acres in need of mole drainage the total cost of the grant will be £150,000. My right hon. and gallant Friend thinks that these proposals will be of great use in improving large areas of land which at the present time are in need of improvement.
§ Mr. John Morgan
Before the Minister leaves the question of drainage may I ask whether Scotland is to have an advance towards tiled drainage, which is not included in this Bill for England and Wales?
§ Mr. Colville
No, not yet. So far as Scotland is concerned it is true that we have arrangements for tile or mole drainage. On the other hand we do not come in for the considerable sum of Treasury money which is going to be used for the large-scale schemes under catchment boards. The remaining Clauses of Part III are either ancillary to the provisions already mentioned or are designed to facilitate land drainage work generally in war-time. All that need be said is that they do not represent a permanent 82 change in the peace-time law but are expressly limited to the duration of the war period.
The first Clause under Part IV of the Bill—Clause 22—following the precedent of the last war, enables agricultural executive committees which have obtained possession of land (subject to the consent of the Minister)to retain possession for a period not exceeding three years after the expiry of the Emergency Powers Defence Act, 1939, and to enable the land to be let for cultivation to an agricultural tenant. The House will realise that expenditure will be necessary to bring this class of land back into cultivation, and it is essential for possession to be retained for a period sufficiently long to enable expenditure on behalf of the State to be recouped. In the same way it may not be possible to obtain a satisfactory tenant to cultivate the land unless he is assured of occupation for a similar period. The Clause also provides that when possession of the land is given up a sum equal to so much of the value of the land as is attributable to money expended in farming the land is recoverable from the owner. Clause 23 makes it clear that farmers who have anticipated ploughing notices do not suffer penalties thereby.
The purpose of Clause 24 is to enable the Minister and myself to give assistance in suitable cases to farmers who are being asked by the Government to plough up their land and increase their production of food and who, in order to do so, need such things as seeds and fertilisers, or the services of contractors for ploughing and harvesting, and are unable to obtain them through normal channels. In the majority of cases farmers will probably obtain the necessary requisites through their merchants in the ordinary way of business but there are a certain number who may find themselves unable to carry out the directions of the county committees because, for one reason or another, they are unable to secure the necessary supply of these requisites. A scheme has been prepared to provide assistance in such cases and the House may like to have a very brief account of it.
Where a farmer needs assistance to procure requisites for his war-time effort he will apply to his county committee. If the committee are satisfied that the requisites are needed to enable him to 83 comply with directions issued by them in connection with the food production campaign they may arrange for the requisites to be supplied to the farmer. In return it is proposed that the farmer should execute an agreement undertaking to pay the cost, plus interest at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum, within the specified time and, in default of payment, authorising the deduction of the debt from moneys due to him from the Government. I should emphasise that the scheme is intended to be self-supporting and is not intended to replace existing forms of short-term credit. It has been made clear in this House on more than one occasion that in the Government's view the measures which are being taken to provide farmers with satisfactory prices and guaranteed markets should be sufficient to ensure that, in the majority of cases, that credit in adequate supply will be forthcoming from normal channels. The object of this scheme is to provide for facilities for obtaining these requisites supplementary to those afforded by the ordinary commercial channels.
§ Mr. Colville
It is confined to the ploughing-up campaign. As I have stated, the county committees will purchase the requisites and supply them to the farmer. It is not intended that they shall become dealers in requisites. Their normal procedure will be to purchase the requisites through the same channels as the farmer himself would have employed had he been able to meet the necessary expenditure directly out of his own pocket. The scheme has been prepared, bandit is proposed to bring it into operation very shortly.
Clause 25 deserves a word of explanation. It deals with three classes of case—(1) grazing parks which are usually let for grazing on a 364-day tenancy; (2) land forming part of an estate acquired for development for building but which, pending development, remains vacant or is let for grazings; (3) land which is not being used for agricultural purposes. In the first case the grazing tenant cannot reasonably be called upon to plough up the land as he may not be there to harvest the crop. The landowner would, however, be ready to let the land for arable 84 cultivation during the war provided he could have it back at the termination of the war so long as he was not called upon to pay compensation for improvements or disturbance. In the case of the owners of building estates I think they would also be ready to let land for arable cultivation provided that at the end of the war they similarly could resume possession without paying compensation for improvements or disturbance. This Clause, by excluding these lettings from the Agricultural Holdings Act, would enable this to be done.
Opportunity has been taken under Clause 26 to remove an anomaly in the working of the land fertility scheme. It extends to cottage gardeners organised in association the same facilities for obtaining lime and basic slag at cheap rates as are now afforded under the scheme to allotment holders. It should enable a great number of gardens attached to dwelling houses up and down the country to get the benefit of cheap fertilisers. Clause 27 deals with the marking of imported livestock for controlling their entry into the United Kingdom. Clause 28 is a purely Scottish Clause and deals with a certain aspect of land drainage in Scotland. In Scotland an owner or occupier has, of course, the right, and is expected to drain his own agricultural land. Under the Defence Regulations he can be forced to do so but it is necessary under present conditions to provide some expeditious protection for him in those cases where the function of agricultural drainage on a farm depends upon the proper maintenance of watercourses on other property. The Clause therefore provides means for enforcing the maintenance or improvement or renewal of the efficiency of a watercourse where neglect or failure on the part of the owner, or perhaps an accident, is causing, or is likely to cause, injury to agricultural land on another property.
We have already certain machinery in Scotland for encouraging field drainage by providing grants of 50 per cent. of the cost. This provision may be applied to work done under this Clause either by the owner concerned or by the Secretary of State. In cases where the Secretary of State undertakes the work he will allocate that part of the cost not borne by the State among the owners concerned. It is not intended that these powers should be 85 used in connection with any major arterial drainage affecting, for instance, large rivers.
I have taken longer than I intended and the remaining Clauses of the Bill are machinery Clauses with which I do not propose to explain in detail. I will, however, just say that this Bill provides useful power which at the present time will be applied by the Government with, I think, the consent of the whole country, for the purpose of furthering our war effort and will be a further proof of our determination to make the very best use of our land.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Might I endorse the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman when he regretted the absence of the Minister through illness? I know the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must have spent a lot of time in the preparation of a Measure which embodies so many of his own children. Weak, tubercular and miserable though they be, they are his children, and I am sorry he is not here to-day to nurse them as they should be nursed. But the right hon. Gentleman who has understudied the Minister has given us a fairly clear and detailed analysis of the contents of the Measure. When I first looked at this Bill I thought it was a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends which, perhaps, was intended to make it clear that we were in for some agricultural activity, the only missing link in the Measure being any reference to wages or labourers as one would expect in any Bill coming from the opposite benches. But on a closer examination of the Measure I find, and the right hon. Gentleman confirms my thought, that this Bill is an embodiment of the National Government's complete agricultural war policy and that when it is placed on the Statute Book, unless something dawns on them in the months or years that lie ahead, it will be the sum and substance of our reply to the threat by Hitler to our shipping. I am quite sure, however, that after reading the Bill Hitler will not need to throw up the sponge.
This Bill is more in the nature of an outsize ant-hill than a mole-hill. Of the three Sections included in the Bill for the improvement or extension of land cultivation at least two are confessions of past neglect, and are hesitating and halting, as 86 I shall try to explain later. The questions of drainage and the requisition of land, which are dealt with in Clauses 14 and 15 and 22, have been before the House on several occasions. In fact since 1927 we have demanded of the Government ad nauseam that something big and tangible ought to be done to drain the land of the country. It is to the credit of the Labour Government that they got their Drainage Act through in 1930 but, for years after that, the National Government held up schemes and little or no drainage was done until quite recently. We welcome any steps that the Government are taking, even at this late hour, and in the midst of a war, to drain some of the land which has remained undrained for so long.
Again, with regard to Clause 22, of which the right hon. Gentleman made some point, except for any reference to parks or building land all the powers in Part IV were embodied in the Land Utilisation Act of 1931, which was sterilised by the National Government from the moment they took office and has been sterilised ever since. In Clause 1 of that Act the Government had power to purchase, lease or equip land for demonstration farms. In Clause 2 they had power, where they discovered that land was being neglected, to requisition and hold it, to execute repairs and to lease or sell it, and in that case land included farm houses, cottages, buildings, drains, ditches, bridges, fences, water supplies, etc. Those powers are already available and they have been available since 1931, and yet nothing has been done. For what this Measure will do, although the action is belated, we welcome these Clauses, but I think the Bill on the whole is extremely disappointing indeed and there yet seems no desire on the part of the Government to tackle a really big job in a big way. What is the general opinion of the House and, for that matter, of the country? Since 1922 I must have heard scores and scores of Debates on agriculture and, if I have collected the voices properly, with rare exceptions the general feeling has been something like this. The House would like the maximum of food grown in the country consistent with the preservation of a decent standard both for the farmer and the agricultural labourer, and particularly do the House and the country desire that the maximum of food should be grown in war-time. The 87 House time and again has demanded that the land should be adequately drained and that there should be modem buildings and up-to-date machinery.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Gentleman will contain his soul in patience I will come to prices. I said that if I had collected the voices correctly this was approximately what the House desired, including the hon. Gentleman, although all too frequently he concentrates exclusively on prices to the exclusion of everything else. I think there is a general view—particularly does this apply to practical farmers—that the time has passed and gone when there ought to be a remodeling of farming units so that the best use may be made of modern machinery. I think there is a general view in the House and outside that fair, but not inflated, prices should be provided for producers, at least for efficient farming. I think the House will gladly see an end of bad farming of any kind, and Members of Parliament ought to insist, particularly in war-time, that farmers should be made to realise that they hold their land in trust for the State. We know that Parliament has an obligation to farmers with regard to prices. Finally, if general expressions mean anything, I think the House would like to see the agricultural labourer enjoying better wages than he enjoys to-day. This Bill has no relation to these elementary needs. It deals in a fiddling way, hop-scotching hither and thither, but there is no big-sighted vision embodied in the Bill and I doubt if the present Minister of Agriculture, who has been so closely identified with the National Farmers' Union, can or will face up to this elementary requisite for a successful agricultural policy.
Let us examine the Bill and see exactly what it attempts to do. Part I, as he truly said, increases the standard price from 10s. to 11s. per cwt. for all wheat produced, and the result of the Government taking over control of the milling industry, relegating the Wheat Commission to a minor function, makes amendments necessary, and these are embodied in Clauses 2 to 7. But there is no fundamental agricultural change in Part I, which involves seven Clauses in the Bill. 88 Part II refers to oats, barley, rye, and ploughing. It lifts the limitation of output of oats to qualify for a guarantee or subsidy, should a subsidy be necessary because of the very low prices of oats and barley, for the higher subsidy in the 1939 Act. As the standard price for oats is already, and is likely to remain, far in excess of the guaranteed prices for the duration of the war, that part of the Bill simply means nothing and is a waste of good paper. The maximum price fixed is supposed to be 13s. for oats for human consumption, but the standard price in the Act is 8s. Therefore these Clauses only commence to operate when the price of oats falls below 8s. I do not want to waste time on Part II because there is no fundamental change there and, so long as the price is in excess of the guaranteed price, it simply means nothing for the duration of the war.
With regard to ploughing, I admit that this is perhaps the most important part of the Bill. Here again it amends the conditions which enable farmers to qualify for the £2 per acre subsidy and it reduces the area from two acres to one, and in that respect perhaps it is useful. But I see nothing really explosive in Clause II, except of course that now a farmer can plough up land and re-seed it and still qualify for the £2 subsidy. Originally the farmer was allowed to plant wheat, oats or barley. Later he was allowed to plant potatoes, beans and the rest. Later he was allowed to sow a mixed crop. Finally he is allowed to qualify for the subsidy if he re-seeds the land. To that extent it may increase the number of acres that are brought under the plough. But on 25th January the Minister said that to date there were scheduled, or about to be scheduled, some 1,269,000 acres. We do not quite know how many of those acres have been ploughed up, or how many will be ploughed up between now and the end of May. We hope, of course, that they will all be ploughed up, but the figure given by the Minister as scheduled or about to be scheduled for ploughing was 1,269,000 acres. But we have 15,000,000 acres of permanent grass, and it has been demonstrated beyond any doubt at all that where farmers have taken a risk and have ploughed up land and re-seeded it they have found it a splendid investment.
A shining example was given on 25th January by the hon. Member for 89 Cardigan (Mr. Owen Evans), who told us that he had turned over 12 or 13 acres and had them re-seeded. Within two months it was a joy to look at. He piton 100 sheep. They fed themselves fat and, when he disposed of them, at the end of that transaction he had recovered his total expenses in turning over the land. Not only was it a sound investment in that case. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) didn't contradict or even doubt the hon. Member's statement. There are many other practical farmers who have similar shining examples. Not even the hon. Member for Stone will deny the authority of Sir George Stapledon, who has done so much in making it possible for farmers to help themselves by re-seeding their farms whenever they feel disposed to do so. He has been quoted many times in the past and quite recently at the Royal Agricultural Society's annual meeting he was presented with a gold medallion for his wonderful work in Wales, and particularly in this category. In replying to the presentation he made this statement:Say what we will about our agriculture, about our farmers, about our famous livestock, about our pioneering agricultural enterprises, the fact does remain that, as long as we as a nation are content to allow such a huge acreage of this fertile little country to remain in a condition which to all intents and purposes is not farmed at all, we cannot say that agriculturally we are very much. It is my deepest conviction that even now we are not moving nearly fast enough and that the will to plough is nowhere yet really fully developed.At least one would accept Sir George Stapledon as an authority and it seems tragic that on 9th December, when we had been at war for three months, the foremost authority has to tell the country that 15,000,000 acres of land are really not farmed at all. I am not an expert on either re-seeding, sowing cereals or planting root crops or any other phase of practical agriculture, but I accept Sir George Stapledon as an authority in that respect. That is a very serious statement to make in peace-time and it is very tragic that such a statement should be made in war-time. It is true that we want to plough, as the Minister has been urging for several months, for more cereals so that we are more self-sufficient in feeding-stuffs, but it is equally true that we ought to be ploughing for better grassland. Better grassland can carry more livestock, with better grassland there would be more British beef, and less need for foreign 90 beef, more English mutton and lamb, and more milk. I do not deny that the War Executive Committees may be doing good work here and there, but there appears to be a need for infinitely more driving force, more energy and vigour, than there is at the present time.
The hon. Member for Cardigan rather challenged hon. Members on these Benches when he said, in his speech on 25th January, that the Government had not made up their minds as to what part agriculture should play in the economy of the country, and that he doubted whether hon. Members on these Benches had made up their minds on that question. For what it is worth, I can say that I, personally—and I think I speak for my party in this respect—have always felt that the Government were hesitant in making up their minds on the matter because it involved the wages of every industrial worker of the country. The farmer knows very well, when it is a question of ploughing and re-seeding his land so that it can carry more livestock and produce more beef, that with existing wages the artisan population of the country cannot afford to buy beef at the price, and the proof of this is that before the war the Government were paying £5,000,000 annually as a subsidy for English-produced meat. Therefore, the farmer, realising this, is unwilling to produce more English beef. The dairy farmer knows that, unless consumption is organised as efficiently as production, the more milk he produces the more milk will become surplus to the liquid demand and lower the price. Therefore, he is hesitant about producing more milk.
I have said time and again in the House that it is the farmer's fear that the maximum output means the smallest price and a smaller return on his capital outlay and his human effort, that retains for us the minimum output instead of the maximum in the case of certain foodstuffs. Unless we can surmount that formidable barrier which faces the farmer, and satisfy him that if there is an increase in output of one or other of these commodities we will organise consumption as efficiently as production is organised so that not only will the increased consumption not knock the bottom out of the prices paid to the farmer, but will ensure that all sections of the community will be guaranteed a reasonable quantity, at 91 reasonable prices, of English-grown foodstuffs, whether cereals or meat. Obviously, the House will welcome any advance which the Government can make in that direction in war time. It is estimated that the expenditure in connection with the part of the Bill which has to do with ploughing will be £3,800,000. I do not think there is any hon. Member who will complain if that amount is turned into £7,000,000, or even £8,000,000, as long as we get the food we require during the time we are at death grips with another nation.
Part III of the Bill deals with drainage. It is no use lamenting the past inaction of the Government and their predecessors. Now is the time for action, but I am convinced that this Bill will not carry us very far. It is true that there are the Catchment Boards. Under the 1937 Act, grants were offered to district drainage boards, and now in 1940 grants are being offered for a further area of land. What does the Bill say? Clause 14 states:Where the War Agricultural Executive Committee for a county or county borough consider that any agricultural land within the county or borough, but not within any drainage district other than a catchment area"—I emphasise those words—is capable of improvement by the execution of drainage works, they may request the Catchment Board for any catchment area wholly or partly within the county or borough to prepare and carry out a scheme for draining the land.Why should that not apply in districts whether they have a drainage board or not? The right hon. Gentleman told us that in some parts of the country, the Government's offer in 1937 was accepted, but that in certain other parts the offer was more or less ignored, and nothing was done.
§ Mr. Colville
I pointed out that that was mainly due to the county councils not desiring to use the powers which they have where there is no drainage board in the district.
§ Mr. Williams
Whatever may be the excuse, if there are large areas of land which can be brought back into cultivation only when the land is drained, why should not the Bill cover the land if it has not been drained? [An Hon. Member: "It does."] I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies to-night, he 92 will explain how the Bill does that, because, as the 1937 Act will automatically go out of existence next July, if there is no extension of it, this Bill cannot cover areas where there is a district board in existence. The terms of the Bill are clear and beyond challenge:Where the War Agricultural Executive Committee for a county or county borough consider that any agricultural land within the county or borough, but not within any drainage district other than a catchment area.…Why should thereby that limitation? If the land requires to be drained and the county council, the county borough, or the district board, has failed to fulfil its functions, why not give the War Executive Committee a chance? I would ask the hon. Member who corrected me a minute or so ago, to bear in mind the following, to which I would like to have a reply later in the Debate—what is to happen if the War Executive Committee discovers an area of land which really ought to be drained, invites the catchment board to prepare a scheme, and the catchment board refuses? Is there to be no drainage scheme? If so, Clause 14 automatically dies of inanition, and nothing happens. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, when he replies, why, in presenting this Bill, the Government are not taking powers, in the case of default by a catchment board in any part of the country? Cases will be quoted in the course of the Debate where the catchment boards, although in existence, have done little or nothing since 1930, and if they would not do anything on their own behalf during that period, I cannot see them acting on behalf of the War Executive Committees. [Interruption.] It would not cost the catchment boards any money to prepare schemes and carry them through on behalf of the War Executive Committees, and to that extent they may or may not be drawn into action, but failing action by the catchment boards, nothing will happen, and Clause 14 will become defunct. We have no objection to—rather, we welcome—this gesture towards the farmers to help them with their mole drainage. I am assured by practical farmers that it is a sound investment both from the individual and the national point of view. There are occasions when society would be justified in refusing to subsidise privately-owned land, but I do not think that objection applies in time of war.
93 Part IV, which the Minister has explained gives power to requisition land where it is not cultivated or is not being cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry, leaves one staggered after reading the analysis and trying to understand Clauses 22 and 23. Either the Minister or the War Executive Committee must first of all be satisfied that the land is not being cultivated or is not being cultivated according to the rules of good husbandry. If there is a bad landowner or a bad tenant not up to standard for war purposes, the War Executive Committee have to take possession of the land. They can create a contract with a tenant for the duration of the war, they can pour money into the land in the shape of fertilisers, drainage, and so forth, but the Minister takes power at the end of three years to hand back that reconditioned land to the farmer who neglected it before the war. I wonder whether the Lord Privy Seal will tell us, when he makes a few observations later in the Debate, whether he thinks that in 1940 we ought to do that. If, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said on many occasions, food is as vital as bullets and bombs, if there are in the country men who so neglect their land that it is taken from them during the course of the war, reconditioned and fertilised, is it fair that we should hand that land back to those who have so badly neglected it in the past? I think this is a blunder, and I think it is a crime which this House ought not to allow that such land should be handed back to negligent farmers. The Minister appears to be most solicitous about the owners, more concerned about handing the land back than about demanding appropriate compensation for improvements in the land.
We learn from the Minister that Clause 24 enables the Ministry or the War Executive Committee to provide certain goods and services to farmers. If the Government really intend to help farmers with their new job—a very desirable job, but a new job—where funds are not available to the farmers, the Government ought to have gone beyond making a mere loan to them, for seeds, fertilisers, and tractors, for a short period and at a rate of interest of 5 per cent. Like the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère), I 94 should have thought that if it was possible to lend the railways £26,500,000 at 3 per cent. for very special work, it might have been just as well to provide the farmers with credit cheaper than 5 per cent. and far better services than appear to be visualised under the terms of Clause 24. I am a little bit afraid that there is truth in the statement that has been made on more than one occasion that both the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Farmers' Union are too anti-machinery to visualise the real needs of agriculture in time of war. At the annual meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society, the Earl of Athlone lamented the fact that the Ministry refused to see or have anything to do with the Royal Agricultural Society, and I am wondering whether it is an anti-machine mind which has kept them away from that body for so long. On reading the "Dairy Farmer" for February, I found a statement by an old gentleman who deserves to be quoted in the House of Commons. He is a farmer of 84 years of age, who started with nothing and now farms 1,000 acres, and on the machinery question, he makes the following statement:I have never known a cold-iron blacksmith, a shut-knife carpenter, or a wheelbarrow farmer to make any money yet.There is a great deal of truth in the old man's philosophy. Those are not the sort of people to produce maximum food supplies during war-time. The National Farmers' Union may be a very effective body, but I suggest that its members are only one-third of the farmers in the country, and are responsible for possibly one-eighth of the acreage. Urban workers have constantly improved their general standards, because machinery and science have been utilised. If agriculture fails to do likewise, then the industry is not only likely to lose its labourers but is likely to go down in the struggle against inevitable consequences. Country and urban areas are closer together to-day than they have ever been before. There is a greater mixing of urban and rural workers than there has ever been before. Therefore agriculture ought to realise more than ever, the importance of those means and implements which will enable the agricultural labourer to increase his output and bring him to a standard of life which is a nearer approximation to that of the town dweller than he has had so far. Otherwise, not only shall we have 95 fewer labourers but the chances are that after this war we shall have very few indeed.
Many hon. Members would argue that a large rural population is necessary in order to preserve the physique of the nation. I think it is correct to say that there are more people living in the country areas to-day than ever before, although there are fewer actually working on the land. In any case, to preserve the physique of our people, we have to rely upon better housing and better feeding than have been available to the people in days gone by. This Bill is a very small contribution. It is scarcely a war Measure, according to the general conception of war Measures and it is not a real break with tradition. I had thought that the responsibilities created by the war would have been accepted as affording a great opportunity and that this Government of all the talents, would have attempted to rise to the big occasion.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts
As the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has said, this is a Bill of miscellaneous provisions, and one is puzzled to know on what principle the Government decide to take action by legislation in some cases and by regulation in others. In other matters, the Government are not taking powers to act, such as they are taking in this Bill, but are acting, generally, through regulations. Indeed, some of the work which the Government are doing makes certain provisions of this Bill almost irrelevant. Parts I and II of the Bill have very little importance compared with the decrees issued by the Minister of Food fixing the prices of wheat and oats and, as far as Part II is concerned, it does not provide any guarantee in respect of what will happen after the war. Action which the Government have found it necessary to take since the war has had a devastating effect upon the legislation and upon the bodies which the Government set up in the last few years. Part I of the Bill makes the Wheat Commission of very little importance, and it is not clear to me why it is necessary to take legislative power to curtail the Wheat Commission's power, while the Livestock Commission can, apparently, be destroyed by regulation. Almost all the organisations which the Government have 96 set up to deal with the farming industry are either being abolished or are being incorporated in a much more bureaucratic scheme. What the Minister of Food does at the present time is of over-riding importance. He is over-riding the Minister of Agriculture.
The old controversies about the Wheat Act and so on are now quite out of date. There is a natural tendency in this House and in the country towards some general policy of agriculture which would meet the views of all sections of the community. During the last war there was some opposition to the ploughing out policy. I do not think there is any opposition now. In the past I, for one, tried to persuade the Government that British farming was essentially livestock farming and should remain livestock farming, but we all accept the necessity for ploughing out during this war as the only means by which we can increase the production of food now. Even if we wished to do so we could not increase the production of cattle and sheep quickly. Therefore, we are in agreement on the necessity of increasing the production of arable crops and we accept those increases in price which the Government have introduced. As regards that part of the Government's policy, we may criticise the administrative action or inaction of the Departments concerned, but we have accepted the fact. Increases in price such as this Bill to some extent provides for, will not alone, however, result in an increase of output now. I think that was clearly demonstrated by the history of the last war, when prices rose and rose, but it was not until the necessary administrative action had been taken, that the actual ploughing out campaign did start to increase the arable acreage of the country.
I am more interested in the latter parts of the Bill. Parts III and IV seem to be far more important, because they deal—to my mind very inadequately—with some of the causes which have led to the present state of such a large part of our land. As I go about among the farmers it seems to me that a certain shadow still hangs over the agricultural industry as a result of what happened during and after the last war. I wonder whether, in framing legislation and planning administrative organisation, we ought not to keep that consideration very 97 fully in mind. Our great aim is to produce as much food as possible now, and one of the obstacles to that is that the farmer remembers what happened during and after the last war. What happened then and what was fatal to him was that prices became astronomical, that there was a rise due to inflation in the value not only of his produce but also of the land on which he was working. It seems to me that if we are to succeed in increasing the agricultural output of this country during the war, it will be necessary to frame our organisation in such a way and to work on such a policy that the danger of a collapse back into disaster after the war such as happened in 1920 will be much less likely to arise.
One of the difficulties of agriculture since the last war has been the existence of a great deal of dead wood encumbering the industry. Some of us have felt that this could be removed and should be removed before the mass of consumers in this country were asked to pay higher prices for that vital commodity, food. The war is sweeping away an immense amount of both dead wood and live wood from the agricultural organisation. The Minister of Food is now practically the sole purchaser of all that the farmer can produce and is ready to purchase all he does produce. The auction mart system for fat stock has been swept right away. I hope it is not being replaced by a too bureaucratic system and I am sorry that a far better system, which would have served us well in war-time, was not introduced earlier, as I believe it might have been to the great advantage of all concerned. I hope also that not too much compensation is being paid to the interests concerned. Reasonable compensation, no doubt, should be paid, but if the pig and poultry farmer who has been ruined by the shortage of foodstuffs gets no compensation, why should persons whose work has, I believe, for long been somewhat redundant, receive lavish compensation? Some of these old obstructions to the increase of production have been removed and the way to an efficient marketing scheme has been cleared. I hope we shall not at the end of the war try to replace everything that has been swept away. That is important, because we must bear in mind that the nation as a whole looks on the farming industry, not as one in which a great deal of money should be made, but as one which 98 is providing a vital service in the supply of food.
I have the very greatest sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the agricultural worker at the present time. I wish that there were Clauses included in this Bill which recognised the agricultural worker's status, for it seems very short-sighted not to have made some provision when we have been talking so much in this House about the drift from the land. Is that drift not going to become an absolute spate unless the value of the agricultural worker is recognised, and very quickly recognised? We hope that we shall not always have a million and a half unemployed in this country, and when labour is short and wages are high, with overtime and other advantages offered in the town, it is very short-sighted not to realise that in the farmer's interest alone he should pay reasonable wages. If it is not in his power, at least it is in the power of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite to fix prices to empower him to pay fair wages.
§ Mr. Roberts
Then you have not been very successful. That is all I can say, and perhaps the hon. Member will allow somebody else to ask for them now. I am not sure that the prices being paid now could not provide for a higher standard of wages, and certainly in some counties. After all, one of the main claims of the agricultural workers that he should have a national wage. The farmer needs a national price now for every commodity he purchases, and a decent standard of living for the worker must be included in the prices fixed for food. With the present statistics it is not difficult for the economist to tell what percentage of the cost of milk wages amount to, and what increase in wages in varying industries adds to the cost of the milk to the farmer. I am particularly anxious that the position of the farm worker should be quickly recognised, because before this war is over I am fairly confident that we shall need a lot more men in agriculture. Until the position of the worker is recognised, I do not know how we are going to get any new recruits into the industry. There have been schemes put forward by the Y.M.C.A. and the Young Farmers' Clubs to get more men on the land, and they 99 are very practical schemes for training boys and young people. I do not know why the Ministry hesitate. I should like to see them going ahead vigorously. While the Women's Land Army is an excellent institution, its members will not remain on the land after the war. There are unemployed boys and others who could be trained now and who would probably go back from the Army into agriculture. Surely it is vital to re-recruit into the industry some young people to make up for the many who have left it.
There are three points which I should like to emphasise as commanding the allegiance of a very large section of the community. Distribution should be efficient, the agricultural worker's position should be fully recognised and should not be substantially less than that of the industrial worker, and my third point would be that the community should take full responsibility to see that proper and effective use is made of the whole of our very limited resources in land. I regret with others that the Minister of Agriculture is not able to be here to-day. I would like to quote from a broadcast given by him the other day in which he stated the difficulty as clearly as it has been stated anywhere:Our task is no less than changing the whole face of Rural Britain, and that involves not only producing the maximum amount of food both for humans and animals in the shortest possible time that nature will allow, but also means that getting back into production vast areas which have been allowed to go idle."Vast areas which have been allowed to go idle"—How is that to be done? The Minister, it seems to me, is very fully occupied with the question of ploughing-out 2,000,000 acres, but there are 30,000,000 acres available for production of food in this country. What is being done then for the other 28,000,000 acres? There is no one very simple cause why there are vast areas in the state in which they are at the present time, nor is there any single, simple remedy, as far as I can see. The ploughing-out will deal with a small part of the problem, and we have Clause 22 in this Bill, which may deal with another type of derelict land. The Clause permits the Agricultural War Executive to take over land. In the last war, starting in 1918, I find that they took over 150 holdings of 24,000 acres. 100 That was not bad for the few months in which the policy was approved. The experience of the last war proved that a public body acting in the public interest could take over land which was utterly neglected and potentially fertile and bring it back into use. I wonder whether, when the War Agricultural Executive get to work, they will not find that they are taking back some of the land which they had in their possession in the last war and which they will have to bring back again to fertility as a result of the neglect it has suffered over the last 25 years. If that is so, it is a most deplorable situation.
I am not quite sure how energetically the Government mean this particular Clause to be used. I am rather surprised to see that in the explanation of the Bill, it states that this is going to cost the Government nothing. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Scotland will understand me, because I live near to the Border, that we are a little inclined in the North of England, when you say you can do something for nothing to think that it is not an ordinary piece of work you are doing. I do not think the land can be brought back into useful productivity without it costing the nation anything after the past neglect and blunders which have brought the land into its present state. The only explanation of the fact that it is to cost us nothing can be that not very much land is to be taken over. The owner is to be charged with the value of the improvement. It is useless, if you want the confidence of the farming community as a whole, to take land which has been allowed to fall into such neglect, and then tell the farming community that you are going to give it back to the owner to neglect after the war. You will not get good work out of that. If you tell him that you are going to hand it back again after the war he will only try and rob the land.
I believe there is an absolutely cast-iron and irresistible case for a land improvement Commission to take over such land, pay a reasonable compensation, and own it, but not farm it, for the benefit of the whole community. Even this procedure will deal with only some of the questions. There are many experts nowadays who have studied the problem of bringing land back to cultivation and, with modern scientific knowledge, it can be done. 101 I think, I referred earlier to the enormous increase which has taken place in the rough grazings. We all know that land has gone out of arable cultivation since the last war, and there are 1,800,000 more acres of land classified as rough grazings. The methods of Sir George Stapledon are practical in solving that problem, but it is not only in the hilly and western districts of England that the increase of rough grazings has taken place. I think I am right in saying that the county of Suffolk shows that rough grazing land has trebled since the last war. Sir Bernard Greenwell has reclaimed large tracts of land and in other parts of England Mr. Hosier has shown that it can be done. In Scotland also there are specialists in reclaiming land. But what is the Minister really doing to see to it that the methods of these experts are applied to the vast areas which have gone idle? If the Ministry allows farmers to crop their land very freely under the ploughing-out Order that will not be enough, and a much more energetic campaign by the county committees will have to be carried out if these modern methods of improving land are to be translated into practice, and if we are to reap the benefit of them during the war. There is also the question of drainage which is of vital importance. It emphasises our present situation, and misfortune, that the Government have not agreed to carry out a survey in the past. It has been estimated that there are 1,000,000 acres in need of draining. Other estimates give a figure of 7,000,000. I do not know which is the right figure. Certainly there is a great deal of land which requires draining and that is another cause for at least 1,000,000 idle acres.
The third cause is the lack of capital. I had hoped, until I heard the Secretary of State's explanation, that Clause 24 would help in that direction, but I now find that it will be so set round that it will be of no value. The position is that while credit was difficult for farmers to get before, it is far more difficult to get now. Feeding-stuff merchants are closing in on credit, and I saw a notice from an implement maker the other day saying that he was not getting credit and could not give credit any longer. The same is true of the auction marts. The bankers are there, but, as has been pointed out by the agricultural correspondent of the "Times," more than £8,000,000 will be 102 needed even for the 2,000,000 acres which are to be ploughed up. That gives no fresh credit for the intensification of production on the other 30,000,000 acres of agricultural land that we have. We are told that if agricultural prices are satisfactory, the farmer will find his own credit. That is the most expensive way of finding the credit for new enterprise, because it means that prices have to be raised to a higher level than is necessary. It is true that the farmer who needs credit is the one who has perhaps not been the most successful in the past. There is in almost every other country which has paid attention to its agriculture a State organisation to deal with agricultural credit. If there ever were an opportunity when such an organisation could be worked simply, it is the present, because the whole of the products of the farmer pass through the hands of the Government, and he has absolute security in the crops and livestock which he sells. If the credit cannot be secured on those products, it is a very peculiar situation.
The other requisite of a really effective agricultural policy in war-time is that the modern knowledge of science should be brought into contact with the land and that the land should be fertilised, not only with the fertilisers that we know, but with the knowledge of modern science. Sometimes one hesitates a little to tell the farmer that he must be more scientific, but I do not think we can mince our words nowadays. Warfare is scientific and agriculture has to be scientific if we are to get the best return from our available resources. There is an admirable arrangement by which in many counties the county committee is in close touch with the agricultural advisers from the colleges. That is good, but it is not enough without a real central drive from the Ministry itself. I will give an example to which I referred 10 days ago when we were discussing agricultural matters.
I would like to dwell on the question of dried grass because it is an example of where modern science can increase the production of our land enormously if the knowledge and experience which have been gained are made available. I understand that the attitude of the Ministry is that if anybody likes to go ahead with drying grass it is an excellent thing for them to do. But that is not good enough. If it is right and is a process which should be employed, the Ministry should see that 103 it is done. Scientific tests have shown that grass as it grows produces more food per acre than any other crop. The protein content of grass at the right age and quantity, which can be obtained from one acre, is higher than in any other crop. So much of our land in England is suited to growing grass, but the difficulty is in harvesting it and in making the hay without too much loss. The artificial drying of the grass provides a solution. The Government's own experts say that the average cost of producing this crop before the war was between £5 and £6 per ton and it may be worth as much as £10 or more per ton. We could, I believe, with a capital expenditure of £1,000,000, or perhaps £2,000,000, establish grass-drying plants all over the West of England and produce one-third of the cattle feed required. It would be a highly nutritious food and would replace the foodstuffs for which we need shipping space or would release cereals for other types of livestock. Dried grass is most suitable for cattle and sheep.
Other countries are doing this. I noticed in the Press this week that Holland is buying 41 dryers. For two or three years Holland has been studying this question and has sent its experts to this country and to Sweden, Denmark and Germany. If it is right for Holland to do it, I cannot see why it is not even more important that we should do it. We have a climate which is uncertain for harvesting, and such a method of preservation is an insurance against not only shipping difficulties but our weather difficulties. This is a case where county committees could be instructed to go ahead and to see that by communal arrangements among farmers this new and effective process was introduced. It is useless for the Ministry to say that if people want to do it they can. The capital is not available and the possibility of organising small groups of farmers covering perhaps 1,000 acres is not practical without the lead and direction of the Ministry from above.
In this as in other sides of development much depends upon the lead which the Ministry give. They must have the courage to make up their mind as between one method and another. No doubt whichever way they decided on technical methods there would be criticism, but 104 they must make their decision and stand to it. It is useless just to leave the farmer free to do things which a few rich men or a few experimentalists may be able to do. They must see that modern scientific knowledge is put into practice.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson
What the hon. Member is saying with regard to dried grass is very interesting, but I would like to ask how he explains that the drying of grass will provide more food than is provided by the cattle eating the grass by ordinary grazing?
§ Mr. Roberts
That is a very technical point. The dried grass provides winter food which the growing grass does not, and it is winter food that we want. We all agree that this effort in food production has to be made. I believe that it can be made all the more effective by giving the agricultural community confidence that there will be some sort of continuity after the war. I have tried to suggest that there are lines of policy on which the agricultural community as a whole—the farmers, workers, and those in the distributive industries—could be given some kind of guarantee that if agriculture develops with energy and force now it will not be thrown back into the desperate position in which it was at the end of the last war.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Captain Briscoe
The whole House regrets the absence of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture to-day, and that he was unable to introduce this Bill, which affects a very large range of agriculture. On what I think is the most important part of the Bill, Part III, the Secretary of State for Scotland said in his admirable exposition that drainage was always important, but especially so in war-time. He went on to say that the drainage authorities were suffering from lack of money. The drainage authorities and catchment boards are always short of money and always borrowing up to the hilt. Their expenses go on all the time. They are mostly expenses for labour, which have to be paid out week by week, and they can only recover under Sub-section (4) of Clause 14 from the owners of the land at a later date after the completing of the work. I would ask the Minister to satisfy himself that no approved work is held up owing to lack of finance, that all the catchment 105 boards are in a position to go ahead with work when it is ready to be done, and that, if necessary, he will arrange for advances to be made from time to time to the boards so that the work shall never be held up.
That is the first point I wish to put to the Minister. Next I should like to refer for a few moments to those vast areas which have been allowed to go idle. In my own constituency of Cambridgeshire there are to-day 15,000 acres of really good land which has been allowed to go idle. About 25 per cent. of that land is actually derelict, and the remainder is growing hardly anything at all. Much money has been spent in the past on the drainage of that land, and it has to bear quite heavy drainage rates. Those rates vary from place to place; sometimes it is only a few pence per acre, and sometimes it goes up to nearly £1 per acre. One acre of this land is worth probably three or four acres of land in the Highlands which the War Agricultural Committee are now getting ploughed up. I know of 24 acres of this land which to-day is let for £5 but which, if it were in a proper state, ought to command 30s. per acre. What is the reason for this? That for six months in the year no loaded vehicle can ever get to or from that land. There're only soft roads. Until hard roads are made this exceptionally good land will never be able to grow the amount of food for the country which it ought to grow.
There are great difficulties in the way. I have raised this matter before with Ministers of Agriculture and Ministers of Transport, and somehow there must be—if I may use the word which is so sickening to the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison)—some co-ordinating authority which shall arrange for those roads to be made, and in some way pass on the appropriate charge to the owners of the land for the improved value which the roads will bring. This has always been an important question in Cambridgeshire, and I believe in the surrounding counties also, and I would implore the Minister again to look into it and see whether something cannot be done. I know a great deal about the details, and on some occasion I should like to have a word with the Minister about the matter.
I have one other small question to deal with and that concerns mole draining. I 106 want to be quite certain that no mole drainage which has been approved shall be held up owing to a lack of equipment in the area. Mole draining can be done only at certain times or, rather, when the soil is in a certain state of wetness. It often happens that you want to do mole draining at a time when there is a tremendous rush on the local steam-tackle or tractor contractors. Only steam-tackle or the heavy 60 horse-power caterpillar-tractors will do mole draining; it cannot be done by light tackle. You have to rely upon steam-tackle contractors or caterpillar-tractor contractors to do the work, and this year they are very likely to be full up with other work. There will be work for them over and above what they can do, and it is immensely important that the Agricultural Committee in my county, and I dare say in other counties, shall get early delivery of caterpillar-tractors—at least one, but two if possible. They have applied for them, and are very eager to get them, and if the Minister can see that there is delivery of these high-power caterpillar-tractors at the earliest possible moment he will be doing a great deal to forward the mole drainage scheme, which will do much undoubted good to the heavy land in my constituency and elsewhere.
Finally, I would say that, to my mind, this is a good Bill, a Bill which will do good to agriculture and to the country during the war years and also, I believe, during the years that come thereafter.
§ 6.6 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I should like to associate myself with the expressions of regret which we have heard at the absence of the Minister of Agriculture and the indisposition which has caused that absence. We should have liked to hear what he had to say on this important subject, and also have liked him to hear what we have to say, because we all have a good deal to learn, and those who have been longest associated with agriculture are most conscious of that fact. I have to apologise for intervening a second time within a few weeks on this question, but I do so because I have attached a major importance to it in peace-time. I have been constantly trying to impress the House with the importance of our making a real endeavour to restore agriculture in this country—to restore its prosperity, to restore its position as an industry, and to 107 restore it as an element in our national strength and security. Now that war is upon us we begin to realise—at least I hope we do—how very essential agriculture is as an instrument for waging that war successfully.
I rank food production at the present moment as of equal importance with the work of our Navy and our Air Force, and I think it may turn out to be of greater moment in the fighting of this war than the size of our Army. Germany discovered that fact in 1918. She had a magnificent Army and a great Air Force, but she discovered that she had not taken into account the possibility that her agriculture was not adequate to carry her through a long campaign, and she collapsed. She has learned the lesson; we have not. She has made the restoration of her agriculture, and especially an increase in her cultivable area, an essential part of her rearmament programme. If hon.Members will study the history of the rearmament, the very amazing rearmament, of Germany over about six years, they will see that Herr Hitler started his programme of increasing food production and his great reclamation schemes simultaneously with starting to create a new Air Force and a great new Army. It was done side by side. The result is that he has added several million acres to the productive acreage of Germany. We have not done the same here. All the wiles of his diplomacy have been largely turned to getting increased supplies for Germany in the war, from Russia and from Rumania more particularly. He realises that success may depend upon the food supply of a country. He has done his best at home, and has done his best to supplement home supplies with what he can get from abroad.
What are we doing about this supreme problem of feeding our people in what may probably be a long war? It is not enough to aim at the production of 1918. Since 1918, 4,000,000 acres have gone out of cultivation. Our grasslands, as hon. Members from agricultural districts will know, have deteriorated very rapidly in every part of the country. We cannot make that position good unless we proceed at once. Our population is up by 5,000,000. We have 5,000,000 more mouths to feed. Our tonnage is down very seriously, and we are facing a much more formidable attack upon our shipping 108 than developed for the first 2½ years of the last war. We are much worse off than we were in the last war as far as food production is concerned. On the other hand, our great foe is vastly better situated in the matter of supplies at home and the supplies which he may derive from abroad.
That is our position. To what extent does this Bill contribute to meeting that situation? I have examined it with very great care, every line of it, and also its preface, which is even more important than the Bill itself, and the conclusion which I have come to, and come to very deliberately, is that judging the Bill from that point of view, the point of view of facing the realities of the situation, it is quite inadequate to our needs. If the attack from the air and by submarines and mines develops, this Bill will not see us through. It is far better that we should know where we stand in time—because I think there is time. It is not enough to say that the Government have immense equipment in arms: they must have enough of everything which is essential to see us through. At the present moment, judging the food situation, and even judging what can be accomplished under the Bill, there is a yawning gap, and a bridge which does not take you right across is a trap. You may crash into the abyss, as Germany did. In order that we do not do so, we must take care in time to prevent it.
Let us examine the task with which the Minister is confronted, and how far he is equipped by the Bill to discharge it. The second examination is, how far he is handicapped by the Bill and by what is called the "Explanatory and Financial Memorandum." The situation demands that you should recover, first of all, the fertility and productiveness of the land, which, largely since the last war, if not from before, has been allowed to become derelict in every county in Britain. That is the first point. The second is that you should bring more land into cultivation than you have had, either in 1914 and certainly to-day. Something has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) about the importance of drainage of the land, and I am going to take that section as a test. What is the position? There has not been a survey. The latest survey was in 1927, when a Commission was appointed, and 109 it was confined largely to arterial drainage. Land has been put out of cultivation owing to the lack of drainage of rivers, water-courses and main ditches. It was then found that 3,500,000 acres were waterlogged because there was no adequate drainage, arterial especially, of our water-courses, rivers and main ditches that connect the various systems of drainage of our fields. Something has been done since then, but not much, and much more land has gone out of cultivation since then; so that we are really not substantially better off than we were when that Commission reported.
Let us take the question of field drainage, which is in a very bad condition throughout the country. A reference has been made to the work of Sir George Stapledon; I am sorry that I was unable to persuade the Cabinet to take his evidence in 1935. He is far and away the best authority on grassland in this country. The Cabinet have recognised this since, and I am very glad that they have rewarded him suitably. He said that there was widespread need for ground drainage and that there was an appalling number of acres put out of cultivation by neglect in that respect. That is true, according to him, even with average-good farms. It is not the bad farms that are responsible for the position. Owing to lack of labour, even the best farmers are unable to keep up their drains, and you can see that that is so by going across the country. You can see that the drains are in many cases now quite blocked. Sir George Stapledon illustrates this. Most of his work has been done among the Welsh mountains but he has a very great deal of—
§ Mr. Leslie Boyce
Would the right hon. Gentleman give us the name of this authority again? We did not hear what it was.
Mr. Lloyd George
Sir George Stapledon. He was recently knighted by the Government, and I was very delighted, because nobody could be more deserving of it. He is the greatest authority in this country on grassland, a fact which, I think, will be acknowledged all round. He says that he examined Middlesex and Hertfordshire. There you have two counties within easy reach of the greatest market in the world. He examined a considerable number of farms there which, he said, did not represent the worst but the 110 better grasslands in the district. Think he said that, in the case of Hertfordshire, 40 per cent. of the grasslands were in urgent need of drainage, and in Middlesex 70 per cent. That is the experience of everybody. I was talking to an authority on the subject last week, and he told me that there was no end of land, excellent land, which had practically gone out of cultivation because the farmers could not keep up the drainage. A reference was made to mole drainage, but that applies only to a limited number of farms. For instance, it is no use on the farm that I have, because it has light soil. I am told that it is not very practicable in Scotland. One of my complaints against the Bill is that it gives the grant only to mole drainage and leaves out all the other lands, which are a majority of the lands of the country.
What will happen? You have good land gone out of cultivation, largely since the last war, for a great many reasons; but whatever the reasons are, they are not insuperable reasons. You need farm labour; you want a certain amount of skill and experience. The old type of labourer is dying off, and the young labourer is going away to the towns. You cannot get men with sufficient expert knowledge to deal with these matters. Wages have gone up, and the labourer is leaving the land. You cannot attend to this matter of drainage unless you have the labour for the purpose—and we have 1,500,000 unemployed in this country. We do not know what to do with them, but here you have a vast area—that is the phrase used by the present Minister of Agriculture—awaiting labour. Another phrase which he used last week, and which I think was very striking, was when he talked about the way in which the land was going out of cultivation. He talked aboutthe disappearance of fertility from the soil, almost before our eyes.That is quite true. You can see it when you have been visiting particular parts of the country. You went last year, and you go again this year. You find that a great change has taken place in the quality and the fertility of the soil. There is more acreage under weeds and rushes than when you went there a year or two ago. That is the case in every part of the country. I drive from here right across this island, even down to Wales. 111 I find that to be the case in every county in both England and Wales. There is the disappearance of fertility before our eyes; yet we are waging a war which may depend upon what this derelict and waterlogged land can produce, in order to keep us from being driven into starvation.
The first figure that was given by the Commission was 3,500,000 acres; that was for major drainage. I think I should be under-estimating if I said that the lands waterlogged because of clogging and the neglect of main drainage—field drainage—would be at least another 3,500,000 acres. We were given the figure of 7,000,000 acres by my hon. Friend. Let us just see what has been done. In regard to the deterioration of grassland, I should again like to quote Sir George Stapledon. He has been going through the North of England—Lancashire and Cumberland. I am not sure whether Westmorland was one of them, and this is what he says:I have walked from field to field in vain search for a weedless sward.Those are terrible words. His next phrase is:It is not grassland but weed land. The farmer has concentrated upon the very best land because it does not pay him to spend very much on labour on land which is not under cultivation. He has to keep going or to get out.Now I come to the question of what the Bill is. This Bill will not solve the vital problem, and will not materially help towards a solution. It is a ludicrous contribution to so vast a problem. What is the contribution? This is not a Ministry of Agriculture Bill. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman were here, I would challenge him that this is not a Bill which he would have proposed to the House if he had had his way. In every speech he delivers, I can see that he grips the realities of the problem. Whose Bill is it? It is a Treasury Bill. But the Bill does not count; it is the Memorandum at the beginning, which has been written by the Treasury. There was a very witty old Irishman who was in the Customs Department, and he used to give the order of importance of the various commands which the clerks received at the Customs. He said that first and foremost comes the order of the Board of Customs; secondly, the Treasury Minute; 112 thirdly, an Act of Parliament; and, fourthly and lastly, the Word of God. Here the Treasury Minute is the thing which counts. There are three or four pages written by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or somebody else; that is all. That is the Bill and not what the Minister of Agriculture asked for.
Let us see what it proposes. We will come first of all to the way in which it deals with this vital problem. The other day the "Times" protested against the Treasury interference in some other aspect—I think it was the great economic problem. I do not often agree with the "Times," but it does talk sense at times, and this is what a leading article in the "Times" said:While the Treasury point of view must always be kept in mind, it would be dangerous to allow it to dominate economic policy especially in times such as those in which we are now living. The primary function of the Treasury in its relations with other Departments is to say 'No.'In this Bill the Minister of Agriculture is fettered by every limb. When he is trying to move from one Clause to another, you can hear the clank of his chains. They have been fixed and hammered on by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I will come to Clause 14, Subsection (2), with regard to land drainage. This is a restriction which the Chancellor of the Exchequer managed to get into the Bill. It says that the cost of preparing and carrying out the scheme will not exceed an annual amount equal to £5. No money is to be advanced for a great arterial scheme, and the land which will be affected will be 3,500,000 acres. How can you get a great scheme of drainage which will only cost £5 an acre? Of course, some of the land to be reclaimed will have been enriched by the vegetation of centuries. It is said that it will be valuable land if only you spend £5 an acre. Let the Chancellor give me any great swamp in this country which is capable, as most of the Eastern counties have been, of being converted into good land by draining off water at a cost of only £5 an acre: It is nonsense. I have my own suggestions as to a better figure. Supposing you were to treat all the other essentials of national defence in that way, and supposing the Chancellor of the Exchequer went to the Minister for Air and said, "Go on building aeroplanes, but they must not cost more than 113 so much," and he gave a figure which was only a third of what he had to pay for every machine. What use would that be? Does he do that with any other part of national defence? Why should he put this limitation on something which is just as vital as aeroplanes and our Navy?
Let us see what else he does. If you are to reclaim 3,500,000 acres of land which is not productive because there is no arterial drainage, and if you are to drain the fields of this country which are derelict because the drains are clogged—that is another 3,500,000 acres, making 7,000,000 acres—you could not do the first part under £15 an acre at least. I have compared notes with an hon. Member on the other side of the House, and we have both come to the same figure; in fact, he mentioned it to me first, and I said I thought he was right and that I had come to the same conclusion. You cannot do even mole-drainage at less than £3 an acre on an average, but if you include other drainage, such as tile drainage, which is just as important, you could not do if at £3 an acre. The whole scheme would cost about £60,000,000. What is that? I will tell you; it is 10 day's cost of this war. Under this Bill you have £230,000 for arterial drainage for the 3,500,000 acres, and for drainage of fields running to another 3,500,000 acres you have £150,000. Three hundred and eighty thousand pounds is all that is given for draining 7,000,000 acres of land in this country when we need every acre of land to produce its utmost and to save us from catastrophe. It is one-sixteenth of the cost of the war per single day.
Mr. Lloyd George
That, of course, is a matter of very great moment. They would only do it if the land belonged to a big landowner, where they would work out what the snipes are worth. There is no grant for taking over badly cultivated land. Here is a phrase which is in the preface to the Bill. It says "no increase in staff." It shows that they do not expect to need it. You could not put all these things into operation to increase the productivity of the soil without employing the best engineers. 114 Mussolini is doing it now in Sicily, but he has the best engineers he can command, not from a little county but from the State. We can easily spend £380,000. If it is a real scheme you must get experts to examine it. Then there is the scheme for providing goods and services to farmers who need them for war production. You cannot convert bad grassland into tillage at £2 an acre or anything like it. There is a great deal to be done, and there is also the question of fertilisers. You may be able to use the fertility which the grass provides for one year, but this is surely not a programme for one year.
This is a programme based on the possibility that the war may last a long time. If it does not, you will not have wasted your money. In fact, if peace comes soon, you will merely go on with the scheme. We are producing pyramids of shells. But if peace comes in a year, or two years, you will have scores of millions of these shells that you will have to break up into scrap iron. If you spent the money on drainage, reclamation, reconditioning, you would have converted weeds into valuable crops; you would have enriched this land; you would have a new England, Wales, and Scotland springing from a horrible war. But the Government will give the farmers nothing. It is said that if the farmers want to borrow, they can borrow at commercial rates of interest. I suppose that that, including sinking fund, would be 5 per cent. What is the good of that? These men are obeying the order of the Government, and serving the State. The State ought to come generously to their assistance. They do not want to break up a good deal of the land which they are loyally breaking up. They ought not to be losers by the transaction. If you do not give them the money, they cannot borrow it. The farmers have infinitely less reserve capital than in 1914. One man who knew the farmers in the North very well told me that they had not a quarter of the capital that they had in 1914. [An Hon. Member: "Who took it from them?"] Taxation.
Mr. Lloyd George
Well, the rents have not gone up. One knows what taxation is like after the last Budget, but even before then it was about five times as 115 heavy as at the time of the last war. Not only the farmer, but the landowner also, has no capital compared with 1914. Death duties have gone up. Super-tax has been very heavy. I know of very good landlords who have given up the use of tiles for drainage. Good farms have, very largely, gone out of cultivation. The farmers, to a great extent, do not blame the landowners; they know that the landowners have not the same reserves. What is the use of saying that farmers can borrow at commercial rates of interest? They cannot borrow now. The banks will not lend to them. The real moneylenders to the farmer are the dealer and the middleman. I was appalled when I went into the matter to find how much the interest was.
Mr. Lloyd George
Oh, much more than 5 per cent. But that is where the Government ought to come in, to advance money, not at 5 per cent., but at a rate which will induce the farmer to improve his land. The profit that he gets will not enable him to pay 5 per cent.
Mr. De la Bère
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that the Government lent the railways £26,000,000 at 2½ per cent.? Why cannot they do the same for agriculture? I have been on this for five years, but no one would take any notice.
Mr. Lloyd George
"A Daniel come to judgment." The Treasury want to make it clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland shall not spend too much on this essential work. Three hundred and eighty thousand pounds! Prodigious! I wonder how the Chancellor of the Exchequer could agree to throw so much money away. Then we have to get all the gardeners in the country. There is a great scheme. An appeal is made, through all sorts of institutions, to stir up their energies. The Government say, "We will provide fertilisers." But the Treasury, in a Memorandum, say that it must not cost more than £1,000. That is real profligacy.
By the way, let me congratulate the House on the fact that we have at any rate one member of the War Cabinet here. It is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal to come. 116 I am making no complaint at all, but it is vital that the Cabinet, as a Cabinet, should consider this thing. They ought to know what the facts are. They ought to know what the position is. They ought to know what the danger is. They have not made any study of the matter at all. I have no great confidence in the Cabinet, but I have enough confidence in them to think that if they really knew what the position was, their great sense of patriotism would make them wake up and put it right. In agriculture they have no interest at all. Their view of agriculture is the Kettering view, that large production of food at home is not a security for the Realm.
What about the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other gentlemen who are responsible for agriculture? I have heard a great many of the Chancellor's speeches, and have enjoyed them. Even if they were on one side one day and on the other side another day, he seemed equally good. But I have never heard him make a speech on agriculture. His attitude towards it has been one of stony, sterile indifference. He just comes in here, and tells us, "You must not spend too much." One thousand pounds for gardens, and then they will blossom like the rose. As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, the road to victory is blocked by Kettering. As for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is a case of a snip here, a snip there—£380,000 for drainage, for great arterial projects £150,000 for 3,500,000 acres that have gone out of cultivation. You cannot dig for victory with a pair of Treasury scissors.
Here is a great scheme sketched by the Minister of Agriculture. I am convinced that he is in earnest about it, and that he would like to do more. Let the right hon. and gallant Gentleman see whether he gets the ear of the Cabinet and a fair chance. In the last war we put Lord Milner in charge, as a member of the Cabinet. He had great authority, great influence; he carried very great weight with his colleagues, and when he came in and said, "I think it should be done," that made all the difference in the world. Who is the member of the Cabinet now who is doing the same thing? This poor Minister has to fight his own battles, and he is a new man. It takes a long time to establish a position in a Cabinet; I know that. You have a great scheme 117 here, and great machinery. I do not think it is the very best machinery—I shall make suggestions about that later on. I think there is far too little control at the centre, because, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, the county committees have not got the cash. But, with a great machine for this purpose, there is a mingy allowance of petrol that does not carry the plough to the end of the furrow.
I ask the Government to reconsider this. You cannot carry out a great task like this, upon which the life of the community may depend, at this cost. I would have flung that into the waste-paper basket if I had seen it produced by the Treasury in 1917. It would not have had a moment's consideration by those of us who were in earnest in producing food, because we knew the danger. There is no time to lose, let me tell the poor solitary member of the Cabinet who is here. The seasons are passing. There is a time to sow and there is a time to plough, but you cannot sow without a ploughing and you cannot plough millions of acres without draining the land. You cannot order the seasons by a Treasury Minute. Then the year passes, but it is a year of war and a year of sinkings. The right lion. Gentleman is one of those who believes that it is essential, as the Minister for War said the other day, that we should fight right through to the end, and we must, now that we have begun, and have committed the honour of the Empire too, have a peace which will be an honourable one. But it is no use calling upon the people of this country to produce, as the Minister of Labour said yesterday, an immense new programme of armaments. It is no use calling upon the people of this country to sacrifice not only riches, not only luxuries, but to sacrifice comforts, to sacrifice their businesses, and upon the young men of the country to sacrifice their lives—it is no use doing that, if through stubbornness, through fighting not for your lives but for your prejudices, and through lack of vision, you neglect one indispensable contribution to the winning of the war and find yourselves suddenly faced through hunger with the inevitable doom of a humiliating surrender, because you have forgotten one thing and not attended to it. I appeal to Parliament, where the ultimate responsibility rests, to demand from this Government or from any 118 Government, vigorous action, action on a great scale, and, above all, prompt action to save this great old country from disaster.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Samuel Hoare)
The House always listens with rapt attention to the righthon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and listens even with greater attention when he speaks upon questions connected with husbandry and the land. I listened, therefore, with great care to what he said to-day, and I listened with great care to what he said 10 days ago. Let me in a sentence or two, before I deal with the appeal that the right hon. Gentleman has made this afternoon make one comment upon his speech of a week ago. It seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman did not do himself justice in one respect. I remember those days very well in 1921 at the time when the Corn Production Act was repealed. The right hon. Gentleman's position at the time was almost that of a dictator.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I was a humble backbench Conservative Member, and my Friends and I were rather nervous of the right hon. Gentleman's totalitarian methods, and yet in spite of that, as the result of the pressure of three unnamed Conservative Ministers, he allowed the repeal of that Act.
Mr. Lloyd George
That would be very unfair to me. What I did say was that it was not solely my Act, but that the Bill was introduced by Conservative Ministers. That is all I said. If I said that anything was due to their pressure, it is not true. There were only four Conservative members, in a House where they were the vast majority, who voted against that repeal, and the name of the right hon. Gentleman is not among them.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I knew the views of my Friends at the time. If we had had any lead from the Prime Minister of the day we certainly would not have supported the repeal of that Act.
I now come to the Bill that we are here discussing to-day, and I say at the very outset that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has fully understood the 119 scope of this Measure. It is not the whole of the agricultural policy of the Government. It does not stand by itself. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), in one of those interesting speeches that he always makes on agricultural questions, said that we had omitted from this Bill any reference to agricultural wages. It may well be that we shall be obliged to have in the not distant future another Bill dealing with that very important side of the question, and I say that in order to show that this Bill is not to be judged as the sole and only agricultural Measure of this Government. The Bill is essentially a machinery Bill. It embodies a number of proposals, all of which, I believe, are very necessary for an effective home-production programme, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the proposals are for the most part the result of a series of conferences with representatives of the agricultural industry; and among these representatives is Sir George Stapledon himself, to whom the right hon. Gentleman paid so well deserved a tribute this afternoon. Let me say, as simply and as definitely as I can, that the Government put this home-production of food into the very first priorities of our war needs. We intend to make the home-production programme as urgent and as vital as any of the munitions or export trade programmes.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I do not think there is any disagreement between us as to the objectives we wish to achieve, but I think the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the purposes of the Bill. He has assumed that the figures he has given are limits to be imposed by Statute or Financial Resolution. That is not the case, as I hope to show later on. The 2,000,000 acres to be ploughed up are a minimum and not a maximum. The more hundreds of thousands of acres that can be further ploughed up the better we shall be pleased. It may be that these estimates of drainage and ploughing grants are too low, and I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that I hope they are too low.
I think that the point made by the right hon. Gentleman was that the £5 per acre for drainage was quite inadequate to deal with the carrying 120 out of arterial drainage and that his estimate was somewhere in the region of £15 per acre. If the money to be advanced on drainage is to be retarded by any rider in this Bill to a limit of £5, the drainage will not be done.
§ Sir S. Hoare
That is a question that can be dealt with in detail when we come to discuss the Clause in Committee.
§ Sir S. Hoare
No. It is an average amount and in any case my right hon. and gallant Friend will deal in detail with that point later—
Mr. Lloyd George
The right hon. Gentleman is not so unintelligent as that. Sub-section (2) of Part III of the Bill states that:After receiving such a request as respects any land the Catchment Board may prepare a scheme for draining the land if they are of the opinion that the cost of preparing and carrying out the scheme will not exceed an amount equal to £5 for each acre of the land.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I am informed that it is an average amount. In any case it obviously should be discussed in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman made an appeal to the House as to the dangers with which we are faced, and although I do not want to underrate his view I do think he took too pessimistic and alarmist a view of the naval position. Though there may be shortages, restrictions and delays, I am convinced that the Navy and Mercantile Marine will be able to prevent this country drifting into the kind of situation he described this afternoon. I do admit, however, that there will be difficulties to be faced and that it is vitally urgent that we should put our home-production programme in the first of our war priorities from the point of view of national safety. There is the problem of exchange—one of our chief weapons of war—and the saving of shipping space for the transport of urgent munitions.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I have already said that the figures given are estimated figures. They are not a maximum.
Mr. De la Bère
The £5 is a maximum figure and not an average figure. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I still maintain my position. It must be argued out in greater detail at a later stage of the Bill.
Mr. Lloyd George
I am sorry to interrupt but this is really a vital point. The right hon. Gentleman does not attach very much significance to these figures. That is very encouraging, but will he give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that they will reconsider the financial provisions of the Bill? On page 3 of the Memorandum it is stated that it is not expected that any additional staff will be required and that Exchequer liabilities will be limited to the costs of the grants in aid of catchment boards' and mole drainage schemes—£230,000 and £150,000 respectively. That is the calculation they have to go on, and will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, promise the House that the Government will reconsider these financial proposals?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I cannot give a promise of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman said himself that these are estimates. I have said, and I say again, that I shall be very glad if they are exceeded. I wish to see as much acreage ploughed up and as much land drained as possible. To come back to the point at which I left my argument, I gather from the right hon. Gentleman that he did not think that the ploughing-up campaign was sufficiently great. I myself should like to see more than 2,000,000 acres ploughed up, and I hope we shall see it, but we have to take into account the limitations under which we are working and the fact, as the right hon. Gentleman said himself, that labour has been depleted. We based the 2,000,000 on what we think a reasonable estimate in the time, namely 12 months. The right hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties better than any one in the House. Little or nothing was done to stimulate food production in the first two years of the last war. The right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister in 1916, but even then, with all his vigour and drive and the machinery that he had at his command, it was not possible to achieve 122 in 18 months substantially more than is envisaged in our programme for the first 12 months. It was not until after the harvest of 1916, two years after the war had started, that any special plans for increasing home production began to be made, and it was not until the spring of 1917 that the food production campaign was launched. This campaign aimed at increasing the acreage under tillage in the United Kingdom over a period of 18 months, namely to the harvest of 1918, by about 3,000,000 acres. Of those 3,000,000 nearly 850,000 were provided by Eire.
I think the right hon. Gentleman forgot that when comparing the effort of 1917 with the effort of to-day. In the present war the Government had made althea necessary plans under which the food production campaign was launched on the first day of the war, and the effort that we are making is to secure practically the same increase of acreage in the first 12 months as was achieved in the last war in the last 18 months. I state these facts not in any spirit of complacency but to show the House—what is known to every agricultural Member—the difficulties of increasing land under cultivation within a period of 12 months by 2,000,000 acres. I concentrate upon this matter of ploughing up land because I believe it to be the central factor in the problem. The Cabinet—here I respond to the right hon. Gentleman's invitation—intends to put the full weight of its influence behind this campaign, and I hope we can rely on the right hon. Gentleman's support in our attempt within the first year of this war to do what it took him 18 months to do in the last two years of the last war.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
I think my right hon. Friend's comparison is rather misleading. I submit to him that, after two years had gone by and nothing was done in the Great War for agriculture, the volume of production in 1916 was considerably higher than the volume of agricultural production to-day.
§ Sir S. Hoare
If that is so, I would still say that I want to see production here as high as any Member in any part of the House would wish it to be. There is no obstacle put in the way of the Minister of Agriculture by an unsympathetic Chancellor of the Exchequer. Our estimate is cautious one based upon what we think is likely to be possible in a short period 123 of time. I hope, with the right hon. Gentleman's support behind home production, and with the support of all Members of the House, that we may see much greater results than are contemplated in these somewhat cautious estimates. The right hon. Gentleman implied in the latter part of his speech that the Cabinet was disinteresting itself in this new vital problem and that the Minister of Agriculture had very little chance of making his voice heard when decisions were being taken. I assure him—and I ask him to believe what I say on this point—that that is not the case. The Cabinet are following very closely the reactions of this problem. They are regularly receiving statistics of the whole food question, both imported foods and home production.
In addition to that, I think I am not betraying a confidence when I tell him that there is now a committee, presided over by a Member of the War Cabinet, constantly sitting to deal with these questions connected with the Food Ministry on the one hand and the Ministry of Agriculture on the other. On that committee are the various Ministers who are directly or indirectly interested in these problems. The right hon. Gentleman may think that we have not yet succeeded in our difficult task, but I can tell him that it is not for want of trying and that we regard these as questions of supreme urgency and, so far from their being ignored or neglected, they are the subject of discussions either in Cabinet committees or very frequently in the Cabinet it self. I hope I have said enough, though I may not have satisfied the right hon. Gentleman in detail, at any rate to show him the spirit with which the Cabinet are facing these problems. I hope I have said enough to show that I will do every thing in my power to see that the greatest possible body is put into this programme and that these millions of acres are ploughed up—
§ Sir S. Hoare
And that the cash is forthcoming when the work is to be done. I claim further that the programme is progressing not unsatisfactorily.
§ Sir S. Hoare
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I put my view. 124 He has put his. I speak with great deference in his presence. I acknowledge that he is a great authority on these questions, but inquiries that I have made go to show that, in spite of the bad weather and the great difficulties that the farmers have had to face in recent weeks, the programme is progressing satisfactorily, and I believe myself that we shall achieve our object. I have purposely not gone into the details of the Bill, for they will be dealt with later in the Debate by my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, and they will be dealt with in greater detail on the Committee stage. I rose for one purpose alone—to show the interest of the Cabinet in this all-important question, and to assure the House that we are determined greatly to increase the home production of food and fodder.
Mr. De la Bère
Can my right hon. Friend inform us who is the Chairman of the Cabinet Committee to which he referred?
§ Sir S. Hoare
It would not be usual. I think it is for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to give information of that kind. I suggest that my hon. Friend should put a Question on the Paper to the Prime Minister.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan
It is rather difficult for a comparatively new Member to follow the two important speeches to which we have listened. I feel that the Lord Privy Seal has had the political sagacity to realise that hon. Members in all parts of the House are distinctly uneasy about the attitude of the Government as a whole to the agricultural position. The presentation of this Bill is indicative of a very scrappy approach to the problem up to now. Some hon. Members felt and expressed disappointment when the Minister began to dig into the past of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), because in doing so he immediately exposed the whole flank of the Government in this matter, they having been in power ever since 1931, and hon. Members in every part of the House having testified to the predicament in which agriculture is at this time. It is precisely because none of us wants to 125 dig into the past, but rather wants to get on with the job, that we regretted the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to revert to 1921.
I feel that the Debate has been justified in that it has secured a statement of the kind that has just been made, and I can imagine that no person will be more gratified with that statement than the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture who is unfortunately unable to be in the House during the Debate, but who will now feel that he is entitled to arm himself with much more authority and to assume much more definitely that he can go ahead. But I am one of those who do not share the sanguine outlook of the Lord Privy Seal. He has told us that there is a ploughing programme for 2,000,000 acres. This will simply take us back to the 1914 figures, but even with that, this campaign has been going on since last April, and 1,500,000 acres will not be ploughed up by next April. If the Government have set a programme to be accomplished in 12 months, those 12 months will be up in April. Then the Minister of Agriculture took power to plough up 250,000 acres, but there are not 250,000 acres ploughed up and paid for at this time. In the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill, there is the statement:Including the sum of £500,000 estimated to be payable under the principal Act.That money is not yet exhausted, the £500,000 have not yet been paid; there are hundreds of farmers waiting for that money to come to hand. [Interruption.] It is not under seed or under a crop. We have at this moment under ground less wheat than at this time last year; we are producing less milk from our cows than at this time last year; we are 500,000 cattle short of the number we had six months ago; we are 500,000 pigs short of the number we had six months ago; we are 5,000,000 poultry short of the number we had six months ago; and we have now entered the hatching season for poultry, with the breeders unprepared to take any risks whatsoever; and we have to face the fact, to which every bacon factory can testify, that sows are coming in with litters inside them never to be born. It is no good the Minister coming forward at this stage and pretending that we are in a healthy state in this vital campaign.
126 I suggest that we have not approached the ploughing-up campaign in the right way. There has been the qualification that the land to be ploughed up must have been under grass for at least seven years. There is being ploughed up at this time land which was not ploughed up even during the last war, and that is being done because the farmers are so short of cash and credit that they are tempted by the mere bait of £2 an acre. The land that we ought to be getting under the plough is the land which last went out from under the plough, land which went out of cultivation during the last four years, which the farmers were reluctant to allow to go out of cultivation, but had to do so because of the depression. Instead of offering an inducement for that land to be ploughed up, it having been out of cultivation less time than any other land, the Government have gone back to the most difficult aspect of ploughing up, and have tried to bring under the plough land that went out of cultivation long ago because it was very soon seen to be an uneconomic proposition following the decline after the last war. Why not pay attention to the land that has gone out of cultivation during the last few years? Scotland is the predicament, for in Scotland they have a six-year ley, and the Treasury were afraid that if the qualifying period were brought down to four years, there might be paid to some Scottish farmers some subsidies for the tag end of their six-year land. The problem from the point of view of the Government is to get back into cultivation land that has only just gone out of cultivation, land that is more amenable to this ploughing drive than land of the sort to which they have already committed themselves in the ploughing-up campaign. I was relieved to hear that the money is to be forthcoming. That being so, why in the world [Interruption.] I gathered—although we shall have to look into the statement—that the additional land that is ploughed up and the additional land that is drained will be paid for, and if that does not mean more money—I see that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head—
§ Mr. Morgan
Then I am relieved. But if that is the case, why is it that the provision is confined to mole drainage that can be applied to only a limited type of land? Why direct yourselves only to catchment areas that are not yet covered by drainage boards? Why is it that you eliminate a class of drainage that is acknowledged in Scotland to be a vital type, the tile form of drainage? That is much more vital than mole drainage, because it deals with less intractable land than does mole drainage. The tile-drained type of land could be brought into cultivation within 12 months. In the case of the heavy land, we have missed the autumn cultivation. The mole-drained type of land cannot be brought into spring cultivation, for it is heavy land that must have winter frosts on it and must have a weathering right through the season, and to attempt to make it carry a crop within the next six months would be to invite trouble, as any practical farmer knows. As the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, that class of land is out for 12 months, for we have missed the autumn. I do not know why it is, but the Cabinet still seem to be under the influence of the Kettering mind, because this Bill can be accounted for only by the fact, as some of us believe, that the Government are still not satisfied that they will need to put agriculture on to a war footing. They still seem to hope that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty will bring the "grub" home, and that there will not be any real need to put the agricultural industry in this country on a war footing. That seems to pervade the whole background of this Bill. The very presence here of the right hon. Gentleman who has just intervened is indicative of the fact that, aware of the uneasiness which exists, he has come into the House to give us some kind of reassurance. But his presence here appears to mark a complete change of mind, though some of us feel that it is still seriously open to doubt, on the part of the Cabinet as a whole.
What I do not like about the Bill is this. As to three-quarters of it, the Minister is divesting himself of his powers and his scope. As to the part which deals with wheat and oats, it is virtually a revision of schemes to enable such schemes to be handed over to the Ministry of Food and to be dealt with by them. It is 128 designed to put crops on a price basis, to enable the Ministry of Food to negotiate abroad for food supplies. We have a very clever adjustment. We are putting the farmer on the basis of a market price for wheat which does not exist so that the rest of the world can be told, "We are paying our farmers only 31s. 6d. a quarter or whatever it is for wheat and that must be the world price. That is the price at which we are prepared to bargain." There is nothing of substance in that part of the Bill which concerns the Minister of Agriculture. It is, as I say, just a case of the Minister divesting himself of certain responsibilities and relationships and giving them over to the Ministry of Food.
When it comes to the question of drainage it is the catchment areas, plus the county committees, which are to be called upon to do the work. But if the catchment areas decide that they cannot proceed with the scheme, then the whole thing will be held up, as one or two hon. Members have already indicated. If that be so, I cannot understand why the Minister, who must be alive to the imperative necessity of drainage, should take this course. At any moment we may get the news that the Fens are once again in flood. We are all waiting for it. I asked the guard coming down in the train what the Fens looked like and from what he told me I know what the danger is. The hon. and gallant Member for Cambridgeshire (Captain Briscoe) knows what he is talking about. We have there a catchment area authority which, for five years, has been haggling with this Government, as to whether the Treasury can afford 25 per cent. of the cost of a major scheme which every engineer has reported to be essential, or only10 per cent. This applies to other parts of the country as well. But the Fenland is the finest agricultural land, for its area, now available in any country in the world. We have in that pocket of land the richest soil which any country has available for food production, yet the Government are still quibbling with the catchment area board as to whether they can afford to pay 25 per cent. of a million or two, or 10 per cent. of the cost. I challenge any Minister to refute that statement.
That is the position, and many of these seemingly recalcitrant drainage boards are in exactly the same relation to the Ministry and through the Ministry to the 129 Treasury, on this question. They are haggling between 25 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the cost because of the low rateable value in the areas in which the catchment boards are functioning. This situation had better be faced very soon. If we are to have a spring comparable with the autumn which we have experienced with extreme wet, with the frost now in the soil breaking it up, we are going to have quagmires and sodden agricultural land. We have only two months in which we can do anything with this land. You cannot do anything with it after the middle of April and it would be better to leave half of it in grass than to have it messed about during the summer after passing through a winter such as this. I forecast this, that instead of having 2,000,000 acres under plough you will, within six weeks, have requests to the Minister from one county committee after another for the right to remove orders to plough up, because it would be more economic to feed much of this land this summer with livestock and break it up in the autumn rather than in May and June. We have lost our chance. I know that the committees are preparing to face that problem.
Attention has been drawn by one of my hon. Friends on this side to a glaring omission from the Bill. Every farmer is alive to the fact that we are going to have an almost insoluble labour problem. Nothing has been done about it. There're hundreds of acres of sugar beet lying out on the ground now which ought to have been in the factories. The factories are closed. Why? Because we did not mobilise a labour drive in October last year and the weather has given us no chance since. The Government banked on the weather being kind but the weather takes no account of what Governments want. We have to take time by the forelock on this question and announce a cash wage sufficient to deter men from leaving the land at this stage for more remunerative jobs which may be offered to them. We have to put the agricultural worker on the same insurance basis as any other class of worker in the country. We have to organise an appeal to the men registered at the exchanges now to come out into the fields, on the understanding that they will be placed on as good a footing as other types of workers who are encouraged to go into munition 130 factories. If necessary, you will have to arrange separation allowances for wives and families in order to prevent the breaking up of homes in the towns. You will have to face that prospect. You will have to treat the women of the country on a better footing than hitherto, if you are to mobilise the labour resources which will have to come to the aid of farming if it is to carry through this programme this summer.
I also wish to ask the Minister whether he is not trying to put too much of the onus of getting his programme through on the county war agricultural committees. I know them very well. The members are all very busy men, many of them with farms of 1,000 and 2,000 acres to look after, and many of them are in a dilemma about how to deal with their own farming, because the whole business has got so far behind. I picked up recently a circular which has been sent out in an area I know very well. It is a cautious document. This county war executive committee, appealing to the farmers, says:Many of you know of farms which are not being farmed as well as they should be, but which are not sufficiently badly managed to warrant the executive committee taking possession. In such cases it might be desirable for this to be carried on by the present occupier either under the direction of your committee or by a member of your committee.Thus, individual members of these committees are to be asked to manage the farms of other people who have got into a muddle, because they lack credit, or because they lack business capacity, or for any of the hundred and one reasons which afflict the farming community at the present time. I see nothing in the Bill which charges the Minister with direct responsibility for seeing that the land of this country is well farmed. The Minister is divesting himself of responsibility and is "passing the buck" to the county war agricultural committees in many essential functions. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be allowed to ride away from the responsibility which will, inevitably, come from the failure of this scheme, if the agricultural committees are unable to come up to the programme which has been so ambitiously laid out for them. They are working on a voluntary basis. They are subject almost every week to reminders that they must not even incur mileage rates exceeding 2½d. or 3d. Their expenses sheets are 131 sent back for them, if there is even 5d. of expenditure not accounted for and they are working strictly on the idea that they must do everything for nothing. As I say the members are busy men, they are not provided with staff and I wonder if the Minister in throwing new responsibilities upon these committees, admirable though they be, is not asking too much of them. I have been amazed to meet hard-handed farmers who wanted to walk straight on to neglected farms and estates and to demand entry in the name of the county committee in order those a bit of good farming carried out.
There was a crisis in one of these local district committees. It concerned a thousand acres of land, which had lain for years practically uncultivated and in the case of two farms not tenanted at all. Three times, the district committee presented a report upon this land to the county executive. Unfortunately, the chairman of the county committee was a land agent and was predisposed to be rather reluctant in dealing seriously with landowners and nothing was done. The whole district committee threatened to resign unless the county war executive committee or the Minister, exercised the powers under the Defence of the Realm Act and specified the work that must be done on that particular estate within a given time. That desire to move is in the county war committees, but it can be relied upon to a degree that may bring it to a breaking point.
I ask myself, not as a Socialist, two questions. If this country had entered war with agriculture in a fit condition, and in a healthy condition, I am convinced that we should have gone away from the word "Go" with every confidence, but in the background of our minds is the fear that a campaign against our ports and sea approaches might have an effectively damaging result upon our ability to feed ourselves. Every agriculturist knows in his bones that not for two years can this industry come really effectively to this country's aid with a substantial increment in food supplies. You may doubt me, but agriculturists and those who move in and out of the rural constituencies know the kind of nemesis which is just about due to fall. There ions shadow of doubt about this. You may have 60,000 tractors, but if the weather is bad, as it has been this year, we find 132 that there are left only two months out of six months in which to carry out our ordinary agricultural programme. In any ordinary time this agricultural season would fall lamentably behind any season that we have had in the last five or six years. Nothing the Government has done yet has really made any effective difference to the ordinary industrial effort of the men and women within the industry itself. In no substantial direction has the aid the Government has planned yet reached the farming industry.
That may sound a tall statement, but it is true. The Minister of Agriculture cannot account for an additional acre under crops this autumn as compared with last autumn. The only result of the aid is that we have made partly good the deficiencies imposed upon us by the season. There may have been ploughing and sowing of standing land but by the attrition of the season the net result is that we are where we were. If that is the position, then those who represent rural constituencies know in their hearts that they cannot arise to your appeal, and to your programme, unless there is a concentrated mobilisation and directly accepted responsibility on the part of the Government itself. The industry has not yet within itself resources capable of bringing it up to the programme. Every Clause of this Bill is imposing upon the industry, and on existing machinery, further responsibilities, apart from a little money about which there was an exchange just now. But it is all money to be and not money that has yet come to hand. The brewers have paid their bit in barley, the farmer has paid the other farmer in oats, and the wheat has been paid by the millers with some even fed to the poultry.
If that is the story, the right hon. Gentleman who sits here this evening will have to take back a message that the Government as a whole must now regard the agricultural situation as a crisis. The fact that we are discussing this Measure to-day shows that the efforts which have been hitherto made did not take us very far, and means also that this Measure cannot take us very far until the Cabinet has set down and secured a full schedule of undertakings from the Ministry of Agriculture, approved by the Minister of Food and accepted as the war-time programme of the Cabinet, who will go through with it whether there are sinkings or whether there are not. I say that so 133 far the Government are only playing with the subject and every speech that will be made will sound the same kind of warning; and those who know believe that to say you have scheduled 1,200,000 acres and that orders are about to be issued means no more than the paper they are written on, as matters stand.
§ 7.55 P.m.
§ Major Sir George Davies
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in his very impassioned and effective speech, advised us all to ignore the Bill and to concentrate on the Financial Memorandum. I cannot help feeling that it might be well to have regard to some of the contents of the Bill, because, after all, it is the Bill which we are discussing. Many of us in all parts of the House can find room for criticism on questions of degree and some on questions of principle, but as regards the hon. Member who has just given us an impassioned harangue, I would say that even if it be true that 1,250,000 acres are to be put into cultivation this year and that they will not be a practical proposition this year, and at best they can only give aid to our food resources in another two years, the same would apply if we had put before us an objective of 5,000,000 acres a year. The 2,000,000 spoken of is the minimum amount that the country can digest in one year's effort. One of the most heartening things in the West country is to see the daily increase of land turned over by the plough and the fact that we are getting back to an agricultural England instead of a mere dairy-farming England which no one believes to be true agriculture.
In general, in regard to the provisions of this Bill, I am not so alarmed as the last speaker at the disappearance of the Minister from the provisions of this Bill, but the substitution of direct subsidies from the Treasury for the indirect subsidies contained for example in the Wheat Act. Agriculture just as much as any other industry in this country dislikes direct subsidies and prefers, if possible, that a policy should be followed which makes it a self-supporting element in the industrial edifice of the country. There are, of course, arguments in favour of direct subsidies, but there are many arguments on the other side. I cannot help remembering many of the criticisms made in regard to the subsidy to Imperial Air- 134 ways and when they made such a success of their operations and distributed dividends people said that they were only distributing the dividends from the pockets of the taxpayers because Imperial Airways had been paid a subsidy.
When I first studied this Bill I regretted the disappearance of the provisions of the Wheat Act, which we must all admit, in spite of the criticisms made against it at the time, has been a great success. It has greatly assisted that form of agriculture without any direct subsidy from the Treasury or conscious assistance from the consumers. Its provisions are apparently to be shelved for the duration of this Measure. We have to admit that in war-time we have to rely on direct Treasury assistance to industry. A large part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was devoted to showing that these subsidies were inadequate, as set forth in the Memorandum to the Bill. That, however, would seem to bean matter of degree rather than of principle.
When I studied the Bill I approached its Title with the same feelings as were expressed by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who said he thought he was going to find a collection of omnium gatherum from the waste-paper basket. On a close study of the Bill, however, it seems to me that, apart from the question of degree, such as the exact number of acres and the amount of assistance, the Minister of Agriculture, whose inability to present the Bill in person we all deplore, has followed a logical train of thought in its preparation. Having decided on his thesis, which is practically the substitution of the Treasury subsidy for various other indirect methods of assistance to agriculture, he has first cleared his deck for action. Under Clause 3 he has suspended the wheat quota payments, which have been working so successfully, and has substituted moneys provided by Parliament, which is always a direct and naked subsidy. He has also, however, increased the standard price, and later in the Bill, there is the suspension of the Flour Millers' Corporation. These provisions clear the deck for action, so that the different branches of agriculture will receive the same treatment in the way of Treasury assistance.
The Bill then extends the principle of subsidy to all the other main cereals. 135 Clause 8 extends it to oats, and not only does it give a higher subsidy but reduces the limit of acreage, which is an additional inducement. Clause 9 extends it to rye, and Clause 10 to barley. Hitherto rye has been a crop which has not been widely grown in this country. It is confined to second and third-rate land, and probably for that reason, in order to try and bring every possible acre under cultivation, this inducement to grow rye on suitable land is being held out. I would like to know what use the Government have in mind to which this additional rye crop will be put. Are they contemplating, for example, a mixture of rye and wheat flour for rationed or unrationed bread; or is it a question of biscuits and things of that sort? Because rye in itself is not much of an animal food whereas barley, which is covered by Clause 10, is important for both animals and humans.
Having cleared the deck, having extended the system of wheat encouragement to other cereals, the third point in the Bill is to make a better use of the available land. We have, first, a removal of the limit of acreage for cereal crops, which is most important. The ploughing campaign has often been criticised as though 2,000,000 acres were the maximum, whereas the extension of acreage is unlimited. There is, too, an extension of the period during which the ploughing up of grassland can earn the subsidy. That is an important provision, because, as the hon. Member who preceded me pointed out, the setback we have had in the weather will delay the ploughing-up programme. Consequently, the time limit which has hitherto obtained needed to be extended. What is of the utmost importance is the application of this encouragement, not only to cereal crops, but to grass. For years I have preached to the farmers in my constituency that grass is not an accident sent by God, but an arable crop in itself. One of the reasons for the deterioration of our grassland is that farmers have not realised that. They have thought that their meadow-land just carried on and that they did not have to bother very much about it beyond a seasonal dung spreading, and so on. The policy which has been so admirably developed and publicised by Sir George Stapledon, who has done such good work in that direction, has emphasised what I am try- 136 ing to say, namely, that grass is one of our arable crops and that not only poor and deteriorated grassland, but sometimes first-class grassland, will benefit by being treated in that way and periodically ploughed up and re-seeded. One of the best features in this Measure, that of encouraging the best use of available land and making more land available will be in the encouragement to re-seeding for grass and not merely re-sowing for cereals.
The fourth provision in the Bill is to improve the land itself. Here we come to the question of drainage, and I must identify myself with some of the criticisms that have been made of these provisions. I do not believe that the Government have shown sufficient vision with regard to land drainage. The problem is much greater than can be dealt with in the way that this Bill, even if it is not a final piece of legislation, accomplishes. The deterioration of much of our land was quite truly pictured by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, allowing for a certain amount of pictorial embellishment. Why confine Government encouragement to mole-drained land? The provisions of the Bill are not for paying the whole cost, but paying only 50 per cent. of an average of £5, and if it is given to encourage the improvement of land by mole drainage, why is it not given to encourage drainage of those lands which can only benefit from tile drainage or something similar? There was some land of mine which I tile-drained some years ago and it cost more per acre than the land was worth when I had finished it, though it is true that there were special reasons why I did it. There are large areas which cannot be mole-drained, and as far as this Bill is concerned they are orphans of the storm. An owner of land is just as much entitled to get Treasury encouragement to rehabilitate the land by other methods of drainage as he is by mole drainage.
Finally, provisions for finance play their part in this scheme. There are the provisions in Clause 24 relating to goods and services. That raises, of course, the very vexed question of credit. In a large number of cases the credit of farmers has entirely disappeared. The provisions in this Bill recognise that to some extent, but I cannot help feeling that there are too great limitations set, and that some- 137 thing more is needed. There are subsidies in various provisions of the Bill, and surely it is not too much to have a subsidised rate of interest, instead of contemplating a 5 per cent. rate of interest on advances which are strictly limited to certain farming activities. To get over the great difficulty of the complete lack of credit from which so many farmers suffer, the provisions for credit facilities should be extended to cover a wider ground.
§ Mr. Colville
The Bill is wide enough to cover any arrangements which may be made. I have mentioned that it was contemplated that a scheme would be made, and in connection with that scheme the rate of interest could be considered, and the Bill gives the Government powers for adjustment in that respect.
§ Sir G. Davies
I accept that, but I would ask my right hon. Friend whether the expression "goods and services" has not a certain limitation. I question very much whether livestock is goods; it is certainly not services in the ordinary sense of the word, and I think that in Committee it might be desirable to widen the powers with regard to the provision of credit facilities. It is no good taking two bites at the cherry. If we want farmers to make the best use of their land, and if they are inhibited from doing so because credit facilities do not exist, we ought to go right ahead with provisions that do help and are not merely window-dressing. It is for that reason that I suggest a more liberal attitude should be taken.
Mr. De la Bère
My hon. and gallant Friend has absolutely hit the nail on the head. It could be done by the Treasury guaranteeing the banks amounts advanced at ½ per cent. over Bank Rate, and with the Bank Rate at 2 per cent., that would be 2½ per cent. Why should the wretched farmer be made to pay 5 per cent., on a so-called commercial basis? I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is entirely right.
§ Sir G. Davies
This is the Second Reading of the Measure, and I was dealing only with the broad considerations. Those are particular matters which might quite properly come up on the Committee stage, and I am urging on my own Front Bench that they should give this matter consideration when they come to it. The 138 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs aided his own special eloquence by trying to make out that this Bill is the very last word of the Government upon a long-term policy for the rehabilitation of agriculture as one of the vital elements in the economy of this country. Nothing seems to be further from the truth than that. As I have endeavoured to point out, I think that the logical steps envisaged in this Measure have been sensibly adopted, and if it were put into operation with a somewhat more liberal outlook than there appears to be in the Bill it would be a very advantageous war-time Measure. I believe that with those few more inducements which I have suggested, landowners, farmers, and indeed all who realise the importance of this industry, particularly at a time like this, will put their shoulders to the wheel in order to ensure that in the shortest possible time the greatest possible addition is made to our own home-grown food supplies.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn
I am sure the whole House regrets the absence of the Minister of Agriculture to-day, and I confess that I think the intervention of the Lord Privy Seal was not altogether happy. He assured us that the Cabinet had been thinking about agriculture. We were all very gratified to hear that, but those of us who sit for agricultural constituencies have been urging upon the Government for years that they should deal with agriculture prior to the outbreak of war and have gleaned but very little comfort from the thoughts entering War Cabinet Ministers' heads at the present time. He told us there was a committee, one of that innumerable galaxy of committees muddling up the country, which unites the work of the Ministry of Food with the Ministry of Agriculture. That may account for a great many of the mistakes which have been made recently by the Ministry of Food. I always thought it was a separate muddle; it now appears that there are two separate muddles with a joint muddle in the middle.
Certain Ministers give one the idea that they have never been outside Whitehall. They have only to go where agriculturists are and they will not find one person who is 100 per cent. satisfied with what is being done. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan), who spoke from the benches opposite, made, I thought, a 139 speech full of facts, presented in a non-party spirit. My own feeling is that the situation is far more serious than either this House or the country understands. I believe that as a result of the hard frost and the fact that farmers have not been able to get on to the land—except in some small parts—the position of affairs has considerably upset the calculations which have been made by the war agricultural committees. Those committees have given devoted service ever since the outbreak of the war. They do not get paid and are in a position in which they get all the kicks and literally none of the ha'pence. Every scheme which is evolved puts more burdens upon them, but there is a limit to what can be borne by men, although they are ready to do everything in their power, recognising the seriousness of the position. One thing we cannot expect them to do is to carry through a policy about which they have not been previously consulted.
It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that when this Bill was being drafted there was not more consultation with the chairmen and the members of some of the war agricultural committees. If they were grouped in regions, say, the Wessex area and the Yorkshire area, I believe it would be possible to convey from the actual front line, so to speak, where agricultural operations are in progress, to the G.H.Q. in Whitehall, the real facts of the position. The Lord Privy Seal may say what he likes about giving us his word that he believes that it is the most important thing that we should have super-priority, but it does show a lack of psychology on the part of those responsible for this Measure, because there is no doubt that the Treasury Memorandum on the first page of it is not calculated to give confidence to those in agriculture. There is a large number of farmers who still remember the Corn Production Act, who still remember that they were called upon to be the saviours of their country in a time of crisis, and they know that no Government can bind its successors, but I say frankly that I think the position is so serious that both sides of the House may have to face entirely new considerations—even of land tenure.
We must remember that our responsibility is to the land itself. It is the land 140 that matters; it is the people who work on the land temporarily and who give their services who are indispensable. We have worshipped so long at the altar of cheapness, we have done so much to gain votes in urban areas by not explaining the truth to the people, that we find ourselves now hard-and-fast against a situation from which there is no escape. As there is no escape, it is too late to put the blame; but is it necessary for the Lord Privy Seal to make party points against the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)? After all, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did more to win the last war than any other man in this House. I am not interested in comparisons between now and the position in 1914–18. I am far more interested in the difference between the food position in this country to-day and the position in Germany. We have to look ahead; it is no use looking back. I submit that it is the business of the Government to collect every person in this House from any side, to forget party points and to get a united effort, in order that we may face a position which I believe to be extremely serious.
One point which must be raised in Committee is in regard to land drainage. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is able to tell the House whether the Government contemplate altering and amending the Bill slightly so as to enable catchment boards, who have, by Act of Parliament, absorbed the internal drainage boards in their areas, to act as a council with certain powers under Section 35 of the Act of 1930. It is no use our dispersing energy too widely. Let us concentrate upon the places where we can get some immediate result. If the county agricultural committee—not the war agricultural committee—which is armed with certain powers under the Act of 1930, does not act, I trust that the Government will so amend the Bill that the drainage board in the area, who are responsible for main river drainage, may be used as the agent for the county, to clear the upstream ditches and dykes. Nothing is more necessary in a drainage scheme. If the main river and upper dykes and ditches are clear, you can eliminate water a great deal, but, on the other hand, if nobody is responsible for doing those ditches and dykes, it is no use cleaning out your main river. The 141 two things have to go together and to be worked together.
I would like to add another word to what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House; it is absolute lunacy to confine this grant to mole drainage. Who in the world ever thought of putting mole drainage into heavy clay? It cannot be done. It may be that someone at the Ministry of Agriculture in Whitehall has a new Heath Robinson machine which will pick out the flints in some way, but to assume that the broad acres in this country where there is no chalk are to be outside the scope of the Bill when you want the land for oats and barley, is perfectly astonishing. It is another example of the results of not consulting the local war agricultural committees.
The Bill is necessary. I have been in this House for some years, and I remember the repeal of the Corn Production Act. We should recognise to-night how grave the position is and not make light of it, and we should not pat ourselves on the back on any account. We have nothing to be proud of. We have been bemusing the people for years past, and now Nemesis has fallen upon us. The Lord Privy Seal told us that he has agriculture continuously in his mind. He protested so much that I began to wonder when it had begun to be in his mind. I am convinced that our first duty to our constituencies is to speak frankly in this House. We cannot sit in silence if there is any idea of self-satisfaction. We must recognise that to put any figure whatsoever in this Memorandum by the Treasury will be misunderstood by the country, because it will seem that you are trying to give with one hand and take away with the other. If we are to have this Bill, we must act boldly and face a completely new system, if necessary.
I trust that, in connection with land drainage, it will be possible for those who have the plant, the engineers, and the men who are on the spot to do the job, to be allowed to do it. It is not the slightest use for the Government to think they are going to do this easily. They talk very glibly about this matter, but unless something is done about labour, and about labour in the big towns, it is a waste to spend money on drainage. Does the Minister of Agriculture think that 142 farmers have the money to buy carts actually to move the crop from the field to the stack? Are they able to find the necessary tractors and men to be trained as carters? Those things have to be faced, and faced quickly. Inthe speeches which have so far been made reference has been made to essential features of the agricultural situation. It is very important that we should have express assurances from the Government that they see the thing in proper proportion and that they see the whole picture.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I have been listening to the Debate, and I wish to intervene for a little while to put a point of view which has not as yet been put, although it has been hinted at on several occasions. I do not apologise, coming from an industrial area, for speaking. Although the area which I represent cannot be regarded as agricultural, I would remind the House that Lancashire is an agricultural county and that agriculture is the chief industry of Lancashire, despite the fact that the county is particularly associated with cotton. When the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was speaking this evening, a passage of Scripture kept running through my mind:The years that the locusts have eaten.I look back to the last war. I am one of the individuals who worked on the land during that war, when the drive took place for labour. The farm on which I worked is one of those about which some hon. Gentlemen have been speaking this afternoon. It is now almost derelict. It was reclaimed at some expense and it was productive for two or three years. Now one portion of it is a tip, another portion is built upon, and a third portion is derelict. It was good land.
I know something about the ploughing-up of the land, because I learned it at some expense, and it is the expense part of it to which I shall refer. We have heard a good deal to-day about farmers and the ploughing-up of land. I suggest that it is not in the main the farmers who do the ploughing, but the farm labourers. We have to think in vastly different terms of the farm labourer if we are to do anything at all for agriculture. Make no mistake about that. First and foremost, the farm labourer is a human being, but he has never been treated as one up till now. During the past few years we have, I 143 know, thought of ways and means of keeping the worker on the land. We have seen the drive from the rural areas to the small towns. Is it any wonder that the land worker has drifted to the town? Remember, that as a human being the things which appeal to the town dweller appeal to the same extent to the dweller in the countryside. He occasionally wants to visit the pictures, strange as it may seem. It may never have dawned upon the farmer that the labourer likes to get away occasionally. We have been prepared to do anything for the farm labourer except pay him a wage.
During the past few years we have thought in terms of better houses. I would like to make an appeal to the Government, although I do not know whether it is much use. The tragedy of the English countryside has been the cottages of the workers on the land. Some steps have been taken, and some restoration work has taken place. I am now given to understand that, by the edict of the Treasury which prevents the granting of money to authorities, that hope has been dropped for the time being, and houses which are not in a suitable condition will have to remain in that state until after the war. I suggest that it is worth while continuing with that portion of the work which has been started in the improvement of the workers' cottages, and that it is worth while, even in war-time, making the conditions in which the worker has to exist something like what they should be.
More particularly am I concerned about paying him a wage. The Lord Privy Seal this afternoon suggested almost as an afterthought that later on it may be necessary to have another Bill relating to agriculture in order to provide a wage for the worker. I was pleased to hear him say this afternoon with regard to the Bill itself that it was not intended to limit the amount of work which could be done. I am hoping that far more money is coming from the Treasury if it is needed in order to put this industry upon a proper economic basis, and I am not thinking in terms of the money which the farmer needs simply to pay for his instruments. The most important instrument which the farmer needs is his labourer, and the first consideration is a reasonably decent wage for the labourer. After three years' ex- 144 perience as an agricultural labourer, I say that, given some measure of security, I know of no occupation which brings greater joy to the life of a man. The agricultural labourer is not leaving the land because he does not like the job; it is because he does not get the money. All the extra inducements we have given him so far have been an insult.
We have looked upon the agricultural labourer as a clodhopper. I have heard him described in that way on more than one occasion, and to-day it has been said that we want more than a clodhopper because the machinery has come on the land and it is necessary that he should drive a tractor. Believe me, some skill is necessary in driving a tractor, but there is not the skill necessary in driving a tractor that there is in driving two horses with a plough behind. We should not think in depreciatory terms of the men who work on the land. We are digging for victory, and the men who are doing the digging should be paid a reasonable wage. We ought to think of recompensing them for the services they are giving. I have also heard it said in the House that one way in which we should recompense them should be by providing them with smallholdings of their own. What strikes me is the idiocy of the idea. When a man has begun work, as I have on more than one occasion, at 4 o'clock in the morning and finished at 7 o'clock at night, digging somebody else's land, he does not want to start digging a piece of his own land just for a change. We must think in vastly different terms if we are going to do anything with this industry, and we must think in different terms than £5 an acre for reclamation of land. When I think of what has happened, not in the Fen country, which was referred to this afternoon, but along the Merseyside by Stockport, I remember the number of times that the river bank has come in and the land been put out of cultivation; I think of the men who have been eating out their hearts in the towns, drawing 27s. or 28s. dole, and who during the years that have been wasted could have been working the land so that now when we want it it would be there.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs this afternoon referred to the money which has been spent on the ammunition which is essential to-day, and he pointed out that when 145 peace arrives those shells will no longer be needed and they will become scrap, but he said the money which is put in the land will reap wheat out of the rushes. I would add that unless we learn the lesson of the past 20 years, in 20 years' time the rushes will again have replaced the wheat, and the only important thing will be the scrap iron to which he referred. Unless you pay the workers for working on the land, you will not have the workers. There are certain attractions in other industries, and it is easier to go into an urban area and earn twice as much money as on the land. It is only because of his love of the land that the farm labourer remains there. Give him something in the shape of reasonable security, and he will remain therefore good.
There are a million and a quarter unemployed. There are thousands of men who will be needed to reap the harvest next year. Thousands of men will be needed in the Springtime for the ploughing. Those men need training, and the majority of them can be trained now. The majority of them would be willing to be trained if there were some security at the end of the training, but you will not attract them if you leave things as they are at present, with a half promise from the Minister that the possibility of a national wage may be considered. Whatever you say about 2,000,000 acres, it is all dependent upon the worker. The farmer does not plough up much land, but the farm labourer is the man who day after day ploughs furrow after furrow.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I desire to support this Bill. The first reason I support the Bill is because since 1922 I have been in this House, and I have learned that it is wise to accept anything which the Government or the House offer to agriculture, although I am afraid it has not been very much. Let us remember, incidentally, that it is not this Government or past or possible Governments, but it is the House itself—the country—which has neglected agriculture, because all Governments do that which the country will let them do. It has been the country itself, and not the Government, which has neglected agriculture ever since what is termed the industrial era began. The second reason I support the Bill is that it is a necessity. In the first place, it is legalising action 146 which the Government have already taken—that is necessary—and in so far as it does it, it gives power for something which is still necessary to be done.
My greatest satisfaction is to hear speeches which I have heard in this House to-day. I have often heard it said that the Official Report is an expensive luxury. I believe that when the Official Report is printed to-day, with the report of the previous occasion when agriculture was discussed about 10 days ago, it will well repay the cost by the record of the speeches which are contained therein. I have one misgiving about that, and it is whether those speeches are speeches of individual Members, irrespective of any support which they would have received from the party which they represent. I think it would be advisable if the leaders of different parties were to make speeches occasionally with regard to agriculture and let us know what the parties themselves really think and are prepared to pledge themselves to do for agriculture, so that we do not have to rely on the admirable speeches which we hear from the individual Members who really feel for agriculture.
The words which caused me most concern to-day were the words of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill. He said that this is a war-time Measure. As we are at war, I suppose it is a wartime Measure, and perhaps he was merely stating a fact, but I want to make sure that he was not only stating a fact but issuing a warning. After all, why should we have war-time Measures for agriculture any different from peace-time Measures? The object is to produce as much as they can from the land at all times. I do not want the distinction between war-time Measures and peace-time Measures, because it is our duty to do all we can on our own land. The basis of agriculture for any country will be the question of prices and credit. That, of course, is not only so in agriculture, but in other industries as well. All industries must have a balance-sheet, and you have on the one side the result of prices and the result of credit; on the other, the cost of production. Unless you can make one side balance with the other, that, industry is not going to produce or flourish either in the interest of the industry or of the country itself. Consequently, the basis of legislation will have to be the basis of prices.
147 In the first part of the Bill—I do not wish to analyse it, because that has already been done by hon. Members—it legalises action which shall be taken with regard to the fixation of prices at shorter periods than the three years which is the usual period fixed. It purports to give a variation in prices to the producers under conditions which change from time to time. Prices must always relate to the cost of an article which is being produced. I desire to say a word with regard to labour. It has frequently been said that labour in agriculture has been underpaid. It has. The reason has been that there was not the capital in the industry with which to pay the labour. There are wages being paid—not that they are not being earned, but the money is not being produced in the industry—which have been fixed by the wages board because the majority of wages fixed by the wages board have been fixed by the independent members as a result of lack of agreement between the two parties. It has often been done with the quiet consent of the farmer because he has known that the men should have more money. There are some wages in some districts being paid to-day which are not being made in the industry. In the legislation which has been forecast by the right hon. Gentleman to-day I should like to see a fixation of the wage for the agricultural labourer—and at a reasonable level. But it must be related, in the Bill, to the products of the land and what the farmer is receiving. No promises in regard to agriculture are worth much unless they are put into a Bill—and very often they are not worth much then. I hope that the basis of any legislation in regard to agriculture will be the prices obtained by the industry, and the credit of the industry.
We have heard a great deal lately about the insufficient supply of stock foods for the industry. It is true that there has been a deficiency in supplies, but another aspect of the matter has been the mal-distribution of the supplies when they were there. There have been several reasons for this. One of them is that, although the supplies were in the hands of the dealer, he did not give them to the individual whose animals required them, because that individual's credit was not good. I do not know that I can altogether blame him for that. It is not the fault of the farmers that the industry has 148 not the necessary credit. It is the fault of the country, which, because of the way that it has treated agriculture for so long, has drained the industry of its credit. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) spoke on this question in connection with the cultivation of grassland. I quite agree with what he said about the value of manuring grassland; but the same kind of speech was made about 10 days ago by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans), and I interrupted him to ask where he had got the capital to enable him to carry out this improvement, and he admitted that he had lent it to himself. He was in a position to do that, but the ordinary farmer is not.
I regret that the Part of the Bill dealing with drainage does not go as far as it should. It relates only to that land which could not be dealt with by existing powers. This reference to 230,000 acres is a very grave admission of the lack of a sense of responsibility towards the land which has been shown in the past. That land ought not to be requiring drainage. Another matter which has been referred to in connection with drainage is the question of labour. I disagree with those hon. Members who say that drainage should be considered in relation to the numbers of men unemployed. Many of those unemployed men are not fitted to do drainage work, which is skilled work. Also a great deal of draining has to he done under conditions which render it unsuitable for many of the unemployed, unfortunately, because of their physical condition. So do not let us depend too much on the unemployed labour available. The hon. Member for Don Valley(Mr. T. Williams) also talked about drainage. Let me say that nobody appreciates more than I do the admirable speeches he makes on agriculture, but I could not help feeling, when he referred to some of the agitation from that side of the House for money for drainage purposes, that the object in the past was perhaps to drain land for housing estates rather than to drain it for agricultural purposes. I think it would be unwise to repeat what has been already said so much better than I could say it.
I would impress upon the Government that they must not assume that this Bill will do very much. We have been told that there is a certain amount of satisfaction with what has been done, and I 149 know that a great effort has been made, but I am sorry to say that the long frost has prevented a great deal of the land which is scheduled from actually being ploughed. The snow, which has not all gone by any means in the Midlands and the North—my house was not dug out until last Thursday, which perhaps some people may think was too soon—is going to make vast areas of our land waterlogged for many weeks. You cannot plough it at present, and after it has been ploughed it will not be in a workable condition to give the best results. In addition, there is less wheat in the ground to-day than there was last year, and spring wheat does not produce as much as the autumn wheat. There will be a lot of land which will not be cultivated to the best advantage next year simply because of the elements, over which nobody has any control.
Let the Government take this fact to heart. Agriculture is the first line of defence of this country, and if we can find money, as we do and ought to do, for other forms of defence, let us see to it that there is no holding back and no niggardly ideas with regard to the provisions necessary for agriculture to do its duty. We have been told that the amounts of money provided for in this Bill are only estimates, but I hope that what has been said from the Front Bench will be remembered when we get into Committee and deal with the various Amendments which may be put down. I hope that we shall not be told then that the financial estimate will prevent us from increasing the charges of the Bill. I am confident that the sums that have been put down are absolutely inadequate for the purpose.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
It is not often that I intervene in an agricultural Debate, but I think that in times like these, when one's point of view may be of interest to the House in considering the output of the agricultural industry, it is perhaps as well to put it forward. Where I reside a large piece of land has been sold by a big landowner and divided into plots. I understand that it was bought several years ago for the purpose of building sites, and because of that the owners have allowed it to go out of cultivation. There are plots of five, six and seven acres. Farmers have tried to obtain the 150 right to cultivate the land but they have been told that it may be taken from them at any time and used for building purposes. The land to which I refer is a building development area, but owing to the war all building has been stopped. This land has for several seasons been out of cultivation with the result that weeds are growing and it is causing great concern to other cultivated areas. We have tried to get the various parties interested to do something with the land but have so far failed.
I find on looking through this Bill that Clauses 22, 23 and 25 deal with this particular matter. They give power to the Minister to press the need of doing something with this kind of land. I ask that the Minister shall direct his attention to the matter. Instances similar to that which I am giving can no doubt be given by other Members from other parts of the country. I come from an industrial area. We never really interfere with agriculture because we have so much to do with industrial matters that we are content to leave agricultural questions to those who are interested in them. I claim to be an expert in mining, and I know that agriculturists would not interfere with mining, and therefore I never attempt to interfere with their work. But when we have an occasion like this and we can see that the use of land is not being attended to, we desire to press the fact upon the Minister, so that something may be done.
The Minister ought to ask the landowner whether he intends to do anything with the land, and, if he cannot get a definite assurance of some immediate work being done, the Minister ought to take it over on behalf of the State and make use of it. Anything that would help the national interest ought to be used by the State. Any one who listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) must have felt the time has come when some drive is necessary with regard to agriculture, and I am quoting an instance of where that drive is necessary in my own particular area. It is not very big perhaps, about 30 acres of land, but if such cases were multiplied over the whole of the country hon. Members would realise what it would mean. We are told we are short of foodstuffs. Why is something not being done with regard to such land as this? Why is it not cultivated? We require 151 every additional acre we can cultivate, and attention ought to be paid to the matter I have mentioned, and I hope that when the Minister rises to reply he will pay some attention to what I have said and give me an assurance that the matter will receive attention.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I hope the House will forgive me for referring briefly to a question which has already been touched upon earlier in the Debate, but I do so not to explain the subject better than it has been explained, but perhaps to ask the Minister a rather more specific question upon it than that asked by a previous speaker. There has been universal agreement by, I think, every speaker that the main interest of the Bill is to increase the productivity of the land, and to do it quickly. I believe that there is a very strong case for the view that, of all the single steps which may tend to that end, the one step which will be longest is not specifically provided for in the Bill, although I hope it is not excluded by the Bill. What I mean is—and I speak of my own part of the country which I know fairly well, but I believe the thing could be multiplied in almost every county in England—the lack of productivity in land which arises from the want of hard roads. If you go to North Cambridgeshire—the Fens, where there is the best land, I suppose, almost in England—or to West Cambridgeshire, where are the heavy clay lands, which are not so good but still might be good corn-producing land, you will find a very great deal of it abandoned and some of it is jungle with thorn feet high; and more of it in the last year has been abandoned, is being abandoned, and will be abandoned as time goes on unless various steps are taken.
I could more easily explain the point I want to make if I could show even a one-inch ordnance map. You would find that it is extraordinarily striking how few roads there are in the sense of public roads kept up by public authorities. There are soft roads. They are very wasteful because they are sometimes as much as 40 feet wide, and much more because very often the land, through this impracticability, cannot be worked for more than five months of the year, and the result is that most of it is not worked 152 up to more than half capacity. Light, hard roads could be economically provided for that purpose and the reason why it is not done is simple.
This country is a country of very small owners. In one parish, for instance, there are over 200 owners, each owning an average of about 20 acres, and it is hopeless in a parish like that to think of getting the thing done by private arrangement. At Soham in Cambridgeshire, where the county council owns land, it has been possible to get the thing done and the tenants have been glad to pay an extra 5s. per acre in return. Thus there is no question of economic or financial danger. I do not think there is any doubt that if the Minister will cross-examine county authorities, war agricultural committees or academic agricultural experts, he will get the same answer on all these points. I want to put the point specifically to the Minister— whether it is possible under the long Title of the Bill, and under the Financial Resolution, to put in an additional Clause to cover something of this kind? The Clause could be more or less on the basis of the drainage Clause, but be for roads rather than drainage. If we are told that this is too big an addition to be made by way of amendment to the Bill, I am prepared to be persuaded, but in that case can we have an assurance that this will be looked into and that some way will be found of acting quickly? If not, a whole year is going to be lost. I do not think there is any other single step which would help so much towards quickly increased production of food as that of providing hard roads in such places as I have described in Cambridgeshire, the Isle of Ely, Suffolk and, no doubt, other districts, scattered up and down the country.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Sir E. Shepperson
I have listened to most of the speeches to-night on this Bill, and the one thing that has struck me is that every speech was in support of it. The criticism made from many sides of the House was not against the Bill itself, but simply that it did not go far enough. But we have come, in agricultural matters, to accept the gifts that are given to us, and then, having got them, immediately to ask for more. Criticisms were made on this Bill by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He threw it on the Table, 153 but, here again, his criticism was not against the Bill, but simply that it was not strong enough, and did not gofer enough, to meet the urgencies of the present time. He was followed by a speech from the Lord Privy Seal, who told the House that this was not the only agricultural Bill that was to be introduced and that we may expect, as time goes on, other and stronger agricultural Bills. The House is, therefore, in the happy position to-day of knowing that when these other Measures are brought forward we shall have the unanimous support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the hon. Gentlemen who sit behind him.
I was very interested to listen to the speech made by the representative of the Liberal party with regard to the drying of grass and the cultivation of those crops that give us the greatest quantity of food products from the soil. We, as agriculturists, want to do our bit to the best of our ability and produce the essential food that the people want, but one of our difficulties is that we do not know what crops will produce the greatest quantity of food. We grow wheat and have a yield of four quarters per acre, which is not quite one ton of dry carbohydrated food. We grow crops of potatoes, yielding eight tons to the acre, and 50 per cent. is solid matter. There is still another crop—carrots. It is possible to grow 30 tons of carrots to the acre, yielding 40 per cent. or more of dry matter. Why are not these crops grown? Because there is no security. A man may grow 30 tons of carrots to the acre and make up to £100 per acre one year. The next year he has to plough the whole lot up.
What is the position to-day? Just recently an appeal was made on the assessment of Schedule D as to whether carrots and other crops should be considered market gardening crops, and it was held in the Appeal Court that they should. Thus a man who grows carrots, turnips and so on is going to be assessed under Schedule D and will have to pay on that assessment. I do suggest that many of us who are growing crops on our land would like some lead from the State as to what are the best crops to be grown. We will grow them if we are given security that there will be a market for them when they are grown.
154 Before I sit down I want to refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who made some criticism that the catchment boards in the past had not done their duty in seeing that the land in their areas was properly drained. The Land Drainage Act was brought before this House by Members of the Labour party and in it they put a limit of 2d. in the £ on the assessment of the upland areas; and if these catchment boards had carried out their drainage payments the limit would have been 2d. per acre and all the money would have had to be found by the internal districts within their area, who would not have benefited at all.
As an agriculturist I would like to support this Bill as far as it goes. I would like to see this industry placed in such a position that it can give a proper reward to all those concerned in it, not merely the farmer, but the labourer as well. I rather cross swords with an hon. Member who spoke a few minutes ago against smallholdings. I am a definite supporter of the smallholding principle. If men working their eight hours have a smallholding, it gives them an interest. They build it up, three or four acres at a time. I have known a man start as an agricultural labourer and take, three, five, 10, 20 acres, and that man is now farming 100 acres. It gives a stimulus to the agricultural worker and something for him to aim at, and that is what we want. I hope the Minister will have regard to all that has been said and at some future time bring forward another Measure, stronger than this and going further.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
I think the success of the Bill is entirely well earned. If the Government had been able to give a guarantee that they were prepared to provide more money than is stated in the Preamble, I am certain that a great deal of the opposition that has been shown would disappear. There is a certain amount of dangerous feeling among the farmers. The district from which I come is one which received the Minister of Agriculture, as he then was, at Lincoln, and was the cause of the Government reversing the whole of their system and deciding to give more attention to agriculture than they had proposed to do. I am not satisfied yet with the way agriculture 155 is being treated in the whole war system. It is not on equal terms with shells. I think the country as a whole expects that the agricultural side shall be treated equally with what is called generally the war production side. It has certainly not had that treatment yet. There are certain things for which the Government has been unfairly criticised; for instance, the drainage provisions. I have had a good deal of experience in drainage matters, and I think that on the whole Clause 14 of the Bill will work. But there are certain limitations which are unnecessary. It will work perfectly well without the £5 limitation. I do not think it makes much difference to a large area like the Trent or the Yorkshire House, which will get plenty of schemes, but the small areas may be stopped, and we do not want to stop anything in this war as far as agriculture is concerned. We want to get on with the job. I do not want any opportunities neglected.
The next thing that I want to deal with is the question of labour. It has not been mentioned from the point of view from which I should like to approach it. Labour on the land is going to be much more plentiful this year than it will be next. Therefore, the more that we can do with the labour that we have the better. Are we taking full advantage of the labour that is available? There are a great many soldiers in agricultural districts. Are they being employed on the land? I have not heard of it. There has been the greatest difficulty in getting men back to the farms when they have been called up. I have seen no indication that any Government Department is employing on the land men who have been called up as soldiers. Are they being encouraged to make their own allotments round antiaircraft and other sections? It all adds up. During the last war, when we were in Salonika, every unit was encouraged to grow its own vegetables, and the whole force was supplied with vegetables which the men themselves had grown. What is being done in this country now? One sees certain areas scheduled for anti-aircraft posts. No one is allowed to go there and nothing is done with the land. There is not enough drive in getting every bit of agricultural land used by the men who happen to be there. I should like to see these things attended to now when we have time to look around. We have had 156 a peaceful four months and may have two more. Let us get on with the things we know we can get on with.
I welcome the tremendous interest which is being taken for the first time by all sections of the community in agriculture. I speak with a full heart as one interested in the industry from the landlord's point of view as well as from that of production. If our time as landlords is over we feel that there must be someone ready to carry on. Perhaps we have been taxed out of existence. That is the country's job and the country have decided on it, but there may be losses which will have to be made up. Our capital was used in the last war. We have not got it now and the country has to provide it. The country is waking up to that fact. I am sorry because I think the landlord fulfilled quite a useful function, but for goodness sake while this change is going on do not let the land down or you will starve. It is up to you. I am not speaking from a party point of view, but during this transition stage from the landlord system to whatever else is coming I see all this derelict land not being used. It is up to hon. Members opposite to put something in the place of the landlord system, a thing which is not being done at the present time. There has been criticism of the Bill from all sides of the House, but criticism will play its part in our winning the war. In Germany, criticism is net allowed, but in this country free criticism by the Opposition and by Members of other parties is of tremendous advantage. I shall continue not only to criticise the Government when I feel that criticism is necessary, but also to support them.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Ritson
The hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) sang a very sweet swan song, but I can assure him that he is wrong in his view about hon. Members on this side, for many of us, even though connected with mining, have an interest in the land. I often think that anything I have in the way of a soul comes from the land. The more we can interest people in the land, the better it will be for us. My father was a farm labourer in his early life, and I have done some of that sort of work myself; and I can assure hon. Members that what is driving men from the land is the absence of amenities in 157 the villages. However much interest a man may take in his work, there are times when he wants recreation. When I was a young man, the men on the land started work at 4 o'clock in the morning and went on until 10 o'clock at night, and obviously, when they had an opportunity of getting 10s. or 20s. a week more in the pits, they took that opportunity. The farm workers were half-starved, and they came from Norfolk in shoals to the North of England. They were hated like poison by the men in the North because they were willing to accept lower wages than the miners of the North, having been accustomed to only 12s. a week in Norfolk and Suffolk. Eventually they made wonderful miners. They were driven from their villages in Norfolk by poverty and the lack of amenities. I say that every encouragement should be given to the provision of more amenities in the villages. I have always felt that the great rivers of industry would be putrid if it were not for the sweetness they get from the people bred in the hills and the high regions.
What I am amazed at is that satisfaction has been expressed with this Bill. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is able to imagine things which very few men can imagine. He has in this House described the sun rising in the morning and the moon rising over the hills until he has had hon. Members lost with his wonderful imagery; but he is right when he says that this Bill will be nouse until the land on which the food is to be grown has been prepared. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) knows, as I do, that there are thousands of acres in his area which are absolutely waterlogged and useless. There is in that area some wonderfully productive land which grows the best wheat and barley I have ever seen, but close to it there are thousands of acres of the same land so waterlogged that it will hardly carry three sheep to the acre. That is what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had in mind when he said that we must get on with the draining. If we are to dig for victory, the best thing we can do first is to get the corruption out of the land by draining it.
It has been suggested that the unemployed ought to dig the land. I say, give them the opportunity. Recently, 158 some hon. Members went to see some marvellous machinery for digging trenches and drains at a speed which staggered one. The proper thing to do is to bring that machinery into operation and to get the land drained as quickly as possible. Coming from the North of England in an express train, at the back end of the season, one hardly knows whether one is on land or sea; below Peterborough one sees mile after mile of water without seeing any land. Ever since I came to the House I have pleaded for drainage of the land; since 1922, I have pleaded for the land and the people of the land. It is far better to spend the money in growing food on our own land than unnecessarily to risk the lives of our brave sailors in bringing the food to us. It would pay us to spend millions of pounds on our land; it does not matter who gets the benefit from it, so long as the nation does.
I do not always agree with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I remember that during the last war he made a speech in the Kingsway Hall which thrilled me as I listened to it, but when I came away from the hall I was as starved as ever for all that I had got from the speech. He told us that we were the finest fighters in the world, but a year or two afterwards, he told us that if we wanted more money, it would mean that the frost would be in the panes of the windows and everybody would be starving. On that occasion his own countrymen had promised us that they would howl him down, but after his eloquence they did not—they sang "Land of our Fathers." Then the Scotsmen began to sing "Scots wha ha'e," and the Irishmen sang something else—but the poor English had neither land nor fathers. But the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was right when he said that agriculture is the most important part of the defence of this country. He may have exaggerated a little, but I would rather that we should be stirred by a little exaggeration than that we should go to sleep—as even hon. Members opposite, who profess to look after the interests of agriculture, have done for many years. Germany is going to be fed. I believe Germany and Russia are working together in a great military combine. Whatever happens, we must secure our food supplies. It is no good arguing 159 about this Bill, and whether it is sufficient or not. I agree with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that if we are to have a Bill, then we should spend all we can because it is in our interests to have food supplies and to keep up the morale of our people by giving them the knowledge that there are those supplies. Our people are willing to do anything in order that we may come through this crisis. I hope, therefore, that we shall have no differences of opinion on this subject and that the British Government will make agriculture its first line of defence in the ensuing months, irrespective of the cost.
§ 9.30 p.m.
I am glad of the opportunity of intervening in this Debate, because I regard the condition of the agricultural industry as of paramount importance in our war effort. I wish to deal with this problem to-night from the war angle. The Government are fully aware of the fact that we have 6,000,000 tons of shipping less than we had at the start of the last war. They are also fully aware that we have 5,000,000 more people to feed in this country and, finally, that we have 4,000,000 acres less under cultivation to-day to carry that food burden. Those facts make it of the utmost importance that we should make the very best use of what we have. It is no good thinking of what may happen in two years' time. We want this food now. We want it urgently. The very fact that we have been so short of animal feeding-stuffs during the last two months must have been a danger signal to everybody who has been looking closely at the agricultural industry and I wonder whether the Government's approach to this problem has been on the best and soundest lines.
I wish to add my regrets to those which have been expressed by other speakers at the fact that the Minister of Agriculture is not with us to-night. My right hon. and gallant Friend always presents agricultural Measures in a manner which makes them easily comprehensible by all who listen to him. But I wonder whether it was necessary to bring in a small Measure of this sort at this time. This is not a big Measure. It does nothing in a big way to help the country's war effort. It merely stabilises the prices of 160 various commodities at a reasonable level and goes on to deal with land drainage and ploughing-up. I should have thought that the Government at a time like the present would have said to the agricultural industry, "You are an essential part of the national fighting forces during war-time. You have a part to play in this struggle as important as that of any other section of the fighting Forces. What can you do for us?" I should have thought that the first step would have been to have made a thorough census of our agricultural production, to have worked out careful estimates, and to have said to every farmer, "What can you do to improve the present position? Do you need capital, do you need labour? If so, we of the central agricultural control will supply you with those essentials in order to build up production to the maximum. Further, we will take every speculative risk out of the operation which you are about to perform." I think that would be essential to getting the country on to a sound and improved level of production, as quickly as possible.
I believe that all the farmers of the country want to play their full part in our war effort. They realise how important it is that every ounce of food which we can produce should be produced at home. But many of them have not the wherewithal to achieve the necessary expansion. Many of them have been confused by the dual control which has been imposed upon them. They see that while on the productive side they have a certain amount of freedom, on the distributive side they are controlled until they do not know which way to turn. I am certain that there will have to be some clearing-up on this point before we can get the ordinary farmers to understand how they can best operate at this time to the national good. I am not going to say that I disagree with the Minister of Food being the sole buyer of food. It may be, in war-time, possible to do something to secure a greater national effort in that direction, but when the Minister of Food interferes with the actual producing end—and I regard it as the producing end until the goods are in the market—I think he is over-stepping his duties, treading on the toes of the Minister of Agriculture, and not helping very much towards that stability and confidence which it is necessary the industry should have.
161 It is a good thing that the problem of land drainage has been tackled, but I would suggest to the Government that they cannot rely merely on arterial drainage and mole drainage. There must be tile drainage in some form. Mole drainage does not collect any water which can be reserved for stocks, whereas out of tile drainage one can depend on having a reasonable amount of water. Tile drainage is a permanent investment, and if the Government are going to make any contribution, surely it is best that they should make a substantial contribution towards drainage and give to the farmers a proper system which will last for some years. Mole drainage, I think, only lasts for three or four years, and, sometimes, not even as long as that if there happen to be unfavourable weather conditions.
Serious consideration should be given to an extension of this Measure so that we can have tile drainage at the same time. The figure of £5 is entirely fictitious Where the estimate came from I cannot imagine. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, it would be somewhere about £15 per acre and not £5 per acre if any substantial work is to be done. I have some experience and knowledge of drainage, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that the figure is one into which I would ask the Government to look most carefully, because if we are going to do a job, let us do it so that it makes a substantial contribution. If we can get these drainage schemes into operation, they will make a great difference to the productive capacity of large areas of land. The fact that they have been so neglected has made some of the land, which at the present time is supposed to be fairly productive, less productive, because of its waterlogged condition at certain times in the year. It is going to be of real help, and I should like that figure to be looked into, because if we come to the Committee stage I should not like to find that we are ruled out of a discussion of it because of the Financial Resolution. The whole scope of drainage is too small. I am glad to learn from my right hon. Friend this afternoon that these figures are merely estimates and not hard and fast figures within which this scheme has to be dealt with. There can be an extension under those conditions if it is found necessary. I hope that the maximum amount of work 162 will be done with the money available and that, if more is required, it will be forthcoming. In war time we have to forget the ordinary economics of agriculture and to go all out for everything we can do to get the maximum production carried through.
Reference has been made to the position of labour on the land. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) said he felt there was more labour on the land this year than there would be next year. I hope there will be a great increase in the number of agricultural workers. Unless we get more people on the land, it will be impossible to deal with any serious increase in food production. We have lost so many men for various reasons, and so few have returned, that it is necessary for something to be done, either to use the available labour to better advantage or to get more people to learn the industry. I wonder whether the Minister of Agriculture has considered the grouping of farms or areas in order to get the maximum out of the knowledge that there may be in a particular area, and whether the county agricultural committees have taken steps to supplement labour on farms where it is short. For instance, there are some farms in my constituency which are on the top of the Yorkshire Wolds, where men have left and it is practically impossible to get anybody to go back. Some efforts will have to be made because the land there can be productive, but, because of the shortage of labour, it is not being used to the best advantage, and with little expenditure it can be brought back into a state of reasonable cultivation. There ought to be some effort to train more men to go on the land. The land girls who are being trained may serve a useful purpose on specialised farms, but on the ordinary mixed farm they are not an unqualified success. I suggest that if there are men who are willing to go on the land, they should be mobilised and given a measure of training. If farms were used as training schools and farmers were given one or two men to train at Government expense, it would make some contribution towards getting a larger supply of labour.
Frankly, I am far from happy about the farming situation as I see it. I have seen the difficulties through which the Government have had to go and the disappointments they have had to experi- 163 ence. I know what the country will expect of the farmers this year, and I beg the Government, in all the measures that they are putting forward, to err on the generous side rather than on the near side. If the Government give farmers a chance, I believe they will serve the nation well. Having once got the industry back into a strong position, we ought to take note of what has happened before and determine never to let it get into the deplorable state in which it was a few months ago. The industry is alive to its responsibilities. It remains for the Government to tell it positively what they want from it. I say "positively," because there is no specific order to the industry at the moment. The Government have regulated prices in one or two directions, but they have given no specific order. If they will try and visualise the quantities they expect from the industry and tell it what to do, twill make a real effort to respond if the orders are reasonably possible.
I can assure the House from my knowledge of a great many agricultural constituencies, particularly arable constituencies, that farmers are prepared to do everything possible to ensure that the maximum amount of food is grown if only they can obtain the necessary raw materials, only get hold of sufficient labour to carry out the big programme. In my own constituency, I am pleased to say, we have ploughed up practically the whole area of land which the Minister asked us to plough. We were rather fortunate with our ploughing, getting it done earlier, I think, on account of the help that was given to us. We want to do everything we can to make the effort of agriculturists a real one. While we have a member of the Cabinet here, may I ask that he should really insist on no more men being taken from the land for any of the Services? We have lost a large number, and it is quite impossible to train others in a few months. Those who have gone have been mainly those who can drive a tractor and do the threshing; really the key men of the farms, the handymen. I hope that no further inroad will be made on that side of our labour force. This Measure, though it is not a big one, does clear up a lot of matters that were indefinite before, and I believe the land drainage proposals will be extremely valuable, and 164 I therefore desire to give my support to the Bill.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker
When the Lord Privy Seal was replying to the devastating attack of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) he stated that this Bill did not represent the whole war-time agricultural policy of the Government. When he was pressed to say what other proposals the Government intended to bring forward, he mentioned that a Bill would have to be brought in to deal with wages, but he did not specify any other matter. Can the Minister who replies for the Government give us any further information about what other proposals the Government intend to submit later to deal with our agricultural problems during the war? It seems that this Bill just picks up odds and ends of different things which the Government have so far forgotten to subsidise; it also makes suggestions about improving the drainage system, without, however, giving the Minister of Agriculture the really necessary powers to make the drainage system effective.
It is important that we should ask ourselves whether we are getting our money's worth for the different subsidies which are being paid, whether they are actually getting for us what we want the land to produce. Both before the war and since the Government have had an agricultural policy which is intended to guarantee the farmers a profit upon everything they sell. That will mean, in practice, that if the average-to-bad farmers are kept in business, as they will have to be during the war, the rather better farmers will make very big profits, especially the very large farmers. I remember that in 1931, in the Spalding and Boston district, which has some of the most fertile land in the country, I was informed on good authority that over 90 big farmers there were paying Super-tax right in the middle of the slump. I think many hon. Members on this side would like to know how big farmers in areas like that are doing now out of the present subsidies, and whether the country as a whole is getting a full return from those subsidies. For it should be remembered that, at the present time, farmers are not assessed for Income Tax on the same basis as other people. The suggestion that I therefore throw out to the Chancellor of 165 the Exchequer is that he should abolish the Income Tax Schedule B, and demand ordinary returns of income and expenditure from farmers under Schedule D, in the same way as from other people in business. That should be worth doing at the present time.
Another feature of the Government's policy which I should like looked into at the present time also relates to subsidies. The nation is not getting a full return for these subsidies, the effect of which is steadily driving up rents. There is very keen competition at the present time for farms, and when a farm comes into the market it commands a higher rent than was paid before. It was with very great interest that I learnt that the managers of the estates of the different Oxford and Cambridge colleges recently bought agricultural land when they had a chance of doing so, and that they thought they had done well out of it. The present subsidy policy has put money into the pockets of the landowners without demanding from those landowners any extra services. The Bill is part of the policy of getting extra services both for farmers and landowners, but in many cases those nominally given to farmers will be passed on to the landowners. On this side of the House we should not mind the Government policy so much if the State were the landowner and the value of the subsidy were passed to the State.
We do not like a continuation of the policy of driving up rents. This policy already had unfortunate results in many directions before the war. It had made it more difficult for the London County Council and other local authorities to buy agricultural land for the Green Belt and projects of that kind, and it has created difficulties for the Forestry Commission in the matter of buying land. This policy of subsidies has meant Government competition with a body also subsidised by the Government—the Forestry Commission. It should be remembered that the existence of that body has been a very real boon to landowners in this country, particularly during the agricultural slump of 1931, because it put a bottom to land prices, especially to the prices of marginal land. While we are overhauling our agricultural system we should consider the question of land nationalisation, and, if it is difficult to pass the necessary legislation during war- 166 time, the Government should make a definite statement that when the war is over they will introduce legislation to take over land, on the basis of the last pre-war Schedule A valuation. That would check during the war a rise such as is now taking place in the value of land.
I would turn to the question of land drainage, and I would remind the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that in the Labour party we have taken a very steady interest in the matter. In the past, land drainage was very largely a landlords' service to farmers in return for rent. The provisions in the Bill in regard to land drainage seem totally inadequate, because they do not seem to mean business. I do not think that all of us could follow the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in all the details of the acreage he mentioned as requiring drainage, but I think the figure is very much larger than representatives of the Government have stated. Definite action requires to be taken in this matter. Some catchment boards have attempted to do their work, but others certainly have not.
The right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, on this question of land drainage, said that this Bill is intended to be "a machinery Bill." I think the machinery provided is very bad machinery indeed. I will give an account of a particular case with regard to the failure of a certain catchment board, and it shows how the catchment board did not do its job and why. I will take the case of the East Suffolk Rivers Catchment Board, a board which covers different tidal rivers running out on the East coast along the coast of Suffolk. Some of these rivers are 10 or a dozen miles long. They run through a good deal of land which has been regained in the past and protected by dykes against the sea. Off the River Deben there is the Martlesham creek. In February, 1939, there was a break there because the dyke had not been kept in proper repair, and the sea broke through and flooded about 35 acres. I saw the land in April last year, and I saw that trees and the grass were dead. I put a Question down; and on 1st May I asked whether nothing was to be done to bring the land back into cultivation. The answer which was given to me ended up with these words, "that the local catchment board had decided to proceed with this part of the scheme for repairing the dykes in the area 167 immediately." Nothing has been done since, and the excuse is that the fanner took legal proceedings against the catchment board, of which I will say more later.
The Question having been put down, farmers near the Butley creek further up the coast in the same catchment board area wrote to me and gave me facts about a sluice there which was particularly in need of repair, where the tide was coming in and destroying the herbage. They told rather an amazing story. They said that two years previously the sluice got into bad repair, and the water came in; the farmers in the neighbourhood approached the catchment board and asked them to make the necessary repairs. The catchment board refused to do so. The farmers and landowners said they would do the necessary repairs themselves, and they started to do so. The board officials turned them away, and refused to allow them to carry out repairs, saying that the board was carrying out a comprehensive scheme for all their area, and hoped to get a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture at a later stage, and that, therefore, the preliminary repairs were unnecessary. Nothing was done, and things got worse.
I put a Question down on 22nd May last year. The latter part of the answer stated that a new scheme had been drawn up to repair the sluices of all the rivers and dykes in that area and that a grant was being given. The Minister understood that "The work would begin on the Butley Creek sluices during the current year." Nothing was done last year. In the Autumn I received information that things had got worse. On 3rd October I put down another Question to the Minister, who replied:I am aware that the Utley Sluice is in urgent need of attention, and I am informed that the East Suffolk Rivers Catchment Board, after carefully considering the best course, have decided to rebuild the sluice, and are making arrangements for the work to be undertaken as quickly as present conditions permit."—[Official Report, 3rd October, 1939; cols. 1820–21, Vol. 351.]Still nothing was done. I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture, who replied on 14th December thatthe progress of the work is largely subject to weather conditions, and, as the opportunity of carrying it out in late summer or early autumn was unfortunately missed, it is now hardly possible for it to be completed unless very favourable conditions occur, before the 168 end of March. The most that my Department can do is to keep an eye on the progress of the work so as to ensure that the board get on with it as quickly as possible.The local farmers laughed at that, because they said that in that area, whether the water is high or low depends on whether the tides are neap tides or not. Unfortunately the tides happened to be high about the New Year. On 2nd January I received this telegram from one of the local farmers:Butley sluice gate has gone. Whole district under water. What do we do now?They got into touch with the Minister of Agriculture. He could do nothing. Three hundred acres of good land which might have produced food were flooded. Now, I understand, some temporary dam has been put up by the local farmers themselves. They forced the board to allow them to do it. It is hoped that new gates will be delivered, and the sluices finally repaired. The Minister's secretary, writing to one of the local farmers, said:You will appreciate that the Minister has no power to carry out the work himselfThere the matter rests. It is a long story of delay on the part of the board, despite pressure from the Ministry and an offer of a grant for a comprehensive drainage scheme.
To be fair, one must agree that there were difficulties in the matter. There was a legal action, which involved the board in regard to the earlier break. The board lost that action, and it went to appeal. While the matter was pending, the board did not think they could do anything, because they took the view that if they made even preliminary attempts to repair the Butley sluice and there was a break through, they would have to bear the responsibility for the damage, but if they did not do that work, there was some doubt whether they would have to bear that responsibility. When the Martlesham appeal came on, Lord Justice MacKinnon said:I have never heard of a public authority so utterly supine as this board. They have no organisation and no system of any sort or kind.Now, I understand, another sluice is likely to break further up the coast, at Benacre, near Beccles. Will this Bill deal with that kind of problem? I do not think it will unless you have a Minister with overriding powers, compelling a board of that kind to carry out repairs—with the help of large grants that it may 169 receive. Otherwise, you will have similar stories all over the country. This may be a rather extreme case, but it is an absolute scandal that such a sequence of events should have been possible.
We on this side feel that this is a very small Bill indeed. We believe that the country and the House of Commons want to see really strong steps taken to put agriculture on a firm basis, to see that we make the ploughing-up campaign a success and get the food that we want produced. I think that this House will support the Government in any step which they take to carry out that policy. This House of Commons demands that the Government shall be prepared, when the Bill goes into Committee, to allow it to be remodelled, so that it may become an effective Bill.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ The First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Ramsbotham)
I think I may preface my observations on this Bill with the formula, "I have been asked to reply." May I point out that my selection to respond is to a great extent a legacy from an agricultural past which I have been unable to live down? Before I proceed to do what I can to deal with points of detail which have been raised, I think it would be discourteous if I did not make some reference to the very powerful speech which we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). His criticism undoubtedly impressed the House. It is only right that in dealing with his criticism—in dealing with any criticism—one should consider to some extent the critic's qualifications and his previous record. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here to listen to the few remarks I am going to make on that subject. He delivered a very heavy bombardment on my colleagues, with verbal shells of very high calibre. I am going to try the effect of one or two 18-pounders upon his trench, which he has vacated.
I felt when I was listening to the right hon. Gentleman that his main bombardment fell upon my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it occurred to me at the time that the right hon. Gentleman himself was Chancellor of the Exchequer in a period analagous to this, namely, the period leading up to the Great War of 1914. I fail to remember any steps which were taken by 170 the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time to do anything whatever to assist the cause of agriculture. If we are to believe the cartoonist of the period, the sole contribution that he made was to protect the mangold-wurzel against the depredations of the pheasant. There was no Wheat Act then. It would have been a Godsend to the country if there had been. There has been a Wheat Act since. I went to the trouble this morning to find out what steps the right hon. Gentleman took to facilitate the progress of the Wheat Act. He didn't vote, though he sent two-thirds of the party at his command to vote against it.
There was no Beet Sugar Industry Act before the Great War. The result was that this country had to spend colossal sums on the importation of sugar both during and after the war, to our very great financial and economic loss. Subsequently that was remedied. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman much credit for the support he gave to the sugar industry. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs didn't give any assistance at all in providing this country with a reserve of sugar, when he of all men must have known during the last war how seriously we felt the shortage of that commodity. He did not vote on the Second Reading of the Bill, though he sent, I believe, one of the three battalions under his command to vote against it. Did he help my right hon. Friend in his Agriculture Act to encourage the use of fertilisers? I cannot recollect that he did. I am not sure what action he actually took on the Land Drainage Act, but, looking over the period since the war, and in spite of the lesson to be learnt, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman now, if he were here, to point to any definite assistance he has given to a Conservative Government to pass-through Measures for the protection and help of agriculture?
I think that in some ways a certain misunderstanding as regards the purport of this Bill has been present during our whole proceedings. I would make perfectly clear that the Bill makes no attempt, and does not intend to make an attempt, to lay down Government policy in regard to agriculture. The House will realise that prior to the outbreak of war, for a long time, there has been a great and a growing volume of agricul- 171 tural Measures designed to help agriculture. As a result of the outbreak of war, it became necessary to make various modifications and adjustments in the machinery of peace-time Measures to fit them into the war-time machine. That is the main object which this Bill sets forth to attain and to adjust peace-time machinery to war-time conditions. If any hon. Member has the impression that it is meant to be a major agricultural Bill setting forth some great agricultural policy. I hope that he will disabuse his mind of that forthwith. The Government's powers in regard to agriculture are at present contained in the Defence Regulations.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
Having, I hope, made that clear, I would like to turn to what has occupied the main part of our attention to-day—drainage. May I explain the position in this way? The present situation as regards our drainage organisation is something as follows: You have big catchment boards whose main province is the arterial drainage of the larger rivers. They cover millions of acres. Then you have the smaller drainage boards, county councils, and, in certain cases, county boroughs. They, in their turn, are not concerned with arterial drainage but with the smaller watercourses leading up to and including ditches. I believe—and I am speaking from memory—that since the Act of 1930 an expenditure of something like £13,000,000 has been approved in connection with the work of the catchment boards and, naturally, a considerably smaller sum in connection with the work of the internal drainage boards, county councils and so forth. From the speeches made this afternoon, and particularly from that made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, one would have gathered the impression that there had been no expenditure on work of drainage in this country since the last war. In point of fact, millions of acres have been drained, and where on earth he got the figures of 3,500,000 acres of land under the jurisdiction of the catchment boards, 172 undrained, and another 3,500,000 under the smaller drainage boards, also undrained, making a total of 7,000,000 in all, I cannot imagine.
§ Mr. Loftus
May I interrupt? I gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that the 7,000,000 acres were fields requiring field drainage.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
Just as I thought. Here is a paragraph which I will read from the report of the 1927 Commission on Land Drainage:It is estimated by the drainage engineers of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries that the productive value of no less than 4,362,000 acres of land in England and Wales or approximately one-seventh of the total area of land now used for agricultural purposes is dependent for its fertility on arterial drainage. Of this total 2,892,000 acres are situate in existing drainage areas, while the balance of 1,470,000 acres is outside any drainage district. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has stated, moreover, that at least 1,755,000 acres of land are in immediate need of drainage and of this area only 285,000 acres are within existing drainage districts.This was the figure in 1927, and I find it difficult to reconcile it with the figures which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs gave. Since 1927 there has been a great deal of expenditure, and the amount of land requiring to be drained has obviously greatly diminished.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
May I ask whether a figure I also gave is correct? It came from a Cambridge source and was that 25 per cent. of our heavy arable land still requires drainage. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what land now requires draining?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I doubt if there is such a figure available. What I am saying is that the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman, as far as I understand them, have no relation to the figures given by the Royal Commission. The Secretary of State pointed out that the schemes had worked well, the big catchment boards had done their work, and the internal drainage boards, with some exceptions, have done and are doing their work, but for reasons for which we need not attribute any blame, some county councils 173 and county boroughs have not found it possible to carry out their work in the same way that the drainage boards have been able to do. There have been preoccupations due to the war, air-raid precaution services, loss of staff from calling up, and so on. The point of these drainage provisions in the Bill is to close that gap, the work that the county councils and county boroughs have not been able to do as completely as we should like. When reference is made to the comparatively small total in the explanatory Memorandum, to some extent that is accounted for by the fact that the gap itself which we are going to close is not of very large extent. At the same time, as the Lord Privy Seal pointed out, there is nothing sacrosanct about this figure. If the gap is larger than anticipated, it will be filled. There will be no difficulty about that.
Another point that arose in the same connection was the £5 limit in Clause 14. The Lord Privy Seal has made it crystal clear that that was an average figure. If a drainage scheme was set on foot covering, say, 500 acres, that could attract an expenditure of £2,500. That does not mean that you have to take meticulous care that you do not go beyond £5 on any single acre. Some will require the maximum expenditure of £15. There is ample provision for dealing with the area in the way required. The £5 limit is the figure in Section 52 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, and I am given to understand that the chairman of one of the largest catchment boards was consulted, and he is satisfied that it is adequate for the purpose. It is obvious that you can expend £10 or £15 on some portions and economise on others which do not require the same expenditure.
Mr. De la Bère
I am not quite happy even now. You cannot just say it is an average figure. I still think it is a maximum. You may be able to say you can spend £4 in one place and £6 in another, but it is a maximum figure, or it would not be put in. I do not think my right hon. Friend has proved either his case or the case of the Lord Privy Seal. All he has proved is the rotten, niggardly desire of the Government to prevent the thing being properly done.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I seem to have been singularly unsuccessful in conveying my meaning to my hon. Friend. If an 174 authority is making a scheme which involves a certain acreage, within the limit of £5 per acre there will be ample resources for dealing with the more difficult portions of the area, because certain portions will not require so much money to be spent on them. The amount seems to me to be a common-sense one.
§ Mr. T. Williams
It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman has explained, that in a scheme covering 10,100 or 500 acres, some part of the scheme may cost much less than another part, but that in no way disturbs the central fact that the maximum cost in carrying out a scheme is not to exceed an amount equal to£5 for each acre of the land. No sort of explanation will dispose of the central fact that £5 is the maximum. Whether it is the right amount, whether it is too high or too low, I am not prepared to argue, but the Bill, as it stands, provides for a maximum of £5 for each acre within the scheme.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I have already pointed out that this provision is taken from the 1930 Act, which worked perfectly well, and of which I believe the hon. Gentleman is very proud.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
If the words in the Bill do not carry out what I have said, the Bill will have to be altered in Committee. As far as I can see, if you have an area of 100 acres and £500 is to be spent on it, and if on various portions of land £10 or £15 an acre is spent and on other portions £2 or £3, so that for the whole 100 acres the sum is not more than £5 per acre, the words of the Act will be carried out. The cost of the scheme mustn't exceed £5 for each acre of the land taken as a whole.
§ Sir E. Shepperson
It may interest my right hon. Friend to know that in a drainage district with which I am concerned, the whole of the drains were dredged with a mechanical dredger and a new draining pump was installed. The area was 2,000 acres, and the total cost £3,000—that is to say, 30s. per acre.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for that illustration. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) raised another 175 point on this Clause. He seemed to be troubled by the phrase:
not within any drainage district other than a catchment area.As I have pointed out, this Bill is an extension of the 1937 Act, and the purpose of the Bill is to enable catchment boards, which at present have no powers of that kind, to fill up the gap about which I have spoken, and to carry out the work in the areas of county councils and county boroughs, where at present it is not being done to entire satisfaction. The hon.Gentleman was right in saying that the 1937 Act will expire at the end of July. I think I am right in saying that it has already been announced—at any rate it will be announced—that the Minister of Agriculture proposes to make an Order extending the Act to the following year.
The hon. Gentleman also asked what would happen if a catchment board refused to carry out its duties. Under the Land Drainage Act, with which the hon. Gentleman was associated, there are default powers, but one does not wish to use default powers and, in a serious matter of this kind and at a time like the present, it is not to be assumed that responsible authorities will refuse to carry out the work. In any event the Bill provides that if a catchment board refused to carry out the work, the board of an adjoining catchment area could do so and I think it would be absurd to suppose that a responsible authority would play such a "dog in the manger"part as to refuse to allow anyone else to carry out the work, if they did not wish to do it themselves. I do not think the danger anticipated by the hon. Gentleman is likely to arise.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree, however, that the point which I raised is a real one. While one does not assume that catchment boards will refuse to comply with the request of the war executive, would it not be safe—without any reflection on the catchment boards and particularly those who have done their work so very well—to take default powers now while you have the Bill here?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
Will my right hon. Friend also consider the case of catchment boards which are already overdrawn at the bank? There is no power 176 in the Bill to advance them money for the work which they are required to undertake. My right hon. Friend probably knows one or two cases such as I have in mind, of boards which, however willing, will find difficulty in carrying out the work required by the Government.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
My hon. and gallant Friend overlooks the fact that the catchment board will get a grant.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
If the catchment board is to get a grant from the Government, and if the balance is to be made up by the landowner I cannot see any difficulty arising in the way of temporary finance. If there is any difficulty of that kind, I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will draw attention to it. The hon. Gentleman opposite asked me whether we could not take default powers to deal with such a situation as he imagined. As I have said, there are default powers, but I do not minimise the point which he made, and, clearly, there is no reason why, if that position arose, the matter should not be considered.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Captain Briscoe) raised several interesting and important points. He asked, would any approved work of drainage be held up for lack of finance? I think that point has already been answered by what I have said regarding estimates for expenditure in the Memorandum. Clearly, the hope is that the work will be very extensive and that there will be no backwardness in coming forward to execute it. He also raised a point, which was mentioned, too, by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) in regard to the soft roads in various parts of the Fens area. That is a matter which has long occupied the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and he is very well aware of the difficulty created by that position. I cannot say, for certain, whether such a matter can be dealt with in the ambit of the Bill and whether it would be in order to do so, but I assure him that I will once more draw my right hon. and gallant Friend's attention to it and ask him whether practical steps can be taken to deal promptly with the situation.
177 The hon. Member also raised a question in regard to mole drainage, which, he said, must not be held up because of lack of equipment. There again I will draw the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend to that exhortation. I agree that it would be deplorable if drainage of that kind required the necessary equipment, and it was not forthcoming.
The hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) raised the question of the use to which rye could be put. The bulk of the rye at present grown in Great Britain is used for feeding stock. The additional acres which we hope will be grown on light land where it is most suitable would also provide livestock feeding, but it could if necessary be used for milling or human consumption. No question has been considered of using it for whisky. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) wanted to know whether catchment boards under the Bill would have power to act where the county council did not do it under the 1930 Act. The answer is "Yes." The consent is required where the board proposed to function outside their own area.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), whose intervention on agriculture is always appreciated, raised a point regarding certain plots of building land presumably covered in rough grass, and wanted to know what could be done with them. The county executive already have power to deal with plots of that kind, and if the hon. Member has any in mind and cares to let my right hon. and gallant Friend have the location, the matter will be looked into. I think those are the main points which have been raised during the Debate, with the exception of the question of tile drainage. It is asked whether in encouraging mole drainage tile drainage could be encouraged as well. The answer is that mole drainage is particularly necessary for heavy land, and indeed it is the only possible way for heavy land. It is the heavy land which we shall find requires most attention in our scheme. The mole drainage is not only comparatively cheaper but it is quicker and does not require much labour. I doubt whether it would be possible to get a good scheme of tile drainage in anything like reasonable time. If it was possible to get it, I do not think one could get the labour. The expenditure might well be £15 per 178 acre, which, with the 50 per cent. would cost £7 10s. per acre. That would impose a very heavy burden for a great majority of farmers.
In parts of Lincolnshire there is a good deal of heavy land where tile drainage is required because the heavy clay underneath often has a fault, and, consequently, the mole drainage is insufficient. The land with which I am mostly acquainted can be drained for £4 or £5 an acre, and if something can be done for the individual farmers who would be willing to put up most of the cost, it would be greatly appreciated.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I do not want to make any general rule as to the kind of land for which a particular form of drainage is suitable. I think we shall have to think of mole drainage on heavy land and in present circumstances tile drainage on light land, although, of course, tile drainage is and has always been essential on most heavy land.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of the extent to which mole drainage is going on and on what sort of acreage?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
The only estimate is that contained in the explanatory Memorandum on page 3. I cannot give any other estimate.
I have done my best to deal with the points that have arisen in the Debate. I would like to impress on the House in their reflection on the Bill what I said just now, that it is not intended for the purpose of being a long-term Agriculture Bill. There is, to use the words of the hon. Gentleman opposite, no fundamental change in agriculture made by the Bill. It is not explosive and it is not a long-sighted vision. It is a practical attempt to bring a great deal of our peace-time legislation into relation with our war-time legislation, and to carry out what we think will be very useful and much-needed reforms.
§ 10.36 p.m.
Mr. De la Bère
I want to say a few words on the financial aspect of this Bill because in Clause 24 there is provision for the hire-purchase of implements but no attempt to deal with credits for the purchase of livestock, which are very essential. They are vital, as a great many other things not included in the Bill are. When I heard my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal telling us that agricul- 179 ture was running through his mind, I wondered how much it was really running through his mind. I wondered how much better off we should be even if it were running through his mind. I am bound to speak like this, because I do not think we should be any better-off after it has run through the mind of the Lord Privy Seal. He will remember a certain subject which he was instrumental in creating, which ran through his mind for many months. The Ministry of Information must have run through his mind, but I do not know that we were very much better off after all that running through.
I would appeal to my right hon. Friend and ask him as a Member of the Cabinet whether he will really let agriculture run through his mind and let it stick there? Agriculture wants something done for it. Of course there is no long-term policy of the Government; of course there is no war agricultural policy of the Government. There is only a mere makeshift Measure such as this. It is nothing at all. It is a mere niggardly pittance and everybody knows it. We have had a nice winding-up speech from one of the most popular Members of the House and all he said was, "Well, old boy, I don't think we have done so very badly.' We have done very badly to-day. This Bill is little better than nothing.
We had to get the big joint stock banks together, and formulate a proper, comprehensive credit scheme of agriculture. That scheme should utilise the 6,000 provincial branches which the four joint stock banks possess. The idea of using the county agricultural committees is futile. I am not running them down. They consist of hard-working men, who give their leisure hours to doing this work for the country. But you cannot operate through these committees a credit scheme to embrace livestock purchase. It should be done through the banks. Did the Treasury consider it? I said in a previous speech, "Where does the opposition come from?" From the Treasury. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told me only last week: "I cannot have that said. It really is not so." What did I say? I said that my right hon. Friend's statement was at complete variance with the known facts. We know that this opposition comes from the Treasury. We know they never try to 180 formulate anything creative or constructive to assist agriculture. This House of Commons really does want to see the land produce something to help us to win the war, and the War Cabinet, none of whom are really attending to these things, none of whom have the time to do so, should deal with the matter. What are the Service Ministers in the War Cabinet doing? They are looking after their Services. What are the independent Ministers doing? My right hon. Friends the Lord Privy Seal and Lord Hankey are the only two without portfolios, and is it suggested, with the greatest deference and respect to my right hon. Friends the Lord Privy Seal and Lord Hankey, that either the one or the other has any knowledge whatever of agriculture? Surely it would be better for both if the right hon. Gentlemen were to select someone who has a real knowledge of agriculture and take him into the War Cabinet. Thus, and thus only, would this country feel satisfied that there was a real live man looking after agriculture to help us on to win the war.
§ 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 Thursday.—[Captain Margesson