§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Before going on to deal with the actual provisions of the Bill, I should like to say a word or two about the reasons for the Bill. It is generally appreciated that hill farming is the only important branch of British agriculture in which serious economic depression exists today. That is agreed on all sides. For several years before the war, conditions in this industry were so bad that it was impossible in many areas to find new tenants for farms. Each year more and more farms had to be taken over and farmed by their owners and, very often I am afraid, by unwilling owners. In certain areas, and I think this more particularly applies to Scotland, flocks were taken off the hillsides altogether, and the land was allowed to revert to its natural state. Bracken spread across the hillsides, and very often these lands merely deteriorated and were added to the already large areas that are normally called deer forests.
It would be useful if I mentioned a few figures, to give the House some idea of the extent and importance of this branch of 1626 agriculture. The area of land involved in the United Kingdom is about 16 million acres, consisting almost entirely of mountain and hill grazings. Even though the land is much less productive than the more fertile lowlands, it represents, nevertheless, some 34 per cent, of the agricultural land of the country.
The number of breeding ewes carried on this huge area of land amounts to some 4| million head and the number of cattle to about 320,000. While the industry is roughly the same size in Scotland as in England and Wales it is relatively of much greater importance north of the border. This is perhaps best illustrated by saying that rough hill grazings in Scotland account for nearly 70 per cent, of the total farm land of the country and in England and Wales the proportion is 17 per cent. In Northern Ireland the hill grazings, although much smaller in extent, about 700,000 acres, still represent 31 per cent, of the total agricultural land. These differences in relative importance in the different parts of the United Kingdom do not, of course, mean that in the areas, and on the farms concerned, the problem is not as serious in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as in Scotland.
The proceeds from the rearing of hardy sheep and cattle represent almost the only source of income of the agricultural community in the areas concerned. They are, however, of vital importance to the country not only from the direct contribution they make to the nation's food and clothing supply in the form of mutton, beef 1627 and wool, but because they supply the lowland feeders and grazers with the store stock they need for fattening on their better quality grasslands. The flocks of hardy mountain ewes are indeed the foundation upon which a large part of the sheep rearing industry of the country is built, for lowland flockmasters depend upon them for their supplies of draft ewes for crossing with lowland rams and for the wether lambs for fattening. Similarly the hill areas are well suited for the breeding of store cattle of beef type to be reared for eventual fattening in the arable districts. Our home meat supply is initially and ultimately dependent on the maintenance of foundation stocks in the hill lands of this country. The economic position of this branch of farming did not materially change during the war. Hill farms, consisting as they do of relatively large areas of rough grazings, with only small areas of land enclosed in fields and capable of cultivation, could not benefit from the improved and secure markets for cereals, potatoes, and other arable crops. Nor could they obtain direct benefit from the improved markets for fat sheep or fat cattle. Only a small proportion of the stock sold by hill farmers each year are in a fat condition ready for slaughter. Almost the whole of the sales of stock are of necessity made to other farmers in low ground districts, who use them either for further breeding or as feeding animals.
Normally, I think it is agreed, improved prices and secure markets for fat stock would imply corresponding improvements in the prices and markets for the unfinished article, in this case the store animal. But hill farmers during the war did not find their markets or prices improved to the extent that might have been expected. The reason for this was quite simple. The volume of output of store sheep from the hills was, by and large maintained at the prewar level, but on the low ground the amount of fodder and keep available to feed these sheep when they came off the hills grew gradually less as the ploughing up campaign extended. The consequence was that low ground feeders were not able to buy so many store sheep as formerly, and I am afraid that lack of demand was reflected in the prices paid. In the case of wool the hill farmers did get full benefit from the improved control prices for all they produced, but wool represents only some so per cent, of the hill 1628 farmer's total income. While, therefore, the incomes of hill farmers showed relatively modest improvement compared with the incomes obtained from other types of farming, expenditure mounted at least as much as in other branches of agriculture. Shepherds received the wage increases which accrued to farm workers generally and the prices of materials and supplies of all kinds increased over the country as a whole. Wages I believe account for about 30 per cent, of the hill farmer's expenditure, and have probably gone up by at least 100 per cent, during the war years. Only rents have shown no appreciable change.
In the face of the persistent economic depression the Government, in 1941, decided, in the interests of immediate food production and the long term interests of agriculture as a whole, to give direct subsidy assistance to hill farmers. Since 1941, therefore, annual subsidies have been paid varying from 2s. 6d. to as much as 8s. in respect of each breeding ewe carried in hill flocks. The rate of assistance has been adjusted each year in the light of the circumstances ruling at the time, but always with the general object of maintaining, on the average, a moderate level of reward year by year. To date the State has incurred an expenditure of approximately £7 million in respect of this direct subsidy assistance, and I am afraid that that money has not gone into the land. It has merely been spent to keep the farmers on their feet, to keep that industry ticking over. A further form of direct subsidy assistance instituted in 1941 has also been of some help to hill farmers. I refer to the subsidy granted to the farmers in the hill cattle subsidy schemes. The House will therefore appreciate the serious and persistent character of the economic depression which has afflicted hill farming. Even before the war the position was giving rise to serious concern, but no comprehensive review of the problems involved was undertaken.
It was in those circumstances that, again in the same year as the subsidy scheme, in 1941, the agricultural Ministers were so impressed with the seriousness of the matter that special committees of inquiry were set up to investigate the whole position. The inquiry in England and Wales was entrusted, as the House knows, to a committee of the Agricultural Improvement Council under the chairman- 1629 ship of Earl De La Warr. In Scotland it was undertaken by a departmental committee of which Lord Balfour of Burleigh was chairman. Both there committees reported early in 1944, and both made many important and far-reaching recommendations. The reports brought out clearly that one of the main reasons for the economic position in which the industry found itself was the serious deterioration in the condition of much of the hill land and in the equipment of hill farms. There had for long years been few attempts made to maintain, let alone improve, the character and fertility of the land; drainage had been neglected; the bracken pest had been allowed to spread to alarming proportions; capital equipment of all kinds had wasted away; productivity had suffered considerably. Both farmers and farm workers were gradually leaving what many regarded as a dying industry.
The unanimous conclusion of both committees of inquiry was that the accumulated neglect of the past had now reached such serious dimensions that it was quite beyond the power of the industry, itself to put it right and substantial assistance from the State would be required. The way out of the depression lay in achieving a radical improvement in productivity, output, and farming efficiency, which implied a long term task of thorough rehabilitation and improvement. Both committees emphasised the national importance of maintaining an efficient and substantial hill farming industry to maintain the stocks of hardy sheep which are the necessary foundation of sheep husbandry in this country, and to make proper use of these extensive areas of hill land on which hill sheep farming might be made a sound economic proposition. By far the most important recommendations of both committees dealt with proposals for rehabilitation. These have in large measure been adopted including the necessity for considerable financial assistance from the State, and the Bill now before the House is mainly concerned with giving effect to these proposals.
There is, however, one important difference between the measures now proposed and those recommended to us to which I should draw attention. Both committees recommended that compulsory powers should be taken so that the appropriate Minister could require schemes of improvement to be put into effect where 1630 this might be considered necessary in the national interest, and where owners and tenants were unable or unwilling to take action voluntarily. In addition, it was proposed that, as a last resort, the Minister might have powers to terminate tenancies and dispossess owners. However, I think it should be appreciated that the question of securing power to deal with incompetence or inefficiency is only part of a much wider problem which is common to agriculture as a whole. It is the intention of the Government that this should be dealt with on the lines indicated in the statement on long-term policy made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on 15th November last. The present Bill, therefore, will depend for its success primarily on the voluntary response which it secures from the industry. We think that it gives owners and occupiers a fair chance, with the aid of Exchequer grants, to make good, but if they are unwilling to make a proper use of this Bill in due course, we shall have, I hope, the powers that my right hon. Friend said we would seek in legislation. If it is necessary to exercise them I have no doubt that my right bon. Friend the Minister and the Secretary of State will make the fullest use of them.
I see nothing in this development of agricultural policy to prejudice the eventual ownership of agricultural land by the State. I think it necessary to make that observation because the Labour Government have been accused by forces outside of being motivated all the time by doctrinaire policies. We in the Labour movement have over many years proclaimed that the only sound basis for a healthy agriculture in this country lay in the public ownership of the land. That may very well be so; indeed, I accept it without reservation. As things stand at present, however, the Government are not in a position to make any proposals for assuming ownership of hill farming land or any other land. That policy is not, therefore, an immediate alternative to the one proposed. It might perhaps be argued that it would be wiser not to initiate any positive policy for hill farming, until the State was in a position to assume ownership of the land. That, however, would be a most unwise attitude to adopt.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I think that the hon. Gentleman, in a 1631 matter of this sort, should be a little more explicit to the House. We have had several warnings from various junior Ministers in the Administration and it is only fair to the country that, having gone so far, they should go a little further and categorically answer this question: Is it the intention of His Majesty's Government to nationalise the land of this country during the period of this Parliament?
§ Mr. Fraser
No, it does not. I have said some people have attacked this Bill and said that what a Labour Government ought to have done was to have nationalised the land, or taken into public ownership the hill farming industry, if it was in such a state of economic depresssion that a measure of financial assistance was necessary. I have said we do not contemplate doing anything of the kind meantime—
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
What does that mean?
This is a matter of great importance. The hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) was perfectly justified in asking that the Joint Under-Secretary should be more explicit. The hon. Gentleman talks about " meantime." Will he tell us if it is the intention of the Government in this present Parliament to nationalise land?
§ Mr. Fraser
I cannot prophesy all that is going to happen in this Parliament. I do not know what His Majesty's Government will do between now and going out of office. There is no cut and dried scheme of which I am aware for the nationalisation of the land. That is what I am trying to say.
§ Mr. Fraser
I have said that, meantime, this measure of State assistance seems to us to be necessary if we are to rehabilitate the hill farming industry. Here, indeed, is a section of farming whose condition has been steadily going from bad to worse. It is now in a position which is 1632 quite beyond the capacity of those within the industry to tackle. Delay in inaugurating a constructive policy in these circumstances, on the grounds that it was far from ideal, would not be justified. I think that is fair. There is a reservoir of wisdom and skill within the industry which, given the resources and the guidance, in many cases can do a great deal towards restoring the industry to a healthy condition. Let me say, further, in answer to some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, that I am quite satisfied that the expenditure contemplated will be put to proper and essential purposes. Some of my hon. Friends have said to me that, if we are going to extend the scope of our nationalisation in this country—common ownership—what we are doing now is pumping money into private industry, building up private property and causing its value to appreciate, so that, if ever it should be necessary, in the public interest, to acquire those properties, we shall have to pay all the more for them. I do not think that that necessarily follows. I think it would be a quite straightforward matter, if it should be considered necessary in the national interest to assume the ownership of land, to have regard to previous expenditure by the State on the property or properties in question. That seems to me to be fair.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
Is there, anywhere in the Bill, any provision for what my hon. Friend has just mentioned?
§ Mr. Fraser
There could not possibly be. That would have to be in a Bill seeking power to take over the land. I think the State's interests are adequately safeguarded, but, if hon. Members think that they can be better safeguarded, we shall be very happy indeed to examine any practicable suggestions which may be made.
Before turning to the provisions of the Bill in detail, I should like to say something on the relation between the policy of this Bill and the afforestation programme. There can be little doubt that areas of hill land exist in various parts of the country which, even if substantial sums of money were spent on improvement and rehabilitation, would still remain a doubtful economic proposition for sheep farming. In such cases, the national interest would no doubt demand 1633 that the land should be diverted to forestry or other more suitable use. There is no intention whatsoever of using the powers under this Bill to maintain in use for sheep farming land which ought not to continue to be used for that purpose. On the other hand, it is definitely of advantage, from the point of view of those interested in afforestation, that such land as is devoted to hill farming should be as productive as possible, so that enough land may be available for afforestation without detriment to the supply of sheep for lowland farmers. This Bill is therefore not in competition with the Government's forestry programme, but complementary to it. The Bill provides definite safeguards from this point of view. Under Clause 1 (2) the Minister must, before approving a hill farming improvement scheme, satisfy himself that the land ought to continue to be used for hill farming purposes and that the cost of the work will not be excessive in relation to the ultimate benefit to be derived. This puts on to the shoulders of the Ministers the task of appraising the value of any area for hill farming and afforestation respectively, and determining to which of these uses the land ought to be put. To the extent that some hill land, although suitable for sheep, has already been allowed to go to forestry because of the owner's lack of capital, the Bill, by remedying this disability, will make easier the task of deciding on the relative merits of sheep and forestry in regard to the future use of the land.
The first part of the Bill, Clauses 1–10, makes provision for Exchequer assistance to be given to owners and occupiers for the carrying out of improvement schemes for hill farming land in the United Kingdom. Clause 1 empowers the appropriate Minister to make grants towards the cost of carrying out improvement schemes which have been submitted at any time within five years of the Bill becoming law. It is not, of course, expected that the work will be completed within five years. Indeed, the work of improvement and rehabilitation carried out under this scheme may well take up to 10 years, or even longer, to complete. Schemes may be submitted by the parties concerned either for one holding or a number of holdings, whichever is the more appropriate. Before approving a scheme the Minister must be satisfied that the land in 1634 question forms a suitable farming unit and one which should be devoted to hill farming purposes. He has also to satisfy himself that the scheme of improvements proposed is comprehensive enough to secure proper renovation of the subject for agricultural purposes, and, taking a long view, that the expenditure involved is reasonable. This is a unique conception in agricultural policy and deserves emphasis. Assistance will not be offered under this Bill for individual works of improvement at the choice of owner or occupier unless they form a satisfactory whole likely to bring the subject concerned into a reasonably satisfactory condition. Necessary definitions arc also included in Clause 1, indicating the type of land with which it is proposed to deal, the type of farming which is associated with it, and the character of the improvements which may form part of an approved scheme and which may rank for grant. These latter are listed in the First Schedule to the Bill and I think are sufficiently comprehensive to indicate how serious, and at the same time how complex, are the problems facing the industry. If necessary, the kinds of operation listed in this Schedule may be modified by order.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words about the third item in the Schedule which deals with workers' cottages. The Schedule to this Bill was drafted before the Government's general policy on housing had been formulated and this item as it stands is not in keeping with that policy. It is our intention, therefore, to introduce at a later stage an Amendment which will make it clear that the assistance given will not add to the number of tied houses and, indeed, should lead to its reduction. Cottages for which assistance may be granted will, therefore, be required to be let in the ordinary way.
Clause 2 lays down that grant aid from the Exchequer will be equal to one half of the cost of carrying out the work, provided that the cost has been reasonably incurred. The aggregate of the grants which may be paid is not to exceed £4 million, but there is provision for securing Parliamentary approval to raise this figure to £5 million if necessary. Bearing in mind that the industry would have to provide an equal amount of money, this sum, according to the best estimate that 1635 can be made, represents as much expenditure as is likely to be undertaken in schemes submitted within the five years presribed by the Bill.
Clause 3 specifies who is to be entitled to submit improvement schemes for approval and how the schemes are to be framed, and requires the Minister to satisfy himself that those making the proposals are in a position to see them carried out. It also provides for the completion of schemes, even though the parties originally responsible are succeeded by others before the work is finished. I think that was an essential provision to put in the Bill. The grants that we are going to make to the industry for rehabilitation must, of course, be investments, as it were, in the hill farming land of this country, and must not be interfered with by a mere change of ownership or tenancy.
A scheme may be revoked or varied under the powers granted in Clauses 4 and 5 at the instance of and by agreement with the parties concerned, or, if necessary, in the public interest. In the latter case, if it be necessary to revoke or vary a scheme in the public interest, the Minister must first consult those responsible for the scheme and also the appropriate advisory committee which will be set up under the Bill when it becomes an Act. Where a scheme is revoked or varied in the public interest there is provision for the payment of appropriate compensation. That seems to be a fair way of doing it.
Clause 6 gives further powers of revocation or variation to deal with cases where work has been badly done or unduly delayed, or is unlikely to be completed, and where, as a result, the satisfactory completion of the scheme of improvement is prejudiced. In those cases there is provision for recovering part or all of the grants paid.
Under Clause 7 grants may be reduced or withheld or, indeed, recovered where a tenant or an owner who is a party to an improvement scheme has failed to fulfil his customary obligations under the rules of good husbandry or in accordance with the practice of good estate management.
Clause 8 extends to work done under an improvement scheme the safeguard for 1636 both tenant and landlord which are contained in the Agricultural Holdings Acts, and is also designed to prevent either party securing improper advantage by way of compensation or rent out of the grants paid by the State.
Clauses 9 and 10 will only apply to England and Wales. They deal with common grazings. It seems very appropriate to afford the same measure of assistance to common grazings. We do not have them to any large extent in Scotland so it is not intended to apply these provisions to Scotland. I do not think the House would want me to deal with that at any great length, but no doubt if any hon. Members want to discuss the matter the Minister will be able to reply to any points raised at the end of the discussions.
The next part of the Bill gives powers for framing subsidy schemes for hill sheep and cattle for a period of five years on the lines of those which have been operated during the war years. That seems to be a necessary thing to do during the interim period when the effect of this Bill is showing itself. It is recognised by the Government that the policy of rehabilitation enshrined in this Bill is of a long-term character, and that it will take some time before any substantial advantages accrue. It is, therefore, necessary, I think, to have this period of five years when the present subsidy schemes will be continued in practice. Then again, in the interest of wartime food production, it was found necessary to take certain powers under the Defence Regulations to control the keeping of rams in hill areas in England and Wales so as to prevent indiscriminate cross breeding and interference with breeding arrangements generally. This Measure has already led to a noticeable improvement in hill flocks in Wales and elsewhere, although particularly in Wales. It is considered necessary to take permanent powers to exercise similar control in the future as a means of raising the general standard of efficiency of hill farming. The Clauses containing these provisions apply only to England and Wales.
There are further Clauses dealing with heather burning and applying to England and Wales. The adequately controlled burning of heather and grass under proper safeguards is now regarded as being of the greatest importance to the cultural 1637 operations which can be undertaken on hill farms, and Clause 18 provides for the first time for the statutory control of the burning of heather and grass in England and Wales by giving power to the Minister of Agriculture to make regulations to prohibit or control burning. Clause 19 will enable him to permit burning if he considers it desirable in cases where it would otherwise be forbidden by the terms of the lease or covenant. In Scotland we have had Heather Burning Acts before. There, " muirburn " as the burning of heather and grass is termed, has been regulated in the past by the Heather Burning Act of 1926. This was modified by the Defence Regulations during the war period and it is proposed now that the Act of 1926 shall be repealed and that Clauses 20 to 25 of this Bill shall operate in its place. The main changes proposed are a simplification in the general procedure and a strengthening of the safeguards to be adopted to obviate damage by uncontrolled burning. Where a programme of heather burning over a period of years has been approved as part of an improvement scheme, the procedure to be followed will be still further simplified. The heather burning provisions of this Bill for both countries are intended to be permanent.
I come now to the rather complicated question of the valuation of bound sheep stocks in Scotland. The method of valuation of these bound sheep stocks has for long given rise to a serious concern. There has too often been a material degree of inflation or exaggeration in the value put upon flocks. In the result there has been a serious element of over capitalisation of the industry. Experience has shown that the Sheep Stocks Valuation (Scotland) Act, 1937, has not had the effect which it was hoped it would have in moderating the values placed on sheep, and the Balfour of Burleigh Committee felt that the position was so bad and had such an important bearing on the economic welfare of the industry that they recommended early amendment of the law. Clauses 26 to 29, together with the Second Schedule to the Bill are, therefore, designed to amend that Act of 1937, and closely follow the recommendations of the Balfour of Burleigh Committee. The general purpose of the changes is to secure that under all leases entered into after the passing of this Act, the valuations placed 1638 upon a bound sheep stock will have close relation to its real value as a commercial asset. I am afraid that, up to now, the valuations that have been placed upon bound sheep stocks have not borne a very close relation to their real value as a commercial asset. Owing to the differences in the system of tenure, these problems, I understand, do not arise to any significant degree in England and Wales, nor indeed in Northern Ireland, and it is not proposed, therefore, to make similar provisions for England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
Clause 30 provides for the setting up of central advisory committees, one in Scotland and another in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, which will have a sub-committee for Wales and Monmouth. In so far as the proposals for rehabilitation are concerned, it is realised that Ministers will require to rely to a very large extent on local knowledge and advice, and they will probably find it advantageous to delegate certain functions to local committees. Clause 31 provides for the creation of committees of this kind. Clause 32 gives the Minister power to authorise entry to and inspection of land, a very necessary corollary to the proper exercise of his duty to approve proposals for improvement schemes and to satisfy himself as to their progress. The remaining Clauses of the Bill are purely formal.
That concludes my résumé of the scope and purpose of the Bill now before the House. It only remains for me to emphasise that the Government regard this Bill as a charter for hill farming. They have been deeply impressed with the serious nature of the problems facing this important branch of agriculture and so ably described in the reports to which I have already referred. The Government regard it as a matter of vital national importance to inaugurate a long-term policy of rehabilitation and improvement with a view to placing hill farming in a sound productive condition and able to stand on its own feet. In their view, that is what this Bill will go a long way to achieve. Some sections of hill sheep farming can never again be brought into a satisfactory economic condition at any reasonable cost, but will probably prove eminently suitable for afforestation. Nevertheless, a substantial proportion of the industry can be reconditioned and re-equipped, and brought back to a more productive and more efficient state. There 1639 is every reason to believe that production and output can be maintained and, I should imagine, increased in the future from a rather smaller but more efficient hill farming industry. The Government are offering substantial assistance in this Bill towards that end, but in order that this policy shall be a success there must be a wholehearted response from the industry itself. Owners and farmers must be prepared to make an effective contribution to their own rehabilitation. It is a long term task; it will require courage and vision to see it through. Unless it is undertaken, it is quite certain that we shall lose a great deal of what is a vital part of British farming, and also an important contribution to our national food production.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I think everyone will agree that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has given the House a very extensive, although I am not sure whether I would say very clear, account of the main features of this important Bill to which we on this side of the House will give our support. In passing, I would say that I think the hon. Gentleman seemed a little apprehensive as to whether he would receive the same measure of support from hon. Members opposite. I would like to say how astonished I was to hear what he had to say about cottages. He referred to a change in the Schedule. Surely, he must be aware that throughout the hill lands of Scotland he will have to go a very long way before he will find any cottages that are not tied. It is in my recollection, also, that we received this Bill from the Vote Office on 18th February, and one would have imagined that by that time the Government would have made up their minds about their housing policy.
Turning to the general question, I think it is common knowledge among all those who take an interest in agricultural affairs that although the returns in respect of most branches of agriculture under existing conditions are today quite adequate, hill sheep farming has been in a very depressed condition for many years. From my experience, I have found that the returns have been unduly low. In the majority of instances they have been entirely non-existent, and it is no exaggeration to say that without the assistance 1640 granted by the Government during the war —which, after all, was granted in order to offset the lack of controlled prices in respect of hill products, as they are store products, and not finished products—many hill farmers could not have carried on at all. The mere fact that for many years scores of hill farms could not find tenants, and, further, that two-fifths of our Scottish hill farms—I speak mainly of Scotland, of which I have a little knowledge—are occupied by tenants on a year to year basis, is in itself sufficient evidence of the depressed state of this industry. We in Scotland have a very big stake in sheep farming. No less than two-thirds of the entire surface of our country is devoted to this industry; 60 per cent, of our total sheep stocks are hill sheep as against 20 per cent, to 25 per cent, in England, and a significant indication of the importance of this industry is that in terms of value in gross agricultural output, the; value of the production of the Scottish hills is very nearly equal to the value of our production of milk.
With the single exception of afforestation, the only contribution which this land can make to the national wealth is through the breeding of cattle and sheep. In Scotland, 16,000 farmers are engaged in this business. They produce about 1,000,000 lambs per annum, 10,000,000 lbs. of wool, and 400,000 cast ewes. Anyone who has read the admirable Reports of the Balfour of Burleigh Committee and the De La Warr Committee must be astonished to find to what depths this important industry had sunk, and how precarious had become the living of these hill farmers. The Balfour of Burleigh Committee Report, with which I am the more familiar because it deals with Scotland, paints the gloomiest picture imaginable. It states that the fertility of the past has gone and that this industry is doomed to die a slow death from sheer exhaustion unless the State and industry can combine to restore it.
If we nationalised the land tomorrow all that would happen would be that the State would have to pay the whole cost instead of half. But the Balfour Committee could not produce a magic remedy; there is no magic carpet by which the hill farmer can be whisked away to his economic heaven. On the contrary, he has a very long and weary road in front of him. New methods 1641 will have to be applied in the form of research and hard work. There will have to be a revolutionary change of outlook on the part of the farmer himself and of many engaged in the industry. And finally very considerable capital expenditure will be absolutely necessary.
The alternative is to abandon vast areas of our hill land to forest land or sport, which to me is quite unthinkable. The former Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) did a real service to the community in setting up the two Committees to which I have referred. After a long time deliberating they produced two first class reports. I would like to pay my personal tribute to the Balfour Report, with which I am very familiar. This Bill is simply an attempt to implement their main recommendations, and by so doing, to ameliorate and, if possible, sweep away the deplorable state of affairs to which they have drawn attention, and finally to establish this industry on an economic footing. The broad aim is to restore fertility thus to increase stock carrying capacity, and by so doing to increase the volume of output from the hills, bringing costs down to an economic level. We all know that output has been falling for years, whereas costs' have been rising. At the present level of wages in the agricultural industry, although we are all glad to see that level where it is, it is a very serious thing for hill farmers, who have not very much revenue coming in, to have to meet present wages. I would sum up this aspect by saying that the aim of the Bill is to eliminate the necessity for the existing subsidy.
Generally speaking, I find that this Bill has been welcomed throughout the country. But there are some points in it which are open to criticism. We on this side of the House feel we could improve it in certain details; in addition to which there are some fairly important omissions vis-à-vis the two reports to which I have referred. I will mention only one omission, into which I do not intend to go in detail, namely, in connection with transport. I understand some of my hon. Friends will refer to that. It is a very important point. Transport rates are excessive in the remote areas, and unless something can be done to equalise them and bring them to a lower level, it will affect adversely not only the actual carriage of stock but also the material required 1642 for the necessary improvements under this Bill. I feel the Bill is perhaps a little less bold in its main approach than the Balfour Report. It is less bold in its approach to the main remedy of improvement schemes. The Joint Under-Secretary referred to compulsion. The House will recall that the Balfour Committee recommended that the schemes should be obligatory. This Bill seeks voluntary cooperation. I dislike compulsion in any shape or form, but I am bound to take into account what I consider a vital matter in this respect, namely, the important question of whether one can reasonably expect that the assistance offered under this Bill will be taken advantage of on a scale sufficiently wide to ensure that the deterioration referred to by the two expert committees can be overtaken. I admit, quite frankly, I am inclined to doubt whether that result can be achieved on a voluntary basis.
I am afraid of isolated schemes. I do not believe isolated scheme.—can solve so gigantic a problem, where whole regions—vast tracts of land—are involved. For example, what would happen if in an area in which an improvement scheme was being carried out disease was next door and that holding stood outside the Bill? That is an important consideration. However, I remember that during the war we witnessed a remarkable effort on the part of the agricultural community; a story of cooperation. That spirit of cooperation was a marked feature throughout the war. Therefore, taking into account the shortage of labour, and the fact that few schemes may be possible within the next few years, I have come to the conclusion—although I have expressed my personal fears—that it may be better to keep this Bill on an experimental basis. I would give this warning. If we have isolated schemes, this Bill will fail. Therefore, we should base our effort upon encouraging cooperation between proprietor and tenant to the maximum possible extent. In any event, whether the schemes are voluntary or obligatory, cheap credit will be absolutely essential. There is very little money in this industry, which I know pretty well. It will be extremely difficult, if not quite impossible, to put up even the 50 per cent, required in many cases.
I am aware that certain facilities now exist. Certain facilities are offered in regard to Scotland by the Scottish Agricultural Securities Corporation, in respect 1643 of major improvements of the kind covered by this Bill. Not being a lawyer, when I looked at the pamphlet in regard to it, I was not able to tell whether the corporation, in fact, can advance money against these schemes, as it operates under the Improvements of Lands Acts of 1864 and 1899. It is most desirable, therefore, that the Minister should make clear that loans will be available from this source, and what the terms of the loans will be. The widest possible publicity should be given to such an announcement, because the success or failure of this Measure may well depend upon cheap credits to the people who are to carry out the schemes. The Joint Under-Secretary did not mention the question of the amount of the money available. On the general question of the amount of money available, namely, £4,000,000 plus £1,000,000 with Treasury consent, I am bound to say I look upon it as being a rather timid approach. It does not look to me like a real attack upon the problem we are facing. It rather suggests that the Government are not aware of the gigantic nature of the problem. The Balfour Committee recommended that £15,000,000 would have to be spent over a term of 15 years if this industry was to be saved. This Bill deals with only £4,000,000 plus £1,000,000.
§ Mr. Snadden
My hon. Friend is quite right. The Balfour Committee's Report recommended that £15,000,000 should be spent on Scotland alone. This Bill puts up £5,000,000 for the whole country.
§ Mr. Snadden
The Balfour Committee estimated that £15,000,000 would have to be spent over a period of 15 years for Scotland alone. This Bill gives £4,000,000, plus £1,000,000 if the Treasury consents, for the whole country.
§ Mr. Snadden
I do not think that is anything like a big enough sum. I am bound to ask the Minister if the answer is that the Government feel that a vast area of land is not really worth improving. 1644 Is it the view of the Government that great areas now included in our sheep farming economy are to be taken over for afforestation? The hon. Gentleman said something about afforestation, but he did not make one important point clear in that regard. What farmers want to know is what land is to be afforested, to what extent and where. When they see the small amount mentioned in this Bill they begin to fear about the economic future of the industry. I would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can tell us when he replies what is in his mind in this respect. The farmers want to know where they stand in regard to afforestation.
Next I would like to ask how the money is to be allocated as between Scotland, England and Wales. Is there to be a tug-of-war between the Scottish, English and Welsh Members, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer acting as referee, or what is to happen? Further, is there to be any ceiling in regard to individual schemes? When we look at the Schedule and see that improvements such as cottages, access roads, shelter belts and so on—all of them very expensive—are included, in view of the small total available we wonder whether some ceiling is to be imposed on individual schemes, and I would like to know what the policy is in that respect.
I come next to a question which is troubling farmers in the North. I cannot speak for fanners South of the Border, but it is troubling farmers in the North, and it is a question to which I have given very close study. I mean security of tenure. Under this Bill three points seem to me to arise, which must be squarely faced by anybody who wants to see agriculture prosper. The first is that the State must have an adequate guarantee that money expended by the State is justifiably spent. Second the proprietor must have a similar prospect that his expenditure will be justified by the continuance of good husbandry on the part of the tenant. Last, but by no means least, the tenant, before agreeing to and perhaps participating in a scheme, will want an assurance of his continued occupancy of the land, quite apart from any compensation that may be due to him under the Agricultural Holdings Acts. We must try to solve that problem if this Bill is to be a success. There is no 1645 security that an improvement scheme will not be wasted because of lack of continuity. There is no security for the landlord to justify his proceeding with the scheme, and there is no security for the tenant, who may be faced with the necessity of taking up a new tenancy at a possibly enhanced rent.
To meet all three points it would seem to me to be absolutely essential, at any rate in Scotland, where some 40 per cent, of tenants are on a year to year tenancy, that proposals in respect of improvement schemes should be accompanied by an offer on behalf of the proprietor to enter into a long lease. Where a tenant refuses such an offer, which is quite possible, it will be reasonable for the proprietor to make a contract with another tenant who is willing to cooperate. I feel convinced that, unless schemes under this Bill are tied up with long leases, many tenants will be reluctant to participate in them, and I think that will be bad. Every encouragement should be given to securing the maximum cooperation between proprietor and tenant.
I would now say a word about heather burning—it is indeed a burning question which, I find, is causing some dissatisfaction in my particular county. We have to admit that the neglect of heather burning is one of the major reasons for the vast deterioration in our hill grazing. The Bill goes a fair way to improve matters but in my opinion it does not go far enough. I have a fair experience of this type of farming and I have found that old rank heather left too long encourages bracken and also the fatal tick disease, and should be systematically burned. We have also to take into account that adequate safeguards against indiscriminate burning are necessary. Tenants do not like to fall out with the proprietors, and I find in Perthshire, one of the largest hill farming districts in the country, that this reluctance is preventing adequate burning.
The provision which is now in the Bill applied during the war, and did not work well. There seem to me to be two possible methods of solving this problem; one would be to delete Clause 22 altogether, and place the onus on the proprietor who, if he desired, could before a date to be agreed upon, refer the whole question to the Minister, who in consultation with the local committee would then draw up a scheme. The other way would be to 1646 remove the right of objection on the part of the proprietor in regard to heather over a given age. At first I thought that this was a good idea, and I still think it Is not bad, but it would involve putting a Schedule into the Bill specifying the different ages of heather over different counties and that might be rather difficult. Greater freedom to burn than is contained in this Bill would seem to be desirable, however, if real cooperation between proprietor and tenant is to be secured and hill grazing improved, which is what we all want. It is probable, therefore, that an Amendment will be submitted in Committee by myself and some of my hon. Friends on this point.
In passing to the next part of the Bill, I will like to say a word or two on what the hon. Gentleman said about our cattle stocks in the North. I do not think he quite grasped the real idea behind our hill cattle scheme. Statutory powers are taken in this Bill to continue both forms of assistance to hill farming, the hill cattle scheme and the hill subsidy scheme, and I think it is common knowledge—it is certainly informed agricultural opinion—that there is room for a tremendous expansion of cattle breeding in the hills. Anyone who has read the Balfour Report will know that again and again it is suggested that we must return to the old economy of 150 years ago. So interested was I in this point, that I searched back to see what did happen 150 years ago. I find that in Scotland there were 150,000 cattle in the Hebrides, and 30,000 store cattle went annually to the mainland. There were 44,000 cattle in Orkney and Shetland, and 25,000 stores went from Galloway to Norwich every year. We must get back to the economy of those days, but it cannot be done on a year to year basis. Hence I urge the Government to take the opportunity now of announcing boldly that this scheme, which is on a year to year basis and in regard to which statutory powers are contained in this Bill, will be continued at any rate for five years, on a level at least not lower than it is today. That would, in my opinion, give confidence to the hill farmers to go ahead, and the dividend to the country would in the end be substantial, in the form of increased meat alone not to speak of great benefit to grazing.
The last point I want to make on the Bill is in regard to committees. The hon. 1647 Gentleman mentioned administration, but I do not think he went into it in sufficient detail. I would ask him for a little more information about that. We on this side of the House feel we should like further information regarding the advisory and local committees to be set up under this Bill. We want to know how members of these bodies are to be chosen. Are they to be chosen from panels submitted by agricultural organisations, or are they to be nominated by those organisations? We should like to know what is to happen in that respect. Further, we want to know what will be their precise function. In Scotland, in the case of the local committee, what is to be its relationship to the new area or regional committees the Government are to set up under their general agricultural policy? If these committees are, in fact, to be the sub-committees of the area or the regional committees to which reference was made by the Minister in this House some time ago, then it seems to me that care must be taken to see that people qualified to advise on this type of industry are included in those sub-committees. If we can be told something about that, we shall be obliged.
I have finished with what I wanted to say about the Bill, but I should like to put in a last word on a different note altogether and on an aspect which, in my view, is just as important as those to which I have been referring. In dealing with the industry in Scotland and, for that matter, in England and Wales also, it would be a terrible mistake to imagine that this Bill alone can solve the problem of this industry. This Bill deals only with the technical or farm management aspect of the problem of increasing the volume of output. It does not deal with the economic aspect, or what we are to do with that output once we have got it. To rear two lambs where formerly one was reared, and not to get a market for them both, would be to throw money away. Unless there is a greater measure of economic stability assured in the future than in the past the benefits of this scheme will be lost and the money to be expended will be wasted. The De La Warr Report on page 4 states:science can point to ways of better land use and development, and of improving the health, hardiness and management of stock. It cannot take the place of a stable price system.1648 We have to bear in mind that the assurances given to farmers under the Government's long-term price policy only apply to finished commodities. There is no such provision for the products of our hill farms, because they are the raw materials. That produce is uncontrolled and, curiously enough, the only agricultural commodity that I can think of at this moment that has been left out of the list of guaranteed prices is wool, one of the main products of the hills. So that in this industry, the economic aspect is just as important as any technical programme. Anyone who has followed the ups and downs of the industry and tried to find out why we have had great slumps will have found that the devastating slumps that we have known in the past, in 1932 and, again, in 193S, were caused by excess of low ground slaughtering of sheep, coinciding with abnormal imports from abroad. That was why we got slumps in the past. Unless these two factors are looked after and the price is right the money to be expended under this Bill will be wasted and all the work will be in vain.
In conclusion. I would say that the future of this industry will depend on three things; first, increased stock-carrying capacity, at which this Bill rightly aims, because it lowers cost; second, the postwar agricultural policy of the right hon. Gentleman in terms of the economic trend on the low ground; and third, control of imports. No one of these alone is sufficient. All of them are essential to a proper policy in regard to this matter; and if the Government wish to insure against the greatest enemy of this industry—gluts—they should examine a policy for the encouragement of " weather sheep."I need not explain what that means—keeping sheep longer on the hills. Then we should not get the gluts in the autumn that we have had in the past. It should be possible also, in connection with our housing programme, and in the provision of upholstery and furnishing in connection with that programme, to find a better market for our home grown wool. I welcome this Bill with the qualifications I have made. I feel that it goes a long way towards solving the technical part of the problem. It is a major step forward towards the rehabilitation of a great industry and, incidentally, it should be of immense value in seeking to preserve, not only our hill sheep flocks of which we 1649 should be proud, but also the fine type of men who make their living by raising them.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
I understand it is the custom of this House that when a Member speaks upon a Bill in which he has a personal interest, he should declare that interest at the outset of his remarks. Speaking as a hill sheep farmer, I must say that I may be interested in this Bill when it becomes an Act. But I want the House to feel that I do not enter into this Debate from any personal point of view, but in order that I may contribute something of my experience to the discussion of the Bill as it is before the House.
I find myself so much in agreement with so many of the things said by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), that I do not want to follow exactly the same lines. But I must say I am profoundly disappointed with this Bill, because I feel that the task of the rehabilitation of hill farming, a task which is so comprehensive and so gigantic, is dealt with in this Bill in a most cursory and desultory fashion. This Bill does not go to the root of the matter, and unless the Minister is going to bring forward long-term agricultural policy with features that will cover the failings of this Bill, then I say the Measure will fail completely in its aims. I feel that the Government have here a tremendous opportunity for a great, courageous and ambitious programme to rehabilitate hill farming once and for all in the history of the agriculture of this country. From that point of view this Bill is a miserable failure. I feel that £5,000,000 spread over the whole country is just like a drop in the bucket when one realises the tremendous problem of hill farming as it has been outlined by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the hon. Member for West Perth. On the hill farms of this country we have the foundation land for the growing of healthy stock, beef and mutton, to feed the lowlands of the country.
This Bill follows the line of what is nothing more or less than extended subsidies, and continues the artificial development of agriculture which has been operating during the war. We are no longer at war, but at peace, and we need now to build up agriculture on a sound foundation.
1650 I will try to outline to the House what I consider to be a sound foundation for agriculture, including hill farming. We recognise the poverty of this land, and the financial distress of both the farmers and the landlords. We recognise that this has been continuing for a good many years, and that the position is deplorable. No farmer or landlord in this position will be able to take part in the operations of this Bill. It is impossible for them to do so if they have not the money. The farmer will have to borrow the money when he puts forward his scheme, and then he will have to pay interest upon the capital. It will be an additional burden on his present resources, which we have already been told are inadequate to meet current expenses on buildings, hedges and so forth. Unless farmers and landlords can obtain interest-free loans, they will be in a very difficult position in the future. I cannot see this Bill operating, because the precarious position of the industry will not enable it to bear this additional burden. The interest and sinking fund on the loans will put the farmers and the landlords in a more hopeless position than they are in at the present time.
To my mind this Bill bears all the hallmarks of orthodox finance. One of the reasons for the agricultural depression in the past has been that the banks would loan money only on what they considered to be security. They would lend money on buildings and land, but if a farmer tried to borrow money to buy more stock, he was told that there was no security in stock—he can buy stock one week and sell it the next. I believe that during the last Parliament a Bill was passed in order to include stock as security. This Bill adds burden to burden.
In my opinion rehabilitation of hill farming will depend on three things, it will depend, first, upon the division of farms into economic units. I do not speak of Scotland, because I have had no experience of Scotland, and there are sufficient Scottish Members to make their voices heard for that country. I am speaking from my experience in England, where there are so many small hill farms which can never be made economically sound. We shall have to develop economic farm units in every part of the country. I know that this is a very difficult point, but in the Balfour Report it is stated that an economic unit in hill- 1651 sheep farming must be 400 to 600 ewes. I know that that figure will not apply to England. In my opinion we shall need to have in this country an economic unit of not less than 300 acres. Mr. J. R. Phillips, of the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Wales, has carried out an investigation on land holdings, and in dealing with the hill farms of Wales, he states:Not until acreages amount to 2,000 to 3,000 acres can the farm incomes grow big enough to provide a satisfactory livelihood for families.That is a tremendous figure. I quote it to show that in England, Scotland and Wales, whatever the economic unit may be, there must be an economic farm unit before one can deal with this problem satisfactorily.
Here is where the element of compulsion comes in. I do not like compulsion, and I do not know any farmer who likes it, but unless compulsion is brought to bear to create economic farming units, this Bill will fail. Suppose we take an area where there are 20, 30 or 40 small farms, and the agricultural executive committee decide that in that area there should be a farm of 200 to 300 acres. Unless we can have the voluntary acquiescence of all those fanners, we cannot have an economic unit. Compulsion is essential, otherwise one man out of a dozen can ruin a whole scheme. Compulsion ought to be brought into this scheme, if it is to succeed. Subsidies are not new to farmers, and especially to hill farmers. Hill farms in England have been subsidised by the wages of the children for many years. Farmers have taken farms where the units are too small, and they have been too small for the last 50 or 100 years. As the children have grown up, they have been sent off the farms into the mills, and a great loss to agriculture has ensued because they have not returned to the land. Unless we can deal with this problem from the economic standpoint, it will become more acute in the future.
Secondly, there must be price stabilisation. Both the Balfour and De La Warr Reports emphasise the necessity for price stabilisation. The previous disasters to hill farms and to agriculture generally have been due to the precariousness of prices. Speaking for myself, I have sold hill lambs at 7s. each, and wool at 3½d. a lb.—and one never knew that the 1652 price would not be less the following year. Today we have the price stabilisation of war conditions, but a definite price stabilisation policy will have to be included, if the hill farms are to prosper in future.
Thirdly, I want to deal with what I consider to be a grave lack in the Bill, namely, the question of research. Research is emphasised in these reports. It is essential from many points of view. Deterioration of hill land and lack of fertility need something more than subsidies. During the war, we dealt very successfully with such questions as reseeding, and I feel that, so far as the hill farms are concerned, that should be greatly extended. Research is needed into the fertility of the land, into reseeding, into plant cultivation on the higher altitudes; and especially veterinary research into hill sheep diseases. Research is also required into the type of hill sheep. Some of my Scottish friends tell me that if their ewes produce 85 per cent, lambs they are satisfied. If our ewes produce less than 150, we begin to get trouble. We should reach one and a half lambs per ewe. So far as the hill sheep of Scotland are concerned, I feel that a great deal of research is required. Many of those farms are not carrying the proper type of stock, and I understand that, as a result of research carried out, individual farmers have introduced better breeds of sheep and are successful with them.
I believe that it is necessary, from the condition of the industry as put before us in these reports, for the State to take over the land. The burden is already too great for both tenant and landlord for this scheme to be properly operated. There was some indication, in both of these reports, that the State should take over certain parts of the land. The England and Wales Report stated:The State is becoming the owner of large areas of hill land. In addition, there are the estates likely to be taken over by voluntary or compulsory purchase from owners who are unable or unwilling to carry out necessary schemes of improvement.State purchase is also indicated in the Scottish report. I say, not from a political point of view but from a practical point of view, that the burden is so great that hill fanning cannot be placed on its feet economically unless the State takes over the whole of this hill farming land. The reports visualise that if it is not taken over, then it must 1653 be controlled. There must be unified control. To quote the England and Wales Report again:In our view a prerequisite to particular proposals for the improvement of hill farming is some degree of unified control of all hill land. The alternative would seem to be a piecemeal series of separate and possibly overlapping schemes of financial and other forms of assistance.That is exactly what is going to happen under this Bill, unless there is unified control; and that can only come compulsorily. Unless we have unified control, and compulsion, and unless there is State ownership of the hill land, this scheme will fail.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) in his references to State control and nationalisation of the hill farming industry, except to say that I cannot imagine any other industry in this country which contains a greater amount of independence, individual initiative and individual enterprise. I should have thought that it is one of the very last industries which would have benefited in any possible way by the dead hand of State control, which the hon. Member has indicated as being, in his view, the future of this industry.
I should like, as a very old Member of this House, to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on the admirable and charming way in which he introduced this Bill. It is, as he said, a most important Measure for the great industry of hill farming. It is based on the recent Reports of the Balfour Committee for Scotland and the De La Warr Committee for England and Wales. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), was mainly interested in the Report of the Scottish Committee. It starts by tracing the history of this industry and it shows how, in the latter half of the 18th century, the South country sheep farmers began to take up land in the Highlands and turn it into sheep farms, thus ousting the small farmers, or crofters, who had formerly populated the Highlands and grazed cattle on the hills. Large numbers of these people migrated, and, in the place of the once large populations in the glens, there came a few shepherds. This large scale sheep farming was fairly successful for a hundred years, but since about 1654 1870 it has gradually declined. The grazing of sheep on the hills of the United Kingdom has probably gone on uninterrupted for thousands of years. On my own hill farm in the county of Antrim, St. Patrick is reputed to have been a shepherd on the mountain tops, and I have no reason to doubt it.
Countless millions of sheep must have been born, grown up and lived their lives nourished by the grass and heather. During all that time, nothing has been put back into the soil in the form of fertilisers or manures. The hill land has become gradually impoverished and lost its fertility, but manuring on a large scale, considering the large tracts of country involved, is an impossible operation. The Balfour Committee suggest the possibility of scattering manure on the hills from aeroplanes, and I hope that this will be investigated by the Government. Another method of manuring the hill grazing might be by the general feeding of sheep. A few years before the war the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Northern Ireland adopted some experiments in the mineral feeding of sheep. The farmers were given mineral cubes provided they would carry out certain experiments with them on behalf of the Government. I took some myself for my sheep farm. I gave them to the sheep and they ate them with avidity during the winter. The idea is that these cubes contain the minerals which are beneficial to the land and which get spread over the land through the droppings of the sheep. It seems to me that is a possible method of manuring these hill farms and should be further investigated.
Hill farming is precarious farming. There are far more difficulties to be faced than farming on the lower land. The hon. Member for Chorley said that he remembered selling lambs at 7s. each and wool at 3½d. I remember selling lambs at 5s., and, in the depression of 1929 to 1932, selling wool at 2½d. That merely shows the kind of depression through which this industry has passed during recent years. It is a precarious industry. One of the great enemies is severe weather in the winter, including snow falls and snow drifts. I have myself after heavy snowstorms been out on the hills with the shepherds and their dogs searching for sheep buried in the snow drifts. The dogs show the shepherd where the 1655 sheep ore, and when he conies to them he may find a dozen, 15 or 20 buried in 15 or 20 feet of snow. The extraordinary thing is that as the hill farmer knows, sheep under those conditions will live for ten days. Even so, if the snow comes before the sheep have been gathered in and they are spread over the hills the losses are very great. Then sheep farmers have to face vermin. Foxes take quite a severe toll of the lambs, and birds like the grey crows do appalling damage. I myself can give a personal incident of a grey crow. I have seen a lamb alive after having been cast down with both its eyes eaten by the grey crow. That lamb was saved by the shepherd. It was subsequently brought up and nourished and became a ewe. It had a lamb every year for about seven years, but that was an exception. These grey crows eat out the eyes of living lambs and are merely an example of some of the terrible depredations from vermin that the sheep farmer has to face.
There is the well-known disease louping-ill braxy or that extraordinary disease liver fluke which is caused by a parasite, which, at some period of its existence, has to pass its life within the body of a certain type of snail. Liver fluke comes from the wet ground, and in my part of the country it is almost the worst of all the diseases we have to face. Then we have lamb dysentry, and, of course, maggots due to the blowfly laying its eggs in the wool of the living sheep. The maggots hatch, and unless the sheep are properly treated the maggots eat their way into its body and then it dies.
Though this industry is precarious, it is a splendid life and it produces as fine a body of men and women as are to be found anywhere in the world. The shepherd's life may be lonely at times, but how infinitely better than the cramped life of the dweller of the towns. He spends much of his time alone with nature, but in what glorious surroundings. He hears no sound, but the bleating of the sheep and the lambs, the cry of the curlew and the plover, the croak of the raven, the crowing of the cock grouse and always the sound of running water. In most cases he lives a life amongst the glorious hills and glens surrounded by the purple and russet brown tints of the heather and the bracken. His time is his own as long as he tends his sheep He is a free man, bis- 1656 hours of working depending on the tasks he has to do—light in some periods of the year, heavy in others—and all day long he breathes the clear undiluted air of heaven.
Such is the industry which was in dire straits before the war. War conditions have brought some improvement through better prices for wool and ewes, but this improvement may be only a flash in the pan in default of some definite policy in the future. It is that policy which this Bill is attempting. It will help, but as has already been said, it will not cure the trouble. Four million pounds with a possible rise to £5 million for these land improvement schemes will not see the thing through, nor do I think that half and half share in expenditure between Government and farmer gives sufficient inducement to the farmer to put up the money as my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth said.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
The Balfour of Burleigh Committee suggested 60 per cent, by the Government and 40 per cent, by the farmer, and I do not really know why the Government reduced that to half and half. In any case, they must provide some method by which the farmer can obtain the money which he will need to put up for his half of the scheme by establishing credit facilities and so on. I should like also to ask, as was asked by the hon. Member for West Perth, how this money is to be allocated between the different parts of the United Kingdom. Will it be according to the sheep population, according to the acreage, according to the value of the product, or what? Are the grants to be subject to Income Tax? We know that the ploughing-up grant is to be subject to this tax, but will the grants made under this Bill be subject to Income Tax?
I would like to ask about the committees to be set up under Clause 30. I see there is to be one committee, apparently a joint body, for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a sub-committee for Wales. Is there not to be a sub-committee for Northern Ireland? With regard to the types of farms which will come under this Bill, I have in mind the sort of farm which exists in my part of the country, where there are 2,000 to 4,000 1657 acres of hill land and, contiguous to that the farmhouse, farm buildings and a certain acreage of tilled land, where the farmer grows his hay, his oats, and probably some potatoes, and on which he keeps his poultry and pigs. Will that land come within the definition of a hill farm? Will that farmer be entitled to receive a grant in respect of, say, renewing his old farm buildings or erecting new buildings? Will he be entitled to receive a grant for machinery, such as a reaper and binder, to help with the corn harvest? Will that farmer's land, as a whole, come within the purview of this Bill? This Measure will certainly help the hill farming industry to a considerable extent, and I hope it will pass the House today and become an Act of Parliament without undue delay.
§ 5.52 p.m.
Mr. Scott-Elliot (Accrington)
It is an old and very proper custom of this House for Members to declare their interest in any matter concerning which they may wish to address the House. I therefore wish to begin by declaring that I have such an interest, although it may not be a very substantial one in view of the fact that the land I own and farm is in a relatively good condition. Be that as it may, I would like to say, without prejudice to the issue of nationalisation, which I would ultimately welcome in respect of agricultural land, that as an interim Measure I believe this Bill to be absolutely essential for rehabilitating the farm lands of this country. Clearly, I cannot, in a short speech such as is proper for a back bench Member to deliver, cover the complete ambit of this Bill. But there are, perhaps, one or two broad propositions I can put forward, and which I can reinforce with points of detail such as may perhaps be of interest to those Members who are less well acquainted with hill farming.
My first proposition is this: Here is an industry which is not easy to understand. It is very difficult to understand, unless one has been closely and personally associated with it. Moreover, it is an industry which differs greatly in various parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) referred just now to hill sheep farms of 300 acres or less. In the Border counties of Scotland we would think that any hill sheep farm which was less than 1,500 acres was too small. In other words, in 1658 one part of the country you have one set of circumstances where the land is relatively fertile, and in our part of the country you have land which is less fertile, so that you need a larger farm to make it an economic unit. Further, the rents of these farms differ enormously. I believe that the ordinary low ground farms rent at 20s. or 30s. or more per acre, but in the county of Ross I believe I am right in saying that hill farms are let at 4d. per acre, and that in our Border counties of Scotland the average run of rents is 2s. to 3s. 6d. per acre. Thus, it is very dangerous to generalise, and that is the first point I wish to make.
My second proposition is this: Here is a substantial industry which is of great importance to our national economy. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has already explained, it is an industry which covers 16,000,000 acres and which, I understand, contains 4,750,000 breeding ewes, who will be carried on hills through the winter months when fertility is at its lowest level, Hill sheep farms provide not merely mea': and wool, but also something which may be far less obvious. They contribute very substantially to the fertility of farming on the low ground. That is because in August and September we sell off store lambs and in October we sell off cast ewes. They are bought by the low ground farmers, and are fed on turnips or rape: with great benefit to the fertility of the land on which they are folded.
My next proposition is this: Here is a necessitous industry, necessitous not merely because of the terrible losses we sustained during the 1930s, but for a far bigger and deeper reason. For the last 100 years, I believe, the fertility of the hills, particularly in North and West Scotland, has been decreasing. If you own a low ground farm it is not very difficult to ascertain, over a period of five or seven years, whether its fertility is increasing or decreasing. But I believe it is exceedingly difficult, when farming hill land, to say whether or not the fertility is increasing or decreasing over a long period. It is only by looking at the land at 10 year periods or longer that you know whether the bracken is spreading, whether the drainage is deteriorating and whether the quality of the grass has improved or not.
At the present time, hill sheep farmers are living by means of subsidy, and that 1659 subsidy has been necessary owing to the fact that the product of the hill sheep farms bears little relationship to their outgoings. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, no doubt referring to the country as a whole, said that he thought wages costs were about one-third of the total outgoings. From what I know of the average hill sheep farm in my part of the country, I should say that wages costs represent perhaps as much as 50 per cent, of the total outgoings. That is a very serious matter for the farmers.
We must get away from the subsidy. Therefore, my next proposition is that we need a long term policy that must be put into effect over a number of years. It seems to me there is only one way to do this, and that is by increasing the income of the farmers. If one asks an ordinary farmer how this is to be done, he will say " Give me. higher prices."I believe that method should be rejected right away. To give higher prices for the same number and quality of sheep presupposes continuing the subsidy, which is the sort of thing against which we would all set our faces. I turn to the other alternatives by which increased income can be obtained. First, it is possible to increase the income of the hill sheep farm by having better sheep. It is also possible to increase the income by having a few more sheep. I will not put it higher than that, because, as any hill farmer knows if one overstocks the ground, the sheep begin to deteriorate in quality.
Nevertheless, I believe that if the land were improved, if the bracken were cut and drains were made, it would be possible to increase output of the farms and to have a certain number of extra lambs. Finally, I believe it would be possible, as was admirably explained by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), with whom I entirely agree, to have more black cattle, at any rate on the hills of Scotland, which is the country about which I can speak, because I do not know conditions in England so well. How are we to bring this about? In the first place, we must restore the fertility, the sheep-carrying capacity, of the land. Secondly, we must eradicate disease. Thirdly, we must stop the labour drift which has been going on for many years, 1660 and taking many of the best men away from the farms and into the towns.
Let me deal first with the last point, the human problem of the shepherd. What is it that a shepherd wants? He wants a decent wage, he wants a decent house, he wants reasonable access to that house, so that his wife will not have to walk a mile, a mile and a half, or even two miles to the nearest road end in order to shop from the vans as they come. Finally, he wants to be able to send his children to school from his own house and not to have them boarded out. Those are the things which the average shepherd wants. It is not everybody who wants to be a shepherd, but there are always men who like to live with nature. But we shall never get shepherds to remain on the farms unless better conditions are provided for them. As far as I can see, and subject to such qualifications as I may make later, these conditions are, by and large, provided for in the Bill.
I turn now to the question of research, to which the hon. Member for Chorley drew attention. I agree with him. I do not suppose it is something which can appropriately be brought within this Bill, but I would like to draw the attention of the Minister of Agriculture and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to the research which is required so badly. In doing so, I feel that the Under-Secretary of State, if he were in the House at the moment, would wish to associate himself with me in a tribute to the admirable work that has been done by various research organisations, the Animal Diseases Research Bureau at the Moredun Institute outside Edinburgh and the West of Scotland Agricultural College.
This has a very practical application. Let us take the case of a hill sheep farm of about 2,000 acres or more, carrying about 60 score of sheep. We keep our sheep for six years. In theory—we should keep 200 ewe lambs every year. In practice, we find it necessary to keep 240 or even 250 ewe lambs. If we did not have this wastage, we would be able to send to the market every year 50 more ewe lambs than we do. Those lambs would probably be of rather better quality than the lambs we do send to market, because obviously we keep the best ones for breeding. I estimate their value according to present prices, at say, £2 a head. Therefore, it will be obvious how great a difference could be made if research could eliminate 1661 that amount of disease which is, in my view, reasonably preventible.
Further I want to draw attention not merely to losses caused by death, but to the loss caused by crippling. On my own farm we do not suffer too badly, but on farms with a bad incidence of disease there are large numbers of wretched little lambs that practically never come to anything. Indeed, some of them are so bad that the farmers may take them to the market and give them away as " luck pennies "To one of the big buyers. All that makes a difference. Many deaths and much crippling could be saved each year by eradicating disease.
With regard to improved fertility, most of the measures concerned are referred to in the Bill. One cannot lay down the law about the cutting of bracken, but a good bracken cutter—and there are many on the market—worked by a good man, will cover a very wide acreage. Provided the bracken is cut down during June, when the frond is still curled over and the bracken is weak, so that it bleeds, it is possible fairly easily to eradicate bracken by cutting it twice in a season over a period of three years. I know of ground on my own farm which, when I was a boy, was entirely covered by bracken; the bracken has now been completely killed off. With regard to drainage—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Can the hon. Gentleman say what is the cost of the bracken cutters? I understand it is comparatively low. We require them in the South of England very badly.
If I remember rightly, I bought a bracken cutter before the war and I think it cost me £45. At that time, there was a scheme under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland by which they paid one-sixth of the cost over each of the first three years. The expense is not great. What is expensive is cutting the bracken on stony ground, where a petrol driven bracken cutter will not work. That is a problem that ought to be tackled.
I come now to the question of drainage. As hon. Members will know, we do not have tile drains on the hills but drains of the open trench variety; these drains easily become clogged up with grass. I was horrified when walking over my own farm at Easter to find that drains which were cut in 1939 had deteriorated badly since then. Where drains are not kept up 1662 well the land becomes completely sodden and, as the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) mentioned, there is a very serious risk of liver fluke. There are two other important and practical points in connection with the rehabilitation of hill land. In the first place I am perfectly convinced that in our own country if we could get the lime and superphosphate or the basic slag on to the hills at a cost that was not prohibitive, we should be able to produce very much better grassland. The natural clovers are there and we need only to tickle them up by means of lime or basic slag which, as hon. Members know, contains a fair percentage of phosphoric acid. In the Balfour of Burleigh Report reference was made to the possibility of using aeroplanes, and although when I read it at first I must admit that I was inclined to laugh, in view of the wonderful work done in supplying the 14th Army in Burma by air I now realise that, if it were possible to drop quantities of lime over an area so that it might subsequently be spread, it: would be of inestimable benefit to the hills.
Again, there is the equally important: point of actually breaking up certain hill land and bringing it under good quality grass—the kind of work which was done so splendidly by Professor Stapledon on some of the hills in Wales. I am doing this in a small way on my own farm and know that it is a long and laborious job, but if one can break up, say, five acres at a time, sow it with corn, then put it under turnips and finally sow it out with rape and a good mixture of grass seed, this produces grass of good value of quite different feeding value from that of the poor quality hill grass. Take the case of a ewe which is not nursing her lamb well on the hills; if she is brought down and fed on good grass in the fields she will generally nurse her lamb successfully and may actually improve in condition. Such is the difference between the value of the hill grass and the grass in the fields.
May I say a word about cattle? I would stress the importance of having additional cattle for two reasons; first, because they will increase the income of the farm, and, second, because, indirectly, they will greatly increase the fertility of the farm. It is a very important point in farming to look at that kind of thing. Supposing the cattle brought in no money at all, it would still be worth having them for the increased 1663 fertility they provided. Nevertheless, I believe that the hills can carry more cattle and, with great respect to the numbers of extremely wise shepherds whom I know, there is a certain prejudice to cattle on the ground that they take the grass away from the sheep. If the farm has too many cattle, clearly that is the case, but where the number is reasonable —not, I think, the number of cattle mentioned by the hon. Member for West Perth, who was speaking about the Highlands in the old days when they were carrying a very much larger population than today and when there was a much more intensive form of farming going on—I believe they would be a very real asset.
Finally, may I say a word about the cost, because I have been interested by what hon. Members have said today and am myself not altogether happy on the subject. Everybody seems to have taken the cost as £5 million, whereas in point of fact the total amount of expenditure that is provided for is £10 million since the Government are to provide only a 50 per cent, grant. But will £10 million be sufficient? I shall be very grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister will deal with this point in winding up, because it was specifically mentioned in the Balfour of Burleigh Report on Scotland that a considerably larger sum might be needed. There seems to be a considerable discrepancy between the Government's proposals and those considered necessary by the two hill sheep farming reports. I hope the Second Reading of this Bill will be given today and that the Measure will ultimately become law. When it becomes law I hope the landlords and tenants will submit well considered, ordered schemes and that these will be put into effect at the earliest possible date so as to provide for the rehabilitation of the quality of our hill land which is so badly needed in the national interest.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)
I do not propose to follow in great detail the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot) in regard to the conditions of sheep farming in the Border country, but I should like at the outset to say how much I agree with his remarks about cattle. I believe there is a prejudice against cattle and sheep grazing on the same pasture, and though I have no personal experience on 1664 hill land, in that regard, I am satisfied that there is no reason at all why in the lowlands cattle and sheep should not feed on the same pasture. I support this Bill in principle although I believe my hon. Friends on this side of the House will have a good many Amendments for consideration in Committee. The scope of the Bill was very carefully described to us by the Joint Under-Secretary in moving the Second Reading, when he referred to such figures as 16 million acres which can be considered as hill farming land in the United Kingdom, and which represents 34 per cent, of the total agricultural land. These are big figures, and it behoves us all to do anything, by suitable legislation, to restore the prosperity of the hill farms in our country.
I would ask the Minister one or two questions which I hope he may answer when he comes to reply, especially in regard to improvement schemes. It is my view that if, as the Joint Under-Secretary suggested, the Government receive the wholehearted support of the industry in carrying out this Bill, then it will be for the Government to help on their side, and I believe that real success in the operation of this Bill will lie in the sympathetic administration of each individual improvement scheme. Each locality differs to a very great extent. In the last hour or so we have heard two hon. Members refer to their idea of a low level economic sheep farm varying from 300 acres to 1,300 acres. That is a very great difference, but it only goes to show how different are conditions in different parts of the country. I believe that the success of any of these schemes must depend to a large extent on the Minister using local knowledge in regard to the different schemes that are put up to him.
We should try to look at these not as at cut-and-dried bureaucratic schemes. If local knowledge is availed of, the result will be very large dividends in the success of the scheme. Furthermore, the average hill farm dweller today, although he listens to the wireless in the evening and to the national news, does not read a great many departmental circulars, and does not inform himself on the details of matters issued from the Ministry. Unless the Ministry take care that the information which they communicate is presented in a simple and palatable form, it does not achieve its object. When the Minister is 1665 making plans, after this Bill has passed into law, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should arrange for simple, short but detailed statements of the procedure under the Bill to be circulated, in any way he thinks proper, in the districts in which he thinks that information will be most useful in connection with schemes to be initiated. In the part of the country which I have the honour to represent I am satisfied that it is important that firsthand information should be circulated in order that the benefits of the Bill can be understood and we can cooperate with the Government.
When the Bill becomes law many schemes will be brought into operation. I shall not look upon the Bill as a success if we have just one or two very big schemes covering very large areas. I hope that the full advantage of the comprehensive Schedule, to which I shall refer in a few moments, will be available, and that we shall have many schemes of many varieties to improve our hill farming.
There is one question which must be clarified. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the relationship between farming and forestry. His reference was all very interesting as far as it went, but it did not go far enough. I ask the Minister to go further. I suggest that a survey be made as soon as practicable to clarify the position as to the land likely to be taken over by the Forestry Commission. There was a difference of opinion in 1945, during the passage of the Forestry Act, about who should be responsible for the afforestation of this country. Under that Measure the Ministry became definitely responsible for both forestry and agriculture, and the Minister has the same authority for the two services. If we are to urge landowners, tenant farmers and other members of the agricultural community to go in for schemes, it is vital that they should know where they are, so far as forestry is concerned. I think it will be agreed on all sides of the House that we want to see the two services going forward on parallel lines. There is no doubt that in certain areas the land will benefit if it is put down to afforestation, possibly for 100 years. Long after we are gone it can come back again to sheep. If this is to be done, it is vital that people should know what is to be done, and that money should not be wasted in comprehensive schemes which, in a few years, would become valueless because the 1666 Forestry Commission would come down and take over the area.
A point which has not been mentioned in the Debate so far is the definition of hill farming. Clause 1 (3) clearly indicates a definition. From inquiries I have made, I understand that Scotland is satisfied with the Clause as it stands, and that many other people, who have more authority to speak on the matter than I, are also satisfied that the Clause is clear; but I am not happy about it. I ask the Minister to give it further consideration between now and when we consider the matter in Committee. In England we have a considerable amount of marginal land. The question is where to draw the line under the definition in Clause 1 (3). I have been told, and I believe that the information is accurate, that certain county committees have used the altitude of farms as a test for eligibility for sheep or cattle subsidies. I think the Minister will agree that it should not be only one set of circumstances. I believe it is a wrong principle to tie local committees down to a particular formula which they may find it difficult to administer.
To take a hypothetical case, I would say that under these schemes the average rainfall should come into the calculation. We do not want land to be used for hill farming which is suitable for arable crops. We want to encourage the agriculture of land which is suitable for hill farming. I have mentioned rainfall because in some Western districts of this country you may sew a crop, and get a growth of corn which, in nine years out of 10, it is impossible to harvest owing to the extremely heavy rainfall, and it is left in the field. I therefore ask the Minister to look carefully into the definition before we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
I turn to the improvements which may be included in a scheme, with reference to the First Schedule. The list is fairly comprehensive, but I am horrified at the announcement, made by the Joint Under-Secretary, that the third item is to be washed out. This was printed and introduced by the Government on 17th February. I read it with very great interest and care:Erection, improvement or reconditioning of cottages attached, or to be attached, to a hill sheep farm, and let, or to be let, under a contract of service.1667 In other words, a tied cottage. One must enter the realm of controversy on this subject because, in my view and in my part of the world, we want more tied cottages in our rural community, and not fewer. I know that is entirely a contrary view to that held by Members on the other side of the House, but it absolutely defeats me, why whenever one mentions tied cottages Members on the other side get a sort of funny feeling at the back of the throat and wriggle in their seats and think this is some terrible device.
§ Mr. Alpass
We are opposed to the tied cottage system because we know it and have experienced it. Our constituents have experienced the injustices and evils which have been perpetrated under it.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
We take an entirely contrary view. We believe that in the interests of agriculture and in the interest of the farm labourers, a tied cottage is a most satisfactory method of putting people near the place where they work and not a long way from it—in a house on the spot. We have found from experience, certainly in the Northern part of England, that this system is most satisfactory. It is a terrible thing that this item should be deleted, and I hope that my hon. Friends and I may have an Amendment later on to reinsert it in the Bill.
Apart from tied cottages, I think the Schedule is very good. I would like an addition to the Schedule which would include electricity for " agricultural or domestic purposes," because if we want, as I am certain we all want, to see an extension of electricity in our country districts, it would not be wise to say that we could have electricity in the cow barns and electricity in the house which is built for the bull—which I understand is much easier to build than a house for human beings—and yet not allow electricity in the farm house or the dwelling house of the farm labourer. I would also refer to the committees which are to be set up under Clauses 30 and 31 of the Bill. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) dealt faithfully with this subject. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, when he replies, will tell us in more detail the exact functions of these advisory committees and their composition, and, further, that he will say a word to us regarding the local committees which are 1668 being set up under Clause 31. I take it, and I would like to know if I am wrong, that the war agricultural executive committees will in practice be these committees under Clause 31. I believe they are the right people for the job, and in practice they are the people who will organise the schemes and administer them in the various districts.
If that is so, and the House would like to know if it is so or not, quite obviously there should be some proviso in the new rearrangement which the Minister is making with the agricultural executive committees to make certain that there are representatives who are experienced in and have knowledge of hill farming among the members of the agricultural committees which will have to operate schemes under this Bill. I suggest the possibility of joint committees where county boundaries cover a block of hill farming area. That is very marked in England. The North Riding of Yorkshire and the constituency of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) join right in the middle of a hill farming area. Further North, the county of Durham joins Cumberland and still further North Cumberland joins Dumfries in similar circumstances. The actual area where the schemes, if they are to be most successful, will have to operate, will be East to West across county boundaries rather than North to South. I suggest the Minister ought either to have joint committees in these cases or, if that proves to be impossible, he should have representatives from one committee sitting on neighbouring committees so that the administration of exactly similar areas can go forward in comparable fashion, under the same organisation.
Much has been said about finance. Ii this scheme is to be the success that the Government expect and that we hope it will be, the Minister will agree that £4,000,000 in five years, with a possible £1,000,000 in addition, will not go far for all the work that has to be done, but it is a start in the right direction in the rehabilitation of our hill farming land. Our hill farmers up and down the country produce as good a sheep as any other country in the world. They can produce as good cattle as any other country in the world, and I believe we have to encourage a very big increase in the cattle popula- 1669 tion among our hill farms. Within these hill districts there is living a race of men who are worthy of the name of British agriculture.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Forest of Dean)
This Bill is probably the only practical Measure which the Government can adopt at the moment to deal with this question. I am not afraid that its provisions are going to enable land owners to enrich themselves at the public expense because there are sufficient safeguards in it against anything of that kind. Clause 8 (3) lays down that there can be no increased rents charged by an owner except in respect of the 50 per cent, which he himself has had to find for these improvements, that being the condition under which improvements from State sources can come.
§ Mr. Price
I do not suppose that anyone who has laid out money on improving a farm wants to go and sell it. If he has any sense, presumably he is in the business in order to make it run, not just to speculate. There are other wider considerations raised by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) and others, which are important considerations. Hill farming, as carried out over a very large part of the Highlands of Scotland, Wales and the North of England, has been carried out by small family farmers, farming anything up to 300 acres. These small farms are most uneconomic. The Economic Section of the Department of Agriculture at Aberystwyth University, in a very interesting publication called "Hill Sheep Farming in Wales" said:On economic grounds it seems established that it is desirable and even necessary to increase the size of hill farms.Then it gives a series of interesting tables showing that the output per man is only one-quarter on the smaller farm of what it is on the larger farm. Those are serious considerations, and I submit to the Minister that he must consider whether it is not money thrown away to lay it out on many of these farms. What is necessary, together with this improvement scheme, is the re-organisation of the whole layout of these farms, and it is a question whether a large number should not be thrown into one holding. In other words, the question is whether a piecemeal method of dealing 1670 with this problem voluntarily is enough, or whether it is not a question of dealing with it wholesale and compulsorily. I think there is reason in some of the arguments of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who say that ultimately the State will have to take this matter in hand; that, where voluntary methods fail, we shall have to go in for compulsory methods and that the State must eventually take over considerable areas and become the landowner itself. I would not interfere with voluntary schemes which this Bill makes possible. I would let them carry on, because we are a practical people in this country and if, as a result of this scheme, we can get practical and sound voluntary schemes, let us use them. However, I do not hide from myself that drastic methods will ultimately be necessary—
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that his remarks regarding the size of the units in Scotland and Wales and the hill sheep farms North of the Tweed are very misleading?
§ Mr. Price
I think it is also established in Scotland that the larger sheep farm is more economic than the smaller one. The actual areas of the units may be different, but I think the principle stands. I welcome very much Clauses 16 and 17 of this Bill, which will affect my constituency, where from time immemorial we have had the commoners of the Dean running their sheep in the Forest, originally as compensation granted by the King, far off in the Middle Ages, for damage done by his deer. The commoners today have organised themselves into an association and have been trying for some time to improve the breed of sheep. Unfortunately, a certain number of people always stay out of this association, and it is still possible for a type of ram to be used in the forest which is not a credit to the commoners.
§ Mr. Price
It is of a special kind. That is a point which I think will have to be considered. It is from a type containing a large amount of Welsh blood, and therefore I think it can reasonably be regarded as a hardy type It lives in the forest, 1,000 feet up, and can, I think, be regarded as coming within the terms of this Bill. I welcome this Bill as a Measure for improving this type of sheep.
Finally, I hope the Minister will administer this Bill with discretion. Much of the land which is now running sheep, and has done so for a very long time, should really be growing something else. When I served for three years as a Forestry Commissioner, I travelled over a very large part of England, Scotland and Wales to see the State forests and I had occasion to inspect much of the land now run in to sheep. Much of it, I felt, should now be growing trees. The land is crying out for trees because nature calls for rotation of crops, and for 150 years, as the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) pointed out, much of this land has been growing nothing else but sheep. Sheep are very dainty grazers which can damage the pasture, if continued too long, as every farmer knows. Not only that, but in my opinion the enormous spread of bracken in the uplands of England and the Highlands of Scotland is due to excessive sheeping. Bracken is nature's reply to mismanagement by man. Things nave gone so far that I think it is irremediable in some cases, and some of this land can only go to trees. It is true there is other land where the process of deterioration has not gone so far, and where a judicious mixture of sheep and cattle can provide the answer. After all, cattle represented the wealth of the Highland clans in the days before 1745, and I see no reason why they should not redeem a large part of these uplands once more—not sheep alone because cattle do not graze so daintily, do not damage the land by their operations, and consequently I believe they can be a means of revitalising the land. So I hope the Minister, who is now the Pooh-Bah of rural economy and can decide on matters concerning agriculture and forestry, will decide what land is to go to agriculture, and what to forestry. There is a great responsibility on his shoulders, and I hope he will judge correctly.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
There are two parts of England specially interested in this Bill. One is Wales, about which the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) is more qualified to speak than I am, and the other is the North of England, the four Northern counties. In those counties sheep come next to cattle as the important source of income to farmers generally. In some farms, of course, they come top and the cattle come next. Therefore, this Bill is welcome in the Northern counties. It may turn out, however, to be a little disappointing in practice, partly because £5 million is not enough for the whole of Great Britain, partly because five years is too short a period. Both of those shortcomings can be corrected. The time can be increased if the Bill is found to be a success, and so can the money.
There is another limitation which I think may present difficulties later. I am not sure whether I ought to declare myself as personally interested in this Bill or not. I am a farmer, but I do not know whether my land is high enough to qualify for help under this Bill as it is at present. If the rigid definition of " hill " remains, then the Bill will apply only to very high land and I think there will be a good deal of disappointment amongst large numbers of farmers who have had a difficult time during the war. Their farms have been too low to get the full benefit of the hill sheep and cattle subsidies and too high to benefit from the encouragement given to arable farmers. They are mostly not large farmers. Their farms could be enormously improved by the sort of methods outlined in the First Schedule to the Bill. I hope the Minister will be prepared to consider widening the definition of " hill-farming " somewhat in order that it will not be applicable only to the tops of the hills. Even in Scotland, I believe—in the Border country, with which I am a little familiar, as I occasionally make raids to the other side of the Border —there are many farms which are not properly " hill " farms but which have experienced the same sort of difficulties as hill farms in the Northern counties. That problem, I believe also applies very much to Wales.
There is a close economic connection between the higher farms and lower marginal farms. The whole sheep industry of the North of England is one, 1673 whether it is on the high, medium or low ground farms, because the sheep are bred on the hills. They are then crossed and come down lower for feeding and breeding various crosses on the low farms. It is important that the economic stability of the high farm should be put on a sound basis because without it the whole sheep industry of the North of England would crumble; but we must take the whole thing together. I am one who believes that in the future there will be opportunities for a great development of the sheep industry. We are one of the few countries of the world who really appreciate good mutton, but at present approximately half our mutton is imported. It may be that we can increase consumption, and certainly people would be very ready to do so at present. I believe there is a great future for the type of grassland flocks which is the sort of sheep farming practised in the North of England. It is very important not to confine assistance given under this Bill only to the very high farms. The marginal farms need all these things, improved water supplies, improved buildings, improved grassland and all the rest. If the intention of the Bill is to increase production in the next few years, I believe we would get a greater increase from the marginal farms than from the high farms.
I wish to say a word about a matter which is referred to a great deal in the two reports on Scottish and English hill farms. That is the question of research. No doubt it is not necessary to put what is being done about research into the Bill, but I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us something about it, so that we can see the whole matter as one picture. In the Northern counties of England we felt at one time that the problems relating to sheep were not getting their fair consideration, and between the wars there developed a voluntary organisation of research into sheep diseases. It has done invaluable work. I refer to the work done by Lyle Stewart, of the Duke of Northumberland's Fund, in cooperation with King's College in Newcastle. I do not know what is going to be done under the new Advisory Service, but it is quite clear that one of the problems in which we need help in the North of England is that of sheep diseases. It is not only a veterinary problem; what is required is research into all the interlocking problems of disease, 1674 nutrition, management of land and systems of stock keeping. If the Minister can tell us what is to be done under the new Advisory Service it would be very helpful. I think that modern engineering developments have altered the position in many ways. With modern tractors, as Sir George Stapledon has pointed out, all kinds of things can be done with rough land which could never be done before, and there are great possibilities now for improving high and marginal farms. With properly coordinated research, great progress could be made in increasing the productivity of these farms.
Several speakers have referred to the question of afforestation and again, in order to see what the Government intend to do, I ask the Minister whether he could say something about the survey which I understand is going on in the Northern counties, and perhaps elsewhere, into afforestation. Can the Minister give any sort of principle which has been laid down to guide those conducting the survey, as to what land is to be used for forestry and what land for farming? I feel that we have got to a period now when it is possible that much land considered only useful for forestry could be improved so that its output for farming would be so increased that it would be too good for forestry. I share the view of many farmers that it is a pity to see some of the land being planted.
I believe there is room for the development of the sheep industry. But, like other hon. Members, I also believe that cattle can play a valuable part on the high hills. We have an example from the Lake District of shorthorn cattle being kept high up on the hills in Cumberland and Westmorland. I am not sure that under this Bill the keeping and breeding of dairy cattle on the hills can be encouraged. As I see it, the object of the improvement scheme must be to improve the land for the purpose of " keeping a hardy breed of sheep."It may be that indirectly, by breeding shorthorn cattle in the Lake District the land is being improved for " a hardy breed of sheep," but it is rather indirect. Surely the object of the Bill ought to be, not "The improvement of the land for a hardy breed of sheep " but the improvement of the productivity of the land both for sheep and cattle, in some cases beef cattle, in other cases dairy cattle. An alteration in the objective of the Bill might be desirable. In Scotland I notice that the subsidy on 1675 cattle is operated in such a way that a premium is given to breeding cattle, a much larger premium than is given to breeding cattle in England.
Taking the long view, the right policy is to encourage breeding cattle. Surely the hills should be the reservoir for breeding, not merely a place where cattle can go up and be fed on the surplus grass in the summer. It may mean that more buildings are required on the hill farms. It may be that the balance of summer keep and winter keep must be adjusted. More meadows are required for hay in winter. That is exactly what this Bill is to encourage. Surely the financial encouragement of the cattle subsidy should be adjusted to encourage people to keep breeding stock, and not merely summering cattle. There is a shortage of store cattle and it would be better if blue greys and other store cattle suitable for whatever district is concerned were bred on the hills.
In regard to one special point which I wish to raise, again I think the Bill should be improved. On some high land in my part of the country there are common rights that are not " stinted."I am not sure whether the word " stint "Is altogether understood. It means that on those hills various farmers have rights to graze sheep and cattle. There is no definition as to how many cattle and sheep each person may graze. In the old days the lord of the manor laid down how many should be grazed by each commoner, but that has fallen out of use today. There is now no definition as to how many cattle or sheep commoners may graze, with the result that if improvements schemes are carried out they may easily be ruined by overstocking on the part of a few of the commoners. In the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, it is stated that the Minister will not take action to meet that point if there is objection. I wonder whether that is really a wise policy.
In one case I can think of during the war about 60 per cent, of persons concerned were agreed that if improvements were to be carried out on common land it was only reasonable that there should be some definition as to what cattle and sheep each of the commoners was allowed to graze. I am not asking for the Minister to take compulsory powers to carry out the improvement. I am only asking that a 1676 reasonable majority of commoners concerned should first of all agree what each one's rights are, and then, when it comes to a question of the improvement, they could proceed on a known basis of who is interested in the common, and the cost of the improvement could be properly adjusted to that basis. That is a point which might be dealt with in the Committee stage. The Bill is valuable. But I share the views of some hon. Members who wonder whether it will really be sufficiently used to meet the considerable needs of hill farmers. There are other matters like security of tenure for those who undertake this work which will have to be more carefully watched. I congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in the way he introduced this Bill, and generally I wish it every success.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Lavers (Barnard Castle)
I am pleased to have this opportunity to add my contribution to a Debate on agriculture. I have listened to previous Debates on agricultural problems and have heard speakers urge the need for cereal production. That is understood and accepted, because cereal production plays such a vital part in our agricultural economy, and because of the world shortage of cereals, and its consequent effect on postwar world recovery. This evening we have an opportunity of discussing another important aspect of British agriculture—hill farming. The Bill deals specifically with a vital section of agriculture, and is giving my colleagues from the North a great deal of concern. When I speak of "The North "In relation to this Bill I feel reasonably proud, because what counties have made a greater contribution to hill farming than Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland? It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that the types of sheep or cattle which are bred in the Northern counties are second to none, not only in this country but in any part of the world.
Having said that, I am not unmindful that my colleagues on both sides of the House are expressing some concern about the Bill, whether they represent Scotland, South Wales or the Northern part of Yorkshire. I have the honour of representing a largish rural constituency in the county of Durham. That county is usually associated with coal. Usually nine out of ten speakers from Durham 1677 speak about coal. It is not hard to explain why they do so, but in addition to the production of coal for the nation, in our county of Durham, hill sheep fanning plays a very large part. According to the latest figures for Durham the number of sheep in the county qualifying for subsidy during 1945 was 58,800. Those are ewes and shearlings and so represent the size of the breeding flocks. The total number of ewes and shearlings in the county on the corresponding date, 4th December, 1944, was 79,400 so that the hill sheep represent almost exactly 60 per cent, of the total in Durham.
I suggest that hill farms in "This country have been for a long time the distressed areas of British agriculture. Our hill grazing has definitely deteriorated. It is commonly agreed that the farms need new life in the form of capital improvements. Other speakers have referred to the fact that hill farmers, as such, have not enjoyed the relative prosperity of the lowland farmers. They have not benefited from wartime prices and, as a consequence, have suffered. Recently, the Government announced their long term policy for agriculture which guarantees prices and markets and which, I think, received the broad approval of the farming community. I suggest that this little Bill—it is little in one sense—will enable the Minister to build up still further that long range policy to which he referred in a speech some time ago. I regard the Bill as an important interim Measure. It will stimulate the hill sheep industry and it will also help the lowland farmers because they are dependent on the former for the supply of sheep stuffs. Our flocks must be improved for breeding purposes. Everything possible should be done to restore the country's livestock. That is not a short term but a long term policy. In the First Schedule there are suggested:Improvements which may be included in schemes for rehabilitation of hill farming land.I refer particularly to item 17:Reseeding and regeneration of grazings and other cultural operations.The real trouble is the low production of our hill farms. The quality and yield of our pastures require improvement. Speaking recently at the East of Scotland College of Agriculture at Edinburgh, Professor J. T. MacKie mentioned that two more hill research stations would be 1678 opened in Scotland, one in the West of Scotland and one on the Border, which would also serve the North of England. I do not wish to appear parochial, but I would like some information regarding research stations. How will Durham be served? I ask that question because Durham had a reputation in agriculture long before war agricultural committees were ever thought of, when a democratically elected people did a job of work. We have a good reputation. Former Ministers on the opposite side of the House were the first to pay the highest tributes to the Socialist representatives on the agricultural committees in that great and noble county. Can the Minister tell us where Durham will be served in the future in regard to research? Will this Bill cater for agricultural research in hill farming? I would also like to know whether item 17 of the First Schedule caters for this Would county councils, through their agricultural colleges, be empowered to have Government aid if such research is conducted? In regard to finance, I would like to ask whether the Minister has a. scheme by which each hill farming district will get an equitable share of the moneys provided by the State. That to me is very vital. I do not want to see Scotland getting away with the biggest share.
Finally, I would say that we can rehabilitate our land by improving it, but unless we are going to improve the conditions of the people who have been engaged in this industry for a long time, I am afraid it will be a wasted effort. If this Bill does nothing else, it will become a slum clearance Bill for the hill farming industry. If it serves no other purpose than to rid the countryside of the slums which exist today, it will have done a grand job of work. In reference to the people who are carrying into effect the hill farming policy now, and who have done it in years gone by—especially in the war years—I would say that patriotism has held them to the job. Believe me, if I know anything about the future educational policy of this Government, unless something is done to make the conditions of the home life of these people attractive, we shall have a migration from this industry into something far more sweet, and with a far brighter outlook.
I welcome the Bill. I believe it will bring new life to the people who live in isolated and inaccessible parts of rural 1679 England. They should have modern houses with complete modern amenities similar to the houses of urban dwellers. Roads should be made available to the farms, and they should be provided with adequate water and electricity supplies. In short, they should have the same facilities as those enjoyed by people in the urban areas. Good will has been expressed from both sides of the House for this Bill, and I believe if we are sincere in trying to make this Bill a great Measure and if the job is done on the lines indicated in the First Schedule, then we shall accomplish something.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I have no experience of the noble county of Durham and, therefore, I cannot follow the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Lavers) very far in what he has said. The capital of the county I happen to represent is the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Inverary, centre of the largest sheep farming county in the British Isles. I have listened carefully to the speeches that have been made in this Debate. Every speech has been notable for its information and for the experience of the hon. Members who have made them. There have been very valuable contributions which should prove helpful to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The speeches have been on the whole extremely informative and such as Members in all parts of the House could support. I hope that my own words will be judged to have been based on some experience.
Most hon. Members have said they welcome the Bill, and we in the Western Highlands of Scotland welcome it particularly. I represent what is perhaps the one county in the British Isles that suffered most, much more than other districts, by the constant depression of the hill farming industry. There are several points which we shall hope to raise with the Minister during the Committee stage, but they are points into which there is no need to go in detail now. I do, however, feel that on the question of compulsion, which the hon. Gentleman explained to the House, something needs to be said. Why have the Government thought it unnecessary to make these schemes compulsory? I feel that many 1680 of them might be completely wrecked and rendered useless by the fact that certain farms and certain estates might carry out improvement schemes, and yet lie side by side with other farms from which disease and all kinds of hindrances to the hill farming industry could cross very easily. I feel that these schemes should be compulsory throughout the hill farming areas. I also think that facilities should be given to enable credits to be obtained on reasonable terms for those tenants and farmers, owners and occupiers, who cannot raise the necessary money to carry out such schemes.
The total of £5 million has been criticised by several hon. Members. I have no doubt that, long before this period of five years has expired, the £5 million will have been expended, especially in view of the third item in the list of improvements in the Schedule to the Bill and in view of the question of the tied cottage.
I must confess that I was horrified to hear the Joint Under-Secretary say what he did about the tied cottage. The hon. Gentleman is a Scotsman, representing not only lowland agriculture, but highland agriculture, and he said that the tied cottage must go. I think it is very difficult to understand what he meant. I know that many hon. Members on the other side disagree with the idea of the tied cottage, and I know that the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway does, although he says he has not the experience that many of his constituents have. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that many of my constituents live miles away in shepherds' cottages up long glens, sometimes three, four, five and even six miles away from the main farm buildings. Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that, when a shepherd comes to the end of his time or gives notice, he can stay on in that cottage and that the farmer must build another in the same spot for his successor?
§ Mr. Alpass
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to me, may I say that we maintain that these men should not be turned out on to the roadside with no alternative accommodation.
§ Major McCallum
It is not only the farming industry which is affected by the tied cottage. In our part of the world it is absolutely necessary, but it is the 1681 practice in many other industries. In the gasworks all over Great Britain, for instance, men who work there live in cottages near the gasworks, and if they leave that work, they have to get out of the cottages. To say that what is known as the tied cottage should be abolished in the hill sheep farms of the Highlands of Scotland is to show a complete misunderstanding of the situation.
Farmers in the Western Highlands feel very strongly about security of tenure. This question has been raised in the Debate, and I do not want to go into it fully now. There is also the intricate question of sheep stock valuations. I can assure the Minister that on the Committee stage he will be hearing quite a lot about the various views of hill sheep farmers all over the Highlands on these matters.
Then there is the question of heather burning. I feel that it might be possible during the Committee stage to have the Clauses relating to heather burning amended rather on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and that some kind of approved scheme could be put forward by the Minister of Agriculture laying down what should be done. I have heard it said that all heather over seven years of age should be burnt. That may be perfectly all right in the East, but seven years old heather on the West coast is still considered young, and what we are burning is heather that is 14 or 15 years old. To lay down a period like that is unwise, and I am sure that something on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend could be done in consultation with the committees which would solve this question much more satisfactorily than in the way laid down under the Bill.
I want to refer to the question of wool. For the wool product of the hill farms there is at present a guaranteed price. The Minister will say that it is to continue, but only to the end of 1947, after which time we do not know what is to happen. It is not included in the list of guaranteed prices announced by his right hon. Friend the other day. I ask that, on this question, which is very important to the hill farming industry, we may be given some further indication about the future of the guaranteed price, or the nature of any wool marketing scheme, or whatever may be introduced.
1682 I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) has left the Chamber, because he raised a point in which I am particularly interested. I know that he is a former Forestry Commissioner and feels very strongly on the question of forestry and agriculture. He suggested that some land at present used for sheep grazing could be much more suitably put down to forestry, and I quite agree with that, but I think the hon. Member admitted that, in certain cases, good agricultural land has been planted by the Forestry Commission which ought never to have been planted. I see no reason why it should not come about that certain land, even on the same estate, should have cattle and sheep on it while trees are also planted on parts of it—land which grows nothing now, but would provide ample opportunities for the planting of shelter belts, which are badly needed on Highland farms. There is no reason why that should not be done instead of the present method of segregation of forestry from agriculture. That would be a much more suitable way.
One hon. Member opposite referred 10 the size of farms. He said that in the North of England they averaged about 300 acres and that they were not big enough. Hill sheep farms in the Highlands of Scotland average thousands of acres and when one realises what the ground is like, one can readily understand why. In parts of Argyllshire, on Rannoch Moor and in the Glencoe area, 14 acres would carry one sheep—not 14 sheep 'o the acre. The Forestry Commission do not plant that sort of land; it would involve too much work, but in the old days that land was part of the old Caledonian Forest and there is no reason why it should not go back to forest.
There are two other points to which I wish briefly to refer. The first is the question of bracken, which has been mentioned again and again by hon. Members on all sides of the House. I know that several of the research departments of the agricultural colleges in Scotland are trying to find some use to which bracken can be put, but are they also studying means by which it can be killed? It is said by scientists that it might be possible to impregnate the bracken with some kind of fungus which would kill it off, but would not cause damage to the soil or grass growing there. It is to be hoped 1683 that we shall learn something about this research fairly soon.
Finally, there is the question of transport and freights, which was raised by one hon. Member. If there is one part of the country in which the high freight charges for the transport of farm produce, and livestock in particular, are badly in need of revision, it is in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland. There we have poor communications and steamer services on which occasionally, we cannot depend Perhaps later this week, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I may be able to dissertate upon this acute question. These tremendous freight charges have to be added to the other costs paid by hill farmers which fanners on the mainland do not have to pay. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I am sure that this Bill will be welcomed by almost everybody on all sides of the House. It is only a beginning, but I believe that the result will be such that, whatever Government are in power at the time, they will realise that the experiment is well worth going on with, and that, if not in our time then in that of our grandchildren, the hill sheep industry will be restored to its former great place in agriculture.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
On the few occasions that I have been privileged to intervene in Second Reading Debates on Bills it has been my pleasure to accord them my warm and wholehearted approval because they have been based on sound Socialist principles and were substantial implementations of the electoral programme submitted to, and endorsed by, the electors at the last General Election. But, to my very sincere and deep ' regret, I find myself unable to accord that support to the Bill now before the House because, in my submission, it is at variance with, and opposed to, the Labour Party policy as I have always conceived it, and certainly not in accord with our programme submitted at the last Election. My quarrel with the Bill is directed not so much at the object which is sought to be achieved as at the method by which that object is sought to be obtained. I realise that the rehabilitation of hill farmland is absolutely essential to a sound agricultural economy, and to a well balanced agricultural industry, but I am strongly opposed to the subsidisa- 1684 tion out of State money, of private landlords without any safeguard so far as the capital sum advanced is concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) said he felt that there were ample safeguards in the Bill. I realise that in one Clause it is stated that no increased rent can be charged by the landowner on account of the money put into this operation under the Bill by the State. But there is absolutely no provision in the Bill to prevent the landlord pocketing the increased sum realised when he comes to sell the land. My hon. Friend also said that the people to whom money was advanced in this way would not want to sell, but I have noticed that good landlords do not live for ever and that their estates have to be realised. I have witnessed that sort of thing two or three times in my own Division. The effect of this Bill will be that the tenants who want to acquire their own holdings will have to pay enhanced prices because of the State money advanced and that when we get to the stage envisaged by the hon. Member who introduced this Bill—when we shall do our duty and take over the land—the State will have to pay an enhanced price on account of the money put into these hill farms under this Bill.
I have seen and heard Ministers justify the things they have submitted to this House by quoting from a certain document, " Let us Face the Future."That document is conspicuous by its absence today and, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will endeavour to repair the omission. As I have said, this Bill is opposed to Labour Party policy and I wish to quote a statement from " Let us Face the Future,"The author of which is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture who sponsored this Bill. It is contended that there is no alternative to the proposal contained in the Bill—to give public money to private landlords—except to allow the industry to decay. What did the right hon. Gentleman write in " Let us Face the Future " when appealing for the support of the people of this country in order to give the Labour Party power to carry out its policy? He said:If a landlord cannot or will not provide proper facilities for his tenant farmers the State should take over his land at a fair valuation.I submit that that is a definite and categorical statement. But this Bill does 1685 not suggest that when a landlord says he is unable to provide proper facilities that his land will be taken over by the State at a fair valuation. I quite agree with hon. Members opposite; I am very pessimistic as to the success of voluntaryism because I have had some experience of it. Instead of implementing the very definite statement that the State should take over the land at a fair valuation, it is proposed to adopt the traditional Tory policy of subsidising the landlord out of public funds. I am not surprised that this Bill should be received with favour on the opposite benches. I think I can say with truth that the hand is the hand of our present Minister of Agriculture, but the voice is that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson).
§ Mr. Alpass
Whether it is the wrong way round or not, there can be no denial that the Bill was conceived under the aegis of the Conservative Minister of Agriculture and that, in effect, it has been produced by the present Minister with practically no alteration.
§ Mr. Snadden
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the late Secretary of State for Scotland who collaborated with my right hon. Friend was a Socialist?
§ Mr. Alpass
I remember the Leader of the House answering a statement of that sort in connection with another Bill. He said that when we were Members of the Coalition Government we were circumscribed, we had not freedom. Now that we have won the Election and have a majority, we can implement our own principles in our own Bills. That is what I am appealing to the Minister to do in this connection. The Under-Secretary of State said that although we did not fight the Election on the principle of land nationalisation, we were going towards it. In " Let Us Face the Future,"In another paragraph—I do not know whether my right hon. Friend was responsible for that —these words appear:Labour believes in land nationalisation and will work towards it.I suggest that instead of facing the future in this Bill, my right hon. Friend is facing backwards and looking into the past, and, instead of this Bill taking us on the road 1686 to nationalisation, it will entrench and strengthen private landlordism.
What alternative can be adopted without involving us in any breach of basic principle? In the Report of the Committee on Hill Sheep Farming in England and Wales, there are two significant statements. We rind in paragraph 43:Executive committees should be responsible, under Ministerial direction, for the administration of Government policy in respect of hill lands in private ownership.On the next page is the passage:Where, in the opinion of the Executive Committee, assisted programmes should be applied to hill lands and the owners or occupiers are not prepared to accept a scheme prepared by the Executive Committee, the Committee should, where practicable, and subject to necessary right of appeal, recommend the State purchase of the farm or estate.That is the policy which I, personally, and some of my colleagues are anxious to see the Minister adopt, rather than this old policy of subsidising private landowners out of public funds. There is a precedent for this. Some of us have tabled an Amendment to the Money Resolution asking that the money, instead of being given, should be loaned. I would tell hon. Members opposite that I am not so much concerned about the amount, provided the money is not given. I do not mind whether £5 million, £10 million, £15 million or even more if necessary is spent on wise schemes, provided the money is loaned, so that the State shall have some quid pro quo for the public money which is put into this industry. This, I submit, is a practical proposition. War agricultural executive committees have already exercised their powers and have taken over very large areas of hill farming land; they have improved it immeasurably, and I see no reason why that practice should not be further extended.
Even if it did, the land would belong to the State and they would be improving and increasing the value of their own property.
§ Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
Is not that land to be handed back at the end of a certain period?
§ Mr. Alpass
That may be so, but the landlords would be charged for the improved value. There is no safeguard of that description in this Bill. State money is given to the landlords and they can get away with the increased value on account of the money advanced by the State.
I do not want to take up unnecessary time, Mr. Speaker; I think you recognise that I never make long speeches, and that, perhaps, is why you sometimes call upon me. I am glad that the Under-Secretary, in introducing the Bill, saw fit to withdraw one of the two most objectionable Clauses, namely, the provision that money should only be advanced for the improvement of tied cottages. I do not want to break my tradition of loyalty to my Labour colleagues and to the Labour Government. In my concluding remarks I want to make a very strong appeal to them that before the Bill reaches its final stage, they will reconsider this matter which, to us, involves a very important basic principle, and that instead of giving public money to landlords to improve private property, they will accept the words which we have suggested and lend the money at a very low rate of interest, thus assisting the industry and doing all that is said to be necessary. I have no quarrel with that. We on this side are as anxious to see this industry placed upon a sound footing as hon. Members opposite, but without committing a breach of what appears to me to be a basic Labour principle.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Captain MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
Many points of detail have been raised this evening and as many Members still wish to speak, I shall try to be as brief as possible. I was going to say that this Bill was, no doubt, welcomed by all farmers, but, after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), I feel that as he represents the farmers in his own constituency, such a statement would be false. However, I believe that most farmers do regard this Bill as an advance towards the rehabilitation of hill farming land in Great Britain, although I am afraid that many of my constituents will be most concerned about the hint which the Joint Under-Secretary gave, namely, that these grants were to assist the Government towards their policy of the nationalisation of the land.
1688 This Bill affects the Highlands of Scotland, and particularly my own constituency where hill farming plays an important part in the food production of the country and the clothing of its inhabitants. Agriculture must be the foundation of any policy which we adopt for the Highlands. The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot) referred to the population of the Highlands in the old days, but I will not go into history or the reasons why there was formerly a greater population. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) raised a point about finding an economic unit. Resettlement of land and the enlargement of existing holdings constitutes an important economic problem in the Highlands, and we must find the economic unit there. I see no mention of club stock in the Bill. I think there should be some uniform method of dealing with the shares of club stock when a tenant vacates his holding, to enable the incoming tenant to have an opportunity in finding an acclimatised share in the club stock. I was sorry to hear the point about the cottages, which the Joint Under-Secretary raised, and I will not go into that further. However, the assistance given in making roads and in improving bridges, and so on, will be most welcome.
The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) referred to freight charges. I sincerely hope that the small farmer in the North will be able to take full advantage of this scheme; he automatically loses a large proportion of the advantage the scheme gives him, as a result of the exorbitant freight charges existing today, which have become an increasing burden on him. In those areas we want to see mixed farms, with happy families having modern facilities at their disposal. In the Highlands of Scotland there are acres and acres of land which could grow luxuriant and rich grasses. In the North-West of Scotland I have seen land which has never been ploughed before, but is now carrying three and four times the amount of cattle it did previously. Unhappily, looking at the financial side again, I am doubtful whether many of the farmers in the Highlands, where drainage alone is such a tremendous problem, even with the payment of the 50 per cent, grant will be able to meet the remaining 50 per cent. Greater assistance to aid the farmer to improve the fertility of the land on the West coast will be a sound investment for the national 1689 economy, and a step towards the solution of the Highlands' problem.
Some hon. Members have said that the question of a research station cannot be raised in connection with this Bill. I ask why not. Services which are married to the land cannot be divorced from that land. I hope every encouragement will be given to the establishment of a research station on the West coast. We hear that one is coming. But, as in the case of everything else, we ask " When? " When the research station is started, there must be close liaison with the local schools. We must teach the local children the geology, botany and zoology of the locality, in which we hope they will remain and live. In order that they may know how best to improve their own surroundings they must have practical knowledge of the locality. If that is done it will have a tremendous effect on the waste land of the Highlands of Scotland. As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), modern machinery can play in important part. With the use of modern machinery and new scientific knowledge we have a foundation for the solution of the problem in the Highlands today.
It has already been shown that the hill cattle scheme has been of benefit to small holders in my constituency. Its effect has already been shown in the markets. Calves which would otherwise have been sold are being retained for breeding purposes. It is for that reason that many hon. Members have said the subsidy must be carried on for a much longer period, in order to give these farmers a chance. Whatever the policy may be, there must be a longer term of subsidy. Possibly it will be changed in years to come, but at the moment we must give the farmers the assurance that it will go on for many more years than stipulated in this Bill. On the question of the regulations in regard to " muirburn "I would have thought that if a man took reasonable precautions and due care, his liability should then cease. Under afforestation schemes very good tracts of land are left to waste because of the fear of fire. Fire breaks between farms in afforestation schemes should be compulsory.
Turning to the Second Schedule, there is a point which I hope will be raised in Committee. In paragraph 4 no suggestion has been made with regard to ascertaining 1690 the stock ewe value. Stock ewe lambs are seldom, if ever, sold or offered for sale. Would it not be better to have the value of a stock ewe lamb taken as the price of the wether lamb plus 50 or 60 per cent. Is it not also impracticable, where there is already a panel of arbiters, to have dual price finding? Paragraph 6 (a) says:Ewes of all ages (including gimmers) shall be valued at the basic ewe value with the addition of 15s. per head.Why is that a static figure? It would be more practicable, and fairer, if there were a percentage of the basic ewe value. Surely it is not equity to have a ewe valued at 80s. receiving the extra 15s. and a ewe valued at 40s. receiving the same additional figure? How much of the £4 million is allotted to Scotland? I hope all of it is, because Scotland certainly needs it. I hope the money to be spent on the improvements will not be wasted by the intrusion of the Forestry Commission, but that there must be cooperation beforehand. There is room for both, and we hope both will play their part to the benefit of the nation. I trust that the Bill will increase the production from our hills and that the primary producers will obtain a fair price for their products, and security of tenure on their land. Hill shepherds, like other agricultural workers, require attractive wages and conditions. We must see that the farmers are able to give those things to them. Thus we may stop the drift away from the hills. We must stand by that fine race of men which have stood by us so nobly in the past.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Steele (Lanark)
First I should like to congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary on the most able manner in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I am very proud indeed to do so, in view of personal circumstances of which he himself will be very well aware. I think all Members of the House have agreed that this industry is in a very bad way. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said that this was a burning question. I agree. We have an old saying in Scotland when someone is not meeting requirements, that he is " not setting the heather on fire." While these projects are good enough in their way, I do not think the method suggested to make these improvements will set the heather on fire.
1691 Certain general principles have been discussed very fully. For instance, compulsion. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and another hon. Member have also mentioned this point. I do not think this Bill gives the Minister sufficient power to carry through his schemes. In the Balfour of Burleigh Report, on page 59, paragraph 166, we find:Cases will also arise of failure of both landlord and tenant to submit a programme. This raises an equally important issue.It goes on to say what might happen, and adds:In cases where the farm may reasonably be regarded as a continuing concern and a programme of improvements is desirable, the Department should be empowered to serve an Order on the parties concerned directing the submission of a programme.With that I fully agree. It is one of the main issues with which we ought to concern ourselves tonight. We agree in principle that something ought to be done, and something must be done. My hon. Friend below the Gangway put forward some very pertinent points, some of which I myself have considered, but I see no alternative at the moment to continuing the subsidy. I am not inclined to nationalise the bad land; when we come to nationalisation of the land, I want the good as well as the bad.
In the Balfour Report one of the points made was that if anything is to be done at all it should be done in an organised fashion with ordered programmes. What has happened to this principle? Do the Government accept it? Do they agree with that ideal? There is no sign of it in this Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he opened the discussion of this Measure, said that when the other agricultural Measures come before the House there will be provision for compulsion if necessary. That indicates that consideration has been given to this important point, and makes me believe that it will ultimately come about. Why not now? Every farmer will agree that a bad farmer is a liability as a neighbour, and I see no possibility of bringing into existence what we want unless there are compulsory powers included in the Bill. I would suggest that the executive committees, which have had considerable experience during the war years and which know exactly what the position is, should have the necessary powers to 1692 initiate schemes of development. In any case when a scheme is proposed those committees will obviously be there to advise. Is it not only right that when they come to consider a particular scheme, and find that to carry it out it will be necessary to include other land from other estates, that they should have the necessary powers to initiate these other schemes? It should be done in an ordered fashion, and I cannot see that under the provisions of this Bill. I think we ought to hear something more from the Minister than we have heard 'so far; he ought to take heed of the feeling of the House on this particular matter.
As we must necessarily have compulsion, we ought also to attend to security of tenure, about which there is nothing in this Bill. If at all possible the Minister ought to indicate tonight what the position is to be and whether he intends bringing forward legislation in this connection. Is it under consideration? We cannot expect people to make plans and submit programmes if they do not know when they will be turned out. Those are the two main problems which may arise under this Bill. There are many other things which can be considered in Committee—for instance, I should like to know whether Clause 3 gives the tenant the necessary powers to carry out the work, or must he have the consent of the landlord? It says in the Bill that all those interested in the land must be consulted; will this apply, in particular, to a farm that has been mortgaged? Will the mortgagee have to be consulted? There are many other little points like that about which we shall want to know.
The hon. Member for West Perth emphasised the need for publicity. I hope the Minister will give the necessary publicity and, if we do not get compulsory powers, I hope the executive committees will be instructed to encourage the farmers to enter into these schemes. There are other points I should like to raise, but there are many other hon. Members who desire to speak, and in conclusion I will only refer to heather burning. It is not unknown in Scotland to have snow after 16th April, and I would like to know whether the Minister has consulted the National Farmers' Union and other people concerned about the date he has fixed. Probably he has, but we shall be able to investigate this point still further in Committee. I hope we shall hear some- 1693 thing from the Minister in his reply regarding the question of compulsion and security of tenure. I shall give my support to this Bill and hope that we may be able to amend it in Committee.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
In common with previous speakers on this Bill I wish to welcome it, and I should like to congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland upon his opening speech, with all of which, with one or two small exceptions, I was in complete agreement. I thought it was extremely well expressed. It certainly seemed to meet the case which affects us in the Border country. I believe that this Bill, once we have dealt with it in Committee, and by the time that it leaves the House, will be a very effective instrument for dealing with the difficulties in the hill farming industry. Every one in this House and who is engaged in agriculture in Britain is fully aware of the many, many years of extreme difficulty which the hill farming industry has experienced. I do not think that much more could be done in the preliminary stages, than is done in this Bill. I have no doubt that if in the initial stages it proves a success, we shall have no difficulty in securing a larger amount of money at a later stage to continue the good work.
There is, however, one matter that really does rather concern me, and which has not yet been mentioned in the Debate. That is the question of supply and demand. We know that if the hill farmers had been asked what they wanted in any Act of Parliament, to give them a satisfactory basis for their farming, they would have said the same as all the other farmers in Britain—that they wanted an assured market, and a guaranteed price. We know that in this branch of farming it is almost, if not quite, impossible to give them either an assured market or a guaranteed price for their principal products, which are lambs, and, of course, wool. It does seem that, during the last 20 or 30 years, when hill farming has been at its worst, one of the primary causes of that condition has been, that the supply of lambs has exceeded the demand; because during several of these years, when the hill farmers were suffering the very greatest adversity, the lowland farmers, or those farmers down in the South of England who buy our lambs 1694 from the North, were doing reasonably well compared with the general trend of farming at that period.
This possibility does rather frighten me. Suppose this Bill is a really great success, and that it does restore fertility to hill farms, and does remove sickness and mortality from the flocks. Are we, once again, to have a supply of lambs at the autumn sales greater than the demand? Because the price which the farmers have been receiving over the last 20 or 30 years was largely based on supply and demand. We know that the buyers will pay a better price for the good stock than for the poor, a better price for that in good condition than for that in poor condition; but we also know that the basic level on which prices run at a sale of hill lambs or, for that matter, of any lambs—in the autumn is governed by the condition that the supply is equal to, below, or greater than the demand. We know that at present the hill farms in Scotland and elsewhere are not producing anything like the number of lambs of which they are capable, and that there is considerable sickness and mortality, not only among the lambs, but also among the breeding ewes. We believe that can, to a large extent, be eradicated, although it will take time. We are also 'aware that during the war years the stock of breeding ewes in Great Britain has been reduced from round about 12,000,000 to, I believe, slightly under 8,000,000, and that at the present moment there are just under 5,000,000 breeding ewes on the hill farms. If this Hill Farming Bill really is a success, and does bring that degree of fertility back to the hill farms and does remove that sickness and mortality from the flocks, are we then, once again, to be confronted with the terrible problem of having more sellers than there are buyers?
I do believe that in the process of spending these very considerable sums on the rehabilitation of the industry—and we all recognise that the restoration of fertility to the farms is absolutely essential—we should, at the same time, explore all possibilities for increasing the demand for the products which we hope to produce. Are we doing all we can to examine the possibilities for those types of wool which are grown in Great Britain? As one coming from an area which is industrial as well as agricultural, I know to what 1695 an extent our manufacturers prefer foreign-grown fleeces, as being more suitable for their manufactures. I believe that time spent in trying to find uses for British fleeces, and in encouraging the demand for our lambs, would do just as much to help the industry as this Bill, which I have great pleasure in welcoming.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I think this Debate has revealed a very considerable measure of agreement, and that a great deal of information, detailed information and knowledge, has been displayed by hon. Members taking part. One thing that has particularly impressed me is the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) referred to the necessity of security of tenure and a degree of compulsion as two of the prime essentials for any successful rehabilitation of hill farming; and that those two points have been supported from every part of the House. I think that that fact is extremely impressive. I do not see how we can have this compulsion and security of tenure unless the land is eventually acquired by the State. The greater part of Exmoor lies in my constituency, and, therefore, with one reservation, which I will deal with later on, I extend an especially warm welcome to this Bill, which proposes to spend some £5 million on the improvement of our hill farms, subject to the expenditure of a like amount by the owners of the land. I think that this is honouring a debt to the land, a debt which has been incurred through the neglect of the land over the last 50 years. It is just one of the many debts which this Government and this generation are called upon to honour.
I wish to affirm my conviction that any Measure which is designed to increase the productivity of our land will receive the full support of the House, and that is particularly true at the present time. Considering that we have a total area of 15,500,000 acres of hill farm land in the United Kingdom, it is obvious, apart from the question of labour and materials, that a total expenditure of £10,000,000 can envisage only a very limited productivity, and no large-scale operations can be undertaken; certainly there can be no very large immediate increase of food production. It is for that reason that I would urge priority be given to those areas which are likely to produce the best results in the 1696 shortest time, and that a further priority should be given in allowing money for the various types of improvements included in the First Schedule.
To give an example, on Exmoor grids are most urgently needed. This is of vital concern to the local branch of the National Farmers Union, as well as to the Exmoor Pony Society. The loss of the gates which formerly barred roads across the Moor and prevented stock from straying means that a large area has become of considerably less value for grazing. Stock stray down the public roads where they are often killed, and in consequence farmers will not use this land for grazing. I do not know who was formerly responsible for the maintenance of gates, but I do not think there is a gate left on Exmoor; all that is left are the posts and the old names. I suggest that grids should be provided and that a bypass gate should be put for horses and carts. I know one large portion of the Moor where corn was grown during the war. This land is now under grass, but that expenditure is utterly useless for grazing purposes unless proper barriers are provided. If this provision is made, it will be possible to graze the Moors again with sheep and cattle. This also has a bearing in connection with the Exmoor ponies. I read that an Exmoor stallion and mare were being exhibited in the London Zoo, which proves their claim to be the only native breed of pony preserved in its original state, because the Zoological Society do not accept other than wild species. The spread of bracken on the Moor is largely due to understocking. Sheep used to eat the young gorse shoots, and cattle trod down the bracken. Bracken has now got the upper hand, because we have no sheep or cattle to keep down the gorse and bracken or facilities to cut it.
It would therefore be of distinct advantage if attention were paid to the question of gateways and barriers. Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) to the First Schedule. One item I can readily support as being subject for amendment, but I suggest that the Minister should take another look to see whether it is not possible to divide the Schedule into two parts. To include the making and improvements to roads and bridges, watercourses, permanent fences, their removal and restoration, drainage, and matters of that kind as suitable for grants 1697 under this Bill, but that the other items, such as farm buildings and farm houses, should be subjects for a loan. If we wish to help the farmers to the utmost possible extent and achieve maximum production, some adjustments must be made in Committee to this Bill, We can then achieve the objective we all have at heart, the desire to assist the farmer to improve the productivity of his land, and in particular to assist our badly neglected hill farms to achieve a much greater degree of efficiency, enabling them to play their part in the main agricultural policy of the Government.
§ 8.28 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
I must begin my speech by declaring my interest. Like the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot), I am an owner of some hill land. It is not very extensive and it is in fair condition, like his, and therefore neither of us should be in any danger of being dispossessed by the first sweep of the axe of the hon. Member for Thombury (Mr. Alpass). I would add my plea to that of my neighbour the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), in asking for a definition of what is and what is not a hill farm. This should be made very clear; the Bill as drafted is somewhat vague. If the interpretation is made too narrow, we shall lose a very large part of the great advantages which this Measure is capable of giving. I hope that the Government may see fit to include a great deal of the lower land, or rather marginal land, within the scope of this Measure. In the De La Warr Report, hill land and uplands were treated as one, and not two separate problems, and I hope that in this Bill we may follow the same lines. I am sure that it is an artificial distinction to draw a line very high up the hillside and treat hill sheep as an entirely separate problem. The main reason which prevents a hill farmer from increasing stock is the difficulty of wintering, finding winter keep and hay. In consequence, hill farmers have to winter their lambs on the lower ground, and, owing to the large increase in arable acreage, they have to pay a considerable sum for this hogg wintering as it is called in my part of England. If the Minister can see his way to include a certain amount of marginal land, many hill farmers will be able to winter their lambs on their farms, or near their farms, and so save themselves this 1698 extra expense, and increase the nation's food supply at the same time.
Secondly, I should like again to support the plea, made by the same hon. Member, that we should attach great importance to the question of cattle. At the present moment, there is scarcely a mention of cattle in the Bill. All the emphasis is on sheep. I do not think that it is enough for the Minister merely to say that we are increasing fertility of the land. He should try to let us know whether he wishes cattle to be carried on the hill for milk or to be reared and sold off the hill as stores. It may seem strange to some hon. Members in Westmorland, the county which I have the honour to represent, that 63 per cent. of all the farmers who receive the hill sheep subsidy are also selling milk in one form or another. I think that should be sufficient reason to show that to try to treat hill sheep farming as a special problem is really artificial.
Not so long ago, I heard the Minister, when speaking at a N.F.U. meeting in Carlisle, say in answer to a question that he would listen most carefully and sympathetically to all suggestions made to "him for the improvement of this Bill during its several stages. I hope that he has not forgotten that promise. Farmers in the north of England are hoping for one thing above all others, and that is that he will amend the Schedule so that expenditure on electricity supply is not restricted only to private plants, but will also include connection to the main grid. Secondly, they are very anxious to have the telephone. Although this may sound rather strange, it is really not so. The connection of the telephone to a farm which lies a long way from the main road may cost a large sum, but if a farmer can communicate with the local town he is often saved a great deal of time motoring long distances or waiting for buses, and the extra time which he can spend on his farm means extra food.
I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, he will be able to prevent friction between forestry and hill farming from developing. Unfortunately, we have already seen signs of it during today's Debate. It is only, I think, in this country, of all the countries of Western Europe, where this friction between forestry and agriculture exists. In most of the countries of Western Europe, the two are knit very closely together, and I hope that we may soon have the same thing here.
1699 I hope that the Minister will let us know a little more about the advisory committees, their duties and composition, and that, at least, the appointments to them will not be political but on account of the knowledge and ability of the members to assist the industry. I think that we all hope that the Minister will press forward with this Bill and give every encouragement to the voluntary improvement schemes to be promoted under it. When pressed by his colleague the hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food, I hope, too, that he will not forget the motto,I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help.He should not forget, what I am sure is the case, that when the Psalmist wrote those words he was not only thinking of mountain tops, but the marginal land, and not only of hill sheep but of cattle as well.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
May I add a contribution to the very good Debate which we have had today? I want the voice of Wales to be heard as a very definite voice welcoming this Bill. We were fortunate in my constituency in getting a local representative on the committee, and I want to pay tribute to the committee for England and Wales and to our own representative, although he was my opponent at the last General Election. In my constituency, every county, with the exception of one, is interested in hill farming. In my own constituency there are 2,003 flock groups and only 10 of them have over 1,000 sheep. I think it is one of the most important Bills that have been introduced into this House of Commons, and it will have great significance for Wales. The only criticism by representatives on the local Farmers Union and by individual hill fanners which I have encountered is that it docs not go far enough in its financial provisions. My advice to people who have mentioned this to me has been to wait for five years and see how it works. At the end of that time we can ask the Minister of Agriculture to afford greater financial assistance.
No doubt that will bring criticisms from some of my colleagues. In reply to criticisms I would ask, Who are the hill farmers? Are they speculators from the city or are they landowners? They are 1700 owner occupiers, and I would ask the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) what his policy is in regard to the owner occupier. He produces food on his land. He should remember that there are 15,443 people getting the hill sheep subsidy in England and Wales, and only 93 of them have over 1,000 sheep. There are no big farmers, and, therefore, there is no justification for the recent criticism we have heard. After all, hill farmers are hard working men and women. They have worked themselves up from farm labourers, and they have got the worst end of the industry—on the hilltops where the conditions are far worse than they are for the normal farmer. Their shift in winter is 24 hours a day, which means the round of the clock, and I am glad to pay tribute to these people who have stout hearts but slender resources.
There are many points which I should like to raise but no doubt a good many of them can be dealt with on the Committee stage. I should like a clear definition of hill farming, particularly in Wales, and I should also like to know if this covers unenclosed land, the grazing rights of which are enjoyed by commoners. I should like to know too, whether the ordinary farm is to be left out of the description of a hill farm. A hill farmer wrote to me and suggested 32 improvements which could be incorporated in the Bill, and I am glad that 21 of those are in the First Schedule. I should also like to ask with regard to No. 12 of the First Schedule what is meant by waste land. I may get an explanation of that in Committee. I should be glad if the Minister could say that electricity mains can be tapped by the hill fanners, and that they will not be confined to what is provided in the Schedule. I should like to see the extension of the telephone service even to the isolated farms. When we discuss the question of farm machinery, I hope that some specific assurance will be given by the Minister in regard to machinery for these small farms because heavy tractors or anything of that kind are not suitable for them. I hope he will look at that. May I emphasise the necessity for the improvement of bridges and roads, because it is no use providing fertilisers and machinery if they cannot be taken to the farm? I am glad that there is a provision in the First Schedule for such improvements, because it is no use a fanner making the private 1701 approaches all right if the local authorities do not attend to the public roadways and bridges. I hope that the local authorities in Wales will listen to my appeal in this matter and that it may lead to the improvement of certain roads which I have in mind. I would also like to know whether a tenant farmer can carry out a scheme without the consent of the landlord.
To me the objects of the Bill are very definite. In this time of food shortage I think it will make for a good send off for those who have to produce the food we need. I welcome the suggestion which is incorporated in the Bill, that there should be a Welsh sub-committee. I hope that on that committee there will be people of experience of hill farming. That applies to the local advisory committees as well. My answer to the criticism which has been levelled against Wales is that it must be remembered that South Wales could be the biggest market for agricultural produce grown in Wales. But how could Wales be expected to do what was necessary under our past system? There has not been price stabilisation. Farmers will now get that. Let us give them a chance to show what they can do. I am a great advocate of nationalisation, but I would not advocate it unless another system had failed, and, so far, I do not think a real opportunity has been given to the hill farmer.
I want young people to enter into the industry. I want a young man to be able to marry and settle down on a hill farm. I hope this Bill will provide that security and the social amenities which will enable young men to do that. Rip Van Winkle, it is said, slept for 100 years, and when he woke up found great changes. If he had gone to sleep in 1875 and had woke up in 1946 he would not have found much change. But if he could go to sleep in 1946 and awaken again in five years' time to see the Minister of Agriculture I hope he would see my hon. Friend with a great big smile on his face because of the operations of this Bill. That will be possible if we carry through this Bill and, with it, a progressive agricultural policy.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Drayson (Skipton)
I think it has been made abundantly dear in the Debate that this Bill arises out of Reports made by two Committees which were set up by the Coalition Government. I refer par- 1702 ticularly to the Dc La Warr Report for England and Wales, because farmers in my constituency had the opportunity of giving evidence before that committee when it met in the North of England. I think it is a pity that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should have marred his introduction of the Bill by his references to land nationalisation, because I believe that many farmers will be reluctant to accept State aid if they feel that it is merely a preliminary to the Government taking over their farms. It is a pity that the Minister of Agriculture should have joined the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this habit of giving concessions on the one hand and making threats on the other. It is unlikely that farmers will he anxious to increase the fertility of their soil if it is merely to be for the benefit of the Government. I think this reference by the Under-Secretary of State was very unfair in view of the fine effort which farmers have made during the war.
The first matter to which I wish to draw attention is the small amount of money to be expended under the Bill. The amount is £5 million only over the period. It would be far better if it were £5 million per year. I do not think that, in advocating a larger sum, I am encouraging the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Government in the spiral of inflation into which they are getting, because I think that money given to the agricultural community could not go into better hands. I hope we shall be told that money will be available at cheap rates of interest for the 50 per cent, which the farmers are to be called upon to produce. The point has already been made in the Debate that the definitions in the Bill are far from clear. I know of the misunderstanding that there has been in my constituency among farmers who felt they were entitled to receive the present subsidy, and I hope by the time the Bill reaches its final stage any possibility of misunderstandings in the future will have been cleared up. It is possible that during the past year the county war agricultural committees have made a survey of those parts of the country where the Bill is likely to be effective. It would be helpful if the farmers could see graphically on a map exactly how they stand as regards the Bill. I am thinking particularly of certain areas in my constituency—Rathmell Moor, Tosside, and Forest of 1703 Bowland—which, while they may not at present be accepted under the existing scheme, require a great deal of work to be done and money spent so that they can play their full part in the national agriculture.
The question of amenities has already been raised. I would like to emphasise the importance of allowing connection to the grid system to be included under the First Schedule, or in any case that there should be a contribution towards the cost of transformers. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will have some influence upon the Minister of Fuel and Power in persuading him to bring current to the outlying neighbourhoods. The right hon. Gentleman has not had much success with the Minister of Health with regard to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act; perhaps he will have more success with the Minister of Fuel and Power in getting the grid extended to the hill areas. Telephones, too, are of great importance. One matter which has been completely omitted from the Bill is reference to the disposal of wool and a guaranteed minimum price for this commodity to the hill farmers, which they have not got at present.
Another item of importance is the availability of fertilisers for hill land. Many attempts were made during the war to reseed on high ground; the farmers now find that they are able to get permits for fertilisers, and this land is rapidly going back to its original state and will once more be regarded as marginal land. One small way in which the Minister could help the hill farmers would be to increase the price he gets for his butter; at least double the price which the farmer obtains at present would still not be adequate. If this were done, there would be more skimmed milk available for rearing calves and pigs. Finally, I hope that, in the various committees that are to be set up, due regard will be given to local knowledge and experience, and that nominations from the National Farmers' Union and other similar bodies will find a prominent place. Practical experience was not always conspicuous in committees that were set up during the war, and I hope this will be remedied in the future. I welcome this Bill, even though it is comparatively limited in its scope, because I know it will be of benefit to the hill farming community.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)
It is not without some little feeling of hesitancy that I enter the Debate at such a late hour, fully aware that my remarks must be very largely compressed and, indeed, that many of the points which I had hoped to make have been more ably covered by the galaxy of speakers in various parts of the House who have dealt with this matter from the technical point of view. I, of course, cannot approach it from that angle because I am not a farmer; my life has been spent at sea and I hope the House will bear with me if I appear to be at sea now, although I am going to deal not with technicalities but with principles.
There are two main problems in Scotland. I have the honour to represent one of the parts of Scotland where we have a large number of very industrious hill sheep farmers round the foothills of the Lammermuir Hills. In the Highlands and Islands the problem affects the crofting industry, but I will not attempt to deal with that. Perhaps the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. Macmillan) may catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, and deal with that problem. As I have said, I wish to refer to the principles of this Bill, which is at best only a salvage Measure. The Labour Government have inherited this legacy of long generations of neglect of this very important part of the agricultural industry and we can at this stage deal with it only by introducing this salvage Measure.
The criticism which I have of this Bill is that I think we are rather over-generous to the landowning fraternity. I think the Minister would have been well advised had he looked at this Bill very carefully before he took it over from the Coalition. It was produced as a result very largely of a committee which was set up in Scotland; no fewer than half its members were landowners, and, most significant of all, there was not one hill sheep farmer on that Balfour Committee. However, here it is and we have to deal with it. I hope it will not become law in its present form but that the Minister will consider in Committee the various proposals which will be placed before him. If I might make a suggestion, it is that the taxpayers, who are to make this grant to the landowning fraternity, should insist that where a grant is being made there is some return and some conditions are laid down whereby the 1705 landowner cannot evict a tenant farmer who is an efficient farmer. If that can be done, many of the apprehensions in the minds of farmers today will be removed. I earnestly plead with the Minister to do this.
In this year of 1946 the farmers of Britain are still asking for security of tenure. When one remembers that in the Crofters Acts some 60 years ago, the crofters in Scotland gained security of tenure while the farmers have not yet obtained that concession, one would hope that this might be an occasion when the Minister might make some attempt to insist that where a landowner is securing a grant from public funds one of the conditions under which ho receives it shall be that an efficient farmer who has farmed his land shall not be disturbed and shall have security of tenure. While I have certain misgivings about the Bill I must confess that it is very necessary to have some regulation at a very early date to overcome the tragic neglect of long years of private ownership of land. The Bill would seem to go some way at least towards that goal. When all is said and done, we must admit that the ultimate solution to this great problem is public ownership of the land, which will then be used in the interests of the whole community. That position may be coming very shortly. I hope that it will come. In the meantime we have to accept the Bill as a salvage Measure. It is one about which we are by no means all happy on this side of the House, but we think it a step in the direction of bringing a little prosperity into this neglected section of the industry.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)
I would congratulate the Minister on the Bill, which is receiving backing from all quarters of the House. I shall confine my remarks to its effect on Scotland, where hill farming is vital to the small crofter as well as to the large proprietor. I am interested, with other hon. Members, to note in what proportion it is proposed to split the financial grant between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
I would like to put forward an anxiety that has been expressed to me, by knowledgable farmers in Sutherlandshire, and I believe there is a similar disquietude among the breeders in black-faced sheep 1706 in Highland and Border counties. I refer to the average value of the ewe as laid down in the Bill. It is a valuation which also affects the lamb value. The proposed Bill cancels the practice of ewe valuation which has existed in Sutherlandshire for at least 60 years, and fixes an arbitrary figure of 15s. for younger ages. That figure of 15s. is to be found in the Second Schedule, in page 28, paragraph 3 (a). This arbitrary allowance is causing anxiety. If the House will bear with me I will point out the effect of the old practice and the new. Let us take a hypothetical figure of £3 14s., as a three-year sale average for cast ewes, and add, shall we say, 4 lbs. of wool at 1s. 11½d. per 1b. We thus arrive at a total of £4 1s. 10d. To this figure, under the old method, would be added 25 per cent., say, £1 0s. 6d., representing younger-aged ewes. This gives a sale figure of £5 2s. 4d. for the average ewe. Under the proposed Bill, the figure of £4 1s. 10d. would remain the same, but the fixed allowance of 15s. for younger-aged ewes would bring the figure to £4 16s. 10d. only, thus showing a loss of 5s. 6d. between the old and the new methods of valuation. There would also be a loss on ewe lambs, as the Bill does not propose to include it at 60 per cent, increase on the wedder lamb price. This has been the normal practice in Sutherlandshire for more than 60 years.
It will be seen that over a reasonably large farm of 2,000 to 4,000 breeding ewes the loss would be considerable. Without going into details, the effect of the new value applied to a sale of 400 ewes which took place on 23rd May at Achinduich would have led to a loss of £350, or 17s. 6d. for each lamb plus ewe. I should be pleased to give these figures to the Minister if he would like to have them. I hope it may be possible to give consideration to this matter in Committee and perhaps include in the Bill an optional valuation method if it is proved that this one would, in special cases, cause hardship. In common with other Members, I hope this Bill will lead to the improvement of the crofter's home by the introduction of drainage and water supply, which I am pledged to fight for and support. During the last six weeks, by courtesy of the Swiss Government, I have had the privilege of visiting hydro-electric stations at Handeck, Innertkuchen, Kandergrund and Verbois and I found 1707 that electricity had been carried to the smallest village and the smallest home for more than 40 years. I cannot therefore understand why the hill farmer's croft should remain an uncomfortable curiosity.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
As a farmer, I want to make it clear that I have no financial interest in hill farming. My interest is very largely on the lines of the first paragraph of the De La Warr Report, which draws attention to the hardy sheep and cattle coming off the hill farms and says that they also carry a characteristically hardy, intelligent, and self-reliant, though dwindling, population. It is from that point of view that I want to deal with this Bill. In my opinion, the lifeblood of this country and the Empire has been founded from the hardy reliant men and women who have come off our hills, and if we do not reinstate those people on the hills the nation will lose its virile character and grow soft. I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly.
I would like to see the definition of what is hill land made clear. I hope that when that definition is formed, due regard will be taken to include what in Wales is known as intake or lower enclosure land, and in some parts, as marginal land. I have seen those fields gradually becoming covered with fern and being neglected. I hope that land will be covered in the definition of hill farms. I also hope that the land will be scheduled before any project is put forward. The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) very rightly said that this land should be scheduled as between forest land and farm land. There should be no competition. There should be agreement and none of the land of those hills should be left idle. If forestry and the rehabilitation of these farmlands are carried out together, that will help to build up something which I look upon as extremely important in these hill districts, and that is a community. At the present time, people who live on those hills live an absolutely solitary life. They get no amenities and they get no transport because it would not be worth while running transport to those districts. I hope that when these projects are tackled these hills will be made to do their job to the full, and we shall see little 1708 communities growing up in the hills such as existed 70 or 80 years ago.
One last word on what is a rather vexed question—tied cottages. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage we shall be able to thresh this out a little more fully. I am very sorry indeed to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has weakened because of what is reputed to be a certain amount of pressure from his back benchers. I hope he will take courage and reinstate what in my opinion is the most important part of this scheme, the reconditioning and the building of cottages. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen who speak with so much bias about tied cottages are speaking from experience or only from a prejudice to which they have listened, but I have been in a fairly big area for 45 years and the cases of hardship from tied cottages with which I have come into contact have been infinitesimal. There is one case which has recently arisen in my own constituency which could be advertised as an objection to the tied cottage and that is a man of 72 who has to give up his cottage. The answer to that is. Build some council houses where these old men can go when they want to draw their pension and live in comfort for the rest of their lives. I wholeheartedly agree with this Bill. In regard to nationalisation, all I can say is that, if I ever see nationalisation, it will give me satisfaction that the consumers of this country will at last pay an economic price for their food.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)
We are getting near the end of this Debate and I think the agricultural community can rest assured that, so far as agricultural interests are concerned, they are being well looked after in this House. The Debate has been sustained for a fairly long time, and I approach the Second Reading of this Bill as part of the general agricultural problem of this country. I do not think that in approaching the agricultural problem we should come to this House from the point of view of getting what financial advantage we can for some of our constituents. This system has been followed in other countries and it would be a real danger to democracy. It is for that reason that I am critical of this Bill, in so far as it extends the system of giving subsidies to 1709 agriculture and, in this particular case, mainly to the owners of land. There is a, danger in that respect, and the whole trend of our agricultural policy should be put on a firmer basis; we should aim at getting a fair price for all the produce that we can get, and the growers should be asked to produce things of such quality that the consumers will be glad to pay a decent price for them.
So far as this Bill extends the old system of subsidising the landowner, I condemn it, because I think it is on the wrong lines. I am in very good company in condemning the system of further subsidies to agriculture for, after all, it is not so long ago since the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) said in this House that he had consistently warned farmers against relying on subsidies, on the ground that sooner or later the Chancellor of the Exchequer would kick. I do not know whether in a few minutes the right hon. Gentleman will rise and give his blessing to this Bill; if so, it seems to me that he will be inconsistent in his attitude towards agriculture. [AN HON. MEMBER: " Not the first time."] It may not be the first time, let us hope it will be the last because, sooner or later, we want to get agriculture out of the position of asking for, and being granted, further subsidies to tide it over another difficult period.
Another aspect of this problem with which I am concerned is that it is just dealing with part of the problem of hill farming. We all recognise that all the hills cannot be farmed and we have to decide on the best use of hill land. Some of it should be used for afforestation and some for grazing. This party has always been interested in the question of access to hill land by the general public, particularly from the urban areas, for health and recreation. Unless we deal with the hill problem with these three things in mind, we are liable to make a mess of dealing with part of it. I would rather have seen a proper survey before we started on this problem; I would rather we had decided which hill lands should be used for afforestation, which for grazing, and where youth hostels and such places should be situated. That seems to me the wisest course to take.
There is time to make a proper survey before we start on the problem. A day or two ago we were discussing the problem 1710 of food. This Bill deals with the increase of livestock. It is no good breeding more sheep and cattle on the hills if there are not enough feeding stuffs to fatten them. In recent weeks I have seen mutton in London which people cannot possibly eat. It is too lean and too tough. Human beings are eating the maize, oats and barley which would have been available for fattening livestock this coming winter but for "the great food shortage. We know the shortage of feeding stuffs will go on for the next year or two, and we are told that we must concentrate on growing food for direct human consumption. Therefore, this Bill should wait a little longer, so that we could give all our attention to the problem of feeding the people with grain from our fields. There is time to give prior consideration to the problem of the proper use of our hill land and its proper planning so that we fit in the needs of agriculture and afforestation and dovetail that into the great problem of using the hill lands as health resorts.
Another problem on which I would like to touch is that of housing the workers. We have recently considered a Bill for the proper housing of the working people of this country. It seems wrong in principle to bring into another Bill, dealing with farming, the question of housing the workers or providing grants for that housing. I would much rather that the workers on the hill farms were catered for through the local authorities by grants made to them under another Measure. The housing of workers in the hill lands should be planned in groups so that all modern amenities could be granted and the houses provided by local authorities.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
We have listened to a very full Debate, and I agree with the hon. Member for Southwest Norfolk (Mr. Dye) that it is significant. I believe it is hopeful for the future of agriculture that on a Bill which might otherwise be regarded as rather a dull Bill, we have found, on all sides of the House, Members anxious to make their contribution. I am afraid that a number will still be disappointed through not having caught your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Perhaps if the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland had realised how much interest the House would take in the Bill, he might have given us a rather more interesting intro- 1711 ductory speech. It was not really worthy of him. The Scots usually have great imagination. If he will forgive me for saying so, it was a rather pedestrian performance, based no doubt on the dull brief with which the Scottish Office had provided him. With his reputation, we had expected something rather better from him.
This Bill is really the result of two committees, one for England and Wales, which was set up by myself, and one for Scotland, which was set up by the late Secretary of State. I do not know the composition of the Scottish committee, but I can assure the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk that the English committee did not consist predominantly of landowners. In fact, I think there were only two—possibly only one—who could be called landowners. For the most part, the others were experts and two were scientists. I do not think anyone can accuse the English committee of being unduly biased in its composition "by reason of the number of landowners on it. If I might offer a word of advice to hon. Members opposite who have spoken in this Debate, I would say that it would be well if, before they come to the Committee stage, they would study those two reports, which are valuable and interesting documents. If they did so they would find that the real reason why hill farming is in its present state, and the real reason why the Government have to come forward with this Bill, is partly because of world conditions but mostly because of a fundamental change in the taste of the British public.
In the old days, when mil farming flourished, the British public liked four and five year old wethers, but since the growth of cheap Canterbury lamb the public taste has changed the whole composition—the sex and age composition—of the flocks on the hills. The result is that now there is a great preponderance of ewes, with the inevitable result that they take much more out of the land than did the wethers of olden days. I have heard it said, that in Scotland there is actually more milk produced by ewes than by cows there. Anyone knows that the ewe or cow takes a great deal more out of the land in the shape of phosphates and other minerals. It is due to the fundamental change in the public taste 1712 that over a period of years the actual land, the soil itself, has steadily deteriorated. I do not for one moment admit, and I do not suppose that the Minister of Agriculture would admit, that this is a Bill designed to help landlords. It is designed to help agriculture in the feeding of the people of this country. So far from any benefit accruing to the landlord, it will accrue far more to tenants, because, as the hon. Member for Brecon (Mr. Watkins) said, they may also be owners of the land.
In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) that assistance should be in the shape of loans and not grants, I say that if such a change were incorporated in the Bill its usefulness would be destroyed altogether. The very essence of the case for making a grant to help these improvements— especially a grant from State funds—is that the expenditure is wholly uneconomic. For the total expenditure on any improvement scheme, the Government cannot possibly hope to receive any economic return in cash. All that can be hoped is that a certain portion of it will so improve the whole land concerned that the occupier, whether he is the unfortunate landlord whose tenant has cleared out, or whether he is a tenant farmer, will in future be able to continue to farm that particular land. The great value of it is uneconomic and, when it has been spent, will have no cash value at all. I think hon. Members opposite ought to try and get that into their heads.
Some comment has been made on the adequacy or otherwise of the £4 million, which might possibly be extended to £5 million. I think that on the whole the Government have made a wise choice. Having regard to the time it will take to get these schemes into operation and to make the necessary survey, and the fact that we are short of labour and machinery and still more short of the necessary fertilisers, I think that the total amount of money which it will be possible physically to spend on these schemes over the next five years will not exceed, even if it reaches, the total of £5 million. There are very great advantages in adopting the line the Government have taken in making this experimental, because during these five years it will be possible to see how the scheme has worked. We shall gain considerable knowledge, and in 1713 the light of that knowledge and experience it will be possible to bring in a new Bill amending this one.
When the right hon. Gentleman replies, I would like him to say a word about the definition of hill land about which some of my hon. Friends entertain certain misgivings. It is mainly a Committee point, but perhaps the Minister could clear it up briefly. Also, we would very much like to hear a little more about what he has in mind concerning the advisory committees. Will the Minister say where they are to be situated and, in particular, whether they will be able to carry out the suggestion made by one of my hon. Friends, namely, that they will cover more than a single county and possibly in the Border counties cooperate with those appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland? I want to deal with the question of the announcement by the Under-Secretary that item 3 of the Schedule is to be omitted. Personally, I think that is a deplorable decision because it will tend very largely to destroy the value of the Bill. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if it is omitted, a large number of schemes which otherwise would be put forward will in fact not be able to be carried out.
The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Lavers), in a speech which we all very much appreciated, said that unless we improved the conditions of people engaged in the industry the industry would not be revived, I could not agree more, but what is the chief condition affecting this industry from the human point of view? Surely, it is the fact that, in a vast number of cases, living conditions under which both the farmer himself, and, more particularly, his shepherds, have lived in the past and are still living today, have been well below the standard of amenity in the towns, and that, unless we are prepared to improve cottages and put in modern conditions, with modern sanitation and so on, and give the man's wife a reasonable place to live in, we shall not get the existing shepherds to stay, and, still more, we shall not get any of the younger generation to come in.
Therefore, the improvement of living conditions is absolutely vital, and hon. Members opposite, in their passion for denouncing tied cottages, or permitting any improvement in tied cottages, are, in fact, whether they realise it or not, deliberately 1714 preventing any improvement in the living conditions of the people involved. It is no use saying that, in the case of a cottage three or four miles up a glen, a local authority must put up another cottage and that, until it does, the existing worker has got to live under the existing conditions. That just means that nothing will be done, and that sheep will be left un-cared for. The essential thing is the improvement of the existing accommodation, and the quickest and most obvious way to do that is to include among the improvements for which grants are made the improvement of the cottage in which the man himself is going to live. It is a perfectly fantastic situation that, if the theories of some hon. Members opposite were carried out, we would be entitled to improve the conditions under which a ram or a bull was going to live, but would not be entitled to improve the conditions under which the unfortunate man would live.
§ Mr. Alpass
What is to prevent the local authority building the cottage where it is required? If the State gives the money, the cottage will be built.
§ Mr. Hudson
Anyone who thinks that a local authority in Scotland is going to build a cottage at the cost of some £1,400 or £1,500, at the end of a glen when, by the expenditure of £200, they could improve an existing cottage and make it perfectly habitable, is holding a fantastic view. Even if the expenditure came out of the £4 million, we are not going to get very far. The hon. Gentleman also suggested that nothing should be done in the way of grants and that appropriate land ought to be nationalised. All I can say is that we are already faced with a fantastic expenditure on a national scale, and goodness knows how much money is going to be required annually for all these schemes which are now being passed, such as the nationalisation of the coal mines and of the iron and steel industry and so forth. Anyone who thinks that we can nationalise the land without spending a colossal sum of public money is really living in a fool's paradise.
I remember that, when I was Minister of Agriculture, I went to look at a particular piece of derelict land. It was of considerable acreage, and was potentially good land. In the old days, it had had houses and farmbuildings on it, but they had disappeared in the course of time, 1715 and there is now nothing left, That land, 4,000 or 5,000 acres, was potentially very good land, and I instructed the committee to start reclaiming it. We did reclaim it, and we cropped it for three years. In that time, it became quite clear that we had to try to get a long term policy. We could not go on taking crops all the time. The trouble was that, if we were to crop properly, with livestock and so forth, we had to have cottages and buildings and roads. I instructed the committee to make an estimate of the cost of building the necessary buildings, cottages and roads.
I had it in mind to buy the land at the rate of £3 or £4 an acre and there could not have been a better case for nationalisation. When we made the calculation, we found that, under no conceivable circumstances of prices, could we ever get any possible economic return on the expenditure on that land. The same thing is true of the hill land; it is not an economic proposition, and there is no argument at all from a practical point of view in favour of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Hudson
I do not think that even the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would face up to it. He is trying to get the cost of Government borrowing down, and we would have to borrow at nil per cent, if we wanted to make schemes of that kind work.
There is one final point with regard to forestry. I hope that, when the right hon. Gentleman replies, he will tell us what he has in mind about marrying hill sheep farming and forestry. He will remember that when we were together at the Department and were engaged in getting the Bill through making the Minister of Agriculture personally responsible for forestry, we had it in mind to conduct detailed surveys, at all events in England and Wales, starting with a particular county in Wales, to see how best, in the national interest, we could allocate the land between forestry and hill sheep. Up till now there 1716 has been a conflict between the two. My view is that there ought not to be a conflict between them, but that they ought to be complementary. There are vast areas at present given over to hill sheep farming which could better, from a national point of view, be forestry, and I am certain that there are considerable areas under forestry that ought to be under cattle and sheep. I hope that the Minister will use his powers of compulsion and persuasion with the Forestry Commission for the erection of shelter belts and that he will be fortified by what the two hon. Members below the Gangway have said and will tell the Forestry Commission that they must not look at the matter from an economic and financial point of view. With a view to getting sheep back on to these lands, the Forestry Commission should provide adequate shelter belts. A number of points will arise on the Committee stage, but I have said enough to show that we on this side of the House welcome this Bill and will do all in our power to see that it gets on to the statute book in a practical shape and without too many bad alterations.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
This has been a very interesting Debate and although it would be too much to expect complete unanimity in all quarters of the House—neither Departments nor draftsmen have yet reached that stage of perfection—there has been a large measure of general agreement with the Bill as it now stands. It is true that many points of administration have been raised, most of which can, and I am sure will, be dealt with in Committee. Before dealing with these points in detail—I do not propose to deal with all the points that have been raised in all the speeches during the day, otherwise I should be here until midnight or after—I want to remind the House of the real size of the problem with which this Bill is designed to deal. It may not deal with the whole of the problem, but, at least, it is a start.
For the benefit of those hon. Members who were not present when my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland addressed the House, I want to remind them of the figures he gave. He told the House that the rough hill grazing land of Scotland represents no less than 70 per cent, of their total farm land; that in England it represents 17 per cent.; 1717 in Northern Ireland 31 per cent, or 16 million acres all told for the United Kingdom. I gather that of no less than 9 million breeding ewes in England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, something like 4,750,000 are on the hillside, as well as 320,000 cattle. These flocks of hardy mountain ewes are the foundation on which a large part of our sheep raising industry is actually built. Indeed, lowland farmers with better quality grassland are absolutely dependent upon the product of the hills. Without that product of the hills, it would be many years indeed before we were able to restore our livestock population. The two committees which sat, one in Scotland and one in England and Wales, have been referred to many times. May I, at the risk of wasting the time of the House, quote what I regard as one of the most impartial witnesses we have in this country? I refer to Sir George Stapledon. I am not referring to this Bill, but to the general problem. This is what he said:In my opinion, the interdependence of the different types of land and of the different types of farming has never been sufficiently realised in this country, a fact that has been most painfully manifest with reference to policy and planning. Thus, for example, most informed agriculturists would agree with me when I categorically assert that it would be quite impossible for this country to rear and maintain a sufficient head of livestock in order to produce all the home-grown meat and home-produced milk we shall require unless the very best use is made of our hill lands, and, moreover, we shall be unable to farm our flat lands to full national advantage unless we maintain a sufficient reservoir of stock on the hills.That seems to me to be fairly conclusive, so far as the general problem of hill farms is concerned. I submit to the House, from both the long-term and short-term points of view, that this Bill is justified on its merits.
I shall now deal with some of the points that have been raised in Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) referred to the question of nationalisation and " Let us Face the Future," and went backwards and forwards and all round it. I know that my hon. Friend has very pronounced feelings on this subject. I have heard him make many speeches on the virtues of the nationalisation of the land, and I make no complaint. All I would say to my hon. Friend and to the House is this. This matter is of great urgency, and I doubt 1718 whether we could afford to wait until the land of this country is nationalised. In any case, I think even my hon. Friend, on reflection, would be bound to agree that it would be utterly unreasonable to expect us to nationalise a particular type of land, not the best quality of land but the most uneconomic. When I point out that that particular type of land constitutes 16 million acres, I suggest, in the light of the immediate and prospective problem of hill farming, that it is an unreasonable suggestion.
§ Mr. Alpass
My right hon. Friend was in possession of those facts because he has been in the Ministry all this time, but why did he put those words in " Let us Face the Future "?
§ Mr. Williams
In any case, need I remind my hon. Friend once again, that on 15th November, 1945, the long term agricultural policy of this Government was announced in the House? It was stated then that powers would be taken, when legislative opportunities presorted themselves, to deal with both the bad farmer and the bad estate manager. Legislation will be produced, I hope at a not too far distant date, to deal with the policy announced on that occasion. In the meantime, it seems to me that what we are obliged to do, if we are to do our duty at all, is to make the best improvements we can between now and that time. This Bill, therefore, is based upon the principle of voluntary cooperation between landlord, tenant and the State. Where owner-occupiers arc willing to help the State is prepared to assist. I would further remind the House that this Bill is limited to five years. I think it should be given a trial. A great deal of experience can and will be obtained during that period of time. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) asked several questions, some of which I can deal with at once. As many hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), referred to the advisory committee, perhaps I ought to say at once that the advisory committee referred to in Clause 30 will be a committee comparable with the existing advisory committee on hill sheep and hill cattle for purposes 1719 of subsidy. It may be that that advisory committee will be added to, with one or two scientists or experts in this particular technique. That, more or less, will constitute the advisory committee for this purpose. The members will be practical agriculturists who know the problem inside out, and I am sure they will serve the purpose very well.
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary is in a better position than I to say what would happen in Scotland with regard to the local committees. I have it in mind, so far as England and Wales are concerned, that we shall rely largely upon the reconstituted county executive committees, which have had such a large experience in the last five years of dealing with hill sheep and cattle subsidies. The hon. Member for West Perth also referred to the amount of money available, asking how it is to be allocated to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. No specified sub-division of the £4 million or £5 million has been agreed upon. It has been discussed, but no figures were fixed. I think we shall have to act in accordance with the experience we gain from the number of schemes that are run. The hon. Member for West Perth also said there was no guarantee that good husbandry would follow the operation of any one of these improvement schemes. I would remind the hon. Member that we have a long term of agricultural policy. So long as State funds are helping a private scheme the hon. Member may rest assured that the day will come when those committees will be keeping an eye on areas that are improved. I hope that any improvement we get will be maintained, even by insistence upon either a county committee or any other similar body 111 Scotland. The hon. Member said there was no security for the landlord or tenant, and that the tenants ought to have long leases. It seems to me that if the landlord and tenant are willing to undertake a scheme of this description with Government assistance, that in itself is the best guarantee the landlord or the tenant can have.
I was rather disappointed when I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon). I had understood him to say on another occasion that we were too generous; that we ought not to make grants at all. In 1720 fact his name is down to an Amendment to the Money Resolution to limit assistance to loans. He said he was profoundly disappointed because the Bill did not go to the roots of the problem; that there was a great opportunity, but that this Bill was a miserable failure. Yet, curiously enough, he went on to say that unless the land owners could have loans free of interest for their part of the cost he did not think very much would be done. In one case it appears we are too generous, and in the other case too parsimonious, and I really do not quite know what the right thing is. He made one statement I clearly understood: he said the most important thing for hill farmers, as well as other farmers, was price stabilisation. Having provided guaranteed minimum prices for two, three or four years ahead—something this country has never known in the whole of its history—I should have thought that that form of price stabilisation would have satisfied the most fastidious Member of this House.
The right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) raised one or two points in regard to Northern Ireland. He asked, for instance, whether the grants would be subject to Income Tax, and whether Northern Ireland would have a subcommittee. The reply to the first question is that the Inland Revenue Department will apply the usual Income Tax principles to the facts of each case to determine whether the expenditure is of a capital nature or not. On his second question, I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland have been consulted, and they do not consider that a separate sub-committee is necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Scott-Elliot) made what I regarded as an exceptionally sound and solid speech, based upon a technical knowledge of this industry. I could not agree with him more than when he said that we ought to aim at better sheep and more sheep, so long as we do not overstock any other area. He, with many other hon. Members, referred to the need for more and still more research. There again, I could not agree with him more. A good deal of research is going on at the moment at our various stations, and I shall be very happy to assist all I can to improve research, either on hill farming or any other section of agriculture.
1721 The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) raised several points with regard to improvement schemes and invited sympathetic administration by the committees. I can assure my hon. Friend that that is our intention. Once the definition of a hill farm is really understood, I hope there will be sympathetic administration, and that we shall encourage rather than discourage those who wish to help themselves. So far as the committees are concerned I have already mentioned how they will be constituted, and I hope their members will be men with local knowledge, who understand the needs and the technique, and will do the job as I know my hon. Friend would desire it to be done. With regard to the circulation of a statement of the provisions and how they will work out, that is a matter that we will take into account, and if I can be helpful I will. He, with many other hon. Members, referred to the question of forestry, which I will deal with in a moment or two. The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond and certain others also referred to electricity under the First Schedule. We recognise that the lack of modern facilities on hill farms has been one of the most potent causes of the depopulation of the hills of this country. Electricity is an amenity which will be the crucial point in determining for or against a rehabilitation scheme; so long as we can provide ourselves with proper safeguards against the risk of disproportionate expenditure on a supply from the mains, I shall be very glad to look into the subject between now and the Committee stage.
The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond and other hon. Members also referred to small hill farm units. Clause 1 (2) (a) states that before approving any scheme the Minister must be satisfied that the scheme covers an area of land suitable for rehabilitation. Where any scheme fails to do this the Minister may refuse to approve the scheme, or may have it suitably modified. This provision will enable the Minister to exercise some pressure to ensure that the layout of farms will be suitably adjusted. I think it would be more reasonable to apply than any arbitrary line.
With regard to marginal hill farms, which were referred to by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, the term " hill farm "Is defined in Clause 1 (3) as 1722mountain, hill and heath land which is suitable for use for the maintenance of sheep of a hardy kind but not of sheep of other kinds.In all hill and upland districts, as hon. Members will know, there are what we term " marginal lands " lying at lower altitudes than ordinary hill sheep farms, poorly equipped and providing a poor living for the occupiers. A line of demarcation had to be drawn somewhere, not too rigid and capable of being interpreted with a degree of certainty and uniformity. Clause 1 (3) does this, and enables executives to understand just how the present scheme operates and just what will be necessary in future. I rather fear that any extension would be exceedingly difficult as most hill farms merge gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, into the better types of lowland farms; and the problem of marginal land farms is really one for long term policy, and not one for this rather temporary Measure. The definition of hill farming could be, perhaps, interpreted as follows, and I think this should help the House: while the definition of hill farming land refers to land suitable for hardy sheep, but not for other kinds of sheep, the Bill allows the Minister to approve schemes for the benefit of other land suitable for use therewith for hill farming purposes. That is under Clause 1 (1). The hill farming purposes include other activities carried on in connection with the keeping of hill sheep. The definition thus allows the Minister to approve all sorts of schemes, other than those benefiting high, mountain land. That I hope will help hon. Members who have marginal lands in mind.
§ Mr. Turton
The point we are making is that as the Bill is drafted now one farm will qualify and the next farm, similar in character, will be excluded. So will the Minister give an undertaking now to consider an Amendment of this definition and, perhaps, use the words already operating in the 1942 regulation dealing with marginal land in hill and upland districts?
§ Mr. Williams
I am afraid that I would not be able to give the hon. Member a faithful promise that I am prepared to amend the Bill in the direction he indicates. We have to draw the line somewhere, or it is clear that the £5 million would not go very far and, in all 1723 probability, would be spent in the wrong direction.
Just one word with regard to paragraph 3 of the First Schedule. Tied cottages have been mentioned in the Debate. I think it is quite right. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health provides a subsidy of £15 for 40 years for privately built houses; but he insists upon the house being let and a tenancy created. That, I think, is not an unreasonable suggestion. Where the State is putting money into the erection of a new house, I think it is not unreasonable that a tenancy should be created.
All these fears about tied cottages and cottages on hill farms being of little use to the farmer do not appeal to me. I cannot imagine a person occupying a house right away up in the hill lands if he no longer works for that particular farmer, and of necessity he would have to leave that house in a very short space of time. There is another point in connection with tied houses of that description. I think that the day is long past when there is any necessity to continue tied cottages where other means can be employed. I know that there are 137 types of tied cottages—someone said to me the other day that the Palace across the way is almost a tied cottage. In this particular case I think it is right that where State funds are provided for reconditioning or building new houses a tenancy ought to be created, and an Amendment will be moved in Committee to deal with that.
Colonel Gomme-Ouncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that you will not get men to work in these places unless they have tied cottages?
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. and gallant Member may take that view. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is true."] I am not convinced. If the agricultural workers of this country are to receive a wage comparable with that obtaining in other industries, they will be ready and willing to pay rents for their houses, and they will enjoy the freedom which that gives. While the wages of agricultural workers were between 34s. and 35s, a week, they obviously preferred tied cottages at 3s. per week than untied cottages at 10s. per week. If we are always going to live 1724 in the past, we shall always believe that tied cottages are necessary everywhere; but I do not take that point of view.
The question of reconciling the interests of forestry and agriculture has been raised by several hon. Members. The Forestry Act, 1945, recognises the need for reconciling these dual interests, and the House firmly and squarely planted responsibility on the Minister of Agriculture to reconcile the interests of afforestation and agriculture. Following a definite promise made to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport, we are already cooperating in a survey in Wales, and in the light of experience gained there we shall extend these surveys to other areas. I see no reason for a conflict in the future between these very important industries. So far we have devised ways and means of amicable cooperation, and there has been no conflict between afforestry and agricultural interests during these past nine months, and I see no reason why it should occur in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Steele) with many other hon. Members complained against the Bill because the schemes were voluntary. They thought that the Government ought to have applied compulsion, and to my astonishment I found that the hon. Member for West Perth regretted that we were not applying compulsion because the Scottish Committee had recommended it. It is a new theory for the hon. Member, but I would suggest to him that on this occasion it is far better to apply the scheme voluntarily before starting to apply compulsion. If, as he said, the £5 million from the State is not very much, he seems to anticipate a rush of applications before application of compulsion He cannot have it both ways. The hon. Member for Lanark raised the question of security of tenure. The fact that the landlord and tenant have agreed to a scheme seems to be implicit in the contract that there will be security of tenure.
I think that I have covered most of the points raised during the course of the Debate. All I would say to hon. Members in all parts of the House, is that we are anxious that this Bill should be a real help to hill farming in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We shall be as sympathetic as is necessary, on the Committee Stage, without destroying the basis on which the Bill was created. We 1725 are anxious that our hills shall be more fully populated, that the conditions of the lowlands shall be better in the future than they have been in the past and that we shall, in a reasonable time, be able to restore our livestock and provide more fresh meat for the people of this country.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.