Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £255,090, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants, grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and improvement of breeding, etc., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing; fishery organisation, research and development, control of diseases of fish, etc.; and sundry other services, including agricultural training and settlement schemes, the management and use of land acquired for forestry, a grant in aid of the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund and certain remanet subsidy payments.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)
This Session of Parliament has maintained the old established custom and tradition in the indulgence which it has extended to all new Members making their maiden speeches. I feel sure, therefore, in making my first speech in the House from this Box, I can rely upon any indulgence which may be necessary. The Supplementary Estimate I am asking the Committee to approve is one of £255,090, the summary of which is clearly set out on page 19 of the Supplementary Estimate.
The first item thereof is a relatively small amount in connection with artificial insemination, and Members of the Committee may remember that the sum of £10,000 was provided under this head in the original estimate to enable grants to 1056 be made to approved organisations providing a service of artificial insemination for cattle. Research is going on, the practical application of this new method is going on, and I think everybody on both sides of the House is more or less of one opinion in regard to this matter. As Members of the Committee will know, specific statutory authority in connection with these activities on artificial insemination is presently before the House in a Bill which I anticipate we may reach perhaps to-morrow, with the indulgence of Members opposite.
The second item of the Supplementary Estimate is for expenses in connection with former activities of the Commissioners for Special Areas. The House may remember under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, the Commissioners for the Special Areas have been wound up and the Treasury proposes to determine under Section 8 of that Act that the agreements entered into by the Commissioner with the Land Settlement Association, the Welsh Land Settlement Society and certain county councils should be transferred to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. The next item is one of settlement grants.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what these figures represent? Is it a recurring loss?
§ Mr. Collick
No, it is merely, as I understand it, the new arrangement under that Act by which the expense which has to be met in this connection by way of grants comes directly out of the funds of the Ministry of Agriculture, rather than under the different arrangement as hitherto prevailed.
§ Mr. Collick
There is the capital expenditure of the Land Settlement Association in connection with its small holdings estates of £5,000 and a grant to the Durham County Council towards administrative expenses in connection with small holdings amounting to £4,500, and a land drainage grant in connection with the River Skerne, County Durham, of £5,500.
The next item is one of settlement grants, and the Committee will remember that a few months ago the Minister of Labour brought into operation a resettle- 1057 ment grant scheme, applicable to all trades and occupations other than agriculture and fisheries, and confined to the restarting of non-disabled persons who were in business or work on their own account before joining any of the Services available under the scheme, and to the setting up on their own account for the first time, in suitable cases, of persons disabled by war service. The maximum grant to any person under this provision was £150. It has been accepted that agriculture should receive equal treatment in this matter with the other trades and occupations, and the Agricultural Departments have prepared a corresponding scheme of agricultural resettlement grants which will be limited, as regard the able-bodied, to those who were working on holdings on their own account before joining any of the eligible Services; and in respect of the disabled, to assisting them, in suitable cases, to set up on their own account for the first time, as under the Ministry of Labour scheme. The maximum grant proposed under the agricultural scheme is the same as that under the Ministry of Labour scheme, namely, £150. The details of the Agricultural Resettlement Grants are now being finally settled with the Ministry of Labour and the Treasury, and as soon as this has been done a public announcement about the scheme will be made. We anticipate that this should be quite soon.
The next item about operations under the Forestry Act is a relatively minor matter with which, I think, I need not trouble the Committee. We shall be pleased of course to reply to any questions of hon. Members and it is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Minister to reply to any questions that may be put. The biggest item of the Supplementary Estimate is for the further grant-in-aid to the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund.
§ Mr. Hudson
Surely, although this is only £100, it is the first time it has occurred. This, presumably, is the first operation as a result of the Act which was passed this year, transferring from the Forestry Commission to the Ministry of Agriculture a considerable amount of land. I think we should all be interested to know how much land has been, transferred and what steps are being taken to run it, even though the aggregate total figure is only a token estimate.
§ Mr. Collick
It is the intention of the Minister to reply to these details, and I am sure the former Minister of Agriculture himself will appreciate that very much indeed. Therefore, I do not want to repeat what is going to be said by the Minister. With the sanction of the Committee I will go on to the next item.
In connection with the grant to the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund this is an amount of £150,000 and is supplementary to a grant previously made of £10,000. I am sure everybody on both sides of the House appreciates to the full the amazingly good job of work the members of the Women's Land Army did during the terrible days through which we have passed. I think on both sides of the House there will be unanimous approval of the amount that is going to be paid over in this way. The Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund was established in 1942. Its object was to raise a fund by which relief could be given to people who were in need and who during the war have been members of the Women's Land Army, or of the headquarters staff or the county staffs thereof. It is to be said to the credit of this organisation that they themselves have raised a very considerable sum of well over £100,000 for this Fund. The amount in the Supplementary Estimate is for a total of £150,000 in order that members of the Women's Land Army, when the time comes when they cease to be members and they have to get back to resettlement in civilian life, can be assisted in all sorts of way and particularly in hardship cases.
The Fund is under the jurisdiction of a Committee specially charged with that function. On that Committee there are representatives of the Women's Land Army, representatives of the National Farmers' Union and representatives of the Agricultural Workers' Unions. I am informed that the Committee are anxious that the ordinary rank and file of the Women's Land Army should be consulted and kept fully informed about the use of this Benevolent Fund, and a conference is to be called in the near future to which every county is to be invited to send a serving Land Army member and also an administration officer, to discuss the whole matter with the Committee of the Fund.
We therefore hope that the Committee will agree to this sum in order that assistance may be rendered to what the Com- 1059 mittee will agree to be this very admirable purpose.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. York
I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his maiden appearance at the Box. I am quite sure that with the ready way in which he dealt with the complications which arose during his speech, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has a worthy assistant in the hon. Member. There are one or two questions supplementary to what the hon. Gentleman has just said upon which I should like information. My right hon. Friend the late Minister of Agriculture has indicated that there is some perturbation in the Committee upon this question of forestry. I feel inclined to doubt the wisdom of granting the Government £100 when we know that a vastly greater sum of money than that is required to carry out the policy which not only the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, but most of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, wish to see put into effect. The Forestry Act which was passed in the last Parliament was, I agree, a matter of minor importance in so far as actual forestry is concerned. It set up a machine upon which could be built future forest programmes. I hope that the Government are not going to be content in this Session with that machinery Bill, but are, in fact, going to go ahead with the forest programme which they know as well as we do is of vital importance to this country. If I can have an assurance from the Minister of Agriculture that that policy is in contemplation, I shall feel more able to grant without further comment, and certainly without an adverse vote, this £100 which is now asked for.
The second point I wish to raise concerns the Women's Land Army. Here is a result of the unwillingness of the Government to make proper provision for the Women's Land Army. Instead of making that proper provision they are coming to the House to ask for a charitable fund to be set up in substitution for the proper right of the Women's Land Army. Although I welcome this Benevolent Fund, and indeed would wish it were more—I welcome it because it will be some small substitution—it is really a 1060 poor reward for all the services which that gallant force has rendered during the war. I have had the privilege of employing Land Army workers, so I know what they are and what their work is. Although I cannot vote against a contribution from public funds towards the Benevolent Fund, I do so with an unwilling heart because I feel that this is not the type of reward I should like them to receive. If this appropriation had been a fund for gratuities which so many of us have asked for—
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The hon. Member cannot go into other matters. The question is whether the money is to be approved or not for this purpose, and not for some other purpose.
§ Mr. York
I was hoping. Major Milner, that your eye would be engaged elsewhere while I perhaps strained the Rules of Order. Seeing that you have so rightly ruled me out of Order I cannot take that matter any further. I would merely ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider in his heart whether he is satisfied that this is all that the Government can do for the Women's Land Army.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
I would like, if I may, to congratulate the hon. Member who introduced this Supplementary Estimate, more on his personal performance than the content of the Estimate. That is because, as the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) has just said, this provision for the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund is a direct result of the failure of the Coalition Government to deal in a proper manner with the members of the Women's Land Army. What is the result? Instead of according to the members of the Women's Land Army a proper and adequate gratuity—
§ The Chairman
The question before the Committee is the approval of this sum for the purpose set out in the Estimate, and not whether it is desirable to do something else.
§ Mr. Butcher
I am grateful to you, Major Milner. All I would say is, let the Committee be quite clear that this £150,000 being granted is under no control whatever by this Committee as gratuities would be. Indeed, on page 20 we learn that the expenditure will not be accounted for in detail and that any 1061 balance which remains will not be surrendered. That is a method of hit or miss, whereas other methods, which I may not specify now, would be far more accurate.
The principal matter I wish to bring to the notice of the Committee is the very unsatisfactory provision being made for settlement grants. The total amount being granted is £50,000. I ask the Minister just how many men is it proposed to settle on the land with that sum? If the maximum grant of£150 is made the contribution of this Government to resettlement of workers on the land is, if my arithmetic is correct, in terms of 330 men. Or, if you like, we could examine it in terms of acreage. At £20 per acre £50,000 will only provide the capital for equipping 2,500 acres. This is not the way in which we are to resettle ex-Servicemen who have forsaken their own homes and served in the war, or to resettle men disabled by war service. We must have far more adequate and generous provision.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I would like to congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, not only on his speech but also on the Estimate he has presented. I wish to ask one or two questions with regard to the scope of the Estimate. I am not touching on gratuities. I wish to know just what this sum for the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund is to be used for. Will it merely give small amounts to members of the Women's Land Army when they are leaving land work and may be in need, to provide them with, say, clothing, or, in cases of illness which compels them to leave the Land Army, will it just provide them with a small sum to help them over the illness, or will it go very much further and give to Land Army members an opportunity themselves to become farmers?
I know many of the Land Army girls, and I have heard some of them express a wish to remain on the land. If such a desire exists, having proved, as I think they have, their adaptability for agricultural work, an opportunity should be given them and some capital provided for them to establish themselves in that profession. I would also like to know if it will be used for the purpose of research, and for giving the young women on the land the opportunity to study at the agricultural colleges 1062 matters associated with the land, or something better than just working as land girls in the cases where they have the capacity to undertake that work in some of its higher branches. I would like some more explanation as to the scope and extent to which this money is to be used. Is it to be just one grant of £150,000 or, if it is found to be not only necessary but useful during the time the money lasts, is it proposed to make it, or some sum that might be considered necessary, an annual grant in the annual Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture?
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
I want to ask the Minister if he will make a point of seeing that the responsibility of his Department under the Forestry Act shall include the responsibility for what I might call the lighter industries connected with forestry, such as the making of hurdles. That case has always gone by default and this is an opportunity for me to make that plea.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
Of the questions which have been asked, I think the one that ought to be answered first is that which was put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) because he knows the answer better than most people. The Bill that he negotiated through this House earlier this year determined that all land vested in the Forestry Commission should be transferred to the Minister of Agriculture and that all land purchased by the Forestry Commission but not used by the Forestry Commission for a period should be managed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Therefore, this £100 is simply a token vote to enable the Ministry of Agriculture to manage any land hitherto vested in the Forestry Commission or subsequently purchased by the Forestry Commission for afforestation. The small sum of £100 is merely a token figure, and I am sure it is not the first time the right hon. Gentleman has heard that expression. It is a small sum because it is a token figure.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I had assumed that this was a token figure, but surely the object of a token Vote is to give the Minister an opportunity of informing the Committee what he proposes to do. 1063 This is the first opportunity that the right hon. Gentleman has had of explaining to the Committee the sort of machinery that he proposes to set up. My recollection is—I have not looked up the figures—that some 375,000 acres, or something of that order, belonging to the Forestry Commission had not been planted. That is the land out of which the right hon. Gentleman has to select for administration by his Department under this token figure, and some machinery has to be set up between his Department and the Forestry Commission to determine how much of those 375,000acres—assuming that is the correct figure—are required by the Forestry Commission for planting over the next five, 10, 15 or 20 years.
Part of the agreement which was made as a result of which the Bill was passed through the late Parliament was that the Ministry of Agriculture, if the land was transferred to it, would always ensure that the Forestry Commission had sufficient land available to carry out a steady development programme, so that it would not in any way be constrained through not being able to see far enough ahead. All that, I submit, is a matter on which we are entitled to expect the right hon. Gentleman to tell us the sort of machinery he has in mind, and how far he has gone in setting up that machinery, because this is a token vote.
§ The Chairman
I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to ask a question. I am afraid he cannot make a speech.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am trying to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the extent of the information for which the Committee is entitled to ask, even at this early stage, when he is asking for a token Vote of £100. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was not aware of the keenness of the desire of hon. Members on this side for that information.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for informing me of the keenness which hon. Members on the opposite side feel about afforestation. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have been the last person to have expected me, on a token Vote for £100 for the purpose of managing land, transferred or purchased, to provide the Committee with a long dissertation on our future afforestation policy, and 1064 that this would have been the worst possible moment for me to do so. I am sure that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Committee would expect me to explain fully, meticulously and in detail our future policy on this small token Vote. What the right hon. Gentleman seems to forget is that this £100 is not for afforestation policy in the sense that he is trying to suggest across the Floor of the Committee. The time will come—and I hope quite soon—when it will be my duty to explain to the House of Commons the machinery for future afforestation policy, but surely this is not the moment for such an explanation.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am sorry, but Hansard will decide in the morning. I did not think I had asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what his policy is going to be, because clearly I would have been out of Order on this Vote. What I am asking is, what machinery he proposes to set up in his Department of Agriculture for dealing with the land and administering it when it is surrendered by the Agricultural Commission.
§ The Chairman
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that the question in the Estimate is that a supplementary sum be granted for agricultural training and settlement schemes, the management and use of land acquired for forestry and a grant in aid of the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund.
§ Mr. Hudson
With respect, that is precisely the point of my remarks. The cost of administering land devoted to forestry is going to be under the Forestry Commission. It is not going to fall on the Ministry of Agriculture Vote. What is going to fall on that Vote is the management of agricultural land which is not required for forestry, or at all events not required at the present moment or in the next ten or 15 years. I want to know the Minister's agricultural policy on this matter.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Perhaps the best reply I can give to the right hon. Gentleman is—and I clearly understand what he has in mind—that it is obvious that if the Ministry of Agriculture are to take over agricultural land, either purchased by the Forestry Commission in the past or more recently, the Ministry will need some machinery to care for that land while it still remains in agriculture. All I can 1065 tell my right hon. Friend at the moment is that the same machinery which existed during the few weeks he remained in office after the passing of the new Forestry Act is in existence at this moment. To what extent it might be improved as larger areas of land are taken over and the responsibility becomes broader, I am afraid I am at this moment unable to say. It is obvious that if any future policy should involve the purchasing of millions of acres of land, clearly some steps will have to be taken by the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman used to preside to set up machinery to deal with that situation. I am sure that he does not expect me to tell him at this moment what the future machinery is likely to be to deal with a very real problem. I hope he will appreciate that he has just extracted from me about as much as I can be expected to say on that point.
§ Mr. T. Williams
One hundred pounds' worth at the first time of asking is about as much as one dare hope to get. Whatever is necessary when the new policy is announced to this House will be provided for.
The other question related to the grant to the Women's Land Army. The grant was determined by the late Government. I am merely asking the Committee to accept responsibility for the money that is now being handed over. It is not my policy or the policy of my right hon. Friend, but of the late Government. I am simply here this afternoon asking for assent to the money that has already been handed over by the late Government. My hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) asked one or two pertinent questions about what we were going to do in connection with the Women's Land Army, regarding those who want to settle on the land. The right hon. Gentleman on 16th May made this statement in the House:For those who wish to make agriculture their career, specialised training in agricultural work suitable for women will be provided at Government expense. For girls of a suitable educational standard whose further education has been interrupted or prevented, courses of higher agricultural education will be provided under the Further Education and Training Scheme leading to posts in advisory, instructional and research services.…1066For those who do not wish to make agriculture their career, free Government training under the same conditions as for the Women's Auxiliary Services and other war services will be available on their release from the Women's Land Army."—[Official Report, 16th May, 1945; Vol. 410, c. 2476.]I am sure those who administer the Benevolent Fund will be ready and willing to make grants where necessary to members of the Women's Land Army who want to migrate to other industries, to cover the time when they will want training.
I think those are all the points which have been raised, except that which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher). It was a suggestion that I should state with mathematical precision the purpose of this £50,000. I think he must have known that this is only a token vote, dealing with settlement of cases down to the end of March next. It is obvious that if any large number are desirous of returning to their former industry or holding, much more than £50,000 will be required. The sum asked for here is merely to help us down to March, 1946. If there is any excess in that period, obviously a further Supplementary Estimate will be called for. I should have thought he would have welcomed the fact that we are seeking to establish for those who went from the Services to agriculture the same conditions as for those who were associated with other businesses.
§ Mr. Butcher
I am very grateful indeed to the right hon. Gentleman for assuring us that this money is not limited in the way that made it seem so poor. Would my right hon. Friend indicate why a token Vote of £100 has been introduced in one place and a token Vote of £50,000 in another?
§ Mr. Williams
I do not feel that there is any material difference in the two figures, so long as they are applicable to totally different services. It may conceivably be, as the hon. Member suggested, that £50,000 is not a lot of money, but it may be as much as we have spent so far.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £255,090 be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for the salaries and
expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants, grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and improvement of breeding, etc., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing; fishery organisation, research and development, control of diseases, of fish, etc.; and sundry other services, including agricultural training and settlement schemes, the management and use of land acquired for forestry, a grant in aid of the Women's Land Army Benevolent Fund and certain remanet subsidy payments.