HC Deb 20 December 1945 vol 417 cc1553-71

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."

12.41 p.m.

Major Legge-Bourke

On the subject of the Land Settlement Association, one of the great points about it is that many of the men— in fact, I think, all the men—on those estates were without previous agricultural experience when they went there. They proved that with centralised marketing and buying, the in-experienced man as well as the experienced man can make a success of the land, but one of the most important points about that is that the manager of an estate must be a really first-class man. That is one of the most important features of all the successful smallholding businesses, because, if the manager is not satisfactory and the men themselves on the estates do not have very much experience, there is little chance of success.

I would like to say a word about what the British Legion is doing, because I believe the British Legion's advice is just as well informed and just as welcome to men coming out of the, Forces this time, as it was after the first world war. They are making it quite clear to men who individually wish to set up in this sort of business that they should not do so unless they are fully aware of the dangers they run. They are being encouraged in every possible way to go into some centralised form of small holding. In passing, I would like also to mention the cottage homestead type of holding, of which there were tens of thousands in Germany before this war, and I think they were aiming at many more. Those homesteads consist of holdings from one-eighth of an acre or one-third of an acre upwards. They lend themselves readily to the badly disabled man who wants a bit of land of his own. I hope the Government will give some consideration to the question of giving that type of holding to the badly disabled man.

As regards the Government's present scheme for training, I think, on paper, that scheme, which was introduced last June, reads quite well. But if one takes the very encouraging figures of releases — 108,000 men each week— and the light hon. Gentleman's promise that we are to get 10,000 men under Class B back to agriculture, the figure which he gave me in reply to a Question the other day, namely, that only 823 people, including men and women, had applied for training under that scheme, is a most disastrous figure. I would therefore beg the right hon. Gentleman to take all possible action to give as much publicity to the scheme as he feels is fitting, in view of his desire to re-establish agriculture.

Before I leave this heading I think the Minister should know that I have heard of a recent case in which an ex-Service man from this last war applied for a smallholding and was told that he must put his name on a waiting list of 10 years' standing and would not be given priority over men whose names were already on that list If that is going to be the policy for smallholdings I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not leave the country in any doubt. I should like to see him give ex-Service men priority. He may have reasons for not doing so, and if he has I would ask him to come into the open and tell the country. At the moment I do not know how many of those 823 who have applied for training have offered to go on the land on their own. I am certain that if the Forces are, as they are often held up to be, a cross-section of the nation at large, from that cross-section we shall get some men who want to go back on to the land and have their own holdings and be independent.

To sum up, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that he will take some real and immediate steps to speed up the training scheme. I hope he will also release the Government's policy on smallholdings, because at the moment everyone is in the dark, including the present smallholders, and they too should be considered in this matter of land settlement. If he is in favour of continuing smallholdings, and even expanding them, I hope that one thing which he will do above all else is to call for a report from his many, many officials as to where the smallholdings should be. It is by no means true to say that smallholdings can be established anywhere about England. One of the main causes of some of the failures after the first world war was that smallholdings were put in the wrong places, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take steps to decide here and now where these smallholdings should be, if they are to be anywhere at all. I hope he will approve a continuation of the smallholdings policy, because it is a very fine one and one of the most truly British things we have; but if he has his reasons for not doing so I only ask him to come into the open and tell the House.

Finally, I would like him to give some indication of how long prisoners of war are to be employed here, because I believe a great many people are shying off the land for the simple reason that they see that the Italians are being replaced by Germans. The Germans may be here for two, three or goodness knows how many years, and no indication is being given of how the trainees from the training courses set up by the Government are to be employed. The last paragraph of the training scheme is a very disappointing one. It says: Employment after Training. It is anticipated that many training employers will wish to give employment to trainees who have satisfactorily completed training with them, but in any case the Ministry of Agriculture, through the county committees, will take all practicable steps to ensure that satisfactory trainees are found suitable employment on the land. I asked the right hon. Gentleman the other day, and I ask him now, whether in his opinion that is a fair proposition to a man who expects to go on to the land for the rest of his working days, because if he thinks so I honestly do not.

The Minister ofAgriculture (Mr. Williams)

Surely the hon. and gallant Member will agree that I made it transparently clear in this House that where civilian labour was available farmers should not be supplied with either Italian or German prisoners.

Major Legge-Bourke

Yes, the right hon. Gentleman said that, but the prisoners are still in this country, and as long as there is no indication of when their employment in agriculture will stop I do not believe he will get the maximum number of applications from men coming out of the Forces to go into his training scheme.

I have not mentioned housing or Scotland, on which matters I hope other Members will supply the information and will raise any other points. Housing is a very important thing, probably one of the most important sides of the smallholdings problem. I would say one thing about it, that one of the recommendations of the 1916 Report was that it would be advisable that the War Department's hutments should be handed over free to the Ministry of Agriculture. There are many camp sites where water is laid on and where there are almost prefabricated houses, and I believe that position would help the immediate problem. Lastly, I would beg the right hon. Gentleman to try to give a Christmas present to the ex-Service men, because he has an ideal opportunity to do so, and to give a Christmas present not only to them but to agriculture and, indeed, to the whole country.

12.52 p.m.

Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)

There is a big school of thought in this country which subscribes to the view that the future of British agriculture lies in the direction of large-scale mechanised farming, but despite that we are faced with the fact that, disregarding holdings not exceeding five acres in extent, 85 per cent. of farms in Britain, representing 47 per cent. of the cultivated land, do not exceed 150 acres. I hope there is still a place in this country for the small farmer. I approach this question of land settlement from the human standpoint. When industry gets going in this country we hope that there will be very few unemployed. The enthusiasts for land settlement in the past have always regarded the land as a sink for the unemployed. I agree that some land settlement schemes have proved eminently successful, and that under them quite a number of men have done extremely well, but at the same time I am convinced that to use land settlement schemes as a remedy for industrial unemployment when they are under voluntary organisations and have the help of public and charitable funds is not the right solution. I say so because those concerned in dealing with the question in that way are inclined to overlook the human factor.

I live in the country. I am one of those men who can see beauty in a country lane in December. I love works of art, but to me there is nothing so beautiful as the natural art of the countryside. Townsmen's views of the country are entirely different. They see the mud and the poor roads and houses.To make a real success of land settlement schemes the men we are catering for must have an inbred love of the country. Large-scale farming appeals to me because it offers an opportunity to the workers to specialise, with opportunities for advancement and better pay. We all welcomed the announcement this morning that those in the Services are to receive increased pay, some men up to £5 a week. Those men will be paid up to £ 5 a week for learning to destroy life. May I suggest that we might consider the possibility of paying men up to £ 5 a week in return for the art of preserving life? Dr. Orwin, in a recent book, has had something pertinent to say about land settlement. He points out that the common ground in every policy of reconstruction for British agriculture is the assumption that it is ordained to be an industry of little individualists farming little holdings with little knowledge of the physical and biological sciences upon which the success of all their technical work depends. I hope that if the small man does remain in agriculture he will be able to take full advantage of all that the new agricultural advisory service will have to offer, and in mentioning that I express the hope that that advisory service will not overlook that the farm worker today plays a big part in agricultural production.

I would rather see land settlement proceed on a basis of smallholdings administered by county councils. We must be warned by the results of wholesale development after the last war, but I think we learned enough during those years to put us on our guard in connection with future schemes and I feel that the county councils as a whole will be able to avoid the pitfalls which were experienced at that time. Some men who took up smallholdings then have had years of drudgery and slavery, and it took another war to enable many of them to repay the money which they borrowed when they entered upon their holdings. There is, again, a clam our for land for ex-Service men and others. Men come to me and say, "I fought for this country and I think I am entitled to a bit of it," and that is a strong argument which one has to face, but in considering applications made by ex-Service men and others we must be kind and firm with the men. We realise that many of them are not approaching this question with the idea of making money but to provide themselves with a way of life that appeals to them, and like the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) I hope that the Minister is giving thought to a policy for smallholdings and that we shall very soon have a declaration from the Government.

I have been interested in this question from several standpoints. I had the honour to serve as President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and a number of our members are smallholders and quite a number are potential smallholders. I serve as a member of the smallholdings committee of my county council of Norfolk, the county which is very near to the top of the tree in the number of smallholders and the acreage that it manages. I am also interested as a member of the agricultural committee of the County Councils' Association. As I cannot say it to the Minister, may I say to his Parliamentary Secretary that there is in the possession of the Ministry plenty of evidence collected by the County Councils' Association to show that in many counties there is still a considerable demand for smallholdings? In Norfolk we have a long waiting list of some hundreds. That waiting list consists of men who have been passed by the smallholdings committee, which itself is composed of practical men, and there is a long waiting list of applicants who have been approved in respect of experience, ability and finance.

The county councils of Norfolk do not stand alone in this. Others have long waiting lists which they want to reduce, but they cannot do so until the Minister has made up his mind as to the future of the smallholdings movement. I want to secure for the rural dweller an income and amenities equal to those enjoyed by people in the towns. That is why I am inclined to favour large-scale farming, with the machine taking the drudgery out of the work, or, as an alternative to large units, work on a co-operative basis. Whilst I am of opinion that smallholdings cannot be made the bass of a progressive agricultural policy, I say, that where they are granted, the smallholders should be empowered to make the fullest use of modern scientific knowledge. By a proper system of management, I think they could be made economically successful. It is essential there should be a system of co-operation between smallholders by means of bulk purchasing, collective marketing and the pooling of machinery. These things, alone, can bring to the smallholder the advantages of large-scale cultivation.

1.2 p.m.

Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)

It is my good fortune to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) who has just made a most excellent maiden speech, the speech of one who has, obviously, been in close contact with this industry all his life. It was full of practical points, and a most valuable contribution to the Debate. I am sure we shall all be glad to hear him again when ho addresses the House on this and other subjects. He seemed to throw a little doubt on the future place of smallholdings in land settlement. There are people in the country who think that the day of the smallholder is past. If that should be so, it would be a bad thing for England, for two out of every three holdings in this country are, in fact, smallholdings. It would be even worse for the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, where smallholdings outnumber big farms by ten to one. I got the impression that the hon. Member thought that a policy of smallholdings was not one consistent with progressive agriculture. I would like the hon. Gentleman, some day, to come with me to the County of Orkney when I would show him a county almost wholly composed of smallholdings, where the average holding is only 30 acres and which community is beyond doubt one of the most progressive in the whole of Great Britain. The production there per head of population exceeds even that of Denmark.

The truth is the smallholder can be just as successful as the big farmer, given certain conditions. His holding must be properly sited and properly equipped, and it must be of a size suited to the kind of production in which he is engaged. More than that, a smallholder must have the aptitude for the work, the knowledge, the practical experience, and he must have one other supremely important thing, a wife who likes the life. Given these conditions, he can do every bit as well as the large fanner and, in fact, in some respects, he is better placed. He has not got to pay for labour and he gains in that he, personally, looks after his stock. I am a profound believer in the Arabs' proverb that, "Theeye of the master maketh the horse fat." There is no denying that it is a strenuous life and the smallholder will not have much leisure, but he will get a moderate degree of prosperity, and, from the point of view of the community, smallholders, as a class, are very desirable people to have—independent, self-reliant, thrifty and industrious.

One point I want to stress very strongly is that land settlement, by the creation of smallholdings, should not be an aim in itself. By neglecting to do the right thing, or doing the wrong thing in the past, many poor results have been achieved. The tendency has, too often, been to play for numbers rather than for really successful settlement. A sound policy which is going to benefit the people to be settled on the land, as well as the State, must be based on something more than the attainment of mere numbers. I want hon. Members to look at what the basis of a sound land settlement policy ought to be. There are three main aims to be achieved. The first, and most obvious is to stop the drift from the land into the towns and, if possible, to increase the rural population. We must keep our agricultural workers on the land. Another most important point—which I cannot develop today—is the question of rural education in relation to the future of the agricultural industry. It is the young people to whom we must look for land settlement. Unless they are helped towards their future by the education they get in rural schools, the tendency will be for them to make for the towns rather than the land. The next aim is to meet the demand for land. This is a demand which you may get, and do get, from the agricultural workers and, to a lesser extent, from dwellers in towns. Thirdly, there is the settlement of special classes, more particularly ex-Servicemen and industrial unemployed.

With regard to the first aim, preventing the drift from the countryside to the town, I confess I cannot find any very great evidence of outstanding success. This land settlement policy has been pursued a good deal longer in Scotland than in England. It began 50 years ago in the Highlands and Islands, and 25 years ago it was applied to the whole of Scotland and has gone on consistently since then. In those 25 years, although we have created 4,584 new holdings in Scotland, the total number of agricultural holdings in individual occupation has decreased. That does not look like an outstanding success, but, at least, you can claim for it that it has prevented the drift of perhaps another 5,000 people away from the land. That is an achievement, and there are other aspects quite as encouraging— increased population in successful settlements and increased production. That, of course, applies more particularly to the dairy farm type of settlement. Where the settlement has been made by breaking up an arable farm, and creating a number of small arable holdings, the results have not been particularly successful. Generally, there are no more people on the land and no increased production. Too often, what has happened is that a thoroughly efficient arable unit has been broken up and turned into a number of not very efficient smallholdings.

Attempts have been made to reverse the drift from the land by settling town-dwellers, but I do not propose to devote any time to that at all. About 1,000 of these settlements were made in the industrial belt in Scotland between 1934 and 1937 and they have not been really satisfactory. I do not know what the trouble is, but it is probably too big a change for the average town dweller, accustomed as he is to his weekly wage packet, to take the long view and plan for next year and, perhaps, for the year after that.For one reason or another, these holdings have not been successful. A number of them have become simply residences for old people and very offer the land is let to farmers. In many cases the land is neglected. The truth about that type of settlement is that a very careful selection was exercised at the beginning, and the people so selected tended to be successful. Where it fell down was that too many smallholdings were created and many of the people selected were unsuitable.

The second point I mentioned was the demand for land. That, of course, was the principal reason for the land settlement legislation that affects Scotland In the last 30 years, there have been 33,000 applications for holding in Scotland, and it is interesting to note that, of this number, 13,000 were subsequently withdrawn, 8,000 have been met and there are still 12,000 outstanding. That point has come up in the course of the Debate. We should not be misled by the very large number of applications not satisfied. A great many of these arereally paper applications. It is a common thing in Scotland for a man to register for a smallholding who, when a holding becomes available in another part of Scotland, will not take it because he wants to be near his home and relatives, and near the market he knows.

The third point I mentioned was the settlement of special classes. This is where the greatest mistake of all has been made in our policy— in settling ex-Servicemen and unemployed industrial men between the wars, although I know, in the latter case, some of those settled on the Settlements Association holdings were successful in England. I have seen some, and there is no doubt they have been successful, but I am afraid, all too frequently, in dealing with ex-Servicemen and unemployed industrial men our aim has been to go for numbers and that far too little consideration has been given to the prospects of the settlers themselves. Far too little attention has been paid to the aptitude of the man and to his training. Settlements were created in a hurry, many of the men were only half trained and heavily subsidised, and were doomed from the start to bitter disappointment and failure. They were not established when the slump came and were in no condition to see it out. We ought to put the blame for this where it belongs. I am not blaming any Government, still less the officials in the Ministry of Agriculture in England or the Department of Agriculture in Scotland. The blame belongs to us, fairly and squarely, because the reason why this policy went wrong was owing to political pressure exercised by Members of Parliament. I hope we shall never have a repetition of that. It has had a disastrous effect on land settlement and has led to a great waste of public money in many directions.

I cannot state too emphatically that the wholesale placing of unqualified persons on the land simply because they belong to a particular section of the community — ex-Servicemen or industrial unemployed men— cannot be too strongly condemned. Experience has now taught us, and we have learned the lesson, that land settlement cannot make any spectacular contribution either to the settlement of ex-Servicemen or to reducing mass unemployment. The truth is that the time factor is against us. We ought to look at land settlement primarily as an agricultural problem, and not as a relief scheme. We have had exactly the same problem in the crofting areas of the Highlands and Islands, although it had a slightly different emphasis. The pressure there was due to the large number of men to be dealt with, whilst the amount of land available was small. Owing to the political pressure which has been exercised there, holdings have been set up again and again which were far too small and were not economic units. I cannot deplore too much the placing of men on holdings upon which they can never make a living.

I am in great sympathy with the Government in their decision to proceed with rather more caution on this occasion, and to concentrate on the training of men for settlement on the land, and give them practical experience. I do not believe we shall have anything like the same number of applications for settlement on the land after this war that we had after the last war, but there will be a number. I think it was the hon. Member for North Norfolk who said he could see beauty in the countryside in December. There speaks the true countryman. The greatest possible care should be taken to "vet," if I may use the expression, the men who make applications to go on the land. There are a number of reasons which may move such people to make those applications, and some of them are thoroughly bad. A man may be dissatisfied with the form of employment he had before the war. He may think that settlement on the land is an easy way toget a house. He may like to live an open-air life or he may have romantic ideas about the countryside. He may have been fed up with his sergeant-major and think that the country will offer him a nice quiet life, although in reality he is only exchanging one sergeant-major for another and more exacting one—Nature. I regard all those reasons as bad.

Mr. Gooch

May I inform the hon. and gallant Member that out of 500 odd applications in Norfolk almost all were considered by experts who passed only thosewith practical experience?

Sir B. Neven-Spence

I am very glad to hear it. That is the right way to go about it, because then you get fewer misfits. There must be a real desire in a man not only to live on the land but to work there. A period of probation is absolutely essential, and if it is done properly a man will not take very long to settle down. Three classes of people will be found. First, there will be those suitable to take charge of a smallholding. These will be the men with practical experience who were engaged on the land before the war. Others can be placed as agricultural workers. Finally, there will be some persons who quite obviously would be better to find other occupations. The unsuitable people cannot be weeded out too quickly. Another reason for caution, as was discovered after the last war, is that it is a very costly business to go into a smallholding of any size, at the present time. High prices are still ruling. If a man takes over a smallholding just now he is probably starting with a heavy burden of debt.

I want to say one or two words about the size of holdings. The State should avoid the creation of uneconomic holdings, which are fair neither to the man himself nor to the taxpayer. The creation of smallholdings is costly to the State and costly to the smallholder. If a holding is not going to be worked efficiently it would be better not to attempt it at all. We cannot lay down any hard and fast rule about the size of holdings. The criterion must be the type of production in which the smallholder engages. For instance, the family sheep farm should be one carrying not less than 20 to 30 score of ewes, or the pastoral holding five to 10 score of ewes and a percentage of cattle. The poultry holding should be big enough to carry at least 500 hens, a dairy holding 15 cows, and so on. The goal to be aimed at depends upon the locality and the type of production. The critical question is, Will this smallholding which is being set up enable the man to be fully employed and to make a proper living?

It is a great mistake to break up efficient mechanised farms. It is better for the State and for everybody that they should continue. That being so, where is the land to come from? There is an enormous amount of land in the hands of the State now, acquired during the war, and a great deal of it should be used for smallholdings. The suggestion I want to put across is that I think there might be a fresh approach to this matter. We are accustomed now to the idea of servicing land for housing schemes;why not let us service land for the creation of small holdings? I would like to illustrate what I mean from an actual example. I saw recently in the county of Orkney a case in which a man who was not a farmer, took over 400 acres of waterlogged land which had never been cultivated. It was covered with a thin layer of peat, and by those kinds of grasses that the good farmer least likes to see growing on the pasture. It was quite useless land. This man drained the land. He had enough money to provide himself with mechanical draining plant, caterpillar tractor, prairie buster plough and other heavy implements. At the end of four years, what had been useless land by all standards, utterly useless, was land on which he was fattening cattle on the grass, and marketing them in the top grade.

That land has been permanently gained for the nation. There is any amount of land like that, and not merely in Orkney. I see no reason why the production of that county could not be doubled. All over the country there is land of that type available, not land on which we can settle men quickly, but land which would lend itself to reclamation by carrying out essential draining and cultivation, so that it could be laid down to grass. That is one of the problems that might be taken up by county agricultural committees. I do not think it would require any legislation to do this for Scotland. It could best be done in that way. The ordinary individual cannot afford to do it. I have covered all the points I wanted to make. It is exceedingly important that the Government should bear those points in mind, if they wish to avoid making the kind of mistake that was made after the last war.

1.25 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)

A few weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture announced the Government's new agricultural policy. I think it is true that agriculturists generally, certainly the organisations of farmers and farm workers, have acclaimed that declaration as the greatest peace time agricultural policy ever announced by a Government of this country. At the moment, we are occupied in working out its more detailed application. It naturally follows that there will be matters which will fall due for consideration in harmony with the more detailed plans. I certainly would not rule out the wider implications of the subject that has been debated this morning. We should do well to remember our experience after the last war on this matter. Members in all parts of the House, and certainly on the Benches be- hind me, will recall hundreds of cases of men who saw their gratuity and their small earnings go west because of land sharks and other disreputable people. I imagine that it is common ground among us that the utmost consideration will need to be given in working out detailed proposals of this kind.

There seem to me to be some rather obvious points arising out of this matter. First of all, in the immediate years ahead we shall need the greatest possible food production from the soil of this country. I do not know whether some of the suggestions that have been made this morning in regard to the further breaking up of holdings could be considered, if they interfered with food production. I agree with many of the points that were made by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence). These days, when prices are near their highest level and the capital cost of equipment is very high, are hardly the time to consider in great detail plans of that kind.There is the further point that allotting land is one thing, but putting a man there without equipment is something different, and is useless. This involves an enormous number of building trade workers and ancillary workers, who are in very short supply.It would be wrong to assume in this regard that there is any extreme urgency, having regard to the major issues to which I have referred.

Reference to the movement of labour from the countryside in prewar times was made by the opener of the Debate. We are all only too well aware of that. It is a happening that everybody deplores, but he ought to remind himself that certainly this Government were not responsible for it. I think it is commonly agreed that the condition of the workers on the land were not suchin those days as to encourage anyone to stay on the land. We could hardly expect, in the light of the then conditions, that those workers would do other than migrate from the villages to the towns, and that is exactly what happened. Over a whole period of years the countryside lost thousands of its best men, who left the villages and crowded into the towns because of the appalling conditions in the countryside.

One of the big things facing any Government, and certainly one of the big jobs facing thisGovernment if we are to be able to repopulate rural England, is the question of amenities and rural housing. We talk about wages, and I know the agricultural worker sunions have very strong views on that subject, but unless we get the houses in the countryside, of a standard comparable to the modern houses we knew in the towns before the war, there will obviously be very great difficulties in getting the labour force that is needed in rural areas. It is because of these considerations that the Ministry for which I speak has not been slow in making its desires known to the Minister of Health, who is mainly responsible for housing in rural areas. As those plans unfold I think we shall break the back of this really big problem of giving country workers housing conditions which will encourage them to remain on the land rather than drive them to the towns.

Major Legge-Bourke

I think the hon. Gentleman has slightly misunderstood my argument. I was not trying to suggest that men should be put into small holdings straight away, but that, unless some indication of future prospects can be given to the men coming out of the Forces, they will not go on the land, and will never be persuaded to go there once they have gone somewhere else.

Mr. Collick

One big indication which has been given, and I think we are beginning to see its effect now, is the declaration of this Government's agricultural policy. It is quite easy to see that that is having some really practical effect now. Because of all these considerations, and of the enormous changes which have taken place in agriculture during the war years— increased mechanisation, improved technique and other developments— it is most desirable that men going back into the agricultural industry should have every facility for proper training, and for equipping themselves with the technical knowledge necessary to bring the industry to the high pitch of efficiency which I am sure everybody desires. It is for that reason that the training schemes have been brought into being. They make provision for men coming out of the Army, both able-bodied and, in certain cases, disabled, to receive proper training. In the case of the men who have had no agricultural training whatever, the scheme enables them to have 12 months at a farm, with maintenance allowances, so that they can equip themselves properly with modern knowledge of the practical side of the industry. At the moment we have something like 15,000 farmers listed as capable of training men and willing to take them astrainees, and we want increasing numbers of suitable men to take advantage of the scheme. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland that it is very desirable, in these matters, that the wife of the prospective agricultural worker should also be willing to go on the land. We have long since passed the days when we could talk about "three acres and a cow." That sort of romanticism has gone, and we have to make a more practical approach to the problem. We arc hoping that the provisions of the training scheme will do much towards giving people more confidence and qualifications in that direction.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth)

Are the 15,000 farmers listed all in England or is Scotland included?

Mr. Collick

I think the figure covers both England and Scotland. The point I am making is that there is no shortage in that direction. Perhaps I ought to take this opportunity of saying a word about the resettlement grants scheme, since the question of training has figured so largely in the Debate. The agricultural departments will shortly announce the introduction of a scheme, similar to the resettlement grants scheme of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, for men and women who were working on their own holdings before undertaking whole time paid service in His Majesty's Forces, the Merchant Navy or the Defence Services, in order to assist them to restart holdings of their own for commercial food production—a term which, by the way, includes pig and poultry keeping, market gardening, and the other forms of horticulture. In suitable cases the scheme will apply also to persons disabled as the result of war service, even though they were not farming on their own account before joining up. A disabled person inexperienced in agriculture may, however, be required to complete satisfactorily a course of free instruction under the Ministry's training scheme as a prerequisite to receiving a grant. As under the Ministry of Labour scheme, the maximum grant will be £ 150 but grants will be made of course only to those who show that their financial resources are otherwise insufficient.

Major John Morrison (Salisbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that ex-Servicemen or farmers setting up now cannot get rations for pigs and poultry?

Mr. Collide

We are very conscious of that. In view of the desirability of interviewing applicants and giving them an opportunity of stating their cases, the administration of the scheme in England and Wales is to be entrusted to the county war agricultural committees, which are being recommended to set up a small panel, on which the Ministry's Land Commissioner would sit, to receive and consider applications for grants, if necessary to interview applicants, and to decide the amount of grant. Perhaps I should say, for the information of Members, that the closing date for applications from men and women who have already returned to civil life is 31st May next, while those who are not yet released from the Services will be able to make application within six months of the date of their release.

Major Legge-Bourke


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I think we should have as few interruptions as possible. We are rather late on the schedule.

Major Legge-Bourkc

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether hewill take steps to see that the people who have already come out of the Forces have that information sent to them by the Service authorities?

Mr. Collick

We shall, within the course of a few days, bring it to the notice of those concerned. We have been working the scheme out in detail, and the moment it is ready to put into print it will be circulated through the usual channels. We are naturally anxious that all those who are interested should know as much as possible about it

I will conclude by returning to what we consider to be the really important thing in this business, and that is to deal adequately with the housing question in the countryside. There are obviously difficulties because of the great demands on building labour and the need to see that such labour is only occupied on the most urgent priority work, but we intend to do our best to secure the houses and amenities for the countryside. If we can get them, we have reasonable hopes of getting the workers, but if we cannot get housing conditions that are worth while, frankly, we can hardly expect people to go to the countryside for agricultural work.