§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [15th February]—
§ "That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government for Agriculture."—[Mt. Thomas Williams.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I think, speaking from this side of the House, I should at the outset repeat what was said on the first day of this Debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-port (Mr. Hudson), namely, that it is far better to discuss a question such as the future of agriculture, as we are doing today on a substantive Motion, than on an Adjournment Motion, or on the Consolidated Fund Bill, on both of which we are debarred from discussing legislation. I would like to tell the Leader of the House that we hope that by the ordinary arrangements between the two Front Benches this method may be adopted in the future, as it has been on this occasion. When the Coalition Government were in office, I often criticised them from this Bench, but I seldom, if ever, said a word of blame, nor did anyone else, about either my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport or of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who is the present Minister. I would like to repeat now, because it bears repetition, the fact that there was a very fine combination between my right hon. Friend and the present Minister for the good of agriculture, and for the supply of food for this country. I am delighted that there is a very large measure of continuity of policy, despite political differences, and, on both personal and public grounds, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman 1575 the present Minister should have succeeded my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport.
As I am self-rationed as to time today, 1 shall put the points which I wish to make, on behalf of all Members representing agricultural constituencies in this part of the House, in tabloid form. They will be mainly of an interrogatory nature, although every speech should have some idea, some theme, behind it. I will put my points succinctly, and I hope they will not meet with any opposition. This is a very urbanised country; in fact, many would say that it is over urbanised, and that for 70 years or more this urbanisation has produced, on the part of many of its inhabitants, a callous disregard for the soil and those who live by it, save for very brief interludes, mainly confined to the two war periods. In the circumstances, the Government have a magnificent opportunity, with official Opposition support, and, I suppose, the support of Members representing the Liberal Party as well, to make the British, who are a slow thinking, but, in the long run, a just people, abandon for ever the calamitous attitude towards the cultivation of their own soil which they displayed in the past, and which reached its culmination in the disastrous years for agriculture, 1880–89, of the last century. So long as that is Government policy, they will have the support of the Opposition in it.
I submit that this country is still not sufficiently what I would call, "soil minded." I called attention, not by way of criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport, or the Minister, during the war, to the fact that there were thousands of acres of common land in Southern England which once afforded excellent grazing—I believe the old fashioned Anglo-Saxon term was "pannage "—for animals of all kind, and which had been allowed to become over-grown with gorse, broom and bracken which, it seemed, it was nobody's business to clear. That land is still covered with broom and bracken, and in many cases people in the neighbourhood who own dairy cattle would be only too glad, if given the opportunity, to make use of it. In the South of England there are literally thousands of acres of land which, until 1835–40, was agricultural land. It was then turned into coppice land, because in those days a coppice was valuable for making hoops for barrels, for 1576 fencing, for bean and pea sticks, and other things, which, eventually, were not required in the same way because of modern inventions and foreign competition. Today, that land is neither forest nor coppice land. It has no good wood of any kind; it is simply worn-out land.
Experience which I, my right hon. Friend in his private capacity, and more than one of my hon. Friends have had, has shown us that by the use of modern methods, especially by a preliminary blowing up of stumps and by the use of a bulldozer, that land can be turned back into agricultural land, and the cost of conversion is less than the capital value of the converted land. I must not prejudge what we shall say on the Forestry Bill, but I sincerely hope that that question will be tackled, and that such land will either become good woodland, or else will be used for agricultural purposes in the way I have described.
I will say only one other thing on the question of the Englishman not being sufficiently soil minded. I happen to be: the owner of some 30,000 acres of land in Northern Rhodesia, of which only 10,000 are under cultivation. I offered some years ago 20,000 acres to the Government, without any rent, so that it might be utilised for growing maize, monkey nuts and other products that could be grown in that country for local use and export. The offer was not accepted, it being stated that there was no labour available. Millions of acres of land within the British Empire are still empty today. How useful it would be if they had been cultivated, and we could bring in the produce grown there for the use of livestock in this country. It is much too wide a question to go into now, but it was all very well, in the old days, to jeer at those of us who advocated Imperial Preference, or at Lord Beaverbrook for his advocacy of Empire Free Trade. Would it not have been very helpful to this country and the Empire today if we had had a balanced food production in the British Empire? I do not want to pursue the matter further, because I think that, at long last, the slow-thinking British are beginning to realise that they cannot go on neglecting their soil, at home or abroad, indefinitely.
I would first ask what are the Government's views, and I am sure we shall have an answer in the reply from the Front 1577 Bench opposite, on the question of grading of wages according to skill. The disputes over wage rates which are taking place are due largely to the Government's failure to advocate a national wages policy, and I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what are his views on the Labour Party's manifesto of today, which I understand, at long last, advocates a national wages policy? When considering labour questions, one must put these leading points to the Government. My second question is, What are the Government's plans for getting in this year's harvest? Last year we had exceptionally fine weather, and we may not have it this year—it is very unlikely we shall. We barely escaped a disaster last year. Have the Government the same plans as the previous Government? Is there to be prisoner labour on an extended scale? If so, how much? Are there to be school camps, are there to be special school holidays, is there to be any appeal to urban workers and special camps for them, are there to be any further accelerated releases from the Army under Class B? We wan to know all that, because without the labour, it will be impossible to get in the harvest.
My third point is this: It is more and more apparent in every direction that an adequate supply of efficient contented labour for agriculture depends to a great extent upon the provision of proper housing, of piped water, of gas or electricity, of sewage disposal schemes for cottages, farm houses and farms. The lack of progress here is absolutely lamentable. Since this Government came into power we have had no evidence whatever that they are really handling this situation. Let the right hon. Gentleman tell us in what rural areas cottages are going up in any quantity I have not seen a single one. Instead, there has been interference in some respects. I have not time to deal with the cottage programme, but I would say that the cost to small local authorities of carrying out sewerage and water schemes is almost prohibitive. The cost of mains, labour and everything else is almost prohibitive. The Government have shown no imagination in this direction. They have shown no desire to press on with their rural housing or the provision of these amenities, which, alone, will make rural housing 1578 popular with the people whom it is wished to attract to the land.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)rose—
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry, but I am afraid I have not the time to give way. I am self-rationed as to the time I propose to stand at this Box, and the hon. Gentleman can make a speech afterwards. There is no party question involved in this matter. We on these Benches and the Members of the Liberal Party below the Gangway are anxious to see these amenities provided and I hope hon. Members opposite rather than resenting my criticism will join with us in pressing on the Minister the need for getting on with the matter as soon as possible.
My next question follows logically and consecutively on those I have already asked. Are the Ministry exerting all the influence they should in securing that neither the best farmland, nor allotment land are compulsorily acquired for housing, when alternative sites are available? We ought to have definite information on that point. I have had something to do with the allotment movement in this country. I do not think the Government need any warning, but I give the Minister this friendly warning, that allotment holders are preparing to fight for their due rights like a tiger cat for its young. They do not intend to see the hard-earned results of their work, the land they have cultivated, needlessly taken from them for housing sites when other sites are equally available. I hope the Minister will put up a big fight for them. Here is another question which affects the small man. I put it on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House. Put in plain language, there has been a gross dishonouring of the pledge in regard to future poultry rations. It has not been dishonoured, it is true, through any deliberate desire on the part of the Government to be dishonest; it is due to miscalculation, not malevolence on their part, but incompetence is often as damaging as actual misfeasance. I think there is a case for compensation being paid, and I hope it will be considered by the Government.
Another case of incompetence which affects agriculture is the refusal of the War Office to remove barbed wire after they have ceased to occupy land. I have 1579 a letter from Lord Nathan, with whom I took the matter up, in which he says that the removal of the wire is not the responsibility of the unit commander and that the War Office only removed dangerous defence works. He adds that the War Office do not undertake to restore property to its pre-war condition, that this is covered by a cash payment under the Compensation Defence Act. That means that the farmer or the landowner himself should remove the wire, but no one knows better than the Minister that it is physically impossible for them to do so, because they have not the labour. How can one remove wire which has been bulldozed into the ground? The number of man hours it would take would be prohibitive. With a little imgination on the part of the Government, and a little of the liaison which is lacking in this Government between one Department and another, a great deal of soldier labour might have been used to free the land in the South of England of this wire. It is regrettable that that has not been done.
There are several other matters upon which my hon. Friends and right hon. Friends on this side of the House and I want confirmation and more definitiveness than we have had hitherto. I list them as follows: The continuation of the breeding research and advisory committees; the interim powers and status of the war agricultural committees and the district committees under them—my right hon. Friend asked some questions on that subject and I hope they will be fully answered; and Government payment of compensation for ploughing up under the Agricultural Holdings Act. There is one point which has hardly been mentioned and which I consider should be emphasised; it is the importance—which was never greater than at this moment because we need to export so desperately, and there is such a vast market everywhere—of doing everything possible to stimulate the pedigree cattle export trade. We have never had such an opportunity. As one who, in a mild way, with my father, was a pioneer in the export of one breed of pedigree cattle, the Sussex, sending them to Southern Rhodesia where they have been a great success, I would like to say that it is a trade which is still capable of expansion. It may not continue to be so because the Americans believe—and I think the right hon. Gentleman will bear me out in 1580 this—that within a short time they can produce as good pedigree cattle as we can: in fact they even claim they can do so now.
Are the Government advertising the matter as much as they can? There are splendid prices being paid at the moment. A record price was paid the other day for a bull—a Shorthorn I believe. The interesting thing is that anybody who is acquainted with the trade, over the last 40 years, will know that there is a great variation in the value of breeds from time to time. Sometimes the Shorthorn, sometimes the Hereford, and sometimes another breed tops the values. I think we are all agreed that it is very satisfactory that this big price has been obtained. I hope the Government will emphasise in the South of England that though we have greatly improved the quality of diary cattle, there is still a tendency for the small farmer to keep too many varieties of cattle. For instance, I could give examples—naturally I will not mention names—of small farmers with an average milking number of about 20 cows, that is to say keeping about 25 cows in all, who have three or four different breeds instead of sticking to one. I think all Members of the House will agree, that it would be desirable if the small farmer stuck to one good breed instead of going in for two or three. Obviously, it affects the value of the calves when they are produced.
I end with this aphorism, which I commend to hon. Gentlemen opposite, as well as to my own hon. Friends. Primitive man, when he first entered upon the settlement stage, scraped the ground to sow his crop; then he harvested the crop and protected it because he did not trust his neighbours and knew that his life and that of his family depended upon the food he grew. So it was for countless generations, if we follow the history of mankind. In the 19th century, however, under the influence of Mr. Cobden, the belief sprang up that one could always get food somewhere and therefore that one could neglect one's own land as much as one liked, and in any case the idea of universal war was unintelligent. The 1914 war shook that idea rather badly, but under the influence of the League of Nations, and especially under the influence of the invincible and unjustified optimism of the the League of Nations Union and its advocates, the old 1581 delusions were brought back between the wars. But I would like to say this: deplorable as it may seem to all of us on both sides of the House, primitive man, with his flint hoe and his club to protect his crop, may more accurately have judged world human nature than either Mr. Cobden or Lord Cecil of Chelwood. So it would appear looking round the world today. What I mean is that it would not appear that humanity, in essence, had changed very much from the days of the man with his flint hoe and his little store of grain. At any rate the lesson which the two wars have taught this country is that we can never, at any time, but especially during a war, depend on another country to send us all the food which we want at the price we can afford to pay for it, and that once and for all the people of this country and this House had better wake up to this.
In the old days, 40 years ago, when we debated British or Scottish agriculture we had about six hon. Members on either side of the House—all of whom appeared to me to be in their dotage— mumbling a few observations to which nobody listened, and when the Minister, who was usually the least efficient of any of his colleagues, replied none of them listened to him either. At least today and in recent Parliaments and recent Sessions, the House has been taking more interest in this subject. But interest by itself is not enough. We who represent agricultural constituencies ought to be quite definite in every one of the speeches we make on the subject, which is our subject—naturally we have a right to make it our subject. We ought to say to the town-dwellers of this country, "You have been stung twice before and you have managed to survive the sting, but if you are stung a third time, it may be the downfall of your country and of your nation."
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)
I will not attempt to follow the trend of the discussion initiated by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), except to express some interest in certain remarks he has made. I confess I am not a little amused at the sudden conversion of the Noble Lord, and the party which he represents, on the question of rural amenities. The Noble 1582 Lord has adorned the benches of this House for the last 40 years, and it seems to me that that is a long period in which to reach the decision which he has now reached, that it is very necessary that we should introduce into the countryside a higher degree of amenity in order to attract the people to the countryside and arrest the drift—
§ Earl Winterton
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to do me an injustice. It was in the year 1906, under the then Liberal Government, that I made a speech attacking Mr. John Burns for his failure to deal with rural housing. At least my conversion is 40 years old.
§ Mr. Robertson
I am pleased to have that confession on the part of the Noble Lord. I would only say that his conversion has not been singularly successful in view of the fact that the rural population of our country today cannot be regarded as living under the best conditions, after the 40 years during which the Noble Lord has advocated rural amenities.
A Debate upon agriculture is particularly appropriate at this time, because of the serious food situation in which this country finds itself. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have referred to the matter many times in the last few weeks, both in the House and in the country. It may not be out of order to compare our present position, with that which faced our country when the war started, after 18 years of unrestricted Tory rule in this country It is as well that we should remind ourselves of the perilous state in which agriculture was placed after successive Tory Administrations, which had treated agriculture as the Cinderella—
§ Mr. Speaker
I must remind the hon. Member that this is a Debate on a Motion to approve the agricultural policy of the present Government, and that to go in great detail into the policies of past Governments, is hardly relevant to the Motion.
§ Mr. Robertson
I bow to your Ruling, Sir. I had hoped that we might be able to learn something from the past. I will now pass to the policy advocated by the present Government. It is only fair to say that it was because of the introduction of that policy during the war years that we escaped, as we did, from a very serious situation.
1583 I represent probably the most fertile and progressive agricultural area in Scotland. Therefore I will endeavour to confine my remarks to Scottish agriculture. Agriculture is Scotland's most important industry. In 1932, about 23 per cent. of our population were engaged in it. That was during the depression years. Of the total Scottish acreage, about 25 per cent. was intensively cultivated, some 50 per cent. was rough grazing, and about 20 per cent. was deer forest. By 1944, the total number of people employed in the industry in Scotland was 176,000, compared with those employed in our next largest industry, coalmining, where the number employed was some 135,000. The wartime expansion was remarkable. In 1938, the total tillable acreage of Scotland was about 1,480,000, the lowest acreage recorded under tillage during the present century. During the war, as a result of the expansion, the tillable acreage was nearly doubled by 1944, when Scotland was not only feeding her own population but was actually sending 1,000,000 tons of food—oats, beef, mutton and potatoes—to England. Her farmers were exporting 473,000 tons of seed potatoes in 1943 as against 120,000 tons in 1939. In addition to the million tons already mentioned, Scotland was exporting something like 150,000 tons of fish to the English market. The success of agriculture during the war has been a vindication, I suggest, of the Labour Party's agricultural policy, enunciated in 1932. That policy was one of assured markets with firm prices, so that farmers could plan ahead and aim at the maximum production. They will be encouraged to know that that will remain the peacetime policy of the present Government.
Now, I turn to the question of expanding our home market by the distribution of agricultural produce. I was looking up that great writer Adam Smith the other day. In his "Wealth of Nations" I came across a rather remarkable statement. I should like to refer hon. Members to the statement, which they will find in the second volume, Chapter 8:Consumption should be the sole aim and purpose of production, and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only in so far as it may be necessary to promote the interest of the consumer; but, in the mercantile system, the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer.1584 He seemed to consider consumption and not production as the ultimate aim and object of all industry. I am pleased to note that the present Government, by their policy of increasing the volume of spending power among the masses of our people, will create that market which is ready to assimilate the produce of the farmers of this country.
I turn to the question of the incidence of rent, and how it affects the agricultural industry. Rent and subsidies can, I think, be combined under one heading. We might liken agriculture to the rain-water barrel. If English Members do not understand what I mean, they might accompany me to my constituency in Berwickshire where they will find a water-butt at the door of every agricultural tied cottage. Agriculture is like the rain-water barrel in this respect, that you can fill that barrel only up to the centre if the bung-hole has been knocked out. In the same way agriculture cannot be filled above the bung-hole of rent. You may pour spates of subsidies and doles into agriculture, but you will never fill it until you control the size of the bung-hole of rent and land values. As evidence of the futility of subsidies, I give a typical case of a tenant who is paying over£1,300 a year in rent for his farm. He received, in 1936, in wheat and beef subsidies over£800. Surely the taxpayer and the consumers are entitled to demand that this quite gratuitous and unnecessary dole-mongering should stop, and that farmers should get no subsidies at all but should pay£800 less in rent?
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
May I ask the hon.Gentleman a question? He is making a very serious statement in suggesting that rents in this country, and in Scotland particularly, have gone up by leaps and bounds within the last two years, when there has certainly been a better livelihood for the farmer than heretofore. Will he give us some concrete instance and, in particular, the acreage of the farm he has just mentioned?
§ Mr. Robertson
I am coming to that. It is perfectly true that rents can be increased and that there is no control over the rent being increased in consequence of the demand for farms. I would give another instance of a farmer farming some of the best land in Scotland, rented at about 40s. per acre. He received in 1936 in beef and wheat subsidies over£1,200. 1585 It is never the farmer nor the agricultural worker, however, who reaps the real benefit from subsidies; it is the landowner alone who reaps them. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] It is the landowner alone who profits from subsidies. This is an unscrupulous method of transferring from the taxpayer's pocket to the landowner's income a tremendous amount of money to which the landowner is not entitled, and I propose to proceed with this case because it has a tremendous bearing on agriculture. Whilst I am dealing with this question, may I quote from a White Paper issued in 1926 by a Conservative Government under the leadership of Mr. Baldwin as he then was? I think this is probably the finest, most concise and devastating statement against agricultural subsidies which I have come across. This is what the White Paper Cmd. 2581 says:Any general scheme of subsidies for agriculture is open to the gravest objection. They would have to be unlimited in duration and very large in amount to have any material effect of increasing the arable area or the number of workers employed. In view of the extreme variations all over the country in the quality or productive capacity of land, it is impossible to devise any scheme of subsidies which will not result m the payment of a bonus to farmers who do not need it, and for which no return will be received by the nation.I think it will be agreed that the introduction of subsidies by past Governments has failed completely to stimulate production in agriculture. The bald fact remains that a large proportion of the subsidies doled out by successive Conservative Governments did nothing whatever to stimulate the industry of agriculture, but had to be passed on by the farmer to the landlord, or to the financial house from which he had probably borrowed money to purchase his farm.
Let me give one or two instances of the cost of running a farm today. I take the period 1931 to 1932, which was a depression period for agriculture in Scotland. In a typical case where 14 men were employed on a farm, they received 85 per cent. of the divisible surplus of£2,499. The farmer's loss was—46.5 per cent. of the divisible surplus, or£1,376. The rent was 61.5 per cent. of the divisible surplus, or£1,800. The rent was over and above the amount which the farmer lost after his very hard work in trying to cultivate the farm. I make this statement because I think it is 1586 very necessary that this Government should be warned against repeating the follies of past legislation. In the case of a grazing farm in 1932, the division of gross receipts, in terms per sheep sold were: The shepherd's wage, 3s. yd. or 19 per cent. of the total cost; other costs such as payment for hay, sheep dip and drainage 4s. 2d., or equal to 23 per cent.; rent 12s. 8d., or 69 per cent. The consequence of all this was that the total charges were 20s. 5d., the average price per sheep sold 18s. 3d. and the farmer's loss 2s. 2d. or 11 per cent. on his work for the whole year.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not sure that these illustrations which the hon. Member is giving have anything to do with the Government's actual policy. If I might suggest it to the hon. Member, there are a great number of Scottish Members who wish to take part and there is very little time. He has now spoken for nearly half an hour.
§ Mr. Robertson
My only concern is that this Government should not make the same mistakes as previous Governments. I will confine my remarks to the Government's policy. [Interruption.] I know hon. Members opposite do not like to hear me talking about the past lamentable policy on agriculture, and perhaps it is out of Order that I should do so in this Debate. My only concern is that the Labour Government should not try to follow continuity of policy and make the same mistakes and bring the same calamities on the industry which successive Conservative Governments have succeeded in bringing. I accept the present Government's agricultural policy as enunciated. I think it will bring stability to the industry. Representing an agricultural constituency, I am perfectly satisfied that the majority of farmers today welcome the Labour Government's policy. The agricultural industry is looking to this Government to bring stability and prosperity at long last, and I am confident that if it proceeds on its declared policy, it will bring that stability and prosperity.
In the rural areas, there seems to have been a tendency to organise production of poultry and eggs by large undertakings keeping many hens. I suggest that the Secretary of State for Scotland should ask agricultural executive committees to impress on farmers the necessity of keeping 1587 a very few hens on the farm, in order to augment our egg ration. I believe this could be done without any inroads being made on. agricultural produce, or the importation of feeding stuffs for poultry. I had the good fortune to be born on a small steading where 60 or 70 hens were kept. It was very seldom that we had to feed the hens; they fed themselves and produced eggs. I think much more of that could be done today, if farmers were encouraged. In many isolated rural areas, farmers have difficulty in getting milk to the centres of population. I feel that every encouragement should be given them to rear more calves. Hitherto, the tendency has been to concentrate on quality rather than quantity, and now it is necessary to reverse that process in order that we have the largest numbers of fat stock reared on isolated farms.
It is tremendously important that everything possible should be done in future to encourage our people to live in the countryside. I believe that the best type of people are those who have come directly from the country or who have roots in the country. In our large cities today, most of the administrative posts are occupied by people who have either come from the countryside, or whose fathers and mothers have come from it. I believe that much of the future of this country depends on how best we can arrange our future economy so that a larger number of people will go back to the countryside and the people of the countryside will not drift to the towns.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
The hon. Member for Berwick and Haddington (Mr. J. J. Robertson) spoke about the sins of the Tory Party and the splendid agricultural policy which the Labour Government have now produced. I would call to his attention the fact that the Minister of Agriculture, speaking in the first day of this Debate, admitted that the Government's policy had grown out of the agricultural policy of the Coalition Government, which was elucidated by a Tory Minister of Agriculture. I regret the tendency nowadays of certain hon. Members opposite, the moment they speak on such questions as agriculture, to twit the Opposition We are not ashamed of our party's record in the matter of agricultural legislation. I suggest it would be much more helpful to the development of agri- 1588 culture if hon. Members turned their attention to making suggestions to Ministers for the future instead of going over the old story of the past.
I want to refer to a question which is of great importance to Scotland—the hill-farming industry. If I had been lucky enough to be called in the Debate on agriculture on 15th February, I had intended to voice the demand that we should have legislation based on the Balfour Report. Fortunately, a day or two later, the Hill Farming Bill was introduced, and I wish to welcome its very timely arrival. I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he could arrange with the Leader of the House to give us sufficient time before the Bill comes up for Second Reading in order that we may consult the farmers and the people of the Highlands, as no doubt English Members and Welsh Members will wish to consult farmers in the hill country in England and Wales. The Bill is a very important one, although while it follows up the Balfour Report, if does cut it down by a quarter. Instead of 15 years it is a question of five years, and instead of£15 million, a quarter of£4 million. A few days ago, an. hon. Member from the Liberal Benches inferred that the lime and drainage subsidies were things of the past. Surely, these lime and drainage subsidies are still current legislation. I am certain that in the Hill Farming Bill, the lime and drainage questions will be two of the most important aspects. I mention this matter in case there should be any misapprehension in the country. It would be a great pity if it got about that these grants no longer exist, because we want to have as much liming of hill-land as possible.
Last week, when I was discussing hill-farming with some farmers in Argyllshire, all of them raised the question of wool. Why is it that, in the Government's policy of guaranteed prices, there is no mention of wool? The wool clip is the hill-farmer's cash crop, and yet it is left out. Recently, there was published the report of the Elliott Committee on the wool industry, and that Committee, I think unanimously, turned down the idea of wool marketing schemes. I find that in my part of the Highlands, opinion on that matter is about 50–50. One half of the farmers think it would be a good thing to introduce a wool marketing scheme, and the other half would rather 1589 have a guaranteed price for the wool clip I know that the Government have announced that this year they will requisition the wool clip on the same terms as last year. It is to be hoped that by the end of the year the Government will have made up their mind how the wool clip is to be treated in future. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to say something on this matter, which is causing a great deal of anxiety.
Every hon. Member who has spoken has referred to the shortage of labour and the difficulty of keeping labour. I will not refer to the question of housing, which has already been mentioned, but one matter that influences the keeping of agricultural labourers on the farms, particularly on the Highland hill farms, is education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know that I have corresponded with him, and with his predecessor, about schools being closed and the shepherds leaving the farms because they could not get their children to school. It is a very difficult problem, and I do not see how we shall be able to surmount it, but I hope the great brains of the Scottish Office will perhaps be able to recruit enough teachers to reopen the schools, or to arrange transport to get the children to school. Unless that is done, the married shepherds and cattlemen will not go to the outlying farms.
Recently there has been a great deal of discussion in Scotland about agricultural education. I believe the agricultural colleges have been looking round for demonstration farms or for farms that could be run in conjunction with the colleges. I gather from the Press that the West of Scotland Agricultural College is talking about finding a farm in West Perthshire or on the mainland of Argyllshire. Surely, the Secretary of State knows that his Department already have several farms in their hands. In Argyllshire, several farms are being run either by the Department or by the county agricultural committees. Surely it is not intended to take over more farms as demonstration farms. The demonstrations so far, in the majority of those farms that have been run by agricultural committees or by the Department have not been exactly encouraging demonstrations from the point of view of the future of agriculture. I remember that from the Glen Etive Farm wedder lambs were sold last 1590 Autumn in the Oban market at 2s. 3d. per head. Rabbits were selling at 2s. 6d. per head in Glasgow. I do not call that very successful demonstration. I would make one last plea. I presume the agricultural college must come to my right hon. Friend for approval before taking over any farm for their demonstrations for educational purposes. I hope he will turn over to them one of the farms he has already in hand rather than take over some new ones.
We in the Highlands look forward to the implementation of the Hill Farming Bill. We hope the Minister will give us plenty of time to consider and discuss it and to bring forward our criticisms. Then when the Bill has passed its Second Reading and Committee stage we hope to see it in operation as soon as possible.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I have listened to the complaint of the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) concerning Labour speakers criticising Conservative Governments of the past; but I cannot see how the hon. and gallant Member can completely dissociate those Governments' failure from the problem of today. They will for many years be regarded as the cause of the misfortunes which have been brought upon the agricultural industry. We have heard many critics of our Government from the other side and I cannot see what hon. Members have to complain about in their turn in that direction. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) who—unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately—is now absent, made his own criticism and it lacked none of the invective which usually characterises his criticisms of the present Government and Members on this side of the House. When he criticised our "chicken feed policy," if I may call it that, he said it was due to miscalculation rather than malevolence. I can hardly say his invective was due altogether to miscalculation; I should think it was largely inspired by malevolence. The critics to whom we have listened have been looking for haystacks behind needles of difficulty, but the speakers do not seem to have found many haystacks.
We cannot dissociate the policy which was pursued before the Coalition came into being, and that of the Conservative Government before the Coalition, from the 1591 dilapidated state in which our agriculture was found at the beginning of this war, to our dismay and very much to our national danger. The Conservatives could very well rename themselves, "The fellowship of the fallow field.' It is that policy which has left us still, even after the war, with these depopulated areas to which it seems almost impossible to bring back the men who were born and bred to the soil. Hon. Members like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) could be expected to be happy in this subsidised day of prosperous farming. There is no question that the farmers have come pretty prosperously out of the war. They have done extremely well by contrast with the agricultural worker. The hon. Member went so far as to call us on the Labour benches" wild men with long hair who sit behind the Government Front Bench." Even at that, it is good to find fertility of some kind in the right place by contrast with the bald, barren and fallow acres so characteristic of Tory agriculture before the war.
Much of the field of Scottish agriculture was covered extremely ably by the hon. and gallant Member for Perthshire (Mr. Snadden) on the first day of this Debate. He is an informed and progressive farmer, a good landlord and employer, and I have nothing to say of him in that respect. I only say it is a pity he came into Parliament at a bad time internationally on an issue of Franco's Spanish onions rather than Scotch beef. However, we can forgive him in part in view of the expert speech he made. Criticisms have been made from the other side of the House and the critics will have little to grumble at, if we on this side, criticise in return. We cannot accept the whole legacy which they have left to us, without voicing the complaint that they were the cause of the condition of our agriculture. Let us remember that our agriculture throughout this war was subsidised. It is on an artificial and untrue basis. The late Minister of Agriculture himself is largely in agreement with the view that we should not depend for all time upon subsidised agriculture. I think he is completely right in that. There we find ourselves at one, at least, with him, if not with those who sit behind him. We must develop a long-term policy and bring stability and confidence into the industry. 1592 The main problem in agriculture now is the problem of manpower. Whatever else we say, we are driven back to that all the time. The figures are well enough known, and I do not propose to flood Hansard with figures after those which have already been given today. Since 1939, we have lost about 23,000 men from the land. From 1921 to 1939 we had lost well over 200,000. There must be a reason for that. That reason does not lie in the soil. The reason lies in the whole environment in which these men had to work and bring up their families, and the way in which they were used. This, to a large extent, was the reason for the depopulation of our agricultural areas. I put bad housing at the top of the list, and other reasons were bad wages, long hours and bad conditions of work. The heavy nature of the work itself, which has in the past been inseparable from the problem, can nevertheless largely be solved in the future, taking a long term view, by mechanisation and the introduction into the countryside of the benefits of electricity and water power.
Then there were the counter-attractions of the cities where the men could get better wages. For example, a railway porter could earn a wage of£4 4s. a week and tips, and have a uniform supplied to him. Why, therefore, should a man work on the soil for£ 10s? As a transport driver he would get£5 10s., as a quarry labourer£4 13s. The workers in the cities were given hours and conditions which were much better, in the main, than those of the average farm worker in this country. How then are we going to get workers?
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I think the hon. Member is on a very important point. He is comparing the wages of other workers with those of agricultural workers. I wish he would continue his story of what happened, and tell how the trade unions representing these other workers during the last four years, always insisted on similar increases to those granted to agricultural workers being granted to them so that the differentiation was always maintained.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
Conditions are such that those changes in rates are automatic. We have to recognise the fact that we can only argue on the basis of wages and conditions in industry as such. When we compare the agricultural 1593 worker with workers in other industries, we must automatically follow up with the ordinary basic rates and conditions.
§ Mr. Hudson
I do not want to interrupt unduly but may I say it is a fact that during the last four years what I have indicated has happened? I make this point in all seriousness. Unless we can overcome this differentiation, our task of attracting men back, let alone keeping them, is impossible. All I am saying is that there is a tendency, whenever agricultural wages rise, to demand that other wages in rural areas should rise also, so that the agricultural worker never catches up.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that explanation, with which I completely agree. I would also like to point out that if we intend— as we ought—to keep a high level and a stable price structure for primary products such as agricultural products, then we must have a good purchasing power among the other workmen of the country-side and of the city. I think it is completely essential. We cannot have the one without the other.
Reverting to the question of how we are to make up for this difficulty and get the workers, including those who left during the war, the use of prisoner of war labour is no long-term solution. It is only a temporary expedient, which will come to an end not a day too soon when we get nearer the normal. The second difficulty is that we cannot attract any men now under the present wage and labour conditions. We are not attracting them, but actually losing them. I think the whole field of agriculture and rural life and conditions has to be surveyed and replanned in the next few years, and we cannot start too soon. The conditions in agriculture may be compared with those in mining, where, disenchanted with their own life, parents are unwilling to allow their sons to go into an underpaid industry with poor prospects and bad conditions. The older men stay because they cannot find new employment. Only those remain in agriculture who cannot find work elsewhere or who were born in the country-side and have worked there so long that they cannot leave it for elsewhere or learn new skills. Conditions of work do not attract people to agriculture. If 1594 they can get better work elsewhere, and an easier job, they go elsewhere. Then there is the general environment of the countryside, which is dull, and often grim in many parts, in comparison with the cities, with their amenities, entertainments and relaxations after the day's work is done.
Child labour is no solution. I think it is an abominable thing that we have to resort to the use of very young children to do agricultural work, to which, with the present wages and conditions, which seem so attractive to the late Minister of Agriculture, we cannot attract grown men. In my constituency in the Western Islands, we do not find any crofter employing children for doing serious work on the land. I have never known them regarded as workers. They may be allowed to go into the fields, to help a little on lighter jobs if they could, but more for their own amusement; but they were certainly not used for profit or under any duress, I think it is extremely vicious and might become an extremely cruel thing, as well as ruining their education.
Where can we get the workers? We have appealed to people to come from other industries, to people to take their holidays on the land, to university students, and, by other means, have tried to induce more people to go into the agricultural industry temporarily; and I think it is right that we should; and I hope the appeals now being made will meet with a response. The question of mechanisation is another matter of long-term-policy, and it is a question which will have to be dealt with in connection with the Highlands. Then there is the question of technical training. I have for long advocated the idea of providing facilities through technical schools in these areas so that boys and girls could be taught the elements, and, later on, the more advanced stages, of agricultural technique. Then there must be opportunities of promotion. We cannot tell an agricultural worker now coming in, who could get a better wage in industry elsewhere, "You will get£3 1os. per week for life, and you are expected to settle for life from purely patriotic motives." We cannot tell them that while other people are drifting off to better wages elsewhere. That is what has happened already and the figures of the depopulation of agricultural districts are in themselves 1595 evidence of the truth of that statement. Unless opportunities are giver to the people going on the land to get promotion and to become farmers themselves, we shall not attract any more men.
Questions of housing and general amenities have also to be settled. We cannot conscript workers into the agricultural industry, and, short of conscription, I do not see how we can attract them by offering lower wages than they can get in neighbouring industries. The Minister says that he has no power to intervene. What is the comment of the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" of 22nd January on that?The Minister says he has no power to intervene in the position created by the Wages Board's refusal to increase wages to£4 10s. That may be so from a strictly legal viewpoint; but in the event of a serious crisis arising through a wages dispute, the Minister would not be able to avoid responsibility for securing a settlement.Has the Minister visualised the very real possibility of a serious dispute in this industry, or does he trust to luck or the long-strained patience of the agricultural workers, receiving nothing and meekly doing nothing about it? I cannot believe that they will go on accepting that position for very much longer, and, if there is a serious wages dispute in the near future, this country is going to be in a bad way—much worse than it is at present.
I want to say a word or two about the housing of agricultural workers. This is a point on which hon. Members on the other side should not be too self-righteous. They have a history of slumdom in the countryside which challenges even the slumdom of the cities of this country. I have seen slums in the countryside in prosperous Perthshire in which we would not house cattle— or should not, at all events. This criticism lies at the doors of those who continue to use these slums, failed to pull them down and build decent houses, and, at the same time, continue to make a profit out of the industry out of low wages and miserable conditions for men, women and children. Sir William Beveridge, speaking on this subject, used these words:The number of children any mother can bring up without excessive strain and discomfort to everyone in the family depends on the kind of house in which she has to do it; and the number of rooms, arrangement of rooms, labour-saving appliances, and so on.1596 What he says applies more forcibly to the rural population than anywhere else, and I predict that, on this problem of the population of the countryside, if we do not give the mothers labour-saving homes, it is quite certain that the future population will suffer from labour-saving mothers, and that is another long-term disaster which will come upon this country unless something is done immediately to balance the whole town and country relationship and rehouse the rural population. For 10 years now. I have begged various Ministers to do something on this question, but practically nothing has been done, and we have now, I think, in these days, an agricultural population largely in the same condition as it was 50 years ago. This Government has been in office for exactly six months, and I think it ill behoves critics on the other side of the House to pay us the great compliment of expecting us to have achieved in six months what they failed to do in 50 years. Do they really expect us in six months to be able to wipe out the rural slums, as well as the town slums by which they have been profiting for decades in the past?
§ Mr. MacMillan
I was emphasising the situation in the countryside, as I represent a rural constituency The agricultural workers and their families are now attracted, not only to leave the rural parts of the country for the cities, but to go overseas to other lands, which are only too glad to get the best men. That happened after the last war, and it will happen again now unless we very quickly produce a long-term policy for better wages, housing and working conditions in this industry Further we suffer from abominable transport conditions in the Highlands. We have to contend with excessive hardships wherever any transport has to be used. Freight charges are exorbitant and restrictive.
We suffer from lack of water supplies and from lack of electrification. We suffer from lack of sanitation in the homes and farms which reflects, in turn, upon the condition of the milk and the health of the children in the towns as well as the countryside. They suffer from a lack of domestic conveniences for the women; and lack of prospects for their children. The children in the countryside are exposed to most miserable, shocking condi 1597 tions of discomfort; and in many parts have to walk in winter conditions over some of the worst tracks to be found in Europe to go to schools nearly three miles away from their homes. They have to sit in cold, draughty buildings, often without adequate heat; and the sanitary conditions in the country schools in many-parts of Scotland are a disgrace to modern civilisation. They would in many cases be better off without the alleged sanitary conveniences which they have at present rather than be exposed to disease and contamination.
Periodically, the people in the Islands and Highlands are asked to help as soon as we get into an Imperial mess. That is not an original phrase. I first had it flung at me by a sergeant-major. When we get into an "Imperial mess "— every 20 years or so—we turn to the men of the 51st Division in the Islands and Highlands, the men whose wives and children have been neglected and who have been forced to live in slums for generations. We ask those men to man our Navy and Merchant Navy and to defend our convoys and bring food to our shores which we should have been producing in the country ourselves had we had an agricultural policy in the years between the wars. I think it takes some neck to ask these men and women to put their back into it and to dig for victory when these same people have had to dig mighty hard and long for an interview with the Secretary of State before the war. I want to see the day pass when, as the poet said of the farmworker:Bowed with the weight of centuries, he leansUpon his hoe, and gazes on the ground— The emptiness of ages in his face, And, on his back, the burden of the world.I want to see the day when we shall honour them as the breadwinners of the nation, as the most fundamental producers, and bring them into the company of which Carlyle said:Two men I honour, and no third.That is their rightful place before this House, and before the world.
§ 4.43 P.m.
§ Colonel Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
There are, I suppose, four main factors in the agricultural situation which will inevitably influence policy during the coming years. 1598 They have all been referred to either in the previous Debate on food or in the first instalment of today's Debate, notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-port (Mr. R. S. Hudson). They have also been referred to by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham. (Earl Winterton). I ask the House to forgive me for restating them, but I think they are worth restating in a simple form.
The first is that because a world food shortage cannot possibly be overcome quickly, we shall have to produce as much as possible from our own fields, not only this year, but next year, and probably for several years after that. Secondly, even if that were not the case, because we are a debtor nation there will be a continuing need to make the most of our own natural resources. The third factor is that, in spite of these compelling reasons why we should encourage our home agriculture in every possible way, the people who sent us here will object to paying£300 million a year in subsidies to British agriculture. Until the price of food has been raised to a level which will cover the cost of production, we cannot be really sure that the agreed plans for British agriculture will not be overthrown by the kind of political pressure of which we have had an example from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Mr. J. J. Robertson) this afternoon.
The fourth factor is a much more urgent one; it was the one referred to by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan). It is the danger that the manpower may not equal the tasks which our home agriculture has to face. Because this is an urgent problem, I want to deal with it in a sentence or two even though my time is short. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chippenham gave some striking figures in the Debate on food just over a week ago. Those figures were never contradicted; indeed, I do not think they can be. He said that during the whole of the war years there were about 120,000 farmers and farmers' sons and agriculturalists in the Armed Forces; that at the present time there were still 90,000 farmers and farm workers in the Forces, and that if the Government's present programme continues as it is intended to 1599 continue there will still be no fewer than 40,000 farmers and farm workers in the Services by the end of June. Viewed against the sombre background of a world shortage of food, these figures just do not make sense. If the Government are serious in their protestation that we must grow all the food we possibly can from our own land, it must be obvious that we ought to release large numbers of such men at once, only retaining in the Forces the individual specialists urgently required in the Services. The men released should be out in time for the next harvest.
§ Colonel Thornton-Kemsley
The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) is in a great lecturing mood this afternoon. He has risen to his feet three times to lecture indiscriminately his side and this. I am not going to accept his lectures because they are not relevant to the point under debate.
What I was about to say was that to stop the call-up of 8,ooo men at the instigation of the Opposition—although it was a welcome steps—is not really to begin to tackle the problem. The Government must do more than that if we are really going to get all the food we need from our own soil and if we are to attract manpower to the countryside. The men coming back who used to be farm worker? are not all going back to the land. My information is that about 50 per cent. of them are choosing to go to the towns. We must tackle that situation with a determination and vigour which the Government have, so far, signally failed to display.
There are three urgent problems. The first is the need for a wages policy. We had a lot of backchat on this during the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Western Isles. Again we had the intervention of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Poplar about the relationship of the agriculturist's wage with the wage of his brother in industry. The whole argument goes to show that the Government must make up their minds about a wages policy. The second thing the Government have to tackle is the question of rural housing, and the third is the question of rural amenities. By the luck of the Ballot I am going to 1600 have a chance of bringing forward a Motion on the question of agricultural labour on moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on the Civil Estimates. Therefore, I do not propose to steal any of my own thunder today. I understand that my Motion is not likely to come forward for a month or two, and that will give the Government a chance to give a clear lead before I bring further charges against them. I hope they will take note of that warning, for that is what I intend to do unless they do something about it.
There are two matters in this connection, the first about rural amenities, that I want to mention in passing. I heard two days ago that the Grampian Electricity Supply Company has had one of its major projects to deliver electricity to a large area on Deeside held up because of the lack of timber for poles. That seems to me to be incredible. This is a part of the country where there is no shortage of timber, and yet they are held up in that district for electricity on a project which was fully worked out before the war, because of the lack of timber for poles. If that is true someone high up ought to bang some people's heads together and get something done.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member must not stand when another Member is speaking, unless he wishes to ask a question or submit a point of Order.
§ Colonel Thornton-Kemsley
The hon. Member for Berwick and Haddington (Mr. J. J. Robertson) succeeded in boring this House for 40 or 45 minutes this afternoon and I do not propose to give way, however much he stands on his feet.
The other point is this. The findings of the Wages Board in Scotland, which are to be implemented, if I understand aright, on 1st April, will mean that in most cases agricultural workers will work shorter hours every week. I am not saying whether that is right or wrong, but if that is the case it is going to have a bearing on our capability of producing food. Now that I have come to my own constituency, may I just say something on this question of labour, and, in particular, labour for gathering potatoes? It is not just a Scottish point. It is an English point as well, because I have dis- 1601 cussed it with a great number of my colleagues.
In Kincardineshire before the war we had about 3,800 acres of potatoes. Last year we had 8,500 acres under potatoes, and the plan this year is to have 8,000 acres. We need at least 2,000 gatherers to get the potatoes in. Last year about half that number was found from prisoners of war and from Polish troops who were then in the vicinity. The other half—almost exactly—was found from school children. We had over 550 children from Glasgow, and they lived in hostels in the care of their own teachers in the country side. They did very well indeed, and the reports that I have seen show that they displayed keen enthusiasm and that they want to go back again. I would like from the Secretary of State a definite assurance that the school children will be used for the in-gathering of the potato crop in the coming harvest, and that there will be no objection to their living in hostels under supervision during that period.
My next point—it is a Scottish point— is about livestock. Our livestock have proved themselves in recent weeks to be the best dollar winners that we have got. There was a bit of misunderstanding during the speech of the Noble Lord about exactly which breed of cattle made the highest price. As one who has the honour to represent a cattle rearing country, I cannot remind the Noble Lord because he is no longer in his place, but I would remind the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who, I think, suggested one particular breed, that the thing started off like this. At the Aberdeen Angus sales a bull fetched 7,500 guineas. The next week at the Perth sales, Mr. Laidlaw Smith, who is a nephew and neighbour of my late colleague, the former hon. Member for Central Aberdeenshire, received 14,500 guineas for a shorthorn bull. On the following day 14,000 guineas was received for another bull from the same herd, and five of his bulls at that sale sold for no less, or only a few pounds less, than£37,500 in all. The following week—and I believe the hon. Member for Northampton is anxious that I should bring out this point—a Hereford bull fetched 12,500 guineas. The leading breeds have all shown how much they are in demand at the present time by the beef rearing 1602 countries, which have been unable for six years because of the war, to reinforce their blood, and buyers have found it necessary to come back to the country of origin of these famous breeds in order to reinforce their blood, greatly to our advantage. It shows that it is worth while going in for quality livestock.
It is a great gain under the agricultural policy which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture announced in this House on 15th November, that farmers will know the minimum prices for fat cattle, milk and eggs three or four years in advance, and the actual prices something between three and 15 months in advance. But we have not heard much about the livestock policy or intentions of the Government. I thought we were coming to the point at the end of the last Debate, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Scottish Office was going to tell us something about the livestock policy. Unfortunately, his time was up and he sat down. I hope this afternoon the House will hear more from the Secretary of State for Scotland about the Government's intentions with regard to livestock.
One of the wartime arrangements which has met with general acceptance, is the system of selling cattle by grading and pricing on a dead weight basis. Very few people I have met want to go back to the old system of selling fat cattle by auction. What is the Government's intention about that? When the Government's policy was announced it was clear that there was to be a change of emphasis from cereal production to livestock. Now the Government are changing that emphasis, and there is much bewilderment in Scotland, and other places, I have no doubt, where they produce quality livestock. A number of stock breeders in my constituency bought extra stock at the back end of last year, because of this change of emphasis, and if they will have to plough more grassland they will not have enough summer keep for these beasts. I ask the Secretary of State, what does he intend to do about cases like that? I hope he will have an opportunity to answer this question in the course of this Debate, and, if not, that he will write an answer. I have taken up my time, and, although there is much more I could say, I am very glad to have had this opportunity of bringing forward these few 1603 points, and I hope I shall be able to have an answer to them.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. L. Williams (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I wish to take a small part in this Debate for two reasons, the first because I spent the early part of my working life on the land, and the second because I have, among my city constituents, large numbers of people engaged in arduous occupations such as certain branches of engineering, shipbuilding and transport who are very anxious to see on their tables a greater amount of the produce of this land. I should also like to say that this Debate is equally important for town and country. This is specially true of the position of agricultural workers, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, and I would only say here that if we are to repeat the mistakes of the past, and allow these men to be driven from the countryside because of their inability to obtain a standard of life comparable with that of the town worker, leaving a diminished number on the soil to produce food for a swelling urban population, then it will be a bad day for both town and country.
My own connection with the soil for a number of years now has been mainly as an allotment holder. During the war we heard a great deal about the appreciable contribution made by this small, modest and yet important branch of cultivation, to the nation's food production. I believe an equally great contribution can be made in the years ahead, provided sufficient encouragement is given to these people. Experience, however, in the last year or two has shown that the number of allotments in cultivation is going down. Allotments lose their holders, and holders lose their allotments, and the combined result is a much smaller amount of food yielded in this branch of cultivation.
That tendency must be reversed, and with that aim in view I would draw attention to two or three of the problems affecting allotment holders today. The first is insecurity of tenure. In the widest sphere of agriculture in the past, this has been a thorny question. It has been debated many times in this House. Some recognition of the need for a greater security has been obtained. Some improvements have been effected, but it is not so widely recognised that the allotment holder is just as much in need of 1604 security of tenure as the farmer, because, without that security, he cannot plan ahead. There is, I am afraid, among those in authority dealing with allotment sites, a rather over-urbanised conception of land cultivation, which regards the soil as a kind of sausage machine, into which you pour a lot of seeds and manure and from which an abundance of produce emerges speedily and automatically. The position is that the allotment holder needs to plan ahead before he can get the best out of his plot.
Another problem is the high cost of suitable land. Allotment holders work, very largely, on very poor soil. Some of the sites are inconveniently placed, away in the country, miles away from anywhere. Many thousands of allotment holders from our cities today spend more-time and money on travel than on cultivating their plots. The question of soil' is very important, because unless you have good soil, it is a sheer waste of skill and energy to cultivate it. In a branch of cultivation which is so intensive, and worked under non-mechanised conditions, it is ridiculous to expect people to spend their energy in that fashion, on anything but the best soil available.
The soil has been greatly impoverished in the last five or six years, also because of the extra effort made to obtain the maximum amount of food, and because of the use of artificial fertilisers. The difficulty of getting hold of sufficient organic manure has left a great many of these allotments very poor indeed. They have lost heart, and consequently the holders in many cases have lost heart too. There is again, I believe, a certain lack of direction in regard to the particular crop that should be grown. At one stage in the war, particularly in the second and third years, exhortations were made by certain Ministries to grow more food because of the great danger of famine, and many allotment holders were encouraged to grow more bulky things. They grew potatoes in great quantities for example, but happily, of course, things did not turn out just as bad as we feared, and some of the cultivators were then sorry that they had not gone in for smaller things. Some doctors were sorry too, because they felt that the allotment holders had not been able to make the contribution they ought to have made to a balanced diet for the people. 1605 I would in conclusion submit a few suggestions to the right hon. Gentleman. The first is that there should be security of tenure for the allotment holders of nothing less than three to five years, because only that is sufficient to enable a cultivator to plan ahead and to get the best out of the soil. Secondly, I suggest some financial aid where necessary, where land has to be bought at a higher price because it is nearer to the centre of a city. It is a question of getting hold of better land than some of our allotment holders formerly had. Some encouragement should be given in this respect. A few years ago a proposal was made to the Ministry of Agriculture with a view to getting the cost borne in such cases in equal parts by the Government, the local authority and the cultivator. Something along these lines might be considered again. Finally I suggest more direction in regard to the crop to be concentrated on by the allotment holders. Given immediate encouragement along the lines I have suggested, I have no doubt that allotment holders will once more be able to make an appreciable contribution, and perhaps the biggest and best contribution yet made, to the food production effort of the nation.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Major Ramsay (Forfar)
I do not intend to take up much of the time of the House, but before I get on to the main theme of my speech, I would like to refer to something which was said earlier by the hon. Member for Berwick and Had-dington (Mr. J. J. Robertson). He said that the landowners, by increasing their rent, were getting rich on the subsidies which have been paid to the farmers. I have no figures in my pocket to show him, but, if he looks at the figures of the rents which have been charged by landowners, he will find that they have been no higher than they were in 1870. If he had said that rents must be increased because of the fact that the maintenance for which landowners are responsible has gone up in cost by leaps and bounds, then he would have been a great deal nearer the target. I would ask him to get his facts nearer accuracy, before embarking on statements of that nature. I want to deal with one or two aspects of labour, because I believe that the problem of agricultural labour is the most im- 1606 portant problem confronting the industry today. No long-term policy on agriculture is complete without getting the labour side of it into proper perspective, and making a detailed plan about it as to how labour is to be provided. The labour side of the question was not dealt with in any satisfactory way in the policy of the Government which they have announced. The reluctance which I have found on the part of His Majesty's Government to break the age and length of service rule, for releasing from the Forces men and women who wish to take up agricultural employment, leads me to believe that this important matter is not being properly considered. I hope it is, but I can only believe that it is not. Of course, it is true to say that labour is short in every industry wherever you look in these days. But surely our food producing industry should have as much boost in these critical times as is practicable.
Agricultural workers have earned the admiration and the gratitude of everybody during the last six years by their devotion to duty and their hard work, and I have no doubt they will continue so to earn it. But they are too few in number, and they are hard pressed, and the will find it extremely hard work if they are to do all the work that has to be done on the land today. As the hon. and gallant Member for West Aberdeen (Colonel Thornton-Kemsley) said, the troops are thinning out on the ground, and the prisoners of war are thinning out on the ground, and there is this drift of returning Forces personnel towards the towns, rather than towards the country. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, unless something is done straight away to cope with this labour problem, the supply of food is going to suffer.
To my mind, this problem falls into two heads, the short-term view and the long-term view. The short-term view applies principally to potato growing. I was very pleased to see the nod given by the Secretary of State just now when he was asked whether he would allow children to take part in the potato harvest, and I implore him to let the country know about it right away, so that educational authorities do not find themselves in the same boat as the Minister of Agriculture the other day, after the announcement by the Minister of Food. How- 1607 ever, I was worried about this, because the question of the schoolchildren is such an important one. In my constituency if we grow 28,000 acres of potatoes we will harvest 17,000 of them with the help of the schoolchildren. [Hon. Members: "Shame."] I hear hon. Members on the back benches opposite saying "Shame." I do ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to try to explain to some of his followers that it is not shameful that the children should go out and harvest potatoes. The children— I can only speak for my part of the world—enjoy themselves enormously. They go away looking far healthier and far fitter than they were when they came. If they have come from a town they almost certainly get better meals. There is nothing shameful in it; it is a thoroughly honourable upbringing, and I should like to see my children brought up on those lines. I do implore the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to try to teach his followers better understanding on those matters. The long-term view, of providing agricultural labour, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, depends on various things, amongst which rural housing probably plays the biggest part. As hon. Members have said, amenities and wages all fall into their proper places, and it is most important that in considering this long-term labour policy the Government should pay due regard to all these matters.
There is one point that has not been mentioned yet—in my opinion a ticklish point but one which must certainly be mentioned today, and to which I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give due consideration. In Scotland today, because of the manner in which the Essential Work Order is applied, a farm worker is not only tied to the land but is tied to the farm on which he works. In Scotland this particular application is called the "standstill order." I was told last week-end by a large number of farm servants that the "standstill order "—that is the Essential Work Order in this particular application—is preventing men and women from the Forces going into the agricultural industry today. If that is the case the "standstill order" must be abolished. I am perfectly certain that is the case, and therefore I would like to hear the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman on that matter. I do not say we should 1608 remove the Essential Work Order. I do not think that that would be a practical possibility at the moment. By the removal of the "standstill order" we might find certain complications arising. One would have, for instance, to guard against a drift away from some of the marginal lands towards some of the richer lands, but I do not believe that these problems are insuperable. I would make a most earnest plea to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the industry in Scotland, that the standstill part of the Order should be done away with.
I have nothing further to say on the subject of labour. But there is one small point which I think would be of assistance to Scottish agriculture, and I have reason to believe that the same might apply to England. In the war executive committee areas there is a pool of agricultural implements, a pool which I imagine was held as a reserve against a rainy day during the war. I made a tour the other day of various parts of the country, and looked at some of the dumps where these implements are stored. I found, to my amazement, that in some cases only about half of the implements had ever been used. For instance, I saw a brand-new threshing machine, and I was told that it had been standing there for three years. I happen to know that farmers all over the country have been clamouring for threshing machines. I put this idea to the right hon. Gentleman. How about getting rid of these pools, and selling off the implements to farmers? I believe they would be used to their full extent, and I think that that is the only way to achieve a satisfactory solution.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us where he found this threshing machine, which had been unused for three years?
§ Major Ramsay
Yes, Sir, certainly—it was in my constituency. I saw it there only the other day. Before I close, I should like to say that the agricultural industry today is looking to the Government for a lead, and I am perfectly certain that the Government can give it, but unless they get that lead I do not think the industry will retain its confidence in the Government. Without it, any long-term policy they like to propose will be a waste of time.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Steele (Lanark)
I have no intention, much as I am tempted to do so, to 1609 follow some of the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Forfar (Major Ramsay), in case I should be accused, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Mr. J. J. Robertson) of boring the House— accused, I may say, by the hon. and gallant Member for West Aberdeen and Kincardine (Colonel Thornton-Kemsley), who succeeded in doing so in a quarter of the time. I have only a few things to say, but I would like to comment on what was said from the other Benches on the last occasion we discussed this question. Then we were told that this was a very bad time to reduce the hours of work of agricultural workers. I would point out that it is not a question of reducing the time during which men work on the land, but of ensuring that when they have worked their 40 or 44 hours they will be paid overtime. That is what we want to see done. If the farmers wish them to work, they ought to pay the overtime necessary. Many things have been discussed during this Debate on agriculture, and I think that on all sides of the House the agricultural policy has been welcomed. There has been nevertheless a general widening of the Debate, and it has become obvious that, for a good agricultural policy and a good countryside, you require more than guaranteed prices and a price policy. There have been demands for better housing conditions, and these are very essential. Many speakers have dealt with labour, also very essential. The only thing that has not been dealt with, and which I think is also essential, is transport.
I represent a constituency which is mostly rural, and I have received many letters from every part of my constituency, from district committees and from bodies of people, and I am deeply impressed by the manner in which they express themselves on the question of transport facilities. I think it is a matter which must be attended to as early as possible. I can quite understand that it could not be adequately met under the present ownership of transport. They are concerned purely with making profit, and what we have to concern ourselves with, in making our transport balance sheets, is keeping agriculture and the countryside in good heart. We must provide transport facilities for people in the countryside. It is all very well to say, "We must have agricultural workers," but we 1610 must also make sure that those agricultural workers have facilities to leave the countryside, and go into the towns, in an evening or afternoon. I am convinced it can only be done by taking transport out of the hands of the present owners and turning it over into a national concern.
I would like to ask the Secretary of State a question. Some time ago the Alness Report on agricultural education in Scotland was issued. I would like the Secretary of State, in his reply, to say whether that Report has been considered. I would like to know what is to happen, what is the Government's attitude, and whether they are going to do anything about that Report, because the question of agricultural education is very important indeed. I would also like to hear something about horticulture, on which no Government policy has yet been given I represent a constituency which is a great fruit-growing area, and, as the heart of the fruit-growing industry in Scotland, we are concerned about representation on the various agricultural committees. The advisory committees, I am sure, will have representatives of horticulture, and I would like to impress upon the Secretary of State for Scotland that when the executive committees axe being appointed, they should include representatives of horticulture, persons who understand and appreciate horticulture.
I feel that in Scotland we do not pay enough attention to vegetables. In England vegetables are an article of diet which the people have been using for many years, but in Scotland we have never had the same vegetable production and consumption During the war years, our horticultural people have been growing lettuces under glass and have not been able to satisfy the market. I should like to impress on the Secretary of State most sincerely the desirability, when these agricultural executive committees are appointed of the horticultural industry being represented on them. Indeed, I should like to have an assurance that it will be. I think it is important, not only for the benefit of the industry, but also for making sure that true educational facilities are provided for impressing on the people of Scotland the great need for growing fruit and vegetables, and the great benefit to be derived from doing so. That is all I want to say in that regard, 1611 but I do want to stress that final point, and I hope I shall have some assurance upon it.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
This has been a very interesting and useful Debate. If I do not deal in detail with the questions and the arguments put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) he can rest assured that that is due to the fact that I am leaving that to the Parliamentary Secretary to the English Ministry of Agriculture, who will wind up this Debate. I assure the Noble Lord that he can take it, from one who is not quite as old a Member as he is himself, that his was a helpful contribution to this Debate. I do not promise to deal with every question raised, because I want to spend some time on the Government's long-term policy. If I do not deal with all the points that have been raised, I can give the same promise that I used to give when I was Under-secretary of State for Scotland and was winding-up a Debate—that I would examine the speeches on the next day to see that any points I do not deal with in my speech are replied to in writing.
But there are one or two very important questions that have been put to me. I do not say that any of the questions raised are not important. I am perfectly sure that every hon. Member who put a question thought his was the most important. But there was a very important point put to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyle (Major McCallum). He was anxious to know if there would be sufficient time for Members to consult their constituents on the hill sheep farming proposals. I can give him that assurance. I am very anxious—and I speak for the Minister of Agriculture, too—to see this Bill an Act of Parliament as speedily as possible; but I can give the assurance that reasonable time will be allowed, to enable consultations to take place between Members of the House and their constituents. The question was also raised as of what we are to do in connection with wool. A very clear answer was given, I think, on this same question by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, and the answer is recorded in Hansard of 18th February. Briefly, I may say that we are taking up the 1946 clip at the same price as that paid in 1945, but future marketing of wool is 1612 being reviewed, in the Government's consideration of the Elliott Report.
A question was raised about agricultural education. I entirely agree that re-population of the rural lands is one of our main jobs at the moment. It was not the present Government that depopulated the rural areas, but as I say our main job is to re-populate those areas that have been de-populated. I entirely agree that, so far as education is concerned, something has to be done to see that the child of the agricultural labourer gets just as good an opportunity for education as the child of the town dweller. The 1945 Act now on the Statute Book, operated wisely by the rural educational authorities in Scotland, can make tremendous strides towards the achievement of that ideal. For instance, if it is found that it is too long a distance to the school, so that country people are not getting that opportunity for education to which they are entitled, provision is made now, in the 1945 Act, whereby hostels can be set up. They can bring forward their proposals to me as the Secretary of State; and I have the right now, under that Act, if the authorities are not progressive authorities, to call upon them to provide those hostels. There is the problem of travelling facilities, and that is easier under the 1945 Act. But I am sure the House would not want me to spend my time now upon administrative problems which can come up when that Act is in operation, and when hon. Members have an opportunity to question me on the Supply Day when we take the Vote.
Many hon. Members have raised the question of man power, and I will deal with that generally, as I am dealing with our policy, and also the problems of bad housing, and of the bad wages that used to be paid to the agricultural workers. The Party on this side of the House can accept no responsibility whatever in connection with the miserably bad wages that were the lot of the agricultural workers in the past, and drove them into almost any and every industry except the vital industry of producing food for our people. We have no responsibility in connection with that. One would almost imagine from some of the discussion, that bad housing, bad water supplies, and bad wages started on 26th July, 1945. That just did not happen. They were there when we took office in 1945. Give us just a little time to deal with them. I am 1613 sure we cannot make a worse job of it than those sitting opposite did in their long period of office. Given the opportunity, I am sure we shall make a better job of it.
The hon. and gallant Member for West Aberdeen (Colonel Thornton-Kemsley) asked whether this was the right time to bring about a shortening of hours. I hope we are not going to bring about shorter hours at the moment. I sincerely hope that the agricultural workers, because of the terrific need we have of their labour at the moment, will agree with that view. We are going to shorten the week on which they get their basic rates of pay, and pay overtime if they work for longer than the basic week. I make my appeal to the agricultural workers of Scotland not to slacken up, but to give the maximum of effort. But they will get a change in the basic week. That, I am sure, is the assurance the hon. and gallant Member wanted.
Then I was asked what was our livestock policy? Before the war livestock and livestock products accounted for some 80 per cent. of the value of Scotland's agricultural output. A balanced farming economy for the country as a whole requires a return to this emphasis on livestock. If lowland farming were to concentrate too heavily on crops, vegetables, milk, the natural outlets for sheep and cattle reared on high ground, which cannot profitably produce anything else, would be stopped up. It is necessary for arable cropping to be so arranged that it permits low ground farming to furnish an adequate milk supply and to absorb the surplus livestock reared in hill and upland areas The decision reached this year, with the agreement of the Farmers' Union, to shift the emphasis of cattle subsidy on hill lands for young stock to breeding stock—£5 10s. for cows,£1 10s. for young stock, as compared with a level£3 in England—reflects the desire to encourage cattle breeding and rearing on high land in Scotland. Similarly it is in view that any continuance of the scheme for assisting production on marginal lands—a scheme used hitherto mainly to encourage production of crops should be directed, when normal conditions return, to the assistance of stock rearing. I hope that meets the point raised.
The other point to which I want specially to refer is that of labour. The 1614 Essential Work (Agriculture) (Scotland) Order was introduced in November, 194I, to restrict, in the interests of food production, the movement of workers from farm to farm which was customary in Scotland, and thereby to secure and maintain an equitable distribution of the skilled labour available. The Order, which deals only with the employment of male workers of 16 years of age upwards, was made and has been continued in force with the full concurrence of the farmers' and farm workers' unions. In the main, it has been successful in achieving its object, and both sides of the industry hope that the experience gained will result in a permanent change of practice. In accordance with the general Government policy to relax labour controls wherever possible, the question of the continuance of the Order was discussed earlier this month by the two unions. While both unions would have been glad to see this control ended soon, they agreed, without hesitation, that in the present critical food situation, the time had not yet come when this could be done. It is generally recognised that the control has borne more heavily on the agricultural worker than on the employer. It is true that the employer's freedom of choice of employees has been restricted, but the worker has, in addition to having his freedom of movement curtailed, been to a large extent prevented from obtaining full advantage of the position created by the acute shortage of skilled labour. It is to the credit of the workers' organization—and I gratefully acknowledge it—that they have accepted the restrictions in the public interest.
§ Major Ramsay
If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, may I say I did refer in my speech to the special application in Scotland of the Essential Work Order, known locally as the "standstill order," which prohibits the movement of agricultural workers from one farm to another. I have personally interviewed and talked with numerous workers in all parts of my constituency, and I am told that the application of this standstill order is preventing men from going into the agricultural industry from the Forces and elsewhere. In view of the fact that it is preventing people from going into the industry, would the right hon. Gentleman consider confining argicultural workers perhaps to areas, but not to farms?
§ Mr. Westwood
I will take into consideration every point that is raised today, with a view to getting the best I can out of this Debate for the benefit of agriculture not only in Scotland but also in England.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
Before the right hon. Gentleman passes from specific answers to questions, may I remind him that an hon. Member raised the question of potato lifting? Can the right hon. Gentleman say if he has now a definite plan to deal with that matter?
§ Mr. Westwood
I am examining all possible means of getting the labour for this particular seasonal work, but there will be no change in the law. It is necessary to keep in mind what happened in the early stages of the war, when the law was broken. Last year we had to see that the law was kept, whatever it was, and it varied in the different areas in accordance with the bylaws adopted. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State is carrying on negotiations at the moment with a view to getting the assistance of those authorities that must come to our aid if we are to provide the labour necessary to enable us to garner the harvest and the potato crop.
§ Mr. Maclay
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that it is not only the agricultural executive committees, who are hard up against time in deciding on their acreage, but the schools are getting very worried about the whole programme of their year's work and holidays? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to tell them what is going to happen, because with regard to agricultural policy and the school management boards, the position is very difficult.
§ Mr. Westwood
During the war, I had to face this problem, and I am sure that the agricultural community would be the first to say that so far as the work of the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, was concerned when he made a pledge to the agricultural community he always kept it. I will give the same pledge now. We will do everything possible to get the labour, but do not try to pin me down. I will give a guarantee that we are doing everything possible to get the labour, within the law.
§ Mr. Maclay
Will the right hon Gentleman do it very quickly, because the local 1616 school management boards are on my head the whole time?
§ Mr. Westwood
We made an appeal last week. That is the worst of the Party opposite; they are always behind the times. Other questions may have been put today, but I will look at the Debate in Hansard and, if I find it necessary, I will do my best to see that those who have put questions get reasoned answers to them.
Because of the immediate problems of food production arising from the world food crisis, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries was unable, on the first day of this Debate, to deal as fully as he would have wished with the long-term aspect of agricultural policy. I propose, therefore, by arrangement with him to deal in this adjourned Debate with matters of common interest on which he had not enough time to enlarge, as well as with questions of special Scottish interest. The long-term policy which is the subject, of the Motion, was set forth in its main outlines in my right hon. Friend's statement to the House on 15th November. That statement was based on the declaration in the Gracious Speech from the Throne of the Government's intention to develop to the fullest possible extent the home production of good food, with due regard to the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on food and agriculture at Hot Springs. Those recommendations urged that an Interim Commission should be set up to prepare for the establishment of a permanent international organisation for food and agriculture.
His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have given their full support to and indeed, I may say with justifiable pride, have taken a leading part in the international work done to carry out the recommendations. That work bore its first fruits at the conference in Quebec in October last at which the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations was established, and a general programme agreed for its early years. I may be pardoned for expressing here my gratification that the choice for the post of Director-General of that Organisation fell upon a distinguished Scottish Member of this House. Both the Hot Springs Conference and the Quebec Conference laid emphasis on the primary responsibility of national Governments to 1617 take measures to secure good food for their peoples, good farming without which we cannot achieve this object, and good conditions for those engaged in agricultural production. Our policy falls into line with those proposals, for on the long view there is no alternative to the principles of Hot Springs. The population of the world is still growing rapidly. Forecasts of population growth depend—
§ Earl Winterton
Will the right hon. Gentleman, before he proceeds further with his speech, tell us something about the hon. Member to whom he has just paid such a tribute? I presume he is receiving a salary for his work, and if so what is the salary?
§ Mr. Westwood
—price to pay for a good brain from Scotland. [An Hon. Member: "Are there any? "] The question is asked "Are there any?" and the answer is "Yes." That is the reason why officials come from Scotland to be heads of Departments in England. As I was saying the population of the world is still growing rapidly. Forecasts of population growth depend upon many assumptions, but, according to one authoritative account, it is estimated that the population of the world will very nearly have doubled its present figure by the year 2000. That is a staggering conception, and whatever the margin of error, there can be no doubt that the problem of feeding humanity in the decades ahead, will present tremendous problems. Even to raise the general level of nutrition of the world's present population to any reasonable standards, must mean an enormous effort to raise the quality and output of the world's agriculture. Only by the application of the principles of Hot Springs can that object be achieved. Farming must be as efficient as humanly possible, and the land and those who work on it must receive the recognition that is due to those who provide us with the fundamentals of civilised life. 1618 In the present emergency we must rely on the loyalty of the farming community, and its faith in the Goverment's plans for the long-term development of the industry. With international good will, and supreme effort on the part of all concerned, we shall overcome the immediate difficulties, and we can look ahead with confidence to the time when world food shortages will disappear. The first objective of agricultural policy is, and always must be, the production of food of the right kind and in the right quantities to meet national requirements. Mixed rotational farming is expected, in general, to prove best suited to maintain soil fertility, to keep crops and livestock in health and to steady employment throughout the year. For their efforts and efficiency in these directions, producers should receive a fair return. So, in effect, runs the Resolution of the Hot Springs Conference, to which I have already referred. Nevertheless, in the long run, our production targets must fit in, as far as possible, with the natural use and potentialities of the land.
It is established beyond any doubt that the way in which we can draw the best results from most of our cultivable land is by the practice of mixed farming, in which the production at the same time of crops and livestock, which by nature depend on each other, broadly ensures that the land will be preserved in fertile condition. So far as Scotland is concerned, we have to remember the great preponderance of land—over 10 million acres of it—which can only be used, agriculturally, for the raising of stock. During the war we have had, owing to the pressing need for a maximum production of crops for direct use as human food, to upset the balance to some extent. We had all hoped that, by this time, it might have been possible to permit this balance to be redressed. Unfortunately, the world cereal situation makes it essential to keep it as it is for some time longer. Whilst farming should, on the whole, remain mixed in character, and we must limit our long term demands upon it for particular commodities, so as to preserve it so, there is scope within the varied field of our industry for specialisation and possibly for a higher degree of specialisation than now exists.
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman, on this question of the Scottish farmer, whether he will say anything 1619 of the Government's intentions with regard to beef producers, who are an important element in Scottish farming policy?
§ Mr. Westwood
I have not left the Scottish farmer yet. I still have a little way to travel, and I will carry him with me to the end of the journey. Specialisation and intensive production should go together. It is clear that now, and for some years to come, the quantum of production will be very important. In these circumstances, concentration of effort on the essential products which the farm is best suited to produce is absolutely necessary. During the war, we have endeavoured to make the most effective agricultural use of all possible land in Scotland—hon. Members will see I am still on the Scottish farmer—and this policy has been carried to the extent of putting stocks of sheep and cattle on some of the more suitable deer forests. On the basis of the surveys made by the Scottish Land Court in 1940 and 1941, it is estimated that the total present grazing capacity of Scottish deer forests is approximately 7,000 cattle, of which 5,500 could be grazed in summer only, and 200,000 sheep, of which 90,000 could be grazed in the summer only. The agriculture returns as at 4th June. 1945, show the present stocking to be 4,230 cattle and 148,179 sheep, representing 60.4 per cent. and 74.8 per cent. respectively of the estimated capacity based on the Land Court survey. Our primary aim was food production in emergency conditions. In more normal conditions we cannot look for extensive use of the 3,000,000 or so acres of deer forest that are so often referred to. Our wartime experience does not support the view that deer forests are a potential source for a great expansion of agricultural activities in peacetime. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and I have, however, acquired new responsibilities in the last year for the use of rough grazing lands in that we have also become Forestry Ministers. We are now exercising that responsibility which has been placed on us, of co-ordinating and reconciling the land needs of forestry and hill farming. Much of the land that is uneconomic for sheep or cattle, may be found suitable for afforestation. Probably we would be able to use some of these deer forests yet.
§ Mr. Westwood
That is exactly what this Government intends to do. A similar problem of reconciling agricultural and other interests confronts us in connection with land needs for housing and industrial developments. Land utilisation staffs have been set up to investigate the agricultural implications of proposed changes in land use. In this way we are provided with the expert advice needed for the proper weighing of agricultural considerations against development and planning needs whether these various interests are in the hands of separate Ministries, as in England and Wales, or as in Scotland, are under one charge. A major problem confronting us is to satisfy the ever increasing public demand for milk. With present supplies of feeding stuffs, notwithstanding the priority given to dairy cattle, the milk producer is fighting uphill. I would like to associate myself with the praise bestowed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries earlier in this Debate on dairy farmers for their great achievement in increasing milk production beyond the pre-war level in spite of their many difficulties.
All concerned have by now a full realisation of the importance of milk in the nation's diet. This is reflected in the sharp upward trend of the consumer demand to a point that although production has increased it is, in the winter months, appreciably short of requirements. We have therefore to envisage for the future a production figure greatly in excess of the peace-time output. If, however, milk in adequate supply for the full needs of the population is to be produced in the years ahead, without too great an encroachment on meat—and perhaps in this respect I am thinking particularly of the balance of agriculture in Scotland—we shall have to look for increased production mainly through a stepping up of milk yields, besides taking all possible measures to maintain existing dairy units. An increase of about 100 gallons in the present average yield per cow would be necessary. The average yield has under wartime conditions dropped by about 50 gallons per cow. This fall is largely due to the drastic reduction in the available supplies of imported feeding stuffs and, as already announced, we can foresee no possibility of the removal of feeding stuffs rationing for perhaps a further period of two years. Efforts can, however, be made 1621 to counteract the loss of imported feeding stuffs and the drop in yield by greater efficiency in management and feeding, by maximum possible production of fodder crops on the farm and by improvement of herds through elimination of disease and poor yielding cows as revealed by milk recording. Such Government sponsored measures as those to combat disease and to expand the advisory services and the milk recording and testing schemes, together with the continued emphasis on winter production should all result, in time, in a greater output per cow.
My reference to the elimination of disease leads me to say a few words on a question which has not been entirely uncontroversial in the past. That is the question of animal health administration in Scotland on which I have recently been in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. As Members will know, he is responsible for animal health administration over the whole country, but the emphasis of this administration has shifted a little. In earlier days it was mainly a question of control of contagious diseases, such as foot and mouth. That unfortunately is still with us and my right hon. Friend feels very strongly that in such matters a unified administration is necessary. But our main object now is to expand services for the promotion of health rather than for the suppression of disease, and such services should run in harness with livestock improvement schemes and other functions for which I am responsible. My right hon. Friend agrees with this view and has now arranged to strengthen his headquarters veterinary staff in Edinburgh by stationing there one of his deputy chief veterinary officers who will be appointed in consultation with me, so that I may have at my disposal in the future regular expert advice on a subject which obviously has the closest bearing on the other aspects of agricultural policy for which I am responsible. Any changes in animal health policy in the future will be the subject of joint Ministerial consultation. I think that this new arrangement will do much to strengthen our administrative machinery in Scotland.
I would like to say a word or two about organisation for efficient production. However efficient our industry may be— and in this respect it challenges comparison with any of the leading agricultural 1622 countries of the world—there will always be scope for improvement. The best farmers are ready to admit the truth of this, and to reach out and grasp the results of research as they become available. As in every other walk of life, the less efficient tend to be more resistant to new ideas and methods. It is one of our main objectives for the future to endeavour to raise the average by making easily available to every farmer scientific and technical advice on the practical business of getting the best out of his farm. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-secretary of State explained to the House on the first day of this Debate the set-up which we contemplate for this purpose in Scotland—a system of local educational committees whose duty it will be to afford this advice, not only to farmers but also to landowners. It is also proposed to have regional committees in Scotland—a small number, not more than a dozen, which will have different duties. Broadly, their concern will be to ensure, on behalf of the Secretary of State, that agriculture is carried on on a basis of ever-increasing efficiency and for that purpose to exercise any powers of control which may be vested in him and delegated to them. These arrangements fit in as the other side of the policy whereby the Government have guaranteed a market and price for the staple agricultural products.
There will, of course, be difficulties and problems, particularly in relation to the transition period between the emergency conditions—still unfortunately with us— and the peace-time conditions under which compulsory directions to farmers will disappear and the farmer will be free to adopt the forms of: production best suited, in his judgment, to his farm and circumstances. If in reaching his decisions he can be led to take advantage of the best scientific knowledge in agriculture, I have no fear but that the standards of production will be maintained and improved to the mutual benefit of the farmer and the State.
I have been rather struck with the diversity of the results obtained from the different branches of farming in Scotland, which certainly suggests that there is considerable scope for the kind of technical improvement which I have in mind. It is sometimes pressed upon me that what the industry needs most, next perhaps to 1623 assured labour supplies, is the provision of capital on a large scale. In the analysis of the data obtained each year from Scottish farmers the farms are divided into five groups ranging from the hill sheep farms at one end of the scale to the intensive dairy farms and arable and stock feeding farms at the other. On the average farm in each group the amounts of rent, wages and capital are about the same, but the profits are quite different. In 1942–3, for example, the capital per£ of labour was highest on hill sheep farms—the least profitable type—and lowest on the arable and stock feeding farms— the most profitable type.
It is no doubt true that increases of capital in a suitable form will increase productivity, but clearly efficient production is much more than a matter of capital. Sometimes, no doubt, it is a question of adopting large scale production, using a high degree of mechanisation. Sometimes it may be a matter of going in for small scale production, with a high degree of personal supervision. Very small scale production is, of course, not appropriate to crops and cattle feeding, but sometimes the most striking results are achieved on very small holdings. By taking advantage of a good local supply of pig swill, one of my Department's smallholders, working up from a small beginning in 1934, in 1940 sold 717 fat pigs. From his six acres, in that year he made a profit of£2,030. Another went in for intensified mushroom production, and achieved almost an equal measure of success. In these cases, and others like them, the keynote of success was intensity of production. I do not advance these instances as an argument for the multiplication of smallholdings, although they play a useful part; but rather to show what personal qualities and intensive use of land can on occasion achieve. I see that there is an Amendment to the Motion on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who I understand was very anxious for me to be present on Friday, and who complained that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State did not appear immediately in his place as soon as the Debate started on that day. I have looked, but I do not see here the hon. Member for East Fife.
§ Major Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
May I point out that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) is not here today because he is ill?
§ Mr. Westwood
I am sorry to hear that. Having myself come through an illness recently, I wish the hon. Member a speedy recovery. The Amendment in the hon. Member's name refers to the creation of new smallholding schemes. The creation of new smallholding schemes on any considerable scale would involve large demands on building and other labour and materials at a time when the general housing position, rural as well as urban, requires that all possible resources should be devoted to it. That very practical consideration alone must give us reason to pause. What about the food production side? It is true that the division of large units into well conceived smallholdings equipped for intensive production may enable us to obtain a greater production from the land in the long term. But where in any case is the gain to be derived from a large scale creation of smallholdings for intensive use, say for pigs and poultry, when, as is unhappily the case, the feeding stuffs necessary for that new production are not available, nor likely to be available in the next year or so? These are not the circumstances in which to launch large new smallholding schemes.
I would like to say two things with particular reference to Scotland. Many hundreds of small-sized holdings designed for intensive production were created in Scotland shortly before the war. War conditions, particularly the feeding stuffs shortage, have unavoidably prevented many of these new holders from getting firmly established in their enterprises. The other thing is this. In view of the milk supply position, the dairy smallholding should play a greater part in any future land settlement schemes than it has in the past. This, indeed, was one of the suggestions in the Land Settlement Committee's report. I do not, however, propose to go further into these matters today.
Reverting to the question of agricultural education, as hon. Members will know, this subject, so far as Scotland is concerned, has been the subject of inquiry by a Committee, with Lord Alness as chairman, whose report was recently presented to the House. Far-reaching recommendations are contained in the report, affecting the future relationship of the universities and agricultural colleges in the sphere of agricultural education. These require, and are receiving, very full consideration in consultation with the 1625 institutions concerned. It may well be found that the present is not an opportune time for making drastic changes in the existing relationships, in view of the abnormal number of students entering the colleges and agricultural departments of the universities as a result of postwar conditions. Steps have already been taken, however, to implement certain other recommendations of the Committee. Special consideration was given by them to the question of the central control of the county work and specialist advisory services in Scotland in view of the radical change it has been decided to make in the direction of the corresponding services In England and Wales, through the establishment of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. The Scottish Committee found no desire for a similar change in Scotland. In fact, as they state in their report, the view was strongly expressed by witnesses that it would be a retrograde step for Scotland to take, and that these services should continue to be attached to the colleges. I accept that view, and steps are being taken to secure a much required increase in the numbers of the county and specialist advisory staffs in Scotland and to ensure that the remuneration and prospects of these officers will not be less attractive than those of their opposite numbers in England and Wales.
Other recommendations of the Committee concern the establishment of farm institutes in Scotland; special provision for the development of agricultural instruction and extension work in the Western Highlands and Islands; and the constitution of a standing committee of representatives of the three colleges to deal with matters of common interest. The colleges are being asked for their considered views on these proposals. Arrangements have also been made for the setting up of a committee of experienced teachers to revise the contents of the courses of instruction for college diplomas in agriculture and to consider the desirability of establishing a common standard for a diploma which might be termed the Scottish National Diploma in agriculture.
It is impossible in the time at my disposal to cover the whole of the ground. I have tried to give a rough outline of the Government's policy, which I ask the House to approve. That policy can never 1626 be a real success unless we get decent housing for our people in the rural areas; it can never be a success unless we get decent wages for those engaged in the agricultural industry; it will never bring us the success to which we are entitled, and which we desire, unless the amenities of the towns are brought into the country districts. There must be co-ordination between ordinary industry and the agricultural industry. We must have not merely well-planned ordinary industry, but a well-planned agricultural industry. The two must fit into each other if we are to have a healthy, happy, and prosperous countryside, which was never the lot of those who lived under Tory rule in the past, but will be the lot of those who live under Labour rule in the future.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, at the close of his speech, said that long-term policy depended upon houses, wages, amenities, and planning. In my view, any long-term policy for agriculture must depend fundamentally upon prices. I thought the two most striking passages in the Debate were the speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when they criticised the present method of consumers' subsidies. We expect to pay out of our own pockets for the clothes we wear, the fuel in our grates, the furniture in our rooms, the tobacco we smoke, and for whatever we drink, but for part of the cost of the food we put in our mouths we rely on the generosity of others. Before the war we relied in this country on the generosity of overseas producers who subsidised all imports of food into this country in order to help the British consumer, and we relied on the generosity of agricultural producers, the farmers and the farm workers of this country, who suffered low profits and low wages as the result. During the war we have relied on the generosity of the taxpayer and we have subsidised food for the benefit of the consumer to a very alarming total. That total now rises to the colossal figure of x00A3;308 million.
I want to remind the House of what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said last week:I take it he was saying to us today that we must make the consumer pay for the primary products, pay for the foodstuffs in a 1627 direct fashion rather than by this indirect means of subsidy. If that is what he was saying, I have considerable sympathy with him. I do not like subsidies at all. I think consumers ought at the earliest possible moment to pay the full value, the true price, of the foodstuffs produced in this country."— [Official Report, 15th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 748.]I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is replying to this Debate will assure us that those words represent the policy of His Majesty's Government. I recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 23rd October last year declaring that he intended to hold the cost of living at 131, even if it meant an increase in the cost of Exchequer subsidies. I thought when he made that declaration that that was the first threat to the future of our great agricultural industry. What has been the result of this system of consumer subsidies? If you compare the prices in December, 1945, with those in July, 1914, what would have cost x00A3;1 in July, 1914, would have cost, at the end of last year, if it was clothes, 69s., if it was coal, 55s., but if it was food, only 33s. 9d. That means that the fanner and the farm worker have had to pay at these enhanced prices for their coal, clothing, farming implements, and tobacco, but for their own products they have received prices that have not risen proportionately. That I believe to be the cause of the whole problem of agriculture.
Hon. Members on all Sides of the House have declared that they are anxious to see a higher return for work on the land. Under the present system how is that higher return to be brought about? I take it that the interpretation of the decision of the Central Wages Committee is that on the present prices it is impossible to make a material increase in wages on the land. They are an independent body who have gone into the figures and this House must therefore assume the responsibility. Will the taxpayer, under the present system, pay increased subsidies for agricultural products? That is the difficulty. Whatever agricultural policy the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Scotland may wish to put forward under the present system of consumer subsidies, they come up against the hostility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who cannot afford to allow the subsidy to rise about X00a3;308 million. I believe there is no reason why agriculture should be 1628 pauperised in this way. As we are willing to pay for our clothing, our coal, our tobacco, we ought to be willing to pay for the food we place in our mouths.
This brings me to the February price review. Listening to the Minister of Agriculture I got the feeling that he regards this February review as a strait-jacket. I think that is constricting the purpose of it rather too much. Prices and conditions will undoubtedly vary. The value of the February review is that farmers will know what price they can expect to receive 18 months ahead for the crops they grow and the products they produce. But it may well be that in the interval there may come great material changes. If, for example, there was an economic crisis that depressed the£ catastrophically, it would be quite senseless to expect farmers to receive a price for their products that bore a sterling value not in relation to their costs of production. Again, if, in the interval of 18 months, wages—which form 40 per cent. of the costs of production on the farms— were to rise materially, it should be possible, under that February review, for. the prices to be revised, and I believe that to be a very material consideration today.
There is the third possibility that certain payments that are made to stimulate production on unsuitable land for the nation's need may, or should in my view, if that need alters, be revised. That brings us to the wheat position. The right hon. Member for Southport, when he announced the alteration of the wheat acreage payments in March, 1945, said:If the world situation permits, compulsory directions will not be served for the growing of these crops in 1946, and the acreage payment will then be reduced from x00A3;4 to£2 an acre."If the world situation permits "—in March! By the autumn what had happened? We knew by then that the crops had failed in the Argentine and in Australia. We knew, or the Minister must have known, that the wheat acreage in this country had dropped from the peak figure of 3,200,000 in 1943 to 2,100,000. But one great factor that was known to the Government in the autumn was that, instead of merely having defeated Germany, as we expected in March, we had also defeated Japan, and there was the great problem of feeding 1629 the liberated territories not only in Europe but in Asia. All of us have learned since our early youth that famine stalks after war, and I should have thought that the Minister would have realised in the autumn that this world food problem and the problem of the wheat acreage were problems he had to tackle. When we came back in October many of us plied the Minister of Agriculture with questions on this acreage question. I asked him one on 15th October, and he replied that the growing of wheat on unsuitable land would no longer be justifiable.
I do not think we can possibly acquit the Minister of Agriculture of making a very grave miscalculation in the autumn. He discouraged farmers from planting wheat. Today he gave us the resulting figures. Wheat acreage is down to 1,900,000. How are we to raise that figure without any increase in the acreage subsidy? I do not know whether hon. Members realise the problem that faces farmers in connection with wheat 'cropping. I would like to explain the costs of production in the two different cases of growing wheat and barley. I have taken care to select comparable land that was costed by Universities in the North of England last year. Taking land that has a fertility represented by a rental value of£1 per acre, Leeds University give the following figures in regard to growing barley: It costs£13 7s. 9d. to grow an acre of barley. The yield comes to something like£ 21 73. 9d. working on the £4 per quarter applicable this year. That is a profit of £8, which has to be used for other years in the rotation when you do not make that profit. To plant the same acre with wheat costs£13s. 14s. 6d. This is a figure given by Manchester University last year. The yield in money for that acre is£13 4s. 8d., without any acreage subsidy. Therefore a loss of 10s. is suffered; £2 an acre makes that loss into a profit of£1 10s. I would like the House to realise that in that situation a farmer will not plant a chancey crop of spring wheat merely for the encouragement of £2 an acre as subsidy. I could not under stand whether the Minister of Agriculture expected to get a large acreage of spring wheat. If he. does not restore that acre age subsidy, he will not get it.
1630 Let me turn from wheat to poultry. The poultry farmers expected increased rations. They have built up their herds and their stock for that purpose. Only last December the Minister of Food made it clear to them that their rations were to be increased. Speaking on 5th December, he said:The present rationing programme provides for increased quantities of food for poultry to be issued from 1st May, 1946. From that date, commercial poultry producers will be allowed rations of feeding stuffs on the basis of one-third of their 1939 poultry numbers."— [Official Report, 5th December, 1945; Vol. 416, c. 2324.]That was a very cruel statement to make to the poultry producer, because by December the Government knew perfectly well that the food situation was so difficult that it would not be possible for them to increase those rations. Yet in December the Minister reaffirmed the promise that had been made eight months earlier to increase poultry rations. As a result of those statements a great deal of money has been lost by poultry producers. No doubt hon. Members will have had many letters on the subject, and even the Government, I expect, have occasionally heard from poultry farmers about the matter. I would quote one letter from a constituent of mine. It says:We have licensed and insured our car for a year. We have bought one ton of peat moss, wire netting, stakes, and felt. Who is going to pay for these now? We have no income. My husband estimates that we shall be able to keep one hundred birds, but no one can live on that. What does the Government propose doing with us now?I repeat that question to the Government. These men have lost money owing to the miscalculation and misstatements made by the Government. What are the Government going to do with these poultry producers? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will give us a reply to that question and that he will say that the Government are going to give them compensation.
Throughout the war, notwithstanding aerial bombing and submarine warfare, every ration pledge made by Lord Wool-ton or by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport was honoured. This is the first time that the Government have dishonoured a ration pledge. I believe that it is a shameful thing. What steps are the Government going to take to help these poultry producers by getting maize from 1631 the Argentine? It is no good the Government saying that there is no maize to be got from the Argentine, because that is not true. That statement has been contradicted in another place by the Government's own spokesmen and we know that there is maize in the Argentine. It could be brought here if the Government had the will to help poultry producers
I will now turn to amenities. Hon. Members have all stressed the importance of amenities. In my view, the close control of the individual and the loose co-ordination between Government Departments, have meant that the countryside has lost all along the line ever since the Government came into office. Take houses; houses have been planned for the towns and a few houses have been projected for some of the villages. No houses have been projected for the small villages. Houses on farms, and the improvement of houses on farms, have been condemned by the Government as something anti-social. Pleasure trips in buses are allowed for town dwellers, but what steps are the Government taking to improve bus services in rural areas? Take water schemes. When we were in office we passed a great Water Act.
§ Mr. Turton
I entirely agree with the interruption. Ever since the Government came into office all our plans for water have been delayed by the Government's insistence upon grandiose schemes that will take five years, to the detriment of smaller schemes that could have produced water in the coming summer, when we shall need it.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
Does the hon. Member really suggest that on this side we can wave a political wand and in five months clear up the hopeless mess and the state of affairs left by the other side?
§ Mr. Turton
1 know the hon. Gentleman and I know hon. Members opposite. I have watched them since last August. I never expected that of them at all. What I would have expected is that they would allow the local authorities to go ahead quickly on small schemes to produce water in a short time. 1632 I expected the Government to encourage them, and not to say: "We want a large scheme to cost£ 750,000, taking five years to bring about."
Take electricity It is the most vital amenity. By threatening nationalisation in the electricity industry, the Government have damped down all electrical development throughout the rural areas. They cannot get away from it. [An Hon. Member: "Rubbish."] The hon. Member has used the very Parliamentary expression "rubbish." He must be more fortunate in his constituency than I am, if electrical development is taking place there. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us details of it in his reply. Those who have had no extension of electricity will then know that some areas are being better treated than others in the country.
I ask the Government to consider this agricultural industry, which has been neglected and pauperised in the past. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Although hon. Members who made that interruption may try to make differences between themselves and me, I do not believe that at heart we have any great difference on this great question of agriculture, which has been neglected and pauperised in the past. During the war the industry has shown that it is needed, and the present crisis shows it is needed now, even as it was in war. In the war the men from the countryside proved that they were the best fighting troops that this country had. Therefore, we really have to make a revolution in our ideas on agriculture. The industrial revolution lured men away from the country districts to the towns and factories. It is our duty in this Parliament, on both. sides of the House, to take steps to bring the men back from the towns and factories to comfortable villages and a prosperous agriculture.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Major Wise (King's Lynn)
I want to set a good example and confine my remarks to a period of 10 minutes, as so many hon. Members wish to speak in this Debate. However, I cannot let the last speaker get away entirely with what he said about the present emergency. Our present emergency lies entirely, so far as we are concerned as cereal producers, in the hands of the late Minister of Agriculture and the late 1633 Minister of Food. In March last, the Minister of Agriculture, in consultation with the Minister of Food, knowing exactly what the condition of agriculture was at that time in this country, decided not only to tell the war agricultural executive committees to reduce their acreages in the next three years by 450,000 acres, but also decided to reduce the subsidies on the next harvest of wheat from£4 to£2. At that time, the wheat acreage in this country had gone down since 1943 by no less than one million acres. The barley acreage had gone up, the oat acreage had gone up, the acreage of leys had gone up by one million acres, and year by year at that time we had started to go back once again to the position which prevailed before the war. We were changing our farming methods. We had, for the purposes of the war, developed cereal production but, on the advice of the late Minister of Agriculture, we had started once again to get away from wheat production to ley farming and to livestock.
Apart from that, and this is the main point, the late Minister of Agriculture was advised in 1943. as the outcome of the Hot Springs Conference, that this country, as other countries, should turn its attention to cereal production, which was undoubtedly very necessary and would be very necessary at the end of the war. If the position was known to the late Minister of Agriculture, as it was known, in March, he would have been well advised to endeavour to increase rather than decrease our wheat production. Wheat is necessary in the pig industry. It is necessary also in the industry of poultry, which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman opposite. Barley does not take its place and I, for one, am particularly anxious about the wheat position as we find it at present. The Minister of Agriculture gave me some figures this afternoon. In December we were already down on the figures of last year and, according to figures which he gave a few days ago in this House, we shall not even reach the figures of last year so far as wheat is concerned.
I am going to cross swords with him. I think that we farmers should have had some encouragement at this time. We are in an emergency; we are not in a crisis; we may be in a jam. I believe, however, that with good sense we shall 1634 get out of our immediate difficulties. Our autumn wheat is in. There are hundreds of thousands of acres ready, or almost ready, for spring sowing, but whether they will go into wheat or into barley or into oats is a financial matter, and farmers are only human. We have our living to get and we know from experience that the financial. results of barley are far greater than the present financial results from wheat. Every acre of wheat which I put in in the spring, compared with barley, would lose me at least£5 or£6 per acre on the future prices for this year. On present prices, I believe I am right in saying that the farming industry will receive no less than£12 million more for their barley than they will for their wheat. In estimating those figures I am taking like against like, taking top prices without dealing with offals or seed or anything of that kind, and on the prices for next year the farming industry will receive for their barley no less than£8 million more than they will receive for their wheat. That is important, and if we are to put in wheat the Minister should, even at this late hour, make some gesture to the farming community and give it some help.
Now as to the future. I farmed under the late Government and I am happy that I shall farm in the future under the present Government. We have had a bad time and I commend the policy which is before the House. However, it is only a frame work which is before us at present; we shall fill in the details as time goes on. But even now there are things of which I hope the Minister will take cognisance. I am sorry that he said today in reply to a Question from me that he could not hold up the February prices until the present wage deadlock had been brought to an end. The February prices are important, and there are one or two alterations which I would commend to him. We heard a lot this afternoon from the other side about Scottish beef and fat stock prices. In my view, the present fat stock prices are not sufficient to encourage good feeders of cattle to feed. There is not sufficient margin, and I know for a fact that cattle going into our markets is sold in a store condition at a greater price than the Ministry of Food would give for it as fat. That is wrong. Every beast that we, as feeders, feed undoubtedly loses us money. I hope that the prices which the Ministry of Food will pay will be in excess of the prices prevailing at present. 1635 If the Minister is not prepared to put back the acreage payment, I hope he will bring the price of wheat nearer to the price of barley, which this year and next year is no less than 17s. 3d. per quarter more than the price of wheat. If the Minister wishes to encourage us to grow wheat, that margin should be closed, and I hope it will be.
I shall leave the questions of wages and houses to other hon. Members. I am very anxious that in this country we shall see a happy and contented agriculture. We have a great work in front of us. The Minister has a tremendous and magnificent job: All the amenities of which we heard this afternoon can be brought to our country districts if we in this House have a mind that they should be brought. I extol the long-term policy the Government have produced—a policy which started in 1926; and I am happy to say that since that date I have been up and down the country trying to persuade farmer friends to accept that policy. At long last, I am in the happy position of knowing that the farmers will be behind the Government in their policy to produce the good wholesome food we want.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I hope the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his interesting observations on the prices of wheat and fat stock. I want to confine myself, in the few minutes I shall occupy the time of the House, to three specific matters which concern fanners in Lancashire particularly, although they have as well a more general application. The first matter affects East Lancashire dairy farmers. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has recently received a deputation on behalf of these dairy farmers, and not only expressed his sympathies with their plight, but ready agreement with the justice of the claims they put forward. Briefly, the situation is that these East Lancashire farmers, who for the most part farm on rather high and unfertile land, are confined in a great measure to that type of land. Before the war, they were dependent almost wholly on imported feeding stuffs for their dairy herds. At that time, the average milk yield for Lancashire was slightly in excess of the average of the whole country. As a result of the war, and the impossibility of importing feeding stuff, the average has 1636 dropped alarmingly—by something over 150 gallons a year. Possibly it is in excess of that in East Lancashire.
The farmers have done their best by way of ploughing up to produce their own feeding stuffs but, with an average rainfall of 50 or 60 inches a year, they have been limited mostly to oats and a certain amount of hay. They find themselves in a vicious circle; their milk yield dropping and the manurial value from their herds reduced as well. Their position is getting steadily worse. I know that for the moment it is impossible to import additional feeding stuffs, but I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider what can be done in increasing production in other parts of the country of the protein types of foods, such crops as beans, peas and dried grass in particular, because by additional allocation of these feeding stuffs alone can any help be given to this very hard pressed section of the farming community in the immediate future.
Another problem in Lancashire, which has already been referred to in general terms by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), is the position in which the poultry keepers find themselves. Lancashire is particularly hard hit in this respect. Before the war it was one of the great poultry producing areas. At the beginning of the war the feeding stuffs allocation was reduced to one-sixth. More recently it has risen to a quarter and there was a promise of a third of the prewar allocation by May and the prospects of a subsequent increase In expectation of this increase poultry keepers in the whole county have increased their stocks of birds and eggs and now find themselves facing a definite financial loss in the future. I add my protest to what has already been said on this matter. It is essential, in the interests of justice alone, that some compensation should be given to poultry keepers who find themselves in this impossible situation.
Finally, I would like to refer to problems which are confronting the horticultural industry. In horticulture I include not only the growing of vegetables and fruit, but flowers and glass house produce. The right hon. Gentleman did not find it possible in his statement in November to allude to this, although more recently he has stated that the problems confronting horticulture generally are those to do with marketing. I suggest he should reconsider that state- 1637 ment. In fact, in fruit growing it is a question of long-term policy. Fruit growers have to look 10 or 15 years ahead and cannot be satisfied at the moment with no other prospect than the general statement that their problems are merely marketing problems. That might be true with regard to vegetables, but in regard to fruit there must be a long-term policy, and I ask the Minister to give some reconsideration to the matter in regard to horticulture generally.
Before the war horticulturists were making considerable strides in producing off-season products which in many cases require processing and preserving. This industry represents no inconsiderable proportion of our agricultural production, and it requires, just as does the generality of the farming community, some statement as to the Government's long-term intentions if it is to get on a sound basis. It is only fair that if we are to stabilise prices and policy for the generality of the farming community something similar should be done for horticulturists. I hope that the Minister, if the Parliamentary Secretary cannot do it this evening, will in due course make a general statement which will enable horticulturists to look to the future with the same sort of confidence for which we hope the general body of agriculturists can have.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley (Buckingham)
A former Member of this House once said to me that he always looked forward to agricultural Debates, because on those days he felt that he could stay away. I am afraid that a good many people still feel like that. It seems to me a great pity, because whatever the origin of a Ministry of Agriculture may have been, one of the results ought, surely, to be that when the subject comes up in this House it should be discussed not only by experts but by Members to whom agriculture is one of many interests, and who can look at it against a rather broader background.
I would like to bring the Debate back to the subject which seems to me to be the most critical, that of labour. The aspect of labour with which I wish to deal is not the immediate emergency, but what seems to me to be the most disturbing fact about the labour position, 1638 the age level of the people now working as agricultural labourers. I cannot give exact statistics. I am not sure that they are available, but I am told by an expert that the percentage of agricultural labourers over 40 years old is very high and very alarming. It seems to me, therefore, that besides the need to deal with the present emergency, the need for extra people to bring uneconomic land into cultivation to meet the world food shortage, we have in the next ten or 15 years the prospect of a veritable exodus from the land. Therefore, what the Ministry, and the industry, have to face is the fact that they need to bring into agriculture in the next ten years an altogether abnormal amount of labour, and of young labour.
It is surely obvious that the present improvements which have been won for agricultural labour are not enough to attract young people today. The leeway between the average wage in agriculture and the average wage.in other industries has not, in fact, been made up. I understand from some figures I read in a publication this month—they are not foolproof, of course, but I think they are sound— that it has probably increased, that the actual wage received by the agricultural worker is now, if anything, rather lower, compared with the average wage for other industries, than it was in 1939. It is not surprising, therefore, that people coming out of the Forces are not going into agriculture. In my constituency many old age pensioners are going back to the land, working for a mere pittance, partly because they enjoy the work, partly to get a little extra, and partly to help the farmers out. That is not a healthy sign.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) suggested that one of the reasons for this great discrepancy was the demands made by trade unions in other industries. I hope that what I am about to say may suggest to him that there is another point of view. The fact is that agricultural labour is not attractive. I need not go into the details of the conditions. They have been stressed by so many people. We have come a long way from the time when a woman could go to Mr. A. G. Street and say that her first two sons were doing very well and deserved a scholarship, but that the third son was a little weak in the head and should go on the land. There is, however, some sort of 1639 stigma attached to work on the land. Young people of today, particularly the sons of labourers, who are trying to better themselves, regard the land as a last resort, a place to which one goes if one is a dud. Obviously, a great deal will be done by the plans of the present Government to bring water and power to the land and to get decent housing. On the other hand, that is a long-term programme, long-term for reasons which 1 need not emphasise again—the neglect of the past.
The problem is how to make agriculture not merely as attractive as other industries now but more attractive. And the first essential, if we are to do that, is a psychological change in the outlook of the whole industry, and indeed in the outlook of those who have to employ workers at all. This is one of the answers to the general proposition that it is always the Government who have to do these things, or that the trade unions may be wrong to appeal for higher wages. When one talks of making manual more attractive, there are a great many people, not merely employers, who feel that something is wrong. They have a feeling of impatience or resentment. Why should manual labour be made more attractive; is one not molly-coddling people? Though that point of view is widespread, I do suggest that today it is very unenlightened.
The curse of this country for the last 150 years has been the maldistribution of income. For generations the rewards, not only of ownership but also of a great many types of intellectual effort, and even of skilled effort, have been out of proportion to the rewards gained by manual labour. Surely the whole history of taxation and social legislation in this country goes to prove that fact. My point is that, inspite of the influence of Government through the generations, and in spite of what taxation has done to redistribute income, the concept of the value of manual labour, as against other forms of labour, is still out of proportion in the minds of too many people. We have to alter that concept if we are to get, not only agriculture, but a great many other industries which are in a similar situation at the moment, on to their feet. Manual labour is rightly determined to get a greater share. To borrow one of those obscure phrases of economists, the disutility of manual labour is rising—a phrase which I believe to mean that employers have 1640 got to begin to pay to overcome the distaste for manual labour of whatever kind; and, on the other hand, that employers themselves have to start writing up, as part of their financial reward, the pleasure and prestige of ownership and organisational work.
To apply this to agriculture, the appeal I would make is an appeal from this House to the industry as a whole; that in spite of the decision of the Wages Board last week, employers should, on their own initiative, make an offer of 10s. a week, without at the same time asking for a. rise in prices. I know that here I am on dubious ground, as the mathematics of agriculture are obscure and the estimating of profits difficult, but on balance from all the figures one has seen, and from one's observation among farmers in the country, it would seem that this is possible. There would be cases of hardship among farmers on marginal land and on some small farms, but where such hardship exists, there would seem to be a means of helping it, through the agricultural executive committees, and by other means. This should also be said. Farmers as a whole are doing better and deservedly better, and one of the assets they have in these days is that they can feed well. In this country, when so much is in short supply, getting food, and good food, is a tremendous asset. If people are to be called upon to make further sacrifices, as they must be, farmers are in a fairly strong position. If the industry wants to get the labour, the moral effect of the industry itself taking the initiative, and offering such a rise as I have suggested, would do far more to make young people look again towards agriculture than any action that could come from the Government. I do not say, and I do not believe, that 10s. a week would be enough, and I urge the Minister now to begin to think of his next year's price review, and announce, if possible, his intention to make arrangements whereby some further rise in wages may be possible in the future.
Even if there is a minimum wage of£4 10s. per week in the agricultural industry, I am not sure that it would produce the labour we must have in the next ten years. By ambitious young people, agriculture is still regarded as a dead end. I know that other industries suffer in the same way, but one of the reasons why 1641 agriculture is so regarded is because units are so small and often so disconnected. There are many other reasons. In all villages now you find many men who have lived on one farm or in one very small area all their lives. They have never progressed far and when young people see them in their village, they undoubtedly recoil from the prospect of a similar experience. All honour to the agricultural worker who stuck it, but that effect is there. A fact which has always struck me is that whereas in other great industries the tendency to combine, co-ordinate, and organise has come from within, in agriculture these tendencies have always come from without. That applied even to the early marketing schemes. Surely that must change. In order that agriculture should become efficient, it is necessary for the industry to reorganise itself as a whole.
In a Debate on long-term policy, two points should be borne in mind. The first concerns agricultural boundaries, the size of farms. In every technical book it is said that this question of the size of farms, and the arrangements of boundaries, is one of the most important if we are to get efficient farming. I know it involves the long-term question of tenure and so on, but if it really is necessary for efficiency, surely something should be done now. I am thinking particularly of the surveys necessary before we can reorganise the size of our farms. I know one great survey has been made during the war but other surveys are necessary. I do suggest that the Government should declare their intentions of seeing the surveys are made, and again appeal to the industry to take the initiative and to try and organise the survey themselves.
Secondly, there is the question of the ancillary services. When a man goes into agriculture to work, he does hot see a ladder of progression before him. He goes in as a worker, and, very likely, he only sees himself progressing one or two grades to become a stockman, or something like that, at the end of his life. The ancillary services, the Advisory Council and the research centres and so on, provide an opportunity of widening the whole scope of agriculture as a career. I am pleased to learn that the danger of overlapping between the advisory ser- 1642 vice and the executive services is being dealt with by the Government. It would be a very great mistake if these advisory services become a civil service, quite separate from the people who work on the land. It seems to me the Government should now lay plans whereby, young persons who go into farming as workers even if they have not got academic qualifications, if they show aptitude and intelligence, should be able later to progress from being workers to some course as students and possibly graduate to one of the advisory services. I believe that would do almost more than anything to encourage young intelligent people to enter agriculture.
Lastly, the method of election of these advisory services in the districts should be considered. I hope the plea by the farmers for a more democratic method of election will be listened to, not only because I believe it would create goodwill among the farmers but also because if we get that democratic system there will not be this division between the advisory services and the industry as a whole. There will be a greater mobility between the various departments, and greater scope for the worker.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
I was extremely interested in the speech made by the ban. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Flight-Lieutenant Crawley). There is a point which I would like to put to him in regard to his request that the farming industry should offer an increase of pay of 10s. a week to agricultural workers. If it were possible for the large farmers alone to pay the increase, those with, say, 250 acres and more, there would be no harm done, but the fact is that 80 per cent, of the farmers of this country farm less than 250 acres in area. The result of taking 10s. away from their profits and putting 10s. on to the profits of the agricultural worker would be that the highly skilled technical manager and worker— because most farmers are workers—would be getting less money, and the not quite so skilled farm workers would be getting more, thereby closing the gap between the two and doing exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do.
One point which we on this side of the House do insist upon is that, whatever the wage level, we believe that the gap between the skilled and the unskilled, and 1643 between the skilled and the very skilled, should be much wider than it is today. 1 do not think it is wise to interfere at the present time with the wage negotiating machinery. But is true to say that in my own area in particular it is not the minimum wage level which is causing dissatisfaction. The great majority of men are on the£4 6s. level today. I would estimate that 80 per cent. of the workers receive that scale of pay, which is the stockman's rate. If the farmer does not offer£4 6s., he does not get the men. Also in the West Riding we have the peculiar system whereby we pay a lump sum for overtime and for weekend work. It is not the minimum wage—
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley
The hon. Member is not suggesting that that is the case over the whole country?
§ Mr. York
That is the impression. I hold it myself; the right hon. Member does not. That is a matter of opinion but it is also, to a certain extent, a matter of fact. I will not argue that now. What also is causing concern is that the agricultural worker of highest skill who will be the last to get a modernised house is the class who deserves it the most, both from the point of view of the industry and because of the job he is doing.
§ Mr. Williams
I hate to interrupt my hon. Friend, but either he did not hear what I said last Friday week or he cannot have read it. On that occasion I told the House that more rural district councils than other councils had had tenders approved and are now building houses.
§ Mr. York
But are they going to be lived in by agricultural workers? That is the point to bear in mind. The Minister is now talking about a point I had made and had left. I am now on the question of the tied cottage. The one type of worker who is not going to get a modernised house is the man who must live on the farm in a tied cottage. I know it is not the wish of the right hon. Gentleman that these men should be prejudiced, and I appeal to him to see that no prejudice should be allowed to stand in the way of farmers being able to modernise houses or to build new houses for these men. That question is one danger signal. The other danger signal has been. dealt with so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that I need not refer to it other than to recall that it was the question of pegging the cost of living.
I now turn to the question of land organisation and, in particular, to deal with the committees and then with the Land Commission. There are four alternative ways in which the land and husbandry can be supervised to ensure that we carry out our national food policy. The first is the unfettered management and control of land by private owners and farmers; the second is the supervision of management and of all husbandry by local representatives, with reasonable and general guidance from the Government, in order to carry out the national food policy; the third is supervision by State servants; and the fourth is that the land should be owned and managed by the State, whereby the farmers become tenants at will or else become State servants. Those are the four alternatives. On this side of the House we reject both the first and fourth as being impracticable, unlikely to benefit the country and certainly most unlikely to benefit the rural communities. We reject the third because it is undemocratic, and it would not work, either, and we accept the second, which is the scheme now put forward and widely accepted by all parties in the House. We accept the position that a committee should be appointed by the Minister, but we want to see, in addition, three things. First, we want to see that the Minister has the power to select and appoint land agents and surveyors and also to appoint representatives, in suitable instances, of women's institutes, the county councils and so on. Secondly, we wish to see these appointments made on merit, and not according 1645 to a strict mathematical basis whereby, for instance, a certain organisation must have three members on each committee. Thirdly, we want to see that these appointments are made for a term of, say, three years certain, and that a pro-portion shall retire each year to make way for new members.
Our aim is to avoid pressure groups and to see that the committee's word carries weight all over the district and that there are no sectional interests upon those committees. We also agree that the job of the committees is to promote agricultural efficiency, but we do not agree that it is necessary, in order to do their job, for them to have permanent powers for the direction of cropping, except in so far as may be necessary during a war or when a farm is under supervision. Where necessary, these committees should have power, under permanent legislation, to enforce the terms of tenancy agreements both on owners and on tenants. This power was taken away from the landowners in 1923, much to the detriment of the industry, and it must be replaced.
We accept the general view on the subject of the tribunals, but we insist that the independent tribunals shall be independent and shall not be saddled, as an afterthought, with the decision of the Minister under his power to override the decision of the tribunal. We, on this side of the House, are most anxious about what he has in mind. In his speech on the first day of this Debate, he said:I have deferred any such dispossession cases until tribunals can deal with them, so as not to be unfair to any farmer who perhaps deserves being dispossessed."— [Official Report, 15th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 684.]Our fear is this. The Minister has the last word and the overriding power. He also, apparently, has made up his mind in advance. Therefore, what is the use of the tribunals? I hope he will see that his Parliamentary Secretary dispels any false impression which I might have gained from his speech.
On the question of the Land Commission, the picture in regard to State management and ownership is that, first, we have the Forestry Commission, managing State forests and ancillary land, which is all to the good; then, we have the Commissioners of. Crown Lands, 1646 managing Crown properties; then we have the Service Departments, managing Service Department land; and then the local authorities managing their own land. On top of all that, the Minister now says that he must have a further body, a Land Commission, to manage further land. I cannot see the case for this, or the need for any body which will be managing large numbers, or perhaps even small numbers, of scattered properties up and down the country. For the development of agricultural land, we surely have a far better and more practicable executive body in the county committees. We know that they are expensive enough, but not nearly so expensive as the Land Commission would be, and, if the Land Commission is to manage this land for development, then, indeed, it will be farming from Whitehall. The Minister asks that he should have power to acquire land for experimental farms, but he surely does not need a Land Commission to manage them. They can be managed either through the local committees or through the physical ownership of his own Ministry. I have no objection to the Minister being given powers to buy, but he need not have a Land Commission to manage an experimental farm.
I cannot accept this Land Commission as a reasonable or practical body to manage land. In our view, if land is acquired by the State, it should be offered for resale, subject to the condition that the new owner should not be a nominee of the former owner. But, if the Government insist, through their Parliamentary majority, on their Land Commission, let me suggest to them that a far more practicable arrangement. in order to manage these patchwork properties all over the country, would be to give the management of these properties into the hands of local agents in exactly the same way as the Commissioners of Crown Lands do today. The Crown owns properties all over the place and a local agent is given the job of managing those properties.
But there is a function, and a very important function, for this Land Commission. It should be the expert body to which cases of dispossessed owners should be referred. The county committees are not the proper bodies for considering cases of management of estates, and my suggestion, which I cannot now develop owing to lack of time, is that the Land Commission should be a body of techni- 1647 cal experts who should inspect and decide upon cases of dispossession of ownership. There are many other criticisms which I wished to make, but I have no time to make them—research, rents, short-term credits, a very important point, and so on.
Although 1 have criticised, my criticisms have been on details, and I welcome, as all sections of the House welcome, the main fundamental plans of the Government, but I must end with this warning. We are discussing this policy against a background of famine and shortage, and that background certainly makes the long-term future of agriculture rather inclined to fade into a mirage, and we cannot see clearly the dangers, which we on this side are constantly pointing out in Debate The pegging of the standard of living at an entirely artificial and far too low level, and the lack of a wage policy, will burst the whole agricultural policy of the Government in the space of a year or two. Like my hon. Friends, I ask the Government to take their courage in both hands and face these problems now, or their agricultural currency will be base.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
Rising to support the Motion which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend on the long-term agricultural policy of the Government, I wish to express the view that it is the best agricultural policy which has been produced by any Government, but that its testing will be in the manner and in the vigour with which it is implemented. At the commencement of the Debate today, the noble Lord: he Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said something with which I thoroughly agree, namely, that it is necessary to make the people of this country soil-conscious. He deprecated, too, the fact that there were millions of acres which could still be ploughed. I agree with that viewpoint. Indeed, when I first had the honour of addressing this House in the Debate on the King's Speech, I made that very point. It is a point fully justified by the crisis which has arisen. I could not, however, follow the noble Lord in his comments on the Government's policy of the last six months. He accused the Government of lack of imagination and expressed impatience at the alleged slowness of action with regard to water 1648 supplies, electricity and housing. It occurred to me that it he was so impatient with the present Government in six months, he must, holding the views he does hold, have suffered literally tortures for a period of 40 years in this House at the inaction—I might almost say the complete betrayal—of the land and of agriculture which was the result of the policy of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Collins
I mention 40 years because I believe that is the duration of the Noble Lord's stay in the House up to date. All the criticisms which go back and forth, and the impatience of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side, do not grow one extra grain of corn, or produce another egg, or another cup of milk. That, I think, is the only useful purpose which can be served by such a Debate. For example, the speech of the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) was, if I may say so, full of constructive criticism, which is the only worthwhile criticism in this House. I wish to make one criticism with regard to the policy of the former Minister of Agriculture, having regard to the fact that comments of that kind are useful if they point the way to the avoidance of similar mistakes in the future. I regard the decision made in March, 1945, as not merely disastrous, but wrong and based on false premises. It was an imprudent policy having regard to the fact that famine usually follows war; that we had had five years of good harvests and that a bad one was likely to arrive after five good harvests, and that there should have been an over-estimate, rather than an under-estimate. In my view, the fundamental reason for that change, when it did take place, was a basic misconception of the real essentials of mixed farming and a desire to return too soon to a livestock policy when we should permanently have continued a larger growing of cereals in this country.
§ Mr. Collins
That, 1 would submit to the hon. Member, is a matter of opinion. I hope to show that in my view mixed farming demands a larger proportion of cereals in this country than before the 1649 war. I would like to make one or two short-term suggestions to the Minister which might help to tide us over and which, in my view, will fit in with a long-term policy. The first is that we should have an intensified campaign for increased production in gardens and allotments. We have had a most successful "Dig for Victory" campaign, and we should replace that with a campaign to "Plant for Peace and Plenty." There are some 1,600 produce associations in this country, each with an average of about 150 members. They should be encouraged, not merely by assurances of security of tenure—which has been mentioned this afternoon—but also by assurances of long-term assistance in the way of technical advice and provision of cheap seeds, and things of that kind. There has been a suggestion in the Press, and elsewhere, that we should have an extensive reploughing of old grasslands, in order to increase the 1946 harvest. Although I am very much in favour of reploughing many of the grasslands which have not been ploughed, I do not think that is likely to be of any considerable value in 1946. The old grasslands should be ploughed, fallowed and sown in the autumn for 1947 harvest. To help the 1946 grain harvest I suggest, first of all, that any permission which has been given to lay down fields to grass, except under straw crops, should be cancelled, and spring corn should be sown. There should be a survey of all leys, and the poor ones should be ploughed up this spring. There should be no further permission to re-seed to grass this spring, or until the difficulties are overcome, and we should endeavour to plant more potatoes.
1 am convinced, in spite of what has been said about the reduction in the wheat subsidy, that the response from the farmers will be much better than we have any right to expect. I base this on my experience in my own constituency. It rather seems to indicate that if we want help, we had better go to the worst treated section of the community. With regard to long-term policy, I would refer, first, to the Hot Springs Conference, which laid it down that it was vitally necessary for us to grow all we could, and that there should be full development. I hope that policy will be the permanent policy of the Government and of the country. In the past, 1650 agriculture has been the one industry of which we have not been absolutely determined to make the best possible use. Imagine allowing the coalfields to be treated with the neglect the land has received. In the past, we have, almost deliberately, gone out of our way to neglect and pauperise the land. That is something which I regard as intolerable. Before the war, the industry had a capital value of some£1,200 million, and a sum equal to that could be spent in the full development of agriculture. It is with regret that I have heard Ministers say that we must depend indefinitely on large imports of food. As far as native food is concerned, I regard that as nonsense. If we go about it in the right way, we can produce all the native food we need. The policy enunciated by the Minister is the right one for the job if only we apply it. What we have to do is to find what every acre is best suited to grow, and then see that we grow as much as possible on each acre. We have in this country 35,000,000 ploughable acres, and I want to see the adoption of the policy of ploughing "round the farm," so that we do not have any permanent grassland, other than rough grazings. Of course, the land must be properly drained, but there is no reason why such a policy should not be adopted.
The hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Flight-Lieutenant Crawley) referred to the survey which was made in 1942–43—a survey which, in my view, is perhaps the most remarkable event in agriculture for the last 100 years. I hope that that survey, which was compiled at great expense, time and trouble by a large number of voluntary experts, will be made of great use in connection with the implementation of our agricultural policy. It has not been published yet but I hope it soon will be. By making use of the information which has been compiled in this agricultural "Domes-day Book" we can fix targets on an ascending scale over a period of years, and I suggest that two of the targets which should be reached at an early stage should be 3,250,000 acres of wheat and 5,000,000 dairy cows. Some hon. Members may think that is unattainable in, say, five years, but I say we must do it. In the figures recently announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he mentioned that in the first half of this year food imports would amount to£300,000,000, and that the exports for 1651 January, which were double those for November, amounted to£57,000,000. That means that at the present time, at the present rate, five-sixths of our exports are needed to pay for our imports of food only. I suggest that is an undesirable position and need not be continued. Other countries, including the Dominions, are semi-industrialised. They are reduced markets for our exports, and there will probably also, be less food exports from those countries, because of the improved standard of living which is already to be found in many of them, and which there is a tendency to increase in the future The fact is that our own export markets are going to be reduced in those countries, and their exports of food are probably liable to similar reduction. But even if that were not so, is it right, and is it sound economy, to dissipate our greatest assets merely to provide a market for foreign food? I suggest it is not.
A great deal has been said about the cost. Usually if a countryman uses this argument with a townsman, the townsman will say that the cost of British food production is prohibitive. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) did a great deal to explode that argument when he gave the current figures for American, Canadian and British wheat. and when he mentioned that British wheat, including a£2 subsidy, was 68s. a quarter, that American wheat over there war 72s. and Canadian wheat 62s., apart from all the other costs of shipment, resale and distribution. We must remember that the average yield of cereals per acre from our land is three times the yield in Canada.. I agree that if it is necessary—although with improved distribution T do not think it is—food prices must be higher, because we cannot build prosperity by bankrupting primary producers or putting them on the dole. In my view, these arguments are unanswerable. What we need is an assurance that the Government intend to stand by the full implication of their policy, and that no international commercial agreements will be entered into, which will cripple British agriculture. As I heard the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) say a few days ago, there are millions of United States dollars to be dug out of the soil of Britain, and that is a policy which we should pursue. If we decide on a larger cereal production, and we also have to increase our cattle 1652 population, it obviously means that there must be a change in our farming methods. I think the essential change is greatly to increase our grass leys and to substitute rotational seed leys for permanent grass, to feed the cattle mainly in yards, 0n green soil grass in the summer, and on artificially dried grass in the winter. The artificially dried grass has a higher protein content than hay. and it saves a terrific grass wastage Of course, it means the introduction of artificial dryers on a large scale, but it is necessary in my view. It will achieve the results we want, and it will make us more independent of the weather in harvest time.
I hope, too, that there will be a determined attack on cattle diseases. We lose 200,000,000 gallons of milk a year by mastitis, contagious abortion and sterility. There is one method of meeting that problem—by expanding the panel service of veterinary surgeons. There are some 2,000 veterinaries at the moment, and about 75 per cent. of them are in agriculture. That does not appear to be enough. I suggest that the 150 veterinaries who can be produced each year by the four schools is not enough, and the Government should take whatever steps are necessary to increase this number. We have also the question of improving the cleanliness of our milk, which must be produced from clean stock in clean farms. There is an urgent need for the provision of water, electricity and machinery which I have already mentioned and which was mentioned in a Question this afternoon. I also hope to see a considerable improvement in administration through the county committees, which we all agree have been slipping very badly. They must be the mainspring for the carrying out of this policy.
I am trying to adhere to the time limit set by my hon. Friends on this side of the House, although I would protest, even at this late hour, at the undue proportion of time which has been given in this Debate to our friends from Scotland. I want to emphasise that all these plans—and this b the vital governing factor—however good they are, are useless without labour. Farmers are strained and tired. It is not only the agricultural workers, but the farmers as well. They would produce and plough even now without worrying so much about prices, if they could be assured of the labour, but they know very well that so far, at least, there is no 1653 prospect of labour forthcoming. Mention has been made of the fact that 80 per cent. of our farmers are small farmers. It must also be remembered that those 80 per cent. of farmers also have wives. A great deal has been said, quite rightly, about the British housewife. I wonder how many people think of the extra work that has to be done by the farmers' wives, not only in the house but in connection with milking, poultry and everything else. Their part has been almost completely unsung, although it is quite spectacular.
The Ministry of Agriculture ought to produce a manpower budget and see that the men are available for the harvest. It is no use making plans unless they are co-related to labour. We know that 23,000 men left the land in the last 12 months for one reason or another. Whatever steps may be taken to speed up, Class B releases and to defer the call-up the long-term view must be considered. Are we getting any substitutes for the prisoners who will be going in the near or distant future? Is everything being done to make the industry attractive? I agree that it would not be in the interests of the men to destroy the collective machinery of the Central Wages Board in the long-term view, but it is my opinion that the Minister could and in fact must, in this connection, do what he can to ensure an increase in the minimum wage for the men. It is quite impossible to consider going on in this way unless there are real grounds for hoping that these wages will be increased. We have an agricultural policy. Let us employ it to the full. Give the men good wages and conditions and the farmers a fair return and sure markets, and we shall have a proper foundation for full employment and full prosperity in this country.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown (Bury St. Edmunds)
As time is short I will come straight to the few points that I must bring forward. I think at the present moment the great difficulty from the farmers' point of view is that of being assured sufficient labour. Labour comes under three heads, regular, prisoner and Casual. A lot of hon. Members on both sides of the House have discussed the question of regular labour, and I will not waste time talking about that. I will go straight to the prisoner labour. We have heard from the Minister that this labour 1654 is to be paid the rate for the job. I do not think that anyone disagrees with that, but we want to know how it will be carried out. How will the man who has to employ Italian prisoners compare with the farmer who gets German prisoners? Is he to pay the same rate? Also, there are different types of labour among these prisoners; there are first class farm hands, but on the other hand, many of them are clerks and so on. Will they both be at the same rate?
There is, too, the question of getting a full day's work. How can the farmer be sure of getting that? Is he to be allowed to keep a portion of the wages to pay as a bonus to the men who work hardest? If he cannot do this, is he to be able to keep portions of the rations for the men who work extra hard? Then there is the question of the numbers available. We have heard about gangs of German prisoner labour who will be employed in building new houses who will be on the railways and, in fact, the possibility of some of them working in the mines. German labour, however. is not inexhaustible. Does it mean that agriculture will have to suffer and that there will not be any gangs available to run this summer's harvest, to pull the sugar beet and so on? These are points on the labour side about which every farmer wants to know the answer now.
I turn now to casual labour. We have so far heard nothing of the Government's plans with reference to the harvest camps. We hear a lot from the seaside resorts that they are doing their best to get going in order to attract everybody there for their holidays. If that succeeds we shall rot get the same labour in the harvest camps that we have had in previous years. Then there are the schoolchildren. Are they to have their holidays staggered so that they can help in the harvest? We have been lucky in. our harvests during the past two or three years, but this time we may strike a bad year for weather, and it will be essential to have the labour available at the moment it is wanted.
The next question I want to touch on is that of using all the available land. We have all seen large numbers of aerodromes, camps and other sites that are unoccupied and yet not handed back. In my own constituency I understand that one large aerodrome is not to be used again for flying, but that it will either be used for ground formations or offered to 1655 other Ministries. That was nearly a month ago, and still no effort has been made to hand the land back to the farmers. No effort has been made to rip up the tarmac, which should be done with mechanical implements, in order to get some of the land back into cultivation this year. In my constituency there are training areas and military camps standing empty, and have been for many months.
There are acres simply growing weeds, huts just rotting from the rain for the want of somebody to live in them. If they are not to be lived in again why not pull them down and have the land given back even if it is only suitable for grazing? The time is very short and we must get on with the work during the next month, particularly if there is any chance for it to be ploughed and sown. Then there are miles and miles of land still covered with barbed wire entanglements. The farmers are told that they must pull it up, but they have not the labour nor the proper transport to do the job. There the land is, left to breed weeds and rank grass.
There is one other side which 1 think is not receiving sufficient attention, and that is the allotment areas of this country. We are at the period when the ground should be dug and early seeds planted, and yet one cannot see any real drive being put forward by the Ministry to encourage it. The hon. Member who spoke last has brought up this subject. I would like to see great posters put up, "Dig for your own winter-grown food." I understand that we will be terribly short of tin-plate, and if that is so we shall find it very hard to get the tinned food from abroad that is needed over in this country. Here is one chance where a really big effort can be put across to every householder—" Dig up your allotments now and grow everything you can on them."
One final word with regard to pigs and poultry. We have heard a lot of speeches on both sides of the. House on this subject. I do not know whether it is fully realised that many poultry and pig farmers will be very hard hit. They have already hatched all the heavy breeds of poultry. What are they to do with the young chicks when they find they can get no rations? The same applies to the pigs. Breeding sows and boars have been purchased, and in many cases litters already born. They will not be able to 1656 feed those sows or even bring the young pigs on to a marketable size. That means that in the next month or two there will be a large slaughter of young pigs and young chicks, a very bad waste of valuable foodstuff. I would ask the Minister, if he cannot save the lives of those animals till they get to a sufficient size for eating, at least to compensate the owners.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)
The agricultural policy of the Government has received widespread applause, and as one who has had a close connection with the farm workers of this country, I want to join in the chorus in the name of my colleagues. It is not without significance that the Labour Government should tackle the question of agricultural policy so early in their career. It may be that it denotes a changed attitude on the part of this industrial party towards Britain's greatest single industry. I am sure those of us who come from the country welcome it. In the past the big business people and the industrial workers have had their food and have thought little about the conditions under which it was produced, or the reward that It brought to the producer. There is an entirely changed attitude on the part of business and industry today towards the agricultural industry, and as far as my own Party is concerned I welcome very heartily this changed attitude.
It is noteworthy, as the Minister told the Council of Agriculture, that his policy has evoked hardly a murmur of criticism from the agricultural community. I think there was general agreement on the broad lines of the agricultural policy of the Labour Government even before the Government's announcement of the details. As a matter of fact, the policy for agriculture, as outlined by my right hon. Friend, contains to a very large extent the main and the worthwhile features of at least 20 agricultural policies prepared in wartime by different organisations. The policy is really a continuance in broad outline of the policy which served so well in wartime. The Minister, as the family doctor, is dispensing the mixture as before, aiming at the continuity of policy so well directed in wartimeby the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Minister of Agriculture. I do not think there is anything in the prescription as given by my right hon. Friend the Minister to alarm the farmers. 1657 who indeed have welcomed the treatment as one calculated to do a lot of good.
The farm workers welcomed the statement as far as it went, and, as far as the general terms are concerned, they very cordially endorsed it. However, I want to take this opportunity of asking my right hon. Friend to define in more detail one or two of the observations which he had to make when he presented his statement on policy. The farm workers of this country would like to know exactly what was meant by the declaration of intention expressed in the words:The objective will be to promote a healthy and efficient agriculture, capable of producing that part of the nation's food which is required from home sources at the lowest price consistent with the provision of adequate remuneration and decent living conditions for farmers and workers."— [Official Report, 15th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 2334.]The workers in agriculture would, in particular, like the Government to declare in unmistakable terms what is meant by the words "adequate remuneration and decent living conditions." Perhaps such phraseology is sufficient for a general and preliminary statement, but only if it is followed at a very early date by a precise definition secure from accidental or convenient misinterpretation. The farm workers of this country have always claimed that their standards of living should be equal to those of the industrial workers. Important bodies, such as labour conferences and trades union congresses, have unanimously endorsed these reasonable demands time after time. My Party issued a statement before the Election, entitled "Our Country," saying that the National Wages Board must raise wages and conditions at least to the level of the skilled workers in other trades.
The country generally deplores the decision of the Central Agricultural Wages Board last week. The refusal to increase the national minimum wage is deplored by everybody in the country-side. I go further—it is deplored by many of our friends in the towns. Everybody can have an increase in wages except the farm workers, the people who produce the nation's food and upon whom the nation is largely dependent. I am reminded by some of the remarks made in the House tonight that the workers in agriculture are tied to the land. It is true 1658 that they can transfer from farm to farm, but they cannot leave agriculture. Farming is one of the two industries in which the workers are tied to their industry. The other industry is the building trade. However, in the building trade they have fairly satisfactory conditions for being tied to their job, but in the case of the farm workers not a single thing has been given to them in return for tying them to their industry.
I deplore the attitude of the farmers' representatives on the Central Wages Board in voting against the Board's modest proposals to give a 48-hour week, to give six bank holidays with pay and to give increases in overtime rates and in rates for women workers. Those are valuable concessions which the independent members of the Central Wages Board are prepared to pass on to the workers. I very much regret that the farmers' representatives on the Central Wages Board did not even say that the farm workers of this country were entitled to those demands. They are valuable concessions, which, I am sure, would be appreciated by the men who work in the industry. On merit and on service to the community the farm workers are entitled to an increase in the national minimum. It is a scandal that the farm workers of Britain are still the poorest paid of any class of worker in the country. I, as well as a good many other people, receive a lot of letters from farm workers. Here is one which I received yesterday from a farm worker's wife which I should like to read to the House. This lady says:"Perhaps you could get our case, and a few more, up before the Agricultural Wages Board. My husband is a big, strong man of 32, who has been all his life on the land. He started work at 11 on an estate. He worked in every branch and was considered a very good worker by all the foremen. He is a skilled man in all branches of farming and would be well paid in any other industry, but what he does get paid is£3 10s. a week with tax and insurance deducted. He comes home and gives me£3 and I have to get him three ounces of tobacco which is 7s. 6d., Then our rent is 15s. a week. Then I have to buy a bag of coal and I have 34s. with which to pay for all our food from the grocer, the baker, the butcher and the milkman, and quite a number of other items such as the nursing club, hospital, electricity, wireless batteries and accumulators, and, of course, clothes. So every week I have to think what I can pay this week and what can be left over until next week. Do the farmers and independent members of the Agricultural Wages Board have such worries? The answer is certainly in the negative.1659As to children, the. wage denies us the state of parenthood, though we are both child lovers. We live 10 miles from the nearest town and cannot afford the fare to go and see a film or a show, and, of course, having no money to spend we have none to save and therefore cannot go for holidays like other people. I have gone to work quite a few times to help us get some money, but continually crock up and have to pay doctors' bills with what I get. It is high time farmers were paid decent wages to allow them to live like other people and live a decent life. Three times last year the doctor told me to go away for a holiday, but there is no holiday for a farm worker's family. We should be able to go to places and have money in our pockets like other people. My husband likes a drink but he dare not go out in the evenings. I feel as embarrassed as he does when I think of him going into a pub. This is a scandalous state of affairs. Surely those who produce the food should have more than a poor pittance on which to live. We are not serfs now. There will be a revolution if things go on as they are now. The blood of the yeomen of England is up.I have read that letter to the House in order to indicate the kind of thoughts passing through the minds not only of farm workers. but of farm workers' wives too.
§ Mr. Gooch
I am giving it as typical of many cases, and as expressing the feeling in many counties in Great Britain. It was suggested that the Minister might bring some influence to bear upon the Board to implement the promises that have been made but the Minister replied in effect, without in any way indicating that he shared the general and natural sympathy with our case, that it would be improper for him to exercise any influence over an independent tribunal which is perfectly capable of conducting its own business without any interference from Whitehall. That is exactly what the late Minister of Agriculture said in 1941, and in this my right hon. Friend is merely a record of "his master's voice." No doubt he is correct in that but, as an example of Parliamentary strategy, it is not convincing to my mind. In 1940 the then Minister of Agriculture did agree that it was improper for the wage of 42s. proposed by the Board to be fixed, and intervened to the extent of putting pressure on the Board, or at least suggesting that a wage of 48s. should be fixed.
§ Mr. Hudson
My name has been mentioned. I hesitate to use the adjective which occurred to me at first, but it is a most improper suggestion on the part of the hon. Gentleman, and I repudiate it completely.
§ Mr. Gooch
The story of what transpired is told in the Debate which took place in this House in August, 1941. There was a Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment in regard to farm workers' wages, and the right hon. Gentleman made a speech on fiat occasion. He there indicated to the House the steps that he and others were concerned in which led to an increase of the national minimum wage.
§ Mr. Hudson
That is a very different matter indeed. Everbody knows that the right hon. Gentleman who is now Foreign Secretary and who was then Minister of Labour and I both brought pressure to bear on the respective sides. [Hon. Members: "That is what he said."] It is a very different thing from saying that we brought pressure to bear on the Board. We did no such thing.
§ Mr. Gooch
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement as far as it goes, but I still repeat that there were influences at work of which he had knowledge at the time which eventually led to the increase in the wage being given. The point I am trying to make is that, if it could be done then, it could be done today by my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Agriculture.
It was suggested a short time ago that we should get together to talk about this question of grading. The farm workers really regard this suggestion as drawing a red herring across the trail. As one very much concerned in this business I appreciate the good offices of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour in regard to a conference between the interested parties. The first session of that conference has already been held under the very able chairmanship of the Minister's chief conciliation officer, and possibly 1661 there may be a further meeting. I want to make this point, without anticipating any decision which may be achieved by this joint conference; you cannot grade wages upon a low and uncertain wage standard. What we want, first of all, is to make sure that the wage upon which grading is to be done is a satisfactory wage.
I put down a Question last week to the Minister of Agriculture in regard to the rate of pay to be given to prisoners of war working in agriculture. Although the information was not conveyed to me then, as a matter of fact the decision had already been taken, and later on it was discovered that the Minister of Agriculture had intervened to fix the pay for prisoners of war employed on the land at the rate for the job. In that respect he was yielding to a suggestion made from outside and I welcome it, but I want to point out that he was called in to fix the rate of pay for prisoners of war because the Central Wages Board could not agree on a figure. He now proposes that the figure shall be the rate for the job. How is it that he feels called upon to increase the wages of prisoners of war but is not prepared to intervene in the interests of British farm workers?
Indeed; the presence of these men on the land is really undermining the position of the farm worker. The increased cost of prisoner-of-war labour is to be taken into account in the February review of prices. I welcome the decision of the rate for the job, but I suggest that there is another side to the question as to the future of the farm worker from the wage standpoint. I notice that at the week-end my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance was reported as saying, at Birmingham, that if the weekly contribution of 4s. 11d. for National Health, Unemployment and Industrial Injuries insurance was too much for some workers, the trade unions could attempt to obtain wage increases, and the Government would provide every inducement. The farm worker is coming into this business now on the same level as the industrial worker, and to be added to his already heavy commitments will be this sum of 4s. 11d. under the new insurance scheme. If the Government are to provide every inducement to workers in other trades to 1662 get increases in wages, will the Minister of Agriculture provide every inducement to farm workers to get their rates increased too?
My last word is this. In agriculture events are fast moving to a crisis. Hon. Members and right hon. Members have read in the newspapers of the fact that there are threats of strikes in various parts of the country. I should be very sorry if this fine body of men, a most loyal body of workers who have never lost a day from the farms during the war, were compelled to come out on strike during the lifetime of a Labour Government in order to get their just due.
I say emphatically that the Government cannot wash their hands of this responsibility. Agriculture is subsidised and the Government must be responsible for conditions in the industry. The agricultural policy of the Government is at stake. I want to see an abundance of food produced on British farms. Farm workers are the most patient and patriotic of all workers. I make my plea in this House tonight and I implore the Government to step in and settle this question, not only in the interests of the farm workers, but in the interests of the nation.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
From the very nature of the case this seems a rather mixed up Debate because, as the House will remember, when the Motion was first on the Paper on Friday week, and it was intended to discuss the long-term policy for agriculture on the Motion, we were faced just shortly before with the stunning statement by the Government of the immediate food situation; and that has run as a sort of thread throughout the Debate and in most of the speeches which have been made. I do not propose to spend very much time this evening on the immediate situation. We realise that it came about by miscalculations on the part of Ministers, and lack of co-ordination between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food. Indeed, if one may use the word in an agricultural Debate, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture was, in fact, carted by his colleagues. The result of all this is that, rather contrary to what is usual, the present has cast a shadow across the future; 'because we have been discussing the dark present, 1663 whereas what we had hoped to be debating was the possible brighter future which is in the minds of us all. We hope it will be achieved by the full implementation of this policy.
Before I leave the immediate difficulties there are four specific questions upon which I ask the Minister to give us answers' when he speaks. I will not give them at dictation speed as they do on the early morning broadcast: but the Minister, having followed the Debate, will know to what I am referring. The first, a very important one, is about the continued use of land by the Service Departments. This was first raised in a fine maiden speech by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Woodbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Hare) the other night, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown) repeated the plea this afternoon. There are tens of thousands of acres which are still being used where there is a vast potential addition to the nation's agricultural holding, to use the hon. and gallant Gentleman's words. This is particularly the case on Salisbury Plain and in Wiltshire where, so I am advised, a lot of land is still held in requisition although these are the big training areas of the normal peacetime Forces. So I hope that the Minister will tell us what it has been possible to secure in the way of land freed by the Service Departments within recent months, and, indeed, if he likes, since the time the matter was raised on 14th February.
There is another question to which 1 hope he will give us an answer. It was raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) this afternoon, and one or two other hon. Members have also touched upon it. Are the Government to give any kind of compensation to those who will suffer as a result of dishonouring the ration—the first instance since the beginning of ration periods that any prospective ration has not been honoured? Of course, from the very nature of' the case there must be many people, and, indeed, many small people, who will suffer considerable losses by the fact that they will not be able to get the rations upon which they had counted in their breeding. I hope we shall have an answer whether or not the Government are going to do anything about that.
The third question is an immediate problem: What is to happen about the 1664 release of further men from the Forces? The position about Class B has been extraordinarily unsatisfactory. I know that from my own case. I sit for a very important agricultural constituency, and I hardly ever manage to get anyone out under Class B, yet there are cases where men ought to be released. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) specifically asked a question about this on 14th February. He said:I ask the House to consider why there should be a scheme, which we heard about today, for miners to come out of the Forces at once if they are willing to go back into the pits? Why is there no such scheme for agriculture? Is food in the stomach "—he always has a nice phrase—"any less needed than coal in the scuttle?'"— [Official Report, 14th February; Vol. 419, c 587.]Setting aside the descriptive nature of the question, I ask whether anything is to be done and, more particularly, whether the same scheme will apply to agricultural workers as applies to miners? Because if the need for coal is very great, the need for food, in view of the Government's announcement, seems even more serious.
The fourth question to which I should like an answer is not so much an immediate problem. It is to do with the interim period between the time when the Minister has to deal with the reconstruction and constitution of the various war agricultural committees and the time when he gets his legislation. We should like to know what is to be the position in the interim period of the district committees, and also what is to be the position vis-à-vis the county war agricultural committees of the National Advisory Service which, he told us, would be coming into being on or about 1st October. I imagine it is quite possible he will not get his legislation by then. If he would tell us what he envisages will be the situation between those three sets of people—the district committees, the National Advisory Service, and the county war agricultural committees—in the interim period, we should be pleased. I hope he will be able to answer these questions. I will repeat them so that there can be no misunderstanding: the withdrawal of land from the Service Departments; compensation for the dishonoured ration; the immediate manpower problem and the release of agricultural workers on the same sort of lines as the release of miners; and 1665 the position of the various committees in the interim period.
I pass now to the larger picture. The Minister will be pleased, I am sure, that we should get out of this rather gloomy valley of the present up to the hills where we can see the future. It is only true to say—and I congratulate him—that the mantle of Elijah has been placed upon him. It is true it has been bedecked with a few pink frills. When the detailed Debates on these problems come along we may have something to say. But it is, of course, well known that broadly speaking—indeed, the hon. Member who preceded me indicated the same thing—what has been announced by the Minister is an agreed policy in the industry. I hope it will be taken, as a result of the Debate, as agreed also between the political parties, because it was the hope that, as in foreign affairs, so in agricultural affairs, these difficult problems should be taken out of the day to day arguments and discussions which party politics inevitably involve. Before we on this side give our approval, with certain reservations which my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) made and which will appear when we discuss the details—before we give our broad approval to this policy, it is only right to ask the question whether in the long run the aims are good, whether it is likely that what is written in HANSARD can be carried out. It is one thing to choose a policy and another to achieve it.
I think it is worth while in that connection to think for a moment whether there are any other parts of the picture, because one might describe the right hon. Gentleman as about to paint a great picture of health and efficiency. I do not know whether it is very different from what it used to be called in preliminary sketches: healthy and well-balanced agriculture. I do not know whether the change of the word "well-balanced" to "efficient" makes a great difference. I hope that it does not, because I think that is the word we had in mind. As he paints the picture, there are certain things in the background which may be good. First of all, there is the financial position in which this nation finds itself and will continue to find itself for years to come. From the national point of view, there are lots of bad things in the financial picture, but from the purely agricultural point of view there is 1666 quite a lot of good in it. While we have come out of the war a debtor nation— which we have never been before—whilst finance is now the bottleneck, whereas during the war shipping was the bottleneck, it is certain that for years to come this country will have to be very selective in what it imports. Therefore, the more food it can grow for itself the less it has to pay for food of the same kind by way of imports; and that surely should, in the long run, inure to the benefit of the agricultural industry. That seems to. me to be on the credit side. The rest of the financial picture is bad, of course, but I am merely talking from this particular aspect. From that point of view it is helpful.
The second matter which I have in mind has been referred to several times during the Debate. What emerged from the Hot Springs Conference? One could talk about that in great detail, but putting it in the shortest possible form, it was that the nations of the world should take every practicable step to raise the level of nutrition and to improve the efficiency of agricultural production. Insofar as they all do that in their own countries, and raise their own standards of nutrition, it seems to me that it inevitably follows that there are fewer tendencies for any of them to dump cheap food at uneconomic prices here. If that is established for a period of years, that is another bull point for home agriculture.
Thirdly, I would say that the increasing recognition by the agricultural nations of the vital necessity for conserving soil is very important to long-term policy. The dust bowl in the United States and the droughts have shown the dreadful red light, and insofar as nations confine their agricultural policy and practice by realising that that possibility may come to all, it will again be useful to us. I say that the unfortunate financial situation, the competition of nutritional policies, and the fears about the land—these three things are of permanent value as a background to our future agricultural policy. There is a fourth, and I am surprised that no one on the other side of the House has mentioned it, because it is common to all of us. Just as in the Coalition Government, when we were happy to work with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, we produced as a Government the planned benefits of the Beveridge scheme for social insurance, we also agreed on the White 1667 Paper on full employment. In so far as there follows from that an improved social policy—meals in schools, milk in schools, a general improvement in the conditions of the people with more money in their pockets to spend, the teaching of the benefits of the right form of nutrition, which has been so much in the fore in all the propaganda of the Minister of Food during the war and which I hope will continue—all that will redound to the advantage, certainly not to the disadvantage, of the industry about which we are talking. So I say that the right hon. Gentleman, in producing his policy, has certain factors behind him which are helpful. For the rest, it is in our own hands. It lies with us—this House more particularly—to see that policy and achievement match promises.
I think one of the biggest difficulties— it has been stressed in speech after speech this afternoon—to which we as a House, and the nation as a whole, should give perhaps most attention, is the question of how to get adequate labour into the industry, not this winter or this summer, but over the years, to carry out the programme which is involved in this policy. How are we to attract men and women to the industry? We have had a good many speeches about wages. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has talked a good deal about that. In my own constituency I have always found that everybody accepted the proposition that wages should keep on being increased so long as the money was in the industry to pay them, but they must not get out of step with the prices that we secure for the products of farming generally. That brings us to the necessity of trying to establish a right price structure for the produce of the land. That, of course, is perhaps one of the most important parts of the statement of 15th November, in which the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that it is to be an essential and permanent feature of the policy to have a system of assured markets and guaranteed prices.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong. I want to get clearly into my head how the thing is going to work, because if one can see how it is to work it is much easier to envisage the future. Let us take this food review of 1946, which is just a prototype of the others. I think this review will, first of all, determine the price of cereals, beet 1668 and potatoes for the harvest of 1947, and it will also deal with minimum prices of milk, eggs, fat pigs, fat cattle, and fat sheep for 1948 and 1949. That means that the farmer and everyone else concerned can plan well ahead. They will know what their cereals, beet and potato prices are going to be in the next harvest but one, 1947, and the prices for the others in 1948 and 1949. They have good time to make their plans. If the structure is right, then the wages can be fitted in, and the Central Wages Board arrangements are there for that purpose.
But we feel in this, and in other fields, that there are many things lacking, and on this issue there is one big thing lacking—a proper wage policy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that this is a sort of King Charles' head on this side of the House, but it is fundamental to the whole problem. I hope that perhaps something will be said to indicate whether there will be one. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken called attention to the statement, which I had in mind also to call attention to, that is the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of National Insurance on Saturday, as reported in the "News Chronicle" this morning. He made this extraordinary statement—at least it seems extraordinary to me:Mr. Lindgren "—if I may use that expression—said that the Government would give trade unionists every inducement to seek wage increases.
§ Captain Crookshank
It does not seem to confirm the possibility of the Government having a wage policy of their own, which is just what I suspected they had not got. Moreover, it seems to me to make nonsense of things like the Statutory Wages Board if the Government are going to adopt that sort of attitude before anything happens at the Board. Wages are obviously one of the important factors, and no one should think that any hon. Member on this side of the House has any wish that the agricultural worker does not get a proper wage for the job he does—skilled as it is. Let hon. Members also remember that we must not in this or, indeed, in any other industry, confuse 1669 wage rates with actual earnings because throughout the countryside, taking the year all round, earnings are larger than the weekly wage rate. However, it is not only the question of wages which enters into the matter, but also the question of housing. The right hon. Gentleman is very lucky with his rural council. He told us he had got some tenders accepted. I sit for the next constituency, and all I know is that not one of the three rural district councils in my area has received approval of the Ministry of Health for a tender for one single house.
§ Captain Crookshank
That is a fact, and the hon. Gentleman cannot talk on that because he does not know anything about my constituency; even if he did I do not suppose he was on the telephone to them on Saturday morning as I was. Not only are houses concerned but there are other amenities as well. Let no one think that water and electricity have not already been put into a great many areas in the countryside, for a great deal was done in the ten years before the war in that direction. But a great deal more can and should be done now, and I ask the Government to try to get that work done, because after all the material and labour that are involved are not the same labour nor the same material as are required for building new houses. Moreover, these things can be put into existing houses and should be put into existing houses where they are required. Numerous increased amenities are already existing. Of course, all this talk about nationalising a great industry like electricity must have a deterrent effect upon progress, but, after all, it is not beyond the wit of man, and certainly not beyond the charm of the right hon. Gentleman, to see if we cannot get the electricity industry moving in spite of the threats which other of his colleagues have thrown over it.
There is another aspect of the question. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member. for Peters field (Sir G. Jeffreys) and the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) both mentioned it in passing, and I would urge the Minister, now we are discussing a long-term policy, to consider attracting men and women into agriculture. To do 1670 so there must be houses, water, electricity, and transport, and it is on transport that I wish to make a few comments. I thought it was awful to read the other day that long distance coaches have started again between London and Blackpool, two centres between which there is an adequate rail service at all times of the day and night, whereas in my district the few buses that there are are packed out. It is a hopeless state of affairs. If there are any spare coaches and spare bus crews—which I am always told is the bottleneck, if a crew can be a bottleneck—let them be directed into the rural areas and improve rural transport instead of being used for these semi-luxury purposes. Another thing that would help would be village halls, which are tremendously important. Here again I would ask the right hon. Gentleman— perhaps I will be able to send him some details later—to help because I know that there is a scheme whereby as a temporary emergency Nissen huts and search-light camp buildings are to be used for village hall purposes. Such a scheme, fathered by the National Council of Social Services, is going round Whitehall, but into which pigeon hole it has got at the moment no one seems to know. I am trying to track that down, and perhaps the Minister of Agriculture would help me at the same time. There is a lot to be done in regard to amenities, by way of using wartime erections until such time as villages get new ones
Then there is the matter of the telephone. I know it is the policy of the Post Office to do their very best in that direction, and I can also say that the Post Office would help if more people in the country were willing to use party lines. I need not take that too far. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in all these things he has to get the help of his colleagues. There is such a thing as taking the wrong view. Regarding schools, he has to watch the local education authorities and the Minister of Education. I heard that in the South-East corner of my county it is now proposed that 44 out of the 73 village schools will be entirely closed. It is not for me to discuss now whether that is the right thing to do, but there are people with small children who feel they would like to live in a place where there is a school, and not where the very small children—little chaps and girls of five or six—have to be 1671 taken in a bus with children of ten years or over, to a school 10 or 12 miles away. This is a thing which I think the right hon. Gentleman must watch very carefully.
These are what I call amenities for the future, which we have got to start developing now, in order to get people into the country. The amenities which I have in mind are houses, transport, schools, telephones, electricity, though I must say I am perfectly certain there is no one in the country, or who is going to live in the country, who wants to have all the benefits of a town in their own village. If they did they would not go to live in the village, but would stay in the town. They want to live there, but they do not want to feel cut off. There is a lot to be done in the way of improving life in the rural communities. As the right hon. Gentleman has to answer all the questions that have been put to him, I must leave him time to do it, but there is one other thing which I would like him to study, and that is the recruitment of men and women. He may be able to do something about the men and women coming out of the Services, and I hope he will do something to retain members of the Women's Land Army. I hope he will read again the speech made by the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning). She suggested that now was the time to try to get once more interested in the land, those boys and girls taken into the country-side at the beginning of the war, but who had to go back to London or other urban areas with their parents to complete their education. They probably still have the same sort of feeling for the country as they got when they first went to it, and it might be stimulated by going to it again. I greatly commend that speech to the right hon. Gentleman. What he has to do is to fight the Ministry of Health, the Service Departments, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Education and most important of all the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, who I believe are the people really responsible for the delay in housing.
§ Captain Crookshank
Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is the Doncaster champion, and on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House I would say we are quite prepared 1672 to hold up his hands in the battle on behalf of agriculture, when he fights any or all of his colleagues. And he will need all the support he can get because I imagine he knows all the considerable difficulties.
We will support the Motion because we feel that the policy which has been produced meets with the general support of the industry, and of this House. Many hundreds of thousands of people, if they had been where they ought to have been yesterday, would, no doubt, have heard the story of the fall of Adam, and how he was sent forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken. In an urbanised community which reaped the fullest benefit from the industrial revolution, there were many who forgot that we had to till the ground, and who lived largely on the tilling of others in other parts of the world. Two wars have, I hope, administered the necessary corrective to that. We must realise that it is our ground which must be tilled. This policy points the way in which that can be done, if men and women can come forward to do it. It is because we hope that, on this basis, we can all work together for the improvement of this great and fundamental industry, by which millions of people live, and upon which we all depend for life itself, in the way of food, that we wish the Minister success. We will help him in his Departmental battles. We shall criticise him when he puts forward the Party aspect, but we -hope he will try, during his tenure of office, to keep this matter outside the ordinary discussions on party politics.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)
It may not be altogether unfortunate that this Debate has followed the recent Debate on the stringency in the food situation. There have been many people in this country and in others, particularly those more commercially minded, who have never been very much concerned about where food has come from, or how it has been produced, so long as they have obtained ample supplies, and there were no shortages. If this Debate tends to bring home to those people the importance of ensuring that our agriculture has a fair and square deal, it will have been all to the good. Let it be admitted that primary producers in all countries have 1673 had a rather raw deal through the years, and that unless the economic conditions of their own industries can be improved, there is nothing more certain than that there can be no real prosperity in the towns. Unless primary producers, not only here, but elsewhere, have the means of buying back industrial products then, obviously, there will, not be the full employment in the towns that we all desire.
One of the most desirable needs, therefore, is to bring home to industrialists and ordinary townspeople the necessity for welding ever closer together the interests of town and countryside. We have seen the terrible price that has to be paid when town and countryside do not march together. If, during this war, there has been a tendency for townspeople more greatly to appreciate the problems of the countryside, that is all to the good, because one of the things that must be encouraged is the endeavour to weld town and country-side closer together in something like a common policy. The party on this side of the House have never thought it was good economy that the land of this country should go out of cultivation. Any lover of the countryside deplores the horrible circumstances in prewar Britain, in which land went down to thistles, country cottages went into decay, and agriculture, in many places, was a disgrace to the whole nation. It has taken two world wars to bring home to our people the necessity for making the utmost use of our land. The Labour Party have nothing to learn in the matter of the economics of land. We have deplored for many years—and Debate after Debate has shown it—the appalling plight of Britain's agriculture. It is, therefore, a joy to everybody interested in the industry, to know that at last not only have we resolved on a long-term agricultural policy that is creditable to this country, but that the main primary producing countries have declared the desirability of fashioning an agricultural policy in their own countries, based on the nutritional needs of their people, that will restore agriculture and give it its proper place in the economics of the world.
We have learned, in recent years, what cuts in food rations mean. I wonder how many people have realised what good has come even from the meagre nutri- 1674 tional policy which was followed here during the war? It is to the credit of our agricultural community that, despite all difficulties and handicaps which faced them, milk production was more or less maintained up to its prewar level. What has been the result? I saw some interesting statistics quite recently, particularly as regards Glasgow. Everyone knows that one of the sensible things the late Government did was to insist on the development of feeding children in schools by means- of milk and midday meals, particularly milk. The view was taken that in the absence and shortage of meat it was desirable to divert the utmost quantity of liquid milk to school children. That is one reason why people have had a little difficulty about getting milk in wintertime. It has not been because less milk has been produced as compared with 1938, but because it has been the deliberate policy of the Government to divert increasing quantities of milk to schools. We have it on the highest authority that in Glasgow schoolboys of 14 are taller and heavier than they were in the prosperous, piping days of peace. That may be a sad commentary on what they had in peacetime, but it is testimony to what can be done when a proper nutritional policy is followed with the nations diet.
One thing which lies behind the Government's declaration of long-term agricultural policy is obviously to give effect to a good nutritional policy and to make the utmost use of the land of this country to produce those foodstuffs for which it is particularly fitted. What are the elements of that policy? One of the reasons agriculture was in such a frightful condition before the war was that there was no element of security in the trading position of agriculture The farmer never knew when he sowed his crop what he was likely to get for it. The conditions of the markets were haphazard. The whole thing was insecurity at its worst. It is now commonly agreed that the fundamental necessity for any sound agricultural policy is to have secure prices and a firm market The policy for which the Government are responsible guarantees to the industry fixed prices for its main agricultural products over a fair term, and assures to the industry a market for those products. Those are the very first elements of this policy, and one of the joys is that this policy has received the 1675 acclamation of all the agriculturalists who speak with authority and knowledge of affairs in their own industry.
One of the outstanding matters raised in the Debate has been that of labour supply. I do not pretend that the Government have a complete remedy.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of assured markets, may I remind him that I asked his right hon. Friend how he reconciled that with the provisions of the commercial treaty and the American Loan Agreement?
§ Mr. Collick
We are satisfied—and this was the whole basis of those negotiations in relation to the commercial treaty—that in no way will those arrangements conflict with the Government's long-term agricultural policy. That assurance has been given, and the Government stand by it. We do not anticipate any difficulty in regard to that question.
On the subject of labour supply, everybody who knows the first thing about the agricultural industry is conscious of the great difficulty of the labour supply. The facts are quite clear. Hundreds of thousands of men were driven off the land in the pre-war years; they were driven out of the agricultural industry for one reason or another. It is one thing to allow men to go out in their hundreds of thousands, but it is quite another problem to get them in. I think it is a little audacious, if I may say so with the utmost respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that those who have been in political power in this country for 17 out of 20 of the inter-war years, when so many thousands of these men went out, should in the very first agricultural Debate in this House, start being critical of this Government because we have not solved the labour problem in the agricultural industry.
I do not want to follow too closely all the points about wages and so on. I hear hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the absence of a wage policy. I have never yet heard one of them say what they really mean when they talk of a wage policy. I am not at all sure that it is not, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said, something like King Charles's head. Do they mean a general increase of wages, a general reduction of 1676 wages, or what exactly do they mean when they talk so loosely, about a wage policy? After all, hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are great industrialists, know as well as I do the intricacies of this matter. Every one of them knows that wage negotiations in this country, all regulated in one way or another, are perhaps the most complicated piece of machinery we have in industry. Is it the idea of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the whole of this machinery should be scrapped, or what precisely do they. mean? I think we must be honest and face up to the fact—[Interruption.]—I am still waiting for one of the hon. Members opposite to say precisely what they mean.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Byers (Dorset, Northern)
Is this an authoritative statement that the Government have no wages policy?
§ Mr. Collick
I am asking hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have been speaking of this matter of a wage policy, precisely what they mean by it, because I have never heard any of them say what they mean.
§ Mr. Turton
If the Parliamentary Secretary asks questions of hon. Members on this side of the House, there will be no time for him to reply to a number of questions which have been put to him in the Debate. May we have a reply to our questions?
§ Mr. Collick
Very well. I should not have pursued the matter but for hon. Members on the other side of the House. This matter of labour supply is not, as some hon. Members opposite would presume to think, something that has been completely out of the minds of the Government. We are, as a matter of fact, giving it the utmost attention. We have at the moment many inquiries going on in one direction or another. There are, roughly, 80,000 men from the agricultural industry who enlisted in the Territorials in the very early part of the war. It obviously follows from that that those 80,000 men will be released somewhere about April next. The point is made by hon. Gentlemen opposite that these men may not go back into the industry. That is in the lap of the gods, but we have been making inquiries and it would not appear that the great bulk of these men 1677 are not returning to the industry. In fact, there is reason to believe that, in a good number of cases, they are going back.
May I hurriedly say, on the question of prisoner-of-war labour, that we are naturally and rightly concerned to see to it that in every way we can, we get an adequate labour force—in so far as we can make it adequate—to deal with this year's harvest? There will be a prisoner-of-war labour force of more than 137,000. Although we readily recognise that that is not, in the nature of the case, a force which will be here for all time, we realise that it will go some way at least to help. Again, all those forms of supplementary labour to which reference has been made, will be utilised this year, as hitherto.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
What has happened to the other 10,000? A week ago the figure of prisoners of war was given as 147,000.
§ Mr. Collick
I do not know the figure to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring. I am saying that this year we shall have a larger prisoner-of-war labour force than we had last year.
§ Mr. Hudson
I asked the Minister a question. I took the precaution, and the courtesy, of giving the hon. Member the questions which we would want answered. One was, taking the figure 147,000, given by the right hon. Gentleman, was he taking steps to see to it that that figure did not drop. Now the hon. Gentleman has given a figure, showing that 10,000 have been lost in one week.
§ Mr. Collick
If the concern of the right hon. Gentleman is that some of the prisoner-of-war labour, which would ordinarily be available, may be diverted to other purposes, I can give him a categorical assurance that nothing of the kind will happen, and that agriculture will have all the prisoner-of-war labour it needs in that connection.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Major Milner)
The Minister has very little time left, and 1678 should be allowed to proceed without so much interruption.
§ Mr. Collick
May I refer to the very important question of wages, which has been raised on both sides of the House, and to say, because the Noble Lord has raised the point—
§ Mr. Collick
The Noble Lord raised a number of questions when he opened the Debate today, and one of them was an inquiry about our policy in relation to the grading of wages in the agricultural industry. The same point has been made by hon. Members on this side of the House. I would say to those who raised the point, that the Government at the moment through the Minister of Labour, has invited representatives of the unions into conference on the matter. They are obviously considering, as all people know because it has been reported publicly, the suggestion of the Central Wages Board on that matter. It would be undesirable for me to elaborate too much the wages question, while those negotiations are in progress. I regret that the time has gone— [HON. MEMBERS: "POULTRY"] May I say that I apologise to the House? Quite frankly, I delayed getting up to speak because I wanted to give hon. Members opposite as much opportunity as possible to say what they wanted to say.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
I should like an opportunity of addressing the House on this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Although a number of factors have been mentioned which affect the prosperity of agriculture, one question has been missed out entirely, namely, the question of drainage, which is, in my opinion, the basis of agriculture—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Whiteley)
I beg to move, "That Question be now put."
§ Earl Winterton
It is disgraceful. The Parliamentary Secretary did not answer a single question. It is gross discourtesy.
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) is in possession of the House. Go on speaking.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)rose—
§ Sir W. Darling
My point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, was that I had risen, but resumed my seat when you called upon my hon. Friend here. I was anxious to speak on the question of drainage.
§ It being a Quarter past Nine o'Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.