§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill to which I am asking the House to give a Second Reading to-day is a successor to the two miscellaneous agricultural Bills which were introduced and passed in 1940. I cannot claim that it enshrines any great new principle, because we are pushing on under our existing powers to the utmost of our capacity with food production, and we have increased very considerably the amount of food grown this year, not only for human consumption but also for our livestock. For instance, I anticipate that our output of cereals and straw this year will be at least half as much again as it was in 1939. In addition there has been a very considerable expansion of the production of potatoes and vegetables for human consumption and of fodder crops. We intend to go on increasing to the utmost of our ability the expansion of food production.
But we have found from our experience of the last 12 months that' there is a certain number of things that require legislation, and they form the subject of this Bill. The Bill deals mainly with three things. First, it provides the necessary legislative sanction for the continuance of the lime subsidy and grants for drainage, which were originally introduced in the Agriculture Act, 1937. Secondly, arising out of our experience of the last 12 months, it expands somewhat our powers for drainage and for providing increased facilities for upland and fenland 1150 farms. Thirdly, it confers certain powers on the Government to acquire land already requisitioned for agricultural reasons so as to ensure that the expenditure of public money on the improvement of that land shall be recovered, as far as practicable, by the State. That is a brief summary of the provisions of the Bill, but as necessarily some of it is legislation by reference, it would, perhaps, be for the convenience of the House if I ran through the various Clauses in greater detail and tried to explain them.
Clause 1 extends until 31st July, 1944, the lime subsidy, but transfers direct responsibility for administering it from the Land Fertility Committee to the Agricultural Ministers. The similar subsidy on basic slag is definitely abolished as from 31st July last, and that corresponds with the announcement I made on 12th June. I think it will be generally agreed that the arrangement for subsidising the supply of lime ought to continue and not to come to an end as it otherwise would do on 31st July this year. We are taking active steps to increase the supply of lime and to encourage producers to expand their plants. The regional organisation which we set up to achieve this object has actually succeeded in increasing by no less than 70 per cent. the supply of lime to farms during the summer off-season this year. New plant has been set up by 20 firms, five making quicklime and 15 for grinding limestone, and other firms are submitting specifications. At six other works new limestone grinding plants are being set up with State assistance. We are trying to concentrate State assistance on plants in areas where the need for concentrating lime is greatest or will be the greatest as a result of the ploughing-up campaign and where the few existing plants are not capable of being developed by the producers' own resources. Naturally, difficulties of labour, fuel and transport are continually arising, but the new regional organisation is, I believe, overcoming them as fast as possible. Indeed, as the result of smoothing out these difficulties and putting up these new plants we shall hope to increase the supplies of lime this year by no less than 75 per cent. over 1940–41. We expect that the lime subsidy for 1941 will be at least £1,500,000 and probably greater in the next few years. In view of these developments which could not appropriately be brought within the scope of 1151 the old Land Fertility scheme under the Agriculture Act, 1937, direct responsibility for administration of the subsidy arrangements has been transferred to the Agricultural Ministers, but full use is being made of the administrative machinery set up by the Land Fertility Committee and we are grateful to the members of that committee for the work they have put in over the last four years.
As regards basic slag, the subsidy has come to an end, and it will be realised by hon. Members that the war has brought about considerable changes in the fertiliser position. Supplies of fertilisers generally are controlled by the Ministry of Supply in consultation with the Agricultural Departments, and we have stabilised the prices of phosphatic fertilisers with the help of a considerable Exchequer subsidy. At the same time, in view of the railway position and the transport position generally, it is of the utmost importance to try to minimise the costs of distribution, and especially the areas of distribution. Therefore, we are trying to arrange that, as basic slag and superphosphates are, to all intents and purposes, interchangeable, the supply of basic slag should be distributed near the point of origin and that the supply of superphosphates also should be distributed as near as possible to the points of manufacture. This must affect some individual farmers, but I think hon. Members will agree with me that the economy and the saving in transport will fully justify any slight inconvenience which individual farmers may have to suffer. As regards the total supplies, we have established a reserve at the disposal of county committees so that those farmers who must have phosphates because of the phosphatic deficiency of their particular soil can be assured that they will get them in time, and that there will be no dispute of the sort that there was last year, when some farmers ordered them, but could not get delivery. Thanks to the invaluable assistance of the United States under the Lease-Lend Act, we have made arrangements for a considerable increase in the total supplies of phosphatic fertilisers, and with reasonable care in their distribution there should be sufficient for the increased demands that will be made as a result of the increased arable acreage.
Before dealing in detail with Clause 2 and the later Clauses on land drainage, I would remind the House that drainage 1152 is no new subject, and that it is because of the multiplicity of Acts on the Statute Book that the following Clauses dealing with drainage are a little difficult to understand owing to the necessity of legislation by reference. I take it that the House agrees on the fundamental necessity of drainage. We have already spent over £2,500,000 on schemes affecting nearly 2,000,000 acres since the beginning of the war, and considering the labour difficulties, I think that is a satisfactory result. We have already in use. about £250,000 worth of new drainage machinery, and we have a good deal more on order. The limiting factor, of course, is labour, but even that I hope gradually to overcome by the use of increased numbers of Italian prisoners of war. The various Clauses dealing with drainage are intended to increase the facilities to the farmers which the experience of the last 12 months has shown to be needed.
Clause 2 is relatively straightforward. It extends to 31st July, 1944, the period in which Exchequer grants may be made in respect of the improvement of minor arterial watercourses. These grants are, of course, the keystone of the whole of our drainage programme Schemes covering more than £1,000,000 worth of work on these minor watercourses have been approved since the beginning of the war, but there is still a great deal to be done, and it is, in our view, very important that the drainage authorities should now be in a position to plan ahead with confidence. Under the existing legislation these grants would lapse next July. They cannot be continued any further under existing legislation, and therefore, we are asking for the powers in this Clause.
Clause 3 amends Section 15 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, which enabled us to make grants for field drainage. We propose now to amend it so that we can make similar grants for the improvement of upland farms by laying on water. As a result of the progress of the ploughing-up campaign, especially on upland farms, the farmers are having more and more to make use of the top fields of those farms for the grazing of their cattle, and especially their dairy herds, in order to free the lower fields of better agricultural land for immediate use for arable crops. That cannot be done unless adequate supplies of water are available, and, therefore, we are now asking for the sanction 1153 of the House in order that a grant of 50 per cent. may be paid for the laying on of that water. In general, a scheme will be approved only where a county committee can certify that there will be an increase of food production and in general only in cases where the scheme affects more than one holding, so that we can get the greatest advantage from any given amount of money or labour that is involved.
Clause 4 enables advances to be made to drainage authorities in respect of minor drainage works that can be carried out by drainage authorities under Section 15 of the 1937 Act and Section 14 of the 1940 Act. Some of these schemes are private or contributory schemes; that is to say, the balance of the cost after the 50 per cent. grant has been paid is not found from the drainage rates, but from contributions from the owners of the land which benefits from the scheme. The owners of the land have a certain length of time in which to repay the cost, and some of the drainage boards that are carrying out these operations are not very large authorities and find their work impeded by not being able to finance themselves. Therefore, we propose to advance the whole of the cost to the drainage authorities as the scheme progresses, 50 per cent. being regarded as the Government grant and the remainder being recovered in due course, over a period of five years, from the drainage board and paid over to us with 4 per cent. interest. In view of the urgency of the matter, we have made, and are making, advances of this sort pending approval by the House of this particular Clause.
Clause 5 extends the provisions of Section 14 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, under which catchment boards may carry out minor drainage works outside drainage districts. Under this Clause, the catchment boards may carry out work inside a local drainage district, either with the consent of the drainage board, or, if they refuse, with my consent. The purpose is to enable one authority to carry out a scheme even though it happens to overlap the boundaries of another authority. The Clause also confers on local drainage boards in respect of schemes carried out by them within their districts powers similar to those already possessed by catchment boards; in other words, they will be able 1154 to recover the cost of the schemes from the owners instead of from the drainage rates. The maximum expenditure for which these schemes, whether carried out by catchment boards or drainage boards, may provide is increased from £5 to £10 per acre. The amount of £10 already exists in Scotland, and the £5 was originally taken from another Act at a time when minor drainage grants were not available. It is logical now to increase the limit to £10, although the average expenditure is of the order of £2 per acre.
In view of the urgent need to extend the land drainage powers, we enacted these by Defence Regulation, but, so that Parliament should have an opportunity to confirm our action, we included this Clause in the Bill. Sub-section (4) of the Clause, which is not in the Defence Regulation, provides for the maintenance of works which have already been carried out. The House knows that drainage works cannot be left for long without deteriorating, and there has been a unanimous demand on the part of drainage authorities that something in this nature should be inserted in the Bill so that the schemes upon which a great deal of money, energy and labour has been expended shall be maintained. Of course, the question of the maintenance of drainage works after the war will have to be settled after the war, but meantime we must try to maintain the schemes which we have carried out. Therefore, this Clause is put in to deal with the war-time emergency, and the question of permanent long-term legislation will have to be dealt with after the war. Under the Defence Regulations my Department can carry out drainage operations where no other body is able to do so. At present we can recover our expenses in carrying out that work only when the land is within an internal drainage district. Clause 6 enables us to recover our expenses in respect of work which we carried out on agricultural land outside a drainage district, and it will enable us to put in hand further schemes costing about £100,000. This Clause enables us to recover our expenses, either from the landowners by way of betterment, or from the drainage board concerned. But we do not propose to recover from the owner or the drainage board more than 50 per cent. of our expenses.
Clauses 7 and 8 extend slightly the provisions of Section 2 of the Agriculture 1155 (Miscellaneous War Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1940, which relate to the improvement of ways over fenlands. The House may remember that we found a number of cases where it was impossible to grow the heavier crops, such as potatoes and sugar beet, on a lot of this land because there were no means of getting the crops away. We were therefore authorised to spend money on improving these roads by laying down concrete. Now we have found it is necessary in a number of cases to continue work on these roads outside the internal drainage system. Some of the roads are partly outside and others wholly outside an internal drainage district. Clauses 7 and 8 bring these two different classes within the provision of Section 2 of the No. 2 Act of 1940. As the tenant of the land actually reaps the immediate benefit on any improvement to the roads, we are authorising the owner of the land, under Sub-section (2) of Clause 7, to recover from the tenant interest on his contributions in the shape of increased rent. In cases of ways wholly outside a drainage district, the Clause empowers the county councils to take over the maintenance by agreement, and this particular proposal has been agreed to by the County Councils' Association.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)
As regards the 50 per cent. cost to be paid by the occupier in respect of the drainage and road schemes, will these costs be accepted under the Finance Bill as normal agricultural costs, or will they have to be borne as a capital expense?
§ Mr. Hudson
I could not answer that offhand, but I will find out. We now come to Clauses 9 and 10, which should be read together. Clause 9 empowers the Minister to acquire, by agreement or compulsion, land of which possession has been taken, either because it has not been cultivated or because it has not been cultivated in accordance with the rules of good husbandry, and where substantial sums of money have to be spent in order to bring it back into a proper state of cultivation. The purpose of these Clauses is to preserve for the Crown the benefit of the money it has spent and the increased value arising therefrom. The land will be acquired at its original value when possession was taken. If there is any doubt, the matter will be settled by an independent arbitrator.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
Is it not the case that the Crown already has power to reserve the increased value for itself by recovering it from the original owner, or whoever actually receives the benefit of the improvement?
§ Mr. Hudson
Technically that is true, but experience has shown it to be a very cumbersome procedure. It is a very long-drawn-out procedure, and forms the subject of endless litigation. It is because I want a simpler procedure and a more expeditious and fairer procedure for the owner and the State, that we are bringing in this new scheme. As I said, the land will be acquired by the State at its original value when possession was taken. I hope, indeed I feel certain, that no one in the House will challenge the proposition that it is essential to take possession of land during the present emergency which is not being cultivated, or which is not being cultivated in accordance with the rules of good husbandry. At the moment there is a certain number of difficulties standing in my way in carrying out that imperative duty, and this particular Clause is designed to overcome them. It will be appreciated that when possession is taken of land of this nature considerable sums of money have often to be spent in bringing it back into a proper state of fertility —on fertilisers, hedging and ditching, as well as considerable sums on bringing farm buildings back into condition. The ideal is to get a new tenant to work on the farm and bring it back into condition for us. That has the effect of releasing the resources in labour and machinery of my committees for other work on derelict land for which we cannot find a tenant.
Therefore, there is every advantage, from our point of view, in getting a good fanner to take on the job, but in a number of cases it is impossible to make any such arrangement, especially in cases where the farmer would have to spend a good deal of his own capital, because at present he cannot look forward to a sufficiently long-term occupation to stand a reasonable chance of recovering his capital. At present I can only give a contract of occupation to a farmer for the duration of the war and three years after. That may be a short period or a long period, but the fact remains that it does not give enough security. Therefore, the powers for which I am asking will enable me to give a tenant better security and a longer lease. As a matter of fact I do 1157 not anticipate that we shall have to exercise these powers very often. I think the fact that I have them, and the threat of their use, will be sufficient to compel the very small minority of recalcitrant owners to give proper security to approved tenants. My agents, the county war agricultural executive committees, are showing a natural reluctance, in spite of the necessity to increase food production, to take possession of land where they anticipate considerable expenditure of public money will be required because at present they feel the money may not be recovered, and it will be the landowner whose neglect has been locally notorious who will benefit.
There are cases where the mere fact that the committees have already started to carry out work which will improve the value of land in a particular area has led to owners attempting to sell at enhanced values or speculators buying up the land thinking they will get the increased value due to the expenditure of State money. It is in order to stop that sort of thing that I am bringing in this Bill. In some cases possession has been taken by committees of land divided into a large number of small ownerships where the tenure itself has been the main reason for the land not being properly cultivated. There are cases where the drainage system has been hopeless. If these areas are to continue in cultivation after the war, it is clear that it will be necessary to acquire the title to the land. Although these powers are wide, I do not anticipate that they will have to be exercised in every case where we have taken possession of the land, or in more than a comparatively small proportion of cases. Common lands and land belonging to the National Trust are exempt from acquisition.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain a little more fully? The Clause says:The value of that land shall be taken to be the value which it would have had at the date of the notice to treat if it had remained in the condition in which it was.Has the Department any data as to the value of land in that condition at the moment?
§ Mr. Hudson
Yes, Sir. In every single case where we have taken possession of land on the ground that it was not being 1158 cultivated in accordance with the rules of good husbandry an exact record of its condition has been taken, and it will be a comparatively simple task to assess the proper value. The Act is retrospective, and there is a definite record of the value of the land at the given time.
§ Mr. Horabin (Cornwall, Northern)
Does that apply to agricultural land generally? Has the Ministry any record of the value of land generally throughout the country?
§ Mr. Hudson
I am dealing here only with a small area about which we have definite information.
I pass to Clause 10, which deals with the disposal of the land. It is proposed that the Minister should have a free hand as to its disposal either by auction or by any other means. It says that within five years of the end of the war we have to offer it back to the original owner or to the person who would have been the owner if the Minister had not acquired the land. We are not bound to make this offer if the Minister certifies that in his opinion the result of accepting such an offer would be that the land could not or would not be properly managed and cultivated. I want to see in these cases that the expenditure of money is not allowed to be wasted, as it was after the last war, when land was handed back. There will be no obligation to make this offer to a bad landowner, neither will it be necessary to make an offer where a block of land formerly in a number of different ownerships has been taken over. I will give two or three illustrations of the sort of cases that are cropping up which have necessitated these two Clauses. One of my committees had to take possession of a 72-acre farm. The owner-occupier had allowed the land to become derelict and overgrown, and the county committee concerned had taken possession of part of the farm in the last war. It had been taken over in the last war, and, when it reverted to the original owner, it was allowed to get into this state. When the committee came to take possession in this war, they found that the only livestock consisted of one steer, one bull, one cock, and one hen. I am told the cock and hen were so wild that they were unable to be caught and had to be shot. The roofs of both houses and outbuildings were stripped of slates, and there was only one small bedroom left which was at all water- 1159 tight. That farm is unlikely to be handed back.
Another committee had to take possession of an area of 150 acres in the fens This was divided into 61 separate fields, the smallest of which was 0.6 of an acre and the largest 4.6 acres. There were 14 different owners and 16 different occupiers. We have taken possession of the whole lot. We have cut new ditches, and the whole area has been redivided into a smaller number of fields of reasonable size. Most of the existing ditches are being filled in, new ditches have had to be cut, and we have had to instal a pumping engine and plant to deal with the drainage. The same committee have a case of 30 acres of land in five ownerships planted with derelict fruit trees and producing nothing. We have taken possession, grubbed up all the fruit trees and made it into one holding which is producing a good crop of potatoes now. These are the sort of problems which we have no power to deal with at present and which these two Clauses were designed to cover. In the case of an offer made to a good landowner, the purchase price, in default of agreement, would be settled by an arbitrator, being the price which a willing seller would be likely to obtain in the open market. If severance has been paid originally, when the land was acquired by the Minister, that amount will be deducted from the market price on sale back to the original owner if the damage by severance has been made good by his getting the land back.
§ Mr. Hudson
That has been brought to my attention. We shall have to have a discussion in Committee, and meantime I will give it further thought and see whether some Amendment is necessary. These Clauses have been framed with the intention of securing that money that the State has spent shall be recovered as far as is practicable, that land which has been restored shall not be allowed to 1160 revert after the war to its neglected state, and that the landowner shall not get any advantage from the public expenditure. On the other hand, the good landlord will be given an opportunity of getting his land back at a fair price, and the State will recover such part of its expenditure as has resulted in the enhanced value of the land.
§ Mr. Owen Evans (Cardigan)
Will the Ministry be precluded from making any offer to the cultivating tenant, who may have been farming the land for many years?
§ Mr. Hudson
Under the Clause as it stands, the land will be offered back in the first instance to the owner. The tenant will ex hypothesi have a long lease granted by the State to encourage him to take on the job, so that he will not suffer any disadvantage, because the tenancy cannot come to an end merely because the land is handed back. Before leaving these two Clauses, I should like to make it clear that I do not expect to have to use these powers in any but a comparatively small number of cases. Just as the total number of farmers who are Being or will be dispossessed on grounds of bad husbandry is a very small proportion of the total number of farmers in this country, so there are very few owners of land who have not co-operated whole-heartedly with my committees, often at considerable expense to themselves and I am very grateful to them for their action. I think, therefore, that we can rely on the good farmers and the good landowners welcoming these particular powers.
Clause 11 deals with bees. The maintenance of bees in good health is of extreme importance, not only to honey production, but to fruit production through the proper pollination of fruit blossom. Curiously enough, the two wars have been characterised by bee diseases. In the last war it was Isle of Wight disease, and in this war it is foul brood disease. Although these powers have been taken as a war-time provision, they will be of permanent value and are, therefore, appropriate for a permanent Measure. They are based on the recommendations of a committee which was fully representative of the industry, and the national beekeepers' associations have nominated representatives to serve on the Advisory Committee which I have set up. The 1161 Committee is now going into the question of what practical steps can be taken to deal with the foul brood disease, which is a great menace. Clauses 12 and 13 apply the provisions of the Bill to Scotland, with modifications to suit conditions in that country. Clause 14 deals with Northern Ireland, which is concerned only with the lime subsidy.
In commending the Bill to the House, I would only say that we feel that we need these supplementary provisions and that they will be useful additions to our present powers. We do not think we can get the best out of the land unless we have them. That is my excuse for troubling the House with the details of the Bill.
§ Colonel Sir George Courthope (Rye)
I want to say only a few words about this Bill, not only on my own behalf but on behalf of the committee of agricultural Members which sits upstairs, of which I am temporarily the chairman. I want particularly to thank the Minister for the way in which he has consulted the agricultural Members and the trouble he and his staff have taken to meet bond fide points which have been raised. They have all been met, subject to a few minor Committee points which will be raised at a later stage. I had at one time some anxiety about the drainage Clauses, because there is not always agreement among interested parties and even authorities as to the proper and best course of dealing with a block of land which admittedly requires drainage work. There have been frequent cases under the existing powers in which work has been carried out by the order of one authority, possibly without consultation or notice to other interested parties, who have subsequently been called upon to contribute substantial sums to the cost of the work which, they say, was either unnecessary or done in the wrong way. I was a little anxious about the extension of those powers, but the Minister has explained that they are only for war purposes, and I frankly admit that whatever work is done, whether it is the best way or the second best way, in the way of dainage of land must be maintained throughout the war period, while there exists the responsibility for maintaining the production of the soil at the maximum point.
The two Clauses which introduce the greatest novelty are Clauses 9 and 10. The 1162 Minister is right in a war Measure in trying to ensure that the State shall recover as far as possible expenditure which it undertakes in order to restore the fertility of land which, owing to past neglect, it has had to requisition. It would not be reasonable that either owners or tenants who have neglected land in the past should get any benefit from that work. I have not a good word to say on behalf of the bad landlord or the bad tenant farmer. There have been a few cases which the Minister has met in Clause 10—I do not think there are many—in which under peace conditions good owners, desirous of being good landlords, have found it impossible to get rid of admittedly bad tenants without heavy compensation, because the peace-time war agricultural committees have been unwilling to act. A number of farms to which that applies are among those which have been requisitioned, and it seemed to us that in cases like that, where the derelict state of the land was not due to the neglect of the owner, he should be given a first chance to buy back the land at a price which would reasonably cover the increase of value which was due to Government expenditure. I want to thank the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with that point. I think that it will cover all bond fide cases without giving an undeserved advantage to a bad landowner. The committee of agricultural Members upstairs are, subject to a few minor Amendments, in full support of the Bill, and we want again to express our gratitude to the Minister for endeavouring to meet in advance bond fide criticisms which might have wasted the time of the House unnecessarily if they had not been discussed before.
§ Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)
The Minister rightly said that this Bill contains a good deal of legislation by reference. When looking at its Clauses I found that I had to consult at least three Acts of Parliament, and it struck me that when it was on the Statute Book it will be necessary to have a consolidating Measure so that reference to the actual position can be made more easily. We regard the Bill generally as a very useful Measure, but there are one or two points with which I should like to deal. The lime subsidy is continued, but the subsidy for basic slag is stopped. The Minister has assured us that there will be no shortage of basic slag, that it will be taken in con- 1163 junction with the ordinary phosphate fertilisers, and that there will be economy as a result of the new method. Will the price of basic slag to the farmer be increased or decreased as a result of this discontinuance of subsidy and of the new arrangements? Among agriculturists, including those who are members of war agricultural committees, there appears to be a feeling, which I think is right, that it is better to subsidise fertilisers, so that farmers can get them at a price which they can afford, and thus obtain good crops from the land, rather than to make the price of fertilisers too dear for farmers, with resultant bad crops. With regard to drainage, I do not think there will be much opposition to the new proposals in this House seeing that many years ago Parliament decreed that financial assistance must be given in order to get the land drained. In the Debates on the Act of 1940, before the present Minister of Agriculture was in office, the proposal to fix the maximum payment at £5 an acre was strongly criticised, and £10 an acre was urged in more quarters than one. Now it is pleasing to note that in this Bill the maximum has been increased to £10.
When we get to what may be termed the most controversial Clauses of the Bill, Clauses 9 and 10, what do we find? Under the 1940 Act the Minister had power to requisition land, and, indeed, a good deal has been requisitioned by the county war agricultural committees but now he will have power to acquire. There are two kinds of land which are to be acquired—or which have been acquired or requisitioned, because this Bill appears to endorse a good many things which the Minister of Agriculture has already done. First, he can acquire land which is uncultivated, and, secondly, land which has not been cultivated in accordance with the rules of good husbandry, a term which used to be applied in the abstract sense but has now become very real in the countryside
Why was land left uncultivated? In some cases, it may be, the landlord had not sufficient capital to develop it; in other cases it was left uncultivated because the landowner wished to retain it for purely pleasure purposes; and no doubt there were various other reasons. But in days like these, when all cultivation is essential, this land should be taken over. As 1164 to land which has not been cultivated in accordance with the rules of good husbandry, I find there is a growing feeling among farmers and members of county war agricultural committees that more of this land ought to have been taken over in the national interest. I am not speaking on my own authority but on the authority of well-known agriculturists. There are three types of farms. A is the good farm, B is what we call in Yorkshire "middling," which is a term not easily defined, and C is the bad farm. Usually it is the C farms which have been taken over. Naturally the dispossessed farmer feels aggrieved and thinks that he is entitled to appeal to some authority above the county war agricultural committee, but more generally the complaints come from those who say that more of these farms which have not been properly cultivated ought to have been taken over.
I have moved about the countryside and met all classes engaged in agriculture, particularly the workers, and a number of those who are members of county war agricultural committees, and naturally we have discussed this question. I know of one committee which has; taken over 4,000 acres which were not cultivated in accordance with the rules of good husbandry and has made a success of the land in each case, simply because the committee had the capital with which to feed the land. In a time of national emergency every step necessary to win the war ought to be taken, and as we need the maximum production of food the House will not begrudge the Minister power to acquire all the land he needs for an increase in the production of food.
Next we come to perhaps the most controversial point, arising under Clause 10, and that is with regard to what will be done, when the war is over, with the land which has been cultivated by the county war agricultural committees or the State. Most of us remember what took place after the last war, and, not unnaturally, farmers are a bit suspicious of politicians. Whether we like it or not, agriculture has entered the political arena and will remain in it for a number of years, and in view of what happened in the past farmers are justified if they feel a little suspicious of Parliament and what it is likely to do. Under Clause 10 the Minister has within five years of the end of the war period to offer the land for re-sale to those who originally owned it. I wish to ask a ques- 1165 tion about the "war period" as defined in this Bill. The end of the war period does not mean at the cessation of hostilities. In the last war we had an armistice on 11th November, 1918, but the war was not officially over, I believe, until August, 1921. I want to be clear as to what is meant by "after the war period." In the Act of 1940 it says:The expression 'war period' means the period for which the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, is in force.Does that mean that when that Act ceases to exist it is the end of the war period and that the period of five years is to be reckoned from that date? We may as well have that point cleared up to avoid future complications. I say straightaway that I should prefer the Bill to say that no land should be offered for re-sale until at least five years have elapsed from the end of the war period. A lot of funny things happen immediately after a war. Policies change like lightning; they did after the last war; and I believe that after this war this country will have to encourage a larger and more prosperous agricultural industry than we had before. I believe that the economic position of the world will demand that we must secure the maximum food production.
It would be better to have a period of five years, and no resale until we would survey the position in more stable conditions. The right hon. Gentleman might not be in office a year after the war period. The land could be offered for resale almost immediately after the war period, if the then Minister of Agriculture so desired. I would rather see the period five years, so that we could have a stable time. Is the land to be handed back to the people who have neglected it? I still retain my sense of humour, and I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in harness again. He and I have made many speeches inside and outside this House, and I suppose we should not like to be reminded of all of them. I remember a Debate on 6th February, 1940, when we were putting on the Statute Book the three-years Clause. One of the strongest speeches made against the proposal was made by my hon. Friend. It was a good speech, and I agreed with every word of it. He said:They can create a contract with a tenant for the duration of the war, they can pour money into the land in the shape of fertilisers, 1166 drainage, and so forth, but the Minister takes power at the end of three years to hand back that reconditioned land to the farmer who neglected it before the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1940; col. 93, Vol. 357.]
§ Mr. Smith
I am quoting words which were used in that speech in 1940. My hon. Friend said that it would be a pity if the land were handed back to those who had neglected it. What is the position? As I read the Bill, the Minister will first of all hand the land back to the person who had it when it was acquired. If that owner cannot be traced, other proposals are put forward. Can the State or the county agricultural committee still retain the land, or will it have to be offered by auction in the open market? What is likely to happen is that if the State has made a success of the land and the prospects of cultivating the land are reasonable, the original owner will turn up and accept the offer. If the owner sees that the land in question will not be a good economic proposition and he does not wish to acquire it, which will be a distinct possibility, what will happen?
§ Mr. Smith
Will it mean that the State is saddled with uneconomic propositions in the shape of less prosperous land while the good land will be handed back to its owners? Let us not forget that landowners are very shrewd people. One needs to look ahead. I do not want the State to hand over economic and prosperous land to private ownership in those circumstances. Of course, it may be that before this resale takes place the agricultural land of the country will all be nationalised.
I cannot find in any Act of Parliament what is to be the duration of life of the county war agricultural committees. The Bill implies that the committees are to remain in existence for a considerable time. They are to advise the Minister regarding certain of these Clauses. The committees have justified themselves and should be kept in existence as long as possible. They will have a steadying influence upon Parliament in declarations of agricultural policy, and the result may be to avoid lightning changes in policy such as took place after the last war, when a good many tenant farmers were 1167 ruined because decontrol took place four years before it was expected. The committees have done good work and ought to remain in existence.
On the whole, we regard the Bill as useful and necessary in these days, although it does not make any fundamental changes in agricultural policy. We shall expedite its passage. I say that, subject to any discussion that may take place upon the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Lambert (South Molton)
This is a small Measure, but the success of its fertility Clauses must rest upon one factor —labour. I warn the Minister, the Government and the House that if more agricultural labourers are withdrawn from the land, there will be less food for the nation. The agricultural labourer is the most skilled of workers.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker(Colonel Clifton Brown)
The question of agricultural workers is outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Lambert
I was trying to point out that the success of the Bill depends upon that factor. If the Minister withdraws 10,000 men from the land, his Bill will have very small chance of success. I wish to say, too, that if this Bill is to be a success we must have the wage question settled. I do not wish to go further into that—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker rose—
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
On a point of Order. Is it not in Order for hon. Members who wish to take part in this Debate to refer to questions of man-power, for instance, to the fact that while there is adequate machinery for drainage in some areas, the men to work it have been taken away? Surely in such a case we can connect the question of man-power with that of machinery? This Bill asks for further powers, but the powers already existing cannot be fully exercised in the absence of the men to operate the machines, some of which in my own constituency are standing idle.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Hon. Members must not refer to the general question of man-power. Any specific case bearing on this particular point would, of course, be a different matter.
§ Mr. Lambert
I can easily keep myself in Order. The whole point of this Bill 1168 depends on labour. The liming and drainage of land are two very arduous occupations. Spreading lime on the land is a dirty job which cannot be done by women. It is no use trying to tell us that we can lime or drain land by using female labour. I know something about it, because in our part of the world we have had a considerable number of these young women who have been turned out on the land.
I would like now to refer to a point mentioned by my hon. Friend opposite, namely, the question of the derelict land that has been taken over. Here I would like to pay my tribute to the agricultural committee in the county of Devon. They are practical men and have done splendid work. The committee is presided over by a very competent chairman, and has taken the greatest possible interest in food production. They have reclaimed a large amount of land and have utilised the services of one of the staff of the Seale Hayne Agricultural College—of which I happen to be chairman—and have done their work extremely well. No less than 5,000 acres of land which formerly was not cultivated have been taken over, and are now either growing crops or being prepared for growing crops. About 1,200 acres of potatoes are growing on land which formerly grew nothing but ferns and things of that sort. I am entirely in favour of utilising land for such a purpose, but when hon. Gentlemen ask what is to happen to the land after the war, I reply that that will depend entirely upon the price of produce. If this country is wise, it will not do as was done after the last war and grossly betray the agricultural interests, because there has been no greater betrayal in our Parliamentary history than to have passed a Bill one year and repealed it the next.
I hope the country will see to it that this land which has not been cultivated for generations because of low prices will be able to remain in cultivation. I should be very glad if some of these war-time planners, about whom we hear so much and who are able to plan everybody's business but their own, would give us their views on such an important subject. Good cultivation is essential. Why has the land not been cultivated? Because of prices. The Minister now says he is going to take this land over. I wish him joy of it, because again his success or otherwise 1169 will depend entirely upon the prices of agricultural produce. But what is to happen to the land which is prejudiced by to-day's cultivation? I would rather like an answer to that, and perhaps we shall get it in Committee. I know of land in Devonshire which was growing gorse and rushes and which has now been taken over and ploughed up. It has quite a good crop on it; I saw a piece the other day with at least six or seven tons of potatoes and 40 bushels of oats per acre. What will happen to that land afterwards? Is it to be left lying fallow, or is it to be re-seeded? That question will have to be resolved. I know this land, I live within a few miles of it, and I can see that unless prices are such that it can continue to be cultivated, the owners of the land may be considerably prejudiced. If they had been neglecting it or cultivating it badly, I should have nothing to say, but otherwise what is to happen to it after the war?
Another case in point is Hatherleigh Moor. Something like 170 acres have been ploughed up, and there are now about 100 acres of potatoes and 50 acres of oats. Next year there will be another 125 acres. What is to happen to that? Of course, a common has always been a bone of contention. I know that, because I have two or three commons in my constituency. For 500 years Hatherleigh Moor has not been cultivated; it has had a few ponies on it and a cow or two near the villages, but what is to happen to it now it has been taken over? I asked the officer who came from the Seale Hayne Agricultural College a question about costs. He said that it was just possible for them to pay their way, with the £2 an acre subsidy for ploughing up, at the present prices of oats and potatoes. But is this land afterwards to revert to pasture, or is it to revert to a common? I do not know whether the Government have any idea; it may not be fair to ask them now, but these are questions which must come up. I know that we have not yet seen the end of this terrible war, but I do ask the Government that land which has been taken over and cultivated by the agricultural committees should at any rate be restored to the owner in as good a condition as before it was ploughed. If you plough land and stimulate it with artificial manure, it is bound to be impoverished. The Minister may be able 1170 to give us some little information about that point.
I am delighted to see in the Bill—it is long overdue—this provision dealing with bees. I happen to be a bee-keeper myself, though I am not very fond of handling them. We have had in our district this foul pest, and if the Minister will take any steps to protect bee-keepers and prevent this disease from spreading, he will have done a really great work, not only for the protection of honey but in providing a good bee stock, because wherever you have a good bee stock you get a considerable amount of fruit blossom and fruit. Therefore, I welcome this Bill so far as it goes. As I said when I started, it will depend entirely on labour. If you withdraw more labour, you will not get this Bill to be a success.
§ Major Owen(Carnarvon)
I agree with a good deal of what the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) has said with regard to the difficulties in carrying out such measures as are foreshadowed in this Bill, owing to the shortage of labour. At the same time, I feel certain that the agricultural community as a whole will be glad that arrangements have been made in the Bill to continue the lime subsidy until 1944, and also to continue the work of drainage which is so sorely needed in this country. What particularly appeal to me are what appear to have appealed to others—Clauses 9 and 10. A great deal of Government money has been spent in recent years to help agriculture, but correspondingly with what the State has spent, the farmer has had to find a great deal of extra money. In Clauses 9 and 10 the Minister, very rightly and very properly, takes steps to see that, where direct money has been spent on improving land, the State must be able to recover at a future date. That is a very proper thing to do, but what is the position of the farmer? Has he any security as a tenant farmer that he will be able to benefit by what he will have put into the land in the last few years? I am afraid that that is not the case. The House will remember that during the last two years of the last war, and for several years afterwards, the tenant farmer was exploited by speculators. He was forced either to leave his farm or to purchase it at an enhanced price and borrow money at very high rates of interest. What hap- 1171 pened was that in scores, in hundreds, of cases, farmers became bankrupt. That was a serious loss, in fact it was a calamity, so far as food production in this country was concerned.
The question may be asked, What has this got to do with the present Bill? I wrote some time ago to the Minister drawing his attention to an instance in my constituency. In the letter I wrote to him I pointed out that it had been the custom in our part of the world that whenever an estate was put up for sale the tenant farmer was always given an opportunity of negotiating for the purchase of his farm. I warned him that in this particular case every application by a tenant to purchase his own farm had been turned down absolutely, and I foreshadowed that that might lead to speculators coming in, purchasing the land, having no connection with the farms and knowing nothing about the land. I was assured by the Minister that I need not worry, that the Agricultural Holdings Acts were sufficient protection for the tenant farmer.
I am afraid that my warning has now come true. The sale of this estate took place three weeks ago. It was divided into two portions. Land consisting of about 18 holdings amounting to some 1,100 acres was first sold. The tenant farmers were not allowed to bid separately; it was sold as a whole. But I had persuaded the tenant farmers to combine together and appoint one from among themselves to bid for the whole of this estate. They were, in fact, the best people to judge the value of that land. This farmer who represented his fellow farmers was able to go only to a certain amount, but it was sold to a local resident. He is, I am glad to say, perfectly ready to negotiate with the tenants about their own farms. But the second portion was sold in the afternoon to a firm of London auctioneers who refused to disclose the name of the purchaser. Whether they were purchasing it for themselves or whether they were purchasing it for another buyer never transpired. Imagine my surprise to see in the local paper last week-end a notice that this portion is to be put up for sale again on 3rd November next in separate lots. I do not want to say anything about this firm of auctioneers—I do not 1172 know them—but they are complete strangers. They have no interest in the agriculture of that area nor in the production of food in that area. They are there solely to make a profit out of the sale of that land. I was rung up by one of the tenants, who told me that his farm, which is the biggest in that area, had been valued for probate at £6,000. He is calmly asked to pay £10,000 for it, and part of the best land he has is to be taken away from him.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I ask a question? I sympathise with the point of view that my hon. and gallant Friend is putting, but surely he is in error in stating the position of the tenants. They are absolutely safeguarded by the Agricultural Holdings Acts, and they cannot be turned out or charged a higher rent.
§ Major Owen
My Noble Friend is evidently misinformed. The whole object of this sale on 3rd November is that if the auctioneers cannot get the price they want, they can give 12 months' notice to the tenant on 13th November; and the tenant has no choice Let me give another example of the kind of prices being asked for land in that area. I know of a little holding there, the rent of which is £16 per annum. It was vacant quite a long time, because it is poor land and the buildings are poor, but it is now in occupation. The tenant thought he would be able to buy this land at something like £400 or £500, which is a reasonable price for it. I do not speak without knowledge, for I myself own land in that part of the country. But for that land he is asked £2,000. That is a scandal. If the owner of that land can have his way, he will charge £80 a year rent, which is fantastic I appeal to the Minister—who is not now present—to take action for the sake of food production in this country; for the sake of the farming industry, not now but after the war; for the sake of the farmers, who have lived for generations on their own farms. They are part and parcel of the place, yet speculators from London can come down and buy several farms, and in less than six weeks put them up again at a profit for themselves. They are capitalising what the farmer has done, and putting the profits into their own pockets and avoiding taxation. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary must sympathise with the case that I am putting, and I 1173 ask him and the Minister to take steps immediately. If they cannot do it under this Bill, let them do it under the Defence Regulations. If that is not done agriculture will be ruined, as it was after the last war.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)
I think everyone in the House fully sympathises with the illustration given by the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen). These land speculators, who have bought land in order to divide up an estate and sell it again, thus exploiting agriculture, have done greater disservice to agriculture than anybody else has done.
I support the Bill, but there are one or two points that I would like to put to the Minister. I listened to his speech with considerable interest, and I noted with pleasure the largely increased production of food from the land this year. He mentioned wheat and potatoes. The potatoes are there, but they are still in the ground. We want labour to get them from the ground into the clamp. I hope that Clause 1, which refers to the cessation of the subsidy on basic slag and the cessation of the abolition of the functions of the Land Fertility Committee, docs not indicate a reversal of the Government's policy with regard to assistance to agriculture by means of the provision of fertilisers. The best way to help the farmer is by helping him to help himself. It is immaterial to the finances of a farmer whether he sows four quarters of wheat at £3 a quarter and makes £12, or whether he sows five quarters at £2 10s. a quarter and makes £12 10s.; but it is very material to the country at present that our land should produce five quarters of wheat per acre instead of four. I hope that the policy of providing fertilisers, and so helping the farmer to help himself, will not be discontinued by the Government. I recognise that help is being given in other directions to phosphatic manures, but I hope that the general policy of stimulating the farmer to increase the quantity of fertilisers he uses will not be discontinued.
The only other Clauses with which I want to deal are those relating to land drainage. I have been associated during the whole of my life with the Fen country, the fertility of which depends on the efficient drainage of the land. I can say very definitely that there is no other agri- 1174 culture measure which will increase production so much as efficient drainage of the land, and I whole-heartedly support those Clauses. The Bill gives power to the Minister to extend drainage schemes, through the agency of the catchment boards. That is all to the good, but what about the financial side of these schemes? The Government, very generously, are making a 50 per cent. grant in order to encourage the carrying out of such schemes: but there is the remaining 50 per cent., which, under the Bill, will have to be paid by the occupier. Will that amount which is paid by the occupier, who is compelled to carry out the drainage schemes, be allowed by the Inland Revenue Commissioners as essential farming costs, or will it have to be borne out of capital? I understand that if that expenditure is merely for the maintenance of existing work it is allowable, but not if it is new work. That is a very important point. To-day, occupiers of land are unable, out of the small amount of money which is left to them after paying taxation, to meet the expense of these essential drainage schemes. I hope that the Minister will attend to that, and that he will at the same time provide the roads which are essential to agriculture.
I would like to clear up one point made by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) a few moments ago. The position, as I understand it, is that the owner of land can give a tenant notice at any time, but the owner has to pay for the disturbance. He has to pay a year's rent, plus the cost of disturbance, and that in itself should prevent an ordinary owner of land from giving a tenant notice.
These Clauses are essential at the present time to protect the Government in regard to their expenditure of money to bring derelict land into cultivation. We accept them; they are essential. On the question as to whether permission should be given to the previous owner to recover the land, criticism has been made as to whether it is right to give back land that had been taken away. It is not the landlord who is farming. The landlord has let his land to a tenant who has security of tenure, but if the tenant allows the land to become derelict, it is not the fault of the landlord, and he is not in any way responsible for it. After money had been spent upon the land by the State to bring it back into cultivation, a landlord would 1175 in no circumstances, having had his land restored to cultivation and let to a good tenant, remove that tenant, and the good tenant who had come in would be sure that he would be allowed to remain there. The landlord would be only too pleased to get rid of a bad tenant and to have acquired a new and a good tenant. With these words I commend this Bill and congratulate the Minister upon having brought it forward.
§ Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (Newbury)
I saw in an agricultural paper that this Bill was looked upon as one worthy of a Fascist dictatorship. I do not take that view about the Bill. The Minister had consultations, and I think that on the whole these very drastic Clauses are reasonably controlled, and, what is more, that it is in the interests of the Government of the day not to let agriculture down, otherwise they will not get back the money they have put into the land when they try to sell it again. The position before the Minister and the country will be that, if they let agriculture down as they did after the last war and try to sell the land which they have requisitioned to the highest bidder, the owner in nine cases out of ten will not have any money. There will be very little money in the country, and therefore it will be a safeguard if the Government requisition land. I do not know whether it may be called land nationalisation or not, but it would be a safeguard if the Government desire to have a flourishing agriculture in this country.
The only way for Government policy to keep agriculture flourishing is to keep up the price of the products of the land. Surely this is the time when all parties should determine not to let agriculture down as was done after the last war, and should get together and make a permanent policy, or one for five or ten years, to keep up the prices of agricultural produce. It is all very well, when you suddenly come to war and find that agriculture has been let down, to say you must blame someone. It is easy to blame someone, and, of course, it is the landowner who is usually blamed. What were the conditions with which the landowner had to contend? He could not let his farms at a rent which enabled him to repair the buildings. It is essential to keep the price of agricultural produce up to a reasonable level. I do not care 1176 whether it is by protection, or subsidy, or by other means that you want to provide cheap food for the people, but you cannot have a flourishing agriculture if the prices are not fair prices to enable those who cultivate the land to live upon it. I received a letter this morning from a landowner and constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who says:I have a map of this Estate of 100 years ago showing every field cultivated, and all ponds cleaned out. Then owing to the then Government policy much of this ground became unlettable. My father asked the late Mr. Heywood Johnstone, M.P. then, to obtain for him the advice of the Board of Agriculture. An expert was sent down who told my father the policy of the Government was to provide cheap food for the people, and that England was a manufacturing country, and that the only thing he could suggest was to pull out the gates and declare the land 'void' so as to pay no rates or taxes on it.
§ Earl Winterton
As my constituency has been referred to, I think I know the gentleman whom my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind. I am afraid I do not regard him as typical of Sussex landlords.
We are perhaps both of the same opinion, but I only quote the latter to show that, if we are to keep a flourishing agriculture, we must not do what we have been doing for the last 100 years and let agriculture down. At the end of this war, which I am afraid will not be as soon as some of us hoped, there will be very little money. Under this Bill owners have to pay a share of the money every year for five years and to pay back, and quite rightly, the money that the Government put into their land if they want to recover the land. The farmers may or may not be able to pay the same amount of rent as they do now, but it is absolutely essential that another Bill should be brought forward, especially as this Bill does not deal with land taken over by the Defence Forces.
There are many details in regard to which this Bill will be required to be amended to keep it up to date, and such a Bill is bound to be brought forward. It is essential for agriculture that there should be a better scheme of credits. Money should be made available to enable the land to be taken back and maintained and drained, and there ought to be a more satisfactory scheme of credits at a cheaper rate of interest than has to 1177 be paid now. This is absolutely essential if this or any other Bill is to help agriculture in the future. As landowners we want more than anyone else to see the land of England produce every possible crop. We shall not object to being told after a fair trial of bad farming, but we hope that all parties in this country will get together and formulate a policy to keep the land in a productive state and see that agriculture is not let down after this war as it was after the last war.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
One of the most beneficent Acts relating to agriculture was the Act which was passed in 1937 and which the Minister now proposes to extend. I think it was the first Act which really turned the mind of the farmer to pure agriculture. Other Acts preceding it had been subsidies upon stock or cereals. It was payment for production instead of encouraging farmers to better farming, and the question to which the House ought to address itself to-day is, What is the value of this Bill towards the increase in production which is so needed? Interesting as are the questions which are raised by Clauses 9 and 10, they are only incidental. The Clauses which really matter are the preceding Clauses, dealing with lime—unfortunately, basic slag has been let go— and drainage. For a few moments I want to direct the attention of the House to the lime position. A very heavy call is being made on the land at this moment for the production of cereals, especially wheat. Unfortunately, we have not the same facilities for importing fertilisers as we had prior to the outbreak of the war, and I was glad to hear the Minister refer to the efforts being made to get phosphates from America under the Lease-Lend Act. He also referred to sulphate of ammonia and boosters of that kind, but it must be remembered that they are boosters. They have not the same value as either phosphate or lime.
Fortunately, in this country there is no limit to the amount of limestone which is available. One has only to tour the limestone areas to see the value that they have been to agriculture throughout the centuries. Indeed, it is perfectly obvious that some have been worked for 2,000 years or more, and therefore it is interesting to inquire into what is being done in order to increase the amount of lime production and the use of more lime upon the 1178 land. I heard with pleasure the Minister say that more machines are being put into operation for getting ground lime. Unfortunately, ground lime is not as popular with the farmer as burnt lime, but failing burnt lime we must do the best we can in the short time that is available. The Minister also said that there will be an increase this year of approximately 70 per cent. more lime than last year. I hope that increase will be there, because my information is that it will not, for the three reasons which were in the mind of the Minister when he spoke—labour, fuel and transport. So far as my information goes, the total amount of lime put down last year, upon which subsidy was paid and upon which the House is entitled to have information, was only 1,250,000 tons.
One can realise more or less from the Memorandum which precedes the Bill what is expected to be done this year. The total amount thought to be necessary will be 1,500,000 tons. Subsidy is based not merely on the cost of lime at the kiln, but also on the cost of transport, which varies from place to place, but roughly the cost of lime at the kiln is 26s. or 27s. a ton, and with the cost of transport added, about 35s. That means a subsidy of roughly 17s. or 18s., so that the amount of lime estimated to be put down this year will be under 2,000,000 tons. I am almost certain that the information in the possession of the Minister is that the shortage of lime in the whole country, which is necessary to bring the land into fruitful cultivation by getting rid of acidity, is no less than 20,000,000 tons. It is no good dealing with these matters in this way. What we and the Minister are asking for at the moment is increased production. It is no good merely telling farmers to plough. If their fields are deficient in lime, you must follow them up and say, "You must put lime down. If you cannot do it, we will."
§ Earl Winterton
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in the Weald of Sussex—to give only one example—there are hundreds, if not thousands, of old lime kilns on farms which could be made use of by means of wood fuel?
§ Mr. Davies
I am much obliged to the Noble Lord, but I was coming to that. I was dealing with the general question and intended to particularise in a moment. 1179 There is any amount of limestone in the country which is not being utilised. May I tell the House something of my experiences in my own county? On the North -West corner of Montgomery there is a vast limestone hill, one of the biggest in the whole of the British Isles, where limestone has been worked for centuries. There are old, small kilns such as the Noble Lord has mentioned, and there are also modern kilns, capable of turning out 100 tons of burnt lime a day. That area can supply the requirements of the whole of the county of Montgomery, North Cardigan, Radnor, a large part of Shropshire and a large part of Denbigh.
So concerned was I about the production of lime that in conjunction with my own war agricultural committee I went over the limestone quarry in August. There was a certain amount of ground lime available, but more could be made available if there was more machinery. Because machinery had not been forthcoming, some effort had been made to increase the amount of lime by sending the rock five or six miles away to be ground, lifted and put into sacks. The position was that only 12 men were working in the main quarry and 18 more men were wanted in order to supply the needs of the farmers. The 12 men were quarrying limestone not for the purposes of agriculture, but to provide ballast for railways and aerodromes No encouragement has been given to the company to go in for lime-burning. The managing director told me that he was making sufficient money as it was by providing ballast, but he was willing to do all that he could if he was given the men. He has been asking for 18 men for weeks and has not been able to get one. When I asked him about coke for the lime-burning, he showed me a letter from the coke suppliers who had been supplying him for 20 years, and the letter was to the effect that they could not enter into a further contract with him; they had no reserves and no stock, and although his priority had gone up two places, it was still a low one; in the circumstances, as he was an old customer, they would do what they could for him, but could not give any guarantee. Therefore, there was no labour for the quarry and no coke for the lime-burning.
I will mention one other little incident to show the extent to which this matter has been neglected. I asked the managing 1180 director whether he had had any trouble with regard to the black-out, and he replied that he had been fined. The amount of glow that comes from a kiln, whether it be an old one or a modern one, is so small that it does not matter. What is it compared with the glow from some of the big works that can be seen for 50 miles? In order to help the farmers, as he had no coke he used coal, and this made a little more flame. He was summoned by the country policeman, taken before the country bench, and fined £10. What hurt him was that he was lectured by the country bench, who said, "You should not do it." He said, "Very well, you will go without your lime." There has not been a match put to the kilns since. At a time when every bit of food is required, at a time when the Minister asks for more and more ploughing, is this the way in which these matters are to be treated? The Ministry of Agriculture, through the county war agricultural committees, should take much more drastic steps and deal with this thing nationally. The third thing mentioned by the Minister was the lack of transport. I have found that there is the same lack of transport in my county. The four lorries which the county committee could use were being used by them for their own purposes, to carry lime to the tops of the hills of which photographs have appeared in every illustrated newspaper to show how the county committee has ploughed up land that has not been ploughed for 1,000 years. The lorries were not being used to carry lime to the more productive fields already in the hands of the farmers. In the meantime, all around there are Army lorries doing nothing. Why cannot they be used for transporting the lime necessary for the production of food? There ought to be a national effort under this Bill. A direction ought to be given to the county committees to have the land analysed, and where there is a deficiency of lime, to have lime supplied. The lime should be produced, either in burnt or ground form, and provision should be made for its quarrying and for its transport to the farmers. Unless these things are done, it is useless to ask the farmers to produce more; unless they are done, production; instead of going up, will go down.
§ Colonel Mills (New Forest and Christchurch)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has done his best 1181 to introduce a just and useful Bill, and I congratulate him on his success. There are two points of principle in connection with Clauses 9 and 10, which deal with the acquisition of land by the Minister and its resale, which I should like to put to my right hon. Friend in the hope that I shall receive an assurance that he will look into these points between now and the Committee stage of the Bill, and, if necessary, introduce words to establish the principles clearly. Clause 9 gives the Minister power for certain reasons to buy land which has been requisitioned for agricultural purposes, with the object of preserving for the Crown the benefit of any increase in agricultural value. I think the context of the Clause makes it clear that it is the increase in the agricultural value which is contemplated, but the word "agricultural" does not appear in Sub-section (1, c) of the Clause, where the reference is simply to the value of the land, and I think it might be well if the word "agricultural" were inserted at a later stage.
With regard to Clause 10, which deals with the resale of the land, there are safeguards on the Minister's side as to the price factors which are to be taken into consideration on resale. Betterment is, very rightly, to be considered; I emphasise here also that this should be defined as agricultural betterment. Again, if the owner of the land on the orginal sale obtained compensation in respect of severance from, or injurious affection of, other land, this is to be allowed for on resale. Clearly, that safeguard covers compensation paid for the loss of such things as amenity, or sporting value, or potential or actual building value, and the Minister and the public purse are safeguarded. But the principle I want to establish is this, that the safeguard should be mutual, and the original seller should be entitled to it also. The Minister referred only to under-cultivated land, but I think that much of the land which he may have to acquire in this way and for this purpose will often, perhaps usually, be marginal or sub-marginal land, sandy heather land, or the thinnest of soils on the top of hills and downs. Except for the war, this land would not be cultivated, although it might have much value for other purposes. If the owner has behaved properly about it, and has sold the land as part of our war effort as its low agricultural value, without regard for amenity or 1182 sporting or building values, surely he is entitled to buy it back on resale on the same basis, paying a bit more if the land has been improved for agricultural purposes, a bit less if it has deteriorated. He should not be asked to run the risk of having to buy it back at building values which were not included or allowed for in the original sale. This would be very unfair to him. Such land as I have described has often considerable building values, although its value for agricultural purposes may be trivial. I am afraid that the reference to the price which a willing seller would be likely to obtain in the open market might later be held to compel the Minister to try and obtain the full building value for which he has not paid. I hope my right hon. Friend will tell the House that what he has in mind is improvement in agricultural value, and that a resale of land will be made on the same basis as that on which he acquired it.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
I remember that in the course of a Debate on an agricultural Bill last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said that we could not dig for victory with a pair of Treasury scissors. I think that this Bill does something to bury the Treasury scissors which were so apparent on that occasion—at least so far as land drainage is concerned. But, frankly, I am not happy with Clause 1 of the Bill. This Clause does away with the subsidy on basic slag. Basic slag is a very important item to the farmer, and I wish to know what effect this provision will have upon its future price. So far as I can see, the result will be that we shall have to pay higher prices for basic slag. At the moment, under the Lease-Lend Act, the United States are providing us with considerable quantities of superphosphates, and one hopes that these manures may be offered to the farmer at a reasonable price. That being so, it will bring about a somewhat difficult position, because basic slag is in very short supply, and the agricultural war executive committees are rationing it very carefully. In my county the use of basic slag has been confined to newly ploughed-up land producing wheat and beans, and it cannot as yet be used for any other purpose. Basic slag is an alkaline manure, and, as the House is no doubt aware, on certain types of heavy clay land there is an acid 1183 reaction on the top soil. Therefore, to use superphosphates upon land which is acid may have serious consequences.
§ Mr. Price
The answer to that has been given by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). What he said makes the matter far more serious. I did not think the problem was as bad as he has suggested, although I put in an order for lime three months ago and have only just had it delivered. This makes the position far worse, and it seems to me that the Minister must do something about it. He must ginger up the production of lime. Moreover, is it not possible for us to import basic slag from the United States? Possibly our American friends, having taken steps to supply us with superphosphates, might be able to help us in this respect too. The question of soil fertility is all-important. We are ploughing up our pasture right and left, but we can only crop them for a few years as we are doing. I am glad to hear that some agricultural committees realise the importance of this problem, and my county agricultural committee have been encouraging farmers to ley-down for one year land which has been for long ploughed up. To my mind, there are three ways in which we can fight against the danger of losing the fertility of our soil. The first method is by leying, the second is by permitting at least one year's grazing after leying, and the third is by artificial manures. Nitrogenous manures can be used up to a point, but it is very important to have a balance in manures, because without it you cannot restore the fertility of the soil. Nitrogenous fertilisers alone will not do it; there must be the necessary balance with phosphate of the right kind. I apologise to the House for having gone into the chemical aspects of agriculture, but the fact remains that this subject needs careful investigation. So I give this as a warning to the Minister and to the agricultural committees.
In general, the other Clauses of the Bill seem to be satisfactory. Clause 5, and the others which follow, should be advantageous so far as land drainage is concerned. There is still the problem of internal drainage boards which have not done their duty and confronted the problems which face them. Perhaps this is 1184 because they are under the influence of people who do not realise the importance of this work. I wish to ask the Minister whether, as a result of this Bill, it will be possible for the catchment boards to override these bodies, and go into the internal drainage board districts to carry out this work of national importance. The Minister gave us some figures of the money spent on minor watercourses. But there is other work of special importance. I think the opening-up of upland ditches, and the relaying of drains altogether in some cases, is most important. I should like to have some figures in regard to the money that has been spent in the last year upon upland drainage.
I quite agree, too, with the two Clauses dealing with resale to the owners of land that has been requisitioned. Anything which will have the effect of preventing speculation in land is in the right direction. I heard of a case not long ago of a farm that was badly farmed. The agricultural committee had to take it over and deal with it. It was going to arrange with a neighbouring farmer, a good man, to take it over. Immediately the original owner heard it he went off and sold it at a fairly high price to some person, obviously a speculator, who tried to hold it and sell it again to the man with whom the committee was trying to arrange to take it over. That kind of speculation must be stopped—of men who are in danger having their land requisitioned trying to get out at a high price and cashing-in on the improved position of agriculture as a result of the great stabilisation of prices, and getting out in that way. If the Bill is not sufficiently strong in this respect, it will have to be looked into in Committee, but superficially it seems to me that the Minister has sufficient discretionary powers as to selling the land after the war, when it is not necessary to retain control. Of course, we never know what may happen, but I hope that after the war there will be far greater public control over land and over farming than there has ever been before. I do not want to see the war agricultural committees go out of business. They have done such good work that we must continue their control in some way or other, and anything that will stop speculation in land, sucking the life blood out of the industry, will have my full support, and the Bill, which I think does something in this direction, will have my support, too.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I believe I am the only Scottish Member present but that does not mean I am going to raise only Scottish points. I feel strongly in agreement with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) who pointed out that, although Clauses 9 and 10 are regarded by the majority of Members as the most important Clauses in the Bill, it must not be assumed that the others are necessarily unimportant. I think very little exception can be taken to those Clauses, but I regard Clause 1 as one of the most important because it deals with the very important question of soil fertility. This question of soil fertility is the key to our agricultural production. Liming is of the most tremendous consequence and I want to draw from the Secretary of State for Scotland an assurance that our lime supplies are sufficient to meet the demand which is coming upon us through his own policy.
I also want to suggest to him, and to the Minister of Agriculture, that this is the time to enter upon a campaign for the mass liming of the soil of Britain. In Scotland we have added 450,000 acres, or some 30 per cent., to our tillage land since the war began, but we are still below the acreage that we had under tillage at the end of the last war. This year we are called upon to provide a further 200,000 acres. In order to do that we shall have to take two or three straw crops running. I am doing it on my own land and I know what it means. Fertility of the soil to-day is the writing on the wall. How can it be maintained? I should say it can be maintained by the application of farmyard manure, a ley system of farming plus lime on a properly drained soil. We in Scotland have a particular claim in regard to lime. We have an enormously high rainfall, and there is great loss owing to drainage away, and although substantially increased use has been made of lime since the Land Fertility Scheme came in, I question whether the volume now applied even copes with current losses. It is well to remember, especially having regard to the appeals of the Minister to apply more nitrogen, that I cwt. of sulphate of ammonia applied requires 1 cwt. of lime in order to set free that nitrogen for plant growth. Lime is the key to balanced manuring. Even stock demand it, especially the milk cow. It has a very 1186 definite bearing on our milk supply. Everyone knows that milk from permanent pasture tends to fall away because farmers generally neglect the liming of that pasture. In spite of the work of the Land Fertility Committee, I do not think it is any exaggeration to say, in relation to the block of land requiring lime, that up to date our application has been really negligible.
Having asked the Secretary of State to consider a scheme for mass liming, of course the question of supply arises. The supply in 1940 was adequate, but in 1941 that was not so. The Government have subsidised limestone enterprises and I would like the Secretary of State to tell us what the prospects are in connection with that scheme. I presume there is no hope of extending it to burnt lime. We can extend the production of ground limestone, but I do not think we are doing it thoroughly enough. The Land Fertility Committee is to go, and I would like to take this opportunity of reiterating what I am sure has been said before, that we are indebted to the Chairman, Lord Cranworth, for the work he has done on that committee.
I appreciate the reasons for the repeal of the basic slag subsidy. I assume this has been done in order to bring about a more logical price structure for all phosphatic fertilisers, but I cannot help regretting that this has been found necessary. The anti-acid effect of high grade slag is of the highest value and this brings out again the need for great quantities of lime. Can the Minister say whether the 1940-41 output will be maintained and even expanded? I am anxious about the future of this grand fertiliser. Is it to come along on an ever-expanding scale? The Minister of Agriculture explained in his speech, on which I congratulate him, what the water supply Clause means. But we Scots are rather suspicious of our own Ministers, and when I look at the Scottish Clause of the Bill I see that the Secretary of State puts in different words. He says, "installation of water supply thereto." Having regard to the definition of the word "installation," does that mean that no grant will be given in respect of any improvements to existing supplies? If I were asked by any agriculturist what was the greatest hindrance and handicap to an efficient farming system, I should 1187 probably surprise him by telling him that it was lack of watering facilities. Lack of drainage is important, but fields without water are of no use for stock, and if we are to get into a system of ley farming, every field must have its water supply. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance that the conditions laid down by the Minister will not apply only to land to which stock have been driven—by the plough policy—because if so it will not apply to Scotland to any great extent.
I would like to bring up a point which I consider important with regard to Clauses 9 and 10. These are probably the most important, and certainly the most interesting, Clauses in the Bill. They give the Minister power to acquire land under certain conditions and to resell the land within five years of the end of the war, or to retain it if the owner does not desire it or if the Minister has reason to believe that it will not be properly cultivated. Nobody can take exception to the principle underlying these Clauses. War agricultural committees will welcome these powers, for I know committees in Scotland which have been very uncomfortable because they have been pouring money into these holdings. It is right that the State should be recouped where betterment has taken place and that the State should endeavour to prevent land returning to the derelict state in which it was before it was requisitioned. It is equally right that where acquisition takes place the owner should be given a fair deal. There should be no suggestion of victimisation. I cannot help feeling that the owner is at a serious disadvantage in this business of so-called arbitration. He has been caught unawares because when his land was requisitioned he was never told that acquisition might take place.
I believe that it could be proved that the owner is completely in the hands of the Minister. As an agriculturist, I have no use for badly farmed land, but I do not want it to go out from this House that we have taken advantage of our position through the war because the owner has been driven to say, "I suppose I must agree to that and I cannot do anything about it." When the land is requisitioned by the Minister the war agricultural committee do not necessarily 1188 make a record or survey of it on the date of its requisition. A little later, probably months afterwards, along comes a gentleman who is called a "man of skill." I like that expression, but I am not sure what it means. He comes along with his friends on the agricultural committee, and naturally the committee wish to justify the fact that they ejected the tenant. Consequently the man of skill, who arrives months after the requisitioning, has no knowledge of what the farm looked like when it was requisitioned, and he is driven back to the original records of the agricultural committee. After the land has been requisitioned the arbitrator comes along, not for the purpose of valuing the land, but in order to fulfil the obligations under the Compensation Act with regard to rental. When that is done the Government come along and acquire the land under this Bill. Arbitration will follow at a future date and the arbitrator will be in an even worse position because months or even years will have passed and he will be driven back to the original survey made when the land was requisitioned. The owner had no representative present when the survey was made on requisition, and all he could do was to agree or disagree with it.
When acquisition takes place, followed by arbitration as to the value of the land, the arbiter is driven to accept the result of this original survey when the owner was unrepresented. I submit that that is not arbitration. I cannot suggest a solution for that particular problem, but I think I can show the reason for the difficulty. When the Government requisitioned land at the beginning of this war they never warned the owner that acquisition might take place at some future date, and consequently he did not do anything for his own protection. Had such a warning been given then everything would have been fair and just. The owner's "man of skill" would have come along and had "a good scrap" with the Government's "man of skill'' and all would have been above board. So far as I can see, the Government now really have the owner at their mercy. I would ask the Government to consider that situation in this light when arbitration comes along and give the owner a sympathetic arbitration.
I should like to say in conclusion that I feel that this Bill will receive the support of the Scottish agricultural community. 1189 Rather unfortunately, when Bills are printed in this House the representatives of Scottish constituencies have not the advantage, which their English friends have, of being able rapidly to get into communication with their constituencies. No comment of any kind has come from Scotland with regard to this Bill, for the very good reason that Scottish agriculturists have had no opportunity to let their Members of Parliament know their views. That is regrettable, but it is no new experience. I feel that having got in this Clause about arbitration no exception can be taken to anything in the Bill, and I congratulate the Minister on having brought it forward and feel that it will receive the support of the farming community in Scotland.
§ Wing-Commander James (Wellingborough)
A few days ago I put down a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of speculation in land, and I urged him to look into the matter. I suppose it is inevitable, but I feel that it is an unfortunate omission that this Bill takes no steps to put a stop to the present speculation in agricultural land. There is a very real grievance here. All over the country people who have never had any interest whatever in agriculture, no connection whatever with the land, are buying up agricultural land as a speculative investment at a time when many good farmers are being pushed off land in order to make way for aerodromes and for other war purposes. Those farmers are in the market looking for farms, and prices are being forced up against them by these speculators. Enough has been said in all parts of the House for the Minister to realise that if before we came to the Committee stage he were able to introduce anything to deal with the situation, even if he could give only a warning that action was to be taken, it would have a very valuable effect. I earnestly beg the Minister to see whether it is not possible to do something to deal with this rapidly growing scandal.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I shall detain the House for only a few minutes, especially as on a certain occasion in a certain place to which I cannot make further reference I was reminded that I speak very often. I should like to point out that in this Debate we have, for the first time in our agricultural discussions, something like a common agricul- 1190 tural front, which includes my hon. Friends of the Labour party above the Gangway, Members of the Liberal party and my hon. Friends opposite, and I feel that those who like myself are of independent mind should give a meed of praise to the Government, and especially to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, for having brought about a happier state of affairs in regard to agriculture than I have ever known in my long recollection of the House. There has been a remarkable absence of differences of opinion on main questions of policy. Where there have been differences with the Government, there has been a consensus of opinion from the back benches about certain steps which should be taken, some of which I should like to indicate.
First, there is the question of land speculation, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) and the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) have made reference. May I say in parenthesis that I must apologise to the latter for having interrupted him without being in full possession of the facts? I was certainly under the impression that the Agricultural Holdings Act protected a tenant from disturbance. In fact it does not do so, and I think that the situation is not a satisfactory one. The Agricultural Holdings Act went through the House in 1908 after a very bitter fight, as you, Mr. Speaker, and I remember. With other Members of the Conservative party I opposed certain provisions of the Act and I do not think we have any reason to alter our opinion that while the Act was good in parts it did not give sufficient power to a good landlord to get rid of a bad tenant.
Unfortunately, that is not the whole story. It is also true that under the Agricultural Holdings Act and under the Emergency Powers Act and the legislative Orders following from that Act there is not sufficient protection for the good tenant against the bad landlord. A land speculator purchases a farm or estate. It is true that before he can get rid of a tenant he has to offer, I think, a year's rent in compensation, but at a time when land is rising in value it pays the more dishonest type of land speculator to pay that compensation, because he knows that there will be such a rise in the value of agricultural land that he will be able to 1191 re-let the farm at a higher rent. As one who makes no attempt to conceal the fact that he owns land in this country and knows something about land ownership, I say that the result of this process will be that the value of land will be forced above its economic value and new tenants will be compelled to pay more. With the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), who is well known to have particular views on the subject of the ownership of land, I feel that to-day the majority of us on both sides of the House are less concerned about the question of the ownership of land, whatever our views may be upon it, than with the urgent necessity of increasing the productivity of the land. To this extent I agree with my hon. Friends below the Gangway, that ownership of the land comes into this question of speculation. I appeal to the Government to consider whether steps should not be taken to prevent this speculation. Some of it is legitimate, such as investment by insurance companies and other bodies who believe that they will get a not unreasonable, although not high, return on their investment but other forms of it are bad for the nation and the industry.
The only other point on which I ask for support from both sides of the House is on the all important question of the provision of phosphatic and other artificial manures. Hon. Members have given their experiences, based upon their own local knowledge and we had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), who, in a striking phrase, suggested a campaign for the mass liming of the land. Let me tell hon. Members how agriculture was carried on in the old days in my constituency. In the Weald of Sussex, in districts far remote, perhaps eight or ten miles away, from a hard road, at the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth, nearly every farm made its own lime. The occupiers farmed a certain type of poor clay soil on which you had to put lime and they fetched the chalk themselves and burnt it in their own kilns. There was actually more lime available 100 years ago in that way than there has been in recent years, despite all modern improvement. It might be of value to restart this system.
An hon. Gentleman mentioned a recent case in which people engaged in the 1192 patriotic work of producing lime were fined for an offence against the black-out because you could see the glow from the furnace, as you can from every armament works. That shows how far removed we still are from having proper agricultural sense in this country. If that lime had been regarded as a munition of war it is inconceivable that such a case should have occurred. Perhaps the local A.R.P. authorities did not mind what they were doing in carrying out the A.R.P. regulations in this way, because agriculture is the cinderella of industry; so this firm was solemnly fined in a police court because it was, carrying out patriotic work in a remote district. This matter should be brought to the notice of the Minister of Home Security. I do not wish to emphasise the point further. There should be a very strong but friendly request to the Government to supply all the lime possible.
In conclusion I would say that everyone should commend the action that has been taken by the Government in regard to general agricultural policy and I pay tribute to the work done by the war agricultural committees. These bodies have had one of the most difficult tasks of the war. They have had to show amiability and tact as well as complete knowledge of the industry. I hope that it will go out from this House that we are pleased with the work that they have done.
§ Captain York (Ripon)
In regard to the lime situation, I would impress upon the Minister and the House that the supply of lime to the general farmer is not guaranteed. I put in a small order, and my supplier pointed out that he was unable to say whether I could have the lime or not. The main point of getting lime on before the frost is that the weather shall break it up and bring out its usefulness. I would refer also to the drainage Clauses of the Bill, which say that, if the internal drainage boards do not do their job properly, the catchment boards may step in and do the work for them. I hope that the catchment boards will do this job thoroughly and efficiently. A large number of internal drainage boards are doing excellent work, but far too many of them have the idea that their main purpose in life is to keep down or to reduce the rates charged to the occupiers. That is not the whole reason for a drain- 1193 age board, which is that the district over which they preside should be drained. I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply that the catchment boards have the necessary machinery to carry out this extension of their work. From my own pre-war knowledge of catchment board work, I do not myself believe that they have the necessary staff either to find out where the work is to be done or to get it done in those cases where the internal drainage boards have failed in their job.
Another question to which I should very much like to know the answer is, What happens in a case where a land occupier or owner is in an area where the internal drainage board authorities are not doing their job properly? He may apply direct to the catchment board, and ask them to carry out a scheme on his land. The main difficulty here is that the occupier or owner does not know the correct way in which to get the job done. War agricultural committees can be instructed to advise him that he can apply directly to a catchment board which can get the job done or induce the internal drainage board to do it.
There is one other small point that I wish to make, but owing to the lateness of the hour I shall not have time to develop it properly. What I want to bring to the notice of the House is that in Clause 9 the onus of blame for the bad cultivation of land has been laid upon the owner, whereas in fact it should be mainly on the occupier, and this seems to me a rather shifty way—I say that without any disrespect fur the Minister— of saying that the owner is not looking after his land properly. If that is the case, let us say so openly, and then we can apply the remedy in a more open manner than we are doing at present. I feel that the drainage and other provisions of this Bill will be vitiated by a lack of labour, and I hope that the Minister will be able to bring strong pressure to bear on the Government to reconsider their decision regarding the call-up of labour. This Bill is welcomed in all parts of the House. I feel that the Treasury has accepted the agricultural industry as something worth investing money in, and that is something we have never heard before.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
It is one of the disadvantages of a composite Bill in which 1194 the two Departments of Agriculture, for Scotland on the one hand and for England and Wales on the other, are concerned, that each Minister has to talk about matters which do not customarily come within his sphere. In Scotland we have, for instance, an entirely different drainage scheme, and it is exceedingly difficult for any Minister to deal in detail with the points which are raised on matters outside his ordinary, everyday jurisdiction. I do not think, however, that there is any difficulty to-day in any part of the House about facing up to the essential purposes of this Measure. In regard to drainage, for example, it is admitted on all hands that this Government is at any rate making an effort to drain agricultural land in a way that has never been done before in our history, and in the face of great difficulties of labour and materials. Since the outbreak of war we have drained about 2,000,000 acres, as against 750,000 acres which were drained in the three years prior to the war. That is a very considerable increase, and answers the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Price).
§ Mr. Johnston
It includes farm drainage. The essential parts of this Measure, I agree with hon. Members who have spoken, are Clause 1 and Clauses 9 and 10. Clause 1 deals with the abolition of the Land Fertility Committee and the arrangements which the Government propose to make in substitution for that committee. Before dealing with that, however, may I say one or two general words? Questions about land tenure are foreign to the purpose. Questions about land speculation, although of vital importance, are equally so. I can, however, assure my hon. and gallant Friend who raised this question that the Government are keeping a very careful eye upon some of these practices, although it would be obviously improper for me, at this stage and upon this Measure, to say anything about them. The experiences that we had in agriculture at the end of the last war, when tenant farmers were compelled to purchase their farms at inflated market prices so that when the slump came the State had to step in, obviously bring the Treasury into very close contact with the position.
1195 On the two major issues of this Measure, may I say that it is true that agriculture is now viewed in an entirely different spirit by this House from what has been the rule during the whole time I have been a Member? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture can introduce his Measure to-day in an entirely different atmosphere, and I think he deserves a very considerable share of the credit for the change in the views of this House in regard to agriculture. In the post-war years it will be vitally necessary for agriculture as agriculture, and food production as food production, to be taken out of the arena of ordinary party strife.
Having said that, let us see what Clause 1 does. Clause 1 says that the Land Fertility Committee is to be abandoned. It says that the basic slag subsidy is to he abandoned, but the money that has hitherto been paid for basic slag is to go, so to speak, into a "kitty." Basic slag prices will tend to rise and those of other forms of fertilisers will tend to fall. There will be a greater equalisation between superphosphates and basic slag. There is another point about basic slag which I think has not been referred to at all in this Debate. By the Ministry of Supply order of 25th September, 1941, basic slag prices are fixed uniformly over the whole country. From my point of view that is a great achievement for agriculture. They are to be the same at the local railway station or at the Port of London, whichever is the closer to the purchaser's address. This is a Post Office principle applied to the raw material for agriculture. The farmer in the Orkney Islands or in Cornwall, will get basic slag at the same price as the farmer in the county in which basic slag is produced. The Post Office carry letters and goods on that principle, and I personally am delighted that this principle is now for the first time to be enshrined in an agricultural Measure. It is, I think, a most important principle, and if we can get this principle more firmly established in our legislation and practice, it will solve many questions of the location of industry. In my view, this is about the most valuable precedent that can be established in the way of cheapening the raw materials for agriculture in the remote parts of this country. As regards superphosphates, we are 1196 stabilising the price for the farming community. There will be no more fluctuations.
As to land drainage and liming, as several hon. Members have said, that is one of the most urgent and necessary problems that can be raised in agriculture. We are informed that land in the country is grossly under-limed and that if we want to increase the fertility of our soil there is no better step we can take than by seeing it is adequately limed. Let us see what we are doing. In the year 1940–41 we produced lime to the extent of 1,200,000 tons. This year we estimate we shall be able to make deliveries of 2,000,000. That is a very considerable increase.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, because this is absolutely vital? Can he tell us when that estimate was made and whether there are recent reports as to whether that estimate will be carried out? May I suggest that that estimate was made some time early in July, and that figures are not coming through which would justify it?
§ Mr. Johnston
To the best of my knowledge and belief it is the most recent estimate, and it is an estimate which we hope we shall be able to fulfil. May I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are only at the beginning of our campaign to open up limestone quarries. In Scotland we are appealing to everyone with knowledge of where limestone quarries, easily worked, can be found. We shall immediately ask technical experts to go there and test the chemical content of that lime. Under these arrangements we are empowered to spend £100,000 in developing the lime resources of our country. We can give grants-in-aid to limestone quarries and, in his opening speech, my right hon. Friend said that grants-in-aid had already been given in advance of the passage of this Measure in the House. More than that, we can visualise cases in which it will be impossible for proprietors of quarries to find sufficient capital or get machinery. In those cases we are prepared to consider the supply by State of grinding machinery on a rental basis. If there is anything further my hon. and learned Friend can suggest to the Minister of Agriculture or myself for the speedy development of the limestone resources of our country we shall be glad to hear of it.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
My right hon. Friend mentions that £100,000 is to be granted to limestone quarries. How much of that lime has already been distributed?
§ Mr. Johnston
I speak from recollection, but I think the scheme is only at the beginning. Please do not let us find unnecessary faults. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House will at any rate welcome this as an attempt to develop the limestone quarries of our country. It has been said that this Debate does not much affect employment. Well, I think that is true, but at any rate there are rural industries and there is some rural employment. There will be permanent employment in this after the war, and it is the culmination of advantages to be secured by such a policy as this that matters. Here we make provision for liming the soil, increasing the food supplies of our country, and we do so in a Measure that has the general assent of all parties in this House.
§ Mr. C. Davies
I am sorry to interrupt again, but this is vital for production. I gave an instance of a limestone works in my own district where only 12 men had been working and 18 more had been asked for without result. I will give the right hon. Gentleman another instance in South Wales where a limestone quarry was being worked by ex-miners who are now called back to the mines. That quarry now has to stop. Will provision be made for putting men back into the quarries?
§ Mr. Johnston
All I can say is that this is not a Measure for dealing with manpower, but that if the Government produce a Measure like this to supply money to secure lime surely it is obvious that it will be at least the earnest endeavour of agricultural Ministers to see that the necessary labour is forthcoming.
§ Earl Winterton
I and my hon. Friends were pressing that the Minister of Agriculture should have consultations with the War Cabinet and with the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. Johnston
There may be more effective ways of securing labour than mere paper representations. All I can say is that in this fashion provision is made for money and for doing the job. If the lime is not obtained it will be for agricultural Ministers obviously to take the 1198 steps which are necessary to see that the food production schemes of this Bill, which are so. urgently needed, are proceeded with. That is all I can say about fertilising. My hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perth (Mr. Snadden) raised some most interesting questions about the provision of lime in Scotland. I can assure him that we have already some quarries under examination, and we hope that very speedily the grave state of affairs which he indicated, in regard to underlimed soil, will, to some extent at any rate, be remedied. But I issue this warning. The defects of decades cannot be made good in one year of war. We shall do our best, and no one can do more.
May I say a word about Clauses 9 and 10? I think everyone agrees with the general policy of those Clauses. Whether or not they can be improved by Amendments, in the light of to-day's discussion, will be carefully considered by the Ministers between now and the Committee stage. The Clauses do not supersede existing legislation. That legislation stands. The owner of any land to which improvements are made will normally retain his improved land on payment of betterment to the State, but there have already been cases, and there will probably be more, where, for one reason or another, the landlord finds it impossible or difficult, or where the landlord is unwilling, to pay that betterment. The Minister takes power in this Bill to safeguard the national Treasury interests. I think that that will meet with the general assent of this House. I do not think I need take up any further time. This is a land Measure, in a way—at any rate, it is a food production Measure—which meets with general approval. I pray that so long as we can, we shall continue to lift food production out of the realm of party controversy. This is a part of Civil Defence. We are now able to say, for the first time in history, that there is no empty belly in the land. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thanks to America."] It is not only thanks to America; it is thanks to what has been done to the soil of this country, it is thanks to a million farm workers, it is thanks to county agricultural committees, it is thanks to everybody who is giving generous, whole-hearted service to produce food from the soil of our country. Do not let us deprecate the great and successful effort that we have 1199 made. All I say is, long may that continue.
Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)
Once again in an agricultural Debate, I think, we have not had from the Minister a reply to a great many of the questions which have been raised during the Debate. That gives a most unfortunate impression. After all, agricultural legislation to-day has become an. emasculated mass and mesh. No attempt is being made to deal with root causes. I believe that if you do not attempt to deal with root causes, you will never find a solution to our agricultural problem. I can see nothing particularly objectionable in this Bill. It is not what the Bill does but what is not in it that causes me to complain. Why is no attempt made to deal with these other matters? An opportunity will be afforded between now and the Committee stage for really getting down to the problems which have been so long besetting agriculture. The Minister must be aware of one central, vital fact, that the agricultural industry is fully aware that much of the control that is taking place is artificially conceived and unnecessarily restrictive, and that it simply masquerades as enlightened guidance. I was horrified when the Minister passed over, very lightly, the question of man-power, and said that it was a matter for the War Cabinet or for the Minister of Labour. I never heard such an answer on the Floor of the House. Are we to understand that agriculture is to have no man-power made available? Is not food a munition of war? When will the Government realise that the proposals they have put forward, even now, are a halfhearted, faint, miserable effort? Do not let us go away with that complacent smile, everyone saying, "It is all right, old boy." It is not all right. Agriculture has never had proper man-power; it has never had proper assistance. I believe that, unless the Government take steps to deal with the root causes, we shall never produce that food which is necessary for the victory for which we so much long. I will sit down now, out of deference to an hon. Member who wishes to raise a very important matter. I hope that on the Committee stage I shall have the opportunity to take a very strong line over the Government's failure to do what they should have done long ago.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.1200
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day. —[Major Dugdale.]
§ AGRICULTURE (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) [MONEY].
§ Considered in Committee, under Standing Order No. 69.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law relating to agriculture (including bee-keeping) and agricultural land, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament—
§ Resolution to be reported upon the next Sitting Day.