§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
I am very glad to have this opportunity of giving the House an account of the progress of the food production campaign, and of the problems that still lie before us. I said in a recent speech that the harvest of 1942 might well be a critical factor, not only in the history of this country, but in the history of the world. I believe that to be no exaggeration, but the sober truth. Every ounce of foodstuff that we can produce at home will release pro tanto our shipping, shipping so sorely needed for so many other purposes vital to our final victory. In considering what I have to say regarding farming as a whole, I hope the House and the public will bear in mind the enor 1536 mous variety in conditions on different farms. They vary enormously from farm to farm. They depend on factors such as the size and location of the farm, the rainfall, the type of labour available, whether hired or family, the condition and size of the buildings, water-supply, type of soil, and so forth. Above all, it must be remembered that we are a nation of small farmers. The man with over 150 acres is the exception, not the rule. Over 80 per cent. of our farms in this country are of under 150 acres. These tens of thousands of small farmers are, in my opinion, working as hard as any part of the community. A great number of them—not by any means all, of course—are earning not more, and in some cases less, than the labourers they employ. Many are small dairy farmers or men who were dependent on pigs and poultry, and whose mainstay has now disappeared. Be it noted that we are exercising to-day in agriculture a much stricter control than in any other industry. We are compelling many farmers, in the national interest, to grow crops which are economically ill-suited to the farm on which they are grown. That side of farming must be considered. It is that side which is giving me and my committees most difficulty.
The problems of the small producer are very real. It is that last 5 or 10 per cent. of marginal production which we must get year after year—which it is so necessary to get if we are to make the most of our resources. So far, we have adjusted prices broadly to cover that marginal production. That is a process which cannot go on for ever; otherwise, you will get prices far out of relation to the general price structure of industry, and give certain farmers unnecessary, and unwanted, bonuses. But, as I have told the farmers, we are now going into this problem of meeting marginal costs of production without raising prices as a whole more than is otherwise justified. In the meantime, we have to get that marginal production. We have to keep those farms going, and I am looking to my executive committees to do that. They can do much to help the farmer to get that extra bit of production that we need. They can carry out cultivations for him where he really has not got the tools or the labour; they can lend him money for goods and services; and they can give him the best technical advice. That is being done to-day, and it 1537 will probably have to go on being done on an increasing scale, because in agriculture, unfortunately; the rule of diminishing returns applies.
I see that in certain quarters it has been suggested that there is a lack of co-operation between my noble Friend the Minister of Food and myself as regards our food-production campaign, especially in planning future production. I should like to assure the House that there is no truth in that allegation. Soon after this Government took office in May, 1940, my noble Friend and I worked out an 18-months' joint programme for production of food at home and imports of food from abroad. Naturally, the fulfilment of that programme was bound to be dependent on a number of factors outside our control. I need mention but two —at home, the weather; and, abroad, shipping losses. We were conservative in our estimates, and I am glad to say that the results have proved much better than we had hoped. The House heard the other day, in an excellent speech by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, how his chief had been able to build up larger stocks of food in this country at the end of last year, and how he had been able to use the ships thus released for bringing in those less bulky, and less essential, but very desirable, articles of food which have made all the difference in our diet this winter. My noble Friend would be the first to admit that that was possible only because the home producer more than played his part. It was possible because we were able to produce at home large quantities of the bulky crops, such as cereals, potatoes, and vegetables, exceeding our estimates. We were able to release, in consequence, a certain amount of shipping for the import of the extra and less essential foods to which I have referred, and which we were able to obtain from America under Lease-Lend arrangements. I am in constant consultation with my noble Friend the Minister of Food about our joint programme for the years that lie ahead. Our labours are complementary and we work together to make the various different pieces fit into their proper places in the very intricate puzzle of ensuring the nation's food supply. It may be that we shall have to tighten our belts a good deal more in the coming winter. I believe the country will do it cheerfully. I assure 1538 the House for our part that, as far as home production is concerned, we shall spare no effort to see that everything that can be produced in this country to lessen that belt-tightening process is produced.
When this year's ploughing-up campaign is finished we shall have, approximately 6,000,000 acres more under the plough than we had before the war. Our average wheat acreage for the 10 years before the war was about 1,600,000; by last year it was increased by more than one third. But the greatest difference is that whereas in pre-war times a great deal of the wheat produced at home went to feed livestock, now all but a negligible proportion goes directly to the feeding of human beings. This year we hope to do better still. This state of affairs, I think, reflects great credit not only on farmers but also on the members of the county and district committees who have been going round the country scheduling land for wheat and other crops. As an example of what can be done, I will quote the case of Warwickshire where I happened to pay a visit of inspection last Friday. The House will know that in prewar days Warwickshire was largely a grassland county. It now has a larger acreage under wheat alone than its total acreage under crops of all kinds before the war.
In 1938 we had a potato acreage of rather more than 700,000 acres. We have already raised this to well over 1,000,000 acres—nearly a 60 per cent. increase—and we are budgeting for a considerable further increase this year. In the case of vegetables we have raised production from 2,500,000 tons in 1938 to just short of 4,000,000 tons ill 1941. In the case of sugar beet we are aiming at a record acreage of 405,000, which is the maximum that the existing factories can deal with. At the same time we have, of course, the problem of growing millions of tons of additional feeding stuffs for animals, to make up for the feeding stuffs which formerly came from abroad. In that connection, we have raised our oat acreage from just under 2,500,000 acres to nearly 4,000,000 acres and the bulk of that will go to the feeding of animals. It has been a very hard task for the farming community, at one and the same time, to grow more food for direct human consumption and at the same time to maintain our output of livestock products without the aid of imported feeding stuffs. Some 1539 things have had to go. Inevitably, our pig, poultry and sheep population have somewhat declined, although our poultry population is considerably bigger than we had originally anticipated. Despite the fact that during most of 1941 we were cut off from supplies of Irish stores, owing to foot-and-mouth disease in Eire, we managed to keep up our meat production very well.
The House may be interested to hear how we have fared compared with Continental countries. It is very difficult to get accurate figures, but I am told by the Ministry of Economic Warfare that the figures which I am about to quote are pretty well correct. The cereal harvest in Continental Europe, both in 194o and 1941, fell below the pre-war average. They tried to make it good to a great extent by increased supplies of root crops, but even these did not come up to the expected yield. In Germany alone, for instance, the potato crop is believed to have yielded only 65,000,000 tons in 1941, as against 70,000,000 in 1940. The Germans, like ourselves, are trying to get an increase in ploughing-up, but so far they appear to have had negligible success in some of the occupied countries where one would have expected, owing to the amount of land under grass, they would have been able to achieve a big increase in the arable acreage. As far as power farming is concerned, it is far less well developed in Germany in proportion to the farming area than it is in this country. In 1939 Germany had 70,0oo tractors and approximately 4,000,000 farms. We had 50,000 tractors on about half-a-million holdings. Now we have more tractors than the Germans, although our acreage of farms is very much less, and, what is more important, we are able to provide them with more fuel. The result is that I think we are, to-day, the most highly mechanised farming country in Europe.
The Germans, of course, have had to let their livestock population drop considerably already, and they will, this year, have to let it drop further still. In the case of the occupied countries the fall has been far more drastic. It was estimated that France last year was short of 4,000,000 tons of feeding-stuffs, and, of course, the Germans looted most of the cattle and horses from that country. In 1540 the case of Denmark, the pig population has fallen by 50 per cent. and poultry by 70 per cent. The drop in Holland has been even greater, and Hungary, it is reported, is full of lean pigs running around because there are not adequate supplies of feeding-stuffs. We, on the contrary, have managed so far to keep up our milk supply extremely well, considering all the difficulties—the black-out, the lack of skilled labour, and the fall in the quality of feeding-stuffs. We are doing our best to see that the milk supply is kept up, and in the course of the next day or two I am sending out a letter to every milk farmer in England and Wales explaining the urgency of our need and calling upon him to do his utmost to keep up the milk supply.
§ Mr. Hudson
There is a difficulty about prices, as my hon. Friend knows. Owing to the changes in distribution caused by the war, there is a very sound case for trying to get some alteration in the prewar regional prices and for trying to get a national price, but it is not easy to do so. The more one goes into the matter the more difficulties crop up and frankly we have not yet succeeded in finding a solution of the problem. We had hoped to get one by the first of next month, but, as it is, we shall have to produce some stop-gap measures while we are working out a more permanent solution.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes his Continental comparison, can he say whether there is any information as to the incidence of foot-and-mouth disease on the Continent?
§ Mr. Hudson
I have not got any recent information, but, of course, foot-and-mouth disease is endemic there. They have always got it. They have never been able to suppress it, and this is one of their main difficulties in war-time and undoubtedly means a considerable reduction in yields of milk.
As a result of the recent bad weather, spring cultivation on many farms is badly behind, but as against that, the farmers of this country managed to sow before Christmas 150,000 more acres of winter wheat than they did in the winter 1541 and spring combined of last year, and I would "touch wood", it is looking very well. I feel sure that I shall have the full backing not only of the House but also of the farmers' and farm workers' leaders, in asking everyone working on the land to put into this year's work everything they can. Hard work and long hours will be necessary to make up for the loss of time due to the bad weather. Above all, I venture to say there must be no holding back on account of prices or wages or Income Tax problems or anything else. Where week-end or overtime work is needed everyone must put it in, and there must be pooling of resources wherever possible. I want every farmer to feel personally responsible for seeing that not only his own but his neighbour's land is properly cultivated. I want every farm worker to feel a personal responsibility for seeing that the farm on which he works is producing the maximum of which it is capable.
We are pressing on with the "Dig for Victory" campaign. In the first 18 months of the war at least 50 per cent. more allotments were provided than during the whole of the four years of the last war. At the present time we have nearly 1,750,000 allotments, which is practically double the pre-war figure. In addition we have between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 private gardens, which are making a valuable contribution to our war effort. Allotment holders and private gardeners are producing between £10,000,000 and £15,000,000 worth of vegetables, thus relieving a corresponding amount of land on farms for the growing of other crops, which the private individual cannot grow. We are still making every effort. There are a few black spots, but we are making every effort to stir them up. I think it is true to say, as one of our leading dailies said the other day, that it is a case now not only of digging for victory, but digging for dear life.
We are not concerned only with this year's harvest. The Minister of Food and I are continually at work on future food plans. Farming is a long-term problem, and we have to consider the harvests not only of 1942, but of the years ahead. We are, therefore, this year asking farmers to let us know early in the summer, in detail, their cropping plans for 1943. When they get them in, the county executive committees, who will have to scrutinise these plans, will suggest 1542 any necessary alterations and improvements in the light of our national needs. They will be the foundation of the food we shall consume in 1944.
I have already told the House that we have now, taking the country as a whole, pretty well reached the limit of tillage acreage that we can manage with such supplies of fertilisers, machinery and manpower as are in sight. From now onwards we have to undertake the very much more difficult task of improving farm management and getting something more out of the existing arable and remaining grassland. On the other hand, it is time that we raised our standards still higher. I have already told my committees that the standards of 1939 are not good enough and that they must impress upon farmers that the B farmer must become an A farmer and the A farmer must become an A-plus farmer, and that any B farmer who cannot or will not raise his standards will either have to get out or be put under the strictest possible supervision.
There will be many difficulties to face and to overcome. A great deal of our land is still very badly drained. As far as labour and materials will allow, we have embarked on an ambitious drainage programme. We have already completed or have in hand, the improvement of between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 acres, and one of the most encouraging features is the extent to which farm ditching is being carried out. Up to the end of 1941, farm ditching schemes had been approved for 1,300,000 acres—41 per cent. of this work has been finished and 40 per cent. is in progress. Essex takes the lead with no fewer than 170,000 acres. Approved mole drainage schemes cover 150,000 acres—45 per cent. finished, and 36 per cent. in progress. Tile drainage schemes cover 90,000 acres—37 per cent. finished and 46 per cent. in progress. New schemes are pouring in now as fast as, or faster than, ever. What is more, encouraging as that is, as the committees get more and more machinery and know more and more how to use it, the progress will be faster still. Every kind of machine upon which we can lay our hands is being used for drainage purposes in order to try and diminish the need for labour.
The key machine for open watercourses is the dragline excavator. When 1543 I came to the Department in the summer of 1940 it did not own a single machine, but by the end of 1940 we managed to get 21 machines, and to-day we have 250, and by the end of the year we shall I hope have 400. These machines are already performing very good operations, but, as the drivers become more skilled, the pace at which the schemes are carried out will enormously increase. But, even so, without great efforts from everybody we shall not be able to tackle more than a fraction of the work which still needs to be done. Unfortunately there are thousands of miles of ditches which are not doing their job, and in consequence tens of thousands of acres are waterlogged and cannot produce maximum crops. Ditches are the key to the whole drainage problem and I want farmers, landowners, farm workers and my committees to make it their watchword to fight to the last ditch. The Government of the United States of America have, at my request, sent over one of their drainage experts, who has just arrived, in order to carry out observations and see what help in the way of technical and machinery assistance they can render us, and that ought also to be a great help.
As far as labour is concerned, skilled labour and male labour will be shorter this year than before, and farmers will have to do the best they can with unskilled labour. Substitution is difficult, especially on small farms where a man has to turn his hand to six or seven different tasks a day, but I am sure that it can be done. The Women's Land Army is growing fast all the time. They have over 25,000 members working on farms, which is an increase of more than 15,000 compared with the number at this time last year. February is normally a month in which farmers do not apply, but this year we have put an additional 1,600 women in places where they are wanted. The committees are taking on girls and putting them in the new hostels. They have already about 3,000 working for them. We want more of the right type of girl, and we want farmers to go on applying for them and to apply now. We are breaking down the prejudice which existed. When I was in Warwickshire the other day they told me that they already expected vacancies for 2,000 girls in that one county alone, and that fact, com- 1544 pared with last year, is very encouraging. One often hears high praise of the work that women are doing in the munition factories and in the auxiliary services, but the work they are doing on the land and in the Land Army is second to none in national importance. Driving a tractor or cleaning out a milk shed at half-past five in the morning these last few weeks was no joy ride and all praise to the girls who are willing to do it.
I hope that this year there will be many more local women taking part-time employment in agriculture. The executive committees in the various counties are setting up emergency land corps, and I want every woman living in the country who can spare a few weeks or a few half-days a week to give her services to help us forward with planting and so forth. We have plans to use all the supplementary help available—school boys and school girls, university students and Italian prisoners as soon as we can get them.
I said just now that our next preoccupation must be the improvement of farm management. For this we need increased attention to be given to education, propaganda and advisory work. Last June I appointed the Agricultural Improvement Council for England and Wales and although they have only been in existence for seven months they are responsible for some very good developments. First of all, they dealt with the question of advisory, propaganda and publicity work. They are discussing the long-term problem with the Luxmoore Committee on the future of Agricultural Education. In the meantime they have come to the conclusion that much the quickest way to get the results of modern research into current farming practice is to have demonstrations. The county committees have each been instructed to set up a demonstration sub-committee and the task of that sub-committee will be to arrange for new ideas and new methods to be brought to the notice of progressive farmers by holding special demonstrations for them, and secondly, to arrange for the ordinary average farmer to be taken to see the ordinary good A farms in his district where he can be shown the sort of methods and operations that he can be expected to carry out with his existing equipment and with the assistance that is available to him. The Imperial Chemical Industries and other commercial com- 1545 panies have been very helpful and have generously placed the whole of their agricultural staffs at my disposal for assisting in this campaign.
We have set up a Technical Development Committee inside my Department to supply the demonstration committees with notes, suggestions and so forth. Arrangements have also been made for widespread demonstration plots of different varieties of wheat and oats suitable for the particular district in the various counties, and for the demonstration of improved methods of vegetable production. A good many of such failures as there were last year were due to farmers using unsuitable varieties or strains of wheat and oats. Cambridge School of Agriculture are instituting courses for drainage officers and contractors. On a smaller scale arrangements have been made for tests on a semi-commercial scale of recent research in such things as artificial insemination, plant injection and cheese starters. The U.S.A. have again shown their readiness to help by sending over Mr. Mingle, a veterinary expert, to assist us in dealing with the problem of contagious abortion in cattle. Already a Committee set up under the Chairmanship of Sir George Stapledon has reported on reseeding and ley farming with special regard to the quickest and best methods of getting the land into a proper system of rotations in wartime, implicit in our policy of taking the plough round the farm; and Committees are now sitting under Lord De La Warr on hill sheep with special reference to the serious deterioration in recent years of hill pastures and the sheep diseases associated therewith; and under Mr. Gavin to ensure the provision from home sources of adequate supplies of both grass and other seeds now that overseas sources have been largely cut off.
Also, as a result of a report of the Agricultural Improvement Council the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have set up an Agricultural Machinery Development Board to arrange for the testing of agricultural machinery and implements and to consider questions of uniformity and standardisation, the provision of educational and advisory facilities and in general any matters relating to the mechanisation of agriculture. There is, of course, a number of other lines of activity at various stages of development 1546 about which I hope to be able to tell the House later. Meanwhile, I believe that the work of these sub-committees, coupled with the advisory and publicity activities of my Department, will go far towards raising the general standard of farming throughout the country.
Such are some of the main results of the activities on which we have been engaged for the last 18 months. If, as I hope the House feels, they are encouraging, I trust hon. Members will not on that account think that I personally am satisfied or complacent. No one travelling continually about the country as I do can fail to have brought forcibly home to him how much there is still to do. Manpower, as in so many other spheres of war production, is our chief limiting factor. The crisis of our national fortunes makes it accordingly all the more essential that from now on every one of us should think, not of what he is going to receive, but of how much he personally can manage to contribute. For that spirit and that spirit alone will provide us with maximum production, without which our past efforts, our past sacrifices, may well prove to have been in vain.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I frequently stand at this Box to criticise the Government, and it is, therefore, a real pleasure for me to-day to express what I think is the view of the whole House, namely, that not for the first time has the Minister of Agriculture given us an admirable account of his stewardship in a most compact and succinct speech. I would like to pay tribute to the partnership—because it is a most reasonable and sound partnership, which has inured to the benefit of the nation—between him and Lord Woolton and, further, to pay a tribute to the three Parliamentary Secretaries of the two Departments. Seldom have two Departments been more happily staffed than these are staffed at the present time. One of the assets of the present Administration is that my right hon. Friend has known when to say "Yes" to the farmers and when to say "No," and without making any wounding comparisons with his predecessors, he has got out of the habit, into which they had rather grown, of supposing that one part of the organisation of agriculture was more important than the other. He has tried to visualise it as a whole
1547 Without any reflection on the National Farmers' Union—indeed, I would like to take the opportunity of saying that the N.F.U. Executive Committee has shown patriotism and common sense in its recent negotiations with the Government—I would also like to praise the work of the war agricultural committees, not only the committees themselves, but also the executive officers in the districts. It is not always realised what a very important part the executive officers have played, not only the paid officers but the district officers. They have a very difficult and unpleasant task in having to persuade and talk to farmers, some of whom require a great deal of persuasion and some of whom require compulsion. They have done their work exceedingly well. I think I should say a word from this Box to help the Minister over a matter in which he, naturally, has to go rather warily. There is a small minority of dissentient farmers in this country who need to be publicly castigated. These people, whenever the N.F.U. makes any arrangement with the Minister, come out with statements which are published in the Press, saying that the Minister ought to be sacked and that they cannot possibly make a profit. They use the calamitous argument that the prices laid down are not conducive to further production—this to a country in the state in which we are at the present time.
I would also like to refer, from a distance, so to speak, to a subject which cannot be discussed to-day. In recent Debates in the House and in the country there has been too much talk about profits and wages. We want to get both the high wages and the profits idea out of our minds. I associate myself with what Sir William Beveridge said yesterday in a letter in the "Times"—that people should look upon themselves as agents of national policy. If that is true of the country generally, it applies most particularly to farmers. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there is no doubt that some hardship must be involved, under the present system of control, to some farmers. It is quite impossible to provide for the industry as a whole, because, as the Minister truly said, there are such immense variations between farmers and, he might have added, between fields on farms. I am a great lover of the countryside; I have indulged in various field 1548 sports and have gone miles over the country when in the Yeomanry. I was the only Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in recent years to visit every one of the farms on that vast property, and the longer I live the more I realise these two facts—the difference between farms and the difference between farmers. A weekly agricultural paper recently said,Some farmers would fail in the Garden of Eden and others would produce crops in the desert.Well, I took part, in desert warfare in the last war and was struck by the variations of crops and how one man would produce from a rainfall of six inches on the wadi excellent barley crops, while another man would fail. In every country some men are successful farmers and some are not. As my right hon. Friend said, the ones who are not must be got rid of.
§ Earl Winterton
Liquidated by some means or other. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reminding me of that word, which I would like to see much more widely applied in our public life. On the whole question of prices to farmers, the only thing to which any producer, master or man, is morally entitled is a living wage for a man of average ability, with the average advantages or disadvantages of a particular industry. It is unavoidable that in some cases, under any system of control, farmers will be badly treated by the conditions. I was glad to hear the tribute which my right hon. Friend paid to the small farmers. In the part of England from which I come, Southern England, there are thousands of what may be called family farms, where, although the farmer may occasionally hire labour, generally he has only his family to help him. In such cases, as my right hon. Friend truly observed, the farmer often works harder and receives lower wages than the paid labourer on a bigger farm. All credit is due to these people. The trouble from which many of them suffer—and I hope none of my constituents, if they happen to read my speech, will take exception to this, for I am afraid it applies as much to Sussex as anywhere else—is that they are men who have very little scientific agricultural knowledge. Many of them have a good working knowledge, but they have not 1549 had the opportunity of acquiring modern scientific agricultural knowledge. That is why I am glad my right hon. Friend is carrying out these demonstrations, although, of course, he cannot make attendance at them compulsory, because that is beyond his powers and would not be a profitable or tactful thing to do. However, I hope he will instruct the county war agricultural committees, if necessary, to circularise the small farmers and tell them that, however hard they are working, however great the strain on their time, they ought to attend to see what is taking place. Many of these farmers, excellent and hard-working men, with a good practical knowledge of farming, could help themselves very much if they had a little more modern scientific agricultural knowledge and knew a little more about the use of modern scientific machinery.
In this connection, I wish to pay a tribute to what has been done by the Department and the county war agricultural committees in the acquisition of up-to-date machinery. I have seen some of this machinery at work, and it is really amazing what can be achieved by it. Things are possible now that were not possible even three or four years ago. I ask the House to note the very remarkable stage we have reached in this country, which is always supposed to be so backward in farming, although we possess some of the best farms and, of course, the best herds in the world. Actually this country is the most mechanised agricultural country in Europe at the present time. That is a very remarkable state of affairs. I believe it is on this mechanisation that we shall have more and more to rely to produce our food as the war goes on.
This brings me to the last point want to make. Once again, I wish to bring up my King Charles' head, the question of the rehabilitation and the reclamation of land which even to-day has not yet been used. In referring to this matter, I speak with some personal knowledge, as one who has experimented in such work. In the part of England with which I am most familiar, Surrey and West Sussex, the county war agricultural committees have either taken over or, by various methods which need not be described in detail, encouraged individual landowners and farmers to clear very large areas of land which, for the last 40 years, and in 1550 many cases longer—ever since the agricultural depression started—have gradually gone back from arable or pasture land into what can be only described as scrub, land covered with large thorn bushes, heather in districts where there is chalk or sand, and thick brambles in other districts where the land is clay. By means of various machines, mostly owned by the war agricultural committees and either leased or loaned to the individual landowners, very large areas of land have been cleared. These lands are bearing splendid crops. I know of one estate in particular which was disgracefully farmed for many years; it has been taken over by the West Sussex War Agricultural Committee, and is now growing magnificent crops of corn. I believe there is a slight tendency in this country, even among persons having much more scientific knowledge than I have, to underrate what can be done with what is in effect, virgin soil. I do not think that I have convinced my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, either in public speech or in private conversation, that in many cases it is not really a question of providing a large number of fertilisers. For example, in the case of the strong clay of Sussex, if the fields are cleared as I have described, from the next two years, at any rate, it will be possible to grow good crops on them with practically no fertilisers, because it is virgin soil. I have had experience of this as a large landowner in a part of Africa where the same conditions prevail.
But the difficulty that arises—and I hope the House will face it and give the Minister of Agriculture all the support they can concerning it—is that of labour. As there are present two members of the War Cabinet, I want, with great respect, to impress this point upon them. I put the matter in the form of a question—a question to which we have never had an answer in the House. Do the Government, or do they not, give equal priority in man-power to agriculture as they do to munitions, aeroplane or ship production? If the answer is "No," then I say emphatically that they ought to do so. As I have observed on many occasions before in speaking in the House, we are, unfortunately, an over-urbanised country, and it takes a very long time to get into the minds of Englishmen, and even Scotsmen, that at this time of urgent danger the question of food production 1551 is just as important as the production of anything else. It is really as important as the production of ships, because the two things are not in antithesis. It is the production of ships and the production of food that will keep the country alive.
§ Earl Winterton
Coal, agriculture, and ships. I feel that there are some elements in the Government which are not as friendly as they ought to be towards agriculture. My right hon. Friend had the greatest difficulty in getting the Italian prisoners for land work. There was appalling delay on the part of the War Office in making up their mind. They seemed never to have heard of agriculture. At long last, most grudgingly, after making all sorts of difficulties about where the prisoners could be placed—as though a handful of Dagos in Sussex could do any harm, because even if they did get out of camp if the Germans invaded the country, what could they do without arms? —all sorts of difficulties about employing them, the War Office gave their consent. Unfortunately, the difficulties were enhanced by the attitude of some farmers. Those farmers did no good to the industry when they said that they did not want to employ Italian labourers. We have them now, but we have not got nearly enough. I am told that on the whole they are good workers, and anyone who has been to Italy and seen the Italians working in that country can realise that; anyone who has seen the way in which they manage to get a living out of the poor soil of Italy realises what good workers they are. Why is it not possible to bring over West Indian labour? They are most patriotic people in the West Indies, and I am sure that they would be only too anxious to come to this country. We must get the farmers and the Government to realise that they must employ any labour they can, provided it can do the work.
The gist of my argument is that, if we can get over the labour problem, then I have no hesitation in saying, so far as the South of England is concerned, that we can produce something like 30 per cent. more by rehabilitation. Taking the counties of West Sussex and Surrey, the Weald and the Downs, we can increase our existing arable production by 30 per 1552 cent. In West Sussex we have 300,000 acres which have been brought under the plough, and I have no hesitation in saying that we can add to that figure by 30 per cent. if we can obtain the labour to do the work. I know it is not the fault of my right hon. Friend, and that the fault lies in another direction, but I should not be doing my duty if I did not say that we ought to have no further delay in reaching a decision on milk prices. It is essential that we should have that decision soon, and I know that the farmers will do their duty and produce the milk when it is announced. The country requires the maximum effort, and no sacrifice on the part of the agricultural industry, landlords, farmers and labour—
§ Earl Winterton
I am not going to be involved in an argument with my hon. Friend, because on this occasion we are on the same side. I believe that under the excellent stewardship of my right hon. Friend we shall be able to do even better in the future than in the past.
§ Mr.. R. J. Russell (Eddisbury)
All of us will, I think, wish to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on the statement he has given to the House, and also the farmers on the efforts they have made in carrying through the programme which has been set before them. At the same time there are many things which need to be tackled, and I wish to-day to press one particular point on the Government. I wish to ask what will be the effect of the Pacific war upon our agricultural programme. A few weeks ago I was very much concerned about the position in the Pacific because of the possibility that we might find ourselves for a time cut off from our Australian and New Zealand supplies. If that should happen, it is imperative that everything possible should be done to conserve our supplies and to stimulate the work of our dairy and sheep farms. I have had some correspondence with Lord Woolton on the matter, and also with the Minister of Agriculture, and I have met representatives of the Ministry in the North of England and discussed with them one or two very important questions.
I wish to say, in passing, that it is essential that we should, as quickly as possible, fix milk prices, so that the farmer may know where he stands. We 1553 should also do everything we can to stimulate the production of dairy products. It is all very well for us in this House to say helpful and pleasant things, but things are apt to assume a somewhat different aspect on the farms than on the Front Bench. We have prejudices to overcome and irritations to meet, and I know of nothing which will help us to overcome these difficulties except a spirit of good will and co-operation among ail concerned—a spirit of leadership rather than a spirit of driving. The trouble is that so often we find that an order made in this House is interpreted by some new official in a remote part of the country in quite a different way, which causes a good deal of unnecessary irritation. I think it is up to every one of us—I certainly feel it is up to me—to do all we can to create good will and to stimulate production. There is no doubt whatever that on dairy farms there is a desire on the part of everyone to produce the utmost they can.
Turning to the question of sheep farming, we find further difficulties. The Parliamentary' Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture made a statement the other day on what he thought farmers should do. He suggested there should be an increase in the number of sheep on our hill farms. That is an excellent suggestion, but the question is how it is to be brought about. I have discussed this matter with the Minister and others concerned, and I find that the general impression is that at the present time there are more sheep on the hills than the hills can maintain. That is the official statement, but I find from my close contact with the hills that hill farmers hold the opposite opinion. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Newcastle committee met to examine the question of our hill farms and made a very excellent report. The trouble is not the summer keep but the winter keep. I can look out from my window and see scores of acres of high meadows which for generations have never been cropped. They ought at once to be put into use, properly manured and cropped this summer to provide winter keep for next winter's sheep. If that were done, you could at once very considerably increase the number of sheep that you could keep.
But all this depends on labour. Can we have the labour for the farmer? I know a small farm which is managed by 1554 the farmer and one son. The son might at any moment be taken away. If that happens, what becomes of the farm? Has it to be dispersed or sold? If so, how are we to increase the number of sheep on our moors? We have for years past looked upon and talked about our moors as grouse moors. No one ever talks about them as sheep moors, and there is a definite difference between land suitable for sheep and land suitable as cover for grouse. The tendency has been that grouse have monopolised the moors to the detriment of the sheep. That ought to be changed as quickly as possible.
Let me give another illustration of how labour is affecting the problem. We have passed through the most difficult period I have ever known. For three months the sheep have often been unable to get through the snow to the grass. One farmer saw the possibility of this in the autumn and bought an extra stack of hay in another district. When the trouble arose he began to get concerned as to how the stack was going to be delivered. The lambing season was approaching, when the sheep would want extra keep. But the haystack remained where it was. Week by week reports came through and letters were received saying they wanted to send the stack but they could not get the labour and the transport to remove it, and during this very difficult period the sheep had to be starved rather than fed, because labour had been depleted too greatly. What can be done about this? The Minister's job is not that of securing men for the Army but that of securing food for the people, and he wants to see to it that there is a very definite stand made against any more labour being taken from the farmers. We cannot go on producing food if we have not the labour. You cannot send women up on to the moors in a snow-storm. You might find an exceptional woman here and there, but no farmer could possibly rely on woman labour. You must have a residuary amount of male labour to tackle jobs which have to be tackled in difficult times.
Then again I am not sure that our war agricultural committees are always as representative as they ought to be. I could take you to districts which are absolutely without representation on war agricultural committees, with the result that a question arising with regard to a farm in such an area cannot be dealt with from 1555 the knowledge of someone living in the area. It has to be dealt with from schedules, and schedules can sometimes be very misleading. That is a thing that ought to be remedied. War agricultural executives should be thoroughly representative, so that they can speak of the actual conditions on the farms. Let me give a further illustration of what I mean by want of representation. Whitehall sent round to the war agricultural executives not long ago a request that they should try to stimulate potato growing. I had a letter from the executive officer asking me if I would consider what could be done. I went round and saw a field which, it seemed to me, would be all the better for being ploughed. I saw the executive officer and took my plans with me and said, "I am prepared to give instructions that the field shall be ploughed if you will indicate that that is what you want." He said, "Let us discuss it with the member of the committee nearest you." I spoke to the member of the committee. That is three months ago, and that is the last I have heard of it. In the national interest there ought to have been a live member there who would freeze on to it and say, "This thing can be done. If you are prepared to do it, we are prepared to back you up." When we try to carry these things out we need the sympathetic co-operation of those who are responsible at Whitehall and in the counties. I would appeal from this House to officials everywhere to assume an attitude not of dictatorship but of comradeship, so that we may all pull together and so attain the end for which we are fighting.
§ Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)
Yesterday we had a full-dress Debate on coal, and we were rightly told that in these days coal is more valuable than gold. Valuable as coal is in our national war effort, however, food production becomes more important and more vital, because if we do not get food, we certainly shall not get coal. I want without any hesitation to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on his admirable statement to-day. In the House and up and down the country there are people who try to give the impression that nobody is doing any work at all, that everybody is either idling or absenting themselves from work and that there is chaos here and chaos there, until one is left wondering whether anybody is doing 1556 anything at all. We have to remember that food is not produced in Whitehall or in this House. It is produced on the farms, and if anybody deserves a word of praise for the record harvest we have just had it is the combination of people who produced it. When I went over a farm four or five weeks ago, when the snow and frost were on the ground, I had the utmost admiration for the work the men and women on the land were doing. If occasionally we can give somebody a pat on the back for which is being done in the war effort, it will encourage them and be far better than discouraging them by making them feel that they are not doing their best. There is a minority, of course, not only in agriculture, but in all classes of society, who are not pulling their weight, and they ought to be weeded out. War agricultural committees had not hesitated in displacing those who had not farmed up to the principles of good husbandry, and they will, perhaps, be compelled to do more before the war is over. The great body of men and women in agriculture, however, have done wonderful work.
This raises one or two matters that ought to be faced by the Department. The first reaction to the new agricultural prices was bitter criticism of the Minister of Agriculture. I recently saw a farmer friend whom I regard as a good man, and asked him his opinion of the new agricultural prices. He said, "To be perfectly frank, I am not complaining; I think they foot the bill." It was pointed out by some, even by officials of the National Farmers' Union, that even if they did not regard the prices as high enough, they had to admit that they compensated the farmers for increased labour costs in accordance with the promise of the Minister when wages were increased. I spoke to another farmer, who was bitterly disappointed. On the whole, however, the prices have been met by the average farmer with the feeling that they are fair. As the Minister says, there are great differences between farms and farmers, and in fixing prices it is difficult to get a basis which will meet all the varying conditions in the industry. For the future guidance of this House there ought to be obtained some reliable statistics with regard to agriculture. That is not easy. In the coal industry we have the last word in statistics because it is a one-product industry, but in farming the products vary very much and it is difficult to get accurate 1557 costs. They are very essential, however, if we are to consider what is to be our attitude towards agriculture in the future.
I am one who believes that the first thing we have to ascertain is the real position in agriculture. Is it true that there is more money lost in this industry than in other industries, and, if so, why? Is that due mainly to fluctuating prices, to prices being too low, and to the fact that farmers do not take every advantage of all that science has introduced to improve agriculture? How far does the private ownership of agricultural land play a part in the economic position of agriculture? Most people in the House have read nearly everything that has been said and written on land nationalisation, and we have heard the pros and cons of the question, but I would like to have more knowledge of how far private ownership of agricultural land really plays a part. I would like to know also how far the public ownership of land would make for the better planning of agriculture. All these things will eventually have to be tackled by this House.
The first thing to keep in mind is that farmers are living on their memories and that we must never betray our trust again. Nobody remembers more vividly than I do how in 1921 this House decontrolled the mines six months before the Act said it should be done, with serious results for the miners. Shortly afterwards the House decontrolled agriculture, although the Act said that there should be four years' notice. What was the effect? I knew good tenant farmers who went bankrupt. I knew farmers who had paid high prices for their farms, and when the slump came they had to go out. Farmers are still living on that memory. There must be no violent change in policy. A good deal of the machinery that has been built up in wartime will have to be retained for a considerable time. I believe that the war agricultural committees will have to remain in being. The mere fact that the county war agricultural committees were in being would be a big steadying factor upon this House of Commons, even if the numbers were reduced.
Then, sooner or later, we must tackle costs of distribution, and that is not a question which concerns agriculture only. Since I interested myself in agricultural matters I have been attending quite a number of lectures by eminent lecturers, 1558 reading quite a number of books and discussing various aspects of agriculture with numerous farmers, and I find there is one point which the farmer puts which you cannot get over. He asks, "How is it that when our produce gets into the shops the price of it is two or three times more than its price at the point of production?" For example, we find carrots sold at 2d. per lb. in the shops, which is £18 13s. 4d. a ton, while the price paid to the growers ranges from £6 to £6 10s. a ton. There is a big gap there which calls for consideration, and the prices of other commodities show similar gaps. Whilst I find that the townsman has more sympathy for agriculture now than ever before, and will go a long way towards assisting agriculture, yet he feels that no unnecessary profits ought to be made on farm produce between its point of production and its appearance on the table. The problem of distribution calls for a severe surgical operation. To tackle it will not be an easy task, because vested interests on the distributive side do exercise considerable power. If the House wants to do justice to agriculture it will have to face up to these problems.
Further, the question of man-power in the countryside will have to be tackled if we are to get the maximum food production. I was told recently of a case in North Lincolnshire where 50 tons of beet had to be left to rot because there was not the labour to get it up. I have put this question to some of my farmer friends and one of them said, "I have to increase my sugar beet crop this year, and I do not mind if only I can get the right kind of labour to handle it when I have grown it." With reference to the work of Italian prisoners, I had the privilege about five years ago of visiting sugar plantations in Queensland. The temperature was 115 degrees in the shade, yet I am bound to say that I never saw any men work better than the Italians who were working there. They worked very hard and skilfully, and I heard praise of their work. We shall have to get labour from somewhere. I believe that in another place Lord Addison was told that before the additional 10,000 skilled farm workers are called up the opinion of the county war agricultural committees would be sought, rather implying that if those committees said it is necessary to retain those men on the land they will 1559 stay there. I am told that in certain districts war agricultural committees have been opposed to the calling-up of these men, and I should like to know what action will be taken in the matter.
We have heard a good deal in the last 18 months about canteen facilities and feeding facilities for miners. I should be a hypocrite if I did not say what I am going to say. I fought very hard to secure for the miners canteens where they could get hot, sit-down, full meals, and I am proud of what has been accomplished, and it would be absolutely wrong if I did not try to secure similar advantages for farm workers, who are in an inferior position to other bodies of workers in the matter of getting meat, because there are no British Restaurants in the country villages. I want my right hon. Friend to do all he can to extend canteen facilities in the countryside. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) advocated carrying hot meals in containers down the pits. I have eaten two or three of his lunches and I have told him frankly that I should not mind that kind of lunch if I were working in a pit on day wages, but that I certainly could not work as I should want to work as a piece worker after such a meal.
§ Mr. Smith
Well, I did 20 years in the pit, and so I know. I have worked in a seam 18 inches less than my height, and while we were working there we never had a heavy meal before going down the pit, simply because we were bending all the time. I ask whether it would not be a useful thing to take hot meals in containers to workers in agriculture. The meals can be kept hot for hours. Although it may not be practicable to arrange for this to be done everywhere in the countryside, it is a suggestion which ought to receive every consideration. Further, not only is it essential to have plenty of manpower on the land but it is also very necessary to keep the men in good health. The Board of Trade have given farm workers extra coupons for a certain amount of clothing but in my opinion they have not done enough. Let me quote from a letter which I have received from organised agricultural workers:Further, you will notice that although agricultural work results in clothes being worn 1560 out quickly—this is in addition to the protective clothing mentioned above—That is a reference to gum boots, overalls and oil skins—I am sure that thousands of hours have been lost this year in food production, particularly since winter set in, owing to our people not having sufficient protective clothing such as boots.This winter it has been absolutely essential for farm workers to have such protective footwear, and I hope the Board of Agriculture will do what it can to persuade the Board of Trade to treat these agricultural workers better in this respect. The Minister has told us of the work being done in agricultural education. There is one point of irritation which ought to be removed. A committee has been appointed to consider agricultural education. On that committee there is no trade union representation. This matter has been discussed by the National Council, T.U.C., and the farm workers' organisation. The argument put to them, I am told, is that if the Minister agrees to put on the committee a representative of the National Union of Agricultural Workers he will have to grant representation to other organised bodies. At the same time I am told that there are three farmers on this committee and one or two other people very closely connected with agriculture, and I ask this straight question. "How is it that the organised agricultural workers cannot have representation on this committee?" I do not see any harm at all in its being done. The organised agricultural workers have given every assistance, I think the Minister will agree, but they feel they are being slighted with regard to this committee. I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision and see whether he can put a representative of them upon the committee.
The agricultural worker is afraid that the rural bias in education about which we hear so much talk might be interpreted to mean "once a farm worker, always a farm worker." Boys and girls in the countryside have as much right as any other boys and girls to a general education. On this point, the report of the consultative committee on secondary education, which reported some 18 months or two years ago, has some interesting chapters dealing with the country grammar school. They make a number of sound recommendations in regard to education in agricultural areas, and they 1561 go to the extent of suggesting that, in view of the increased mechanisation in the countryside to-day, some attention should be paid to the possibility of starting courses in mechanical engineering. The agricultural workers welcome every effort to improve the educational standard of the countryside, but at the same time they feel that they have been slighted in not being invited to remain on the committee. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his decision in this matter.
Whatever may be our view about the future of agriculture, the Minister can take it for granted that everyone inside and outside this House will do everything possible to secure maximum food production. We recognise that the first thing to do is to win the war. That is basic. In addressing meetings, encouraging people to dig for victory or advising farmers, or in whatever way we can, every one of us will not only promise, but will take action, to secure from the land its maximum output, sufficient to see us through the war and on our way to victory.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)
The hon. Gentleman has endorsed the statements made by the Minister in his very excellent speech opening this Debate, and he has impressed upon the House and the country the need for maximum production from the land. Every other consideration takes second place to increased production, and whether a man be landlord, tenant or agricultural labourer, one aim should be dominant in the whole of his activities, namely, to increase the amount of food obtained from the land. Every action taken by the Minister or anybody else to bring about such maximum production is good, and every other action that tends to decrease maximum production is bad. I do not think the Minister can say that we are obtaining 100 per cent. production from our soil to-day. Before the war, farmers were always saying that the prices obtained for commodities they grew were not sufficiently above the cost of production. The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food have met that argument by the arrangements which they have made. The Minister of Agriculture is helping to increase production. He has established county war agricultural committees, which are, on the whole, doing very excellent work. They help individual farmers by giving instruction in machinery. Many farmers have ploughed 1562 up large quantities of grassland and they have brought about a great increase in food production. Such actions are all to the good. The Minister has taken action and has given assistance in regard to field drainage and arterial drainage, and thus has helped to increase the productivity of the land.
Are there any other actions that the Minister can take which he has not yet taken in order to approach nearer to zoo per cent. food production? A moment ago I mentioned agricultural prices. By those prices, the Minister has produced Excess Profits Taxpayers among the larger farmers and farmers on the better land. These men are now called upon to pay the tax. Farmers in that category have said to me, "My land will grow onions, but I shall grow wheat. Onions are a difficult crop, and although I recognise that the price given to me would enable me to make large profits, I should have to pay Excess Profits Tax. Therefore, I will grow wheat, which is easier." Such an attitude by farmers is wrong. It is not in the national interest or in the interest of the consumers that land should not produce food commodities to its fullest possible extent.
It is also in the o national interest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should receive as much E.P.T. as it is possible for him to receive. The man who pays E.P.T. is doing a national service, because with the money munitions may be bought. But also, at the same time, the farmer who pays it is helping himself. The farmers should realise that the payment of E.P.T. is an insurance against the future. Agriculture is an industry whose receipts depend upon the weather. After a good summer the receipts may be 50 per cent. higher, and it is very possible, after a good year, for a large farmer who has a basic figure of £1,500 to make another if £1,000 extra profit, whereas the next year he may make no profits at all. Consider the case of a farmer paying Excess Profits Tax on that sum of £2,500. He pays £1,000 away in Excess Profits Tax. He does not like doing it, but he should like doing it, because if Excess Profits Tax had not been applied he would be paying Income Tax on that £1,000 which, at 10s. in the £ would come to £500. He would therefore have in the bank £500 to meet a bad year, whereas a man who paid Excess Profits Tax has in the bank—not in the 1563 bank, but credited to him in the country —the sum of £1,000 to meet those obligations.
Thus in a bad year if he paid E.P.T. he would receive back £1,000, and if he did not pay E.P.T. but paid Income Tax, he would only receive £500. Therefore, the payment of Excess Profits Tax is a benefit to the agriculturist, and he should endeavour to pay as much as he possibly can. The more he accumulates, the more money he will have to meet the bad seasons which may come about. I can visualise in the not-too-far-distant future that the small farmers will be coming to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and complaining that they are deprived of the benefit of paying Excess Profits Tax, and I have no doubt that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer receives such representations, he will be very delighted.
There is another point to which I should like to refer, and that is the question of labour. Labour, or the want of labour, is one of the causes of a possibly incomplete use being made of our land. The Minister of Labour has said that if he calls up £10,000 men from the land, he will provide £10,000 other workers. That sort of arithmetic will not do in agriculture. The agricultural labourer is a skilled workman, and agriculture is a skilled occupation and cannot be carried on efficiently by unskilled outside labour. Let me give the House an example from two farms 13 miles away from which I draw tithes. My bailiff put the price for digging carrots and putting them into sacks at £1 a ton for every ton produced. Three men and two women dug and put into sacks in one day 5½ tons. They therefore earned 22s. that day and only a 7½ hour day at that. On the other farm the bailiff put up the same figure, but the workmen were not expert in digging carrots and said that they could not possibly do half-a-ton a day; they would rather work for 10s. a day. If unskilled people from industry are brought in, the position will be even worse.
On this question of labour, I should like the Minister to consider whether we are getting the best out of the labour which is at present on the land. In some cases I doubt it. The agricultural labourer is like anybody else, and if he finds that instead of working 48 hours a week he 1564 can get away with working 45, he will do so. We have compelled the farmer, through the war agricultural committees, to plough up grassland and to grow this crop or that, but we have not compelled the agricultural labourer to work the 48 hours for which we have given him £3 I am aware of the fact that the agricultural labourer is as willing as anybody to do his job, but what is a man's position? If John Smith finds that William Jones can get away with taking half-an-hour off at 10 o'clock, it is only natural for him to do the same. I should like to suggest to the Minister that he should use his power and take a stronger [...]ine with the agricultural labourer and compel him to do his 48 hours.
I do not want to criticise, but during the last week my right hon. Friend has not been as strong as I would have liked. Double summer-time comes into force on 4th April, and he has left the decision in that connection to an agreement between the farmers and labourers in a given area, as to whether they should accept double summer-time or nor. What will be the result? After 4th April, for a week or two, they will go to work by single summer-time, but within a few weeks they will be working to double summer-time, and his suggestion that they should only work to single summer-time will be an absolute failure. If the Minister had said when he made that announcement that agriculture had to work to single summer-time, the agricultural labourers would have accepted it. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am confident that they would. They would have accepted it if at the same time he had persuaded the Board of Education to keep the schools in the area on single summer-time, and if he had persuaded the local authorities which have to deal with the licences of public houses also to apply the same time. The whole county would have accepted it. The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but I am confident they would. Let him realise this. In the summer-time the agricultural labourer will begin his work at five o'clock in the morning instead of seven and leave off at one o'clock. Just imagine what it is to hoe corn and so on when it is wet with the dew at 5 a.m., and to leave off at the best time of the day at one o'clock. I suggest very seriously that this adoption of double summer-time in agriculture will 1565 decrease agricultural production. I ask the Minister to take that into consideration. I wish to assure him that we fully endorse his opening remarks, that we who are engaged in agriculture—I speak for labour as well as the farmer—ought to do everything we possibly can, irrespective of profits and receipts, in order to help in the great war effort, to do our best to get as much production, every ounce of production, we can.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
The new scale of farming prices which has been decided upon recently is, I think, the most important thing that has happened in the agricultural world of late. Like others, I feel that the attacks that have been made upon the Minister and the leaders of the National Farmers' Union by certain speakers on behalf of farmers is little short of scandalous. Certain resolutions have come up from county branches of the Farmers Union which have clearly not been properly thought out, or may have had an ulterior motive behind them. I am glad to think that in my county, Gloucestershire, the farmers, though perhaps not altogether satisfied with what has happened, nevertheless realise the seriousness of the position, and have guarded their language and acted in a responsible way. The Minister has had a very difficult task to perform to get these prices for the industry. I think he has done his work very well. Personally I think that the new scale of prices will meet in the main the increased costs put upon the industry by increased wages, at least for all good or moderately good land.
It may seem, perhaps, on the surface that the increase in wheat prices will hardly meet the position. Against that one has to remember that wages costs in the production of wheat vary from about 20 to 25 per cent. of the total cost of production, no more, I think, and that the real criterion of the success of wheat growing is not whether wages are put up a few shillings or not but on the yield per acre of the final crop. It is on that that profits or losses are made in wheat growing. That has been my experience throughout several years of wheat growing. After all, what this new scale of prices is concerned about is to see that the position is no worse as a result of the increase in wages.
The fact we have to realise generally to-day is the great ad vantage of the posi- 1566 tion in that there is a bottom to the market everywhere, and if there are still branches of the industry which are not satisfied as regards returns, the real trouble about it, as I see it, is that there is still a very considerable lack of knowledge about costings. I understand that the Oxford Agricultural Research Station and others have got accurate costings from about 2,000 farmers in the country, but these are, unfortunately, the most progressive and up-to-date farmers, and all of them keep accounts in any case. That is only a fraction of the total of the farmers in the country, and unfortunately it is still true that the majority of farmers do not keep ordinary accounts, let alone costing accounts. I am of the opinion that the leaders of the National Farmers Union would have been in a very much stronger position if they had had more costings accounts at their disposal to put before the Minister. It was not the fault of the National Farmers' Union that they have not had these, because I know that they have been trying to get them and have found it very difficult to get costings from that large body of average farmers who up to now have not kept accounts but who, I am sure, will have to do so if the case for the industry is going to be well put on future occasions.
The real trouble, as I see it—the Minister referred to it in his speech—is the marginal farms. All good land or moderately good land will do perfectly well these days, but it is the marginal land in such areas as the Cotswold Hills or the uplands of West and South Wales, and parts of East Anglia, on which it is very hard even now to make a living, and I think that it is very likely the increased wages costs there are barely met, if at all. It has been emphasised that these marginal farms must be used, and as that is so, I think special efforts must be made to help those who are on this type of farm. There are various ways in which it can be done. The war agricultural executive committees have now powers of financial or other assistance. It need not be direct financial assistance. It can be assistance in the provision of equipment at a specially cheap rate to enable them to carry on. I am satisfied that on these types of land, if we are to get the full return which the nation needs from them, some extra help will have to be given. Now that the farms are classified A, B, C, D, it is 1567 easier to get to know which these marginal farms are. But it is a complicated matter. Some may be put in a low grade because they are badly farmed, others because they are marginal land—poor soil, inadequate rainfall or some such cause. We meet all the time these complex influences—the type of man who is farming and the type of surroundings he is farming in. Farming is a fight with nature all the time, and it is easier on some lands and in some districts than others. With regard to the bad farming, where land is in a low category because it is badly farmed we have our remedies. The war committees can dispossess the man, or advise him if he just does not know how to carry on. But it is a much more difficult matter to deal with the type of marginal land where nature is the main obstacle. That is where, I think, the Minister must try to bring the war committees to help the farmer.
Many farms are very nearly, if not entirely, self-supporting in feeding stuffs. That is true of a great many farms in the South and South-West, and in the Midlands. In the North, where certain crops are more difficult to grow, it is still necessary to have imported wheat offals. For this reason, I am a little disturbed about the introduction of the national loaf. From the human aspect, I agree, it is desirable, but there is the agricultural aspect. The raising of the extraction to 85 per cent. will mean a large reduction in the availability of wheat offals for livestock. In the districts to which I have referred, the South and South-West and the Midlands, I do not think that matters. I have abandoned altogether for many months past the use of wheat offals for my dairy herds. All through the winter I have had a self-supporting dairy herd, and the milk yield has been maintained; but that cannot be done everywhere. In some parts of the country there are no beans. Beans are a difficult crop to grow, and in a series of hard winters you may get the whole lot destroyed. Therefore, the North-country dairy farms require wheat offals. The introduction of the national loaf will make things very difficult next winter. It may mean that in certain parts of the country we shall get a worse situation in regard to milk production than hitherto.
I am a great believer in the production of silage for dairy cattle. I think our 1568 dairy farmers have met the position pretty well, on the whole. The production of silage has gone up. Silage is valuable from the health point of view. Experts tell me that well-made silage contains a large proportion of a substance called carotin which cattle can convert into at least two of the vitamins, quite apart from the proteins and carbohydrates which are in the stuff. But there is a fear that silage equipment will not be forthcoming. I ask the Minister to see that that equipment has priority. I believe that the production of silage, kale and certain roots—should have a good effect on the health of the animals. I believe that, as with human beings, many of our cattle diseases have been tackled too much from the point of view of cure, and not enough from the point of view of prevention. A balanced diet, with proper vitamin and mineral contents, will do much to raise the standard of health in our cattle. However, I do not disregard the necessity for dealing with diseases when cattle have them. For some months I have been pressing the Minister to get on with the national scheme for dealing with the four important herd diseases—contagious abortion, mastitis, sterility, and Johnes disease. But I recognise need for caution. I made an experiment the other day with a blood test for Johnes disease; and, out of a herd of 15 heifers which I tested, two which passed the test went down with the disease in a month, although they were supposed to be free from it. It seems to me that in this matter of preventive injections and injections for blood-testing we have a long way to go; but I hope that the Minister will not lose heart, and that he will impress upon the veterinary profession the great importance of going on with the research. One other matter that I would like to raise is that of threshing tackle. I know that a number of farmers in my county have been wanting this for months, and have been unable to get it. The price of wheat will soon go down—
§ Mr. Price
Then that meets the position. But I hope that my right hon. Friend will nevertheless look into the matter of threshing tackle. There is another aspect besides that of wheat prices. The consumption of straw is extremely important. You can save your 1569 hay by feeding oat straw to cattle; but the time is coming soon when cattle will turn up their noses at it. Unless you get the threshing machine going in the winter months, you will have to keep your straw hanging over. I would impress upon the Minister the necessity of getting the threshing done between September and the end of March. I am not certain that we have sufficient tackle. I hope that the Department will also look into the matter of spare parts for agricultural machinery. Tractors have been held up for a long time because some little gadget or other is missing, and the makers say that they cannot get it because there is no priority. I hope that these spare parts will get priority. There are thousands of tractors which will go on living for a long time yet if they can get those little parts which occasionally break down.
On the matter of labour, the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) referred to the importance of having rural women labour. That is very important too. We want to organise in every village the wives and daughters of those who are engaged on the land to do part-time work. They will be absolutely invaluable at times when a great deal of work has to be done, particularly in respect of potatoes, and sugar beet, which is going to be an increasingly important crop when we shall be growing largely our own sugar here in the course of the next year.
I want to know the position with regard to the sons of smallholders. I have constant instances in my constituency of the case of the man who is doing excellent work in producing milk and arable crops but whose son is called up and cannot be reserved. The son comes under the new call-up_ and the whole place is literally hamstrung. Is not it possible for something to be done to reserve these men? These are usually family holdings and it is difficult for a man to sell up and go somewhere else, because he has lived there for generations possibly. He cannot carry on in the proper way if his son is taken away in this manner. It is said that these men should try and bring in women labour, and no doubt they will try and work out the problem in the best way they can, but it is not always possible, particularly on small farms.
Finally, I want to utter a word of warning in respect of soil fertility. This war 1570 may go on for a very long time. If it ends soon without victory it does not bear contemplating. If it goes on for a very long time, the question of the fertility of our soil will become acute. We cannot go on indefinitely growing crops of white straw cereals on land without alternative crops. There will be less farmyard manure per acre on the arable land. There are various suggestions for dealing with this, one of which is town refuse. I know the difficulties here. Town refuse is very variable in quality. Some experiments are being made and I would ask the Minister whether anything further has been done about the matter and whether there is any further information of the value of certain kinds of town refuse? Research is going on, and I know that some of this town refuse, treated in a certain way, can be made very good, but some of it contains too much paper, too much cellulose and can actually do harm in the process of decomposition. The paper, if it is not properly decomposed -before it goes into the soil, may rob the soil of important nutritive ingredients. This is something with which we should push on ill these times and upon which we should try and get some further scientific knowledge.
I believe that in regard to temporary grassland we can maintain the fertility of our soil, but it is not just a question of laying down for one year. Certain soil will stand laying down for only one year before going back again to cereal cultivation. On some lands you have to have it down for two years, but I think the best way is the one year lay-down for making hay and one year for having the golden hoof of the animal treading it and depositing droppings. That will maintain fertility. Certain lands ought to be down for two years. In these times war agricultural committees naturally do not want land down for two years and insist that it shall only be down for another year in a few exceptional cases. At the same time I utter a word of warning that, in the long war that lies ahead of us, we must certainly look out for signs of soil exhaustion. These are one of the ways with which it can be dealt. It must not be forgotten that temporary grass is extremely productive. You can produce your silage crop for dairy cattle or general feeding, and in this way you will be producing food at the same time as you are establishing the fertility of the land. I will end on this note. We must continue to do 1571 our duty by the nation with the land, while at the same time we strive, as all good husbandmen must strive, to preserve the fertility of the greatest of our national heritages, the land.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
The Minister of Agriculture was able to give a most encouraging picture of the progress of agriculture in this, the third year of the war. The expansion of which agriculture has proved itself capable indicates that the foundations have been soundly laid. British agriculture, in spite of much that has been said against it was in a position in which it was capable of carrying out at short notice a very great expansion. That reflects credit upon the agriculturists of this country. As this House knows well, it always has been an uphill task to get our urbanised country to pay any great and lasting attention to agriculture. Here and there it was willing to take temporary measures, but very unwilling to contemplate any long-term agricultural policy. The Minister has deeply in mind a longterm agricultural policy, and I hope very much that it will be possible to lay down lines for that now, when we feel the necessity for it. Later on, when circumstances change, it may be very difficult to get the towns again to pay attention to the problems of the countryside.
There are one or two things about which we should ask the Minister at the present time. It was mentioned, for instance, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) that the problem of a highly mechanised agriculture involves a higher degree of service for that mechanisation. Much of the agricultural machinery which has been introduced is new and will for a year or two do fairly well, but there will be a rapid rise in the necessity for spare parts, and it is vitally necessary that those spare parts and the skill to fit them should be available. Agricultural machinery differs from the machinery of any other organised industry in that it is only used for a comparatively short time, in season, and if that period is missed, then the machinery might as well not have existed at all. Also, a machine that is not kept constantly in use is one which is much more likely to be found wanting or to break down in some vital part than the machinery that is used week in and week 1572 out throughout the whole of the year. It is all the more necessary now, in view of the tightness of the control of the agricultural industry of which the Minister spoke. It is worth while remembering that agriculture is subject to a control which is infinitely more detailed and powerful than the control exercised over any other industry. This most individualist industry is practised under a degree of central control under which many a town industry would go out of business altogether rather than be subjected to it. I think that speaks well for the co-operative nature of the agriculturists of this country and the "come and go" which is exercised by these powerful executive committees. I tremble to think what the result of control would be if it was exercised over the shopkeeping industry of this country by a committee composed of fellow shopkeepers with power to turn any shopkeeper out of business or, if necessary, demand that he should entirely change the line of goods which he has been accustomed to stock for many years.
The danger before us at present is that some of the new changes which have been introduced will run out and require a reversion to some of the older methods of farming before we are ready for them. The great amount of land which has been put under the plough will demand, sooner or later, a greater amount of livestock, and the question of livestock, especially with the heavy, serious, harsh winters which we have been having in the upland country, will form a serious problem indeed. The breeding stock of this country is one of its greatest assets, but it has been subject, as the Minister said, to a very considerable depletion. The rapidly breeding animals, such as pigs and hens, cannot be expanded in time of war, because they are animals which compete with man for his food. We have to deal with animals which do not compete with man for his food—ruminants. I think some of our dietary reformers will be well advised to remember the ancient motto about Nebuchadnezzar when pressing on us foods which may be good for us but do not tend to raise the sparkle in the eye which other scientists tell us is necessary if we are to get the best out of our nourishment. For the ruminants, their food is grass, and I ask the Minister to bear in mind that extremely valuable crops of young grass should not be done away with in favour of fields of grain 1573 which, especially in high rainfall areas, may not give so great an amount of food in the long run as fields of grass. It would be different if all the food being grown were directly for the use of the human population, but we need food for the use of the animal population as well as for the human population in this country and sometimes the growing of grass is the growing of a crop which is just as useful as a grain crop and weight for weight is much greater. I was glad to note that in his speech the Minister made a reference to ley farming and emphasised the point that grass is a crop which ought to be specially grown in Britain. Some of our executive committees are a little too liable to look upon red land, as we in Scotland call it, as the only real farming.
§ Mr. Hudson
My right hon. and gallant Friend's words carry such weight that perhaps he will allow me to point out that I did not say that the growing of grass should be regarded as a permanent pasture crop. I was trying to make it clear that the grass which should be regarded as valuable for food production was that which was ploughed up and subsequently put down for temporary ley. Any agricultural committee might be misled by what he is saying into thinking that grass on a permanent pasture was anything like as valuable as grass from a ley.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am much obliged to my right hon. friend for that intervention. Perhaps I did riot make myself quite clear. I would not place anything like the same weight on the maintenance of permanent pasture as on the keeping of a ley, but a good young grass crop would be of the utmost benefit to the total food production of this country.
I would like to press the Minister a little further as to milk production. He said that it had not yet been possible to decide on the price for milk and also that he hoped very shortly to write to dairy farmers asking them to do their utmost to produce milk. Well, my right hon. Friend must be careful he does not get return postcards saying, "As soon as you do your job and settle the price of milk, we will be better able to do ours and produce it." Whatever my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing 1574 (Earl Winterton) may say about the undesirability of bringing any consideration of prices into our discussions on war-time agriculture, people agree that to the small man the financial basis upon which he has to work, especialy if he is engaged in dairying, is of great importance.
§ Earl Winterton
I agree with the Minister when he said that my right hon. and gallant Friend's words carry weight, so I would like to make it perfectly clear that I particularly said that there was not much inducement for dairy farmers to get on with the job of producing more milk unless they knew what was the new price.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It is mainly a question of emphasis. I agree that in general prices should not count; indeed, for the larger farmers they do not count, because some are making enormous sums of money that they never see, except on the face of the cheques which they receive from the Minister and pass on to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But to the small man I think we all agree that the price of milk ought to be determined, and the sooner the better. Already it has been too long delayed. It is all very well to say that the question of regional price is important and is of great difficulty. It is, but the fixation of all milk prices is of great difficulty, and, indeed, the difference between milk prices in Scotland and England has long been a subject of great grievance. I sympathise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister in trying to arrive at some conclusion, but the difficulty of the problem to such renowned fighters is not any excuse for not coming to a decision. I beg of them to cause a decision to be reached with the greatest possible expedition.
Many convergent factors are tending towards a diminution in milk production in this country. A great expansion of milk production took place when arable farming did not pay. Now arable farming does pay. It is a so much easier type of farming than milk farming. Double summer-time is undoubtedly of great advantage to town dwellers, but it is a very serious matter for country dwellers. It is impossible to tell the country dwellers, "Why do you bother about following the clock? Keep your own time." The farmer's wife has to get the children ready for school, trains have to be caught, 1575 shops attended while they are open, and so on. The introduction of double summer-time will be a very real factor in tending to diminish the milk supplies of the country in the coming year. Undoubtedly milk is, at any rate the most irreplacable, and in some ways the most valuable, of all the foods that can be produced in this country. We can get a certain amount of dried milk from America, but with the interruption to the trade in the Pacific, the large supplies of milk and milk products from the Antipodes will be seriously diminished. Therefore, the production of milk will be more important than ever, and unfortunately, many factors will tend to make the supply of milk probably less instead of greater in the coming year. Of these factors one at any rate can be removed, and that is ignorance concerning the prices of milk.
The difficulty of extending agriculture over marginal lands is a difficulty which is even more acute in Scotland than it is in England, and I think there are even greater pitfalls in Scotland than in England. As my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham said, there is in England a great deal of quasi-virgin land which is good land that will carry good crops as soon as it is broken in. That is not so in Scotland. I support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in his resistance to rash experiments of trying to stock up high-hill pastures which really will not carry the stock. In present conditions there is a grave danger in trying to extend marginal cultivation in Scotland to land which will not really give a return either in crops or in stock. We must not mislead ourselves about the position. Scotland is not England, and the system of agriculture which we have practised in Scotland has, I believe, led to a much sharper definition between cultivable and non-cultivable land than exists in England. In Scotland, roughly speaking, land which can be cultivated is cultivated.
I happen to have my own opinion, and I am willing to put my agricultural opinion against even the powerful agricultural opinion of the hon. Member. There are marginal lands in England that will repay cultivation much 1576 more easily than marginal lands in Scotland. There is a danger that the process of hill farming may be extended to land which at present should not be farmed in that way at all.
I fully agree with my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham about the happy relations that exist between the Under-Secretaries, and it may well be between the Ministers, of the two great Departments of Food and Agriculture. This is something that is all the more necessary when we consider possible lines of development after the war. I think it will be impossible permanently to dispense with the Ministry of Food. British agriculture cannot survive except on a basis of contract, and some contracting organisation that will give out the contracts for the food to be produced from British soil is an absolute necessity, if we are to have any permanent and balanced system of agriculture. That is an opinion which I expressed in the House many times when I was Minister of Agriculture, not always with the support of hon. Members opposite and other hon. Members whose support I would have desired. The Ministry of Food have a special responsibility just now when people are talking not merely of national but of international plans. I beg the House to give the greatest attention to the danger that, by accident or by lack of attention, a mortgage may be placed upon the great. British market for overseas purchases to an extent so great that it will seriously cripple the possibility of good agricultural conditions in this country after the war.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman any device for checking the demands of the City of London for the repayment of loans?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It would take too much time for me to go into that matter now, but if the cities are willing that the countryside shall flourish, all the weight of the City of London for the repayment of loans will not avail. It was the voting weight of the cities that destroyed the agriculture of this country far more than the insistence of the City of London upon interest on loans. I conclude by begging the House and the Minister of Agriculture to beware of undue emphasis being placed upon the unfettered right of overseas countries to consign all their products to this country, 1577 possibly at the expense of our own agriculture. At present there is in the countryside a standard of living which we have long desired to see; there is a wage for the country dweller which is far higher than ever before. This level cannot be sustained by produce sold, without any sort of check, in competition with produce from all over the world. We cannot maintain the agricultural population of this country, even at the present number, and certainly on nothing like the present standard of living, unless a certain amount of regulation of the market takes place. I beg hon. Members on all sides of the House to give careful consideration to these matters when they are discussed in future. I say that the answer is a Food Ministry, that the technique is the system of purchase by contract, and I hope very much that along these lines it will be possible to get a full and properly balanced agriculture in future which will give a reasonably good chance for a happy and developing life to the dwellers on the land.
§ Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (Newbury)
I shall refrain from raising some of the points which I had intended to put before the Minister, because they have been expressed already far better than I could express them, by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I should like, in the first place, to pay my tribute to the little pamphlet on agricultural policy which the Minister has recently published. If some hon. Members had studied that pamphlet, they would have found in it answers to many of the questions they have been asking in the Debate. I have sent copies of it to some of my friends who have been angry at receiving an order to plough up some of their land, but having read this short statement on policy, they have been able to understand matters and have been only too glad to plough up the land. The pamphlet tells us that we must put our backs into production. It tells farmers what they ought to grow, and how to do it. It states some of the chief points which farmers wish to know, but it does not explain our difficulties. The question of prices has been referred to by several hon. Members, but the reason why there has been grumbling about the recent prices which have been fixed is because we want more continuity. Why 1578 is it, that when labour prices were fixed six months ago, it is not until now that the meat prices have been announced? I should also like to know when the meat prices are to be fully paid, because we still have not had the full amount. It is as important for England as it is for Scotland that the prices of milk should be fixed at the earliest possible moment, if we are to obtain the production we all require. I should also like to ask why the Ministry cannot fix prices six or 12 months ahead for stocks and for milk, which would make a great deal of difference in regard to production.
From my experience, farmers are at last beginning to appreciate the work which members of the Women's Land Army have been doing. They are well trained and are especially good as milkers and in the cow stalls. They are cleaner and better milkers than a great many of the men. In this connection I ask my right hon. Friend to make representations to the appropriate Department in regard to the soap ration. We must have more soap if we are to produce clean milk. The dairies and the clothes of the workers need washing at least once a week, and we cannot have cleanliness without an extra soap ration. I made representations on this subject to the organiser of my local committee, but he told me he had no authority to grant an extra soap allowance. He was unable to tell me to whom I should apply, but, as this was only yesterday, I thought I would raise the matter in to-day's Debate.
We have many reasons for thanking the Minister of Agriculture, and, therefore, I venture to give him a few hints on how he can help the producers. A few days ago the Army held some manoeuvres in my district. The place was crowded with soldiers, who were trying to hide their lorries in haystacks and so forth. A week before these manoeuvres took place an officer came round and arranged that the troops should not go on a milk farm, and stated that the buildings would be put out of bounds. But these arrangements are not often carried out by the subordinates, and in this case milk production was seriously interfered with during the afternoon. I want to ask my right hon. Friend why notices could not be put up on farms showing that they are out of bounds, which would avoid a good deal of trouble.
1579 Then there is another matter, which is still sub judice, but which I hope, will, in the interests of the producers, be very carefully considered. I am referring to the conversations which are going on between the Milk Marketing Board, the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture on the question of transport. The organisation of transport may make a great deal of difference to production, and the views of those who have local knowledge should be taken into consideration. It is all very well to override the needs of a country district, but it means a loss of production if transport is not working properly. As the Farmers Union in Berkshire and in other places seem to think their producer board is not being fairly treated, I hope the Minister will in his conversations pay the greatest attention to the wishes of the producers.
I believe that the land of England will be able to produce far more crops if we have another year or two of confidence. But there is some difficulty with regard to credit facilities. I know that the Government provide a 50 per cent. grant for drainage schemes, but it still means that small farmers have to obtain a credit before the work can be carried out. Credit facilities are not made as available as they might be for the small farmers. Today we have to look years ahead. We have to make our plans and take decisions for the 1942–3 winter. It is no use increasing our stocks unless we can feed them. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend what are his plans for the autumn and for the spring of 1943. An enormous quantity of root crops will have to be sown. At the present there is no difficulty in regard to corn seed, but unless some steps are taken now, there will be difficulties in obtaining root and other seeds for the spring of 1943. I ask him to make arrangements in time, so that the seeds will be forthcoming.
Another matter that I should like to mention is a suggestion in a letter to "The Times" yesterday from Lord Perry, which would remove another of these pinpricks. It arises out of the insistence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on wages being taxed, not that there is anything wrong in taxing wages, but as to the way in which it is done. Why not let it be done by stamps in the way to which we are accustomed in the matter of health 1580 insurance? That, or some simplification of it, could easily be done, and it would take a great deal of worry away from the farmer and give him more time to think of production.
§ Mr. Woods (Finsbury)
I make no apology for taking part in the Debate. Although I represent a London constituency, I have always taken a very keen interest in the problems of agriculture. From what I have seen as the result of this and past wars, one fact is appallingly clear and alarming. If agriculture breaks down, the heavy end of the burden will not fall on the countryside but on the densely crowded cities. Generally speaking, whatever goes wrong with administrative machinery, the countryside will manage somehow to survive, but in the towns it is just stark, impotent hunger, and I can conceive of no branch of our responsibilities as Members of the House which we should take more seriously than this question of food production. Without being an alarmist, I feel that many of the optimistic statements that we receive may be all right by the standards of what we have experienced up to the present, but we do not know what the possibilities of destruction are by commerce raiders and so forth. The war at sea has not yet begun. I think the work the Ministry of Agriculture is doing is more than ever appreciated, not only in the countryside, but by those who represent or live in the larger towns, who rely on and have faith and hope in the capacity of the Minister. I think the whole House listened with very real appreciation to what he described as the modest success which has been achieved. There was no boasting about it, but I think it was a story of substantial achievement.
We often discuss problems of production in relation to war supplies, but I do not know that any Department, even that of Aircraft Production, is more complex and involved than that of agriculture. It is a much more difficult problem to master, and, when you have mastered it in one place, you go somewhere else and find that you are up against new conditions, new theories and new results. I think other Ministers might take a leaf out of the experience of the Minister of Agriculture. After all, he has survived. Instead of getting involved with preconceived theories, he has brought a fresh mind to the problem. He has been 1581 a realist, he has faced facts, and he has been patient with the workers who had to do the job. He has lived and learned, he has consulted the scientists, he has listened to financial arguments and has gone ahead and done what he thought was right, bringing some degree of imagination and of sympathy to the victims who have had to suffer Government interference. If other Departments of the State had been as firm in requiring men and women to do the jobs necessary for the maintenance of the State, they would have been encouraged to go further, but you cannot expect the countryside to be in the van of progress in revolutionary ideas. I am hoping that the House and the country will be prepared, when it is found necessary, to take further orders and that, instead of begging and pleading with farmers, they will say definitely, "This land can and must produce this crop," and a man who has not the energy, or is unwilling to do the job, must be told, just as we tell the workers in London, that he must go elsewhere and do something else. Every week we are getting letters from our constituents who have offers of work in London at higher rates, but they are required at the employment exchanges to go to Gloucester or Birmingham. They tell me that the rates they get are lower than in London, but the employment exchanges will not give them green cards. It is quite right, because the work is urgent on the countryside, and they have to say "Good-bye" to their wives and do as the soldiers and sailors do. The same attitude must be taken up towards industrialists and farmers. It has been done to some extent, but, if necessary, the principle will have to be applied further.
With regard to agriculture generally, we often cry ourselves down, but my impression as I have travelled is that it compares favourably with anything on the Continent. It is not so down and out, and its methods are not so obsolete. In the matter of the employment of machinery, we are ahead of the Continent. The Minister had not probably such a new set of difficulties to solve, but he had all the traditions and customs and habits of the countryside to deal with. The politicians did not help at all. We have had our theoretical disputes, and they have insisted that we must not have Government interference and must not have pin pricks, 1582 and the farmer has been encouraged to resent helpful guidance. From what I have been able to see, there is a very genuine appreciation among wide-awake farmers of what the Minister has done for them. I hope that on the question of fixing prices we shall not be guided, and the Minister will not be too much influenced, by the low standards and the black spots. Of course, there are black spots. No one would expect, where human nature is involved, that it would be otherwise. You would never know where the bright spots were unless you had the black spots by contrast. The tendency of past Ministers of Agriculture in their negotiations has been to be influenced too much by the arguments of the less competent, the less enlightened and the less fortunate farmers. I met it in the early days of the old agricultural labour boards in the South-West of England. I was amused to find that farmers had the true instinct of putting forward the most difficult propositions and of submitting figures of farms which it would not be easy to work and make satisfactory margins, and then assuming that we should be so innocent as to accept them as sample farms in West Somerset.
Farmers want a sense of security, confidence and understanding. I well remember the tragedy of a predecessor of the present Minister. He was retained by his Government, and he had to move from constituency to constituency to find a seat. Finally he found a home in West Somerset, but after the guaranteed corn prices went, there was such indignation in that 100 per cent. rural constituency that this Conservative Minister was dismissed. My impression is that blaming the Government was not the whole of the story. There had been a fairly generous Minister of Agriculture and he had only one way of solving the problems of farmers, which was to give the prices they demanded. Prices went up and up, and they had to be guaranteed because farmers had been sold before. They must, however, blame themselves very largely for what happened, because no Government could have maintained such inflated prices when there was universal unemployment. Few farmers appreciate that the town worker is as keen on fair play as they are on the countryside, and it is not good enough for inflated prices to be maintained while there is widespread unemployment. Therefore, I say that farmers are doing 1583 themselves a permanent injury if they insist, as so many speakers have insisted to-day, on the question of prices.
There was a full-dress Debate in the other place on milk prices, and two predecessors of the Minister made statements on the cost of the distribution of milk, which were as far from the facts as it is possible to be. It is possible for statements to be made which are not factual but which create grievances. We have had one or two such statements to-day, such as that the farm worker gets only so much, the consumer has to pay so much, where has the rest gone to? It is possible for the consumer to be encouraged to believe that he is being exploited. The farmer can always be encouraged to believe that he is being exploited and that in between is one of those non-producers whom we used to love to caricature in the early days of the Socialist movement. There may have been black spots, but since then we have had considerable experience in the working-class movement of the costs of distribution. In modern times we have taken up the problem of milk, because there was no degree of purity throughout the country or any guarantee that milk would be pasteurised. Statements were made that vast profits were being made out of the distribution of food. Every step from the farm to distribution, however, is controlled by one authority or another, and the price is fixed, so that to create the impression that vast sums of money are being made gives rise to grievance in the farming community. It would be much better if, instead of making these statements, we got down to facts. I am sorry that this Debate has been to some extent exploited by those who would bring pressure on the Minister with regard to prices. We have confidence in him that the whole question will be inquired into and that the costs will be assessed, not on the standard of the poorest examples in the industry, but at a generous figure at which it will be possible for farmers in general to produce milk.
The organisation we are building up, the educational machinery and the welding together of farmers and labourers are bringing about a quiet revolution in the countryside. A definite change has taken place. Branches of the National Farmers' Union used to get hot and bothered over 1584 prices and pinpricks from the Government, and so on, but my impression is that there is now a new interest in agriculture in these assemblies. Much more of their discussion is concerned with the chemical constituents of the soil, with the food needs of plants, and with questions of stock. Stock has always been a popular subject, but it has become more fascinating because of new aspects of the problem. The same change is taking place in the typical agricultural labourers' trade union branch. When they were down and out and it was difficult to make ends meet, when they were being treated little better than the cattle were being treated by the black spot farmers, branch meetings were places where their bitternesses were expressed and discussed. The amazing thing about the countryside is that the compensations are such that the men engaged in agriculture still carry on and do their jobs in a solid, steady way. The charge made by a previous speaker that labourers are not working the stipulated hours, only applies to individuals and very few at that.
Among the labourers the question of wages has for the time being been solved. If the cost of living can be fixed and the standard maintained, the whole character of the agricultural labourers' organisations will be changed, so that there will be a new interest in their own industry and enterprise. If we can build up in the workers a conscientious responsibility to the whole community to feed the people, to assist in the amazing processes that take place in agricultural production, so that they will enter into the mystery and sanctity of the whole thing, I think that these historic disputes about the nationalisation of land and so forth will drop into their places and we shall be able to maintain and build up such an industry of happy, contented people in the countryside, in spite of all the competition and the losses of the war, that their conditions of life will be immeasurably higher and happier than anyone on the countryside has known before.
Mr. Wedderburn (Renfrew, Western)
There is a double purpose, I think, in the framing of our agricultural policy at the present time and in most of our discussions upon agriculture in this House. One is the urgent and general need to grow more food in time of war, and the other is the fairly general desire to see a 1585 permanent restoration of agriculture in the life of this country. As for the first of these purposes, when the war broke out the Government were obliged very hastily to improvise the most rapid possible expansion of a derelict industry, and I think it is universally. acknowledged that the agricultural Ministries and the war executive committees have carried out their task with the greatest diligence and success. The principles governing their action in war time may, perhaps, he influenced to some extent by the estimate of time for which it is judged that' the war is likely to last. The immediate need of food may have to be weighed against the rather more remote claims of fertility of the soil.
Let me give an extreme instance of what I mean. Suppose it had been judged in 1939 that for the first two years of the war we should be in very grave danger of starvation but that afterwards we should be able to import an abundance of food. There would then have been an obvious case for squeezing every possible ounce of its fertility out of the land in those two years, killing and eating all our cattle of whatever age, and then, when the two years had gone, deciding what to do about restoring the position. On the other hand, if it had been thought that for the first two or three years of the war the food position would be relatively easy, and that in the subsequent years it would become more critical, then the prime objective would have been the building up of fertility two or three years ahead, although that might have meant a lesser production within the actual preliminary period.
The Government alone must be the judge, I will not say of how long the war is likely to last, but of the period of time against which it is prudent to make provision. I think it is rather a pity that in 1940 farmers were told that they ought to keep fewer cattle. It was said then that the ploughing-up campaign would leave too little grass to carry any great number of cattle, and it was represented that in a time of stress and of possible starvation beef cattle were unthrifty creatures, because they did not provide us with so much food as they themselves consumed. I think both of these assumptions were very doubtful in 1940, and that they are quite untenable now. Most of the grass with which we were left after the ploughing-up campaign has been ill-used 1586 for a very long time and under-stocked. If it were properly treated, it would be capable of carrying a greater head of cattle than ever before. As for the diet of a bullock, I have often heard it pointed out that the food value of the bullock's meat is only one-tenth the food value of the food which the bullock consumes during its life. That point is often emphasised, but it is not so frequently mentioned that the dung from a bullock when it is being fattened will, in a single winter, be sufficient to produce an extra ton and a half of potatoes which would not otherwise have been produced, or that when the bullock is on the grass in summer it puts more fertility into the ground than it takes out in the grass it eats. Nor is it always remembered that until the last two or three months of its life practically the whole of its diet in winter consists, usually, of straw, hay and turnips. Hay and straw cannot be used as a human food and only an exceedingly small fraction of the turnip crop is used for that purpose.
§ Sir E. Shepperson
How can it be said that a bullock returns more to the land than it takes off the land?
I believe that all organic matter consists mostly of water, and it is necessary for the animal to drink as well as to eat. Like most of us, it drinks a good deal more than it eats. I think that the beef bullock in war-time is well worth his keep and that if there is any decline in the numbers of cattle, it will he a serious thing for the country should the possibility of a long war be realised. In 1943 we shall be in the fourth year of intensive tillage, with an insufficiency of animal dung. A great many arable and mixed farmers have a tendency to keep too few cattle. They are expensive to buy and troublesome to keep, and the farmer is rather apt to manure only a few fields, the nearest to the steading; those fields further away which would involve long journeys in carting the manure are allowed to recover their fertility by continuing for a longer period under grass in the rotation. But now, in order to fulfil our war-time requirements, we are insisting that the grass should be ploughed up more frequently, and I am afraid there may be a considerable decline n fertility in 1943 and a substantial decline in 1944 if the cattle population is not increased. I hope that the 1587 Government will at least tell the farmers that they think it is in the national interest for them to keep more cattle and take all practical steps to encourage an addition to the numbers of cattle.
As for the other purpose of this Debate, may I say how glad I was to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) and the sentiments which he expressed? It is true that there is a very general desire among the great majority of people in this country that a larger number of men should be employed on the land at a good wage with security of occupation. This benevolence towards the farming industry is, in its present active form, of fairly recent origin. It has happened within our own memory. Most of us have been brought up on the idea that 85 per cent. of the electors who live in the towns are primarily concerned with cheap food. It was always said that a great part of the interest on our foreign investments came into this country in the form of food because that was the only way in which we could take it and it was a very great advantage, which we enjoyed because of our strong commercial position, that we were able to exact this tribute of cheap food from all over the world.
History will judge whether British agriculture was wise or foolish to carry on the long fight which it has waged for the last 60 or 70 years against the most overwhelming economic odds. Had it followed the natural law of economics, the agricultural population,. instead of being reduced to a little under 1,000,000 workers, would probably have gone down to something like 200,000 or 300,000 by now. Probably some of our most fertile land would still be used for market gardening and some of our richest grazing districts for dairy farming. The greater part of our former arable land would by now have gone back to rough grass or would be used for some kind of amenity. Agriculture chose, instead, to go on with the struggle. It may be argued that it would have been better to submit, and that, although agriculture would have become very much smaller, that part which did remain would have been more prosperous. In fact, those engaged in agriculture chose to go on struggling against economic adversity. The industry has always been subsidised in many directions since the 1870's. It has been heavily subsidised by landowners and farmers 1588 themselves, and most of all it has been subsidised by the agricultural workers. When a farm labourer works all his life at about half the wages he could earn in a less skilled manufacturing trade, he is in effect subsidising agriculture. In most recent times, agriculture has been sporadically and unevenly subsidised by successive Governments, who did not always perfectly understand the problem with which they were dealing. In spite of all this exterior help, the industry continued to be a declining community of underpaid workers and insolvent employers. It has, in fact, been the great sweated industry of this country—I almost said the greatest sweated industry in the world, because in other parts of the world the tiller of the soil has always got the worst of the commercial system under which we have lived.
I think the public have now come to the conclusion that this state of affairs ought to be changed. Why have they done so? One of the reasons may be a desire to insure against more than one war. Certainly, whatever the issue of this war may be, we cannot afford to neglect any precaution against its recurrence. But I hope I am also right in thinking that the political sense of the British people has told them that, just as the health of a human body cannot be sustained if some of its organs are overdeveloped and others are atrophied, so a nation cannot be healthy unless a considerable part of its population is rooted in the soil. That is why all sections of opinion in the country have welcomed—not farmers alone but everybody—the pledge of the Government, given in 1940, that after the war it will be our aim to establish a healthy and well-balanced agriculture in Great Britain.
Is this good will likely to endure? In our Constitution, no Parliament can bind its successor, and the fulfilment of the promise made by this Government can never be dependent on the will of any House of Commons, or on the good faith of any single Government. It will depend upon what the public wish to be done. In time of war it is the desire of the people, and the policy of the Government, that food prices should be kept down, that agricultural wages should be not less than £3 a week, and that the remuneration of the farmer should be sufficient to cover the expenses of production and provide 1589 reasonable profit. In present circumstances, there is only one way in which the Government can give effect to that policy. The Ministry of Food, or the merchants who act on its behalf, are obliged to pay to the farmer a far greater aggregate sum than they expect to recover from the sale of food to the public. The difference is paid by the Exchequer. As wages and other costs continue to rise, those aids from the Treasury continue to increase. I do not see what other course the Government could follow. But, Sir, there is great danger in this growing disparity between the rewards which are received by the cultivator of the soil and the payment made by consumers of food. The gulf which the Treasury have to bridge is very wide and is growing wider. How is the country going to look at it at the end of the war, when the time comes for the promise to be fulfilled?
The demands which will then be made upon the public purse for very kind of social expenditure, will be clamorous and pressing. The complaints of the taxpayer will. probably be disregarded, but they may at least be uttered. I can well imagine many of those who now acclaim the revival of our rural economy asking whether it is right to expend so great a fraction of the national revenue on bolstering up an uneconomic industry, as they will put it. If the promise is to be fulfilled with the full concurrence of public opinion, the farming community must begin now to prepare for the time when it will be expected to pay the new rates of wages on a lower scale of guaranteed prices than it now receives from the Ministry of Food. Any profits earned now by the farmer ought to be regarded and treated by him, not as an unaccustomed and transitory piece of good luck, but as an opportunity to equip his holding for the production of food at lower cost. Except for buildings, for which we cannot expect much labour to be available, most of the necessary improvements can be done in war-time. They are being done fairly generally, though not as universally as they should be. The accumulation of modern machinery, the drainage and the reclamation of derelict land, the fullest possible use of fertilisers, the improvement of both permanent and temporary pasture, all these things cost money, and these are the things on which the farmer ought to spend his earnings, bearing in mind that he cannot expect the country to continue 1590 to help him indefinitely unless he is able to convince the country that its help is worth while in the general interest.
I intended to conclude with one word on what my right hon. Friend said on the subject of prices. As he pointed out, there are a great many different kinds of farming, and the Government are inevitably placed in a dilemma which is nobody's fault. At one end of the scale we have the farmer whose land is highly productive and which, properly treated, will yield from 10 to 12 tons of potatoes per acre, 25 cwts. of wheat or from 30 to 40 cwts. of oats. He should be able to pay the 1942 wage on the 1941 prices. At the other end, you have the farmer whose land is bad or indifferent. In normal times it may have been used for the rearing of stock, but in war-time, to fulfil our food requirements, he may have to alter his farming methods and plough up with great labour and expense land which will not yield more than three or four tons of potatoes per acre or perhaps not more than 12 cwts of oats. He may not be able to earn enough to pay the new wage. That is the problem: How are you to fix the scale of prices which will give neither too much to the one nor too little to the other?
It would be the worst possible disaster to the farming industry if we were to go on raising prices in order to pay the costs of these marginal producers, and then perhaps try to get the money back from everybody else in taxation. That would be thoroughly bad for the farming industry. It would mean that the farmer who is inclined to be not too active would see that he could get on quite well without making the extra effort that is necessary to produce the highest possible output of food. If, on the other hand, he does his duty and produces every ton he can grow, he will then be compelled, first, to receive a much higher price than he wants, and then to spend several weeks of his time, which ought to be devoted to his work, in wrestling with the problem of how much he ought to pay in taxation. It is also unsatisfactory from the point of view of the revenue. The Inland Revenue, like everybody else, are understaffed in time of war, and even the small minority of farmers whose rent exceeds £.300 a year, and who were brought under Schedule D in 1940, have, I am informed, laid a very, heavy burden 1591 upon them. I think there are much better ways of dealing with the farmer who possesses marginal land. If you want him to do certain things, provide him, free of charge if you like, with the materials and implements which are necessary to carry out what you want to be done, and as for the farmer who is making a profit, if it cannot all be got back in taxation, you have the power to compel him to spend the money on making those agricultural improvements which the country now desires. You will not have to use much compulsion, for I am sure that, with proper guidance and direction, the farmers generally will be eager to co-operate.
I think the Government have done as much as any single Government could do to assure the farmer and to give him confidence that in future, if he does not always receive a high price, he will at least be protected against those sudden, violent fluctuations in the world market which he can neither anticipate nor contend with. The Government have done everything that any one Government could do to give him that confidence, and I think the proper response of the farming community is to use its present period of prosperity so that it will be able, both in war and in peace, to perform, without the indefinite continuance of any great subvention from public funds, the work that it will be required to do for the common good.
Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)
The Government may have done all the hon. Member says, but is it not necessary to let the farmer know well ahead what the prices are going to be? None of the farmers know, for instance, what price they are going to get for milk.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I listened with great interest to what was said by the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Wedderburn) when he said that the Government had done as much as any one Government could do to give confidence to the farming industry. I think he is perhaps going a little too far. It is true that recently we have had new prices announced, but I think that the whole House will agree that the announcement of these prices was very much delayed, and it is only reasonable to suppose that the delay was caused because the Minister of Agriculture was having very prolonged 1592 discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not therefore feel that one can be absolutely satisfied that the attitude of the Government as a whole is as sympathetic to the agricultural industry as we have a right to demand that it should be at the present time. I think the whole nation is united to-day in a realisation of the vital importance that every acre of English soil shall produce the maximum amount of food, and I would therefore like to stress the very great importance, when we are asking tremendous sacrifices and a tremendous amount of work from the farmer, of not wasting any of the food that is produced.
The hon. Member for West Renfrew has spoken of the subsidies paid to the farming industry in one way or another, or, rather, the subsidies paid towards the nation's food. I myself think that in some directions we are following there a very dangerous path. For instance, I would like to touch for a moment on the question of free milk. I absolutely support the idea that every single child in this country should be given the maximum amount of milk we can possibly give it, that parent who cannot afford to buy milk for their children should have assistance, and that in cases where it is necessary the milk should be given free, but I venture to suggest that at the present time there is too little check on the distribution of this free milk. A case came to my notice the other day of a young woman who has a baby four months old, is the wife of a serving soldier, and has an Army allowance. The House knows as well as I do how very small these Army allowances are, but this woman happens to be in good employment, with her lodging and food provided, both for herself and her child. Yet every day she receives one pint of free milk, and also has a ration card on which she is able to draw half rations for the baby. That woman does not happen to be nursing the baby, and she does not happen to be feeding the baby on milk. It is receiving artificial food. Therefore I can see no reason whatever for her to get half rations for the baby, which is four months old, nor can I see, as her income is a very adequate one, why she should be getting a pint of free milk per day for a baby which is not drinking milk, and which she herself is not nursing. I feel that there are a good many cases of that kind which really do require investigation. 1593 I am very sorry I was not in the House to hear the Minister speak. It was not lack of interest in the subject, but simply that I was on a Government committee, but I am sure that the Minister has had congratulations on his speech from all quarters of the House, as I have heard exceedingly flattering and encouraging reports of it. I would, however, like to stress what other speakers have stressed, namely, the very great importance of an early announcement of milk prices. There is no branch of farming which calls for so much strain and difficulty to-day as the production of milk, and the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has rightly said that double summer-time imposes very great hardship on those who are engaged in the production of milk. In very many cases to-day it is not a paying proposition, and it is certainly true that we are faced with the very grave probability of a serious decrease in milk production in this country. I am quite certain that that is facing us unless steps are taken, and one of the best steps we can take is to give a fair and generous price for the production of milk, and to announce it at the earliest possible moment. That is absolutely essential if we are really to safeguard, not only the production of milk, but the health of the nation.
I wish to stress one aspect of the Women's Land Army. Several tributes have been paid to-day to those girls who are now working in the Land Army, and no one will deny that they have passed through an exceptionally difficult and trying winter. Their qualities have been tested to the maximum. I have never claimed that the average girl was as good on the land as an experienced farm hand, and I never shall do so, but hundreds and thousands of these girls are doing a very remarkable job of work. I do hope, therefore, that the House will back me up in imploring the Government that these girls shall have the Y.M.C.A. and Army canteens opened to them. I have had, and I am sure other hon. Members have had, hundreds of letters from very well-meaning people imploring me to open my eyes to the appalling dangers facing the young girls in the Forces because occasionally they go into what are known as "wet" canteens. I assure the House that canteens are a very welcome form of 1594 recreation for these girls in the Forces, and that it is absolutely essential that they should be open, where they are available, to the girls of the Land Army, who are waging just as great a fight as the girls in the Forces. Do these people, who are so alive to the dangers which the girls in the Forces are facing, realise that often, if you close the doors of the canteens to these young girls in the Land Army, the only place they have to which to go for any recreational facilities at all is the village pub? I am not running down the village pub, but it is not as happy or as suitable an atmosphere for these young girls as the canteen, and I beg and implore the Government—I am sure that I shall have the support of the Minister of Agriculture—and I implore this House, to insist that the Government ensure that the Army or Navy or whoever it is who is holding up the entry of these girls into the canteens shall remove the ban and allow them in at the earliest possible moment.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
After listening to most of the Debates in this House for many years, I can almost feel that this is a unique one. I never heard so much expression of satisfaction in an agricultural Debate, so much so that I might almost be able to forecast the opening remarks of the Ministerial spokesman who is to reply to the Debate. He will say that he has no exception whatever to take to the speeches delivered. I must join in a certain amount of that satisfaction. It was expressed by the Minister in the first place. We were very pleased to hear his opening statement, in which he did express a certain amount of satisfaction. It is a matter of satisfaction to the agriculturists generally that the Minister himself survived the changes which lately took place, and that he is still in his position. Complete satisfaction is difficult to obtain. We can say, however, that the degree of satisfaction expressed is very encouraging, not only to the Minister and to farmers themselves, because there is a certain amount of satisfaction in being able to feel that they have done their duty as the vast majority have done, but to the general public in the assurance it gives that the provision of their foodstuffs is being thoroughly considered and properly attended to by the agriculturists of this country. 1595 Reference has been made to the amount of compulsion which is being exercised in agriculture to-day. I think we may say that years ago the amount of compulsion which is being put upon agriculture today would have caused a revolution. But the farmer himself, I believe, is seeing the advantage, not only to himself, but to the community, of the compulsion, the assistance and the guidance he has been given in the performing of his duty of producing food from the land. I think that in the post-war reconstruction of agriculture that will be a very satisfactory outcome of what is happening to-day, because he not only has a full realisation of what his duties are to-day, but I think he has a full realisation and the hope that he will be allowed to fulfil his obligation in the future of producing as much as the land possibly can. I was a little sorry that the Minister cited counties in his satisfaction as to what has already taken place, because let me remind him that the fact that one particular county has ploughed up considerably more acres than another may give the impression that it has done a great deal more than some other counties. I believe there is as much credit due to the counties that have had fewer acres available to plough up and which have increased their output than those which, in the past, may have neglected to plough up land and have consequently had a greater area available to plough.
With regard to drainage, where it has been neglected in the past more can be done now than where there has been good drainage in the past. That should be taken into consideration.
I hope that in future the Minister will retain some of the land permanently, for demonstration farms. Costs of production, naturally, loom very large in fixing prices, and particulars of these costs are difficult to obtain. The National Farmers' Union have done their best to obtain them, but the figures vary considerably. I believe that, with demonstration farms, the Minister could demonstrate to the farmer what could be produced in the different areas, and the costs of production in those areas. I hope, therefore, that, instead of the Ministry putting theoretical prices before us, we shall have practical demonstrations.
It is quite true that mechanisation has done more than we expected. Those who 1596 are lovers of the horse, however, know that the horse can go on with one shoe missing, but the machine cannot go on with one part missing. That is all I will say on the question of spare parts, which has been dealt with by other speakers. I believe that, although the Minister has stated that we are the most mechanised country in the world, we shall have to consider seriously the size of our fields. Mechanisation means that in small fields a lot of time is lost going around corners. I would like to refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), who spoke in appreciation of the work of the National Farmers' Union. That union has done a great deal for the farmers. It is only through such an organisation that the general opinion of an industry can be expressed. Let me give a warning, without presumption, to Members of this House. We are in danger of taking up cases and advocating them when they have not been fully considered, through not realising that it is better to obtain information from a general source than from an individual. I hope that we are going to be assisted in regard to labour. No doubt a great deal of consideration has been given to this matter; but, in some cases, men have been taken when they would be much more useful if left on the land. I hope that substitution will be given, but substituted labour is never the same as the original labour. When you are considering labour, it is not a question of the numbers you have, but of the work they do, and the manner in which it is done. The wage does not matter so much as the return that is given for the wage.
A great deal has been said about prices. The prices which have been announced fulfil the pledge of the Government that the increase should cover the cost of the increase in wages. That is admitted by agriculture. There may be some cases where it does not; but it is very difficult to fix a general price which will be satisfactory to the whole of the country, or even to all the farmers in a particular area. So many conditions vary. The conditions of the soil vary, even on one farm; and from one district to another the return from the land varies according to the quality of the land. It is not a question of the price per quarter or per cwt., but of the amount per acre; because often it costs as much to cultivate an 1597 acre of bad land as it does to cultivate an acre of good land. However patriotic a man may be, if he knows that his prices are not remunerative, he cannot take the same interest in his work; although there is no more loyal member of the community than the farmer. On the other hand, if prices are too high, that is an injustice to the consumer. Of course, if prices are too high, there is E.P.T. to pay. I do not believe that if a farmer has to pay E.P.T., or Income Tax, he must not put forth his full effort. If the money that he makes ultimately goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that does not relieve the farmer from the responsibility of putting forth all his efforts.
Many of the points I intended to raise have already been dealt with so adequately that I will not pursue them further, but I would like to refer to the annoucement of milk prices. No increase is announced in the price for fat cattle. The Minister might consider, in connection with milk prices, that the amount put down for depreciation of the herd should be taken into consideration. We know that there are two kinds of ration— a maintenance ration, and a production ration. If you give an animal the maintenance ration, you get nothing but the company of the animal, which is not of very much value. It is only the amount above the maintenance ration that brings you any return. It is desirable that dairy animals should be kept in good condition, in order to get a good return of milk. If you are not going to make a reasonable price for fat cattle, they will not remain fat. The farmer will keep them perhaps longer on the maintenance ration, and we shall not have as much meat from fat cows but more hides than we require. I hope that the Minister will be able to give this matter consideration in fixing the price for milk. It would relieve the dissatisfaction which exists because nothing has been done with regard to fat cows.
I am confident the Government will have to tackle the question of distribution. Those of us who know the prices at which we are expected to produce and those who have to pay the prices that are charged later on want to know where the difference has gone. I am not making any charges against anybody. The question will have to be fully considered, but the country, the farmer and the consumer 1598 have the right to know where this money has gone in the transport between the producer and the consumer. I hope that the Minister will see that the matter is fully considered.
I feel strongly with regard to agricultural education. A committee is sitting to consider this question. I have had something to do with the submission of some of the evidence which has been placed before it, but I do not think there will be any harm in my saying that I hope that the Minister will do all that is possible to support the suggestion that agricultural education shall not be confined to the country only and that rural and agricultural education shall be given to the children in towns as well. A great deal of the difficulty from which agriculture has suffered has been the lack of knowledge on the part of people in the urban areas and the view that a person must necessarily be born in the country to be a farmer and born in the town to be a manufacturer. There are many instances where there has been a satisfactory transfer from one to the other. Every child should have an opportunity of receiving the type of education which is most suitable for and acceptable to that child. Life is only so long, and if a person's pleasure is increased by the kind of work he does, we ought to give the children, whether in town or in the country, the opportunity of taking up the occupation for which they are most suited.
A considerable amount of satisfaction was expressed by the Minister and by other speakers, but if we read the speech of the Minister to-morrow, we shall see that there was a warning that we must not allow the satisfaction which is being expressed here to-day to diminish by one iota the effort which still has to be made not only by farmers, as they are willing to do, but by others, the Government and the public, in encouraging and supporting the endeavour of the agriculturist to do what he wishes to do and that which he is under an obligation to do.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
The House will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) that the strain that will be put upon agriculture in the coming autumn and winter will probably be greatly in excess of anything we have so far experienced. Everybody in this House has a duty to his constitu- 1599 ents and to the country, to emphasise the importance not only of producing everything that the land can produce, but of stopping waste of every kind. We must endeavour, as far as possible, to show the people that the shipping situation will probably be so serious—it is impossible to forecast how serious—that we shall require to have a reserve up our sleeves, so to speak, to make good the deficiencies in the supply of commodities which we normally import.
There is one matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the House because I do not think that it has been mentioned in the Debate so far. It concerns the work of the Army quartered at home in regard to the production of food. The Army Agricultural Committee was set up the year before last and the Minister of Agriculture promised that the county war agricultural executives would give the Army every assistance. It was estimated that 20,000 acres of land under Army control might be brought into use. The actual figure for the present year is 18,800 acres. It has produced a great deal of money and repaid the Treasury the whole of the money advanced; and it has been possible for the units who have cultivated the different plots of land, to obtain a percentage of the profits which has gone towards helping regimental institutes. That is a most satisfactory record and Parliament ought to realise that, in spite of the monstrous attacks by newspapers on the Army day by day, making out that they are not doing their job, the soldiers are working as hard as they can in their spare time to assist in the production of food. Would the Minister make inquiries at the War Office to find out which agricultural committees have been most helpful, because there has been a great difference—I know which of them have been helpful and which of them have not—in the attitude of some of the county agricultural committees towards assisting the Army in this particular direction?
The war executive committees have done a great deal to assist the present agricultural effort, but there are two ways of doing everything. One hopes that in future small autocratic pinpricks will cease. You will get much more out of the farmer if you work with him than you will if you are always sending him threatening letters. The attitude of some 1600 of the officials of agricultural committees has been unfortunate because it has produced a feeling of resentment. On the other hand, some agricultural committees I know have taken immense trouble by sending their own members to see farmers and go over their land and give them every assistance and help, and the result has been a wonderful feeling of co-operation, which has had an amazingly good effect.
There is another matter which is of interest to the general public. If we could restore the Schedule D tax, I believe it would reduce an enormous amount of paper work which now worries the farmer. It is a much simpler form of tax and would enable farmers to put better cultivation into their land. I do not believe that there is anybody tilling the soil to-day who wants to shirk his financial responsibilities to the country, but do hon. Members realise how maddening it is to a farmer to come in from the land after a hard day's work and find a pile of forms to be filled in, involving arithmetical calculations which are not so easy to a man who has never had to deal with that sort of thing before? The simpler the method the better will be the results. A good deal can be done in that direction. The war has shown that the incidence of Estate Duty has had a very crippling effect upon the real value of the buildings and the upkeep of the I have always felt that it is an impossible position for the tenant of an estate, when the owner dies and when he knows that the burden of taxation is bound to lead to the sale of the estate. The result is that the farming of that particular land probably deteriorates.
In the new order, or whatever it may be, I hope we shall see the land recovering along the lines mentioned by the hon. Gentleman opposite because it is the duty of every occupier and every landowner to do all that is possible to bring our land back into that condition which will make it most fruitful after the war. There are all sorts of difficulties with which people in the country have to contend. A blacksmith in my constituency wrote to me and said he would no longer be able to come to my farm to look after my horses because the petroleum officer had said that all horses would have to go to the blacksmith, a distance of 17 miles. This meant that the horses would have to be kept off the farm all the time they were 1601 going to and from the blackmith's shop. Ever since cars came along, blacksmiths have been in the habit of going to farms to deal with the horses instead of the horses being sent to the blacksmith. That sort of instruction not only delays agricultural production but gives an indication that conditions in the country are not understood by those responsible.
With the increase of mechanisation and the larger number of tractors working on the land, if you are to keep machines working continuously it is important that the servicing should be adequate and proper. Agents for agricultural machinery are finding great difficulty in obtaining petrol allowance to enable them to get round to farms and keep machinery in order. That is being penny wise and pound foolish. Nothing is more maddening to a farmer than to have an expensive tractor laid up, simply and solely because a small part cannot be obtained and because there is no means for the agent to get to the farm. While some of the big schemes of the Minister have proved most successful, I think we want a little more sympathy with the difficulties of the farmer and the farm hand, and a little more recognition that the man on the spot knows what the difficulties are and less of this endless writing of letters. In this Debate we have heard about the need for price fixing. What the industry wants now is to know whether prices and wages are to continue over a steady period of time. That matters much more than actual shillings or pence. Agricultural labourers, farmers and people connected with food production, want to know whether, for the next three years, they can budget ahead on present figures and wages.
We ought to be grateful for the quiet work which is being done by farm hands and Land Army girls. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) mentioned the use of Y.M.C.A. and other canteens. Farming is a hard job on the high land of the Downs of England and on the high land in the North of England and Scotland and I think it is utterly wrong that a girl should be refused a cup of coffee or cocoa which those who are working in other branches of national service can get. Nothing is more urgent or important than working on the land and I would like to see all the men who are reserved for service in this way recognised by some 1602 sort of badge, because they are highly skilled men. One said to me "We have nothing to show for what we are doing. We are proud of our work and we would like to have something to show that we are looked upon as part of the Army which is fighting for the survival of the country."
In Berkshire we have land which had been cultivated longer, perhaps, than land in many other parts of the country. There is land on which thousands of sheep graze. Under these Orders it is hard to keep flocks going. It is wise to listen to the old men and the shepherds who can tell you exactly what the land can do. I have working for me men who can remember what the land used to be 40 to 50 years ago. These men have a knowledge and a love of the land and it is the duty of all of us to serve the land which we have neglected in the past. We have neglected the land in this country and we do not deserve success. We shall not merit victory until we give credit to those who are doing their best and put off those who, by the petty buffoonery of these restrictions, are succeeding only in hindering.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Oldham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) rightly stressed the fact that we have neglected our land far too much. As a Member representing an industrial constituency, I feel some diffidence in intervening in a Debate on agriculture. But I do so to submit only one point. If agriculture is to continue after this war as a great and prosperous industry, we must persuade the men and women who live in our towns that a prosperous countryside will be able to buy the goods they manufacture, that the farmer with money in his pocket will help their own pay roll on Saturday, and that farming may, perhaps, offer a living to those unemployed in towns or those who have become tired of pavements and smoky skies. As one who knows something of the towns, I do not believe it would be difficult to persuade the average man and woman of this fact. The tie between the country and town has never really been broken. In my own constituency, almost within calling distance of the great brick cotton mills, you may find moorside farms with their barns, carts and ponds, to which people on Sundays go by instinct and pleasure.
1603 But I frankly believe that, after the war, certain powerful interests may oppose the interests of the farmers. Two of these will be the export trade and the shipping trade. I believe that shipping is vital to the safety of the country. We owe an incalculable debt to our seamen in the present war, but I do not believe the interests of the farmer and the shipping trade need necessarily clash after the war, and for several reasons. If we win, we may see countries like the United States of America and ourselves attempting to set up low tariff groups, and such a measure, by, stimulating the export trade, will help shipping. We then must justify our tenure of the Colonial Empire by a bold Colonial development policy. This should help our shipping industry. On the other hand, our export trade will not be able to count on some of those Dominion markets which it now enjoys by virtue of the Ottawa Agreements; for the reason that under the hard blows of war, Dominions like South Africa, Australia and Canada are making guns, shells and planes, and when peace comes those industries will revert to supplying their own markets.
I believe that the Minister, by obtaining agreement on the £3 a week wage, has captured the first fortified zone of the enemy. Other important objectives now lying exposed to his Panzers. Powerful units must now push forward to pursue the hordes of fleeing Treasury officials, and these must not pause until the final objective is achieved. This is the return to the land of some of those 60,000 young men and women who have left the land annually during the past years for the lure and glamour of our big cities. After the war, I believe the maintenance of the £3 is essential as a fixed policy. I believe also that we may have to see small secondary industries coming back to the country. Where these have come they have raised the rateable value, and they have, therefore, given greater revenue to the local authorities, and given new opportunities to young men and women in the country. Again, I believe we should see that all first-class agricultural land is zoned. We must not repeat the mistakes of the East End of London, where street after street of houses invaded some of the best market gardening area in the country. Once and for all, I believe we must see the curtain rung down on 1604 the squalid and protracted drama of ribbon development.
I believe we may find it necessary to give grants to local authorities to improve the amenities in the villages. I hope that every village in the future will have electricity for lighting, cooking, and heating, and that a majority of the houses will have running water for baths and up-to-date sanitary arrangements. Finally, I believe that the social life of the villages will have to expand. Already numerous bus services take the farmer's wife shopping to the neighbouring town and allow her family to go to the cinema. Already the county educational associations send their travelling libraries into most villages. Now, by the gradual and grinding process of taxation, sooner or later the owners of the smaller types of manor houses will have to get rid of them. When that time comes, I believe this smaller type of house could usefully be turned into social centres for the villages. There would be rooms for reading and writing, rooms for technical and evening classes, as well as for other forms of diversion, such as dancing or billiards, and facilities provided in the grounds for tennis, bowls, or clock golf. But one thing gives us hope. I believe the town men and women have begun to realise the importance of the return to the land. I would like to read three lines from a most admirable preface written by Henry Williamson to a book on British farming produced in the series "Britain in Pictures." He writes:It has taken the war to put British farming on its feet and to bring back to us generally the idea that work is the true basis of life in the world. The nation that neglects its land and its peasant, which are its root stocks, will perish.I believe no truer words have ever been written. For myself, as representing an industrial constituency, I hope that out of this nightmare of sirens and bombs and the clash of embattled armies, we may, after peace comes, find a new and healing wisdom, a wisdom that comes from contact with the land, and a wisdom in which the great but simple truth our forefathers told us will become embedded in our very minds.
§ Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)
I was interested in one point made by the Minister of Agriculture in his survey of the agricultural situation, and it is on that point that I want to address the House. The 1605 right hon. Gentleman said that in the immediate future the most important aspect of the agricultural situation will be that of the men to work on the land. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) also raised that matter and referred to the possibility of our being able to bring over considerable numbers of agricultural workers from the West Indian Islands. I should like to reinforce that suggestion by remarking that already there are between 600 and 700 coloured West Indian workers engaged in munitions work and in other forms of war effort in this country at the present time. They were passed out after a period of training and have been a great success. In the majority of cases they are now earning wages equal to those of the white British workers in the factories. I have heard of one instance of a coloured worker in a Glasgow factory earning as much as £13 a week. That, of course, was an exception. The general evidence of the Ministry of Labour, one of whose officials has described what has taken place in connection with this experiment, is to the effect that the managements have recommended this development and are perfectly satisfied with the efficiency that has resulted.
Why should not the same process be extended to agricultural workers? As hon. Members know, for many years, and still at the present time, there are thousands of unemployed workers in the West Indian Colonies. I was in Jamaica, for instance, in the early part of 1939, and in the town of Kingston alone there were 14,000 registered unemployed workers. That may be an exaggerated instance, but inquiries will show that unemployment is prevalent in the West Indian Colonies. In Barbados, in particular, there is a tremendous pressure of population on the limited means of subsistence in the island. The same thing applies to British Guiana and, to a lesser degree, Trinidad, where there are other industries besides agriculture. The point I want to emphasise to the Minister of Agriculture is that these West Indian workers have been brought up since boyhood as workers on the land. Apart from Trinidad and British Guiana, throughout the whole of the West Indian Colonies there is practically no other industry than agriculture—sugar cane growing, banana growing, and the growing of other kinds of sub-tropical products. In the British subjects of West 1606 India there is a pool of labour accustomed to agriculture ready to be invited to take part in the war effort of this country.
I hope that this suggestion, which has been made by the Noble Lord, will not be put on one side, but will be investigated. We know for a fact that thousands of these British subjects—agricultural workers in Jamaica—have been going to Central America, to Panama and to other parts to do work for those countries. These people are not aliens; they are part of our Empire, and they have been under our rule for 300 years. They have assimilated our civilisation, and not only would it be useful to utilise their assistance, but the experiment would have its repercussions after the war. These people, having had experience of life in this country, would be able to return to develop their own economic and social life. I think that the matter is well worth inquiry, and I hope that the Minister will give it sympathetic consideration.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I have listened to nearly the whole of this Debate, including the masterly survey of the Minister, and I cannot help agreeing with the hon. Member who contrasted the organisation of our food production front with that of our industrial production front. I have listened to a good many Debates in this House on industrial production, and I always feel when we debate food production that we are striving after the same thing—the full and efficient mobilisation of our resources for the prosecution of the war. I have never felt competent to take part in any industrial Debate, for the very good reason that, being a farmer, I know nothing about industry. I have been impressed, however, by the fact that there is something radically wrong on the industrial front. It does not seem to be properly together; there are confusion here and chaos there, and it does not seem to be pulling its full weight in this war. Therefore, I say that it is not competently commanded. It occurs to me to ask whether the food front is properly together, properly organised and competently commanded. I know that some will say that the production of food is much simpler than industrial production. I am not sure about that, because agriculture is a complex industry. As a farmer, 1607 I feel a certain amount of satisfaction that under two very able commanders our industry, the one to which I belong, is pulling its weight in this war very well indeed.
Our workers are responding superbly. I will tell my right hon. Friend what happend to me last Sunday. We are very far behind in the North, owing to the weather, and I was astonished to find my men were out working on the Sabbath, which says a good deal for a Scot, with several tractors and horses. I never asked them to do the work, but it shows the spirit of the workers. Our committees continue to function with smoothness and efficiency, and we should recognise that they are giving immense service to the country. Most important of all, we are producing food in far greater quantity than the general public realise. I say, as a farmer who moves freely among the farmers in Scotland, that there exists to-day a fuller and better understanding than I have ever known before, not only within the industry itself, but within the public mind. The importance and efficiency of the agricultural industry are recognised. That is not complacency; it is a fact, and it should urge us on to further efforts.
All this seems to me to reflect a certain amount of credit on our two commanders, and I, personally, wish to pay my tribute to them for the very excellent way in which they have organised our food production front. I think that they should be congratulated, because, after all, they have just fought a battle with three not very intelligent antagonists—the Minister of Food, the Treasury and the Minister of Supply. What the Minister of Supply knows about sheep I cannot think. However, they deserve our thanks for having put up a very good fight indeed. I should imagine their principal problem was to convince the Treasury that any information which they might have could only be information which had come from farms with a rental of £300 or over. Farms of £300 rental and over are taxed on profits, and, therefore, any information the Treasury have—they do not look at estimates—concerns the larger farms only, a very small proportion of the whole. The Minister of Agriculture is reported to have said that only eight per cent. of the farms in this country are of the marginal type. I do not know whether that is true in England.
§ Mr. Hudson
What I said was that the Oxford Survey showed that eight per cent. of the farms made a loss in 1940.
§ Mr. Snadden
It could not apply to Wales, and it certainly does not apply to Scotland. There are 33 counties in Scotland producing grain, and the average yield per annum, if you take our main crop, oats, is just over five quarters. Fifteen of these counties were below the average yield even for pre-war days. Therefore, the percentage of uneconomic secondary land must be very high indeed. I would venture to guess the figure at 40 per cent.
The farmers' leaders have never denied that last year's prices were anything other than remunerative on the better and kindlier soils. What they have contended is that such an admission ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of a satisfactory adjustment of the reasonable demands of the great army of producers who farm on secondary land. The hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Wedderburn) put up a kind of solution of the marginal land problem. He seemed to think that it was not possible to deal with the question by direct financial assistance. He may be right. The solution of the problem if it is to be effective, must essentially be simple, but it could be done by paying a subsidy to the grower and cutting the price all round, as with the potato subsidy—the man with rich land gets less and the man with poor land gets more—so it is not correct to say that there is not a direct solution to the problem.
I should like to put up the difficulty of the oat-grower. It is not a criticism nor a "grouse" for higher prices. I want to remove misapprehension about the oat-grower. In pre-war days there were 24,000,000 acres of arable land in England and in Scotland there were 4,000,000, so it seems a logical enough argument that if you multiply the Scottish acreage by six you get a comparable figure with England. But when you do that, it is rather startling to find that our main crop in Scotland was 2¾ times more important to Scotland than wheat was to England. Sugar beet was seven times more important to England than to Scotland. Our wheat and sugar beet areas were negligible. But these were the two crops most heavily subsidised by the Government before the war. Therein lies the 1609 Scottish "grouse" of past days. What is the position to-day? In Scotland the main cereal crop—probably 1,000,000 acres—has no guaranteed price whatever and no guaranteed market. It has only a maximum price, and there is no security whatever in conditions of expanding production, by having a maximum price. I suppose the Secretary of State realises that this year, because we have only a maximum price and because the Government closed the market to England for oats, oats could not be sold at all in certain parts of Scotland. If it is necessary to close the English market to ensure that our millers do not go short of oats, I cannot find any fault with that. That is the Government's job. But do not throw the whole burden on the producer, who has been ordered to grow food for the nation. After he has done that, he should not be left to hold the baby. I suggest to the Secretary of State that part of his problem will be solved if he will persuade his Noble Friend the Minister of Food to provide a fixed guaranteed price for milling oats as for milling wheat. I would emphasise that when the producer is all out to produce food he should be given a guaranteed price for carrying out the orders of the Government.
On the question of livestock, Scotland's stake is a formidable one. Marginal land is sheep and cattle country, so that if you help these two types of produce you are helping the marginal land farmer. I congratulate the Government on having taken what I consider to be a step in the right direction by widening the margin between the imported animal and the homebred animal. A little while ago there was a margin of 2s. 6d. between the imported Irish beast and the high quality Scottish animal. Now it is 5s. Anyone who knows anything about stock knows that Scotland swept the boards throughout the world for quality before the war, but the scale has been weighted against the quality animal ever since the war began. This is the first step towards recognition of the fact that if you destroy quality you hit at the fundamental source, the pedigree herd. To-day the Aberdeen Angus breed has already been reduced. Their entries are down by 27 per cent. in two years.
§ Earl Winterton
My hon. Friend forgets that they have got bigger prices than they had received for years.
§ Mr. Snadden
I disagree. Aberdeen Angus prices were down this year. Because our quality producers have received relatively low prices, our pedigree herds are falling away in numbers. Is it realised that a great percentage of our high quality animals grade out in excess of the maximum payable by the Government? That is what is happening in Scotland. Again, I am not asking for more money; I am pointing out that many high quality animals grade out above the maximum paid by the Government. Therefore, the Government gets a gift of extra meat and the producer gets nothing in return. This can be solved by bringing in a special grade for animals which grade higher than the maximum. Those are some of the little points that worry the producers.
With regard to sheep, can the Secretary of State say what is to be the adjust-for the various breeds in relation to the 2d. increase for wool? That increase, as far as I am aware, is only a general increase for the whole range of wool, and I would like to know how it is to be applied to the various breeds in the country. There also seems to be some confusion as to how the 1½d. recently conceded is to be spread. Can it be spread in such a way as to afford a light weight premium on hill sheep? I wish to finish by saying that I believe the farmers of Scotland are satisfied that the prices recently published fulfil the pledges given by the Government, and I think I can say on behalf of my farming friends in the North that, by night as well as by day, they are prepared, with their English friends, to pull their weight unselfishly, industriously and efficiently in order to produce all the food they can.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I hesitate to join in this Debate, because I represent one of the towns, but, like an hon. Member who spoke a short while ago, I feel that it is as well that the towns should try to realise the importance of reconditioning our agriculture, and if we take. the trouble to engage in these Debates, a better understanding will exist between us in the future. I was interested in the statement of my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that in this war high prices, excess profits, or high wages ought not to concern us too much. I think the Noble Lord will agree that the farmer in 1611 this country must have something more than good prices; he must be reassured that when the war is over he will not be left in the lurch as was the case last time. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) made that a particularly important part of his speech, and I think we could get more out of the farmer to-day if we could tell him now that he will not be used merely for the purpose of victory, as happened last time. That is most important, and I think this is the time to do it, and, indeed, to emphasise this point.
Another hon. Friend who spoke a short while ago mentioned the difficulties which farmers had to face after the last war, when the Corn Production Act was repealed. Farmers had had their chins up and had been looking forward to a period of prosperity, but vested interests got busy straight away, and those vested interests were very considerable. We import a good deal of our food from abroad. We then had foreign investments amounting, I believe, to £3,000,000,000 or £4,000,000,000, and the food which we brought in from abroad represented interest on those investments to the tune of about £400,000,000. Therefore, the rentier of this country was interested in food importation simply from the point of view of the interest on his money. Banking and insurance interests were also concerned, and there were the issuing houses ready to make further foreign investments in order to increase the amount of food brought in, without any consideration for the farmer or the actual need. That was the state of things then, and the same interests are preparing now, when world surpluses are mounting up, to carry their flag forward again when the war is over; we must bear these things in mind.
Facing this position between the wars, we had a badly organised farming community. I believe that 88 per cent. of British farmers farm about 150 acres only. They had to fight their. battle alone, with practically no help from anyone. They were left by the Government of the day to fend for themselves, and they made a very poor show. In addition to those enemies, they also had the food importer, who had developed his relations with the retailer to a fine degree, and who is now waiting his oppor- 1612 tunity to do the same thing again. Not only is it essential for victory to have a successful British agriculture, but for other reasons it is essential that agriculture should be put upon a proper basis in this country. We are telling ourselves, though I am afraid this policy has been misconceived by many, that we should have a specialised agriculture producing milk, cheese, eggs and butter, but you cannot have a specialised agriculture unless you maintain mixed farming. That is the secret. You must plough not only for grass but for milk. If you want the best results, you must put the land down to corn and you must have stock to manure the land. You must give nitrogen to the soil. That is essential.
Mixed farming can never be allowed to relapse again. No one can say that England should grow corn for the sake of growing corn, but the corn is a necessary investment in order to get the rich results which are so essential for the people of this country. Let us see that mixed farming is encouraged after the war as we are encouraging it now. Let us never go back to the old position. We should also build up British agriculture because it will improve our race. It is by undertaking in earnest the tasks of husbandry, being constantly in contact with nature, looking four, rive or six years ahead to see what has to be done, and taking quick decisions on vital matters that sterling qualities can be attained and character developed. We should have a long-term policy. I believe that three generations of urbanisation devitalises a country and that the time has now arrived for our people to return to the soil. I think that is a very sound thesis.
The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) spoke of the importance of preserving the fertility of the soil. That is another reason why British agriculture should be carefully considered now and in the future. The soil of England has been neglected, not because it has been exploited as in some other countries, but because it has been just simply criminally neglected. It is important to bear this fact in mind. Owing to the exploitation of the North American Continent, the fertility of its soil has already fallen by from 30 to 50 per cent. In Missouri, about seven inches of top soil have been worn away in 24 years, owing to excessive 1613 exploitation. I believe it takes 10,000 years to make one inch of top soil in that region. - I give that as an example to show how important it is to maintain the fertility of our soil. The Californian desert advanced at the rate of 40 miles in one year and destroyed 2,500 farms; the Sahara advances, I believe, at the rate of half a mile per year. The same process is going on in Australia and has occurred in South Africa and even in European countries. It is essential, when we see those countries having their soil destroyed in this way, for us to determine to maintain the fertility of our own as we have never done before.
There is, however, another reason, too, and that is that British agriculture should become an example to the world. In the past this country was the lynchpin in dealing with the agricultural surpluses of the world. It may be necessary still for us to obtain a considerable amount from abroad to fill the gap which our own farmers cannot fill. During the late agricultural depression, a small ewe was sold in New Zealand for half the price of a pullet. In Australia during the depression, the farmer who produced wheat had to pay, on the average, 1s. 5d, or 1s. 7d. per bushel to the bank in mortgage and had to sell his wheat at 25. 4d., although it cost him about 3s. 6d. to produce. How can world agriculturists look for any prosperity while such a haphazard and muddled state of things exists? Let us attempt to put British agriculture on a model basis so that it becomes an example to the world.
I think I have made out a case for sustaining British agriculture. I will not go into too many details to show how we have neglected it in the past, but we can see how quickly after the last war 3,000,000 acres which had been ploughed up went back to grass. A thousand acres, which employed 30 or 40 men in cultivation, became nothing more than a desolate wilderness. All you could see amid the scrub and the dingy grass were, perhaps, two cow-herds attending to a so-called dairy herd, which we prided ourselves upon during the last 10 years as having been kept according to modern "factory" methods. In actual fact what we were doing was simply to use our fields as exercising grounds for the cattle while feeding them up on foreign cake. We had the spectacle of our land going from bad to worse. Frequently the land was 1614 bilious from over-manuring and under-cropping, or it was anaemic from under-manuring and too constant cropping. That was indeed the state of the land of this country, and I said once, in this House, without much exaggeration that it was more neglected than if the German hordes had laid it waste. We must not let that occur again.
Another thing that it led to has already been touched upon in this Debate. The good tenants began to give way to poor tenants, and those, in turn, who found that they only got a small return from their farming, about 40s. or 50s. for a 150-acre farm, began to sell their land if they had a chance for speculative purposes. For the reasons I have given, sociological and others, we in this country must never allow that to occur again. I think a great debt of gratitude is due to the preparations made by Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith. He had everything ready for this war, and in a very short time an almost impossible task was brought to completion, and the fields of England were surveyed and allocated to their appropriate crops. It was a remarkable achievement, which we thought was impossible. County agricultural committees were formed to give advice and encouragement to the farmers. In addition, another thing was successfully done, namely, grading on the hoof. I believe it was thought to be almost an impossibility, but it has been performed with an error of only 1 per cent. and has eliminated waste of time at fairs and markets. It has eliminated auctioneers' and dealers' commissions and market dues, and I believe that it has been estimated that the money wasted on middlemen's commissions in that way very often accounted for the difference in price between chilled and English meat.
Another thing which happened was the establishment of central abattoirs. Instead of our stock being sent to about 16,000 different abattoirs throughout the country, they were mobilised in central abattoirs, all of which meant great economy and saving of time. That is the state of things we have attained in a short time. There are many faults; we have heard criticisms to-day, and we shall hear some more, but the great thing is that we should have a long-term policy and above all see to it that mixed farming proceeds. We must see, for instance, that our pigs are used for their proper 1615 purpose on the farm. Instead of being fattened in huts, they should wander around the farm, eating the tail corn and the chat potatoes, scavenging in the woods and coppices as they used to do, and as they ought to do. We must see too that our fowls earn half their living by wandering about the farm and helping to manure it as well. If we open our land regularly and let in the fresh air, we shall kill the insect pests, and the diseases which farmers have suffered from in the past, and which cost them about £14,000,000 a year, will gradually disappear. If you feed stock on indifferent grass for a short time and then suddenly force down their throats a tropical foreign cake, you must expect your stock to be diseased. We may as well bring a slum child and give it food at a rich man's table for a week or two and expect that child to maintain its health. These are things which we should bear in mind in future.
There is another thing I would suggest. We have heard a lot in this House about subsidies. Both the House and the country always look sideways at a subsidy. We consider a subsidy is a great evil, that we are giving an enormous sum of money away to farmers. Small farmers have obtained little in the way of subsidies in the past few years. The advantage went to the big multiple farmers. Yet by means of a tariff we never hesitate to hand indirectly large sums to some particular industry—for example, the motor-car trade—and without much of a murmur. There should be some guarantee of prices to the farmers. It is our policy to-day, and it should be maintained. Also, at the same time, we have found that the standard of wages in this country has been raised. That will enable our people, we trust, to buy larger quantities of good food. It was estimated that about 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 of our population were under-nourished before the war. What an opportunity for British agriculture to supply eggs and butter produced on fresh and wholesome British pastures. I think also that many of our people did not understand the value of good food. Many people suffered from under-nourishment, not because they could not afford food, but because they did not know the value of protective foods. That is one way in which we should proceed.
1616 Import, boards and buying in bulk should be maintained. We must disabuse the townsmen of the notion that the farmer is always grumbling. Farmers' Unions meetings should become more cheerful. They always seem to give the impression that even when they have gained something, they must not appear too satisfied. The townsman has had the impression that, perhaps, it would be as well to put them out of their pain altogether. They should get rid of this attitude. The farmer can help very considerably by having a better outlook himself and trying to convert the townsman to his point of view. He might even advertise himself a little. He is always being told that he is inefficient. We hear that so many inefficient farmers have been turned off their farms. The farmer is not so inefficient. Mr. Keynes showed that between 1924 and 1934, I believe, farmers increased their production, in spite of hard times, by 40 per cent. per head, whereas industry increased by only 25 per cent. per head. Farmers should make use of these points.
Time is going on, and I shall finish shortly. I would say, finally, that inefficient landlords will have to be dealt with in the same way as inefficient tenants. There are efficient and inefficient landlords, but there is no roam for the mere rent receiver. I think that the amenities of the countryside should be increased enormously. Electric light should be put into the cottages, because there are many young married couples who are drifting away from the land because of the poor state of the cottages. Steadings are frequently falling into ill repair. It should be our policy in the future and at the present time to bring electric light and water to these places and to encourage village life in every possible way. In that way we shall improve our agriculture, which, in my opinion, is necessary for our salvation. We cannot therefore do better than take the advice given by the elder Cato long, long ago, when Rome was becoming somewhat decadent and dependent for its existence on the labour of others. He urged the Romans to go back to the sturdy, hardy and bucolic life of their fathers. If we do that, we shall not only recondition agriculture, but we shall recondition and revitalise our own noble race.
§ Sir Henry Fildes (Dumfries)
I think we all agree with the emphasis that has been laid upon the improvement of agriculture, and we hope that the Minister will feel fortified in taking a strong line with some of his less important colleagues in the internal stress and struggle. I hope that he will be very firm in insisting upon adequate labour being available for agriculture. I would draw his attention to the situation that obtains North of the Tweed, where it has become the custom lately to send thousands of lambs and sheep by rail into England, for slaughter on this side of the Border. It is a confirmed fact that each of these lambs loses from three to five lbs., per head in weight, and each sheep seven lbs., in travelling. It is a waste of transport, because in the dead state these creatures occupy only one-third of the space that they require in a living condition, when being transported by rail. It is very important for the Minister of Agriculture to impress upon the Minister of Food that when the Ministry of Food takes such action all the cost is being borne by the farmer, whose product weighs less when it arrives for slaughter down South. In my own constituency, they are closing slaughterhouses. One or two of these slaughterhouses have factories attached to them, for producing food for animals, and the blood from the slaughterhouses is an important constituent in that product. This policy of bringing sheep and lambs for slaughter down South causes loss of money, and also the shutting-up of other industries, which is undesirable at this time.
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will look into the question of profiteering. I can give cases such as that of the payment by the Ministry of Food of 15s. to a farmer, for a calf which was sold to a butcher the next day for £2 5s. That is where the profiteering is going on. The price which the Ministry paid to the farmer bore no relation whatever to the price which the butcher was called upon to pay. I know of a case where an animal brought to market went mad in the excitement of the cattle sale, and had to be shot. The butcher was given £8 when the beast was shot. The Ministry of Food sold half of the carcase to a butcher for £8 and the other half for a similar amount, making £16 received by the Ministry of Food for something for which they had given £8. We are talking about profiteer- 1618 ing, and I would not like to see the Minister of Food in the dock, but these things can be multiplied many times, and it is the duty of the Minister of Agriculture to make a protest on behalf of the farmers at the way in which these things are manipulated.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture will do something for the farmer in regard to the question of the taking of men from the land into the Army. I have brought case after case to the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, who merely say that the decision of the War Office is that such a man must he taken, and that ends it. I would like to see a bolder fight put up over agriculture and the food question generally.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
If the value to the country of any Debate in this House can be measured by the number of helpful suggestions that are made in the course of the Debate, then this Debate to-day has earned a very high priority. Possibly over 50 suggestions made to-day by hon. Members in all parts of the House are being at this moment carefully analysed in the Ministry of Agriculture and in the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. In so far as our powers go, no time will be lost in seeing whether any use can be made of these suggestions. The House must remember that the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland are production Departments. We have no direct responsibility in regard to such instances as those given by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes). These would be more appropriately raised, or some of them at all events, on the Vote for the Ministry of Food.
Two main criticisms have been levelled at the efforts of the production Departments. These criticisms are, first, the delay in announcing milk prices, and, secondly, whether or not we have done everything possible to ensure that there is an adequate supply of skilled labour on the farms of this country. Even on these two points the Ministers responsible for agriculture have only a somewhat modified responsibility. As regards milk prices, their fixation is the responsibility of the Minister of Food. It is true that we have very great interest in seeing that no delay takes place, that every encouragement 1619 is given to the farming community to ensure that there should be an adequate supply of milk for next winter, and that the agricultural community should be kept in good heart and encouraged. I would point out that in England there are 11 Regions, and endeavour is being made to secure a national price. But when there is a different basic price ruling in most of these Regions, it is not very easy offhand to secure concurrence of all the Regions in any change of prices. The Government are very anxious that no time should be lost in making an announcement about these increased prices for next winter. So far as Scotland is concerned, whenever the English Regions come to an agreement for an understanding with the Minister, we are ready to make an announcement.
§ Sir P. Hurd
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the processes of nature are such that you cannot possibly get the supply of milk you require until the end of a three-year period. Unless the small farmer has some sense of confidence, he cannot possibly build up the dairy herd which he must have to produce the required quantity of milk.
§ Mr. Johnston
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my point. I appreciate that what he has said may be true, but there has been a charge of undue delay on the part of the Government in announcing milk prices, and all I am putting to the House is that nothing would please the Government better than that the 11 Regions in England should come to some common understanding to enable us to make an announcement about prices.
The question of labour has been raised by various hon. Members to-day, and here again we have only a modified responsibility. Such questions are finally settled by the Ministry of Labour and National Service. It is true that we take whatever steps we think proper as production Departments, and I will show before I sit down what steps we have taken to ensure that agriculture shall not go short of skilled labour. Before I do so, however, may I pay a tribute—at any rate, so far as Scotland is concerned—to the Army authorities? The General Officer Commanding there did everything he could possibly do to ensure that no crop went ungathered. Men were made 1620 available to gather in crops which were prepared painfully and sometimes at great cost.
Tribute has been paid by many Members to-day to the Women's Land Army, and I agree with everything which has been said. I asked the principal at Auchincruive how his women recruits were turning out, and he said that over 90 per cent. of them were turning out splendidly. That is a very high figure. We are further cheered and comforted by the experience of the county agricultural executive committees, who assure us that, in the main, where these women are well treated, they respond splendidly, and that whereas a year ago there was some diffidence on the part of farmers in some parts of the country in taking women recruits, there is no diffidence now. Experience has taught the farmers that there is a very great deal of assistance that can be given by the Women's Land Army.
We hear much criticism about slacking. But the experience which the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) reported is not by any means unique. He told us that on his own farm last Sunday, without his having asked his workers, he discovered that, because there had been a period of three months in which ploughing had been delayed by frost and snow, his men had turned out with tractors and horses early on the Sunday morning to try and make good the delay which the weather had occasioned. That is not unique. Ninety-five per cent. of the farm workers are playing the game. Even in the munitions areas, where they could have got considerably larger wages by going into aircraft production, how few went and how many stayed at their jobs, stuck to their jobs often under very serious handicaps, some of which have been mentioned in the Debate—the black-out, double summer-time, and so on. All honour to them. Let us face the fact that the great bulk of the agricultural community, farmers, farm workers, agricultural committees, everybody concerned, is co-operating and doing his best. We shall get far more out of them by patting them on the back and saying, "Well done," when the facts warrant it, than by always finding out the grouser and grumbler and magnifying the grousing and grumbling far beyond their due.
On the question of labour supply, in Scotland, since June, 1940, the Depart- 1621 ment of Agriculture have secured the release from the Army of 745 skilled men. In England and Wales, only one out of every 10 farmers and farm workers who were de-reserved on 1st April last have been called up. In Scotland, the figure is about the same. Substantially the recommendations of the agricultural executive committees as to deferment of call-up, indefinite deferment in many cases, have been accepted by the Government. We have other methods of dealing with the labour shortage. Suggestions have been made in the Debate about the possibility of importing skilled labour from the West Indies. Suggestions are frequently made about Italian prisoners. There are difficulties about housing, there are sometimes other difficulties which need not be specified here; but we are arranging a system which I hope will be developed and perpetuated after the war. I do not like the word, but sometimes it is called gang labour. Instead of farmers having men direct, why should not agricultural committees take casual labourers into their employment, give them a guaranteed week's wages and see to it that they receive decent treatment, hiring them out to farmers in appropriate cases?
We have made a beginning in Scotland. We have provided 24 centres for 334 of these State farm employees, and in addition we have planned a further 28 centres providing for 591 workers. We know that it is not enough. It is true that there is a shortage of labour in other directions. I am rather disturbed about the shortage of available labour for limestone quarrying. We have a Committee which has reported that we can increase our yield by 20 per cent. if we can adequately carry out liming. That is an amazing figure. Let the House remember that it is not bringing in fresh land, but refers to soil already cultivated. One of our troubles about limestone quarrying is shortage of labour, and, therefore, we must do everything we can to ensure that labour supplies are forthcoming.
The Minister reported on the steps which have been taken to make this country the best mechanised farming community in Europe. In Great Britain we now have 7,000 tractors under State ownership which we can hire out to farmers. That is a magnificent achievement. Previously, only wealthy farmers could have tractors, and only wealthy 1622 farmers could afford employees to drive them, and any number of small farmers had no means of mechanical cultivation. The State has now stepped in and told these small farmers that they need not spend their capital upon these costly mechanised implements, and that the State will hire them out. In Scotland we have 900 outfits for hire. In the period December-January, 1941–42, the number of tractor-hours worked was four times the number of tractor-hours worked in the same period a year before With what result? I have not the figures for England, but I can speak for Scotland. We have increased our tillage of oats by 30 per cent., our tillage of wheat by 24 per cent., our tillage of potatoes by 40 per cent., our tillage of barley by 13 per cent. and our tillage of turnips by 3 per cent.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am comparing the 1941 tillage areas with the areas in 1939—the last pre-war figures. These are creditable figures, and we propose in every way we can to develop mechanisation and to extract the maximum output from the soil. In the last war, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) says in his Memoirs, it was the food front that cracked in Germany and Austria. It is not going to crack here. The average farmer and farm worker, despite here and there a grumble and a criticism, are in good heart. They believe that the Government are treating them reasonably and fairly. I was very interested, in the recent negotiations about prices, to find the responsible leaders of the Farmers' Union both in Scotland and in England agreeing voluntarily to make the statement in public that the Government had kept their promise in the letter and in the spirit. They are standing up to it, and it is true.
§ Mr. Johnston
As far as the globular total is concerned, I think it is true. The Government are prepared to keep their pledge in the letter and in the spirit. There is no complacency. There is no suggestion that anyone can make whereby we can increase our production, whereby we can put our soil in better heart, whereby we can keep our people in better 1623 courage and hope, which will be disregarded. All I can say is, where the vast majority of the people are standing firm and courageous and in good heart, do not let us enlarge upon the few croaking frogs in the marsh. A few croaking frogs make a big noise, but the great majority of the agricultural community believe that the cause for which the nation is struggling is just and believe they ought to put their backs into it, and they are putting their backs into it. All the difficulties that are raised, some of them almost insuperable, we have to meet somehow, even by temporary expedients —the question of marginal land for one. The difficulties are known. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said truly that the agricultural front must be preserved at all costs. The Government are prepared to accept that dictum and to act upon it. My submission is that the Government are playing fair with the farming community and I ask it to play fair with the nation.
§ Sir Percy Hurd (Devizes)
I hope that neither I nor my constituents will be classed as croaking frogs, but we do feel a little disquietude at statements that have been made to-day by the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland. My constituency is a dairy-producing country, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman again that the delay in announcing the milk prices is of serious concern to those who wish to see the milk production of this country raised to a level which is necessary in the national interest. People say that dairy farmers should not be thinking so much of price as of the national interest. Eighty per cent. or so of them are small farmers working a family farm with one labourer, and they have to think three years ahead. If they feel that at the end of it they will become bankrupt, it will have a serious effect on milk production. It is essential that this bargaining about prices between the two Ministers should come to an end. It has been going on week after week. We are told that it is not a matter so much for the Government as for the National Farmers' Union and the Milk Marketing Board. The Government, however, have powers, and if they feel that a national price should be established in view of the national basis that is given to wages and 1624 costs of production, they should exercise that power and institute here and now a national price which they think reasonable and proper. It should be put on a national basis instead of the regional method, which has no application to the conditions of to-day.
I press this point seriously on the Minister, because milk has a new place in the national dietary. There was a time when people did not think milk production mattered very much, but we have passed that time. There was a time not long ago when a living statesman was understood to make a marginal note on a Cabinet document to the effect that he had never heard of a great war being won on a diet of bread and milk and potatoes fortified with a little lime juice. He added that high dietetic experts generally died young after a prolonged period of senile impotence. Milk has now an established position in the public mind, and it is necessary that we should pay attention to it and secure all the production that is required in the national interest. I know that there has been a 25 per cent. increase, and it is very satisfactory. It is due largely to the milk-in-schools scheme. I am glad that is so, because it was largely due to the National Milk Publicity Association, of which I have the honour to be chairman. Its success is to be attributed to the good publicity work carried on by that body. The scheme, however, does not apply to all children. If milk is essential to building up the physique, character, and educational fitness of the child, why is it not given to all the children whose parents are not in a position to buy it? The town council of which I am a member reported recently that there are certain schools which do not fit in with some regulations of the Board of Education which were framed long before the scheme came into being. I would urge my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to point out to the Board of Education that these schools should be brought in and that all children whose parents cannot afford the milk should be given the means of obtaining it.
We hear of milk for expectant mothers, and it is a good thing that they should come under this scheme, but what about expectant fathers? Milk is almost as essential to them as to expectant mothers. You cannot get a glass of milk in the tea bar of this House. Some of the lead- 1625 ing boxers attribute a great deal of their prowess to the milk they drink, and many film stars, I am told, attribute a good deal of their glamour to milk. Do not Members of -this House need prowess and glamour? It is distressing to go into the tea room and ask for a glass of milk; they look at you in astonishment. Why should not the production of milk be such as to enable it to be a far larger item in the national dietary than it is?
It can be done, and it ought to be done. There should be a stop put to this continuous wrangling between two Departments over prices when a Government Order would secure the confidence of the dairy farmer, which would enable him to increase his production and look ahead for three years. Everyone knows he must look ahead for three years. The processes of nature are such that unless he does so, he will land himself in the bankruptcy court. I would urge Ministers to take the whole question of milk production, both in Scotland and England, more seriously into consideration, and guarantee to farmers all over the country some assurance that the efforts they are now making will not leave them in the ditch at the end of the war.
Mr. De la Here (Evesham)
I listened very carefully to the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. With part of his speech, at least, I can agree, that part where he said that a word of praise to the farm labourers and other workers on farms would not be out of place. I thoroughly agree with that, as does, I feel, every Member of this House, and indeed I think a word of praise to farmers themselves, who are so constantly told that they are grumblers because they have not agreed with the prices offered, would not be out of place. But I was dismayed when the Minister started to tell us that in the matter of prices the Ministry of Food are responsible and not the Ministry of Agriculture. He also stated that the Ministry of Labour are responsible for the supply of labour on farms and not the Ministry of Agriculture. Prices and labour are the only two things affecting maximum production from the land that matter at all, and if the Ministry of Agriculture are not responsible for the only two things that really matter, primarily, where are we getting to? What is the use of the Ministry of Agriculture? 1626 My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made an extraordinarily fine speech. It was one of those speeches which sound well and read well. It was the speech of a very accomplished and efficient man, but it did not show how we were going to get this maximum output, and that is literally a matter of life and death to-day. Food is a munition of war, but it is not being treated as such by the Government. When we are told that one Government Department is holding something up and another has no power, what are we to think? Have we got a Government? Cannot the Government make a decision? Cannot they direct Departments to use their common sense? It is an extraordinary thing, when the nation is longing for food and needs food, that the Departments can hold up the necessary sanctioning of something that will produce the maximum output of food, and, indeed, the labour which is necessary for the production of that food.
I shall not detain the House, I do not think there is any need to detain the House, but it is not true to say that it is always the other man and that there has been a misunderstanding. The real trouble, and it is becoming unpleasantly clearer and clearer, is that we have an economic policy. We had it before the war, and the Treasury is still trying to maintain that economic policy, and as long as we try to retain that economic policy no real Measures will be brought in which will give us the maximum food which everyone in this country wants. Everyone who wants to win the war knows those Measures must be brought in. Instructions must be given by the Government to the Treasury that no further delay over the settlement of prices, or any matters such as that arising out of the milk dispute, shall be permitted. Instructions should come from the War Cabinet direct, that a real, practical Measure shall be passed which will ensure that farmers are contented and will do their utmost in every way to win the war for us. They are patriotic, and they have worked hard, as the farm workers have worked hard. There has only been failure in one direction, and that has been from the War Cabinet.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
I rise only to refer to certain remarks made by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham 1627 (Earl Winterton)—the castigation of those farmers who venture to criticise the prices agreed between the National Farmers' Union and the Ministry. The leading criticism came from the farmers in my part of the world, East Anglia, Suffolk and Norfolk, and I think it only right that I should inform the House that last Saturday afternoon there was a largely attended meeting of the Suffolk Farmers' Union in Ipswich, that the President of the Union, Mr. Neville, attended that meeting and that he gave a clear explanation of the negotiations with the Government. He answered questions and, at the end of two hours, that meeting of Suffolk farmers almost unanimously approved a resolution endorsing the action of the president of the National Farmers' Union in agreeing to those prices. It is right that that should be said. It is right also that I should explain that there were a few adverse votes and why there was this torrent of criticism in Norfolk and Suffolk.
The criticism comes from the small man cultivating the marginal farm. I would like the House to have sympathy with that type of farmer, who has from 70 to 150 acres of heavy clay land. Before the war, his main crops were wheat and beans, and his main reliance was on pigs and poultry, which are now practically wiped out. He has to rely on his wheat and beans. On this heavy land, he cannot go in for sugar beet, because the land 1628 does not allow him to do so. He cannot go in for dairy farming, because he has not the buildings, pasture or cattle. It may therefore be that, although he is a thoroughly competent farmer, if the season is adverse, he suffers a heavy loss, even with the new prices. The harvest before last was disastrous, and many of these small men had to borrow extensively. They still owe a good deal of the money. I was most relieved to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland give an assurance that the case of these men will be dealt with sympathetically. I will not press for details, but I want the House to bear in mind that this type of man may be as good a farmer as you can find. If he finds that he cannot carry on, I hope that the agricultural committees will back him to the fullest possible extent.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed. to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.