§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones), who tended to show some impatience about the scope of this Debate, but I would like to point out to him that a number of us, in all parts of the Committee, are most anxious to get a full day's discussion on this most important question of food production and I venture to hope that those who speak will confine themselves to that point. Another reason why it is important that we should have a full day on this subject is that, unfortunately, through nobody's fault, a considerable amount of time has already been taken up by another matter and there is other business to be taken after this Debate.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
The Noble Lord suggests that I showed some impatience, but I was merely raising a point of some importance to hon. Members with regard to the scope of this discussion. We desired a Ruling from the Chair on whether or not we would be able to talk on the question of food distribution and we have had that Ruling.
I should point out to the Committee that, technically, all that is before us now is the Vote for 1195 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Therefore it would be out of Order to go into the other matters referred to, as long as this Vote is before us.
§ Earl Winterton
I can only say that, if permitted to do so, I shall give my hon. Friend all the support possible as regards securing another day for the discussion of the matters to which he has referred. Those of us who asked for this day's discussion are grateful to the Government for having granted it, and I, personally, am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture for having permitted me to open it. I think it is convenient that those who have some friendly but candid criticisms to offer on certain aspects of agricultural policy should start the discussion. May I begin by calling attention to one matter of some importance? The two Debates which we have had recently, one on shipping and the other on agriculture, have not been asked for through the ordinary and what I may call the respectable channels, though I do not complain about that. They have been asked for by a number of us in different parts of the Committee who believe that, in this time of crisis, these most important questions should bedebated on the Floor of the House. I would offer an observation which I think will meet with sympathy in every part of the Committee. It is that to-day there are two assemblies in different parts of the world which enjoy an enhancement of their prestige and position, probably never before equalled. Those two assemblies are the Congress of the United States and the British House of Commons. Therefore, it is of the highest importance that these matters of moment should be debated on the Floor of the House and no addresses by Ministers in party caucus, or to meetings of Members upstairs, useful as those may be, can take the place of debate in this House.
I must warn the Committee that I propose to deal very largely with a question which I have already raised on several occasions and on which I may run the risk of boring the Committee, and that is the question of the use of derelict land and the amount of land which has never yet been cultivated in this country. I have to bring before the Committee serious facts and figures, some of which have never been disclosed before and I 1196 propose, therefore, to pass lightly over the other points which I and my hon. and right hon. Friends wish to bring to the notice of the Minister. I think, however, that these other points should be mentioned, because doubtless the Minister will desire to deal with it. First, as to prices. There, I am frankly a supporter of the Minister. I do not believe that the present controlled prices are insufficient to give a fair return on a moderately good farm and I think that farmers should show gratitude to the Minister for the fight which he has doubtless made in Cabinet to obtain those prices. In regard to labour, the situation is still very unsatisfactory. There is still a great insufficiency of labour. 1 was horrified to receive this letter—which was not marked "Private" and which I can therefore read out to the Committeex2014; from the Minister of Labour:In almost every county, for which a large figure is shown, the demand cannot be met locally and it will be necessary to transfer labour. This immediately raises difficulties of accommodation, and if every one of the men wanted were to be supplied to-morrow, it is certain that they could not all be accommodated. The Ministry of Agriculture are tackling this problem, by for example the provision of hostels, but this takes time.this is the list which he sent me. it goes only up to 29th January; but, as I have not received any notification from my right hon. Friend, who promised to keep me informed, I presume that it is complete. It shows that for farm work the number of unfilled vacancies was only 25, but for drainage and land clearance the number was no less than 1,633. That is a very serious thing. I invite the Minister to tell us what is being done about it. My right hon. Friend should make urgent representations to the Minister of Labour to apply the same conditions of control, and, if necessary, compulsion, to employers and employés alike, in agriculture as he has applied to those in munitions and shipbuilding.
§ Earl Winterton
I shall be very pleased to give my hon. Friend the figures. They are six in Berkshire, one in East Suffolk, 10 in Kent, five in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and three in Wiltshire. [Interruption.] I am not responsible for these figures. There are no vacancies shown for any other counties. I agree 1197 that it is very astonishing, and I hope that my hon. Friends will put some questions on the matter. I shall be very pleased to supply them with this document. I submit that men should be trained and transferred to agriculture from other work, if there is any need for additional labour. I will pass lightly over the question of employment of conscientious objectors on the land. Unfortunately, in most cases where it is proposed to employ conscientious objectors on the land alongside the ordinary labourers, the labourers object. I say unfortunately,"speaking purely from the point of view of getting labour. In regard to land-girls, the situation is still not satisfactory. It is a delicate question to refer to, but one of the main reasons is because of the difficulty which arises from their presence on farms. In some cases it is difficult to find accommodation for them, and there are other cases in which a certain amount of foolish apprehension arises on the part of the farmer's wife or the labourers' wives. In that respect, farming generally is rather behind other industies. In dozens of other industries men and women work side by side without the men's wives having any apprehensions. I would ask my right hon. Friend to answer these questions. Is he going to make application to the Minister of Labour to apply compulsion on the same lines as he is doing in shipbuilding and munitions, and what does my right hon. Friend propose to do about these specific points that I have mentioned?
I pass to the question of poultry and feeding-stuffs. There, again, I am a supporter of the Minister of Agriculture. I do not think that the full story has been adequately stated in the Press. I am informed, on very high authority, that, not once but twice, my right hon. Friend warned the representatives of the poultry industry last summer that the amount of feeding-stuffs that they had had in the past would not be available. He begged them to amalgamate, and, by a friendly process, to eliminate some of the producers. That was not done. I am in a sense doing myself harm from an electoral point of view in saying this, because my constituency has a very large number of poultry producers; but the naked, brutal fact is that it is easier to import eggs than to provide the feeding-stuffs to produce them here. A lot of nonsense 1198 has been talked about the provision of feeding-stuffs for racehorses. I am no supporter of racing, in the sense that I go to a race meeting only about once in four years; but I understand that if all the oats which are used for feeding racehorses at present were used for feeding poultry, they would produce one additional egg per head of the population every four years.
I do not want to detain the Committee long, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is going to speak. I come now to my main point. I wish, once again, to urge that in the course of this discussion we should apply our minds to the question of making the best possible use of the enormous area of land in this country which is not producing animal or human food. May I say, as a preliminary, that the situation in regard to the increased production of human foodstuffs from the land for this harvest of 1941 is far less satisfactory than the majority of people in this country—or probably even in this Committee—realise? An enormous area, which is increasing every day, has been taken away from agricultural production for the purposes of war industry, aerodromes, and the requirements of the War Office in various ways.
§ Earl Winterton
I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend say "Hear, hear." He and the Prime Minister ought to bring the facts into the daylight. The public are led to believe that there will be an enormous production this year. So much land has been taken that, even with a favourable harvest and with all the extra ploughing that has been done, the increase will be very small. On the one hand, there will be a reduction of shipping space, which we cannot help. Even though the issue of the battle of the Atlantic be victory, we shall lose a number of ships; and we shall have to use a great many more ships than we did last year for the conveyance of our troops in the Middle East. This is a most serious situation. I know, having been formerly an assistant Minister at the Air Ministry, that that Ministry requires land which is highly suitable for agricultural purposes. It requires land which is flat and well drained, and, if possible, land which is 1199 in good health. Unfortunately, the interests of agricultural production and of air defence are the same so far as land is concerned—both want the same kind.
But I sincerely hope that the Minister of Agriculture will make the strongest possible representations to the War Office about the manner in which quite unnecessary damage is done to the land. I could give personal examples of action which can be described only as the result of gross ignorance on the part of the rank and file, and of failure by the officers to see that unnecessary damage is not done —gross lack of discipline by the units generally. I want to ask, is everything possible being done, both in the case of land which is already in production and in the case of other land, to hurry up these schemes for riparian and ordinary land drainage? That is of the utmost importance.
Some counties, like the county of West Sussex, have done a great deal by serving orders upon individual farmers to compel them to open their ditches. As far as I could see, when travelling through the country the other day on a certain rather sad occasion to the West of England, very little has been done in a great many counties. I passed through hundreds of thousands of acres of land on the railway and I could not see a newly cleaned ditch, and a lot of that land lay in Wiltshire. That is not so in West Sussex. Apparently notices have been served upon owners or occupiers, as the case may be, compelling them to deal with ditching. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs or any expert on agriculture knows that, on heavy land, ditching and drainage is the key to the position. We should like to have a word on that subject.
What an astonishing thing it is really that after 19 months of war you should still see in this country, within 50 miles of this capital city of the Empire, more land which is capable of producing food for human beings or for animals or being used for grazing animals but which is not so used, than you could see in any similar tract of land in any Western European country. What an astonishing situation. What is wrong with the British that in this time of crisis they allow such a state of affairs to remain? What is wrong with this House that not more of 1200 us deign to protest against it? What is wrong with the British people in this regard? Is the food situation so satisfactory that we are able to look ahead and say, "We have had privations"—perhaps that is too strong a word—"or certain, deprivations with regard to food recently, but it is only a temporary period, and we can look forward to the time when food will be in abundance." It is not true. The Press and indeed all the representatives of the people of this country ought constantly, day by day, and week by week, to draw attention to this glaring anomaly which exists in our very midst and ask for an explanation. My right hon. Friend, as did his predecessors, to whom all credit is due for what they did, is trying to get the utmost fructification from the existing land, which is already being cultivated to produce the most that can begot out of it. But we have reached almost the limit of what can be done in that respect. My right hon. Friend shakes his head. I do not think that he will disagree with me when I draw attention to what is going on in all the dairy counties in the South and West of England. If we have a dry summer this year the majority of the dairy farmers— the small men—will be very short of keep. Of course, I agree that experts say that in the long run more arable land on dairy farms is to the advantage of the herd. That is a question of long-term policy and not short-term policy. You cannot turn cows on to the land in summer where the wheat is half ripened if you want grain for other purposes. We are going to be seriously short. What do the dairy farmers see? It is astonishing that I, with no claim to be anything else but a Tory— some of my friends may call me a Die-hard Tory—a landlord, should have to call attention to these matters. They see thousands of acres of the land meant for grass actually filled with gorse and all sorts of growths, and thousands of acres of deer parks grazing nothing but deer. What is the explanation of this extra-ordinary situation?
Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)
What about golf courses?
§ Earl Winterton
And golf courses, too. I am very glad that my hon. Friend reminded me. It is not a question of the original sin of private or public owners. They are all in the picture— the whole lot of them. The owners of public parks 1201 are as much to blame. Take the case of Hyde Park. What an example it would be. Some of the land in Hyde Park, I understand, is good land. What do we see? A few experimental plots or allotments for the police. Why has it not been ploughed up? What about Richmond Park, which is under the control of the Government? Why is nothing being done there? I would like to know the answer to this question of deer versus ordinary farming practice. Are deer a valuable commodity? If they are an essential part of the meat supply of the country, then their sale should be controlled. Private individuals and public authorities should not be able to keep deer and have as much meat as they want; deer should be in the meat ration. They take up a great deal of land in feeding these deer.
1 say to my Tory friends that if we want to maintain, as I do most emphatically, the principle of private ownership after the war, we had better stir up some of these people at this moment and point out to them that there are cases in juxtaposition of small farmers at their wits' end how to carry on the grass crop even in summer, and who have been ploughing up land. I know that in some cases it has been impossible to get land ploughed; they cannot get labour and are working infinitely hard. These people with small capital are really working as only small farmers can. Next to this sort of farm you may see an enormous deer park with nothing but deer. There are vast areas of commons controlled sometimes by the lord of the manor and sometimes by boards of conservators, who are among the most reactionary people in this country, who do nothing. They should be taken over by Order-in-Council. It does not require legislation. We should provide the labour of conscientious objectors, Italian prisoners of war, when they come over, and for the use of pole-harrows and disc-harrows, or they should allow these lands to be used for grazing the herds of these people. It should be done at once and by Order-in-Council, in my opinion. There is a law which is rather typical of the urban point of view in this country which says that if a man turns out his cattle on to a common and they should advance one inch on to the road he is charged with allowing his cattle to stray on to the road. Really, in time 1202 of war, I think that that law might be abrogated. Motorists, in view of the desperate need for food production and grazing in commons, should put up with the inconvenience of driving slowly over commons because of grazing. It is really ridiculous and one of the instances of the way in which we are treated in this country.
I do not speak as one who has not some knowledge of this subject. I assert with confidence that, if you applied the energy, enterprise and care, there is very little land in this country, except the higher land and moorland, and the moors of Scotland and certain moorlands and commons in western England above a certain level, which could not be put to use. I do not wish to embarrass my right hon. Friend, but I have been over the land of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, which was very poor land when he took it over, and I have seen what can be done, and, in a small way, I have done something of the kind myself. There is too much of the old high farming idea among some leaders in the agricultural world. They think in terms of: "If I do this, I shall ruin the land for the next generation." But it does not matter whom you ruin so long as you keep the people of this country from starvation; it does not matter whom you ruin so long as we win this war. If the war situation was less serious than it is, I could sympathise with farmers who say that they were badly treated after the last war. I was among those who protested about it. We shall no doubt be badly treated after this war. One should say to all these people. Do not worry about these things. The man who is going over the top to dash down the enemy does not say, "Before I go over, I want to know what will be done after the war." He has to kill the enemy. We have to kill the enemy of the actual privation of food.
In conclusion, I would like to say that this question of dealing with our home front in every sense of the word ought to be tackled on a broader basis than has been the case up to the present time. I do not want to embarrass my right hon. Friend the Minister. I am one of his great suporters. I believe him to be an excellent Minister of Agriculture, and I think he carries authority in the Cabinet, but I must say that he appears to get 1203 singularly little help in many respects from other members of the Cabinet. We have had three great war-time Prime Ministers in this country. One was Pitt, another was my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the other is the present Prime Minister. Pitt had somebody to help him far more than is realised by those who have not read his history, and my right hon. Friend beside me, in his generation, had a man like Lord Milner. But who is there in this Government to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister in any dispute between him, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Food,"I represent the Prime Minister; come to my room, and 1 will settle it"? If there is such a man, he is a singularly modest Member of this House. None of us expects the Prime Minister to be present to-day—and I make no complaint of it—but as an old and personal friend of his, I make an earnest appeal to him to realise that this question of the home front, food production and distribution is as important as the strategic policy of this country. I thank the Committee for the attention which it has been good enough to give to the points I have raised, and I would only add that we shall never rest satisfied until we see that there is a real increase in the amount of home-grown food available for our people in this country.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
Since I have had the honour of being a Member of this House I have heard a number of speeches from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but I think I shall carry the Committee with me when I say that he has just delivered one of the best speeches to which we have ever listened. I, personally, would like to thank him very much indeed for what he said about my efforts and to tell him what a great help his speech will be to me throughout the country. During the course of my speech I will deal with the points he raised.
I think there is still a great deal of confusion among the farming community and in the public mind about the objective of our food production campaign in this war, and I hope the Members of the Committee will excuse me if, before I come to what the farmers are doing and our plans for the future, I try to state for two 1204 or three minutes the fundamental factors in this situation. I believe it is vital that the community, both collectively and individually, should understand the immensity of the problems with which we have to cope and the size of the effort we have to make if farmers are to fulfil their task of keeping the people of this country adequately fed and the morale of the people high. I think it is only fair that the public should realise to-day what it owes to the farmers and what it will increasingly owe to the farmers, despite Hitler's efforts to stop them. I would like to make one or two comparisons with what happened in the last war, because the food production campaign of 1916–18, with which the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will always be honourably associated, forms a very good guide.
First of all, what is the size of the human population of this country which has to be fed? In 1917 the number of human beings, civil and military, that had to be fed from the United Kingdom amounted to about 41,000,000. To-day it amounts to 47,750,000—an increase of 6,750,000. That is a fact which I think is not realised at all. Secondly, the area of land in this country which we have available for feeding these people has decreased in the interval by no fewer than 2,500,000 acres. Part has gone for roads, aerodromes, garden cities, suburbs and new factories, while a lot has gone completely out of cultivation and has reverted to scrub, rough grazing and bracken land. Not only has the total amount of cultivated land available decreased by this figure, but the amount of arable land has actually decreased by 4,500,000 acres. Therefore, the problem we had to face at the outbreak of war was this: We had a very much larger human population to feed from a smaller area of cultivated land, and a very much smaller area of land under crops. If I may put it in another way, for every 1,000 acres of cultivated land there were, in the last war, 1,195 people and in 1940 for every 1,000 acres there were 1,521 people—an increase of over 25 per cent. The problem was complicated by another factor, namely, that during the interval there has been an increase in our livestock population and the average level of the fertility of the soil has gone down.
1205 In some areas, used for pigs and poultry, the fertility has gone up, but taking the country as a whole the average level of fertility has gone down very badly indeed.
I have already referred to most of these factors, but I recapitulate them to give the Committee an outline of the picture. For 60 years British agriculture was predominantly concerned with livestock. Some 60 to 80 years ago the whole of that livestock was fed from home sources. Gradually these were supplemented by imported oil-cakes and cereals. During the last 20 years, despite the difficult times for agriculture, the livestock population of this country has increased materially, because imported feeding-stuffs were available in increased quantities. There has been a big increase in the pig and poultry population and to a lesser extent an increase in cattle and particularly in our dairy herds. The trouble was that in order to save losing money farmers used these imported feeding-stuffs not to supplement the produce from our own soil but rather in substitution for production from our own soil.
The result was that between the outbreak of the last war and this war the production of fodder roots and fodder crops for livestock in this country fell by one-third. In other words, we were keeping an increasingly large amount of our livestock by being able to import on an average over 6,000,000 tons a year of feeding-stuffs as such. But while the livestock population was increasing land was going out of cultivation and fields were understocked. Even though there was a reduction of 4,500,000 acres in our arable land, Sir George Stapledon has estimated that there were 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 acres of second and third rate grassland; so it was not even a question of changing over from arable farming to good grassland farming. On the contrary, it was a change-over from arable farming to indifferent grassland farming. In wartime we cannot possibly expect to import more than a small fraction of our pre-war supplies of feeding-stuffs. This was the problem that we had to face. We have to feed an increased human population and an increased livestock population, and to do that we have much less imported feeding-stuffs, a smaller area of cultivated land, a smaller area of arable land, and reduced fertility of the soil. I feel sure I 1206 shall carry hon. Members with me when I ask them to bring these facts home to their constituents. Until people realise the magnitude of the problem, they will not be encouraged to make the necessary effort to put forth the last ounce of their energy.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I am sure the Committee are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the figures he has given. Will he also state what has been the increase in the yield per acre owing to improved methods of farming?
§ Mr. Hudson
As I have said, there has been an improvement in fertility in certain areas of the country, but over the country as a whole fertility has decreased. How are we to meet the problem? My answer is: We can do so in one way only —from our own soil. We have to rely upon our own soil and what we can produce from it in order to meet the situation. We have to rely upon it not only to grow increased crops, such as wheat, potatoes, sugar beet and vegetables, which have to be sold off the farms for cash direct for human consumption in order to ease the strain on our shipping, but in addition, to grow largely increased supplies of feeding-stuffs to keep our livestock alive. And what is more important, we have to grow it in winter and in summer. It is no good having grass for a dairy cow in summer if there are no arable crops or silage in winter to keep up the milk production from the cow. The problem of keeping livestock through the winter is even more serious than keeping it through the summer.
Before I go into the details of what we have done, I should like to give the Committee a picture of the results of our campaign so far. In 1914 and 1916, before the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs started his food production campaign, about 32 per cent. of the cultivated land of this country was under crops. By the end of 1918, he had succeeded in raising the figure to 38 per cent.—a very fine effort. When we started at the beginning of this war, instead of having a percentage of cultivated land under crops of 32, we had only 28. In the same period, however, two years, we have actually increased the percentage from 28 per cent. to 40 per cent., that is to say that, by this Spring, when the ploughing campaign is finished, we expect that the farmers will 1207 have increased the percentage to 40. To put the matter differently, 2,300,000 acres were ploughed up in the campaign in the last war. By this Spring, we expect 3,750,000 acres to have been ploughed up in our campaign. I do not think anyone can legitimately say that the farming community has not made a very remarkable contribution. Not only have we ploughed up those acres, but for the last seven months we have been engaged in a campaign to try to increase the productivity of existing arable land, to try to improve the remaining grassland, and above all, to try to raise the average standard of efficiency of farmers. I hope no one will regard the figures I have given, encouraging though they are, as being any ground for complacency. We must always bring home to the farming community the fact that we started this war at a very much lower farming level than we did the last war, and there is much more leeway to be made up and much farther to go. It is vital that this should be brought home to the country on every possible occasion.
Let me now deal with the details of our activities. A good deal of the ground has been covered by the Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and if the Committee agree, I will, to save time, take that as read, although in passing I should like to thank the members of the Select Committee for the way in which they dealt with my Department and for their useful criticism. As far as the County War Agricultural Committees are concerned, the burden we are casting upon them continues to grow, and the Select Committee paid them a handsome tribute which I think was very well deserved. One of the main difficulties they are up against at the moment is the lack of technical staff. We have combed the country and drawn upon every source, but they are still desperately short of technical staff, and that is due to the failure of the pre-war system of agricultural education.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am afraid they want them for their own agriculture. With regard to the Farm Survey, as the Committee know, the survey was ordered last year, and it has now been completed. It 1208 is no exaggeration to say that without that survey a great part of the detailed progress that has been made during the last nine months would have been impossible. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs may remember a talk which he was kind enough to have with me soon after I was appointed to the Ministry. He will be glad to know what a lusty child has grown up in so short a time out of a little suggestion which he made.
§ Mr. Hudson
It is the most important single thing that we have done. It is the first time that we are able to get any idea in detail of the condition of agriculture in this country. Of course, the way in which the survey was made varied from county to county, but on the whole, it was very well done, considering the speed with which it had to be done. I have decided to have it revised this year on a uniform basis, and this would have been put in hand already but for the additional work caused by the introduction of rationing of feeding-stuffs. I hope the new survey will include a detailed record of every single farm, together with a map. It will be of great value for the food production campaign, but of even more value when we come to discuss post-war agricultural policy, for we shall have for the first time some detailed statistics on which to work. The Forestry Commissioners have, I understand, carried out a survey of private and public woodlands, and my Department and the Forestry Commission are working in close liaison; that information also will be of extreme value for postwar reconstruction when we come to country planning.
I turn now to drainage. I am sure that any considerable increase in arable land next winter—and I am persuaded that a considerable further increase will be necessary—is entirely dependent upon whether or not we can get a large area of water-logged land in this country drained, not only main drainage but also farm drainage. Of course, the limiting factor are labour and machinery. An encouraging start has been made with farm ditches, but it is no more than a start, since the announcement concerning a grant was made. As to machinery, a number of machines have been delivered and are now 1209 in the hands of the county committees, and many more have been ordered and are on their way. The Committee must realise that in this matter I am competing both for steel and engineering products with the Service Departments.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
Is it not the case that the Minister of Supply has said there is no shortage of steel at the moment?
§ Mr. Hudson
There may be no shortage of steel, but the difficulty is finding works which are available to make these machines, and also the necessary engineering labour.
§ Earl Winterton
I have been in touch with what is called the Tractor Producers Association, and I understand that if certain things are done, they can turn out all the tractors required.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am not talking about tractors; I am speaking of drainage. As regards labour, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War has, during the last 10 days or so, provided me with 3,000 members of the Pioneer Corps who will fill the vacancies of the 1,600 men referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham. We have a certain number of conscientious objectors on the job, also a certain number of aliens, and I still have hopes that we may get some Italian prisoners. But when all that is done, there is still need for increased supplies of labour. If I had them, I could make use of them and do a great deal more. They are wanted now —not next winter or next summer, but now.
§ Mr. Hudson
Housing is of course, one of the difficulties, and is one of the limiting factors. Most of the available housing accommodation in these counties is either filled with evacuees or has been taken over by the Services. We are requisitioning all the suitable houses we can find and plans are now in operation for building at suitable places in the various counties a number of hostels which will accommodate about 50 people each. These hostels will be available for mobile gangs of men or women who will be available to help with various agricultural jobs, such as ploughing, harvesting and so 1210 forth; this should help to some extent in solving the problem.
I should now like to refer to what was said by the Noble Lord with reference to parks, golf courses and derelict land. When I first looked at it, I must say I felt rather attracted with the idea of some general ad hoc body dealing with this problem. But I have come to the conclusion that that is not the best way to tackle the problem. There are three limiting factors—labour, machinery and fertilisers. At any given moment it is a very nice and delicate matter to decide what is the best use to make of our total supplies of labour, fertilisers and machinery. Is it better to use them to increase production on the land which is already cultivated, or is it better to devote a certain proportion of the supplies to bring new land into cultivation?
As a result of the Survey made last summer, and the visits I have made to all the county committees in England and Wales, I am convinced that much the quickest and biggest increase in production—and, after all, we are concerned in this crisis with speed—can be obtained by increasing the productivity of existing arable land, and by improving existing grass land, and above all by improving the standard of farming, and pushing up your "B" farmer to an "A" farmer, and your "C" farmer to a "B" farmer. Hon. Members may say that we ought to have more machinery and more fertilisers. I should be delighted to have additional supplies, but it must be remembered that these supplies come from abroad. Under present circumstances, to import unlimited supplies would impose a further serious strain on our shipping. Therefore it is always a delicate problem.
But I hope hon. Members will not under-estimate what is actually being done. I cannot give any exact figures, because I do not want to bother the committees with a surfeit of returns. But our best estimate is that we have somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 acres at present being dealt with by the committees. To bring home to hon. Members a comparison of what that means, I would refer them to the work which has been undertaken by Italy. No doubt they have read about the reclamation by the Italian Government of the Pontine Marshes. They started in 1926, 1211 and up to 1939 they had reclaimed some 200,000 acres, of which only 125,000 acres are arable. That was regarded as a great triumph in Italy, and as a considerable achievement abroad. In our case, it was only in the late summer when I went to see our committees that they were authorised to get on with the job, and it was not until August that this House passed the necessary legislation. Our committees in the course of their day-to-day business have, in seven months, done very nearly as much as it took the Italian Government to do in 13 years.
§ Mr. Hudson
No, Sir, but it is a good comparison as far as total acreage is concerned of the land brought back into cultivation. Let the Committee also remember that a great deal of this land which is being reclaimed has not been cultivated since the last war, that much of it has not been cultivated for generations, and that part of it has never been cultivated in history The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) will be interested to know that we have tackled, and are tackling, 4,000 acres in Anglesey alone— the Maltraeth Marsh. As regards parks, I found that when I was appointed I had no powers to deal with them. We now have powers to deal with parks as a result of a necessary alteration in the Defence Regulations. Taking the country as a whole, a good deal of the park-land has been ploughed up, and a good deal has been improved as grazing land, to be used as a reserve for cattle from neighbouring farms where grassland is being cut down. There is still more to be done, but in fairness it must be remembered that the soil of park-land is very poor and that it includes numbers of trees whose roots make it difficult to plough. Again I have instructed my committees to try to get an additional contribution from golf courses, but usually the more expensive the golf course the less use it is from the point of view of agriculture. I have asked and am trying to get a contribution from this source.
Mr. De la Bère
My right hon. Friend will appreciate that there are very few trees on golf courses, and that many of them would be far more suitable for cultivation compared with some of our farms.
§ Mr. Hudson
Where they can make a contribution they will do so, either by ploughing them up or by improving the grazing for sheep.
Now let me turn to the question of labour. The difficulty about labour, of course, is that in agriculture as distinct from industry dilution is very difficult. On the other hand, there is no doubt that it will have to take place to a certain extent and there may have to be a certain amount of transfer from one part of the country to another. As regards the Women's Land Army, there was a great deal of prejudice against their use by farmers, but I am glad to say in the last few weeks that prejudice is disappearing, and the demand now is actually greater than the supply. Recruits have been coming in very well since the industrial registration of women was foreshadowed. The pace of recruiting has increased, and I hope we shall get a reasonable supply from this source. As the Committee knows, the call-up of agricultural workers from the farms has been postponed until after the harvest.
As regards machinery, supplies, home-produced and imported, are substantially in excess of peace-time levels. I should like to be able to give the figures, but it is better not to do so in the public interest. I am sorry, because they tell a very good story. It may interest hon. Members to know that we have received a large consignment of agricultural machinery from Australia for the first time in our history and it has proved extremely well suited to conditions in this country. As regards fertilisers, I made a forecast about supplies in October and said I hoped that they would be in excess of those of 1939. That forecast has been realised, and farmers will receive increased supplies. Next year we hope supplies will be even greater. There have been immense difficulties and exasperating delays, but I think the back of these has been broken with the help of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Transport, and any farmer who took our advice and ordered 1213 his supplies early should get them delivered in good time. Indeed in the case of nitrogenous fertilisers supply is in excess of demand, and in view of the importance and the value of these fertilisers for securing an increased yield from grass and many farm crops, I am very disappointed at the meagre response that farmers have made to repeated appeals to take up all the supplies that are available. I have sent out a circular asking committees to make this still further known to farmers. It is not even yet too late, but nevertheless it is disappointing that when we have taken all this trouble to get supplies the farmers arc not taking them. As far as phosphates are concerned, supplies are greater than in 1939 and I hope that next year they will be greater still.
[referred just now to the shortage of technical officers from which we are suffering. That brings me to the question of agricultural research, which I regard as of very great importance. The Select Committee described the present state of affairs. I had already reached the conclusion from my own investigations that the position was not satisfactory. Certainly the results of British research, which are not inconsiderable in themselves, have only too often in the past been made much more use of by foreigners than by British farmers. I represented the matter to the Lord President of the Council, within whose purview agricultural research falls. A Committee was sitting under the chairmanship of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, concerned with the extent to which the Government are making use of scientific research, and they considered this question. The Lord President of the Council has asked me to state the action which it is now proposed to take to remedy the existing state of affairs. The Agricultural Research Council will be granted an increased sum for use at its completely unfettered discretion in promoting basic or fundamental research. It is hoped by this means that it will be possible to use, to the advantage of agricultural research, the very best brains in the scientific world. As I said, the Council's control over the use of this sum of money will be completely unfettered. At the same time it will continue, as in the past, to exercise general scientific supervision over the research being carried on 1214 at the various institutes. This will be done, as heretofore, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself.
At the same time we are impressed with the need of taking more active steps to see that the results of research are made known to the ordinary farmer and given greater opportunities of establishing themselves in everyday practice. To this end I propose to appoint a body for England and Wales which will be responsible to me directly and which I hope will command as much respect in the agricultural world as the Agricultural Research Council does in the scientific world. The functions of the new body will be twofold. On the one hand, it will be concerned to devise methods for seeing that all promising results of research are applied as rapidly as possible to the problems of agriculture and are incorporated in the practice of the everyday farmer. On the other hand, it will keep me informed—so that I can advise the Agricultural Research Council—on any problems of agricultural practice which it considers should be the subject of scientific investigation. The name of the new body has not been decided, nor have its members been appointed. A further announcement will be made on this in due course. As Scottish problems do in many respects differ considerably from those of England and Wales, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will appoint a similar body for Scotland. I should add that it is hoped that members of the Agricultural Research Council will be appointed both to the English and to the Scottish bodies so as to preserve as close a liaison as possible.
In connection with that, I am going into the question of the reform of the system of agricultural education with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education. Clearly the reform of agricultural education is vital if you are to improve the general standard of agricultural training. We have got to start with the elementary schools and this is very much in our minds.
§ Mr. Hudson
No one realises that more than the teachers. Now may I say a word about waste? There seems to be 1215 a general impression that if only you could collect all waste food, it would suffice to keep up our pre-war number of pigs. Unfortunately that is not so. The amount annually available is difficult to estimate exactly, but the Ministry of Supply believe, from sample tests, that it amounts to some 450,000 to 500,000 tons a year. Of that figure 110,000 to 120,000 tons have already been collected by local authorities and sold to farmers, 60,000 to 70,000 tons are being collected by contractors and by farmers themselves. Then you have the large number of pig clubs; probably 30,000 to 40,000 pigs are being kept by pig clubs and individuals. Then there is the food consumed by 15,000,000 hens belonging to nearly 800,000 backyarders and small producers. When you deduct the whole of this from the available supplies, it is probable that only something of the order of 100,000 tons are still available for collection. We are taking steps with the Ministry of Supply to get that amount collected, but even if the whole of it were collected, it would not allow us to keep more than another 150,000 pigs. In any case with increased strictness of rationing the amount of swill, and especially the feeding value of swill, is likely steadily to diminish.
Before I sit down may I say a word about policy, especially livestock policy? The Select Committee on Expenditure said that they felt entitled to emphasise that there is bound to be waste of national resources if there is uncertainty about policy; that the policy of agricultural production cannot, without waste, be changed from season to season, but should cover a definite cycle or rotation. They go on to say that the difficulties of fully achieving this aim in the difficult conditions of war are realised, but nevertheless the aim should be kept in view. I naturally agree with that in theory, but do not let us under-estimate the difficulties of applying it in practice and of forecasting at any particular date the development of the war and the effect that that development may have on agriculture. Let me illustrate it by the history of the last 18 months. Before the war our agricultural policy was based on two assumptions, both reasonable at the time. One was that France would remain our Ally and the other was that modern methods newly developed would keep the sub- 1216 marine menace more or less within control. No one could reasonably have been expected to foresee the conditions in which we actually found ourselves last June. It was then clearly necessary to have a change of policy which would have a profound effect on agriculture.
The first thing was to warn farmers of the change. The most important thing is to warn farmers as long ahead as possible of any change of policy. They were warned that they must make themselves as far as possible self-supporting in feeding-stuffs for their livestock. Meanwhile we set to work to thrash out the details. It was finally decided, I am glad to say, that we should go all out for the maximum increase in total production. It was within that framework of trying to get the maximum possible production that we decided to encourage and give priority to the production of certain foodstuffs to which special importance was attached, such as milk, potatoes and vegetables. We also decided that it was very desirable to keep our agricultural balance and our policy as flexible as possible. We told the farmers through the committees of the various priorities and we told them to become as self-supporting as possible in feeding-stuffs and to grow dual purpose crops, for the reason that if things went well or reasonably well those crops could be fed to livestock, and if things went ill we should be able to eat the livestock and also the crops.
To-day I think that it can be claimed that we are reaping the advantages of that policy. We have got through the winter despite serious losses of food and feeding-stuffs at sea and on land. We got through the winter with our milk production virtually maintained. The figure of liquid milk consumption for January was the highest in our history. We got through with reasonable supplies of the important vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and greenstuffs, and with our herds intact. We asked farmers to keep a reserve of meat on the hoof as far as feeding-stuffs would allow. At the beginning of the year we took stock of the position to see what changes in policy, if any, were necessary. The first thing to recognise is that there is bound to be a shortage of imported meat because of the claims of the Middle East campaign. That shortage will continue for several months, and British agriculture will have to make good that shortage in order that the meat ration 1217 for the people may be maintained. We shall have to kill off a larger number of cattle than usual in order to do it, and our policy of maintaining a reserve on the hoof has now been amply justified.
In the last war the main effort was devoted to increasing the production of wheat and potatoes. Incidentally, the production of milk fell seriously, and the production of meat also fell. In this war we have not only to increase the production of wheat, potatoes, and vegetables, but we have also to keep up milk supplies and, in addition, to grow increased supplies of feeding-stuffs for our cattle. Above all things, we have to avoid the mistake we made in the last war to some extent, and which the Germans made to a much bigger extent, of maintaining a large head of cattle on a bare maintenance ration which will produce neither meat nor milk. That is a sheer waste of feeding-stuffs. It is far better, in our opinion, to keep a rather smaller head of cattle alive reasonably well fed and producing milk and meat than to have them, as a farmer put it to me, walking about doing nothing but growing old. If the farmers co-operate loyally in carrying out this policy, we can by the autumn have in this country a head of livestock which we can keep through the coming winter in reasonably good condition on home-grown feeding-stuffs and producing meat and milk. In addition, we shall have large supplies of cereals and vegetables for human consumption. Agriculture will still remain flexible and well-balanced and capable of making a still bigger effort, as it will probably have to do next year.
The exact details are being worked out. The sort of general picture is a culling of the dairy herd on a selective basis, getting rid of the poor yielders. We hope that it will have little or no effect on the total milk production. We shall have to have a slight reduction in beef cattle, which will be helped by the lack of intake from Eire, and keep up the numbers of hill and arable sheep. The existing reduction in lowland grass sheep must be continued. Pigs and poultry will have to be reduced to from one-quarter to one-third of their pre-war level. In the country generally we shall have to plough up more grassland. We are consulting county committees on the task they can perform this year and also on the equally important 1218 question of reseeding worn-out arable. It is clear that if you have taken two or sometimes three white crops, you have to make arrangements for restoring fertility. A circular went out only yesterday to committees giving them advice and asking for their views.
§ Earl Winterton
Are compulsory powers to be taken to clear commons of gorse so that they can be used for grazing? This applies particularly to the south and west of England.
§ Mr. Hudson
That is a matter of balance between labour and machinery. We are doing something, but it is a long job and expensive of labour and machinery. It is a job that will be done as far as we can do it. we shall have to have more ploughing up and reseeding. We are considering whether we can make more efficient use of the fertilisers that are likely to be available, and there will be an intensified campaign for drainage, both arterial and farm. We have to consider the better cultivation of existing arable and the improvement of the remaining grassland, and we have to raise the standard of the farming of the less good farmers. This means a greater application of the results of modern research to ordinary farming practice. All this sounds a formidable programme. It is, but it is not one whit smaller than the nation's need demands. If it is asked whether it is within the power of the farming community to do it, I say that it is. The wherewithal, the tools, are there. The farmer knows what his prices are to be, and that on the whole they are reasonable; he has a guaranteed or safe market for everything he can produce; ample credit is available; and he has largely increased supplies of machinery and fertilisers already at his command, and more have been arranged for and are on the way. He is sure of his existing skilled labour until after the harvest, and we are taking steps to supplement it. Above all, he has available the best technical advice in the kingdom, free of all charge to himself, if he will ask for it.
There are a number of hon. Members, and in particular the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, whom I have heard preaching, year in and year out, on the necessity for an agricultural revival and the need for making proper use of what is, after all, 1219 our greatest national asset, our land. I am sure they will agree that once land has gone under, once a farm has deteriorated, it is not an easy or quick job to get it into condition again. In ordinary times one would say you could not do it in one or two years. Considering the difficulties, and despite the difficulties, an immense revival has been accomplished by the farming community. The very face of the countryside has been transformed, as any one can see who travels about. Not only has it been changed physically, but I believe there has been a change of spirit, and I believe that I can see a new spirit of enterprise and a new realisation of the vital importance of the task that lies before agriculture.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
The right hon. Gentleman has just given us a very impressive and interesting account of what his Department has done to play its part in our national war effort, and I think I can say that he can rely upon every hon. Member here to back him up in that work —to impress upon those connected with the land the immensity of the task that still lies before them and to insist that there must be no resting from their labours in the carrying out of that policy. If I have to offer a few criticisms of what he has said I assure him that they will be of a purely constructive character. We all agree that there is a big leeway to make up. I think the Committee on National Expenditure, which not long ago issued that very interesting Sixth Report, struck the right note when it said:'' There is consistent evidence of need to establish a spirit of confidence in order to get the maximum productive effort out of the farming industry.The industry feel, I think, that with present prices fixed they have the confidence which will enable them to carry on, but I agree with the Minister that the task now is to increase output and improve the efficiency of the farming industry rather than actually to increase the acreage under the plough. Here again the Committee on National Expenditure made a very wise remark, in Section 47 of its Sixth Report:It will be necessary to have more selective methods in the Orders for ploughing up grass land in the second year and in the directions for improving the cultivation and yield of existing arable land, the latter being the aspect of the policy which requires greater attention.1220 That, I suggest, is the next problem which the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry has to tackle, and its record in dealing with it is the one upon which it will be judged in the course of the next 12 months. I fear, indeed I know, that the yield, from a very large part of the land which was ploughed up last year was unsatisfactory. That is because the land was hastily ploughed up in the winter of 1939–40. It was not limed. Often the old pastures were sour on the surface, were suffering from lack of drainage, and consequently there were poor yields. Although I know it is not possible to get the figures, I have a very strong suspicion that a very large part of the land ploughed up in the winter before fast has not produced what it should have produced, and I fear very much that a lot of land which was ploughed up this last autumn and this winter will not produce what it should.
This depends upon what I call the upland drainage. I mean by that the surface drainage of that land above flood level which does not come under the jurisdiction of catchment boards or the internal drainage boards. Years of depression have brought it about that farmers have economised and not cleaned out their ditches; they have allowed the outfalls of their surface land drains to get blocked, and an enormous amount of leeway has to be made up in this connection before it can be said that the position is satisfactory. I am glad that the Minister hinted at his difficulties in this respect, because I am sure he is correct. The Agriculture Act, 1940, deals with the problem from a financial point of view. There is now no difficulty in getting the necessary finance for dealing with the problem. Grants of an adequate and generous nature are available, but it is now a question of finding the materials and the staff and the labour to carry out the work.
I am satisfied that the drainage departments of many county councils are, not equal to their task, largely because they have not sufficient staff. I know that it is difficult now to get trained men, but possibly the Minister might see whether the universities and the agricultural research institutions might be able to help him out. Are we encouraging a sufficient number of young students to take up this work on condition that if they pass their 1221 preliminary examinations they will be exempt from military service if they continue in this career? I think that is one way in which, in the course of the next 12 months, we ought to be able to get recruits for this very important national work. It is just as important to see that the drainage staffs of our county councils are properly manned as it is to see that the few hundred men, perhaps, who are concerned go into the Armed Forces. I know the difficulties in these times, when so many are claiming exemption from military service because this or that occupation is said to be essential, but I put in a plea for these men, because I can assure the Minister that unless there is an adequate staff for this drainage work the yields in the coming harvest and in the harvest that will follow will not be what they ought to be.
Drainage is one aspect of the problem of raising our yields; the supply of artificial manures is another aspect. The Minister seemed to be rather too complacent about the supply of artificials. I am not so sure about it. I am inclined to think there is a definite shortage. I know there is a shortage of potash and I hear that there is a distinct shortage also of super-phosphates.
I have some evidence also that distribution is not taking place in the right way. One of my hon. Friends informs me that things are going on in Herefordshire which ought not to go on, in respect of the distribution of important artificial manures. I have heard the same thing from other sources. I understand that the Ministry advised farmers early in the winter to put in their orders for artificial manures. In many cases farmers did so, but now they are being superseded by people who put in their orders later and have certificates from the war agricultural executive committee, which puts them in a prior position to those who ordered their manures early in the winter. Contradictory orders of that kind ought not to take place. If advice is given to farmers it should not be superseded by the certificates issued by war agricultural executive committees.
As regards the class of land scheduled for cultivation, it is very important that the most suitable land is ploughed and cultivated. I was glad that the Minister seemed to recognise this necessity. The 1222 less suitable land which is still under grass should be tackled in some other way. A correspondence took place in the '' Times'' not very long ago as to the wisdom of the policy of ploughing up old and valuable pastures. I think the Minister and his war agricultural executive committees are right in concentrating upon the ploughing up of the very best land, even the old pastures, because there has been a revolution in methods of dealing with these lands, thanks to the work done by the Aberystwyth College, the Agricultural Research Stations and the work of Sir George Stapledon. It is possible, in a very short time, to re-establish pastures after they have been ploughed up. We need not object now to the ploughing up of even the most valuable old pasture lands. In this respect, I would like to support the views of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) when he asks for the ploughing up of park land. There are difficulties, especially with trees, because it is not easy to get the plough round them sometimes. There are parks in my own county which have been ploughed up. One area of park land produced 40 bushels of oats to the acre last harvest, whereas it was just used for cattle previously. I know there are parks and parks, but it is important to do something with them if only for the moral effect produced in the countryside when people see park lands pulling their weight, as it were, in the great national emergency.
There must also be recognition of the types of land which, more than other types, ought to be ploughed up. Some of the wold and downs land have tumbled down to grass in the last 20 years, because at corn prices then existing it was entirely unprofitable for ploughing. But with high evaporation they would never make very good pasture. They should now go back mainly to arable. That is a different matter to the problem of the heavy clay lands of the Midlands. Although they can grow very good corn they can also grow very good grass, and if much of them is ploughed up now, they will not yield what they should, unless certain preliminary measures have been carried out. Much of this land requires preliminary liming and surface draining. Care must be taken to see that there is no Procrustean bed established by the war agricultural executive committees for their 1223 areas, and that the types of land have to be considered according to their own separate problems.
The war agricultural executive committee ought to be in possession of all possible information about the types of land and their potentialities. The Minister told us that the committees are in possession of certain reports and maps. I take it that he meant the reports of the Land Utilisation Society and the maps of which I have a copy here relating to a certain part of the country. The maps certainly give a lot of important information collected by the Land Utilisation Surveys, but I suggest that the information is not sufficient. These surveys merely gave the general types of use, such as woodland, arable, pasture or waste land, but a much more detailed classification is necessary of the types of pasture and arable land. The only way we can obtain it is by a vegetation survey of the unploughed pastureland. If one knows the percentage of good grasses in a pasture and the percentage of bad grasses, one has a rough idea of the state of the subsoil and the condition of the surface drainage, as well as possibly the geological formation; certainly also the rainfall and the rate of evaporation. All such factors combine in the creation of what is called the vegetation association of a pasture.
I am sorry to weary the Committee with all these botanical details, but they are vitally important. I am not speaking without authority. A lecture was delivered at the Royal Geographical Society last autumn by Dr. Dudley Stamp, the head of the Land Utilisation Survey, who made a statement in which he showed that this was a very important aspect of land survey. He said:A primary vegetation survey can be used not only to subdivide a region, but also to indicate its potential development and improvement.That is an important statement. Sir George Stapledon has actually done that work for Wales. Before the war, he and his collaborators made a vegetation survey of the whole of that area. No doubt, the war agricultural executive committees for Wales have the results of his investigations. What I want to know is, how far that is being done for England. I know that a vegetation survey was in progress at the outbreak 1224 of the war. I am not talking of the land utilisation survey; it is useful, as far as it goes, but we want something more detailed than that. We want to know in respect of each area, and, if possible, in each county, what types of pasture land there are, and what types of vegetation are growing on the pastures. Then we can say with much greater ease, "That land should be ploughed up rather than that," and "That land should have a higher percentage of arable than that." If we apply this scientific knowledge which is known to the agrcultural botanists, we shall be able to get for our war agricultural executive committees a greater knowledge and thus make it possible for them to carry on their task with greater efficiency. It is all the more important, too, because not all the war agricultural committees are as efficient as they might be. In the main, I think they are, but in some of them there are too many archaic types of farmers, landlords and agents. If the few which are like that were supplied with the material of these surveys, and if the Ministry had it as well, there would be no excuse for inefficiency. It would be easier for the Minister to put greater pressure upon them if the full weight of scientific knowledge was also on his side.
There is another case where I think a survey of the type that I suggest would be very valuable. We have all to grow on the land a certain acreage of potatoes. Quite rightly it is thought undesirable to allow the potato production to be concentrated too much in one area, that the land which for decades past has grown potatoes as its main crop should not be the sole supplier of potatoes, and that the production of the crop should be dispersed well throughout the country. But there are certain areas, I think, where a vegetation survey would show that the potato crop is not likely to be at all satisfactory. The average cost of producing potatoes can run up to very high figures. But on an average it may be regarded as roughly around £30 an acre. Good yielding lands can produce 10 tons and more. Poor yielding lands—non-potato lands, I will call them—may produce only four or five tons. You may get areas—I know of some on the Cotswold hills— where that would happen, and it is indeed doubtful whether you could get out without a loss in certain types of the land in 1225 that district. I do not think it would be an advantage to the nation to have to grow potatoes on land where the yield was below a certain figure. I suggest that a survey of the type I recommend would give the agricultural executive committees some indication of the kind of land which they could press into use for growing potatoes and those types which could be excused from being so used.
I would raise one point in connection with animal diseases. We have to face a reduction in the dairy herds and, in fact in all live-stock herds. But I suggest that if we could reduce, and if possible eliminate, four diseases of dairy stock, we should not only avoid any decrease in our milk yields but we should have an increase. It is estimated that four diseases of dairy cattle at present produce a loss of 200 millions gallons a year, to the value of £12,500,000. Those diseases are contagious abortion, sterility, mastitis and Johne's disease. Three of these diseases can be controlled by vaccines; the fourth, Johne's disease, cannot be controlled by vaccines, but blood tests can be made which can lead to the elimination of the reacting animal. That means that it is necessary that there should be a widespread campaign for the purpose of eliminating these diseases by vaccination and constant attention by veterinary officers.
Usually these diseases are detected by the farmer when it is too late, and, therefore, what we require is a scheme whereby every stockholder will agree to have his herds examined every few months for a round payment every year. I know that a group of veterinary experts are interested in a scheme for the purpose of popularising this type of service, and I know, too, that the Minister has been considering it. I would ask him to give most serious and sympathetic consideration to it. I know that there are many difficulties. One is the necessity for standard vaccines. The vaccines are not often of a standard quality. The veterinary profession is not controlled quite in the same way as the medical profession, and vaccines not of the standard type can get into currency. That is one problem which I hope the Minister will tackle. The other problem is the training of the necessary veterinary staff, to make it possible for a nation-wide campaign of this kind. At the present time 1226 it is probably true that the veterinary profession is not sufficiently trained to handle this problem in large parts of the country. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give the most careful consideration to this matter, and that no professional jealousy, of which one hears ugly rumours in some quarters, will be allowed to stand in the way of initiating a campaign of this kind.
I hope, too, that the Ministry will continue with its campaign to popularise production of silage. As the corn merchants' quarterly bills go down, the home-grown contents of the farmers' barns must go up. Roots, kale, beans, oats and, last but not least, silage must be the mainstay of the livestock farm in the coming year. Good work has been done, but there is one point I would like to raise here. I have grown silage crops for some years past, and I find that it is desirable to have, if possible, a chaffer and blower to chaff your silage and blow it up into your stacks. You get a better quality of silage if you do that. Unfortunately, the only blower and chaffer on the market is much too big and cumbersome, and is a highly expensive machine. Not less than £120 was the last quotation I heard. It shoots the silage up 40 feet in the air, which is quite unnecessary..What is needed is a small machine which will shoot up just the height of a small stack and cost not more than £50. Such a thing is not on the market, and I suggest to the Ministry that if they could see the agricultural engineers and induce them to get out a machine of that type it would be of enormous value in popularising the silage campaign.
Farmers, in fact, are already turning their farms more and more into little fortresses of self-sufficiency, but I fear that just as they are beginning to do this the Ministry of Food will come along in the course of this year and requisition some of their feeding-stuffs for human consumption. We must not complain; we know the shipping position and it may force this to be done. Pigs and poultry will largely disappear in the course of the next 12 months, and beef cattle will no doubt follow. Sheep will be confined to the upland grazing lands on the Welsh and Scottish borders. It may even be feared that our dairy herds will be reduced. The richer lands of England will more and more have to grow human food which is 1227 required in this time of crisis, potatoes, oats and wheat, leaving to the Celtic borders the duty of keeping all the livestock which can be kept.
I ask the Minister to bear in mind the great effect it will have on the fertility of our land if our livestock is reduced to a great degree It would bring us back largely to where we were in the years of depression. Reduced livestock will mean reduced animal manure, and you cannot altogether fill the gap with artificials. We shall for the next year or two live on the stored-up fertility of our old grasslands, but that will go after two corn crops, and it breaks a good farmer's heart to see his land robbed of its fertility. He may have to do it. We may have to steel our hearts "until this tyranny be over-passed," but I hope that the Minister will put off ths evil day as long as possible so that our farmers may still produce the maximum food for the nation while preserving the fertility of our native land.
§ Mr. Donald Scott (Wansbeck)
I would draw the attention of the Committee for a few moments to a type of farming which has not already been mentioned, or has only been touched upon, a type of farming which cannot make its contribution to the national food-supply in the shape of either cereals, milk or potatoes. I refer, of course, to hill farming. There is in England and Wales an area of about 5,000,000 acres, and in Scotland of about 10,000,000 acres, of land which is returned every year as "rough grazing,' and a considerable proportion of it comes within the category of mountain, fell or hill land. I do not presume to speak with any authority for that type of land in Wales, in the Lake district or indeed in Scotland, but I have some personal knowledge and experience of that vast tract of hill country which lies between England and Scotland and which our forefathers called the "Middle Marches," and I take it that conditions there are not dissimilar to the conditions in other parts of the country.
Those who have inquired into these matters will have found that all has not been well with hill farming for the past two decades, and that for a variety of causes. Hill farming has gone. down into the abyss of slumps in company with the 1228 rest of the industry, but it has always gone further, because the various aids which the various Governments have given have only helped the hill farmer indirectly. He has always had all his eggs in one basket, and this has not always been very profitable. That same period has seen a very grave increase both in the severity and incidence of certain sheep diseases peculiar to upland farms, such diseases as pine, lamb dysentery, louping ill and tick born fever. At the same time there has been a very grave progressive deterioration in the land itself from various causes, such as the growth and spread of heather and bracken and the neglect of drains. This is a very serious state of affairs, because of the importance of hill farming and of the contribution which that branch of the industry can make to the national resources. That importance is twofold, because the hill farms are not only the source of mutton and wool, and of store lambs to be fed off in the. lower country, but they are the source too of some of our basic breeds, the Black-faced and the Cheviot, which when they are brought down and crossed with the proper type of Border Leicester ram produce, the one, the Grey-Face or mule, and the other the half-breed, which has become one of the most popular breeds of sheep for the Lowland flockmaster.
May I turn for one moment to the future? Every countryman and almost every thinking and informed townsman realises more and more the necessity, for the future, of a long-term policy. This is neither the time nor the place to discuss what that policy should be, but I am sure that many Members of this Committee are a little disappointed that we are not hearing more of the preparations which ought to be now being made in view of such a policy. Just as the ordinary farmer is looking forward to something, so the hill farmer is looking forward to a long-term policy which will suit his peculiar need and difficulty, and it may interest the Committee to know that on Friday of last week I attended a conference of hill farmers at King's College, Newcastle. It was convened by Dr. Weldon of the Agricultural Department there and was presided over by Lord Eustace Percy. People attended from the four Northern counties, and for six hours we listened to practical men, scientists 1229 and economists. We did not listen to grumbles; we listened to sound constructive criticism and I can well believe that during those six hours we saw the preparation of a seed-bed upon which one day a long-term policy may be sown.
As I have said, this is neither the time nor place to suggest what that policy should be, but I am going to suggest, most humbly but with all sincerity, certain schemes which His Majesty's Government might put into force now and which, firstly, would have the effect of increasing production from the hills now, secondly would make no demand on raw materials or on shipping space, and, thirdly, may form a basis for the post-war policy of which I have spoken. A point which arises is that, naturally, any such scheme necessitates machinery. I submit that the machinery exists in the shape of the County War Agricultural Executive Committee and of the local committees, and all that would be necessary would be to give them slightly increased powers where they are dealing with hill conditions.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend speak to-day of a further survey. The first job I would suggest would be a survey of the purely hill farms on the lines of that which has been carried out in the lowlands during the past year. Acting upon that, my first object would be to overcome the bottle-neck of hill production, the winter food supply. The average hill farm of several thousand acres has probably only a few hay fields, which have been stocked year by year until late in the spring. They have been hayed year after year, and the only manurial treatment has been a little farmyard manure. Consequently, their fertility has gone down and down, until it has reached a very low level. I should like to see the war executive committee giving orders to secure the correct manurial treatment of those farms, and seeing that those orders are carried out, even if it means an increase in the basic slag and lime subsidies, even if it means certain priorities being given to those hill pastures and people appointed to see that the work is carried out. Secondly, the creation of new hay fields on the hill farms should be achieved wherever possible, by enclosing portions of the Fells, ploughing them, and re-seeding them. I know that that is not an economic proposition if it is looked at 1230 from the short point of view, but the time has gone by when we can look upon food in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. We have to look upon it in terms of life or death, victory or defeat. My third suggestion for dealing with this matter may sound revolutionary, and even fantastic. It is the introduction of silage on the hill farm. Experiments have shown that it is possible to make good high-grade silage out of bracken, grass and some sweetening material. I hope those experiments will be carried on during the summer, with a very much larger grant than has been given in the past.
My next point concerns cattle on hill farms. In a great many of these farms in the last century one found cattle and sheep grazing together, and only sheep are found there to-day. Never was there a time when a reversion to the old policy was more necessary. It would require the provision of extra winter keep, but I have shown how that could be produced. Cannot we look upon the hills as a great cattle reserve, first, for breeding purposes, and, secondly, for feeding the older store cattle. That would have a great effect on sheep production, directly and indirectly, and it would help our meat position. Sir John Milne Home has said that where you have a hill farm capable of carrying a sheep to 1½ acres and can put breeding cows on it at the rate of one cow per 30 acres, your meat output is doubled. Obviously, you cannot do this on the whole of the hill farms: it applies only to a small portion of the farms.
I turn to the question of heather, bracken and drains. Take heather first. Partly because of the old, absurd fallacy that what was good for the sheep was not good for the grouse, and partly for other reasons, there is a good deal of heather on the hills which is not properly burned. The old woody stuff which is of no use to bird or beast, and it plays its part in spreading disease. I am aware that the agricultural war executive committees have powers to supervise, and to order more burning. I am not going to labour the point. I will only ask whether my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is satisfied that the committees are making use of their powers in a proper manner? We all know that bracken is spreading on the hills. It is coming down, encroaching into the fertile lands below, sapping the soil's fertility, and restricting 1231 grazing. It is one of the most important factors in the spread of disease and in the increased incidence of maggot fly. For years, owing to continued and increasing neglect, the drains have not been running in the hills. Sour land is increasing, and this is another factor which makes for sheep disease. I am thankful that there are grants for draining and for bracken-cutting, but grants without labour are no use. Here is a splendid job for those Italian prisoners when we get them, and splendid unskilled work for labour camps from the towns.
These problems definitely exist. I have had to go over them rather hurriedly. I do not pretend that my solutions are necessarily the correct ones, but I beg most earnestly that my right hon. Friend will look into these problems and set up machinery to see whether we cannot get greater production from the soil, not only this year but next year. The contribution that the hill farms can make may seem very small compared with that of the smiling valleys down below. But we are wasting part of that potential hill contribution and what we waste to-day we are going to want to-morrow. And wanting food we shall face defeat from starvation. The people on the hills, the shepherds and the farmers themselves, are almost a race apart. They are men of great patriotism, great skill, and they are very far-seeing. They are dying to make a great effort, but there are these various problems in the way. Cannot we have these problems removed? Then we can say, with all reverence, in the words of the Psalmist:I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
Mr. Lloyd George (Carnarvon Boroughs)
I did not hear the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Scott), but, from what I have heard of the last sentences and what I have been told by my colleagues here about his preceding sentences, I am aware that he has made a very valuable contribution to the discussion, and one of practical importance. I was very interested in what he said about the deterioration in the past years of the hillsides. I remember walking over the hills of Cardiganshire three or four years ago with Sir George Stapledon, and he pointed out to me hillsides which were covered with 1232 bracken, and along which the bracken was leaping onwards year by year. He said that those hillsides were once quite clear of bracken and provided good pasture. I think the hon. Gentleman made too modest an estimate of what the hills are capable of doing in the provision of pasture. Some farmers told me that if Sir George Stapledon's ideas were carried out the pasturage was capable of maintaining three sheep where formerly it could feed only one very sparsely. That would make a tremendous contribution to the meat supplies of this country, and it can be done at the present moment.
I have not come here to criticise and least of all to censure. The right hon. Gentleman is the third Minister of Agriculture we have had during the present war. He was not there at the beginning. He had not made a special study of the agricultural problem, and he came to it quite new, when a great many things were settled which have turned out to be all wrong, and which are very difficult for him to alter, especially when it comes to dealing with personnel. The personnel of the agricultural committees are not his. They were not Dorman-Smith's either. They were all there before him, before he took up his job, and it is one thing to create a new body where you can choose your own men but quite a different thing to change men who are already in possession. The Prime Minister knows that. Nobody believes that this is the distribution of offices that he would have made if he had started afresh and appointed his own Ministry. There are so many men who would not really have been chosen. They are not quite good enough to be kept in their positions, but they are too good to sack. But that is a difficulty which a Prime Minister has when he is dealing with a Ministry which is already in existence, and it is equally true when dealing with agricultural committtees. They are not so bad as when poor old Jackie Fisher, when at the Admiralty, used to say, "Sack the lot." They are not that, but they are very mixed, and that is one of the difficulties with which the right hon. Gentleman has to deal. Some of them are quite good, a good many of them are fairly good, and a great many of them are thoroughly bad. I could name some of them at the present moment from reports which I have re- 1233 ceived from men in the locality who have given me very good chapter and verse, and I have made some inquiries about them. They are not all in England. I am not sure about Scotland. I wish I were more sure about Wales. But there is not doubt at all that, if the Minister of Agriculture had had the chance of making his own appointments, in time, when he got accustomed to the realities of his job, it would have been a different thing.
As I have said, I am not here to criticise and to censure, but I once more feel it my duty to come here to draw earnest attention to the peril in which we stand through lack of a real tackling of this problem.. That is not a criticism of the right hon. Gentleman. I want to make that fact clear. There are several Departments concerned, and you could see all that creeping through some of his own observations. There are several Departments—five or six. I am not criticising the Prime Minister, because he has a tremendous amount to do, but unless he himself takes special and particular interest in it and uses his authority, an authority such as he personally possesses, and an authority which any war Prime Minister must possess not merely in his own Cabinet but in the nation, and says, "This and this and this has to be done,'' it will not be done.
I have come down here because I feel very uneasy and very anxious, and have a sense of something that is ominous unless this problem of food production is taken up on a more drastic, more comprehensive, and—I do not like to use the word '' revolutionary ''—a more thorough principle and policy than has ever been done either in the last war or the present. It is no use quoting the last war. We then had to deal with a serious problem. But it was not nearly as serious as the problem is in the present war, and to say that such things were done in the last war, and that such and such things which were not done are done this time, and that we have done better, is not enough. You are dealing with facts which are completely different from the facts which you handled in the last war.
It is very difficult, as anybody who has been making agricultural speeches in this House must know, to get a real interest in the problem. The agricultural Debates used to compete with Scottish Debates in 1234 the degree of interest which they excited in the House, and I do not know which of them won. The House was not interested. If you went to Manchester or Liverpool and delivered a political speech on agriculture, they would say, "He has lost his judgment. He has no sense of that in which an audience is interested." And it was never attempted. The country had lost its interest in agriculture. Seventy or 80 years ago, when agriculture was a real interest, it was almost the most powerful interest in this House. When I came here 50 years ago, it was a fairly powerful interest, but you could see it gradually waning, and we became a plutocratic, manufacturing and completely industrialised nation. The sort of feeling was, "Farmers are a hard-up lot. They are always hard up." The problem of agriculture was never discussed in the Debates. They simply said, "Let us give them something with which to carry on," just as if they were handing out alms. There was no attempt by any party to get to the root of the whole problem, and I never heard a real agricultural Debate in this House. It is one of the political boredoms of every controversy. When you recall occasions when there was excitement about some political issue 20 or 30 years ago in the House—as I do sometimes—when there was a frenzy over a certain matter, people say, "What a lot of lunatics there were in the House of Commons then." But the Members then were no more lunatic than the Members of to-day. There are certain things that excite at a particular moment, just as at the theatre there are certain fashions in plays. When you remind people that a certain play ran for two or three years, they are amazed. It is just the same with politics.
Here is agriculture; it has always played to an empty house. You have subsidised the theatre to keep it going, and now the life of the nation depends upon agriculture at this grim hour. What is the position? When we discussed agriculture last year, in a series of what I thought were excellent Debates, we were then in very optimistic mood. We were sinking German raiders with every pyrotechnic circumstance that would excite the imagination, amid circumstances of real heroism. We were holding up the great German Army on the Maginot Line 1235 with concerts to our soldiers. The magnetic mine, which was Hitler's secret weapon, was silent. Then it came into use, but in a month's time we discovered the secret, and it was gone. We were in an optimistic mood when we came here and began to talk about the perils of the sea and the new perils of the deep and how they might develop. Nobody troubled then; it was in the days of "missing the bus." It was the belief of the nation, and it was the expression of what everybody felt at the moment. It was not any indiscretion on the part of any one man, however distinguished; it was the assumption at that moment. When we spoke of spending tens of millions of pounds for draining the land to produce food, £230,000 was all we were given, and we were told we ought to be thankful. This was the generous offer from a liberal-minded Treasury, with a liberal-minded high treasurer at its head. That was the feeling at the time.
As a nation we are now rejoicing in a series of the most brilliant victories on land, at sea and in the air that have ever illuminated the military annals of this country. Never in so short a period in any war did we have such a galaxy of triumphs. Our wars have been slow businesses—a victory this year and perhaps another next year, like the victories of the Peninsula. But here you have a crowd that dazzles your eyes. Take care that it does not blind. Let me give two figures. This war has been in progress for 19 months. There is always the comparison with what happened in 1917. The peak of the sinkings then was in the 33rd month of the war. By the 19th month of the last war 1,800,000 tons of shipping were sunk. Now, in the 19th month of this war, 5,500,000 tons have been sunk. That figure does not take into account anything but what is known as losses by enemy action. It does not take into account the indirect losses by enemy action due to the black-out on the sea and the convoy system. The figure, too, is more formidable in this war than the last because there has been more inadequate accommodation for repairs to the vessels which have been damaged.
I am not talking about the German figures. Naturally, they are exaggerated. In the last war I always used to insist upon seeing the German figures in order 1236 to check our own optimism. We always exaggerated enemy losses and always under-estimated our own. That was my experience of 4½years of war. The figures I have given here do not include losses of transports, and we have fewer cargo ships, by millions of tons, than in the last war. Here is another figure. In March, 1940, we lost 88,000 tons of shipping by enemy action. The official figures for March, 1941, are 377,000 tons—four times as many. The fact is that there were two essential services which we completely neglected during the whole of those 20 years, and it is extraordinary that we should have done so, having regard to the experiences of the last war. One was our shipping, and the other was our agriculture.
I am told now, on the highest authority in this country, that of the Prime Minister, that in a few months the battle of the Atlantic will turn in our favour. We shall be reckless trustees of the destiny of this great Empire if we trust too implicity upon that one radiant thread of optimism. There have been so many that have been falsified on both sides. Therefore, once again I urge the Committee, when there is something on which the life of the nation depends, to take it seriously into concern, and if anything to give the benefit of the doubt to fear and apprehension. If you can cure it, do so. Do not take any risk.
The lesson of the last war is obvious. In that war the vanquished won far more military victories than the victors. They could have put in the Unter den Linden an Arc de Triomphe covered with the inscriptions of as many great victories and the places where they were won as there are on the Arc de Triomphe. But as with the Arc de Triomphe the great victor was defeated 10 years after. So it happened in Germany. You must not rely too much upon the victories if there is one thing that is essential which you are overlooking. The Germans overlooked it in the last war. They destroyed the biggest army on our side, that of Russia. They overran Rumania, Serbia, and Belgium, and they broke the Italian army so that it was not fit to be put into the battlefield afterwards. That was not all. In the spring and the summer of 1918, they crashed through the great armies of France and Britain, and drove them before them. That was in the summer.
1237 When the late autumn came, their great and glorious army was like a tree shorn barren of its leaves.
The nation is rejoicing in these great victories. The last time I spoke in the House, I ventured to anticipate that if we pressed forward we should have those victories, because I was convinced that the Italian nation had not its heart in this fight. It is not a nation of cowards, but it is a nation that will not fight unless it believes in the cause. I am convinced it has no belief in fighting this Hitlerian battle. But do not let us, because we are in this mood of exhilaration—shall I say, of intoxication?—forget this other business. Germany was beaten in spite of all her great victories. Why? Because she had no food. She had neglected her agriculture, partly before the war, but almost entirely during the war. She flung men into the battlefield as if the only field that mattered was the field of battle and not the essential fields behind the battle front. That is where she lost the battle. I urge that we do not foolishly neglect food production.
What are we doing? The Minister of Agriculture made a very able and useful speech. He is showing very considerable mastery of the problem, especially as it is a job that he has picked up. He gave us some very great figures of how many acres we have ploughed. He said we have ploughed far more than in the last war. That is so. In the last war we ploughed enough to get through, and then we had the tremendous drain upon manpower involved in a war in which we lost in dead and wounded nearly 3,000,000. Luckily that is not the case in this war. But I will tell the Committee what the Minister has not told us. We have ploughed millions of acres. Would he mind telling us what is the increase in the crop? 1 noticed that the question was put to him a day or two ago and he refused to give an answer. He said that it was not in the interests of the country to give it. According to him, there has been a substantial increase in the contribution which the soil has made to our food, but if there is a substantial increase in the contribution, why should it not be in the interest of the country to say so? There is a very reputable farmers' newspaper, the "Dairy Farmer"; it has a high standing, and I do not believe it has ever any politics. It has written: 1238There we have the weakest link in our defences. In spite of the ploughing-up campaign, the 1940 harvest exceeded the 1939 harvest in output by a mere 1½ per cent.I am told that is inaccurate. If it is, and if there is a considerable percentage of increase, would it be unwise, that figure having been published in a very reputable newspaper, to let us know? There is something wrong with this programme. It is not the programme of the right hon. Gentleman, but it is his predecessors? If the ploughing of these millions of acres does not produce a substantial increase in our crops, what is the good of it? You do not eat acres, and you cannot feed the people on perches and rods; it must be on quarters of grain and sacks of potatoes. What is the increase? If that figure is inaccurate, grossly inaccurate, let us know, because it will encourage us.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is taking land drainage in hand. According to Sir George Stapledon, there are 7,000,000 acres of derelict land in this country which, if taken in hand, could be made productive. The right hon. Gentleman said that you must take into account the fact that so much of our land has been absorbed by aerodromes, all kinds of military appliances, and encampments. In the last war we had encampments and aerodromes—we had a very formidable Air Force, although I daresay it is greater now, but if it is greater, then all the more reason why we require the derelict land to make up for that loss. Why is it not done? Take the question of drainage. What has been spent? In those Debates which we had—and I see several of my colleagues who took part in them a year ago—we urged the importance of drainage. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture on the Front Bench. I hope now that he has changed his pew, and has got into what we call in Welsh chapels the "big pew," he has not suddenly forgotten the convictions he had when on the penitent's bench.
We were all saying that you can drain millions of acres of water-logged land, but that scores of millions of pounds must be spent to do it. When the War Debt runs to thousands of millions of pounds, is it too much to ask for, say, £100,000,000 for something which is a matter of life and death in the conduct of the war? It is no use ploughing up land so long as it is 1239 drenched with water. The Government say they cannot get hold of it, but Stapledon says no one but the State can do it. That is quite true. The landlord cannot afford it, the farmer certainly cannot afford it, nor can he command the labour. We must conscript not merely men for the Army and for our factories; we must conscript acres as well. You must train and teach your conscript to make him a soldier, and you must train and cultivate the land to make it good soil. Neither man nor a field is any good so long as they are "wet." Therefore, take all these millions of acres in hand, and see that the State is behind you. Then what do you need? We are here with one Minister who is concerned. [Interruption.]
Mr. Lloyd George
Who are the men concerned? First of all, we need abundant labour. It is nonsense to talk about 3,000 who can be spared from the Pioneer Corps. We are raising an Army of 4,250,000, but can anyone explain to us what they are for, and what is the plan of campaign which is intended? In the last war we knew that millions were needed for France and hundreds of thousands for the East. There was no secret about it. You tell the Americans that you do not want men to help you to fight; therefore you are not going to send 4,000,000 of our men to invade the Continent of Europe and drive out 10,000,000 Germans. What are these 4,000,000 of our men required for? I know what they could do. We could have an army of pioneers which could double the production of the soil with the machinery which could be supplied. But in order to have this done—I am not talking to the Minister, because he agrees with every word I say: I am certain he does—we want the Minister of Labour and the Minister of War to tell us how many men they can spare, and also the Minister of Health to deal with the local authorities. We want the Minister of Food—[Interruption.] That is all right; the Parliamentary Secretary is here. [Hon. Members: "No family quarrels."] Perhaps we may have them afterwards.
Above all, we must have the Treasury. The Treasury are not here. They just 1240 cut down without any regard to the great policy behind the programme. Of course, we also want the Prime Minister. In all these things there are at least five or six Departments concerned. Another Department concerned is that of the Ministry of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman talked about machinery. What is wanted to make the most of the land? We want scores of thousands of workers, not necessarily of military age—there are hundreds of thousands of men who have been brought up on the land who are now engaged in other occupations—andmachines. Your machinery has now to be handed over to others. Very often after the machine has gone the rounds it has broken down, and you have to send it to be repaired. There ought to be abundant machinery of that kind. There are machines for potato seeding and hoeing. You have not got them. You ought to have an abundant supply of machinery. I am amazed at the lack of machinery when I go to the smaller farms.
In the old days there was the son working, and very often you saw the girls working in the fields. Snobbery is the curse of this country, I can assure you, among other things. They always used to be proud to take part in farm work. But with all these things the Minister ought to be in a position to say, "I can supply every county committee with abundant machinery for all these operations." But he has to fight the Ministry of Supply, he has to fight the Ministry of Labour, and there is always the Treasury. He ought to insist upon that, and I am certain that if he comes to the House and says, "I have demanded this, and it is denied to me," they will soon find out that the House of Commons, at any rate, means business, because they are in contact with the people who see their rations cut, who see their ships being sunk, who see the grim spectre of privation, if not of famine, for themselves and for their children. Let us avoid it. The Minister of Agriculture must take his courage in both hands, and he has courage. Let him put the whole of his demands forward, and then he will get the backing of the nation and of the House of Commons. That is my opinion.
He must tackle these committees. I do not know how they were chosen, but 1241 there was no wisdom in it. An influential man is not essentially a good agriculturist. If a man has a great position in his county, they say, "We must put him there. We cannot possibly overlook him. We must at least offer it to him. He will probably refuse." He may not possess a tittle of common knowledge, but he accepts the job. A great many of them are not fit for the job. You have?o overhaul these agricultural committees from top to bottom. Some cases will require a little titivating and others a little chiselling, but in others they require a mallet. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the names of some of them. [Interruption.] Yes, I am sorry, but I dare not name them. What ought you to do? The right hon. Gentleman said they wanted technical assistance. They have not got it. When you begin to alter that system, you will find it essential that they should be given tremendous powers. The life of the nation is in their bands. You have not really equipped them with finance. You have not equipped them with real authority, or, what is still more important, with the technical advice which would enable them to handle it. Abve all, you have not equipped them with the independence with enables them to deal with their neighbours. They know what bad farmers they are, but they are neighbours.
Farmers, though about the most individual body of workers in the Kingdom, are really a fraternity, and, if a fellow has been in a farm for a great many years, especially if his father and grandfather have been muddling on the same farm for two more generations, they say "It would be a pity to turn old George out," and they do not. There is a good deal to be said for it. There is a kindliness and a humanity about it. It is not an act of patriotism, but if they have to decide between neighbourliness and friendly feelings and even the higher patriotism, I think the former wins every time, and I am not disposed to condemn them. I have lived among them all my life, but they ought never to be put in that position. In my judgment the chairman ought to be an independent man with knowledge of the conditions. The right hon. Gentleman says he cannot find them. He can, if he pays them. There are a great many first class farmers, but they have their jobs.
1242 It is no use asking them, "Will you not take this in hand?" They have their own farms to look after, and a great many of them have refused. What you have to do is to take them out and pay them, as you do in the Ministry of Food for distribution. I wish all the men there had been equally good for the purpose. They are not responsible. They have inherited some of the appointments that have come into their hands. You ought to have independent men and paid men. You can get plenty of paid men. You can get plenty of them for chairmen of the local committees, which are almost as important as the big committees, in fact, more important once they begin to do their job properly, because the big committee will always endorse what they do. You must put paid men in charge there—experienced farmers—and you must make it worth their while to do it. Unless you improve the quality of your executive committees, you will not answer the purpose and you will net achieve the result.
§ Mr. Hudson
I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. In my speech I emphasised that one of the major items in my programme is to try and improve the standard of farming. One of the ways of doing it is to get rid of the hopeless fellow. A certain amount has been done, and I agree that a good deal more could and should be done. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is not done because the men concerned allow their feeling of neighbourliness to overcome their patriotism. If you get a farmer as chairman of a committee, it does not matter whether he is paid or unpaid, he will still be living among the other farmers and he will still be imbued with the same ideas of friendliness and neighbourliness. If you pay him it will not make any difference; he has still to live with them and will live in the same neighbourhood after the war.
Mr. Lloyd George
The right hon. Gentleman is taking, as I was afraid he was, rather too narrow a view of the whole position. As a matter of fact, the things you are beginning now will not end with this war. If there were a fundamental mistake last time, it is that they did end with the war. We felt the need was over and we let things go on exactly as they did before. You have to get the whole of agriculture under the control of men with 1243 knowledge and authority and who will have a professional standing as such among the farmers. Once a man says, "My duty is entirely to the Minister of Agriculture and to the Government," he becomes honestly a man who represents the policy of the Government. In a case of that kind he will do just as any other man does; he will not regard neighbourliness when he is carrying out the law of the land. At any rate, the present system is a very easy-going way of doing something which may make the difference between victory and disaster. I am not going to predict what will happen on the high seas. I think that the man who makes a prediction may be justified in encouraging the nation, but it is rather a rash thing to do and I would not put the life of the country upon possibilities of that kind. I would say that whatever happens in the Atlantic, on the high seas, must be redeemed by the soil of this country. I have always said that you could double the produce of the land, and I have never met an expert who did not agree. If you double it, then, with rationing and a rational diet, the people at any rate will not starve. I will say another thing. If you double the produce you will then in the next year add 50 per cent. to that.
I do not know what limit you can put to the productiveness of the soil, but I am amazed at what the soil, and poor soil, will bring forth if you treat it kindly, feed it and sustain it. Germany made her mistake last time in overlooking the land. She thought that all that was necessary was to herd men on to the battlefields, and she left it entirely in the hands of Ludendorff and the rest. She has learnt her lesson. The right hon. Gentleman will know the Campagna, where Mussolini is draining 100,000 acres. If he will look up the records of the Foreign Office he will find that Hitler has reclaimed millions of acres. I saw with my own eyes 1,000,000 acres that had never been cultivated, which had been drained and was producing food. Germany has learnt her lesson. We have not learnt ours, not yet. Let the right hon. Gentleman go in for a bold, comprehensive, far-reaching policy and demand that the resources of the nation shall be put behind it, as it can be. Then he will achieve a triumph, and he can well say that if there is vic- 1244 tory for the battle of freedom, independence and right, the soil of England has shared the credit.
§ Major Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
The Committee are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for two things: firstly, because he was instrumental, with the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), in securing this Debate; and secondly, for the wonderful speech to which we have just listened. It was a grave and serious speech. The right hon. Gentleman put into it all that wizardry and magnetism which are so attractive to all of us, whether we agree with him or not. The Committee must surely be indebted to him for that. My own regret is that this great speech was not heard by every member of the War Cabinet.
I want to concentrate upon two points. The first is my disappointment at what I can only call the mistaken policy of the Government in discouraging "quality" production in cattle. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, in a speech which the Committee greatly enjoyed, and which gave news which the country will be glad to read, spoke about his desire to improve the standard of farming: to raise the "C" farmer to the "B" farmer and the "B" farmer to the "A" farmer and so on. Unfortunately the policy which is being followed with regard to livestock is exactly the reverse. This Committee will be well aware that a well-bred beast with fine bone produces a far higher proportion of meat than a poorly-bred coarse-boned animal of the same weight. Experts tell us that the proportion of inedible bone in the well-bred beast may be as low as 14 per cent., whereas in the case of the coarse-bred animal it may be as high as 27 per cent. Till last July the production of beasts which yielded a high proportion of human food was encouraged by what became known as the "quality premium" of 5s. per live cwt. Unfortunately, that was withdrawn last July, and I hope I am not misrepresenting the views of the Ministry of Food when I say that it was withdrawn for two main reasons. first because it was felt that its retention would encourage the "finishing" of beasts on a larger quantity of imported 1245 feeding-stuffs, and, secondly, because it was thought that the assessment of the killing-out percentage of livestock in the market in present circumstances would throw too heavy a responsibility upon certifying officials of the Ministry of Food.
The first of those two reasons depends upon two assumptions neither of which I submit is warranted by the facts. First there is the supposition that increased production of high-quality meat depends upon finishing-off the beasts with large quantities of concentrates, whereas that is not true at all. By discriminating selection and by careful breeding over a long period of years a type of cattle has been evolved which can be fattened without the aid of artificial feeding-stuffs. Secondly, this argument presupposes that a large quantity, or even extra quantities, of artificial feeding-stuffs are available, which, in fact, is not the case. As to the suggestion that an impossible task would be placed upon the shoulders of the Ministry's certifying officers, the advocates of the restoration of the quality subsidy are not asking for an exact calculation of killing-out percentages, but only for a restoration of the quality premium on a basis of conformation, in other words, that it should depend upon the outward and visible signs of an inward corporeal grace. The Minister's inspectors who, after all, are experts, can judge the quality of cattle. They are practical men, well able to assess the "form at a glance" of beasts that' they see. The one thing that is desirable in the national interest is to secure the highest possible return in meat for the amount of foodstuffs that is consumed. Quality cattle will give you that unquestionably, with the minimum of imported feeding-stuffs.
The next and the final point with which I want to deal has already been referred to in the particularly interesting speech, if I may say so, which we had earlier from the hon. Member for the Wansbeck division of Northumberland (Mr. Scott) who spoke with such knowledge of hill sheep. For 10 years hill flock masters have seen their capital depleted by bad prices, and their difficulties have been increased by the falling-away in the demand for store lambs from the hills owing to the ploughing up of the low-ground pastures. Two problems are involved here. The first, and by far the easiest, is the problem of maintaining the 1246 existing output of mutton, by preventing a formidable decline in the hill flocks. The grant of the 2s. 6d. subsidy on hill ewes was an attempt to do that, but it was a temporary measure only. It was described by the Duke of Montrose as a "panic expedient," and he added that a panic expedient is not a policy. To solve the problem you have got either to increase your price for the requisitioned wool clip and your basic price for mutton or to encourage production by a bonus or subsidy —call it what you will —which bears some relation to the cost of production. The second and by far the harder problem is to extend your output. That could be done by securing a fair price and by making fresh ground available.
I wonder if this Committee realises the extent of our failure to use the hills of Britain as sources of food supply. Millions of acres on those hills could play their part in the nation's effort if only we had the wit and wisdom to use them. No question of ownership stands in the way of that being done. There is not a landlord in the country who would not rejoice to see the hills carrying their full quota of mountain sheep. If remunerative and suitable prices could be assured for hill sheep, which require no imported feeding stuffs —none at all —the hill sheep would graze their way into the shaggy heath and the heather. If the price question could be settled —and that is an essential point in increasing production —the area of hill grazing could be greatly increased. Landowners would need to be encouraged to burn and to drain; agricultural committees to foster and to compel burning where that might be required, and an Amendment would have to be made to the Muir Burning Regulation. It might even be necessary to make Government grants towards the cost of fencing off the lower ground, for the construction of dipping places and perhaps, even, for accommodation for the shepherds, but any money spent in this way would be money.well spent, and would pay for itself many times over in increased production.
Whether the policy is to be one of maintenance or expansion, it is clear that it cannot be carried through by the Minister of Agriculture alone. Co-operation is required, under enlightened and energetic central direction, between the Minister, 1247 the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Food, the Minister of Supply, the Wool Controller, and the Treasury. In the past these Ministers have not always pulled together. They have seldom sought advice and, where they have, as in the case of the 1939 wool clip, they have ignored the counsel of the greatest experts in the trade. The nation's need should compel this co-operation. If the problem were tackled with determination and good will there would be an enormously increased production of meat. Without it, the Government lay themselves open to the charge of wasting what my right hon. Friend has called one of Britain's greatest assets, the land of Britain.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
I have listened to most of the Debates on agriculture since the war began, and one thing has become clear. It is that the House of Commons wants a policy from the Minister of Agriculture which is energetic and vigorous and which will produce too much food and will not take any risk about producing too little. As each six months or so go by, I certainly feel a little more satisfied about the position. The Minister has made the best speech that I have heard from a Minister of Agriculture since the war began, much the most encouraging and with a real grasp of the subject. He told us much that we were glad to hear. There is still an immense amount to be done, and I only wish that the position in the country was as good as the speech of the Minister. I am afraid that that is hardly the case.
I happen to go about the country a good deal now, from one part of England to another, and I do not think there is anywhere near the doubling of the production of food from England. The estimate of the possibility of doing it is exaggerated in many ways. It can be done, but I cannot help feeling that the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture has been dictated far too much by the military circumstances of the time. So far as I can see, without any very close knowledge, it was about Christmas-time that a new and vigorous spurt was given to the policy. Last autumn, the intentions of the Ministry with regard to ploughing-up were not very definite. A certain amount was to be done. It was only when 1248 submarine warfare became dangerous again in the late autumn that the Ministry thought again. Around Christmastime, there was a feeling that every possible effort should be made to increase the size of this year's harvest, and then we were told to brace ourselves to the loss of a large number of men on our farms. Only after public outcry, by pressure of events and by various other means, was the Ministry able to dissuade the other "powers that be" from calling up those men before the harvest this year.
It is not just a matter of the number of men concerned. The number of men might be small, but there was an awfully bad effect. When the Ministry was warning us that we were to lose men, the average farmer was saying,"If the Government really want me to produce more, why should they tell me in the same breath that I am to do it with fewer men?" The position is not as it was in the last war. Farming had a very considerable supply of labour before that war, and it was comparatively easy to increase production because the tractor was introduced. Farms became much more mechanised. When this war began, agriculture had already been depleted of men and the tractor had already been introduced. So far from drawing more labour from agriculture, what is needed is much more effective means for drafting labour into agriculture. I was glad to hear that the Minister is taking steps to make use of gang labour, although I do not think 2,000 Pioneers the best way of doing it.
In spite of these repeated Debates, there has only been, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) pointed out, a slow effect upon our agricultural policy, and the Ministry has not yet a real plan for agriculture. I doubt whether even now a real estimate has been made of what British agriculture is expected to produce in the next harvest. Perhaps there is an estimate of what will be produced next autumn, but is there any estimate of the next step? Has it been worked out between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture? If it has, why cannot the information be passed on to the smaller authorities concerned, perhaps to the county committees themselves? Why cannot they be told, "In this county you are expected to produce so much of this and so much of the other"? They 1249 have not been given that information. They have been told that their ploughing quota is so much, and it has been left very vague as to the crops they should grow. Discretion is left to local committees and to individual farmers. I should imagine that the county committee is not the right body to deal with the allocation of a quota of production, but regional committees would be the right bodies to stand between the Ministry and the county committees, and they ought to be given all the information about the areas concerned.
As I go about the country I sometimes ask members of county committees what the position really is in their county. They tell me how much land they have ploughed up and how many farms they have taken over. Sometimes I say, "Yes, Put what do you know about what is produced here?" They give me vague answers then, such as that theirs is a dairy district or about what the arable land is producing, but they have no clear idea of what they are producing. I went into one county in the North of England, and after I had seen various people and asked them similar questions, I went to the authorities concerned, where I asked what the area really produced. The fact was that the most important crop, financially, produced in the area was one particular type of production, and it was not one that any farmer produced.
If this policy is to be built up on a survey of individual farmers, you must give the county or the area, whatever it is, a quota to which to work. If you do not do that, whenever there is a more serious turn in international affairs the Minister will say that more must be done, that we must plough more, and the thing will be from hand to mouth. The trouble is that it always breaks down. We shall not get the full benefit of this year's ploughing because of the shortage of phosphates. The Minister was very guarded about phosphates. He said that we had a larger quantity than last year, but it is nothing like large enough to meet the need shown by the survey which has been carried out. I do not think the Minister can deny that. I do not think that he will deny that farmers all over England are crying out for phosphates. Surely that is an example of lack of coordination.
§ Mr. Hudson
I have been round the country, and I have talked to a very large number of farmers. The number of farmers who say they cannot get phosphates is small. What you do not hear about are those who have got their phosphates, because most of the farmers got them when they were available.
§ Mr. Roberts
That illustrates the very point that I am trying to make. Since the beginning of this war the Ministry have been working upon what is wanted by the farmer —the individual small unit. If the farmer does not order early enough, he does not get the phosphates, and that does not help the country. If you know that the phosphates are needed, you should see that the phosphates are there. That is what I thought was the business of the county committees. If the Minister says that we have as much phosphates as we can get, then I say that there should be a rationing scheme for fertilisers. Last July I pressed very hard for a rationing scheme for feeding-stuffs. I was told by the pundits at the Ministry that you could not do it. What was the result? It was introduced hurriedly, badly and very inefficiently. If you tell me that you have all the phosphates you can possibly get, and that you cannot get any more, even if the Ministry of Shipping would supply the space, again I would say that if you are to get all you can out of the land, you must have a proper rationing scheme.
§ Mr. Roberts
I did listen to the Minister's speech; there was a very great deal in it, and I must have missed that point. Grants and encouragement have been given for drainage, but there are many areas where the grants, the encouragement and the orders are useless because of the lack of drainage tiles. That is where you have to wait and see what the farmer asks for and find out whether or not you can meet those requirements. I have heard instances of where mole drainage has been made very much less effective because the tiles have not been available for the main drainage. Unless you make up your mind how much land is to bed rained, and have everything that is necessary to do it, there will always be some shortage. It may be too big a task to do in the midst of a war, but I would ask whether, instead of 1251 working from the small units and finding out what are their requirements in fertilisers, feeding-stuffs, machinery and so on, it is not possible to use your survey and the knowledge which you have to decide what is possible, and then set out to see that you have everything to carry out that programme. I would make my target the doubling of the production of food in this country.
I must deal with one contribution that could be made in that direction. We have heard to-day a certain amount about hill farmers. I also come from a hilly district, and, from what I gathered, most speakers touched on the best ways of tackling hill-farm production. Last spring I pressed the Minister to embark upon a big programme of re-ploughing and re-seeding. If that had been done the livestock which has now to be reduced could have been maintained on the newly created and very much more profitable grassland in the high-lying districts. You want manures, seeds and not only power, but the right sort of power. It may be that the Fordson tractor is the right thing to do the job, although I think a much bigger caterpillar tractor is really needed. We have been told to reduce our livestock. I am sure that on the 2,000,000 acres of rough grazing, which is the lowest estimate which Sir George Stapledon has made in his careful survey of the number of acres which can be easily, quickly and effectively improved, if you selected whatever seeds, manures, lime and labour you required, by the end of this summer and during next summer you would be able to maintain far more livestock than you have displaced by ploughing.
§ Mr. Hudson
My hon. Friend has said what could be done on the 2,000,000 acres to which Sir George Stapledon referred if you had the manures. We all agree, but the fact is that the manures do not exist in the world. In order to get the necessary amount of phosphates, the United States Government have had to come in, and they have had to cancel a number of the contracts for phosphates which they had made with their own farmers. It is no use saying that you can do this if you get the phosphates, because more phosphates do not exist in the world to-day.
§ Mr. Hudson
In that case the hon. Member should not quote Sir George Stapledon, for Sir George himself told me that it is useless to do it without phosphates. If I have not got the phosphates, it cannot be done.
§ Mr. Roberts
That certainly reinforces my previous argument. I have come to the same conclusion as the Minister, that it is absolutely vital that if this bottleneck in phosphates exists, they should be rationed, and it is perhaps a pity that it has not already been done. But undoubtedly it is not general knowledge that such a shortage exists. I myself bought a very considerable amount of phosphates [...]ast autumn, and I did not know I was dealing with such a rare and valuable commodity. Farmers generally do not know it, and I have seen them use phosphates very wastefully. Let us therefore have a proper distribution according to plan and according to where the need is greatest. I believe that before long it will be necessary to allocate a certain amount of phosphates to the improvement of the upland farms.
§ Mr. Hudson
I quite agree, but please do not let the Members of the Committee get the idea that by a wave of the hand you can transform all these millions of acres. That idea is doing a great deal of harm by preventing people from realising the importance of the task they have to carry out in making the existing arable land, which is already under cultivation, as productive as possible. Believe me, if we introduce a rationing scheme, phosphates will not be used for re-seeding 2,000,000 more acres, but for the much more urgent purpose of increasing the fertility of existing land.
§ Mr. Roberts
That may be so, but if I am not entitled to quote Sir George Stapledon, I am entitled to express my own opinion. I wonder whether phosphates were so short at this time last year, before the collapse of France, when the policy might have been carried out. Perhaps they were short then. But you have to face the fact that this is a big problem. I am sorry to detain the Committee, but I would like to finish my argument. If the war continues, arable land is going to be very much depleted, not only in regard to mineral manures, but also in regard to that difficult and elusive substance which is called humus.
1253 In alternating husbandry, with its rotation from grass to arable crops and so on, that problem has been dealt with. Insistence on cutting out grass in the rotation, and on growing an increasing number of arable and other exhausting crops, will mean that arable land will be increasingly denuded of natural farmyard manure. Less livestock will be put on the arable land, and I again submit to the Minister that to use some of his precious phosphates to maintain livestock and milk production on hill farms will enable him to plough some of the good grass in the valleys and still provide a reservoir of livestock, maintained in the hills in summer and eating the straw and other by-products of arable farming on the lowland farms in the winter.
The Minister informed us to-day that the importation of Irish store cattle is to be reduced or entirely stopped. That will mean a very serious loss of fertility to a very large quantity of land. In his speech the Minister talked about balance. If there is to be a good balance, he will have to persuade some of the upland farms to increase their production in order to maintain in the summer the livestock which will provide the necessary humus to maintain the fertility of arable land in the winter. I believe that hitherto the policy of the Minister has lacked foresight, and that this is one of the examples which shows the absence of balanced planning. I was, therefore, glad to hear of many of the things the Minister has decided to do which I am sure will be very much welcomed in all parts of the House.
§ Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (Newbury)
I would like to congratulate the Minister not only on a very good speech, but on his clear exposition of the position of the industry, for which I am sure we are all grateful and which we shall do our best to impress on our constituents. He referred to the Sixth Report of the Select Committee, and I should like to draw his attention to paragraph 5 of that Report, which deals with the need to establish confidence in the continuity of policy. The evidence we have received is 'overwhelming as to the need for establishing confidence in the continuity of agricultural policy if farmers are to make plans for increasing production to the maximum possible extent, and 1254 I should have thought that the opportunity to provide for that continuity of policy existed at present in the National Government, with Members of every party well represented. Instead of a one year's guarantee after the war —and every farmer knows that that is not very much —would it not be possible for this Government to agree on the principles of a long-term policy which would get it out of politics after the war, thereby giving farmers the confidence which according to this Report they need?
The farmer has to look ahead for more than one year. I have a field which last year grew a crop of wheat, after a great deal of expense. This year that field is down to oats, and such a good field of oats it looks at the moment that I have turned the sheep into it to reduce it. I have already arranged, since you cannot put more than two straw crops down, to put down all the dairy food I can next year —kale and roots and that sort of thing —and after that I want to turn it back to grass. You have to look forward for more than three years to get an agricultural plan going properly. To help in the creating of confidence, it seems to me that price levels in the market should be kept up. That is the way in which the Government up to now have tried to act, and there are two ways of doing it. One is by duties. Does anybody think that after this war, when the country is impoverished and the people want cheap food, duties will be allowed to go on and to be kept out of politics? I am afraid that no party could resist the temptation of a cheap food policy after the war, if the other side referred to it. And is the policy of subsidies to be a practical proposition after the war? We are already grumbling about the amount that is spent in that direction.
There are other policies. There is that agreed upon by the Minister of Agriculture with the Dominions, of putting a price level at the bottom of the market, and of including the Dominions, and perhaps other friendly nations, in the arrangement. I want to be sure that these matters are being considered now. It is no use saying that in six months' time we may have a better plan. We want to consider these questions from the broad Empire point of view, and to do so now, when we have a Government composed of all parties, so that we may get 1255 continuity of agricultural policy, which will not be subject to party politics, and which will provide a price level that the farmers can bank on for five or ten years. In that way, the farmers will be given confidence. Now that we have made great strides in ploughing up our land and in increasing the fertility of the soil, are we to let that improvement go after the war? How are we to maintain it without a policy which will give agriculture confidence? I hope that the Government are not thinking of agriculture only in terms of the present war, but that they are preparing to meet its needs in peacetime, and to keep it going as it is going now. We shall have to look at things from an Empire point of view, in regard to both markets and prices. I hope that the Government will consider every suggestion that might help to maintain the gains that have been made in agriculture.
Mr. De la Bè're (Evesham)
I listened with marked attention to the words of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) It is refreshing to find myself in agreement for once with one of my hon. Friends on this side about agricultural problems. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend's vision for the future is a sound one. The Government must look ahead, and it is only by hon. Members making forceful speeches that we shall get anything done. I hope that the Government will take full note of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend. I was very interested in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. If I may say so, I thought it one of the best speeches he has made. It was very comprehensive, and an excellent endeavour to go through all the problems of agriculture on a large scale in a very limited time. My remarks to-day are not going to be levelled much against the Minister of Agriculture.
I am going to talk about one thing which affects the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Ministry of Food —that is, prompt payment. Many farmers cannot get their money from the Ministry of Food —I think that Ministry is the worst offender —and the Ministry of Agriculture. That is a serious matter, because the farmers are short of capital. The delay amounts often to six weeks, and sometimes to two or three months. Something 1256 should be done by the Ministers themselves to ensure speedy payment for all the various commodities that the Government purchase from the farmers. There was one part of my right hon. Friend's speech which made me sit up very sharply. It was that part at which he went very fast indeed, because he did not want me to interrupt. I thought that he had made such a good speech that I would be kind to him, and I did not interrupt, but I took note of what he said. He said that farmers had got all the credit that they could possibly want. I believe that they have, but what they have not got is credit at the right rate of interest. I can prove that.
For years the farmers have been in debt to the banks for some £50,000,000. That sum has not varied for years. To-day, when one might have expected the figure to increase, it has actually fallen. The reason is that the farmers are being asked to pay for their overdraft accommodation at too high a rate of interest. So long as that goes on, the farmers will not avail themselves of the credits which are necessary. If they do not avail themselves of those credits, the country will be the worse off. I asked only yesterday why a small dominating group should be allowed to impede production for the national larder. No one has vouchsafed an answer. No indication is ever forthcoming that the Government intend to deal with this matter, and the same thing goes on year after year. I do not think it is the fault of the Minister of Agriculture. No doubt it is a matter that the Treasury should tackle. The Treasury should tackle the Bank of England. The Bank of England and the Treasury are one and the same—they are Tweedledum and Tweedledee—and so nothing is done about it. It is really time that the War Cabinet woke up and decided that a reduction was necessary and that the proper channels were compelled to act.
Knowing that there are many other hon. Members who want to speak, I will mention only one other item in connection with food production, namely, vegetables. In my own division, which has a population of over 61,000, a very large proportion of the people are engaged in vegetable production. Vegetables are very essential to the national larder, and large quantities of these vegetables are daily being condemned as no longer suitable for human 1257 consumption. That is because there is no system for taking vegetables without delay from the places where they are grown to areas where they are not grown. I know I am in danger of getting out of order, but, with your kind help, Sir Dennis, I think I shall just keep myself within the narrow margin. I would ask for the help and support of the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture on this question of vegetables. I would ask them to allow their experts to go into my division—I mention my own division especially, because it is the largest individual producing area in the country—and ensure that there is no waste owing to deterioration and condemnation of vegetables, and to approach the proper department, the Ministry of Transport, on the matter.
To-day we have heard, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), one of those inspiring speeches which do us so much good. I only wish that more Members of the War Cabinet had been present to hear it. That is at the back of it all. Every time I speak, I get on to this subject. Who is really responsible for agriculture not being given the full facilities which it is justified in having to-day? Of course, it is the War Cabinet. They are the supreme power. If they do nothing, no one else can do anything. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) was chairman of the committee of the War Cabinet dealing with agriculture nothing was done. I nailed that to the mast of my right hon. Friend the present chairman of the War Cabinet Committee, and the Minister of Agriculture has to-day shown that nothing further has been done. Can it be that there is no intention of ever going further in this matter?
There is no bold, broad outlook at all on production, but it is left to the Ministry of Agriculture, which is a wee Cinderella, with nobody to help, but which must do the best it can, while all these people engaged on important matters of strategy are much too important to talk about food. Food does not matter, but rather it is some Napoleonic strategy, but do these pundits in the War Cabinet realise that, if we do not have food, all the marvellous faculties and words of wisdom which flow from the Foreign Office and from so many Departments in Whitehall 1258 will be of no avail? Food is of more importance than anything else to-day, and yet, as far as the War Cabinet is concerned, it is always put on to a secondary basis and made secondary to all else. It is, therefore, the fault of the War Cabinet, and if Members of the War Cabinet do not pay more attention to it, they cannot escape, at the end of the war, the just criticism that, at the time when we were struggling for our national existence, they did not use every possible endeavour to assist the national larder.
§ Mr. R. J. Russell (Eddisbury)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) never used his eloquence to greater purpose than to stir this Committee to enthusiasm for agriculture at the present time, and one can only wish that that eloquence not only stirs this Committee as it has to-day, but that it will stir the country out of the complacency in which it finds itself. We have listened to a most interesting and helpful Debate on agriculture. I am reminded of a day, a dozen years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs went with me through an agricultural constituency and made 22 speeches, but that, of course, was when there was a fight on. I hope that I can speak with the conviction that, if we keep on, we shall register once again a great victory at the end of the speeches that are being made. We have listened to the speeches of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, and most of us have felt gratified that they have tackled this subject in such a spirit.
One point that was made by the Noble Lord struck me as being very necessary for consideration at the present time, because I happen to have been in contact with the conditions which call for action. An hon. Member opposite spoke of hill farming. During the last three months I have been fighting the snows in order to save the lives of sheep on a moor which is Crown property. There is a road across the moor, and a gate to prevent the sheep from wandering too systematically. That gate was left open by one or two individuals who are known, and who did it in defiance of all national advantage at the present time, with the result that dozens of sheep were lost, many of them with the 1259 consequent wastage of lambs. Something ought to be done to give the executive committees powers to stop such action as that.
We have had speeches on high policy with which we have agreed, but I want to come down to the face of things. For some months past I have been spending every moment of time that I have had with my foot upon a spade. I have been working on a piece of land. Sixmonths ago I took over an area of some 70 acres of land that needed to be reclaimed, drained, phosphated and all the rest of it. The first thing to be done was to find out how to get the labour, and I do not as a rule have to look very far for labour when there is a job to be done, and I am accustomed to taking off my own coat. During the last few months I have done thousands of yards of drainage in order that the land might be made fit for cultivation. But I want to point out some of the difficulties of administration. We in this House discuss great issues, but the question is, how are they to be applied? Take the question of land drainage. The first thing to do is to pass the plan for the land to be drained, and there we struck the first snag. I got into communication with the war executive, and they were very helpful. Their technical advisers came along. The executive officer came and we walked over the land together, and he said, "This is the sort of land that needs to be done. Let us have your plan."
According to the order, the plan has to be on a 25-inch ordnance survey map, so I rubbed my head. I had many ordnance survey maps, but in regard to this particular area I had not the map that was necessary, and, being in town, I went to the publishers and asked for a 25-inch ordnance survey map for this particular district. They looked at me in blank astonishment and asked, "Do you not know that there is an order that we shall not supply ordnance survey maps except to certain individuals?" I said that I did not know much about their order, but I would like to look at it. They brought out the order. We ran through the list of people to whom it was possible to supply ordnance survey maps, and I was in none of the categories, but after a lot of wangling I managed to work myself in between one or two of the classes, and I got my map. Then the next point 1260 occurred. This section of land was joined on to four separate maps, and therefore there had to be four maps provided, and you must make your plan upon that map. I did it. My point is, how is an ordinary farmer, who does not come to London, to face up to that? A little thing like that may hold up many schemes, although it is not holding up our scheme; we are going ahead. If you have land and stock upon it, you must have buildings to accommodate your stock, so I started in again, and the district surveyor came round to see me. He said, "Surely you will not concrete your floors in this weather," and I replied, "Hitler will not wait for the weather. This must be done now."
How then were we to keep away the frost? I noticed on farms which I visited that there were petroleum heaters, and this brought me up against the question of petroleum supply. I wrote at once to the Secretary for Petroleum, and a letter came back saying that he was away, but would I communicate with another individual who would take up the case. I did so, and he proposed certain forms for return. I looked at the forms, and I wrote back to the individual saying, "I do not think you have any thing at all to do with it, but perhaps you know who has, and, if so, will you send on this letter?" A fortnight elapsed, and then I received another letter from another part of the country in which the writer said, "I do not quite understand your difficulty, but if you will go to the post office and get a certain form and fill it up, we will take serious and immediate consideration." At that I did a very unusual thing—and I hope hon. Members will forgive me for saying this—I said, "Damn the man," and threw the letter into the wastepaper basket. Across the other side of the road there was a county council storage yard where there were several braziers. I said to one of my men, "Take a cart, ' pinch ' the braziers and keep the frost off the earth."
These different orders, cutting across one another, stop progress. I could spend a long time on this question, but I will deal with only one other point. When you have everything ready and the cattle are coming on, you have to consider their feeding and decide upon the amount of their ration. I wrote to the Controller of animal feeding-stuffs, and he replied saying that my case was one in which he 1261 wanted to help as I intended to increase the milk supply. He said, "Will you write to So-and-so, and he will see you are all right?" So I wrote, and after 10 days I received a letter saying, "We are sorry we cannot do anything in your case." How can one go to market to buy 40 head of cattle if there is nothing for them to eat? it is the man who tries to work out these various schemes who finds out the difficulties. It is difficult to visualise a holding or a Cheshire farm in the middle of Whitehall, but until that is done progress will be delayed. There is the will everywhere if we can only remove some of the impediments that are now in the way.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
I do not want to delay the Committee, because I know we are all anxious to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. We have had a remarkable Debate to-day. It contained two outstanding statements with regard to our present position. The first was from the Minister, and the other was from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who took such a prominent part in this work during the late war. I am sure the Committee was tremendously impressed by the seriousness of our position as he, as an old and experienced warrior, sees it. There are one or two points which I should like to make. The new policy involves a very considerable change-over in the character of agriculture in this country. It means the complete switch-over from the ordinary kind of agriculture that is practised—from the growing of food for animals to the growing of food for men. We know that animals eventually pass on as food for human consumption, but the great problem facing the Minister is to cut out the intermediate stage and to substitute potatoes, for instance, for kale or turnips. It is to meet that difficulty that the Minister is encouraging the new process upon which we are engaged at the present time.
I am not clear whether I understood the Minister aright. One of the critical features of agriculture at the moment is the great decline in the area of cultivable land in this country, coupled with the decline in arable acreage. I see that from figures given by an agricultural journal last September we started the last war with nearly 32,000,000 acres under culti 1262 vation. These figures are quoted from a paper read to the Statistical Society by the late Sir Henry Rew, who was secretary to the late Minister of Agriculture. I do not think they are at all in accordance with the figures given by the Minister, and that is why I raise the point. The actual figure quoted is 31,800,000 acres of cultivated land in 1915, and of that 14,250,000 acres were arable land. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs increased the arable acreage from 14,500,000 to 15,800,000, in 1918. The interesting thing is that he managed to do this although the total cultivated area was still declining. We started this war with a cultivated area of 24,800,000 acres. However, there were only 9,000,000 acres under arable cultivation. I was glad to hear from the Minister that this figure has been increased by 3,700,000 acres, bringing the total to 12,700,000, which is still 3,000,000 acres below the acreage ploughed in 1918 under the food production scheme of that time. I should be glad if the Minister would correct these figures if they are wrong, as I was unable to follow the figures in his speech.
With regard to the question of increasing the productivity of the arable area, the Minister was very frank. All of us are anxious that productivity should be increased. A simple calculation shows that if one could increase the productivity of the arable area by only 10per cent., it would add another 2,000,000 acres to the arable area. However, as the Minister pointed out, increasing the productivity, as can be seen from the figures of the improvement in the wheat and oats production, is a very slow process. It depends upon there being adequate machinery, adequate labour, and an adequate supply of phosphates. The Minister has pointed out very frankly the very great difficulties with which we are faced. Let us hope that the position is not quite as gloomy as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but certainly we have a great deal of leeway to make up before we can feel that the land is doing anything like what it ought to do in these difficult circumstances.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. T. Williams)
I think my right hon. Friend 1263 has no need to complain either of the tone or temper of the Debate. Broadly speaking, there have been no criticisms of his administration, and there has been a general appreciation of what has been accomplished in a short space of time. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is entitled to our thanks for his reference to pigs and poultry. I hope that the warning which was ignored when it was issued by successive Ministers will be accepted now that it has been issued again by the Noble Lord. The Noble Lord also raised again the question of derelict and uncultivated land. I think my right hon. Friend fully answered that point when he explained that action in that direction is wholly conditioned by machinery and men, and that since we are anxious to make the maximum use of land where an immediate improvement can be obtained, concentration on those areas is not only called for, but has been proved to be of real value. My right hon. Friend also explained that, apart altogether from any shortage of labour or of machinery which there may have been, between 100,000 and 150,000 acres of derelict land have been restored. As labour becomes available, I am sure that area will be vastly extended.
The Noble Lord referred to Army and Air Force depredations. It is obvious that not all officers in the Army are Wavells and not all officers in the Air Force Longmores, and obviously there have been difficulties in various parts of the country. But I ask the Committee to take a balanced view on this subject. Since 1918, the total area taken over by the Army and the Air Force has been 345,000 acres, out of approximately 29,000,000 acres under crops and grass. This, of course, has had a psychological effect on landowners and farmers, and I hope that the same psychological effect will be created when speculative builders once again try to take over, not merely a few acres, but the millions of acres which, between 1918 and 1939, they took over for ribbon development. However, I can tell the Noble Lord that there is now a proper liaison between the Service Departments arid the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry are now consulted with regard to any sites that are required either for Army or for Air Force purposes.
1264 The Noble Lord also referred to drainage, and I will deal with that matter a little later.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) spoke of the advisability and wisdom of having a vegetation survey. All I can say now is that we have completed the survey which we began at the commencement of the war, and my hon. Friend's suggestion will be duly noted. My hon. Friend also referred to the shortage of fertilisers, superphosphates and potash in Herefordshire. My right hon. Friend has already made it clear both to the country and to the Committee that there is a shortage of those kinds of fertilisers. It may be true that in certain cases some farmers who, at the behest of the Minister, ordered supplies of superphosphates several months ago have found that other farmers who placed their orders much later have been able to secure a certificate from the County War Agricultural Committee and secure supplies first. That is due wholly to the shortage, from which there is no means of escape, and to the fact that the committees are very anxious to ensure that the supplies available are sent to those areas where they are most needed. It may be that there have been hardships here and there and that certain farmers who gave early orders are hurt because of what has happened, but I assure my hon. Friend that what has been done has been done exclusively in the interests of making fertilisers available in the areas that need them most.
The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Scott) spoke of the hill farmers. I thought his speech was exceedingly clear and well put, but that perhaps it will have far greater application in post-war days than we can hope it to have during the war period. I would say to him that at this moment the Department are engaged in securing priorities for all kinds of materials for the erection of hostels and camps for holiday and seasonal workers who express a willingness to lend a hand to farmers during the coming harvest. I hope that what we are endeavouring to do this year will be merely a sign, and that, having acquired the labour, we shall acquire a new hill-farming policy which we can proceed to carry out when peace ultimately comes.
I have many regrets that unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) 1265 is not in his seat. He made his usual bright and breezy speech, and oratorically he was illuminating. He started by telling the Committee that he was not here to criticise or to censor, and when he said that I heaved a sigh of relief. As subsequent speakers have said, he mentioned the peril which faces this country owing to an apparent shortage of food. I thought, as the right hon. Gentleman proceeded with his speech, that he was doing our work in his own way, and I have no complaint about anything he said. If the inspiration he created will help to provide my right hon. Friend with the material, equipment, labour and what not, for us to succeed in our campaign, so much the better. But I must make reference to one or two remarks he made, because I feel that he tended to misunderstand the comparison which my right hon. Friend gave between 1917 and 1918, and 1939 and 1941. My right hon. Friend said that in 1939 he started with 3,000,000 acres less land to operate—that is 3,000,000 acres gone for ever for building and other purposes. He said that the problem was increased because of the loss of those acres, and quoted the figure of 2,300,000 acres, which 'were ploughed up during 1917 and 1918 at a time when there were 3,000,000 more acres available. He pointed out that in 1939 to 1941 we hoped by the spring to have ploughed up 3,75o,ooo acres, but that was not intended to reflect adversely upon the efforts which were made between 1917 and 1918, it was merely intended to indicate that the problem on this occasion was infinitely more difficult.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the problems which he and I used to face when I sat on the opposite side with regard to Treasury scissors, and £5 and no more, no longer exist. The right hon. Gentleman has an open mind, the Treasury have an open purse, and facilities for drainage were never so easy as at this moment. Grants were never so generous and so widely drawn. Where drainage is not now taking place, it is due to the fact that either the landowner or the farmer has not yet seen the wisdom of draning his land, or to some piece of machinery which is quite unknown to my right hon. Friend and myself, which is barring the way to quick and easy schemes being carried through. My hon. Friend quite rightly interjects that the 1266 technical staff is not there. In that case as in so many other cases with agriculture, we are suffering acutely from the lack of policy during the last 20 years when there was little or no drainage done. At the moment when we want an intensive campaign for one thing or the other we find ourselves confronted with a shortage, and there is a very real shortage, of technicians to carry out this drainage work. Drainage schemes can be carried through to-day much more rapidly, than at any period during my term of political activity, and the grants are such that not only minor rivers, but field ditches, ought to be dealt with in a very short time, if the financial accommodation remains as generous as it is to-day.
§ Mr. Richards
Has an agricultural executive committee the right to override the opposition of particular individuals in a case of this kind? The Minister referred to a case in Anglesey. Preparations were made for its drainage in 1917 but it was resisted by one rather powerful landowner.
§ Mr. Williams
I can assure my hon. Friend that, wherever a war agricultural executive committee feels that a drainage "scheme ought to be undertaken, it can call in the catchment board at once, the catchment board can start to prepare the scheme and undertake the work and do all the writing, sending out notices and all that kind of work, while the scheme is actually being carried through. It never was as easy as it is to-day to carry through schemes of drainage, but we are suffering from 20 years of neglect, and we have failed, and we shall fail within two years, to repair the total neglect of 20 years. After all, there is still a 1921 mind among many farmers. There is still a Kettering mind. We have to remove not only the physical but the psychological difficulties in various parts of the country. We are actually reaping at the moment what Parliament has sown in the past because it failed to appreciate the real value of agriculture playing its normal and natural part in our national economy.
§ Earl Winterton
In West Sussex compulsory orders are served on individual farmers ordering them to open their ditches and drains, many of which have been blocked for years. That is not a question of much labour. Are the war 1267 agricultural executive committees generally insisting on individual farmers cleaning out their ditches and telling them they will supply them with labour for the purpose?
§ Mr. Williams
My right hon. Frond has circularised war agricultural executive committees time and again advising them, even intimidating them, into that form of activity, and I hope that what is happening in West Sussex is happening in all parts of the country. In any case the power is there, and I hope it will be exercised. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to priorities, I need to give only one figure to indicate that my right hon. Friend has not been unsuccessful when I state that 12 months ago we had approximately 53,000 tractors and we have 80,000 now. What we are producing and importing amounts to almost a 1,000 a week. Agricultural implements have increased by about 100 per cent. compared with 1939. So that we have not been altogether unsuccessful in securing priorities for the raw material for machinery.
The right hon. Gentleman also made reference to war agricultural executive committees. I am sorry that he is not here, because I wanted to ask whether or not, when he referred to the friendliness and neighbourliness of farmers who would not do their duty, he actually wants to suggest that we ought to send, for instance, a Yorkshire man to Wales to turn out a bad Welsh farmer and, if we can find a good Welsh farmer, send him up to Yorkshire to turn out a bad Yorkshire farmer. I am not sure that that sort of thing would be better than the position in which we are at the moment. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to read these figures. The war agricultural executive committees have taken possession in England of 1,714 farms, and in Wales 74farms, with a total acreage of 116,257. So that all agricultural committees are not wasting their time and allowing their friendship to step in between them and their duty. There is only one other thing I ought to say, and that is to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown), but as he has left the House I need not say it. The hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère), who is still here, referred to his hardy 1268 weekly—not hardy annual—and I should like to commend to his attention the Sixth Report of the Committee on National Expenditure, page 33. There he will find a perfect reply to his credit problems.
§ Mr. Williams
I have only two minutes, and I must occupy them to the greatest value. Owing to a combination of schemes, we are bit by bit rediscovering England, the England we began to lose 20 years ago under weeds and bracken, under scrub and furze, under an economic system that cared little for the produce of our own soil. Under the strong compulsion of war we are beginning to farm instead of merely scratch the surface as we have done in the past. With machinery, labour and fertilisers I am convinced that we can not only beat the blockade but feed the people and restore agriculture to its proper dignified position. I hope that the nation is learning a lesson that it will not readily forget when peace ultimately arrives.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again" [Major Dugdale], put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.