HC Deb 01 March 1946 vol 419 cc2306-31

Considered in Committee.

[Major Milner in the Chair]

CLAUSE 1.—( Extension of power to make ploughing grants.)

1.48 p.m

Mr. Hurd (Newbury)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, leave out, "fifth day of February, nineteen hundred and forty-six," and insert: thirty-first day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-five. It will probably be for the convenience of the Committee if we consider the Amendment in connection with the next Amendment upon the Paper, in page 1, line 18, leave out from "the," to end of Clause, and insert: calendar year nineteen hundred and forty-three.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)


The Chairman

There appears to be a difference of opinion as to the convenience of the course suggested by the hon. Member.

Mr. Williams

Upon closer examination of these Amendments the hon. Member will find, I think, that the second Amendment has little or no relation to the first. They relate to two totally separate subjects.

Mr. Hurd

We shall see as we go on what connection they have. Let me explain the effect of the Amendment which I am moving. It proposes to put back to 31st July, 1945, the qualifying date on which the payment of£2 per acre would be given in relation to the ploughing up of temporary grass which had been sown for three years. I am glad that the Minister himself is here, because this is an important discussion. We do not feel that the Bill is likely to be an effective instrument in getting more grain grown for the harvest of 1946, but we want, if possible, to make the Bill a fair instrument in operation.

In our view, the Bill, and particularly Clause 1, will not operate fairly. We should like to know why 5th February has been chosen as the qualifying date. It is the date on which the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture woke up and told the House how very serious our food prospects were. I am not sure that that is a good reason for commemorating 5th February in the Bill. Farmers do not work to the awakening of Ministers but to cropping seasons. We take 31st July as the end of one cropping season and 1st August as the beginning of the next cropping season. That is why we suggest in our Amendment that the qualifying date should be alter 31st July, 1945, so that all farmers who ploughed up temporary grass that has been sown for three years, for tillage cropping in this season, should qualify for the£2 per acre payment.

If the Clause as drawn by the Government is allowed to stand it will mean that the most progressive, patriotic and far-seeing farmers will be disqualified, while laggards who were rather hoping that they might leave their temporary grass fields down for another season without the job of cropping them for this year, are being offered a present of£2 per acre. In my part of the country we farm to a high standard. I think that is true also of other parts of the country, that feu leys are considered good enough to leave down for more than two seasons. We plough them up in July, August or September and so bring them round for the next harvest. That is what the farseeing farmer has done. He is a man who is not only fanning to a high standard for his own cropping, but the man, who, in this very difficult juncture, is serving the country best. He ploughed in those leys in the late summer or the early autumn and is now going in for wheat, growing the grain from which this country will need her harvest in 1946.

The Minister has not been at all consistent by choosing 5th February as the qualifying date. We had some little discussion in our agricultural Debate about the possibility of restoring the 4 per acre grant for wheat, particularly to spring sown crops. A good many of us on these Benches felt there would be little response to the Minister's appeal unless the farmer who did put in spring wheat was assured that he had at least that£4 per acre payment. The Minister, speaking in that Debate, said that he could not possibly suddenly, in the middle of the season, alter the wheat price, because it would be most unfair. He also said: First, it will have to apply, to be fair, to all farmers who responded to our appeal in the autumn of last year, to make the same acreage payment that we make to anybody who sows wheat in the spring. We have to be fair. all round, to those who respond on every occasion an appeal is made."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 673]. In the same Debate the Minister was at pains to tell us that he had, through the autumn and repeatedly in December and January, asked farmers to grow wheat on all suitable land. The man who by this clause is debarred from the£2 per acre ploughing payment is just the man who responded to the Minister's call. The Minister must be a little bit more consistent. Either it is right to give the£4 per acre to all wheat grown for the 1946 harvest, or, if that is not right, the present proposal cannot be right to give suddenly from 5th February,£2 per acre for ploughing up temporary grass sown for three years, but not from the beginning of the cropping season.

It may be said that the Amendment would cost the Treasury a great deal of money if the period were extended back to the beginning of the cropping year, 31st July, 1945. In the explanatory Memorandum to the Bill I see that it is stated: The increase attributable to the Bill in sums payable by way of ploughing grants is expected to be of the order of£½smillion during 1946. One and a half million at£2 per acre is 750,000 acres to be ploughed up. I think most practical men would question whether the present policy of the Minister is likely to result in 750,000 acres of temporary grass being ploughed up this year. I see no signs of it happening in my part of the country. I wish I did. I suggest, therefore, that if the country is prepared to lay out£1,500,000 on this project this year, that money should be used fairly by making these ploughing up grants retrospective to July 31st, 1945. The Treasury may have some other argument, but I hope the Minister will reply that he can accept this Amendment, if not now, perhaps at a later stage, because there are a great many farmers who feel that this is not only an inadequate but an unfair measure.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

1 rise to support this Amendment, which I hope the Minister will accept. If he does, he will only be following the same principles that he has already accepted through the Forestry Commission in their latest instruction about the Dedication Scheme for woodlands. If he accepts the Amendment, he will only be ensuring that those who get off the mark quickly do not receive fewer benefits than those who are slow to respond to his call or to the calls of good farming.

Secondly, I hope he will accept our date rather than that which stands in the Bill because it is nearly always, if not always, undesirable in the farming world to accept dates for administrative purposes which mean little or nothing to a farmer. I tried to think why February 5th has been chosen. 1 did not arrive at the same conclusion as my hon. Friend. I thought the Minister had probably tried to choose the ancient customary date of Candle-mas and had got it three days wrong. However, if he had, it would have been of little interest to farmers because Candlemas is not an important date in the ploughing calendar if you take England as a whole. I know that in the industrial world and in particular in the industry with which the Parliamentary Secretary has the honour to be connected, it is a practice to make timetables and to expect your trains to run in accordance with those timetables. In Industry this can be done, but when it comes to agriculture, I beg the Minister to choose for administrative purposes those dates which mean something in the farming year and which will simplify the immense administrative problems which now face the farmer.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I rise to support this Amendment and to support my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd). I also am puzzled by the extraordinary date of 5th February, and I cannot see why that particular date should have been selected. I feel that all hon. Members on all sides of the House should support this Amendment, as it concerns the man who has had the foresight, which His Majesty's Government have not had, to foresee the acute food shortage which was likely to occur and therefore ploughed up his land last July. Surely that enterprise should be recognised by His Majesty's Government? I hope the Minister will agree that the farmer in Cornwall has had to make superhuman efforts, in face of the shortage of labour, in order to produce our food and that this foresight which he has shown, should be rewarded by amending the date to July, 1945.

2.0 p.m.

Major Haughton (Antrim)

The purpose of this Amendment is not to defeat the objects of the Bill in any way but to improve the Bill. It is described as an Agricultural Development Bill, but its immediate purpose is the production of more home-grown food. Now, admittedly an increase in the acreage could bring about an increase in home-grown food, but how much more would that be so if it were allied with good husbandry and good farming. In all our discussions and debates about agriculture I think we all agree that ultimately and at all times farming must be efficient. Subsidies of one kind or another are probably necessary at present but, in the end, farming will have to stand on its own feet and be self-supporting. Its ability to do so will undoubtedly depend upon its efficiency. To do those things which should be done at the time they should be done, and not to do things which are unnecessary, would be my definition of efficiency, either in business or in farming. Now the Minister of Agriculture must, of course, try to encourage farmers to put more acres under the plough, but early ploughing is the prerequisite of a good seed-bed, of a good crop, of an early harvest, and I think that if we are to encourage the farmers at the present time to grow more food, the question of fair play must be considered, for it is undoubtedly at stake Those of us who are asking the Minister to accept this Amendment are pointing out that the farmer should get ahead. with his ploughing in the early autumn, and the farmer who, in his wisdom, realised that there would be a shortage of home-grown food is the man who deserves encouragement, just as much as the man who is encouraged now by this bait of£an acre to plough up a few more acres.

I am, perhaps not unnaturally, deeply. concerned about this matter, coming as I do, from the North of Ireland where we have a very heavy rainfall. We have a 36 inch rainfall in the year, and it rains on 220 days as compared with 188 days in England and Wales and 211 in Scotland. Therefore, the planning ahead of our agriculture is very important, and this Amendment applies very much to Northern Ireland. In supporting this Amendment I am backing those farmers who, by their foresight, have ploughed up more land and who can get the crop in, on time.

I realise that in saying these things and in drawing attention to the heavy rainfall over there, I am probably getting myself into sore trouble with some of the other interests over on the other side, but I hope it will not scare any of my farming friends in different parts of the House from coming over to see us. There may be a lot of rain but, if they come, we will see if we cannot put something into it; we are a great people over there for brewing a good pot of tea. After all, the rainfall has gained for us the very picturesque title of "The Emerald Isle ", and it is accountable for that extraordinary greeness of which I, as a new Member of this mighty Parliament, am probably a very good example, as I am only too well aware. I would ask the Minister of Agriculture to consider this because in Northern Ireland, which is essentially a milk producing country, the acreage under the plough has been increased to 900,000. It is at the present time shipping enormous quantities of food to this country, although we are on the same ration basis as you are over here, and I hope and believe it will do more. It is interesting to realise that in the winter months we are shipping in liquid milk over 3 million gallons to this country, as well as 150,690 fat cattle. I could go on quoting other instances of that. I feel that now the momentum is up it should be maintained.

So, without wearying the Committee with a lot of figures, I will end my remarks with an Irish "bull ". It is that we are encouraging 'the Minister to go forward, while we are asking him to go backwards as far as July, 1945, because we believe that in so doing he will be giving fair play to those who deserve it, that he will be encouraging good husbandry, and that the industry will be animated by a sense of good will, which it will lack unless fair play is granted to all farmers who ploughed in the autumn, as well as those whom we hope will plough in the spring.

Mr.Paget (Northampton)

Those hon. Members who are putting forward this Amendment seem to have quite overlooked what is the object of this Bill. It is not designed to make a handsome present to any one, it is not designed to make a handsome present to a farmer, to an efficient farmer or any other sort of farmer. It is designed in order that we as a community should get something which we would not otherwise get. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who moved this Amendment, said that the best farmers only left their leys for two years, and probably ploughed them up after that time. Be that so, they have ploughed them up, but some farmers decided to leave them a little longer. They decided to do that, I presume, because they think it pays them to leave it a little longer, and since we want more ploughed up land we want to give them an inducement to plough up. The farmer who has already ploughed up has taken his decision for his own reasons, because, as the hon. Member has said, he considers it good farming to plough up after two or three years. He has not done it because of the Minister's advice, but because he considers it to be good farming. There is another man who thinks it will pay him best to leave land under grass longer, and the object of this Bill is to try and make him change his mind by offering him an inducement to do so. The Government and the Minister think that it is worth paying him£2 an acre to induce a certain number who have made one decision to change their mind and take another decision. That is the object of this Bill, and this Amendment seems entirely. to forget that.

Sir John Barlow (Eddisbury)

The previous speaker suggests that this subsidy for ploughing up leys is in no way a present. I agree with that. It seems to me to be a very lucky dip for some farmers who plough up after 5th February, and not earlier in the season. I rise to support the Amendment because I feel that the whole agricultural policy is wisely and essentially a long term policy, as it must be in all farming. It is most unwise to change policy suddenly, in little snippets here and there. We have already seen the Government doing that in the withdrawal of food coupons for pigs and chickens, and causing great hardship to people setting up in poultry farming after the war. It seems to me a rather pettifogging policy, and not a broad policy such as we all welcome for agriculture. I come from Cheshire, which is renowned for its fine milk pastures. Before the war there was very little ploughing, but owing to patriotism—I think we still have some patriotism in Cheshire—we are not hard-headed farmers, because we lack some Northamptonshire farmers—and to the directions of the Minister of the time, a large amount of ploughing up was done during the war. Three or four year leys have been put down. I know quite a number of farmers who have this winter ploughed up their leys because they felt it was the right thing to do. Throughout last autumn the Minister urged people to grow more wheat. Not only once or twice but continually, he urged farmers of this country to grow wheat on suitable land. At Norwich, on 26th January, he is reported to have said: We still want plenty of wheat to be grown In view of the strain that is going to be put on the world's food resources this winter, this is a serious matter. He went on to appeal for more wheat.

Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)

Would the hon. Member quote the Minister's first statement of last autumn, regarding the growing of wheat?


Which statement?

Mr. Kenyon

I understood the hon. Member to say that during the autumn the Minister had exhorted the farmers to grow more wheat. Could he quote the autumn statement, not the January one?

Sir J. Barlow

I cannot quote that statement, but I will quote one which was reported in the Press on 5th December, when the Minister gave a serious warning. He is reported to have said: The food resources of the world are going to be taxed to the uttermost limit. To meet the world's needs, both during this winter and the next, the maintenance of wheat supplies is therefore vital. Not only is there an urgent need for all the wheat which can be grown, but a sure market for it as well. I therefore appeal to farmers most strongly ' Grow as much wheat as possible on suitable land where it can be fitted into the rotation '. I submit that in response to that, and to many other earlier appeals on the part of the Minister, who made them so eloquently at that time, many people in my part of the world tore up good young leys which otherwise they would not have done. I submit further that in view of that they should have the benefit of this small amount of subsidy under this Bill.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

1 would submit to the Committee that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) founded his speech upon a fallacy. He tried to put it across to the Committee that all farmers ploughed in the autumn and that no cultivations are reserved in any part of the country until the spring, and, therefore, that land that was not ploughed up by 5th February would not be ploughed later I do not know what has happened to Northampton. Before the war they never knew there what a plough looked like. Therefore, some of his fallacy is due to the fact that before the war ploughing was not carried out very much in that great hunting county.

2.15 p.m.

It is a fact that many farmers were going to do this ploughing in the spring and they will now get the benefit of it. Good luck to them. It is very bad luck to those farmers who earlier on took a little cognisance of what is happening in the world, and ploughed up in the autumn. I have always argued, and I still do, that the Minister's exhortations to farmers during those autumn months to grow wheat, or to draw attention to the shortage of food, were very badly put across in the country. I agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite who made an interruption to my predecessor, that in October if the Minister was trying to draw attention to a world wheat shortage, he was doing it in a very inappropriate way—

Mr. Kenyon

If the hon. Gentleman will pardon me, I did not suggest that the Minister made the statement in October. I was trying to obtain from the hon. Member the exact date when the first statement was made. I shall be glad if the hon. Gentleman can give me that.

Mr. Turton

I think the first statement was made in reply to questions on 15th October when the Minister said the growing of wheat on unsuitable land would be quite unjustifiable. He said that in reply to a question by me and also in reply to a question by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). He made a very similar remark which I would not like to quote because I have not got it in detail. It was to the same effect, that he was discouraging farmers from growing wheat on unsuitable land. Other farmers in the country were looking round and seeing what was happening. They heard about the great drought in Australia and the Argentine. They realised that we had to feed the great liberated countries of Europe and they woke up to the fact rather earlier than did the Government. For that reason they ploughed up, not merely for the money motive put forward by the hon. Member for Northampton but for patriotic motives.

I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture will agree that during the war farmers have acted from patriotic motives. The farmers realised what this country requires of them and they have tried to fulfil that requirement. It does seem to be odd. I tried to think of a parable in the Bible that would be appropriate. It is not quite a case of the labourers in the vineyard. The appeal is made at the first hour and some farmers go to it. It is continued, and at the eleventh hour those farmers who then answered the appeal do not get the penny reward similar to the labourer of the first hour; they get in addition the£2 subsidy which the others do not get. I am quite certain if that parable had been put forward it would have carried even greater weight than that even greater parable of the vineyard.

I suggest it would be very unwise to limit these words to the 5th February. I should have thought that it was very distasteful to the Minister and that it would have been a black day in his diary, the day when he and his colleague had to comedown to the House and confess to a gross miscalculation. I should have thought that he would far rather wish that. it was forgotten. I do not know if ever there was any precedent in any Act of Parliament for dating the subsidy on a confession by a Minister of a mistake he has made. I think it is the first time this has happened. The normal way for subsidies is to date from the cultivation year. For that reason my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has suggested the insertion of 31st July, 1945.

There does seem to be a little difficulty about this. If this Amendment is carried, as I hope it will be, it will follow that some alteration will have to be made to paragraph (b) at lines 15 to 20. I want to draw attention to that because the Minister in an interjection earlier, when we were moving this Amendment, seemed to imply that no such alteration would be required. If this Amendment is carried then, unless we put an alteration in lines 18 and 19 it would mean that certain farmers would be able to get a subsidy in respect of ploughing of a one year ley while others would only get it for a two year ley, dependent on whether the ploughing was carried out in the calendar year 1945 or the calendar year 1946. I wish to make that point now so that the Minister in his reply—

Mr. T. Williams

I do not agree with the interpretation of my hon. Friend. I think I have already said that there is a distinction between the two Amendments. One is expansive; the other is restrictive. I will deal with that second Amendment when the times comes.

Mr. Turton

If this Amendment is carried the Committee later on will have to make some alteration to paragraph((b.) We will have plenty of opportunity later in the afternoon to discuss that.

There is one other point I wish to put to the Minister of Agriculture, and I hope when he replies he will deal with it. This Clause is phrased in relation to "the ploughing up of land after the 5th February, 1946." What is to happen in the case of a field where the ploughing began before 5th February, 1946, and is not completed until after that date? Under this system is that going to qualify for subsidy? After all, certainly in the hill land where labour is not easy to obtain and ploughing. takes a long time, I know of many fields where ploughing was begun in November and not finished until February. The work is also dependent on snow and frost. I was watching a farmer ploughing such a ley only 10 days ago when it was borne forcibly to my mind and I said, "Are you going to qualify for this new subsidy? "He said," Well, I began this some time ago but I am hoping to finish it in the course of this week." I hope the Minister will deal with that point. It is a point that should not arise because the subsidy should be based on cultivation years. If we have some artificial date such as 5th February, this will be a point which will frequently arise. I hope the Minister will realise that there is considerable force in this Amendment which was very clearly put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury. I hope the Minister will recall his own words, which have been quoted, that he wants to be fair to all and those who have responded early to his appeal should get the same reward as those who respond at the eleventh hour.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

I had no idea until a few moments ago why the Minister fixed on 5th February as the date when this should begin to operate. Now we all know; it was "Confession Tuesday". It does seem a very funny date to choose. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I should have- thought it was a date the Minister would have been more inclined to forget, if possible, than bring constantly to his memory, because it was a black day for His Majesty's Government. The answer to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is that of course the fundamental reason for introducing this Bill is the gross miscalculation made by His Majesty's Government. If the Government had not miscalculated to the extent they did, and misled the country, then there would not have been any necessity to bring in this eleventh hour inducement. The country was misled particularly by the Minister of Food. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is a little more innocent than the Minister of Food—not much, but a little. "Inducement" was the word used. by the hon. Gentleman, to get people to plough up before it is too late. I do not like these eleventh hour inducements.

Mr. Paget

Surely there is a little inconsistency in this argument. On the one hand it is said that farmers should be rewarded because they want to co-operate with the Government and follow the Government's advice that more wheat should be grown, and on the other hand it is said that the Government did not give sufficient warning.

Mr. Boothby

The answer is that the Government did not issue sufficiently grave warnings. Certain farmers had prescience to ignore the attitude of gay optimism taken up by the Minister and did the thing for themselves, and did it in time.

Mr. T. Williams

Does the hon. Member mean to say that the Government before last July did not issue directions in time, since he is supporting an Amendment which only deals with events after last July?

Mr. Boothby

No, I am only pointing out that His Majesty's Government did not issue sufficiently serious warnings, either to the farmers or to the mass of the people.

Mr. T. Wailliams

Before July last or after?

Mr. Boothby

Both. It was perfectly clear long before July last, when I was in the United States of America, that the food situation was getting very serious even then. I do not want to waste the time of the Committee in speeches of my own invention, but I have a letter here from one of my constituents in Turriff, which is one of the best agricultural districts in the best agricultural county in the best agricultural country in the world. It says: It means that an enterprising and forceful farmer, who has made the best of the open winter and has all his third year's grassland ploughed before February 5, gets nothing; whereas his more leisurely neighbour gets£2 per acre for what he ploughs now that spring is here.

It is going to be the case of the early bird missing the worm with a vengeance.

And what is going to happen when a farmer claims the subsidy for the portion of a field? Is his calculation of the remnant to be taken for granted or is some paid official going to be sent to measure it? What is going to happen to the farmer who, owing to the weather, was necessarily delayed in ploughing up his land, and where some was ploughed up before 5th February and the rest afterwards? That very fact makes nonsense of the proposal. The Minister will be well advised to give to all farmers, the early birds and the late, the same reward. It is in any case not a very grand reward for the labours with which they are now expected to save the Government.

Colonel Ropner (Barkston Ash)

I want to support this Amendment. This is an emergency Measure and as the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern (Mr. Boothby) and other speakers have already shown, it is based on a miscalculation of the Government's. It seems a very dangerous precedent to contend that this comparatively small sum is being offered to agriculturists who change their mind late in the season. It is altogether wrong that the reward whatever it may be should go solely to those agriculturists who are late in their ploughing. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has already said that the agricultural year is the cultivating year. If owing to a miscalculation by the Government it is necessary to get more land ploughed, it is our contention that the subsidy should be given to all farmers irrespective of the date they actually ploughed their land.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)

I think we ought to get this question from the background of the Order which took off the£2 per acre in the early part of last year. That is when the first mistake was made, and not when the Minister made his pronouncement in February this year. The reduction of the wheat acreage last year gave farmers the impression that wheat growing in this country had now become rather restricted. When farmers began planning last autumn, they were still under that impression. I tried to obtain from hon. Members opposite the date when the Minister first made his appeal to farmers to grow more wheat and the first date was 5th December. The statement made that the date was 15th October was in relation to a question when the answer advised farmers not to grow wheat on marginal land, which is a different thing altogether.

Farmers in their cropping plans plan to grow a certain amount of wheat in rotation and they would grow another crop in place of wheat. In many cases they have sown barley which will bring in a greater amount of money than will wheat. Those who grow the barley, in addition to the larger amount of money they receive for the barley will get the wheat payment of 31st July. I could have understood the Amendment if the date had been put to the time when the Minister first made his appeal. If it was in December, I could have understood the Amendment if from that date farmers who responded to the appeal could have received the£2 wheat acreage payment. But I cannot understand the Opposition desiring to put the date right back to 31st July. I hope the Minister will resist the Amendment.

Major John Morrison (Salisbury)

1 wish to add a word in support of the Amendment. There is no doubt that in the country as a whole amongst the farming community there will be a feeling of unfairness unless the right hon. Gentleman accepts the Amendment. I was in the same form at school as the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and followed his career with interest. I find myself in this case considerably in disagreement with him. I am surprised at the attitude he adopted and the arguments he put forward. The Minister has the precedent in the retrospective grants to be made in the case of forestry. We are not trying to drive him but to enable him to keep faith with the agricultural community.

Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)

I merely rise to support the Amendment so ably moved by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd). It is quite clear that what the Government propose not only looks unfair but is unfair. I am very sorry for the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture. I believe he is simply taking instructions from the Treasury in this matter. He knows it is wrong, and that we are just perpetuating another of those terrible meannesses concerning the farming community of which there have been too many over the years. If it is right to have the wheat, it is only right to do justice to those who grow it, and if they grow it before 5th February they should be treated in the same way as if they grew it after 5th February. I cannot see why a plan cannot be sympathetically considered both by the Minister and this House. I feel that the farmers, who throughout the war years have given of their best, are not being given a square deal by the Government today. I will not detain the Committee any longer except to say that I consider that the attitude of the Government is a monstrous breach of equity.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

I had just made up my mind to compliment the hon. Gentleman the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) on his very modest intervention, but my thoughts ran faster than they should have done. It seems I was a little premature in believing that he was going to be pleasant about it. It appears to me that the Opposition this afternoon have turned themselves, after some little organisation, into a team of Micawbers, and yet I am rather surprised at their modesty. If they ask for the date to be fixed in July, 1945, why not in 1940? The logic of most of the arguments advanced by hon. Members this afternoon appears to me to be equally applicable to 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944 as to July, 1945.

First of all, I want to give the reasons why the date 5th February was selected, and then I will try to reply to some of the alleged arguments that have been used. The 31st July. 1945. seems to have been chosen very carefully by the hon. Gentleman who put down this Amendment. It was about four days after my right hon. Friend left Office and two or three days before I took Office. I do not think that I ought to step back into that neutral territory because, if there is any logic in the claims advanced this afternoon, then, clearly, the last Government were wrong in not having made ample arrangements for payment of a ploughing-up grant for three-year-old grass before the end of last July. However, I do not think the Government were wrong, and I will give my reasons in a moment. Prices for the harvest this year were fixed in February of last year. Therefore, the farmer who ploughed up any grass at all, either in July or later than July last year, did so according to the plan that he himself conceived to be in strict relation to good farming policy. I rather suspect that the good farmers, instead of welcoming, would rather resent hon. Members asking for something for nothing on their behalf In any case, this is not the first time that a similar proposal has been submitted. In May, 1939, I think, there was a proposal to provide for a ploughing-up grant The date fixed was somewhere in May, but, as today, so at that time, efforts were made to try to get an ante-dated period for the payment of the grant. The then Conservative Minister of Agriculture resisted and said he could not accept the proposal because it would not be sound business to make the grant retrospective beyond the date fixed. I am simply pursuing the good Conservative policy of 1939. It is almost certain that I would have supported the Minister in doing the right thing then.

Why did we make the change which brought about this small Bill? The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that it was the intention that the year 1946 should see a reduotion in our tillage acreage of about 450,000 acres. On 5th February—this is an anwer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and many other hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon—the policy was reversed. It was decided to maintain in 1946, by a ploughing-up policy, the same tillage acreage that we had in 1945. Therefore, to help those who from the 5th February were called upon by direction to plough up young leys to maintain the same tillage acreage as in 1945, the scheme of paying a£2 grant for ploughing up grass land from three years upwards instead of seven years was produced. One hon. Member said that some grass will be ploughed up that would have been ploughed up in any case and that the farmers will get the£2 grant, so why not go back to July, 1945. That does not seem to me to be a solid argument at all because, whatever date in whatever year was fixed for the payment of a grant of this kind, it is clear that the ploughing up would be bound to take place.

Might I inform hon. and right hon. Members opposite that the National Farmers' Union agree with our policy? They have not made any request for a retrospective date to July, 1945. They think that this is one form of helping the Government to achieve the objects of the Government, and they have not gone beyond that. Therefore, I cannot believe that hon. Members are really serious in asking us to go back to July, 1945. [Interruption.] Perhaps I had better not enter Into that argument because the hon. Member who moved this Amendment will remember who was in office in 1931 and all the subsequent years when all the depression he referred to developed. I blame no one. It was a House of Commons failing, and this country nearly paid a heavy price for it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) said—and I ask hon. Members to pay particular attention to the logic of his argument, if any, which I doubt—that the policy, in any case, will not be effective as we are not likely to get the acreage anticipated. Therefore, since the policy is not going to be effective, let us do the best we can by paying for work already done. I do not quite understand that kind of argument.

Mr. Hurd

I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that I said that this was an inadequate instrument and unfair.

Mr. Williams

In other words, the policy will not be effective, so let us pay a sum of money back to July last year. Really, that is an extraordinary argument. The hon. Gentleman said the Minister must be more consistent—he would not change the acreage payment because he did not want-to break into the price-fixing system.

2.45 p.m.

It is rather a disingenuous argument because there is no comparison at all between the two. The question of the pre fixing of prices is one thing, but it is totally different from this new idea of reducing the age of grass to be ploughed up and providing a ploughing up grant for it. Therefore, the two things have no parallel whatsoever, and there is no inconsistency in my attitude. The hon. Member, curiously enough—at least, I thought it was rather a curious suggestion—said that on the front of the Bill we anticipate the possibility of ploughing up in 1946, 750,000 acres. He doubted very much whether we would be able to get anything like that and, therefore, as we were not going to get that 750,000 acres ploughed up from now on, at least we should pay for the land that had already been ploughed up. That is a first class argument to which anybody would listen but the Treasury.

Mr. De la Bère


Mr. Williams

Perhaps the hon. Gentle man will allow me to continue.

Mr. De la Bè re

But the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Treasury, and I want to say something about that.

Mr. Williams

The. hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Major Haughton) made a very pleasant suggestion, and I am happy to be able to inform him that the one part of the British Isles which will benefit very materially under the terms of this Bill will be Northern Ireland.

Mr. Boothby

Because they are the slowest.

Mr. Williams

I will leave hon. Members to argue that out for themselves. Northern Ireland farmers are expected to derive substantial benefits under the terms of this Bill because it is their practice to sow a good deal of their corn and to do a good deal of their ploughing up in the Spring. On the basis of the 750,000 acres, it is anticipated that Northern Ireland will plough up no less than 200,000 acres. So that I can assure the Committee that Northern Ireland will derive a good deal of benefit from the Bill as it now stands without the Amendment at all. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Douglas Marshall) were puzzled as to why we had fixed the date of 5th February. I am not surprised at that. A good many hon. Members in this House, including myself sometimes, are always suffering from some disease called "puzzledom." I have already explained that the date 5th February was the date when the announcement was made that the world food situation had deteriorated rapidly. It was on that date that the Government made up their minds that something must be done to help us restore our tillage acreage, and that was the date fixed for the commencement of the payment of this subsidy

The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Sir J. Barlow) said that what they were asking for was not a present. I do not know what the hon. Gentle man means. If he is not asking for a present for those who ploughed up grass from 31st July last year to 5th February, for what is he asking? The Government, in February last year, provided the prices for this year's crop, which included the ploughing of any grassland last year, that would meet the cost of the ploughing up of any grass ploughed up between July and 5th February. So that if he is not asking for a present of this extra£2 per acre for land ploughed up since that date. for what is he asking? It is just a present from Heaven that he is asking for, and I really cannot concede his point. Some hon. Members have said that since 1 appealed on 5th December—one hon. Member quoted the date—for the maximum wheat on suitable land, why should I not compensate those who ploughed up their land after July last year? Clearly there is no relation between the two dates, and I cannot see why, because I made an appeal six months after July, we have of necessity to go back to last July to start making payments for land that was ploughed up.

I think I have pretty well answered most of the questions that were sub mitted. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that I made an appeal to farmers to grow wheat on suitable land, or not to grow wheat on unsuitable land, as the case might be. But that was months after July. Surely, he cannot tell me with reason, because we now are not prepared to pay this£2 ploughing grant back to July of last year, that we are acting unfairly? The farmers themselves do not think so, neither do the farmers' representatives. As to the charge of gross miscalculation made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, if there was any gross miscalculation before 31st July last year, it was neither the present Minister of Agriculture nor my predecessor who was responsible, because our policies were determined in February as to the 1946 harvests, and they involved ploughing up any grass that may be ploughed up. So that there was no miscalculation in December, January or February that could affect last July, August, September or the succeeding months. I would have expected in a Debate of this description that the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen would lend his charm and cheer to the Amendment which has been moved, whether it be good, bad or indifferent, logical or illogical. I make no complaint. I have done that sort of thing myself when I sat on the opposite side of the House.

The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) said it was a very small amount that we were offering. 1 could have understood him saying that£ 2 per acre for grass ploughed up from now henceforth is not quite what it ought to be, but I can hardly appreciate his argument if he thinks£2 per acre is not enough for land ploughed up sub sequent to July of last year. The hon. and gallant Member for Salisbury (Major Morrison) could only refer to the possibility of unfairness. I do not think hon. Members really believe in their heart of hearts that there is any unfairness attached to it. [Hon. Members: "Yes."] Farmers who ploughed up grass after last July did so because it was sound policy. They knew the price had already been fixed for their produce. Therefore, acting like good farmers, they did the thing in the way in which it should be done, and I do not think they are now asking for compensation. I certainly do not think they will charge the Ministry of Agriculture with anything approaching unfairness. As to the scandal in the mind of the hon. Member for Evesham this is only one of many.

Mr. De la Bère

Hear, hear. I could not agree more.

Mr. Williams

I would add that I am forced to the conclusion that this, like so many other scandals in his mind, is a fictitious one, and I hope that neither he nor his hon. Friends will stress the point that there is any unfairness—

Mr. De la Bère

If the Minister will allow me, I would like to say a word on that. I want to tell the Minister what is in my mind on that matter. What I did imply was that the Minister is absolutely ruled by the Treasury and cannot, there fore, always carry out those policies which he and his party would like to do. Treasury rule is very often unfair to agriculture, and I make no apology for saying that.

Mr. Williams

I can only say that I disagree with every word uttered by the hon. Member.

Mr. De la Bère

I would have been surprised if the Minister did not. My constituents would have been disappointed.

Mr. Williams

All I have to say in conclusion is this. If the Government had not produced this Bill to provide a£2 per acre grant for the ploughing up of grass between three years and seven years, there is not a solitary hon. Member opposite who would have asked for the£2 grant to be paid for grass ploughed up between July last year and February this year. There is not an hon. Member in the Committee, on the other side or indeed anywhere' else, who has asked the Government that question In any form whatsoever, namely, to pay a grant of£2 per acre for having ploughed up grass from three to seven years old between July last year and February this year. It is only the introduction of this Bill, as an urgent measure to help the farmers themselves to plough up leys perhaps earlier than they would have done, that has given rise to this Amendment this afternoon. I hope hon. Members will no longer charge the Government with any thing approaching unfairness in this matter.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

I do not want to detain the Committee long before coming to a decision. However, I really do not think the right hon. Gentle man has adequately replied to the point about inconsistency. Surely, if he casts his mind back to the Debates that took place in the middle of February he will remember that the Government were accused from these Benches of having acted too late, of having delayed too long in warning the country of the perilous situation in which we found ourselves regarding food, and delayed too long in appealing to the famers to grow the maximum of wheat. I still believe that accusation to have been justified. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food in the Debate on 14th February and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture in the Debate on 15th February both attempted to justify their position by saying that in fact they had issued warnings. The Minister of Food said that as long ago as 26th October he had issued warnings in a Debate in the House about the very serious wheat situation that would face us during the winter. He was turning down a suggestion that we should make some contribution from our stocks towards the starvation diet of the Continent. He said it was essential that we should make the maximum use of, and get the maximum amount of, home grown wheat, and should not use grain capable of human consumption for feeding livestock.

3.0 p.m.

The following day the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture was at pains to repeat that claim. He said it was quite true that he issued this very grave warning on 5th February, which shocked everybody, but he said that earlier than that, namely, in January, he had given preliminary warnings, and he said that right through the autumn he had given similar warnings. Therefore, he cannot now claim that farmers who had ploughed up their three years' leys in the autumn were not responding to appeals that he had made. I do not say I agree with his defence, but that that is the defence he made. If he is going to stand on that leg as far as defending himself about not having warned the country early enough is concerned, he cannot throw it over when it comes to rejecting our appeal now for an ante dating of this payment. Let me remind him that the basis of the Amendment which my hon. Friends behind me have moved is that if in order to save the country farmers are being given some extra inducement to do something which they would not normally have done, then anyone who responded to an earlier appeal ought to be given the same advantage. I think it is fairly clear that that is what we say. The question is: Did the farmers do this in the ordinary way of good husbandry, or did they do it in answer to an appeal? Our point is that in the great majority of cases—I would say myself in 75 per cent. of the cases—any fanner who ploughed up his leys, which he had intended to leave down longer, and put them into wheat, was doing it as the result of believing in the appeals that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food claimed they made.

On 15th February the Minister of Agriculture, when resisting our suggestion that the£4 an acre payment should be retrospective, said: It will have to apply, to be fair, to all farmers who responded to our appeal in the autumn of last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 673.]

That was the basis on which the right hon. Gentleman turned down our appeal, on the ground that one must be fair. If it applied to people who were being told to do it compulsorily, then it ought to apply equally to those who did it voluntarily in response to the appeal in the autumn. All we are asking is that he should now apply the same theory that he said was all right on 15th February. I am honestly surprised that the right hon. Gentleman does not see it. He said he was surprised at our putting forward the suggestion from these benches when the N.F.U. themselves had not thought it necessary to suggest such a thing. Hon. Members, certainly those on this side of the Committee, take a certain amount of pride in the fact that they do not represent any single sectional interest. We are sent here to be a cross-section of the population of the country at large.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

So are we.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

We, as Members of Parliament, are trying to keep that in view. When we see an obvious piece of unfairness, as we think, being perpetrated—it does not matter against

whom it is being perpetrated—it is our job as Members of Parliament, Members of this great Assembly, to put forward our views. It does not matter twopence whether the idea has been suggested by someone outside or not. If we think a piece of unfairness is being perpetrated it is our job, as Members of Parliament, to protest against it. I am bound to say, knowing the right hon. Gentle man, knowing his sense of fairness, knowing how much he has really at heart the desirability of trying to maintain the confidence of the farming community, the public and the Committee, I am honestly surprised he does not see that there is something in this Amendment. I am not concerned about the date. If he says "1st October or "1st November," I am sure my hon. Friends will be perfectly prepared to accept any suggestion of that kind. But we do say, and I repeat it because I want to make it clear and leave it on record, that if any farmer answered the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman says he made in October, then he ought to get the same advantages as any one who answers the appeal today.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 131; Noes, 70.

Division No.95.] AYES. 3.50 p.m.
Adams, H. R. (Balham) Donovan, T. Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Douglas, F. C. R. Lever, Fl. Off. N. H.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. Driberg, T. E. N. Levy, B. W.
Austin, H. L. Dumpleton, C. W. Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)
Ayles, W. H. Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Lindgren, G. S.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. 8 Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M
Barton, C. Foot, M. M. McAllister, G.
Battley, J. R. Fraser, T. (Hamilton) McEntee, V. La T.
Bechervaise, A. E. Ganley, Mrs, C. S. McKay, J. (Wallsend)
Beswick, Flt.-Lieut. F. Gordon-Walker, P. C. Maclean, N. (Govan)
Bing, Capt. G. H. C. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.).
Binns, J. Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood) Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping).
Blackburn, Capt. A. R Grierson, E. Mathers, G.
Blenkinsop, Capt. A. Griffiths, Capt. W. D. (Moss Side) Mitchison, Maj. G. R.
Bottomley, A. G. Guy, W. H. Montague, F
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Haire, Flt.-Lieut. J. (Wycombe) Moyle, A.
Brown, W. J. (Rugby) Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley) Nally, W.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Hardman, D. R. Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Callaghan, James Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Noel-Buxton, Lady
Champion, A. J. Herbison, Miss M. Oliver, G. H.
Chater, D. Hobson, C. R. Orbach, M.
Chetwynd, Capt. G. R Holman, P. Peart, Capt. T. F.
Cluse, W. S. House, G. Perrins, W.
Cooks, F. S. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Collick, P. Hughes, Lt. H. D. (W'lverh'pton,' W.) Ranger, J.
Colman, Miss G. M. Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme) Rees-Williams, Lt.-Col. D. R.
Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Reeves, a.
Crawley, Flt.-Lieut. A. Irving, W. J. Reid, T. (Swindon)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Janner, B. Ridealgh, Mrs. M
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.) Jeger, Capt. G. (Winchester) Robens, A.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Diamond, J. Kenyon, C. Rogers, G. H. R
Dodds,N.N. Key, C. W. Royle, C.
Scollan, T. Strauss, G. R. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Scott-Elliol W. Swingler, Capt. S. Wilkes, Maj. L.:
Segal Sq.-Ldr. S. Symonds, Maj. A. L. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Shackleton, Wing-Comdr. E. A. A- Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Shawcross, Sir H. (St. Helens) Thomas, John R. (Dover) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Silverman, J. (Erdington) Thomas, George (Cardiff) Williamson, T.
Skeffington, A. M. Vernon, Maj. W. F. Wilson, J. H.
Skinnard,F. W Viant, S. P. Yates, V. F.
Smith, Capt. C. (Colchester) Walker, G. H Younger, Maj. Hon. K. G.
Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.) Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Sparks, J. A. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.) Warbey, W. N. Mr. Joseph Henderson and Mr. Simmons.
Baldwin, A. E. Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D Morrison, Rt. Hn. W. S. (Cirencester)
Barlow, Sir J. Gammans, Capt. L. D. Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Gridley, Sir A. Neven-Sperice, Major Sir B.
Beechman, N. A. Grimston, R. V. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Boothby, R Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Pitman, I. J.
Bower, N. Haughton, S. G. Ramsay, Maj. S.
Boyd-Carpenter, Maj J. A. Head, Brig. A. H. Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C. Ropner, Col. L.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Hope, Lord J. Sanderson, Sir F.
Bullock, Capt. M. Hudson, Rt. Hon. R.S. (Southport) Smithers, Sir W.
Carson, E. Hurd, A. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J.
Challen, Flt.-Lieut. C. Keeling, E. H. Sutcliffe, H.
Channon, H. Lambert, Hon. G. Teeling, William
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G. Legge.Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Lucas, Major Sir J. Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.. Turton, R. H.
Davidson, Viscountess McCallum, Maj. D Vane, Lieut.-Col. W. M. T.
De la Bere, R. Macdonald, Capt. Sir P. (I. of Wight) Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Mackeson, Lt.-Col. H. R. Walker-Smith, D.
Dower, Lt.-Col. A. (Penrith) Macpherson, Maj, N. (Dumfries) Wheatley, Col. M. J.
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) Marlowe, A. A. H.
Eccles, D. M. Marsden, Capt. A.
Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Marshall, D. Bodmin)
Fraser, Maj. H. C. P. (Stone) Mellor, Sir J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Gage, Lt.Col. C. Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) Sir Arthur Young and Commander Agnew.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.