§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
I beg to move, in page 18, line 33, at the end, to insert:(2) Any arrangements made under this Section shall be in accordance with regulations to be made by the Minister and laid before Parliament.I join with the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) in welcoming the return of the Minister of Apiculture. I observe that automatically there have disappeared from the Treasury Bench the Secretary of State for Scotland and the First Commissioner of Works. I do not think anybody who was here through the Second Reading or the two days of Committee will blame them for going. Added to my regret at the absence of the Minister is a regret that, however carefully he may read the Official Report of these three days, he cannot recapture the warmth of some of the debates and the intensity of feeling that ran through the discussions on some of the Amendments. I am moving my Amendment because of the development, on the Committee stage in connection with Clause 25, of what I can only describe as a remarkable situation. The Committee had before it the terms of the Clause. The explanatory memorandum referring to the Clause talks about a 1662 scheme for the purpose of operating the Clause. One or two hon. Members of the Committee that night had in their possession the terms of the draft scheme as it had been circulated by the Minister to war agricultural committees. The Clause was public, but the draft scheme was private, and no Member of the Committee on Thursday night, reading the provisions of the Clause, could have had any idea of the kind of provisions, stipulations, reservations and restrictions that were within the provisional scheme circulated by the Minister.
Those provisions are in some important respects perfectly astounding and make it, therefore, a matter of first-class importance. The object of my Amendment is to see that Parliament has complete control over any scheme which is submitted by the Minister. From the provisions of the Clause and in the absence of knowledge of the proposed scheme, Members of the Committee were entitled to assume that any farmer needing the kind of credit facilities described in the Clause could have them if he satisfied a committee. The scheme, however, says that before approving an application a committee would need to be satisfied that the facilities are necessary in order to enable the farmers to comply with the orders or directions of the committee. That is a kind of restriction that Members of the Committee last Thursday, in the absence of this draft, could not possibly have contemplated.
Two things are obvious. The first is that only a very limited number of farmers are to benefit from these credit facilities, that is, the limited number who operate under a compulsory ploughing-up order, and that limited number will benefit only to the extent of the small acreage which is ploughed up under a compulsory order. No farmer who is not covered by a ploughing-up order can have a credit, no matter how good a farmer or how credit-worthy he may be, or how desirable it is in the public interest that he should have credit facilities. A second restriction, which is no less astounding, is that no farmer can derive any help from the scheme except for the small area of land ploughed up under a compulsory order which may be totally insufficient in the public interest. It may be imperative that he should have wider credit facilities, but the scheme restricts the amount of 1663 credit he may obtain. This scheme, with its meticulous restrictions, makes the general character of the Clause—I hate to use the phrase but I can think of nothing more accurate to interpret what is in my mind—almost like a fraudulent prospectus.
There is another restriction of an important character. The scheme refers to a certain amount, but it does not say how much. The Secretary of State for Scotland talked about £50, but the First Commissioner of Works was a little more extravagant and went as far as £70. If the Debate had gone on to the next day the sum might have reached £120 or £130. But the scheme says a certain amount; it has about it a very non-delightful indifference. In any case, only a very small proportion of that small proportion of farmers normally entitled to have credit facilities provided by the Clause will benefit. Before they can go to the county war agricultural committee with an application they have to prove abundantly that they cannot get credit anywhere else; they have to prove beyond question that they are not credit-worthy. They have to present their non-credit-worthy character to the county war agricultural committee, and having proved that they are so non-credit-worthy, that no one will give them any credit at all, they expect to get some credit out of a hard-headed county war agricultural committee.
It is obvious that the general provisions of the Clause have no relation at all to the meticulous, restricted and reserved provision of the provisional scheme itself. For the reasons I have stated, a small number of farmers will get a limited amount of credit as a result of a very difficult provision through which the farmer has to struggle in order to get any kind of credit facilities. He has to prove, as I say, that no one will lend him anything, and then hardly expect that the county war agricultural committee will lend him something. I suggest that it really makes the scheme a complete muddle, and the Minister of Agriculture ought to say to-night that this provisional scheme has been withdrawn in the light of the previous Committee discussion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member unnecessarily, but I understand the argument which he is adducing is for the purpose of showing 1664 that any scheme of this kind ought to be laid upon the Table of the House. The hon. Member must not go too much into the details of the particular scheme.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am afraid that I have trespassed a little further than I ought to have done, but I will conclude by expressing the hope that, in the light of the criticism addressed to it, the Minister will withdraw the provisional scheme and lay on the Table of the House a scheme which will be more likely to meet with general approval.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
I feel that the House would have been in a very much easier position when it first examined this Clause had hon. Members been supplied with the instructions which were to be issued to county war agricultural committees. To discuss this Clause merely after reading it, would, I think, mean that anyone would be very contented with it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must draw the attention of the hon. Lady to the Ruling which I gave just now. This is not a question upon which she can discuss the particular Clause to which she has referred. We are now confined entirely to the question of the Amendment thatAny arrangements made under this Section shall be in accordance with regulations to be made by the Minister and laid before Parliament.
§ Sir Irving Albery
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I respectfully submit to you that the hon. Lady surely would be in order, in not approving of the Amendment or of approving of it, in saying whether she is satisfied with the Clause in its present form or not? If the hon. Lady thinks that the Clause is adequate as it is, and it is not necessary to lay regulations upon the Table, surely she is entitled to express her opinion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have given my Ruling, but I am not quite sure whether I understand the hon. Member's point. It may be that I misunderstood what the hon. Lady was intending to say, but I must ask her at any rate to observe my Ruling, that the Debate must be strictly confined to the words of the Amendment on the Order Paper.
§ Mrs. Tate
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and, although it is as difficult as dancing on a tight rope, I will endeavour to discuss the Amendment without going outside the rules of order. I feel confident that had hon. Members seen the instructions to be given to county war agricultural committees, they would never have approved the high rate of percentage to be asked from farmers, nor would they ever have approved of the stringent conditions which impose upon farmers an obligation to repay the whole of their loan in as short a period as 12 months, with the penalty, where the money was not repaid, that it would be deducted from their milk cheque or their wheat cheque. We support this Amendment in order to avoid the possibility of farmers being called upon to pay a usurious rate of interest for a short term loan. We all imagined that at the most they would be called upon to pay a commercial rate of interest, and 5 per cent. is not a commercial rate of interest on so fully secured a short-term loan.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am afraid that the hon. Lady has scarcely succeeded in keeping within the rule of Order.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I support the Amendment of my hon. Friend for reasons that are obviously similar to those of the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate). I think that one must give reasons for supporting such an Amendment, and those reasons emerged during the Debate on Clause 24 as it then was. On that occasion we found ourselves confronted with a Clause under which certain things might be done, but there was not a Member of the Committee who had the slightest knowledge of what those things were. One hon. Member quoted from a typewritten document and made reference to a certain rate of interest. A Minister referred to a maximum of £50, and another Minister mentioned £70, and there was not an hon. Member sitting in the Committee who had the slightest knowledge of what Clause 24 was likely to do. It is true that we had explanations from the Secretary of State for Scotland and from the First Commissioner of Works, but they were wholly unsatisfactory to the Committee. Therefore what the Committee then felt, we still feel, namely, that there is a case for the provision of goods and services for these 1666 farmers who require them. The House is willing to pass the particular Clause, but we want to know the meaning and purport of the Clause once it is embodied in the Bill. Therefore, we say that any scheme for the provision of goods and services at 5 per cent. or less on a sum of £50, £70, £120, or whatever it may be, should be embodied in an Order to be laid upon the Table of this House, so that at least hon. Members and such agriculturists who may take advantage of this meaning will know exactly the full import and purport of Clause 25. As it is now—and I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows its limitations—we know, judging from the First Commissioner of Works and the Secretary of State for Scotland, that Clause 24 is a Ministry of Agriculture Clause, but, also, that the Treasury have had their paws on it. Therefore, we fail to know exactly what Clause 25 really means when we see the scheme on the Table of the House or anywhere else.
I do not think it would retard one acre of land being turned over, or one action on the part of any farmer who desires to benefit under the terms of Clause 25, if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had to put on the Table of the House any scheme prepared for the provision of goods and services for those farmers who need them. I hope I have kept strictly within the Rules of the House and, at least, satisfied hon. Members present that there is a case for such Orders relating to the provision of goods and services being laid on the Table of the House. I hope hon. Members will feel disposed to support this Amendment.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I rise to support this Amendment, and I would like to point out to the House that one reason why there was a certain amount of heated feeling on this Clause during the Committee stage was that the Clause as it stands had been widely interpreted as giving important powers to the Ministry to deal with one of the really great problems facing the agricultural community at the present time, namely, the lack of credit. When it was found that the Minister was, in fact, going to do almost nothing, that a scheme had been worked which, in the opinion of many of us, was quite unworkable and marked out any fanner who made use of it as being totally "uncreditworthy"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) did succeed in keeping within the Rules, but let me make this clear. Hon. Members can perfectly well argue that these schemes should be laid on the Table of the House, in order that they may know what is going to be done under this Clause, but they cannot spend time in explaining further objections to the Clause, which they have discovered since it was in Committee. This is no doubt a sufficiently good reason for moving an Amendment, but they must not go into details of the Clause or of the scheme which has been referred to.
§ Sir I. Albery
On a point of Order. May I ask, because I was not fortunate enough to be here when the Debate on this Clause started, whether it is possible to raise the point you have just mentioned on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Sir Joseph Lamb
Do I take it that we cannot discuss a scheme which we have not seen, and of which we have not heard?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is exactly my point. Certainly not. An hon. Member cannot discuss a scheme now.
§ Sir J. Lamb
If I am supporting a suggestion that a scheme should be laid on the Table, can I not say why it should not be laid on the Table because I disapprove of the one which has just been issued?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The Amendment is not to a particular scheme on the Table. The scheme which is in hon. Members' minds cannot be discussed now.
§ Sir J. Lamb
If I am not permitted to say why I do not agree with the present scheme, is that not an argument why I think a scheme should come here so that I can discuss it?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member can say he does not like it and can say he is going to vote for that reason for the Amendment, but he cannot discuss it.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I would submit that what I was attempting to do, perhaps not very clearly, was to give a reason why I 1668 should support this Amendment so that the sort of thing that happened during the Committee stage should not happen again and so that the House might be informed of the way in which this Clause is being carried out. I would ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for a little more latitude. We all want to increase agricultural production, but, in fact, the administrative actions under this Clause are being taken now. I would like to draw to your attention the point that following the circularisation of this scheme, to which the Mover of the Amendment referred in considerable detail, there has been a further circular issued in which these words now occur:The scheme may now be put into operation.The Minister is, therefore, prevented by your Ruling from explaining or discussing a scheme which he has put into operation under a Bill which has not yet been passed, and I do suggest to you, Sir, that it is putting him into an exceedingly difficult position. You are driving us out of the House to express our criticism else where, and if you could see your way to allowing us a little more latitude on this important question in the interests of the agricultural community—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Unfortunately, I am precluded by the fact that I have to administer the procedure of the House in accordance with its Rules. I have ruled quite definitely that a scheme of which hon. Members know, and to which they object, may be a good reason for moving this Amendment, but that that particular scheme cannot now be discussed in detail. The fact that the hon. Member has now discovered a second scheme only gives me a second reason for ruling him out of Order.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am not pressing you, Sir, on the Ruling of what is the position that arises when a scheme is carried out under a Bill which is still before us. We are all anxious to see the Minister get on with this agricultural question. The burden of most Amendments and speeches in this House is that the Government are not being energetic enough in the prosecution of the campaign for producing more food. It is possible that the fault for 1669 that lies, not at the door of the Ministry of Agriculture, but elsewhere. I support the Amendment because I think it is vital in future that we should have an opportunity of discussing the outlines of the scheme by which the Clause will be carried out. There could be a scheme under it which would very materially add to the production of food, but if it is drawn in such a narrow way that it is to apply only to the orders of the agricultural war executives and only to the 2,000,000 acres which have been ploughed up, the benefit of the Clause as it stands will be very much restricted, the need for capital at reasonable rates of interest, which is very widespread, will not be met, and the danger that we shall be starved as the result is greatly increased. I hope Members in all parts of the House will welcome and vote for the Amendment, because the narrow interpretation which the Ministry has put on the Clause leads me to believe that, although wide powers exist under the Bill and under the other procedure which the Minister follows, the regulations by Order, they are not availing themselves of those powers with nearly sufficient rapidity or energy. It is for that reason that I support the Amendment.
§ 9.23 p.m.
Mr. De la Bère
This mysterious and unknown and miserable scheme certainly ought to be laid on the Table of the House of Commons. Not to do so is, in the opinion of Members on all sides, treating this honourable House with nothing more nor less than crude contempt. Yet another of these miserable—
May I draw the hon. Member's attention to another fact brought to our attention by the last speaker? No power which can be exercised only under this Bill when it becomes an Act has been or can be exercised until it becomes an Act. The hon. Member will do well to bear that in mind.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
On a point of Order. What is our resource when we know that this scheme is being carried out on the instructions of the Ministry?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That seems to show that the matter has nothing whatever to do with the Amendment.
§ Mr. Roberts
I submit that it very definitely has to do with the Clause and 1670 that the scheme is drawn up under this Clause specifically. Here is a specific statement emanating from the Ministry saying that the scheme is now being carried out.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me that if the Minister of Agriculture has no power to do it except under such powers as may be given him when the Bill becomes law, it cannot be done under this Bill at the present moment. It may be done under some other power which the Minister has, or it may be a forecast of what he intends to do when the Bill is passed. All that simply shows that the matter is not one for discussion on this particular Amendment.
Mr. De la Bère
When I was unfortunately unable to continue, I was speaking about this miserable unknown scheme.
Mr. De la Bère
I am not going to discuss the scheme. I will deal strictly with the Amendment, which deals with regulations to be made by the Minister for the future laying of schemes of this nature on the Table. I think the whole House will agree that nothing could have been less generous as an approach than the whole matter that we are now dealing with in the Amendment. The approach to the subject, I think, was very far from happy. We do not yet know officially what it contains, but we may be quite sure that the scheme, which is known to some of us outside the House, is not one which would commend itself to our ideas of generosity. Therefore we feel that it is necessary, in order to produce the maximum amount of food, that the maximum amount of generosity should be displayed in dealing with this matter to which the Amendment calls attention, because, if regulations are laid on the Table, and if the Minister really has an opportunity of explaining them, it enables the House to gather the full sense of what they are legislating on. I think the House 1671 has not really had an opportunity of gathering in what way they are required to pass the necessary legislation. They have been asked to pass legislation on something with which they were not familiar.
I cannot understand how it came about that my right hon. and gallant Friend, whom I welcome back so heartily after his sickness, could have allowed this to take place without the full knowledge of the House of Commons. I believe that, as the result of this very strenuous effort this evening, my right hon. and gallant Friend will never again permit such a thing to take place and that he will have learned his lesson that it is not desirable, nor in the interests of the people of this great nation, that this sort of Act should be perpetrated. Too long have we had to deal with matters with which we have not been made familiar. I think the Amendment serves a very useful purpose by making a strong and very determined protest against this procedure in introducing regulations in this manner. After all, what we really want is the fullest possible pressure and determination to see that we do the very best we can for agriculture.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Sir J. Lamb
I wish to explain why I support the Amendment. I supported the Clause. The value of the Clause is in the administration of it. Since it went through the House, there have been instructions given—I have not had an opportunity of seeing them, but I have heard of them—and I am told that I cannot discuss them. As the fact is that I cannot discuss them, I say that I do not agree with them, and I want, if any further instructions are given, that they shall be laid on the Table so that I may see the method to be adopted in administering the Clause and have an opportunity of objecting, if necessary.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I really want to meet the House. I thoroughly recognise the sincerity with which the Amendment has been moved, but I am precluded from dealing with the merits of the scheme and must confine myself to the Amendment. One difficulty I find about the Amendment is this. The word "regulations" comes in it. I am not certain that regulations are necessary for a scheme like 1672 this. We have a whole spate of regulations going out from various Government Departments and I am certain that the hon. Member will not want to add to the number, if it is not necessary. Would it meet the wish of the House if the details of any particular scheme should be laid before the House? If so, I am prepared to do that.
§ Mr. T. Williams
If such a scheme is laid on the Table of the House will it be permissible to lodge a Prayer against it, or will there be any means at any time to deal with a particular scheme?
§ Colonel Burton
May we also ask whether a scheme will be laid on the Table of the House before it is put into operation, or whether it will be put into operation before a Prayer against it?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The difficulty is this. I am certain that the House will agree that if it is necessary that a scheme ought to be introduced in the light of events we do not want any delay in the matter. I am not a good enough Parliamentarian to know the details of procedure as regards a Prayer. I am quite willing to meet the House in this matter, and perhaps it may be possible to meet their wishes if I try in another place to introduce something to meet this point.
§ Mr. C. Davies
Does it mean that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is prepared to place before the House a draft scheme in general terms, and within those general terms to meet individual cases; that he is prepared to put a general draft scheme before the House before it comes into operation?
§ Mr. Ridley
I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for his offer, and there is no reluctance on my part to meet him, but I am not quite sure how the House would stand if the Amendment was withdrawn and there was no obligation on the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to lay a scheme before the House I suggest that he should take the words as they are and then alter them if necessary.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
There is no reluctance on my part to accept the hon. Member's suggestion, but I have given an undertaking that the particulars of a scheme will be laid before Parliament.
I am anxious that we should secure what we have in mind by 1673 the Amendment. I am not yet satisfied, although the spirit and intentions of the Minister are obviously bona fide, that his promise can be implemented in the direction that we desire. What we want quite clear is that in the major scheme to be operated under the Bill two things shall happen. The first is that the powers which the Minister operates by arrangements that he contracts with different people or committees shall be under regulations submitted to the House, and the second is that there shall be the power to raise the question of those regulations by Prayer, if necessary. Will the Minister undertake to have those two things dealt with in another place?
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Sir P. Harris
I do not want to raise difficulties, but I would point out that this Clause deals with expenses, and the House is always jealous of another place interfering with anything involving a charge. I should like to ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether such an Amendment moved in good faith in another place would be any interference with our prerogative.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The Amendment has no reference to money. I have said that there are some difficulties about regulations. It is rather hard to see how, in a scheme such as this, one would make regulations. What the House is anxious to know is what the scheme contains and what is the outline of the scheme. I should be very glad to accept that, and to lay the outline of the scheme before Parliament.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
On the assumption that the Minister will attempt in another place to meet the wishes of the House in a form of words that can be mutually agreed upon, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
May I first of all apologise most humbly for having been absent during the other stages of the Bill? I am very grateful to those 1674 hon. Members who have been good enough to say kind words on that matter. This Bill was described by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) as a very anaemic child, but he did say that it was probably my child, whereas the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) doubted whether it was my child, and thought that somebody else might be the parent of it. I confess that, on reading the Debate in my bed of sickness, it seemed to me that the Bill was treated as a child of somewhat doubtful parentage. I accept full responsibility for the Bill and I am only sad, as its parent, at the way it was treated, in spite of the very tender care and great protection given to it by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works. I think it is a child which is more misunderstood than lacking entirely in good points.
It has been suggested in the Debates that this Bill represented the only powers which the Government were taking to carry out their war-time policy in agriculture, but that is very far from being the truth. It is because of that assumption that the Bill was invested with an importance which I would never have sought for it. It seems to me that the House was expecting a Goliath of a Bill and was in a way disappointed when it got a David, although in a sense it enjoyed getting even a David. Perhaps I may, without being out of order, say that the only reason why no monumental Bill was introduced to deal with this most important question was because, with the powers which we are seeking under this Measure, in addition to the powers which we had before the war and have assumed since the war, we shall have all the machinery necessary to carry this campaign of extra food production to success.
I attach the greatest importance to the Clauses which deal with the cereal problem and I was rather disappointed to find that they were not even mentioned in the House as far as I could learn. I believe those Clauses which deal with the method of arriving at the prices of cereals and so on will play a very important part in the success of our campaign during this year. As I see it, there are two factors which will tend to show whether our campaign is going to succeed or fail. The first 1675 is the determination of the men on the land to get the job done and the second is that the farmers should get the return for their produce which will enable them to carry on with their jobs and pay their workers a fair return for their labour. There are other matters in the Bill which will obviously have a tremendous effect, but I suggest that those are two fundamental things, namely, the determination of the farmers and the determination of the Government to see that they are enabled to carry on.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The Clauses dealing with cereals were meant to enable us to work out a properly balanced cereal programme which would be reasonably profitable and would enable the Government to fulfil the second condition to which I have referred as far as arable cultivation is concerned. Perhaps I may be allowed to express one little regret. It is that the hon. Member for Don Valley did not see in those Clauses a means of providing flesh for what he described as this anaemic child. Among other matters in the Bill the provisions as to drainage will, clearly, have a tremendous bearing on our campaign. I think that the drainage provisions in the Bill received the closest scrutiny and certainly came in for most criticism during the recent discussions. Again, it seemed to me that the House got the drainage proposals in the Bill rather out of perspective. It is difficult to get the atmosphere of a Debate by reading it but it seemed to me that there was an impression that this part of the Bill was the only contribution which the Government were making towards the solution of that great problem of land drainage. Actually, as I think is now clear, this is only a supplement to a very extensive programme which is being carried out by the catchment boards, with Government help and by the internal drainage boards, also with Government grants.
These proposals are put forward in the Bill for one purpose and that is to try to bring in every single acre of land which needs drainage and which can be drained. By this proposal we will deal with land which is not covered by existing legislation. It was my desire to include every acre of land which led me to bring these 1676 proposals before Parliament and I hope the House will appreciate that they are only supplementary to the tremendous amount of work which is being done in this respect at the present moment. As regards the discussion on the £5 limit, all I can say is that before we decided on that limit we took the advice of those who are actually engaged on the job and who know the particular type of land with which this part of the Bill seeks to deal. I have not the slightest desire to be restrictive. On the contrary, I want to get on with the job as quickly as we can, but our advice was that this £5 limit would be by no means restrictive. The fact is that experience has shown that something like £2 an acre will do this kind of work and that the £5 limit will by no means restrict it but will allow for any increased cost one can possibly imagine. I hope that the House appreciates that I thoroughly realise how really sincere they are about this problem of drainage. I can only assure them that the Government is equally serious about it and will do everything which lies in its power to see that there are the necessary means to carry on the war that full drainage will allow.
Mr. De la Bère
The Minister has just spoken of a maximum of £5. We were told the other day that the average figure was £5. I hope it is quite clear and that there is no ambiguity about it.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
There is no ambiguity at all. I was talking about the maximum for a scheme. That means a maximum of £5 an acre on the average, which has been made abundantly clear to the House.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
Yes, Sir. I do not want to raise the whole controversy again in regard to this question of drainage. I feel I ought to explain to the House that this requisites scheme which we have suggested is designed to fill a need put to me by various county agricultural executive committees—that the need did exist where some farmers had exhausted their present means of obtaining credit, and that it would be most helpful if, in order to assist—true a limited number of people—the county committees had the power to deal with supplies of requisites to help the really lame dog over the style. It was in answer 1677 to their representation that I tried to meet the particular case which they had in mind. As I say, I do not want to raise any more controversy about this, but at the same time I should like to say there will be no inquisition into the applicants' other debts, nor will the transactions have in any way to be registered or advertised. This same problem arose in the last war. It was dealt with in much the same way, but instead of giving money we are giving requisites and services. The same rate of interest was charged then as we are proposing to charge now, but that is merely a matter of history.
I want to give one assurance to the House. The county committees are acting as my agents, and agents of the Government, and I do not want them to be harsh creditors at all. I want them to deal with these cases generously and with human understanding and really to try and make this show go. Our all-compelling aim is to help the farmers to increase their production. I appreciate that we will not be judged, as to whether we have succeeded or failed, by whether the books balance exactly after any given time, but on the extra amount of food which is produced. If one goes to any gathering of farmers and talks to them about credit, nine out of ten will say the same thing. That is, "It is not extra Government credit that we want. Give us fair prices for our produce, and then we will get all the credit we want." I agree, and we are determined that fair prices will be the order of the day. [An Hon. Member: "And fair wages."] I mean fair prices, including a reasonable and fair wage to the workers. There is no question about that in my mind. We are going to try and do that and we want to have this extra source to help the really lame dogs over the stile.
Will my right hon. and gallant Friend explain to the House, what was not explained during the Committee, why a fixed rate of commercial interest is to be charged for an emergency programme, which is to become immediately operative, to increase food production?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I think that that was explained very fully during this Committee stage. If hon. Members had to go into this credit business, as I have had to go into it in another capacity, they would realise that it is an extremely com- 1678 plicated business because so many people enter into it—merchants, bankers, auctioneers, hire-purchase people, and so on. There is areal danger, unless we deal with the whole question of agricultural credit, which would need a more comprehensive measure than this, that if we tried to bring in a low rate of interest for certain sections we should harm people instead of help them, because it would be found that credit would contract on some fronts when it was extended in others. It is a difficult balance to hold.
Mr. De la Bère
No explanation was given of this provision in Committee. Is it suggested that these people should have to pay 5 per cent. when they are down and out? On the Government's own showing these are the people who are the hardest up, and yet they are to be asked, with a 2 per cent. bank rate, to pay 5 per cent. If by a miracle they are able to make deposits in the bank, the bank gives them only 1 per cent. There is no equity in it, and it is an outrage.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
That was debated on the Committee stage, and the Committee divided on it. I agree that the House has a right to expect that the banker, the merchant, and every credit-giving body will play their part in this campaign and will treat it as one of their more vital contributions to our national war effort.
It has been asked whether the Government are, in fact, really determined to co-operate with those engaged in the industry to carry the food campaign to success. My answer is an unhesitating "Yes." My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal made it clear that the Government attach the greatest possible importance to the successful outcome of this campaign. It will not be a simple task I know; we are bound to meet difficulties and problems are bound to arise from day to day; but it is our job as I see it energetically and enthusiastically to get round those problems and to assist in every possible way to get over them. We are going to do that. As the House will have realised, there have always been and will always be great differences of opinion as to the best way to deal with any agricultural problem. Indeed, there is a saying that where two or three farmers are gathered together you will never get agreement. I have known few things that 1679 call for more controversy and difference of opinion than agriculture, but we have to find a way to get on with the job and we will find it. The Debate has made it clear that there is complete unity of thought in the House that this job has to go full steam ahead. I welcome that demonstration, and I yield to no one in my determination to see that it will go through to success. Because I believe that the various Clauses and measures that we ask for in the Bill will really assist us and will be a really useful addition to the present powers which the Government have, I ask the House to give the Bill the Third Reading.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made the very best use of the Bill which could be made from the Treasury Bench, and a good deal has been said about its being the child of the Minister. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House regard it as an offspring which is an outstanding example of very bad breeding. The sire, the Minister of Agriculture, may be useful, vigorous, and quite good. The dam, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is aged and without a decent pedigree. It is extremely bad, as the Bill indicates. That bad mating has been productive of a weakly, tubercular creature that would die through sheer malnutrition, but for a fact which I learned on Saturday afternoon; the child has a new foster-mother, the Lord Privy Seal He has now adopted the creature. It may be that more nourishment will be pumped into it so that what might have died at birth may develop into a healthy child in the days that lie ahead.
In the Bill, one sees the hand of the Treasury throughout. The first Part of the Bill deals with the standard price of wheat. The Treasury is interested therein. Part II deals with the standard price of oats, barley and rye. The hand of the Treasury can be seen all over Part II. Part III deals with the ploughing-up of land; the Treasury has to provide the £2 per acre. Part IV deals with drainage at a cost of £5 per acre and, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, no more. The Treasury is to be seen there. The Treasury is able to put up 50 per cent. of the cost of the drainage schemes, to a maximum of £5 per 1680 acre; so the Treasury has its hand on the drainage Clauses. Clause 25 deals with goods and services of which we have heard so much and the Treasury has its hand on there. From beginning to end the Bill is no longer a Ministry of Agriculture Measure, but a Treasury Measure, and that is why many hon. Members are afraid that this weakly thing may not fulfil the general desire of this House.
We know, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has truly said, that this is neither the beginning nor the end of agricultural activities during the course of the war, but we know also that Part I is no extension of activity. It consists merely of a slight increase in the guaranteed price of home-produced wheat of millable quality. We know that Part II is a slight increase in the standard price for oats and barley produced, but since the price already obtainable for oats is far in excess of the standard price in the Bill, Part II means little or nothing in the way of increased productivity, except that it is a latent guarantee to those farmers who plough up their land and sow more oats, barley, etc., than otherwise might have been the case. The ploughing Clause is a slight extension of what the House accepted many months ago. Working behind the ploughing policy is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's big hope that we shall make infinitely more use of our own soil for the duration than we were making in peace-time. That all depends upon the county machinery, the energy of the war agricultural executive, the district committees and the sub-committees, on the way they are manned and on the way they carry out their duties.
So far as drainage is concerned, having been in this House for some considerable time, having been present when the 1930 Drainage Act was passed and having persisted in my demands of Minister of Agriculture after Minister of Agriculture that they do the job of drainage properly, I know that this is not the first, and I hope it will not be the last, drainage Measure. We not only passed the Act of 1930;we passed the Act of 1937, and I know that these Clauses relating to drainage are merely intended to fill a gap in the general drainage scheme. It is not the filling of a gap that we want so much as the opening up of some gap and the draining of many hundreds of thousands of acres of land in this country.
1681 Clause 23, which gives power to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his agents in the county to take over land which is either not being cultivated or not being cultivated in accordance with the laws of good husbandry, is quite a proper Clause, particularly in war time, but I should like to see this on the Statute Book in peace time as well. It is an admission that in time of peace we ignore the use of our land to such an extent that when we require all the food that we can produce from it we have to embody a special Clause in the Bill giving power to the Government to take over the land which has not been cultivated according to the laws of good husbandry. We appropriate land which has been badly cultivated for the purpose of producing food, and then, lo and behold, immediately the emergency is over we have to go back to the same people who have neglected it for so long. The principle in Clause 23 is right in so far as it gives the Government power to take over land, but I am sure that the principle is wrong when it gives power to hand the land back to those who have neglected it so long.
Clause 25 could have been a good Clause had not the Minister of Agriculture to get consent from the Treasury for everything that he did. Clause 25 as; it now stands is not a Ministry of Agriculture Clause at all. It is a Treasury Clause, and that fact is written in every word and line of it. To the extent that this Clause can be made useful, I am sure that every hon. Member will be glad to see the Minister make the maximum use of the power which he has obtained. When he produces a scheme and brings it to the House, I hope it will be a good scheme, one which will give us some power to enable merchants, auctioneers, and those who have been hangers-on on farming for some generations to obtain relief during the war and to enjoy the end of the emergency period. Perhaps one has said more about this little Measure than one should have done. I do not think there is a lot in it, but I express this hope, that if the farmers can see any virtue in an increased guaranteed price for their wheat, in an increased guaranteed price for their oats and barley, in the Treasury providing them with £2 for every acre of land they turn over, in the Treasury providing them with £50 of the cost of draining 1682 their land, and in the Treasury providing them with a goods and services scheme of a kind, then at least the farmers should respond and the job of the Minister should be a comparatively easy one.
In every speech the Minister makes on agriculture, he repeats, almost parrot-like, this phrase, "What we are anxious to do is to provide for farmers reasonable prices for their output." I have heard it over the wireless. I have heard it from that Box, I have read it in newspapers. Every new Bill we get is a further effort to provide more and more, in the shape of prices, to farmers. But, so far as I can recall, the farmers have made no single gesture to their agricultural labourers'. Even now, although we have a promise from the Minister that a Bill will be produced shortly to deal with the conditions of agricultural labourers, I do not think, from the comments that have been made by some of my hon. Friends, that the farmers have been too generous to their workers. I hope that they will see the virtues of this Bill, such as they are, that they will remember what the House has done for them from 1931 down to 1940, and that they will display more generosity than hitherto to those agricultural labourers, without whose services they cannot manage, and who are, in fact, the most vital force in our agricultural industry.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
The Minister told us that the powers in this Bill are those that the Government had in the last war.
§ Mr. Roberts
I understand that the Minister himself referred only to this little credit business. Having looked at something of what was done during the last war, I would suggest that he has, in fact, so far taken very little more power than his predecessors found that they had to take during the last war. Much of what he has done is modelled exactly on what was done during the last war. I do not complain of it because it is the same as was done during the last war, for much of what was done then proved very successful. But Ministers—more, perhaps, before Christmas than to-day—have been apt to compare the efforts now being made with the efforts which were made 1683 during the last war. What is required to-day is a much greater effort. We require quicker results in the production of food than were obtained then. That is vital.
The criticisms of this Bill have been not so much on what it contains as on what it does not contain. It has not done enough. I do not think the position is very satisfactory. It is estimated that in 1914 we were providing only 34 per cent. of the food that was required in the country. That is a net figure, after the imports of raw materials, in the shape of feeding-stuffs, had been deducted from the gross output of British farming. The position to-day is probably worse, in that the net produce of British agriculture is a smaller proportion than that 34 per cent. The need is greater. It is because that need is so widely felt that we have been a little impatient, perhaps, on these benches when the Government were taking what looked like effective steps to deal with the real difficulties that the farmers were suffering under, and when we found that those wide powers were being interpreted in a very narrow, mean way.
I asked a question on the Second Reading and during the Committee stage with regard to drainage, and I had hoped to hear the answer from the Minister on the Third Reading. What is the estimate of the Minister as to the amount of drainage which can and ought to be done, or that will be done under the Act? The Government have taken powers, but we have not been told what it is intended to accomplish, and the House is entitled to know. When we are not told we are left in doubt as to whether the whole effort is really being planned systematically or whether the Ministry is approaching the problem by saying, "You must have higher prices for this and higher prices for that; there is a small group of farmers who really cannot carry out the county committees' orders, and therefore we must have authority to supply them with ploughs, fertilisers, seed and grain; and there is this and that difficulty to overcome." There is no comprehensive general scheme as to what the contribution of British agriculture to the food supply is to be, and how that contribution is to be effected. The Minister said that the two main factors in increasing 1684 production would probably be good will and higher prices.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
Determination on the part of producers to overcome certain difficulties, and fair prices which will enable them to increase production.
§ Mr. Roberts
Determination and fair prices—I certainly accept the alteration. Determination is undoubtedly what is wanted, but we on this side of the House say that that alone is not enough and that there are many other obstacles standing in the way of increasing production which have to be overcome. I once heard the First Lord of the Admiralty, speaking at the annual meeting of the National Farmers' Union in London, say that he had gone into farming on one occasion determined to make it pay, whatever it might cost. I think that many people have undertaken an individual farming enterprise determined to make it pay, whatever it might cost, and that probably is the right spirit for the Government and the Minister of Agriculture to adopt at the present time. We fear the influence of the Treasury upon the expenditure under this Bill. Clause 25 is the only Clause, I believe, in which it is clearly set out that it shall at all times be subject to the approval of the Treasury, but in the other Clauses, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, one can hear the Treasury chains clanking from one Clause to another. It is, we believe, very short-sighted to spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar in regard to the question of food production at the present time.
The Treasury may sanction on behalf of the Ministry of Food immense purchases of food from abroad which may be paid for but which may never reach this country, but expenditure to make it possible for farmers and farm workers in this country to produce more food will not be wasted. If it produces the food, it will be paying for itself. Much of the success of this Bill will certainly rest upon the determination of the organisation which the Minister has at his command in the county war agricultural committees. There are powers under this Bill which, if they were used by the Minister through county committees, could increase production very considerably, if they were broadly interpreted. During the last war 1685 surveys were carried out, on a rather narrow basis, of the possibilities of increasing production in each county, and there are powers in this Bill which could be used by the Minister, through county committees, to find out how production can be increased in the whole of a county and on each farm. Not only is the ploughing-up campaign important; the livestock industry is highly important, and we want to maintain our milk supply. That being so, county committees must inquire what are the requirements of a county for feeding-stuffs, fertilisers, and implements. Under Clause 25 one had hoped that they would be able to satisfy these requirements freely, but we are not so sure now that they will be able to do so. I would like to suggest, before this Bill becomes law, that to concentrate solely on ploughing-up is not nearly enough. The production of food from the remaining 30,000,000 acres is even more important than production from the additional 10 per cent. of arable land. We support the Bill in the hope that the Minister will use all his powers to the full.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
I shall intervene in this Debate for only a few moments because I feel I am entitled to do so for the reason that on every agricultural Debate since the outbreak of war I have sat in the House continuously for at least six hours. I welcome the Bill such as it is: I think it will do good and increase the production of our soil and food. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister was not here, during the Committee stage, but he told us he had read the Official Report of the Debates and he must have realised that there was a great feeling of disappointment among all sections of the House. I think that feeling, perhaps subconsciously, was due to the realisation by all sections of the House that every political party for three generations past had utterly neglected the land of Britain. We realise now what peril we are in to-day and how, if we had looked after our land, we should be producing £200,000,000 worth more of foodstuff, saving the lives of our seamen, and enabling more tonnage to be given over to other goods. This Bill will do something for our land and will enable more food to be produced, perhaps £30,000,000 worth. I was rather shocked by a phrase used by 1686 the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). He said that the Bill would allow more use of our own soil for the duration of the war. If I thought he meant that, I should despair of the Bill being of any permanent use to the country. I hope it is going to lay the foundations of better conditions for the future. I hope that we realise the mistake we have made in neglecting our soil and sending our capital overseas to develop foreign lands instead of our own, and that the Bill will help, after the war, to restore a proper balance, a saner life based on a close alliance with agriculture, instead of this unhealthy, feverish, over-urbanised mechanical civilisation that we have built up.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Davies
I agree with the hon. Member in regretting the sins of omission of the past, but it is no good talking about them now. What we are anxious about now is how much food we are going to get produced during this period of grim anxiety. The only justification for a Bill dealing with agriculture in time of war is how much extra food it will produce for the immediate requirements of the people. One would have liked to have heard an estimate of the amount of land that will be brought under cultivation as the result of the drainage scheme. I should like to know what is the estimate of the Ministry of Food, to whom the Minister of Agriculture must be subservient during a time like this, as to the amount of production that we shall have during the coming and the following year as the result of past efforts and the new efforts which will be made under this Bill. There is a number of matters here. There are Part I, dealing with prices of wheat and other cereals, and then Part II, dealing with oats, rye and barley. There is the part of it dealing with drainage and the part dealing with the giving of credit or the giving of services.
I should like to know what estimate the Government have made of all that. I know that for months they have been making an estimate of the position of the enemy. We know almost to a pint what oil he has. We know almost to a pound, certainly almost to a quarter, what wheat he has. We know to a sack-load what potatoes he has. An estimate can be made, pretty nearly accurate, of 1687 what is our position in this country. An estimate will have to be made of what will be imported into the country as time goes on. Unfortunately the Government estimate of what was likely to come in during the first two or three months of the war was sadly wrong, or else the House has been misled with regard to the position of feeding-stuffs, for instance. We know how sadly we have been needing them since the end of October. Have the Government now worked out what they think will be the production under present methods, and what will be the production when this Bill becomes an Act? It is all very well for the Minister to say, "We are determined, we are going to put a new drive into this, we shall do our utmost to produce; we are anxious about this, so anxious that we do not let a moment pass without considering what we are going to do." One heard with a certain amount of surprise the Lord Privy Seal announce a few days ago that this was receiving the constant attention of the Cabinet. I should like to know how much attention the First Lord of the Admiralty could give to a matter of this kind, or any other member of the War Cabinet. It is all very well to make promises like that. I have heard the same promise made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Health and the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Food. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is merely echoing words which we have heard for eight years.
Let us know the facts. It is absolutely vital that we should know the facts now. Certain goods are being rationed, certain foods are being rationed, and we may have to ration more, and it is only right that the public should know the facts. This is a democratic country, and I say to the Government that they should trust the people. Tell them the truth, even if it hurts, even if it is dangerous, and they will respond. What is the estimate the Government have made of the additional amount of land which will be under the plough? That estimate will vary from week to week. I do not suppose that the estimate they are making to-day is the estimate they had in mind before the Christmas frost. We have had eight weeks in which it has been almost impossible to plough the land, and the 1688 estimate must have gone down considerably. You can judge pretty well, granted normal conditions such as we are likely to have during March and April, what is likely to be the extra amount put under the plough, what amount you expect to get from it, how much of the land you will be able to drain, and the yield it will be producing. Will it be producing—certainly not in 1940—in 1941, or in 1942, and will it be producing an increasing amount as the years go by? It is difficult to believe that it will do so when we see the niggardly amount put in the Memorandum. These are the matters which are troubling us.
In the same way with regard to credit. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman made an extraordinary admission in regard to that. He said that in order to deal with the question of credit a much more comprehensive scheme than this would be required. I agree. But where is that comprehensive scheme? The country is in danger; every moment is vital. Cannot you secure your accountants and your people at the Treasury to work out your comprehensive scheme? I have heard for the last eight years of a long-term agricultural policy. The war has caught us before that policy has been produced, and no wonder the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) is regretting that agriculture has been neglected. Cannot we get it now? Cannot a promise be given from that Box that there will be a comprehensive policy, instead of passing on with this Bill, which the Minister himself admits is inadequate? We are parting with this Bill, and it is going to another place. It does not bring much satisfaction to us.
The Minister was right when he said that determination is necessary. That determination he will find among the farmers. They are most anxious to get on with the job, but they have had precious little encouragement from the Government Front Bench. That is not due to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. They have had precious little encouragement with regard to their young men who have been taken away from them, and who are being taken away from them to-day. Even the blacksmiths and the farriers who are necessary have been taken away. Yet you expect the farmers to plough up more land and to produce more food. If the young 1689 blacksmiths are taken away, how are the horses to be shoed and the ploughs and harrows repaired? There will be breakages and nobody to attend to them. What is the good of the Minister appealing to the determination of the farmers if other right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench do not help him? There must be a comprehensive policy for production, and all must assist. The Minister also said that there must be fair prices. Will he tell us whether he thinks that the farmers are getting fair pricesto-day—whether, for example, they are getting a fair price for their animals? What is the good of promising things? What I ask is that the words of the Minister be carried out by the Government, and then there will be a response from the farmers.
§ 10.33 p.m.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about the passage of this Bill through the House was the enforced absence of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture, which we all regretted. I feel that he has done more to-night to clarify the position than has been done in any other speech that we have heard about the Bill from the Government Front Bench. We were not fully informed on the finer points of the Bill. I think that generally the country was expecting something of a larger nature in an agricultural Bill at this time. The country wants an ample food supply, and is looking to the Minister to take the earliest opportunity of doing everything necessary to get the fullest powers in order that we can get the maximum food production as soon as possible. When this Bill was introduced as a part contribution to the scheme, hon. Members and the country were profoundly disappointed.
Mr. De la Bère
Surely, the general public of this country was fully entitled to have a scheme—after we had been at war for six months—instead of this miserable makeshift of a Measure. Absolutely miserable—there is no ambiguity about that.
I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend and the Government realise that the criticisms which hon. Members have made only show the very great anxiety which we feel about the situation. I think I can speak for the 1690 farmers of the country when I say that we all have the greatest possible confidence in the Minister of Agriculture. We know that he knows the job, we know that he is practical, and we know that he fully realises how long it takes to get this great machine into full working order. He is at a great disadvantage in having taken over from other people who let the industry down to such an extent that his job was very difficult at the time he took office. I feel that, small as the Bill is, it is a substantial contribution towards what we are trying to do.
The Minister referred to the cereal provisions. I speak for one of the greatest cereal-growing constituencies in the country, and I say that we welcome those provisions and thank the Minister for them. They have been rather delayed, but even so, we are grateful and recognise that they will be, partly at any rate, an incentive to cereal-growing. The drainage Clauses have been needed for a long time, but I am surprised that my right hon. and gallant Friend, with his knowledge of agriculture, has left out any provision for tile drainage, which is absolutely necessary. Provision is being made only for the heavy lands. Nothing has been done for the light lands, which have been neglected for years. Whether in this Measure or another, something will have to be done in order to secure adequate drainage of the light lands of this country, and the farmers must be helped in that respect.
I come now to credit facilities. We have heard much from time to time about helping the farmers to finance their operations. Everybody knows that the farmers have been stripped of their capital. In the main it is the small farmer who has suffered most. When I asked about credit facilities during our Debates the Minister who replied said that these credit facility proposals were only a small measure and that this was not intended to be a large-scale credit operation. Yet the farmers of the country are being asked to do a work of national importance, and I think the country would desire that the farmers should have behind them all the money that is necessary to enable them to carry out the biggest possible programme. If there is any shortage of money, the Treasury will be to blame. If a shortage of money retards this programme and the people of the country have to go without food 1691 which they ought to have, the Government will be held responsible. It has been pointed out to them repeatedly that it is just as necessary to find money for the production of food, as for the making of ships and shells. When the farmers are asked to go in for a greatly extended form of agriculture, when everyone is asked to do far more than has ever been done before, it is surprising that the money necessary for such an undertaking cannot be found at a rate of interest lower than that suggested in the Bill.
We have been trying to elucidate that all through these Debates. At any rate the point is that if the farmers are asked to do more than the normal farming work, in order to meet a national emergency, it is right that the Government should propose something better than the normal commercial rate of interest, in connection with the money required for those operations. I ask the Government to consider the fundamental fact that you cannot make bricks without straw and you cannot farm without money.
Anyhow, money is used in agriculture, and an ample supply should be provided by the Treasury in an emergency like the present one in order to get the production that we need. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) asked why the Government did not make a survey and give the figures of potential production. I do not know that it is a good thing to give every bit of information to the enemy. I think it is just as dangerous to tell them how much food we are raising as to tell them how many shells we are making. They are after our food far more than after our shells, and the Government ought to have something up their sleeve.
§ Mr. C. Davies
That is not the point. The whole point of it is that we may know what is expected and farmers may be encouraged to do it. That is much more important than merely what the Germans should know. Let us know.
I am very sorry. I only wished to deal with a point raised by my hon. Friend. We are very grateful to the Minister for what he has done, but I am sorry it cannot be a more comprehensive and a larger Measure. I think he has had time to give us a larger Measure. The Minister is bringing in these Measures in small doses, but, confronted with a great war as we are, the Minister must take the fullest and widest powers and do everything possible to put farming and food production on a sound and safe footing. We are very anxious about the whole situation. The farmers and the farm workers will do everything in their power to ensure that any instructions the Minister gives are carried out in a proper and satisfactory manner, and I think some of the provisions of the Bill will make their jobs easier. But I sincerely hope that the Minister will not be long, and if he has any further Measures to bring in, that he will bring them in immediately, so that we can get down to the vital necessity of agricultural production at the earliest possible opportunity.
§ 10.42 p.m.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
I make no apology for intervening at this late hour because I maintain that, while the speeches of the English Members have shown considerable agitation among the English farming community, this Bill should have the position of Scotland represented. I will make my remarks as pungent as possible. The Secretary of State for Scotland accused me, on the last occasion when I intervened in an agricultural Debate, of using violent language. Well, I have listened to the language of English Members on agriculture for a considerable time, and I say, in all seriousness, that the language is a reflection of the feelings of the farming community and that, judging from the tenour of the speeches, the Government are creating very great difficulties for themselves in the future.
This Bill has been described as a weakly child, an anæmic child, and as a skeleton without flesh, but I say that, as far as Scotland is concerned, the child is stillborn. I want to draw attention to the Measure as it affects Scotland. I have raised these aspects already. I notice the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Hunter) here. He is a practical farmer, and the hon. Member for Partick (Mr. Young), 1693 who also has knowledge of farming and wages. The hon. Member for Perth will agree that a vast section of the farming community in Scotland are mainly in the hands of the landowners, and the Bill will be prejudiced by that fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) surprised me when he referred to "our land." In Scotland the people do not refer to it as "our land," but as "their land"—the land controlled by the members of the war agricultural committees which will make recommendations to the Scottish Secretary, and whose recommendations will determine the working of this Bill in Scottish fanning. Only on receiving a report from a committee will the Secretary of State take action. If the Government had been serious in wishing to assist agriculture, at least in Scotland, they would have left the initiative with the Government.
The "Scotsman" has issued a list of the war agricultural committees in Scotland who will make recommendations, and it shows that one committee after another has a lieutenant-colonel So-and-So, a major-general So-and-So, a lord, an earl or a laird as chairman or secretary. These are the people who are to make recommendations before the Secretary of State can assist the fanning community. During the last four years the Government, knowing the dangers in Europe, should have developed every acre of land, but in Scotland the land has deteriorated. Replies given by the Secretary of State have shown that less land was being cultivated year after year, until the agitation in the House roused the Government to make some effort.
I want to ask the Secretary of State whether he believes that under this Bill he will receive from these committees, composed as they are of landowners, and with owners' agents as secretaries, recommendations in the national interest to help farming. The position in Scotland is a farce because of the composition of the war agricultural committees. Members may say that a Member representing an industrial area should not intervene in an agricultural question, but it is the industrial areas which will be affected by the food-production policy and will have to pay the price of a bad policy. Just as the industrial areas had to pay for the Government's neglect on the coal question, so they will have to pay for 1694 the Government's neglect of the agricultural question. I have heard later of the efforts of the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) on behalf of agriculture, but, from conversations I have had with the hon. Gentleman and others, I assure the Minister that many hon. Members believe that the hon. Member is to be congratulated for the constant fight he has put up. Sometimes he has created a diversion by his very vehemence. I believe the Minister would be the first to agree that the hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on those efforts.
If that is so, I am unique, as the Member for Maryhill. I believe that these agricultural committees will spoil the Bill. Does the Minister realise that the National Farmers' Union, which represents mostly tenant farmers, is, in most cases, the dominant body on the executive committee? If the Minister will inspect the position of those who have power to appoint a committee and those who are placed in control of the committee's decisions—the office bearers and the salaried secretaries—he will find that the poor tenant farmer is a very big obstacle if he raises his voice in the council. In the Isle of Bute, most of the people are tenant farmers, under the Marquess of Bute. They are all driven and controlled by the Marquess of Bute, who has officials on the committees to represent his interests; and the tenant farmers will not rise and say a word against the man who controls their livelihood and their farms. We have had that experience in Scotland for many years.
§ Sir Edmund Findlay
Is the hon. Member aware that on that executive committee neither the Marquess of Bute, his tenants, nor his factor is in charge?
I would very much like to enlarge on that subject, but I am dealing with another question. In my opinion the committees do not represent truly the farming community in Scotland. They are largely controlled by officialdom. The Secretary of State knows my opinion that, in any circumstances, he would defend those people before any other section of the community. He represents 1695 those interests in Scotland who control the land. If a Member of Parliament, a soldier, or a member of any other Service refused to do his duty and acted against the best interests of the nation, he would be dealt with according to the law of the land. He might have a right of appeal.
I am a much younger Member of the House than some hon. Members, but perhaps I have taken as much interest in these matters as they have since I came here, and I can assure hon. Members that there are crimes for which a Member can be called to the Bar of this House and made to answer.
I am sorry, but those interruptions are very diverting, if I may say so. If a soldier in the Army neglects his duty, he can be called to account. He has one appeal, but if the appeal is turned down he has to obey the law. The Secretary of State for Scotland says that if a landowner or a person in control of land does not carry out his duties in accordance with the regulations—the exact words are:where…the Secretary of State is satisfied that any agricultural land in the area of that committee is being injured or in danger of being injured by reason of the failure of the owner or occupier to cleanse or scour—the Secretary of State may—just "may," not "shall"—send him a notice and tell him that in his opinion he is not doing the right thing and that he must undertake the repairs. The landowner may then appeal against the decision of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State studies his appeal, and then he decides that the man is still in the wrong. Remember, we are dealing with landowners, not workers. He appeals; his appeal is considered, and the Secretary of State says, "No, you are wrong, and we find against you. You must carry on with the repairs, and if you do not do them, I shall do the work instead." So the Secretary of State is empowered to carry out the repairs that this man should have done but has neglected to do. He has been found guilty of neglect, but if the Secretary of State 1696 desires to charge him for doing the work which he neglected to do he may then appeal. Not only has he the right of appeal, but he has the right of appeal, after being found wrong on two occasions, to the Scottish Land Court, and after the Scottish Land Court give their decision, if they support the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State may then out of public funds give to this landowner who neglected his land some financial support to pay for the repairs which the Secretary of State has done because the man neglected his duty. The whole thing is a farce. I maintain that under this Clause the farming community will be afraid to raise their voices. I have received communications from agricultural experts in Scotland with regard to this matter, where men of great experience have been completely neglected.
I desire to ask one last question. Who were consulted, what bodies representing the workers' interests in agriculture were consulted, with regard to the setting up of agricultural committees? The Crofters' Union were not consulted. In many cases local councils were completely neglected. Therefore, with that lack of support from those particular bodies, I say this is a bad Bill as it affects Scotland, and I regret that no hon. Member in any part of the House, on one side or the other, has had an opportunity of bringing forward a definite Amendment which would at least have improved the Bill in this particular respect.
§ 11.0 p.m.
Mr. De la Bère
The Title of this Bill is the "Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Bill," and the House will note that "miscellaneous war provisions" is in the centre. War provisions should be on a generous basis. No one can argue that this Bill fully meets the food requirements of this country in time of war. How my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister can suggest that this is just a Measure to help us on the way, and that others will follow, after six months of war, I do not know.
Mr. De la Bère
That is not an adequate answer. We do not know exactly what those powers are. If the Government have them, they do not use them to the full extent. I do not wish to take 1697 up the time of the House—I should not have spoken now had my Amendment on Clause 25 been called—but I wish to draw attention to the part of the Bill that deals with credit. My right hon. and gallant Friend spoke about prices, as he has done a dozen times—we are sick of hearing about them. It is no good his looking bored. In spite of the assurances he has given, in his wonderful, airy way, the prices that farmers are getting are below the cost of production. Yet he says it is all a matter of prices. Certainly it is; but prices alone, in view of the fact that the farmers are depleted of capital, will not enable them to carry on and give the increased food production that we must have. They are important; but my right hon. and gallant Friend is not protecting the farmers on prices. It is the one thing on which he has let them down. He assures me that he has conferred with the Minister of Food, but I cannot see that he has done anything. The prices of livestock are below the cost of production, having regard to the price of foodstuffs.
I cannot understand why, when I get on to the question of the 5 per cent., he should sweep it aside and say it is of no importance. It is all a matter of importance. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) informed us, in the last Debate, that it might easily run into £250,000. Why should these needy farmers, men who, on the Minister's own admission, are in desperate straits, pay £250,000 to the banks? My hon. Friend over there said that nobody seemed to know why this was done. It is clear that the reason why they are paying 5 per cent. for credits is because the bankers intended to have their fullest possible interest, and no attempt was made by the Treasury or by my right hon. and gallant Friend to prevent that. It is no good my being too polite; it is no good my being too rude, but I am going to tell my right hon. and gallant Friend the truth. He acquiesced; he took the line of least resistance and capitulated, as he has done from the very day he became Minister of Agriculture. I know his difficulties; he has never had the full support he might have asked for. We have not seen my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal during the entire Debate. He is a busy man, but he has pledged himself, 1698 as chairman of the Cabinet Committee, to assist agriculture.
My right hon. and gallant Friend tells us that this is a contribution to agriculture. It may be a contribution to agriculture, but I believe that, if it is ever mentioned by posterity, it will be as the "Miserable Miscellaneous Agriculture Bill." I cannot help feeling that when we are at war we should take this whole agricultural question a great deal more seriously than to put forward a Measure which does nothing to meet those dangers which some hon. Members think are so funny. I do not like standing up here and being laughed at; some hon. Members seem to think I do not mind, but I mind it far less than they think because a lot of "Yes"-men in this country are too idle and too independent to do their job when the country is being endangered day in and day out because of these silly, laughing nonentities who occupy benches in this House.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I rise, not to make a speech, but really to put a point to the Secretary of State for Scotland about which I have been in correspondence with him. There is a large agricultural estate owned by the Crown near my constituency, and I communicated to the Minister a large number of complaints from tenant farmers because they were unable to get any improvements or repairs done to their farms. I was astonished to receive a reply from the Minister of Agriculture that since the war, not only had all improvements but all repairs to these farms had been discontinued.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
This Bill, as I understand it, deals with the question of mole drainage and powers relating to dams.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
I suggest that if the hon. Member is allowed to put his point, it ought to be answered.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.