§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill, as hon. Members will have gathered by now, is about agriculture. "Agriculture" is a wide term, covering a very large industry, an industry which, during the past 100 years, has suffered many ups and downs on the switchback of national policy. During the last quarter of a century I think there have been more downs than ups, but in spite of all the troubles of agriculture it still remains one of our largest and most important industries. Indeed, but for the efforts of the agricultural community during the recent war, it is just conceivable that these islands might have been starved into submission, and I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that were it not for their efforts at the present time, it is very doubtful whether we could make ends meet on the food front.
624 Even now, there are still some people who do not appreciate the importance of British agriculture. They regard it as the poorest of all our poor relations. They think that the smaller it is, and the less we hear of it, the better. We are a very urban minded race, and it may be that our vision is to some extent limited to bricks and mortar, among which most of us live to the exclusion of fields, villages and countryside. It is not unnatural, therefore, that many people do not realise that 48 of the 60 million acres in the United Kingdom are devoted to one form of agriculture or another, that 1,250,000 people are still engaged in this, our foundation industry, that before the war, the output of agriculture was approaching £300 million worth a year and is, at this moment, well-nigh up to £600 million per annum. Moreover, the land, with its products, is one of our most important natural resources. In these days, when we are striving to weigh down the export side and lighten the import side of our balance of trade, and to conserve our meagre foreign exchange resources, this is, indeed, a factor of very great importance. We all ought to recognise that every extra bit of food produced in this country is a help in our present difficulties. Further, one cannot overemphasise the fact that the happiness and prosperity of those who live and work in the countryside are closely bound up with the prosperity of those who live and work in town and city factories and offices.
Agriculture and our great industrial enterprises are, to a large extent, complementary. If one thinks in terms of wheat, one goes on to consider milling; if one thinks in terms of barley, one thinks of malt, not to mention beer or brewing; if one thinks of sugar then one thinks of a beet sugar factory; and if one thinks of ploughing one's mind goes on to ploughing implements and tractors, to steel, engineering, coal, and transport. In fact, agriculture and industry are much more closely interlocked than most people imagine. It must be obvious that no one of these two, which are not isolated units, could prosper for long if the other was languishing. It is not often realised that the great industrial county of Lancashire still finds agriculture its largest single industry. I stress all this so that there shall be no possible misunderstanding about the importance that 625 we on this side of the House attach to agriculture. I know that in the past the Labour Party has been regarded as a purely urban party. That is an idea which has been sedulously cultivated by many newspapers, and some politicians. But the fact that in its second year of office, with its first majority, this Labour Government has produced a Bill of this kind, which has been described variously as an agricultural charter and a farmers' Bible, should dispose of any lingering doubt as to our attitude towards agriculture.
Ministers of Agriculture, in the past, have not always been happily placed. I have sat in this House long enough to watch a whole trail of Ministers of Agriculture come and go. Sometimes they have marched to the Left, and sometimes they have marched backwards, but march they have certainly had to do, and I am still not sure whether anticipation of office is not sweeter than the realisation, if the office is that of Minister of Agriculture. But at this moment, I feel very fortunate and privileged to introduce a Bill which, I think, will place agriculture in its rightful place, at long last, as a senior partner in our economic system. I do not claim the sole authorship of this Bill. It is a product of the combined wisdom of all the different sections of the industry, and of the advertised views of the three major political parties in this House. What I can do, however, is to claim that the Government are entitled to all credit for their courage and sagacity in translating into legislative form the reports and aspirations of all those concerned with the industry. How different from the prewar record I remember so well. I have with me a list of Bills, Orders, Regulations, and expedients which were hurled at us with bewildering rapidity between 1931–39, all, of course, designed to help agriculture in one form or another. But, so sure as the then Government patched up one small leak, two others developed in their place very quickly. We all know the result. Before the recent war there were millions of acres of cultivable land which lay derelict. There has been a consistent drift from the land for 18 years. Farmers, particularly small farmers, had very low incomes, and the wages of their employees were little better than a scandal. I have said that there was a drift from the land. If that 626 drift from 1921 to 1939 had been put into a procession, 700 miles long, there would have been an agricultural worker leaving a farm for every five yards of the 700 miles. The words which Oliver Goldsmith wrote:A bold peasantry, their country's pride When, once destroyed can never be supplied.might well have been written at that time.
Instead of stopgap, patchwork, legislation, this Bill is a piece of constructive machinery which has been designed to put the industry on a sound footing for the first time. There have, during the past year or two, been quite a large number of reports on agricultural policy by independent bodies. Wartime seems to be a regular forcing ground for agricultural policies, which everyone—except the Labour Government—seems to forget in peacetime. The most remarkable feature of all these blue-prints is the large degree of unanimity which is shown on the basic principles. They all stress the need for stable conditions to allow the farmer to get on with his job of producing food; they also stress the need, as complementary to stable conditions, that the industry should achieve the greatest possible measure of efficiency. They all point the remarkable success of the wartime experiment of administration through the county war agricultural executive committees. I need only take one example to indicate the basic principles that stand out from these reports. I refer to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, which issued a unanimous statement with the approval of farmers, workers, landowners, and, indeed, the professional organisations. I quote a small portion of their statement:In return to: a guaranteed price level, all owners and occupiers of rural land must accept an obligation to maintain a reasonable standard of good husbandry and good estate management, and submit to the necessary measure of direction and guidance, subject to provisions for appeal to an impartial tribunal.Here was a clear lead, therefore, on the general principles which should form the basis of a healthy and prosperous agriculture—the sort of principles which a few people, including, I hope, myself, have been advocating for the past 15 or 16 years. In translating those principles into detailed legislation, the Government have been wise enough to keep in close consultation with the main representative bodies of the industry I refer to the 627 National Farmers' Union, the Central Landowners Association, the workers' unions, and the professional organisations. We sought, and we used their collective wisdom, and, if Press statements are any guide, they indicated that those bodies welcomed the Measure as being a workmanlike, and indeed, a sensible scheme. Not only do the practical men of agriculture welcome this Bill. If election manifestos mean anything—and we are setting a new fashion in this direction—hon. Members opposite, in all parties and both sections of the Liberal Party, must welcome this Bill May I remind hon. Gentlemen of the document entitled "Mr. Churchill's declaration of policy to electors"? I quote from page 9, which states, among other things:We must maintain the fertility of the soil We must be skilful in the use and the management of the land for the production of the foodstuffs which it is best fitted to provide, and which are most required to satisfy the nutritional needs of the people.It goes on:Our policy will be one of stable markets and prices. In return for this all occupiers and owners of agricultural land must maintain a reasonable standard of good husbandry and estate management.After that election manifesto, I remember that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), addressed a huge Conference at Blackpool, when enthusiasm must have been nearly red-hot. Referring to agriculture; he asked what had the present Government done, and went on to say that we had destroyed the system created by my predecessor and had put nothing else in its place. This Bill today is our answer. The manifesto of the Liberal Party was, if anything, I believe, more forthright than the one from which I have just quoted, and I need not, therefore, read it. All I need say to hon. Members opposite, in particular, is that if they will read Clause 1 of this Bill they will see just how accommodating we have been and how faithfully we are fulfilling their promises for them. The right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me must, I know, feel rather uncomfortably happy, since he must know that a majority of his constituents will support this Bill. I cannot see that there will be any disagreement with the principles incorporated in this Bill. We may argue about details if we will—and I suspect that we may have an odd day or two arguing in Com- 628 mittee—but I think that the main framework of the Bill is a solid foundation, upon which the industry can build its future.
Turning to the Bill itself, I would point out first that except for Part 1, and the statistical and lime Clauses, the Bill applies only to England and Wales. The Secretary of State for Scotland will introduce corresponding legislation for Scotland, I hope, early in the next Session. The Bill is a long and complicated Measure, but I offer no apologies for that. To provide adequately for the many facets of agriculture, the Bill must be very wide in scope; but to lighten the burden of hon. Members we have circulated a memorandum of 27 pages; so by now, I suspect, that some hon. Members may know the contents of the Bill even better than I do.
The provisions are fairly simply summed up in two words which appear in all the reports previously referred to. They are, "Stability and efficiency." I think that every considerable proposal in the Bill can be grouped under one or other headings. The main method of providing stability is, of course, assured markets and guaranteed prices. That is dealt with effectively in Part I of the Bill. I cannot imagine anyone questioning that this is the right method of providing stability. Stability is not necessarily synonymous with rigidity. Agriculture is composed of many different forms of production. Conditions vary widely, village by village, county by county, and area by area. Therefore, no single panacea can provide uniformity throughout the industry. The methods of providing stability will vary accordingly. I think that it would be clearly wrong to attempt to lay down prices too far in advance or the conditions to be applied to any particular commodity.
Agriculture is part of our economic system. It is not a pursuit carried on in isolation from the remainder of our national activities, or from world condiditions. It must, therefore, be fitted into any national economic plan. In this direction, I have noted certain criticisms in the Press that there is no indication of the quantity or kind of production to be expected from home resources. If that is the only criticism that the Press can hurl at this Bill, I am driven to the conclusion that it must be a very good Bill indeed. How would it be possible to lay 629 down in an Act of Parliament the amount or kind of food to be produced here? Obviously, while we are feeling our way back to postwar economy, the best we can hope to get is a broad indication of the future layout. Therefore, planning must have regard to world economic conditions, to national economic policy, and to the technical progress made by agriculture itself. It is true that the soil and the climate in this country are far better suited to produce some commodities than others, particularly live stock and livestock products. I think all the experts are generally agreed on that. It is also recognised by the Labour Party, in their statement, in which it is pointed out that we are peculiarly fitted in this country to produce protective foods—meat, milk, eggs, vegetables and fruit. Our agricultural system must be well-balanced, not only over the country-as a whole, but on each individual farm. Recent experience has shown that the ley farming system with mixed fanning based on alternate husbandry, is the most effective method of promoting efficient production, while at the same time maintaining the soil in good heart.
These, then, are some of the factors that have to be considered when determining what part of the food shall be produced from home sources, but as far as one can see ahead, there is still a large and unsatisfied demand for liquid milk and other livestock products. We certainly need appreciably more fresh vegetables and fruit than, we had in prewar days. With a rising standard of consumption in other parts of the world, I doubt if we can safely rely on importing the prewar proportion of meat and livestock products. Therefore, we need more stock, which we had to sacrifice for grain during the war. We need more feeding stuffs both imported and home grown, but we cannot plan too rigidly or too far ahead as recent experience has taught us. One other word on this subject. There is another Press criticism on certain words embodied in Clause 1, namely:…such part of the nation's food as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom…It is implied that there is a suggestion there that sooner or later we shall revert to a cheap food policy and let agriculture go hang. It has happened before, but I hope that it is not going to happen again. It is true that we want cheap food from 630 wherever abroad we may be able to get it, but we do not want cheap men either in this or any other country. In any case, we must make the fullest possible use of our own natural resources for another reason. We can no longer rely upon our foreign investments buying our food for us. We have got to work and work hard for our living. I think the national slogan in agriculture as elsewhere has to be, "full efficient production at home for as long as we can possibly foresee." For these reasons, while providing for stability, there must be sufficient flexibility to enable adjustments to be made to meet changing needs. This combination, I believe, is satisfactorily accomplished in Part I of the Bill.
Clause 2 provides for annual or special reviews of the condition of agriculture. These have been in operation during the past few years and I hope that when this Bill becomes law they will be written into the law of the land as a permanent feature of our agricultural policy. These reviews have worked very well so far because both parties have been discussing the same data, independently, collected, and it has tended to produce the right kind of atmosphere of mutual confidence. When the Bill, therefore, becomes law the agricultural Ministers will be required to hold annual price reviews in consultation with representatives of the farmers. But the Bill also provides that should there be a sudden change in the economic position of the industry, involving substantial changes in costs of production, then arrangements can be made for special reviews. In the light of those reviews, prices for all the principal products will be fixed far enough ahead to enable farmers to plan their production in security. Crop prices will be fixed 18 months ahead, actual prices for fat stock, milk and eggs one year ahead, with minimum prices laid down for two to four years ahead—something which the agricultural industry never even dreamed of before.
The remaining Clauses in this part of the Bill provide for the necessary machinery to make effective guaranteed prices and assured markets. As I said a moment or two ago, no single method is laid down in the Bill. The actual provision for any commodity may be a guaranteed fixed price, a deficiency payment related to the standard price, such as we had in regard to wheat in prewar 631 days, an acreage payment, such as we have for both wheat and potatoes today, or it may be a subsidy, or a price calculated according to a formula relating prices to feeding stuffs. Whichever method is applied, it will be after careful consideration in the light of all the circumstances. After all, we are still in the grip of wartime conditions, with rationing of many commodities still in existence, and until we emerge it would be premature to decide on any variant of present methods. It is, however, possible in the Bill to use some prewar machinery should that be the best method, such as, for instance, the Wheat Commission, or the Milk Marketing Board, or anything parallel to these.
Clause 4 is widely drawn for that purpose. It gives ample power to apply any or all of these variants for a period. Obviously, it is going to take time to work out permanent plans. Therefore, Orders, subject to affirmative Resolution, are confined to three years with power to extend year by year. I need hardly remind hon. Members that this arrangement only applies to the major products referred to in the First Schedule, but the Government fully recognise that there is a substantial range of products, particularly horticultural crops, which are not covered by the provision of assured markets and guaranteed prices, although they are, in fact, subject to the efficiency test under Part 11. I want to make it clear that it is the Government's intention that the general objective in Clause I shall apply to the industry as a whole, and that they fully recognise that other means of obtaining this object for these other products must be devised.
I fully believe that this machinery for providing stability represents the most far-reaching step that has ever been taken in the history of agriculture. For the first time in history, the farmer will be able to plan ahead with certain knowledge of market and price, and only another Act of Parliament can rob him of that security. The farmer will still have to contend with weather, pests and diseases, not to mention politicians. I do not know if it is generally appreciated at least by the townsman that a wet August or September means a loss of thousands of pounds to wheat growers, or that a dry spring between April and June may mean 632 a loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds to dairy farmers. In this country, while we can turn off the electricity even while one is shaving, we cannot turn off the rain as we would like to. Not even a Socialist Government can hope to control the weather.
May I say one or two words about the second main plan—efficiency? If the Government undertake to provide stability, then I think it is only right to expect and indeed to require that all land which is used, or which ought to be used, for agriculture is efficiently managed and farmed. Unlike the United States of America, Canada or Australia, land in this country is scarce. Thus, it is a very valuable commodity and we cannot afford the luxury of allowing millions of acres of agricultural land to be either derelict or badly farmed. The first step in that efficiency campaign is to make sure that good agricultural land is not needlessly whittled away. The Land Utilisation division of the Ministry in cooperation with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, are doing an enormous amount of work in this direction and where necessary, we can and do advise other Government Departments and almost every local government authority in the country. The same remark applies to the Forestry Commission where the two Departments are working together in close cooperation.
The next step affects the farmer, who has to see that he makes the most efficient use of what land is available for agriculture. I do not imply by that that British agriculture is grossly inefficient— far from it. I think that even before the war our farming compared favourably with agricultural systems overseas. Indeed, the yields in this country were among the highest in the world, and the production per man hour, comparing like with like, was not unfavourable in relation to that of most other countries. During the war we made further strides in this direction. We became one of the most highly mechanised agricultural countries in the world and our knowledge of farming and technical problems greatly increased.
With all this there still remains quite a margin for improvement. Efficiency is a relative term, and I do not suppose we shall ever be entirely satisfied that we have reached a final point but with the 633 combined efforts of the Agricultural Research Council, the Agricultural Improvement Council and the county executive committees I think we shall have a technical service for our agriculturists which will be as good as, if not better than, any in the world. In fact, we are going a step further with a similar service on problems of estate management in the very near future. In addition to the technical services, Clause 101, hon. Members will observe, allows county agricultural executive committees to continue their services to farmers started during the war. That is, to provide agricultural machinery and direct services and labour gangs so long as they may be necessary. Also, in appropriate cases, they will be able to provide goods on credit as they have done during the war. We shall also, under Clauses 93 and 94, continue grants for drainage, farm water supplies and liming.
I mention all these things to indicate that the State is providing every conceivable help towards the efficiency of agriculture, but with all our help and encouragement, and despite the pruning of the worst farmers during the war, there will still be a number—the fewer the better—who will fail to make the grade. In such cases, I think, it is fair that the State should have the power to enforce a reasonable standard of husbandry and estate management, end that those who fail in their duty to the land and the nation must make way for those who are likely to succeed. Part II of the Bill is designed exclusively for this purpose. We lay down in Clauses 10 and 11 rules of good estate management and good husbandry. Upon failure to reach those standards we shall take power to place a farmer or estate owner under supervision and to issue the appropriate directions. In the case of owners, directions would be related to farm buildings, fixed equipment, repairs or maintenance; in the case of an entailed estate we should claim the right to insist upon the appointment of a competent manager. In the case of an owner occupier, the directions will cover any aspect of farming, cultivation, management, livestock or, indeed, the use of fertilisers. In certain cases, however, directions could be given without placing a person under supervision. It will obviously be undesirable to place a person under formal supervision if there was only one single thing to correct. 634 Apart from this, we shall only issue directions to farmers under supervision. We shall enable them to grow the produce for which their farm or farms are best suited, having regard to the situation of those farms. We shall rely upon advice and the price mechanism to steer production in the direction desired by national policy, subject to one exception—national emergency, when, under Clause 92 we can, by order, take power to issue directions to all farmers in the land, but I might mention that this was readily accepted by the representative farmers' organisation.
I want hon. Members to appreciate just what is the position before a person is placed under supervision. It must have been noticed that his farm is under-cultivated, and that warnings are of no avail, and the County Executive Committee must be satisfied that unless the person concerned is placed under supervision he will neglect his land and, to that extent, falsify the principles embodied in this Bill. Having placed a person under supervision, then it is quite clear that the next step is to give him all the help we can during the next 12 months so as to avoid the necessity for dispossession. Once persons have been placed under supervision, and once they have been given directions, they are afforded a real opportunity to rescue themselves, and I am hoping that that will prove to be the right thing to do and that the number of dispossessions will be comparatively few. Before any person is placed under supervision or given a direction he will have an opportunity of being heard by the County Executive Committee, and, what is more, take a legal friend with him if desired. Should the case be one affecting owner and tenant such as the ploughing up of permanent pasture, both tenant farmer and owner will be able to go to the Committee.
Except in cases which concern new fixed equipment costing more than a specific sum there will be no appeal against supervision or direction. This, I think hon. Members will agree, is reasonable. The very essence of placing a person under supervision is to try to avoid the worst and to help the farmer to do the best. Where there is no satisfactory improvement, or a person fails to comply with directions over a period of 12 months, power is taken to dispossess the tenant farmer or to compel the owner 635 occupier to let his land, or, in the case of the estate owner, to direct that his estate shall be purchased compulsorily. It all depends upon the farmer or the estate owner how many such cases there will be. During the war we took possession of under two per cent. of our agricultural land. Therefore, even though it is going to be our aim to raise substantially the efficiency of both farming and management, there really should be few dispossession cases if farmer and owner will accept their respective obligations. In any case, they will be tried by their own peers for, after all, executive committees consist of farmers, land owners, workers and others experienced in agriculture, and in all cases, before dispossession or purchase takes place they will have access to an agricultural land tribunal whose decision in all cases will be final.
I have seen statements from time to time that if land owners are expected to keep their house in order there ought to be adequate financial facilities made available. I have never quite understood this. There have always been facilities available through private enterprise itself, namely the banks. Then there is the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and the Lands Improvement Company, and both these bodies have large funds available at a reasonably low rate of interest. Land owners also secured a considerable concession under the Income Tax Act of 1945. But if, in spite of all these facilities, it is still found impossible for a land owner to fulfil his obligations, then he can hardly expect to stand or sit idly by and watch his land and buildings go to rack and ruin.
Let me turn to another part of the Bill in which hon. Members opposite are particularly interested. It seems to have caused a little heart-burning in odd places here and there. I refer to Clauses 79 to 90 where we take power to purchase compulsorily certain areas of land. Hon. Members must by this time be aware that there are areas of land in this country where it would be unreasonable to expect private owners to provide the vast amount of capital necessary to enable these areas to be farmed efficiently. I refer to the Fens or to the Romney Marsh which need very large draining schemes, miles of roads, and houses, to be made fully productive. In such cases it is only reasonable to expect that the State should tackle 636 such a gigantic job. It is not a case of the State versus private enterprise. It is a case here either of the State taking a hand or of the land automatically going out of production. In these cases we feel justified in asking the House for power to acquire such areas compulsorily.
There are other powers of compulsory purchase in the interests of efficiency in Clauses 80 to 84. For instance, where, as a result of the making of a new road or railway, farms are completely severed, we take power to buy the severed portions where necessary and to re-form them into more economic units either on the left or the right side of the road or railway as the case may be. This kind of severance has taken place on a large scale in the past, but the new trunk roads or new motor ways which every hon. Member must be contemplating will make this problem a very real one indeed. It certainly needs tackling, and this seems to me the only way.
Another kind of case is that in which land speculators buy up a useful economic unit, proceed to split it up into very small portions, erect no buildings, and then sell these portions to persons with no agricultural experience. The net result is— or has been in the past—that these persons lose their money and the land runs to waste, and that sort of thing is utterly contrary to the interests of the people themselves and to agriculture. There is only one thing to do and that is to put the farm together again. If Humpty-Dumpty is pushed off the wall and broken into many pieces, it is up to the King's men to put him together again. Accordingly power is taken to make Orders, to apply either to the whole or part of England and Wales, to buy compulsorily the components of any farm which has been split up, in order to restore it to its original state.
Another case for compulsory purchase is that in which during the war, land was requisitioned and it is necessary to retain it in State ownership to preserve the benefit of the works carried out by the nation during the war. Let me give two examples. There are areas in the country where a lot of small units were joined together and then farmed as one enterprise. The State erected buildings in the centre of the new unit and that unit has been farmed as one during the course of the war and still exists in that state. It is 637 clearly in the interests of agriculture to continue to farm those areas as one unit, instead of breaking them up and handing them back in small pieces to their original owners. Therefore, power is taken to purchase the pieces which were requisitioned, and also to retain land which was purchased under the 1941 Act, despite an obligation to offer it back to the original owner. Here is another case I ought to quote, where we have taken possession of a farm during the war to scotch the activities of land speculators. There have been many such cases. All hon. Members know the sort of people to whom I refer —Messrs. Lazy and Dolittle, who do very well out of it—who buy up a farm, split it into small areas and sell it to persons with no agricultural knowledge. My predecessor readily appreciated that if the new owners were allowed to take possession, agricultural efficiency would decrease at once. Therefore that farm, or those farms, were immediately requisitioned and farmed as one unit as before. The only way to retain such a farm as one economic unit is by compulsory purchase, and that is what we propose to do under this Bill. In these cases we are following the precedent of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, and in all these cases the owners will have the right to go before the Agricultural Land Tribunal to appeal against the Government.
In every case where we propose compulsory purchase, there are sound, solid, national reasons for it. In every case it is for the purpose of maintenance of agricultural efficiency. Having purchased odd spots here and there, for the purpose of managing this agricultural land acquired by the State or transferred from other Government Departments, we propose to set up an Agricultural Land Commission consisting of five persons, with a Sub-Commission for Wales consisting of three persons, one of whom must be a member of the English Land Commission. These bodies will be non-representative expert bodies, and we hope to obtain persons with wide agricultural, business and administrative experience. They will neither acquire land nor yet be able to dispose of land, but they will undertake all management functions and be responsible for the development or reclamation of such areas as the Fens and Romney Marsh or similar areas. They would also play a very special role in con- 638 nection with the experimental schemes for readjustment of farm boundaries referred to in Clause 84.
I ought to ask hon. and right hon. Members to examine the maps we have placed in the Tea Room, which illustrate almost every case I have mentioned. They will see that we are not using the thin edge of the wedge, as some people describe it. This Government are strong enough to use the blunt end of the wedge if they desired to do so. It is only because we are so accommodating and reasonable that we do not use the blunt end of the wedge, and are using this modest approach to this question at this moment. If they examine these maps, hon. Members will see that there are sound, solid national reasons for all that we are doing. I regard the regrouping of farm boundaries as a problem that can no longer be shelved or ignored. There are large areas where portions of farms are scattered, some being many miles from the homestead, and they cannot truly be regarded as efficient units. We therefore propose to aim at three experimental schemes, on a voluntary basis if possible, and only if voluntary adjustment fails, will compulsory powers be exercised.
Let me turn to Part III of the Bill which deals with the relationship between landlord and tenant. For better or for worse, nationalisation of the land was not part of our mandate for the present term of Office, and we must, therefore, contemplate a continuance of the existing system of land tenure, and if the proposals for stability and efficiency are to be fully effective, we must make sure that the relationships between landlord and tenant do not hinder but are such as may conceivably help. Clause 30, which gives greater security of tenure to the farmer, is the most important Clause. In future, where a tenant receives a notice to quit, he will have a right of appeal to the Minister except, of course, where he has failed to fulfil the terms of his tenancy agreement, and if the Minister considers that a change of tenant would be likely to result in the more efficient use of the land, then the Minister has the power to give consent. There is one exception to this, however, relating to land purchased before 25th March, 1947. If the Minister is satisfied that the owner intends to farm himself, or that he intends it for his child or grandchild 639 to farm, then the Minister has power to exercise his discretion in such a case. This exception was made to avoid any very genuine hardship. There may be cases where, for instance, the owner purchased the land for a son who may be serving in one of His Majesty's Forces, and in that case it would scarcely be fair to prevent him from occupying the farm which had been purchased for him by his parents. It may be, in an odd case here and there, that an unscrupulous landlord will, get through, but I feel that is almost unavoidable and I think we shall catch him in other ways.
These provisions will not be easy to administer, but I am satisfied that, with the assistance of county executive committees who have built up a vast amount of experience, we shall be able to administer them. I am also satisfied that they will enable the good, efficient fanner to plan ahead with confidence as he was never able to plan before. I do not share the fears of those who think that we shall protect the inefficient farmer, for, if we do, the whole scheme would utterly fail. In any case, there are plenty of inducements to good farming under Part I of this Bill, and there are ample powers to deal with bad farming under Part II. This part of the Bill which should be read in conjunction with the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, also contains many other important provisions affecting the relationship of landlord and tenant. Clauses 21 to 28 provide a comprehensive code of compensation for improvements carried out by a tenant and for tenant right matters and for dilapidations. They also abolish customary rights which vary, without rhyme or reason, throughout all parts, of the country and, in future, claims will depend either upon the Statute itself or upon a written contract of tenancy. I understand there are some lingering doubts about the final disappearance of what are described as "boozey pastures" and "unstocked eddishes," whatever these may mean, but, on the whole, I am satisfied that these changes will ultimately contribute to farming efficiency and reduce the high ingoing valuations which are now so common throughout the country.
Another matter of some importance is the question of rent. It is obviously in the interests of efficiency and stability that 640 rents should be fair, and that they should be in harmony with the economic conditions of the time. Therefore, Clause 34 enables either the landlord or tenant to require the other party to submit the rent of a holding for settlement by arbitration, and once the rent is fixed, it cannot be changed for a period of three years. The landlord can, however, increase the rent for improvements carried out by him which increase the value of the holding. That is fair, I think, and should be encouraged.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
May I ask a question on that point? Does that refer to leases or just to a yearly tenancy?
§ Mr. T. Williams
A yearly tenancy. We are laying down by Regulation a model repair and maintenance Clause which will be read into all tenancy agreements except where the liabilities of the parties are specifically defined by written agreement. This is important, as I am sure hon. and right hon. Members will agree, since at long last each party will know their liabilities and no longer will it be possible for one to be "passing the buck" to the other while the buildings continue to deteriorate. We are also taking power to vary the terms of tenancy agreements with regard to permanent pastures. With our increased knowledge of the benefits of ley farming, it is obviously important to release the tenant farmer from an out of date tenancy agreement, so that he may adopt a system of alternate husbandry. Finally, we propose to abolish the loophole in the 1923 Act, namely, the 364-day tenancy which allows people to evade their obligations under the 1923 Act. In future, this will only be allowed with the Minister's consent.
There are, of course, many other important provisions in this part of the Bill that I need not refer to today. All I shall say is that the position has been discussed with the representatives of the industry, and we have reached agreement on the vast majority of the various points. I should like to thank all those who have placed their knowledge and experience at our disposal, especially the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Land Agents Society, the Auctioneers and Estate Agents Institute and the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. These are all very busy men. They gave 641 their time and their wisdom to us ungrudgingly, and I want publicly to express my appreciation and, I hope, the appreciation of the House, for all the assistance they have given to us.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
Before the Minister leaves this part of the Bill, would he be so kind as to tell us something of the composition of the agricultural land tribunals under Clause 70?
§ Mr. Williams
I ought to say here that as soon as this Bill becomes law, I hope to get a Consolidation Bill which will amalgamate the 1923 Act and this part of the Bill and make it much easier to be understood by hon. Members and those outside in the agricultural industry.
For the administration of these various provisions, we propose to continue the wartime system of county agricultural executive committees and I am sure that few will quarrel with that decision. These committees provide a unique partnership between the industry and the State. They were remarkably successful during the war, and it is right and proper that responsible people from all sections of the industry should play a part in the administration of their own affairs. In fact, without their cooperation I am afraid the whole edifice would fall like a house of cards, and I shudder at the alternative, for there might conceivably be as an alternative a repetition of the misfortunes that overtook the industry in the inter-war years.
These committees will consist of 12 persons. Five will be direct appointments by the Minister, and the remainder will be drawn from panels nominated by the National Farmers Union, the Central Landowners Association, and the workers' unions. The direct appointments will enable us to strengthen the committees with men of special qualifications and knowledge, such as men with scientific, technical or professional qualifications, or horticulturists or smallholders, as well as one member from the county council concerned who will provide a link between the work of the committee and the county council in such matters as education and 642 the administration of smallholdings. In the new conditions the old county council agricultural committees will be dissolved and with them—unfortunately, perhaps, some people think—the Councils of Agriculture for England and Wales too. In addition to the county agricultural executive committees, we propose to set up Agricultural Land Tribunals to whom appeals will be referred. They will consist of an independent legal chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor, with a farmer and landowner, and, in addition, we take power to appoint two assessors where necessary, because we think in certain cases it will be helpful for Tribunals to have the assistance of independent professional men. I need only add that their decision will be final and binding upon the Minister.
Now just one sentence or two about Part IV. It is not my intension to deal fully with this, since the Parliamentary Secretary will cover the main points in the Debate tomorrow. I should like to say, however, that land settlement in this country has a very long history and it has been used for a variety of purposes, sometimes to satisfy land hunger, sometimes to settle ex-Servicemen, and sometimes to settle unemployed men on the land. It has not always been a huge success. We intend to make a fundamental change in our approach to smallholdings policy. It is no longer to be an offshoot of social policy. We shall make a deliberate attempt to settle agricultural workers, or sons of farmers, and we shall insist on having them settled on good land, which is well laid out, fully equipped and of approprate economic size. We want to settle the right type of man on the right type of holding, and to give them a chance from the word "Go." I hope that policy will commend itself to the House.
I fear I have detained the House far too long—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."]—but this is a very long Bill. I believe it is a complete, comprehensive, and constructive policy. I think it is something which the industry has needed for a very long time. There seems to me to be little or no politics inside it. It is generally agreed to be a desirable Bill, and I hope to see the House absolutely unanimous. If, despite my usual modesty, I claim some little paternal credit for the Measure, I hope the House, 643 with equal enthusiasm, will readily become its stepfather—stepfather, I believe, of a very healthy, and very vigorous, infant.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I am sure the House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for his very lucid handling of this mammoth and monumental Bill. But there are certain comments which it will fall to me to make on the general matters he has raised. I think we can all agree about one thing. A healthy and well-balanced agriculture is the objective of us all. Before we consider how far this Bill will, or will not, help to bring that about, there are a few considerations of a general kind which I should like to put to the House, before I deal with the Bill itself.
I think we are entitled to ask ourselves whether the prospects in the next few years are good, or bad, and also what are the factors which inevitably force themselves upon our attention. Do they, or do they not, inure to the advantage of British agriculture? In my view, many of them do, quite irrespective of any new legislation at all. The right hon. Gentleman touched on this, and it is vital, we are no longer a creditor, but a debtor nation. In no sphere, I think, have the people of this country begun to understand what that means. In any case, it profoundly affects the agricultural industry. Gone are our foreign assets; depleted is our Merchant Navy. In order to pay our way, we shall for years to come have to give much attention to the kind of things we purchase overseas. We shall have to be very selective in our purchases, and we must produce more of many foodstuffs in this country. So, whatever its results otherwise, our present changed financial position makes it essential that we have a prosperous, well-run, highly productive, home agriculture, if for no other reason in order to conserve foreign exchange.
That is the first world point I want to put to the House. The second is that we and other nations have accepted various resolutions at the time of the Hot Springs Conference. The Governments there assembled recommended that the nations of the world should plan their production programmes on a realistic basis, namely, to relieve hunger all over the world. What 644 does that mean for us? It means, irrespective of everything else, that we must help to see produced, somewhere or other, the right kinds of foods in sufficient quantities to provide the right standards of nutrition. Included in that idea we should not forget, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the need for growing more protective foods here—milk, cheese, meat, eggs, and certain kinds of vegetables, and fruits. Of course the Conference went further than that, and the Fifteenth Resolution recommended various principles which should govern long-term policies of agricultural production everywhere, namely, thatthe inherent natural and economic advantages of any areashould be developed, that balanced mixed rotational farming should be encouraged for various reasons, partly to maintain the fertility of the soil, and partly to stabilise agricultural employment and returns to farmers all over the world, and that production within a properly balanced agriculture, should be directed to products essentially for nutrition. In so far as the nations of the world act up to what they accepted at Hot Springs, there will be less openings for dumping foodstuffs here at uneconomic prices.
All over the world now there is a growing realisation of the need for soil conservation. The lesson of the "dust bowl" of the United States and great droughts which have occurred in various parts of the world, will surely be learned. These three general considerations—our changed financial position, the dangers of a world food shortage, and the need everywhere to conserve soil fertility—are matters of vital importance to our home agriculture, and form a background in front of which we can build a fairly hopeful picture for the future. But the question which arises is, Are these economic factors enough to let us go along quietly on the assumption that they are sufficient, or must we do something more, at least in the way of an insurance? The right hon. Gentleman and the Government say that we must do something more and that it is not enough to let the economic principles of the world situation work themselves out. The Minister says we must guarantee prices and markets to ensure stability. With that, we on this side of the House agree. Because that is the underlying principle of the Bill, we do not propose to divide the House on Second Reading.
645 In my view the Bill is wrongly named. Like so many of its predecessors, it is-really an Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It covers a mass of proposals very diverse in importance and very differing in character. The Minister, in a letter written to the Agricultural Council for Wales, said that when passed, this Bill —I quote his words—willgive parmanent legislative effect to a complete policy for British agriculture.
§ Captain Crookshank
The Minister nods his head, and still agrees that that is so. In my view, the Bill does nothing of the kind. It is not a complete policy for agriculture at all, because the success of agriculture for this or any other country, must surely depend upon the country concerned having a healthy rural economy. The Bill does not, indeed cannot, from its very nature, touch many of the problems involved. For example, there is nothing in it about the increase of agricultural labour, about houses or rural amenities—water, roads, transport, schools and electricity [Interruption.]The right hon. Gentleman said that this is a complete policy for agriculture. I am merely pointing out that to have a complete policy there has to be a healthy rural economy, and other Measures will have to deal with it. But we must not forget that there is nothing here either for providing more machinery, or for the provision of the priorities necessary for badly needed fixed equipment, although these are necessary for a complete policy.
All I am asking the House is that we should not be bemused by putting the claims for this Bill too high. The claims are high, justifiably so, but do not let us make them too high, because within the limits which the right hon.. Gentleman has naturally had to set himself, there is much that is good and much that is bad. The latter part—I give the Minister due notice—we shall try to improve in Committee, and if we fail, we may, as is the right of an Opposition, have to consider our position on the Third Reading. On the other hand, what is good, we can assure the right hon. Gentleman, we will try to make better. We are quite capable of doing that, as was discovered in the case of the last Bill on agriculture, with which we dealt last Wednesday.
It is good—and this is the chief principle we have to discuss today—to try 646 to secure prosperity by erecting the twin pillars of stability and efficiency. But for all the fine words of Clause 1, I am not at all sure that we have got enough here on which to build the superstructure. The Clause and the Bill give the foundation for the building, but what everyone, both here and outside, in the industry, wants to know is the size of the intended structure. It is all very well having the twin pillars of stability and efficiency, but how big is the building to be? What is to be the size of our agriculture; what is to be the security which the right hon. Gentleman offers; what is the production programme going to be over the years? That is vital. In wartime, maximum production was bound to be the order of the day. Much land was brought into uneconomic use, a great deal of it at high cost, often, in fact, cost was entirely ignored. Is that to go on? Where is the line to be drawn, and by whom? Those are the sort of questions which arise within the framework of the Bill. After all, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the Minister, after having—to use words which he frequently uses—"considered all the relevant factors," from enormously varying the quantities that should be produced. The guaranteed market can be increased or decreased on the bare opinion of the Minister. In a Bill which sets out to give security, one is rather alarmed at this great elasticity, or "flexibility," to use the Minister's own word, with which he arms himself.
In that light the Bill itself does not give full security. Even if one argued that it did, it leaves out a great many categories. The right hon. Gentleman talked just now about horticulture. That is not in the Bill. Vegetables, allotments, wool, table poultry are among the more obvious categories to which no reference is made. In this connection we have to realise that the Government have so far given the nation no long-term policy for food. The short-term policy is, of course, that we should all have less and less, but the long-term policy is still a matter for conjecture. But the Minister of Food did say—and this was an important statement—on I think nth or 14th December, that the Government will buy agricultural products at the lowest prices at which they can get them in the world. There is an ominous ring about those words. I, 647 therefore, say that the idea of guaranteed prices and markets is good, and is one with which we entirely agree. But stability cannot come without a good deal more and it is about that part of the subject that I want to hear a good deal more from the Ministers during the Debate.
Having guaranteed the twin pillar of stability, the corollary, the Government might rightly say, is that the industry must be made efficient. The argument is that if the State and Parliament and the rest of the community give the industry health, there must be efficiency. As a general proposition, I think probably everyone will agree with that. But the question at once arises: Is it necessary to have all the controls proposed in this Bill. Supervision, direction, orders and penalties are sprinkled all over the Bill. The Minister is to do this, that, or the other thing. Some of the proposals are certainly unfair; some are, in our view, quite unworkable. We shall have a lot to say about this, in greater detail later. I merely warn the Minister that however much we today look upon him, as we all do, as a kindly and benevolent autocrat, we on this side of the House are not necessarily prepared to give legislative effect to drastic powers for anyone who, by turn of political fortune may be brought into his place as his successor.
Passing to a cognate subject, I would remark that it is all very well for the Minister to say, as he said the other day at Devizes, that the organisation of control would be businesslike and not bureaucratic. How on earth does he know? It may start as one, but it may rapidly develop into the other. Take the county agricultural executive committees about which the Minister was speaking just now. Under the Bill they have a say in almost everything. I agree that during the war, on the whole, they worked splendidly, but there was, of course, a difference. With the winning of the war as an objective, they bravely served upon their fellow-farmers all sorts of directions, instructions and orders. But that was for the purpose of winning the war. The question I ask myself is: Will the same sort of people be as ready to do that in peacetime, when those orders, directions and so forth will not be made as they were before, in order to win the war? The result in peacetime may be that a man will have to grow an 648 unprofitable crop, and possibly lose a lot of money in doing it. It is something about which we ought to pause and think.
Again, shall we be able to get the right type of member? Up to now their work has admittedly been very heavy but the Bill enormously increases what they are called upon to do. That is another difficulty. May I put one or two other major difficulties? In future they will have to advise the Minister, in cases of notice to quit, about the qualifications of the new occupier; they have to recommend about the grant of new "364 day tenancies," they have to recommend about the purchases of land under Clause 82; advise about how a tenant is farming his land under paragraph 7 of the Seventh Schedule; to recommend dispossession of owners and owner-occupiers. These are just a few of the formidable additions which the Bill makes to their present duties. Frankly, I think that this piling up of the work on these committees may prove to be the weakest link in the whole chain. A plan, a good plan perhaps, may well break down under the intolerable burden put upon people who, after all, are already doing their own job in the world. The risk is that in order to get this job done at all, we may be able to get only second-rate people. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the public purse?"] It is not a question of the public purse. It is a question of the enormous additional burdens put upon people who are already doing a job of work of their own. If we are to take people who have nothing else in the world to do, then we are, straight away, out of touch with the problem. That is the dilemma. We might get perfectly adequate people who just do not know the locality and the people concerned. All I say is that, during our Debates, we shall have to look at that side of the question very closely.
On the other hand, in regard to that part of the question there is one great advance, and that is in connection with the appeals to the agricultural land tribunals in dispossession cases. The tribunals have the last word and the Ministry cannot act contrary to their findings. That is all to the good. There again, it is open to question whether there ought not to be a real appeal from the tribunals themselves. Besides that, I think many hon. Members disagree that in the cases of bad mismanagement, the Minister should have 649 power of compulsory purchase. In our view, there should be a compulsory sale in the open market, which would be the fair thing to do, or else the land should be put under a trustee, subject, of course, to the condition that the intending purchasers or the proposed trustees should be acceptable to the Minister as likely to manage the land efficiently. When I say that we think there might very well be appeals, I would add one more consideration, and that is that there might well be in the Bill appeals to the tribunals against supervision or, at any rate, against cropping directions likely to result in financial loss. Many directions in the past have had that effect. Those are the chief points I want to make on that part of the Bill.
I pass briefly to Part III. We regret that there is not in this Bill a measure of consolidation, but we note what the right hon. Gentleman has just told us that it is the intention of the Government to bring forward a consolidating Bill as soon as possible after the passage of this Measure. I have not many comments to make at this stage on Part III, which is the agricultural holdings portion of the Bill, except this: The Minister strengthens enormously the security of tenure of the tenant farmer, but I understand from the National Farm Survey that it appears that the average term of tenancies has been 22 years. If that is true, it does not look as if there was much wrong with the existing legislation. I would ask the House to consider that the Bill as drawn makes two things very difficult. It makes it very difficult—and that no doubt is the purpose, but it may be carried toe far—for the landlord to get rid of a tenant farmer; it also makes it difficult for younger men to get on to farms of their own.
The provisions in Part IV, about small holdings, I welcome as a rung in the ladder, but, of course, it is not much use to get on one rung unless, in due course, one can get on to the rung above. I am afraid some of these provisions may stop that very much to be desired form of ascent. Overmuch security under Part III, may in fact do a lot of harm to the very praiseworthy ideas of Part IV. We shall have to look at that in considerable detail. There is another point at which I want the Minister to look. Suppose a tenant farmer is a menace to the local community on personal grounds—I will not say what: people can imagine that 650 for themselves. Unless he fails in good husbandry, he can never be got out of the district. That is one extreme. Yet at the other end of the scale, the Minister is unduly harsh for there may be cases of an owner occupier being dispossessed and getting only the three months notice, as a result of which, of course, he would lose his home, his job and his farm. In certain cases it works out at three months. That seems to be very severe. In that connection, I think, as the right hon. Gentleman implied, the whole question of rents should be examined. I will not, however, go into that now.
There is one last point on Part III and, if I may use the word, its super-security. Dispossession, of course, only take places after the local review. There may well be cases, which I commend to the Minister's attention, where on balance a tenant should come out, and yet there may be a sort of feeling of "we are all boys together" and the committee may tilt the balance in his favour. He is an old friend, he is going to lose his job and his farm, and he may manage just to keep within the rules laid down by the Bill. Very naturally, no one can complain. Considerations will arise in peacetime which did not arise in wartime when we had the supreme objective of winning the war always in front of us. The upshot may be—and this is what I am worried about—that in 10 or 15 years it may be found that the cumulative effect of having tilted the balance time and time again in favour of the existing tenant, who has this super-security, may be that a great deal of the land will be found to be badly farmed. It may be that, if it had left to the provisions of the existing law, it might well not have arisen. There may be a big danger here which we must look at and from which we must protect the industry as a whole and, what perhaps is still more important, the land itself as a whole. I commend those thoughts to the right hon. Gentleman.
There is only one other major criticism which I want to raise. I realise I am putting forward only a few points. I do not want to make an unreasonably long speech and, in any case, my hon. Friends will cover many points which are equally important. I think there is too much opportunity in the Bill for the Minister to go into farming "on his own."
§ Mr. T. Williams indicated dissent.651
§ Captain Crookshank
There is no reason why he should. After all, the Minister, in his speech just now, gave us a whole series of cases, but they were all special and special cases do not make good law—not by a long shot. Personally, I do not see why the Land Commission should go in for farming either, because there is no reason why, when a farmer or owner is dispossessed, another approved farmer or owner, as it would be under the Bill, should not take his place Even if this power is given to the Land Commission—which is one thing—there is no reason why the Minister should have it, as he has under Clause 87. As far as that goes, I do not see any reason either why the Minister in peacetime should deal with all sorts of provisions for agricultural goods and services, as is laid down in Clause 101, to which the Minister referred. Some of these, for example, could quite well be done, co-operatively or otherwise, and I think we shall have to look into that matter. After all, does the Minister really want to become a grain merchant or a purveyor of manure?
§ Mr. Williams indicated dissent
§ Captain Crookshank
Well, it is all there. The Minister is taking all the powers, and a great deal more. That is why I say that the benevolent autocrat we have now may not want to do those things, but we are legislating for good— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—at least, we hope for good. The Minister hopes it is for good, and we are willing to talk about it in Committee and to see if it might emerge good, but we think he has been too grasping there.
I come back to my starting point and say that, on principle, we, on this side of the House, are agreed with the proposals for guaranteed prices and markets. Let the Minister and the House be under no misapprehension. It is an act of faith on our part; until we know what sort of a building is to be erected and what size the programme is, we are driven to relying upon the Government taking a wise and commonsense view of this. From their activities in other fields, it requires a greater act of faith for us to believe that they will act in a sensible way in the national interest. I want to put this question bluntly to the right hon. Gentleman: Does he, or does he not, agree that, whatever happens, the home producer must come first and the Empire fanner next? 652 That is the crux of the whole question. If the Government are not prepared to give us an assurance, then, of course, the whole Bill falls to the ground, with all the pious promises about a stable and prosperous industry. If, on the other hand, as I expect, the Minister or one of his colleagues will say that they do agree about the home producer coming first and the Empire producer next, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake here and now, because this is very important, that the Government will stick to that decision when the International Trade Proposals, which were accepted at the time of the American loan, come up for discussion later in the year? Is that going to be their attitude then?
My last word is a reference to the most important proposal in Clause 82. The whole basis of this policy, which is embodied in Clause 1 is that there should be confidence in the Government—if we think that is possible—confidence in the Minister, confidence in the associates who will work with the committees and confidence all round. Yet, when we come to Clause 82, we find a most flagrant breach of faith. What does it set out to do? Under the Act of 1943—and the Minister was Under-Secretary then, and, therefore, has a personal responsibility for this in a way that Under-Secretaries do not generally have in the work of other Departments—the Minister of the day was enabled to acquire land subject to an obligation—which is, in fact, detailed in the Clause, so that there should be no misapprehension about it whatever—that, in certain cases, the land would be offered back for re-sale to the previous owner. That is in an Act of Parliament. What is the Minister doing here? In this Bill, he takes that right away—a most flagrant breach of faith—and one is tempted to ask whether all the promises, assurances and guarantees which the Minister makes under this Bill may not also be swept away. This is a horrid little bit of doubt which the right hon. Gentleman has put in our minds by inserting this Clause in the Bill. [Laughter.]Certainly, and the best thing the right hon. Gentleman can do in order to win confidence from everybody is to see that there is not in this Bill such a flagrant breach of faith.
After all, agriculture has a very long memory, and the whole of its processes are subject to the time factor. The right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, 653 though it was before our time in this House, how the Corn Production Act was repealed and the consequences that flowed therefrom. All I can say is that it is for this House in the coming year to make certain that the glowing promises of this Bill—and they will be all the better when we have, suitably amended them—do not, in fact, go the way of previous legislation, and do not, in the words—if I may quote them—of one of our most famous hymns:..;fly forgotten as a dream Dies at the opening day.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Major Wise (King's Lynn)
I rise today with a good deal of satisfaction in being able to support the Minister on what must be, for him, the greatest day of his life. We on this side of the House have been waiting for this Bill for 20 years, and at last it has come. I think we can look forward to the fact that this Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, will establish our agricultural industry on a sounder basis and assure us all that the time has come when the Government are concerning themselves with the welfare of the great agricultural community.
This Bill carries out certain obligations which are natural to the Government. It provides the means whereby we can make the fullest and best possible use of our land, and it recognises that the prosperity of this country is dependent upon the prosperity of the countryside, because unless we can have a prosperous agriculture we cannot have prosperous industries in any other directions. Industries are dependent one upon another. The Bill also provides the means whereby we who are engaged in farming, are put in a position to obtain a full reward for the work which we carry out. It gives us reasonable security of tenure, though it does not go the whole way, and we are still subjected to notices to quit, in certain particulars. But it does give us a reasonable security to carry on the farming industry. It also makes for efficiency and a high standard in our industry. It is the outcome of many years of interest in agriculture which the Labour Party has shown, and it, therefore, behoves us all to see that this Bill becomes an Act and is carried out in due course.
I realise, from what the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said, that we shall in Committee meet with considerable opposition from the other side. I am not 654 prepared to say that the Bill is perfect. I am not prepared to say that it does not require, in small details, certain Amendments. I approach the Bill from many angles. Personally, I am concerned with respect to four Parts of the Bill—as an owner, as an owner-occupier, as a tenant right valuer of 30 years' standing—and I look upon this Bill as being helpful, reasonable and as being capable of being carried out. I am also concerned with that Part of the Bill which deals with smallholdings so far as it affects my constituency, and what I have to say will, I hope, prove helpful to the consideration of the matter when we get down to the discussion of its details.
In my view, the whole success of this Bill depends upon Part I. Unless we can assure to the agricultural industry a high standard of living—for that is what it means—the Bill will fail. At the moment, so far as agriculture is concerned, our prosperity is slightly on the wane. Our costs are rising. The Minister said that Part I can be dealt with with flexibility, but I want him to understand that, at the moment, the agricultural industry is looking very particularly to Part I of the Bill. We have had a bad harvest, and the expenses and losses of that harvest have not yet been recouped. Unless we can be assured in the future that the many little items of rising costs and difficulties which the agricultural industry have to meet are transformed in regard to better prices, then I am pretty certain that many of our farmers will go under. I would repeat that the success of the other Parts of the Bill depends upon the success of Part I.
Prices are to be fixed by consultation between the various sections of the industry and, apparently, the last word in prices is with the Ministers of the Crown. I would make the suggestion, which may be worthy of consideration, that, as wages in the agricultural industry are fixed by an independent tribunal, it would not be a bad plan for the Minister to have further consultation with an independent tribunal for the fixing of prices. I look forward to the position whereby we may be assured of special reviews. There was a recent occasion when a special review of prices was denied to us. On behalf of the farming industry, I must say that that denial was received by many of us as somewhat unsatisfactory. However, I will not say anything more about that.
655 There are one or two points of difficulty to which I should like to refer, and which may be worthy of consideration. In Clause 15 (2) there is a direction to the owner to provide fixed equipment. It may be that the definitions in the Bill as to what constitutes "fixed equipment" may have to be altered, but it is possible for the owner to be called upon to pay one year's annual value in three towards providing the necessary equipment. This may create a hardship for small owners, and we should bear in mind that, at the present time, this country is not a land of great owners; we are becoming a nation of small owners. If we compel a small owner to spend one year's annual value, which is a rack rent, in certain repairs or alterations, he may be very badly hit. Not only has he to meet this additional cost, but the standing costs and the overhead charges for the land are still there. Tithe has to be met in many cases, and there are mortgage interest. Schedule A tax. Land Tax, and the rest. It may well mean that the owner may not receive one year's rent in three. That is very important, and I hope that, when we discuss that Clause, the three years may be extended to a more reasonable period.
In regard to the question of development, the owner may be called upon to deal with roads. Farm roads are of vital importance, but they are not provided for in the Bill. Owners may have to make up the roads. It is significant—and I want the Minister to take notice of this—that, in the case of an ordinary farm, the owner may be called upon to make up the roads at his own expense, but that, under the Hill Farming Bill, it is possible for him to receive a grant of up to 50 per cent. of the outlay. If it can be done in one Bill, it can be done in this Bill. While I am on this point, I should like to ask, because I think it is important, why the Government cannot institute a fund whereby loans or grants can be made, or money lent, for these repairs, at a low rate of interest. No doubt I shall be told that means already exist whereby owners can obtain money. But, at the present moment, those means are expensive, and if owners are called upon to make alterations or improvements, then, I suggest, it would be a good thing if the Government made provision whereby they could obtain loans at a reasonable rate of interest. I have no doubt that there would 656 then be no anxiety on the part of the owners to carry out their obligations to make alterations or improvements. In regard to smallholdings, the cost of this equipment may have to be met by the Government. I shall be very glad if some means can be found whereby the owners are not compelled to go to the bank or to this mortgage corporation or to that society, but will be able to receive some sort of assistance from the Government by way of a loan at a low interest.
There are one or two other points to which I wish to call the attention of the Minister. I understand that, a few days ago, a certain hon. Member of this House referred to the difficulty of the legal profession in dealing with legislation by reference. As far as I can see, there is no clear cut definition in this Bill of the price at which land can be purchased. Three are certain references to other Acts, and it appears to me—I stand to be corrected—that, under this Bill, there are three sets of prices—the price to the owner who has a tenant when compulsory purchase takes place, another price to the owner-occupier in similar circumstances, and a further price in a voluntary sale. I think it is important that some Clause should be inserted to define how these various prices arise or are to be paid.
The point I wish to come to now deals with the question of tenant right. When the Government purchase land for experimental or similar purposes, they have the right to purchase it on a compulsory basis. If it is occupied, as it may well be, obviously the tenant has to receive notice to quit. According to the terms of the Bill, the greatest measure of compensation which can be paid to that tenant is two years' rent, under certain conditions. In the case of the farmer who has carried on farming on good lines, two years' rent is insufficient when he has to leave his farm. These compensation Clauses are generally sound, but I suggest that two years' rent and no more is quite insufficient compensation when a good farmer has to leave his farm. That applies not only to the compulsory purchase by the State but also to those cases, of which I am sure there will be some, in which it is possible for an owner to establish notice to quit to the farmer. Unless he can prove otherwise, it is highly probable that the only compensation he will get for disturbance is one year's rent. There 657 is another aspect of this question. By Clause 29 (1) (e) it is possible for notice to quit to be established if it is given three months after death, without compensation for disturbance. The point which I have in mind concerns widows or sons who are left behind. I suggest that when we consider the details of this Bill, the whole position should be revised. It is important that fair play should be established throughout this Measure, and the position of the widow or the son of the tenant should be borne in mind.
There is another point which I regard as important. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, before compensation could be substantiated for a high standard of farming a record of the holding had to be made. In the present Bill that provision for making a record of the holding goes. I suggest that it is desirable that in all agreements referred to in the Sixth Schedule it should be compulsory for a record of a holding to be attached to such agreements. A tenant is likely to be troubled by the agricultural executive committee, and in order to establish that his farming activities have not spoiled the farm, he must have a record of the holding. I suggest, therefore, that a further paragraph should be added to the Sixth Schedule, making it compulsory for a record of the holding to be part and parcel of the agreement to which that Schedule refers. I am certain that this Bill can operate for the good of the industry. I am sure farmers and owners will accept it with a fair measure of good will, and I hope, therefore, that it will result in an efficient industry with a high standard of production, and that it will secure that stability and security which it sets out to obtain.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
This Bill has the very important object of establishing agriculture on a secure basis. As the Minister rightly said, it had its origin in a very wide agreement between all three parties and a great number of agricultural organisations which published reports towards the end of the war. I thought the right hon. and gallant: Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) was a little circuitous in the way in which he approached the responsibility for agreement concerning the major provisions in the Bill, namely, the provisions in Part I, and also the major decision to retain 658 what during the war were called the war agricultural executive committees. That was agreed by the Conservative Party. Questions concerning the powers of these committees are of less importance than the fact that we now have a revolution in the method of fixing of prices of farm produce and that we are to retain the county agricultural committees. When one thinks of the days before the war when agricultural prices varied, not merely from day to day but from hour to hour, at auction marts and sales, one appreciates what a difference there will be under this system whereby we shall know, for several years ahead, what the prices are going to be. That is a very great measure of security. It involves planning. We on this bench recognise that fact, and we think it is the right sort of planning. It provides security whereby the farmer may exercise the fullest freedom to farm well and successfully, and produce the food which the country needs.
As to whether the amount of food which a farmer produces could be defined in an Act of Parliament, I find myself in agreement with the Minister, for this reason. I think it could be so defined. But if it were defined like that, it would mean vastly more control than is proposed in this Bill at the present time. After all, we had it during the war, when the farmer was directed to grow so many acres of this or that crop and keep so many head of livestock. Under those circumstances one can lay down beforehand what the produce of agriculture is to be. But if the farmer is to be left more liberty to grow what crops he wants to, and to keep what livestock he thinks fit, then we cannot in the Bill say that the size of the produce will be such-and-such in the future. Therefore, from that point of view, I should not welcome the inclusion of a figure, because I think that would involve too much control.
I agree that British farming has a big future. I am confident we shall need all the food we can produce, not only this year and next year, but in the next five and 10 years, partly on account of the exchange position, and because of other factors which have been given. If comparisons are made with the state of affairs after the last war—and one cannot help doing so—one reason why the outlook is much healthier today than it was then, is because in such legislation as we had then 659 it was not recognised that the future of British farming did then—and does even more today—depend on livestock farming. The Corn Production Act was intended to produce more corn. In fact, even at that time, British agriculture was turning to livestock. For many years after the war, legislation was devoted to cereal growing, and it was a long while before the Conservative Party—and I do blame them for this—recognised that livestock was the really important thing; and that was true of farmers, too, they did not recognise it. In this Bill that is recognised.
I do not know the relative importance in figures of the classes of product whose prices are to be guaranteed, which appear in the First Schedule. There are some livestock products and some cereals. In passing, I would add that I wish two other livestock products were included, namely, poultry and wool. I notice, however, that the Minister has power to add. On that main subject, the stability of British agriculture under the guarantee system of Part I of this Bill, is to be based partly on crops and partly on livestock. I should guess that the livestock products were under half of the whole. Before the war they would certainly have been more than half, but probably as a result of the war they are now only half of the whole. Nevertheless, they are included in that, and I am sure that if our main effort Is devoted to increasing our livestock in the future we shall be pushing in the natural economic direction instead of, as we were after the last war, trying to save cereal growing—which was becoming more and more difficult in this climate—in competition with the new world I feel that this policy is in accordance with the general principles laid down at Hot Springs—and so it should be, and it is important that it should be. As I understand it, that policy, though complicated, rested on two fairly simple principles: that governments, acting separately and together in an international organisation, ought to use their efforts in their countries, and jointly, to raise the standards of nutrition of their peoples; and also—and this is essential—to raise the standards of the agricultural populations of their countries. I think the method employed in this Bill falls into that general purpose.
There are dangers which present themselves, as we can see in agriculture at the present time. One is very conscious of 660 expecting the same dangers as those which beset agriculture in the past, and farmers are very much afraid of cheap imports of feeding stuffs from abroad. However, history does not always repeat itself, and I am not sure that that is the main danger which threatens British agriculture at the present time. Those which we can see at present I would put in this order. I would say that the political danger was the subsidy position. That is a subsidy to consumers. The fact of the matter is, the prices which British farmers get at the present time are kept down below the world market price. Any subsidy which the Treasury is paying cannot be paid to farmers, because if they had a free price, the farmers would be getting far more. Therefore, at the present time the subsidies are to the consumers. They are very large, amounting to nearly £400 million. It sounds a vast figure, but half of that is in respect of imported food and half is in respect of home produced food. Although it sounds a vast sum, if it is worked out per head of the population, so far as our home produced food is concerned, it comes to something like £4 per head per annum
I could wish that the Government were prepared to allow the retail cost of food to go up to meet that, so that the public would recognise what the position was. At the present time the consumer is paying for his food partly in the retail price which he pays and partly as a taxpayer. I believe there would be no objection— especially with regard to foodstuffs produced in this country—if the consumer paid what it cost to produce, on one condition; that those social benefits for which the Government are responsible, such as old-age pensions, family allowances, and various forms of compensation, were based on what Lord Beveridge suggested in his report, namely, the real cost of living. I do not want to dwell too much on this, but if that were so we would then get a real picture of the situation. I believe the agricultural industry would be on a firmer basis, the consumer would at any rate know what was really happening, and it would stop the tendency to inflation.
The next danger which threatens agriculture is the very serious labour position. I am not one of those who think that we shall have unemployment in the future. I think we shall have full employment. I accept the view that it is 661 possible to achieve full employment, and I think this Government are going to achieve it. Now, even with the present rise in wages and, certainly, with the present shortage of houses, and the low standard of houses in the country, labour will drift away from the land. I fear that it is not just the return of the German prisoners. It is a general drift away to industry, which may start again when the housing problem is easier in the towns. Agricultural workers cannot leave the country now, because they cannot get houses in the towns. On another subject, which is rather a touchy one, I should like to see the old agricultural cottages improved, as well as new ones built, because the agricultural workers will have to live in them. If they have to live in the old, bad cottages, without water supplies, then, immediately they can get houses in the towns, they will get them. Once we have lost agricultural workers, it will be hard to get them back. That is another danger.
Another immediate difficulty is the shortage of animal feeding stuffs. I hope the Minister of Agriculture is impressing on the Minister of Food the importance of obtaining animal feeding- stuffs. There was that small incident, I agree, about the Canadian Wheat Agreement, in which the Minister of Food, when I asked him a Question, seemed a little surprised at the importance attached to importing the whole wheat into this country, and milling it here in order to get the, offal. I do not think anybody before had really impressed that on the Minister of Food. But that sort of thing is important from every point of view. Take eggs, which, to a large extent, are produced by wheat offal. The figures I have show that we imported altogether over £38 million worth of eggs during last year, £9 million worth of shell eggs, and £29 million worth of dried or liquid eggs. On my calculations, I be-believe that, if we had imported animal feeding stuffs, we could have produced the £9,000,000 worth of shell eggs for £5,000,000 in foreign exchange, and the £29 million worth of eggs also for £5,000,000, and we should have saved £28 million and got the same number of eggs. An amount of almost £30 million is something to be saved these days. I do not know if the people outside the Ministry are aware of it, but that is the position, in fact, and it is true, also of wheat in respect of other livestock pro- 662 ducts. Vast savings in foreign exchange could be effected, if we got feeding stuffs for our livestock in this country.
So much for stability. Now, about efficiency. Control is unpleasant. I think it is a great tribute to the leaders of the: farmers in this country, both the national leaders and the local leaders in the counties, that, by and large, the Farmers Union are fully accepting this Bill. I think it is a very great tribute to the leadership in that industry that they are prepared to accept so much that is irksome—as it is, and let us recognise it frankly. There are not lacking critics, not always in high places, who strongly object to the operation of the agricultural executives and Minister's representatives. However, the organised farmers have taken up a clear line, and recognise that, in exchange for stability and assured markets, they must accept this degree of control, to ensure efficiency in the use of our land. We on these benches also accept that position, and that there should be a standard of efficiency laid down, both for owners and farmers.
I think we shall, in Committee, ask for some further safeguards. For instance, I think that the owner-occupier, as well as, probably, the owner, who, after a supervision order is made, is to be expropriated, ought to have the alternative, if he wishes, of selling his land in the open market. The many owner-occupiers in the north and west of England, very small fanners, whose farming is their livelihood, if they are to be expropriated, ought to be allowed to make the most out of their land that they can. If the State is to say, "You have lived and farmed there all your life, but you are now getting old, you are not as capable as you were, and it is time you retired," I think the farmer should have the right of getting any advantage he can out of a free sale. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has the right."] If that is so, I am very glad to hear it.
Going back a stage further, I think that the farmer ought, also, to have an appeal against a supervision order. I wonder if that would not be an advantage, for this reason. If the process of appeal is undertaken when a supervision order is made, the appeal would be a clear record of the state of the farm at that time. The matter would be fully considered at that stage. If, a year later—or whatever time was fixed—the Minister was not satisfied, 663 and wanted to take possession of the farm, there would be that farm's recorded state at the time of the previous hearing, from which the tribunal would be able to get a proper comparison. Then, again, I should like to hear very fully argued the question of whether there should be a right of appeal ultimately to the ordinary courts.
One point which the Minister mentioned, but which I should like to emphasise, is the importance of specialists on the county agricultural executive committees. I believe that poultry and horticulture are going to form a large part of British agriculture in the future I cannot think that a county like Lancashire, which, I think, had almost more poultry than persons in it before the war ought not to have a poultry expert on the county agricultural executive committee In some counties of course, sheep are the more important element. I think our sheep in England have a great future, and in Scotland too, for that matter; and that in sheep farming and in the production of mutton we have got to watch that we do quickly regain the position we lost during the war I do not want to say much on the standardisation of farm tenancies, which seems to me desirable, nor on the greater security of a good tenant. We support that, though there are detailed points which will come out later. I very much welcome the smallholding policy It has not always been the case. The Labour Party has not always been in favour of the smallholder, and I am delighted they have found a formula, which is said to be different from any other formula with which smallholdings have ever been established I will allow the right hon. Gentleman his new formula, and I will tell him that it is one on which we have established smallholdings in the North for a very long time. It has been part of the farming ladder. I know personally many fanners who started on smallholdings across the Border in Scotland, and who are now farming large farms south of the Border. It has been the policy, in my own county, to start on smallholdings and move to bigger ones. The farming ladder is a means of rewarding talent and is of benefit both to the farmers and to the land, and this has been well recognised with us for a long time. I am very glad that a Labour 664 Government which, one feared, was rather hesitant about this is now going ahead.
I think it is probably right to take over the Land Settlement Association. There are a great number of land settlement tenants in my constituency, and I should like to say that although the Land Settlement Association has been criticised by its tenants and other people it has done an invaluable job of work. It has proved that men without any previous agricultural experience can be turned into highly successful smallholders. That was a very difficult task to give the Land Settlement Association, but they have been successful and the average earnings on these holdings are very good, while production is often excellent. Possibly it is right for the Ministry to take it over, but I hope we shall have more experiments of this sort and more experiments on cooperative holdings. I regret that there is nothing in the Bill about allotments, and I do not know whether it would be in Order to put something in during the Committee stage, but I hope it may be. They are the source of a valuable supply of food and I think they need a little attention at the present time.
There is one question I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with in his reply. I do not altogether understand from the Minister's discussion of Clause 82, which empowers the Government to take over the land requisitioned during the war, quite what is intended. The Minister gave a number of examples of land which he wanted to have the power to take over for reasons which to me seemed to be good reasons in regard to those particular examples. Those were, however, rather unusual examples and rather unusual reasons, and I want to know whether land is to be retained in the ordinary straightforward cases in which it was taken over because it was badly farmed. Is such land to be retained, or is the bias to be in favour of returning it? Perhaps the Under-Secretary could explain the Government's intentions in that direction.
Lastly, I was not convinced by the Minister that, if we are to have a really lively agricultural industry in the years to come, as I hope we may, the proper channels for obtaining capital exist at the present time, either for the tenant or the owner. Vast sums are mentioned as being required to bring the agricultural industry up to a proper standard of 665 capitalisation. There is a vast amount to be done, and if we are to have higher wages, as we have already, quite rightly, the only way to meet them is to have higher capitalisation, so as to get a higher output per manhour. More mechanisation and more modern and efficient buildings are needed, and they are very expensive at the present time. I am not satisfied that adequate means of obtaining capital are available either for the owner or for the farmer.
Even when this Bill is passed there will be a great deal to do for farming. This Bill will stand or fall in the future by the way it is administered. I believe its principles are sound, but its administration will be vital. Also, I think that Part I should be supplemented by a marketing scheme. I do not think the question of how prices are to work out can be left in the air. We need to reestablish marketing schemes again. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a good future for British farming, and I think this Bill lays the foundations for that future. If the Measure is worked with co-operation from all sides, and if the owners, the workers and the farmers show real willingness, energy and confidence in the future of their industry, the outlook will be very much better than it has been for many years.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I would like to begin by saying a word of congratulation to the Minister for what has happened before this Bill was presented to the House. The farming community, and agricultural interests generally, are not very easy people to bring to agreement, and to have succeeded in bringing about general agreement among all interests on so colossal a Measure as this is an amazing achievement in the art of negotiation. I believe, too, that it is in the nature of a personal triumph for the Minister because I am very doubtful if anybody else could have done it. I doubt if anybody else in the agricultural industry could have inspired the trust which went to the making of this general agreement.
Since I am passing compliments, I would also like to congratulate hon. Members opposite upon their general acceptance of this so fundamentally Socialist Measure. It shows that they are becoming enlightened. Agriculture could always have been dealt with by the Adam 666 Smith method; all Government interference could have been removed and agriculture left to sink or swim and find its own level. This is a fertile land, and there is no doubt that as a result of a sufficient number of people going through the bankruptcy court, British agriculture could have been made to pay. It could not have paid on the present small farm basis. We could not grow grain against? he prairies, but we could have got great farms, almost ranches, to raise cattle, and we could have had huge dairy farms where the cows were milked on a mechanised system. Doubtless in those conditions agriculture, in a period of time, would have paid in a fertile land like this. It would, however, have paid at the cost of reducing its production by about half, and at the same time its labour force would have been reduced to about a quarter. The only objection to that would have been that from England'spoint of view it would have been simply disastrous, because agriculture is not merely an industry, in this country it is a public service, and it is as a public service that it is recognised in this Bill.
If agriculture were allowed to contract to an industry employing only a third or a quarter of the present number, it would for one thing be doing a great eugenic injury to this people, because a nation which does not have a due proportion of its people brought up and bred in the country will decline. From the strategic point of view Britain's war economy must be a siege economy, and our capacity to produce is therefore our capacity to defend ourselves. If in any future war we desire to remain neutral, as I profoundly hope we shall, our capacity to remain neutral will depend on our capacity to feed ourselves. If experience has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that a nation which insists upon keeping the seas open cannot remain neutral. From the point of view of the balance of payments, which was referred to by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), it is also essential that this country should retain a small farm system of maximum production, rather than to aim at a profit making system.
This conception of agriculture as a national service which is accepted by this Bill, involves two corollaries. If a community requires agriculture to be a public service, then it has to be prepared to pay 667 for that service. It is perfectly true, as has been pointed out, that the food subsidies are today consumer subsidies, and that under guaranteed prices the farmer is getting less than he could receive in a free market, but that will not always be so. When the markets have been given a chance to find this level, it is clear, and let us recognise it, that the guaranteed price will be above world prices. That is why guaranteed price is accepted by farmers. The small farm system in this country cannot possibly compete in growing wheat against the prairies, in growing meat against the ranches, in growing mutton against the sheep runs of the Antipodes. It is wishful thinking to imagine that from a purely profit-making point of view the small-farm system of maximum production can face world competition unprotected, and so We have a system introduced here which settles the reward the farmer is to receive for the public service he is rendering in maintaining the small farm system of maximum production. The first part of this Bill provides the means by which that reward is settled. Fundamentally, it is a system of settling piece rates by which the farmer is to be paid for his service. Let this be made clear, that the farmer is to be rewarded for his service on a fair return for his capital and for his land, and that the ultimate price at which his wares are to be distributed among the consumers is no concern of his. It is no concern of the farmer, for instance, how much beer is to be made to pay for milk, or how much tobacco is to be made to pay for bread. All that is a matter of distributive policy. Let there be no question again about the town complaining that it is required to subsidise the country. It is required to do no such thing, but is paying for a public service in exactly the same way as it pays for the Army and the Navy. Let us have no question about the Chancellor of the Exchequer cutting up rough, or anything of that sort. [Laughter.] I say that in all seriousness. His obligations under this Bill to provide the farmer with a proper reward for his service stand on exactly the same basis as his obligations to pay wages to soldiers and sailors. That is the essential basis of this Bill, and it is a basis which those who believe in prosperity for agriculture would do well to insist upon. Having said that in regard to the general principles of this great Measure, which for 668 the first time recognises agriculture as a service to be rewarded as a service, I should like to make two criticisms on particular factors which will, I think, require some reconsideration. At the present moment, farmers are meeting competition not merely from a man who is entering agriculture to make a living, but from the man who does not much mind whether he makes a profit, but wants a farm for its amenity value. Another and growing type of competition is coming from those who as a result of the tax structure can make money by showing a loss farming. The effect has been to push up the prices of farms beyond their economic worth, and it has tended also to push up rents. In the case of rents, I am inclined to think that they have probably been too low; and that as yet they have not been pushed up above the proper level, although that may well come. Now Clause 34, by giving security of tenure will further reduce the farms coming into the market and will add a scarcity value to what is already tending to be an inflationary market in farm prices and rents. Under Clause 34, there can be arbitration if a landlord wishes to put up rent, but the arbitrator will presumably decide on the basis of what the farm can be let for in a free market. We have the situation therefore, that a man who is prepared to pay an uneconomic rent, due to taxation or to amenity values, may begin to set a standard of rent which arbitrators will have to take into account. I feel that this is a very dangerous situation, and that it might well be desirable for the Minister, if it can be devised at some later stage, to take certain additional powers which will enable him to control the market in farms and farm rents, if they become inflationary. It is not very easy, nor is this the proper time, to devise how that can be done, but if you are to have security of tenure, some power to control rents and prices if an inflationary situation should arise, might be desirable, and ought to be considered.
§ Mr. Paget
No, that deals only with cases where you have a sitting tenant. It does not deal with the case where the tenant dies, and the farm comes newly on to the market. It is only for the existing tenant, not the new tenant.
Further, I feel that this Bill is rather hard on the landowner, because it imposes 669 upon him obligations which he can neither physically nor economically properly implement. In the old days of the great estates the system of landlordism worked admirably. We owe to the great estates, and the organisation of the landlords' services within them, the lead which, for over a century, we have over the world in agriculture. When the Lloyd George taxation broke the great estates great injury was done to agriculture, and the resulting situation meant that new landlords did not have a unit which could be worked efficiently. They have not a unit which can be worked efficiently today. You cannot work landlordism efficiently by sending for odd jobbing builders and carpenters. You want an existing organisation, going round in an organised way, to get your land properly looked after. That can only exist on the great estates, and I do not think that any system of enabling a landlord to borrow money, as was suggested, will really work. With the breaking up of farm layouts, I do not think the landlord can do his job properly, or the job which is put upon him by this Bill. I therefore ask Members opposite to think seriously about this, and to put aside from their minds all doctrinaire prejudices. If landlords can only do their job efficiently, by having a large and properly organised unit, how can these units be produced save by land nationalisation. I very much hope that that step, which I regard purely from an agricultural, and not from a doctrinaire, point of view, will not be too long delayed.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)
It is a great pleasure to be able to congratulate the Minister today, for a number of reasons, chief of which is that the normal procedure of Socialist legislation, as we have seen it in this House, has been reversed. For one thing, there is to be no nationalisation of the land, except, as the right hon. Gentleman said himself, by "compulsory purchase of odd spots". That succinct phrase sums up the present attitude of the Ministry of Agriculture. Further, following the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, and the Electricity Bill which is to come, we find here that the compensatory powers, as regards landlord and tenant, are left extremely vague while the administrative parts of the Bill are extremely clear and elaborate. The carrot is somewhat diaphanous, while 670 the stick is hickory all the way up, with knobs on in the Schedules.
Today, I want to refer to the general position of agriculture in this country in relation to overseas, and to say a few words about the relationship between landlord and tenant. This Bill interferes in several rather grievous ways with the position of the landlord and tenant. The Minister said that the Bill sets up a new partnership, and by it he is a sleeping partner with 51 per cent. control, permanently, over every farm and estate. It only needs the Ministry to be agitated for them to carry out 100 per cent. ownership of every farm and estate, lock stock and barrel. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was not going in for land owning on a large scale, but it is clear that he has that intention in regard to about eight per cent. of our best agricultural land. He said that two per cent. had already been taken over during the war. According to the "Domesday Book", which was prepared during the war, five per cent. of our farms are not up to standard. There is three per cent. of fen land, and land in various other special categories, so that, allowing for a diminution of two per cent., the Minister is left with between eight and 10 per cent. That is the threat which is levied against the industry.
The stability of agricultural prices is to be the pillar on which everything else is to depend. This is a question which should be carefully investigated by this House before this Bill reaches the Statute Book. The Minister and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) both took, in my opinion, a somewhat optimistic view of the future. They felt that prices would be maintained in this country because agricultural prices throughout the world would be maintained. They took the view that this stability of prices could be maintained, even though its exact form and design was, at the moment, not very clear. Certainly within the Bill the foundation for this pillar of stability of prices is well protected. Clause 3 makes it quite clear that it could not be upset, even by the Ministry of Food, except with due notice. For that we are thankful. At the moment it is very easy for the Government, when the production of wheat in this country is cheaper than it is in the United States, 671 when there is shortage of currency abroad, and shortage of shipping, to say to the farmer, "We will guarantee you fair prices in return for these controls." The question is: For how long?' If present world shortages were to continue the agricultural interests in this country will be in a different position. The boot, so to speak, will be on the other foot. But the agricultural community who remember the twenties and thirties and possibly as far back as the seventies, in looking to the future, is quite prepared to accept the controls put on by the Government in return for a guaranteed stable price and a guaranteed market. But how permanent is that guarantee to be?
I, personally, feel that the difficulties which everyone foresees with the end of the sellers' market, with deflation starting already in the United States, and deflationary measures being taken in France, and therefore in North Africa, and with the grave danger that the price of wheat and all agricultural produce will fall sharply, the Government as opposed to the Minister of Agriculture should give a guarantee to the agricultural community that the home producer will come first and the Empire producer second. If we do that, we can look confidently ahead to a price structure being maintained in this country. The question is whether the Government are prepared to give that consideration. Within the Bill, this pillar of stability is well enshrined. But the question is this. What part is this pillar of agricultural stability to play in the Government's general world trade policy?
I want to make reference to a fact and to a contingency. The fact is the joint Anglo-United States project for an international conference on trade and employment. The Government are, at the moment, pledged to those principles. The contingency is that this country may, when the present United States loan runs out, have to go to America for another loan. That is to my mind a contingency which has to be considered by anyone who thinks seriously in this country today. As everyone in the House knows, the issue of the joint White Paper by the British and American Governments on the substance of an international trade organisation is "The elimination of tariff preferences." In general, what that means 672 is perfectly obvious to everyone in this country. Although we accepted that document, and, at the initial conference at Washington, gained a certain amount of concessions, those concessions would undoubtedly have to be abandoned in the event of our raising a second loan.
In the document, as it stands, are several points which I should like to bring to the notice of the Government. I am sure that they are among the considerations that affect Part I of this Bill, and account to some extent for its vagueness and lack of absolute intention. First of all, any levy subsidy would be, as the proposed negotiations stand, ruled out. I know that the present Government do not approve of levy subsidies. But whatever Government may come in, this means that so far as British agriculture goes, levy subsidies are "out." Secondly, any subsidy to agriculture in this country, by way of area payments, deficiency payments, and all the other methods proposed in the White Paper must be shown as a direct subsidy by the Government if its trade arrangement is to be carried out. It is for the Government to make perfectly clear what subsidies are being paid.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
If we accept the difference between our tariff level and the prices of the home market, the Government must state exactly what is to be the amount of the subsidy.
The period of deflation will have an unfortunate effect on hon. Gentlemen opposite, who represent non-agricultural constituencies. If the Minister puts forward his Orders under Clause 4 of the Bill by way of Affirmative Resolution for the setting up of new organisations for marketing and for pricing, there will be trouble in this House from hon. Members opposite. Finally, anyone carrying out bulk purchases under these agreements will have to buy in the lowest market. To my mind, the stability of prices in agriculture depends almost entirely on the Government of the day being able to negotiate abroad long-term contracts with other countries. That would mean that there would be not merely a fixed price but a fixed stability of price which cannot at present be given to this country for a long period of years. That could be done if contracts could be made with the' Dominions, but under this agreement that 673 is impossible. In a statement made recently by the Minister of Food that appears to be also his view. He is going to buy in the cheapest market. That means that there will be no long-term permanent contract made with the Dominions, which, in its turn, means that inside this country there can be no long-term stability for agricultural prices.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
On this point of international trade agreements, and on the other points which I have raised, I should like an assurance from the Minister of Agriculture or the Parliamentary Secretary, because until this question of stability of British agriculture is settled, stability of price is a myth—merely a plank in the political platform, set on the shifting sands of the Government's trade policy. Perhaps in the next fortnight when a new White Paper appears, this issue will become clearer, but until it is made clearer I believe that it is in the interests of the agricultural community to view this Bill with certain misgivings. Efficiency in farming is a great objective, but the method of achieving efficiency in a free society is by giving a guaranteed market, and having a guaranteed price, fixed on a real Empire trading policy. I think that the Minister will agree that those are important things and compared with them everything else in this Bill—that is the stick part as opposed to the carrot—is comparatively unimportant.
I would say that the two things needed most in agriculture today are new blood and new capital. I suggest that many of the elements in this Bill—which I hope other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House will have time to elaborate—can be shown to be highly restrictive. There is a danger that the Ministry of Agriculture will become owners of a large part of the land, up to 8 or 10 per cent., establishing a mortmain rather in the same way that the mediaeval Church had a mortmain over many of the lands in this country. There is the possibility of farmers resisting the intrusion of others of new blood, which might create the danger of the land being exploited by clever gentlemen who know more about farming than I do. Those are grievous dangers and I hope that they will be explained more fully by 674 other Members. Let me say this. Unless the Minister accepts considerable Amendments in Committee, and unless the Government give us a full assurance on the question at issue of tariffs, preferences and world trade policy, the Minister will be leading British agriculture not into pastures new but through what he calls "unstocked eddishes" into the realms of "boozey pastures."
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
I think there has been rather a tendency on the benches opposite to damn this Measure with faint praise. I would, however, in some degree exempt from this charge the very lucid speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I think he particularly emphasised some of the points to which, on both sides of the House, we should give very close attention and to which we should adopt a critical attitude. This farm charter—for that is what it is, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on introducing it—offers our greatest industry a completely new dispensation. It treats the future of agriculture with the care and consideration deserved by an industry comprising 48 million acres, employing 1¼ million people, and contributing nearly £600 million to the national income.
As the Minister pointed out, the background to the Bill is a dereliction of duty on the part of successive Governments— a dereliction of duty which has left behind it a legacy of trouble and difficulty which it will obviously take a very long time to clear away. The Bill, however, does much more than clear away these troubles. It shows signs of having noted the failures of the past; it shows signs of having learnt from those failures; and it definitely develops sound policies for the future. What if aims to do is to give economic security to the food producing countryside. It extends, with some definite improvements, the national planning of agriculture which was forced on Britain by the war. The farmers and those employed in agriculture can under this Bill abandon, once and for all, the gamblers' mentality except, I would add, as far as the weather is concerned. That, in itself, is a very great achievement.
An especially good feature of the Bill is that it holds the scales fairly between 675 conferred benefits on the one hand, and looked-for responsibility on the other. There are far too many people in this country at present I think, who are over-stressing what is due to them, rather than paying due regard to what is due from them. Unless there is a reversal of this outlook, our people are not going to match up to that standard of full citizenship which will alone pull us through our economic difficulties. So, in regard to this Bill in return for guaranteed prices and assured markets, the farmer must on his side supply another essential, namely, efficiency. While the size of the assured market—and I hope the Minister will agree with me in making this point—obviously cannot be unlimited, no limit can or should be set to the efficiency asked for off farmers. The national agricultural advisory service, which it is to be hoped farmers will use very widely, should help to a very considerable extent. But I am persuaded that in many cases, pride in farming is just as likely to produce results, if not more likely so than mere copy-book efficiency. The approach which recognises that "nobody has ever finished learning to farm" is the sort of outlook which I commend to all engaged in the industry.
Particularly do I welcome under another heading the powers given for the acquisition by the State of land which is not "pulling its full weight" in the national economy, either through incompetence on the one hand, or because it cannot be developed without an expenditure too great to be borne by private individuals on the other. I can speak with some, personal experience in the latter regard. It is a sign of courage on the part of the Minister that he has decided to confine smallholdings to those who have had actual experience of agriculture. Nothing could be worse than to put inexperienced men on the land in the vain hope—as it is—of their making good. All the same, I am going to voice a criticism here. Rather slow progress in developing smallholdings seems to be the hall-mark of the Bill's proposals under this heading. I would ask the Minister to look at these proposals again.
The Government's financial estimate under the Bill assumes that only 5,000 new holdings will be provided in the first five years and that the Exchequer's 75 per cent. share of the loss incurred by 676 creating smallholdings which cannot be let at economic rents is not likely to rise to more than £300,000 annually at the end of the fifth year. This implies a comparatively small development in smallholdings—a too small development as I see it. I know, of course, that all this is bound up with the state and progress of rural housing. Nevertheless, the contemplated extension of smallholdings might, I think, be speeded up and widened. Not only are the ideas for applying group methods to smallholdings by encouraging cooperative schemes for the supply of goods and services for smallholders excellent in themselves, but I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that they will be put into operation for small farmers also. Three out of four farmers in this country work less than 100 acres and there are nearly 300,000 small farms in Great Britain.
The experience gained by the Land Settlement Association and by the Welsh Land Settlement Society has clearly shown what cooperative arrangements can do to help market gardeners. Those arrangements should be extended to other types of farming so as to embrace the small farmers and ease their work. The one real danger to the full and complete success of the Government's policy in this Bill seems to me to lie very much in the need for the earliest provision of countryside amenities. Pie-crust promises are useless; what is wanted are concrete results in the shape of new roads, vastly improved water supplies and sewerage arrangements, cheap power and light in the form of electricity and, ultimately, the establishment in many areas of I community centres and village halls. I recognise that much of the planning and the legislation for these things is actually on the stocks at the present time, but I do hope that the Minister will keep his own end up where it is a case of competing with other Departments for the materials and the labour which are available.
In conclusion, I hope that the county agricultural executive committees will really match up to their responsibilities, in view of the Minister very properly confining his personal personal intervention in the industry to somewhat narrow limits. That non-intervention, I think, is an excellent tendency. There is a risk, as I see it, that the supervision of farming 677 efficiency may well be too lenient. Because of this a lead from the Minister to the industry becomes doubly important. This is really where he comes right into the picture. He can probably do more to ensure that agriculture serves the national interest by acting towards it as a guide, philosopher and friend, than by any other means. That my right Friend, who presides over its destinies, is just the man to do this gives me the greatest confidence in the outcome of our giving Parliamentary approval to this outstanding Bill.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
I think this Bill offers the agricultural industry a bargain about which we are trying to obtain a certain amount of information. The industry is offered Part I in exchange for Part II; it is offered a price structure in exchange for very strict rules and regulations. The Minister has said little about policy, and he has been questioned by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). We want to know about the type of farming, and on that subject the Minister did say that he believed in mixed farming and a policy for the production of livestock and livestock products. We also want to know the extent of the industry, and that matter has been fairly fully discussed. One of the most important factors in the industry today is the provision of labour, and on that subject the Minister stated, about a year ago, that he considered that the industry would require something in the nature of 250,000 men to replace those who had drifted away from the land during the last 20 years. When it was announced that the German prisoners of war were to be returned to Germany, the National Farmers' Union declared that the industry would require 100,000 extra men to replace the loss of prisoner-of-war labour. But when we come to look at the White Paper produced last, week, Cmd. 7018, we find that the Minister of Labour considers that the agricultural industry requires only an extra 33,000 men, so that there is a very considerable decline in the estimated requirements of labour which, when considered, gives little confidence to the agricultural industry.
Allied to the question of labour we must mention that of housing. Shortly after coming to this House I ventured to put a Question to the Minister regarding this 678 subject. I asked him whether he would find out from his returns from farmers what they considered their extra requirements of labour would be to keep up the maximum production most suited to their farm. The Minister said that he had sufficient information to answer this Question without calling for any further returns. I also asked him what extra number of houses would be required to maintain this labour force. The same answer applied to that part of the Question. What I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman or his Parliamentary Secretary is, What steps have the Ministry of Agriculture taken to discover where the labour really is required on the farms, and to ensure that houses will be provided? I am well aware that the Minister of Health is responsible, and also that his policy is to make the local authorities provide the housing for the additional labour force required. But what steps have been taken to ensure that the local authorities know where the houses are required?
During the last month I have taken the trouble to ask some rural district councils I know about this, and I found in one case that on their own initiative they have made inquiries from the war agricultural executive committees and from the N.F.U. but that they have had no directions from above. I should have thought it was the first responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture to liaise with the Minister of Health to try to answer this vital question and provide houses where they are required, so that farmers can recruit the labour which must be provided in the next year.
I should like to say a few wards about the price structure. This is covered in Clause 1, which is the meat of the Bill. It promises proper remuneration and living conditions and an adequate return on capital invested. So far as capital is concerned, the return is provided through rents which are a complicated and extensive subject. I will say nothing about rents at this stage except that they have changed little during the last 50 years and that they provide a very small return on capital invested, particularly if the estate is properly managed. So far as the farm worker is concerned we think, and hope, that he will receive proper remuneration and living conditions; but I should like to consider the effect of the price structure on the return given to the farmer because 679 I think this is inequitable and capable of considerable improvement. In my part of the world, in Shropshire, if one goes to the East side of the county and inspects farms, one can find great prosperity. In fact, it was not uncommon two years ago to hear of farmers who complained of having to pay E.P.T. If one goes to the Cluny Forest district one will find a very different story. Farmers in that part of the world find great difficulty in making more than a working man's wage out of their holdings.
During the Recess I went down to the Welsh Border and Cardigan and made fairly exhaustive inquiries into farming conditions in that part of the world. The farms are small—what are generally known as marginal farms. The traditional type of agriculture is livestock production, pigs, poultry, butter making and cheese. There is not very much dairying because of the great difficulties of transport and the great distance of the markets. If the Minister cares to make inquiries from the Universities of Manchester or Aberystwyth he will find the facts substantially as I have stated them and that these small farmers, who in numbers are very greatly in the majority, find it extremely difficult to make an adequate living. I quite realise that the price structure cannot be built up on meticulous costings in every district but that it reflects the general trend of profitability throughout the industry.
I feel, however, that the present price structure of national prices for certain commodities is capable of very considerable improvement and I hope the Minister will look into the question carefully. There may be several ways in which this price structure can be improved It may be possible to make differences for different districts. It may be possible to relate the price to the rentable value of the land or even to the size of the holding. When I went on a Parliamentary Mission to Czechoslovakia during the summer I found that the farmers there were paid on a fixed price schedule rather like our own but that it varied according to the size of the holding. The bottom price was paid to farmers with over 100 acres, there was an intermediate price for farms between 50 and 100 acres, and there was a higher price for farms under 50 acres. Czechoslovakia believes in sustaining her peasant agriculture and keeping a large number of farms in existence. Our present scale of 680 prices tends to increase big and multiple farms and to obliterate the small man. I am convinced that that is the case particularly in these marginal districts which are remote from the markets and unsuited to specialised production such as market gardening, milk production and fruit growing, as is the whole of Wales and some of the Northern counties.
I hope that some improvement can be made. It is possible that different commodities could be added to the price schedule, such as wool, store cattle and sheep. Special provision is made for the hill farmer in the hill farming subsidies. There are other things which could be done for these small farms. They could be paid a fair price for butter. At the moment the price is quite inadequate, perhaps to discourage butter-making, but where it is not possible or easy for the farmer to find a market for his milk he should be paid a fair price for his butter. It takes about three gallons of milk to make a pound of butter. Three gallons of milk is worth about 6s., whereas a pound of butter commands a price of only 1s. 6d., which is quite useless They could perhaps be given extra rations for poultry and pigs where they cannot produce or sell milk.
I hope that by making such provisions as these the Minister will try to maintain the number of small marginal farms. It will be found that their output per acre is in excess of the big farms and of farms which have been amalgamated. I have several reports from the University of Wales at Aberystwyth which show that the people who do well in Wales, particularly in the hills, are those farmers who farm a large acreage. They make a good return but their gross output per acre is only about one-third of that of the smaller farms. It is well worth while in this country, where such a very small proportion of the population are country people, to take every possible step to maintain the small man and not to allow farms to become large manufacturing centres for the production of food.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
The introduction of this Bill by the Labour Government is a complete refutation of the criticism which has often been made that the Labour Party is not concerned about the welfare of the great agricultural industry. That criticism was never true. Many 681 years ago the Labour Party evolved a well-reasoned, constructive policy for the benefit of this great industry but it has never before possessed sufficient political power to implement that policy. It was based Upon the principle of land nationalisation, and I am as firmly convinced as ever that public ownership and control of the land of this country is absolutely essential to a real and thorough organisation of our agricultural industry. But this Labour Government is so strictly constitutional that it has been meticulously careful not to exceed its election mandate. Therefore, we find that no proposals to nationalise the land of the country is included in this Bill, but it contains proposals which, if properly operated, will in my opinion be very substantial steps towards that much desired goal.
The Bill eliminates the two chief weaknesses of the agricultural industry—instability and insecurity. Farmers will no longer have to gamble as to what they should grow, where and when to sell their produce, and what price they can obtain for it. They will be able to devote the whole of their energies to the essential work of cultivation, with the assurance that what they have produced can be sold at fair prices and an assured market found for it. It is sometimes said that the industrial workers of this country have only been concerned about getting cheap food. They may have been driven by economic necessity in times past to pursue that attitude, but I am quite confident that today the industrial workers of this country do not desire to obtain cheap food at the expense of the fair treatment of those who produce it. However, they are insistent that the cost of that food shall be based upon the most efficient methods of production. If that desirable result is to be obtained I feel sure, and experience proves, that supervision, advice and control will be absolutely necessary.
One of the first Questions I put to the Minister of Agriculture in this Parliament was as to the area of land in farms which had been classed by the county agricultural committees as "C" farms. Hon. Members will perhaps realise that there were three classes of farms, "A," "B" and "C." The "C" farms were those which were in a bad, neglected, dilapidated state. The reply of the Minister was that there were over a million acres of land that had been put into category "C" by the county agricultural com- 682 mittees at the commencement of the war. I have had some experience as one of the members of the cultivation sub-committee of my county agricultural executive committee. From time to time we have had reports about these farms, and as the result of this supervision and advice, many of the farms so improved that they were lifted from the "C" category to "B," and some of them have been put up to the "A" category.
I would like to give the House what I consider to be the classic case for control. Some years ago I acted in a professional capacity as a valuer for an ingoing tenant to a farm in my division. It was my duty to inspect that farm and, as a result, I found it was not possible to charge a single penny dilapidation against the outgoing tenant—the farm was practically in a perfect condition. But what happened since? The county agricultural committee of my county have had to dispossess the tenant for allowing that farm to become so dilapidated and deteriorated as to demand strong action on their part. Many hon. Members could, if they desired, multiply cases of that character, and there is no need for any farmer to be disconcerted because these powers are contained in the Bill. The good citizen never fears a policeman, and these powers of dispossession will only be exercised against whom? Against the unwilling and recalcitrant farmers, men who have refused to take and act upon the advice and assistance which the county agricultural committees, through their technical officers and others, are only too pleased to offer them. And even when served with an order for dispossession, they have the right of appeal to an independent tribunal.
I contest the suggestion that there should be an appeal against these orders. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) rather envisaged that there would be considerable difficulty experienced in getting persons of the right character to serve upon these committees. Yes, but if you allow every fanner who feels aggrieved at an order which is served upon him with regard to cultivation to appeal, I am pretty confident that you will get nobody to serve upon these committees, because the appeals will come in by shoals by every post, and responsible, practical men will regard it as a waste of labour to serve on committees when the 683 orders which they serve as the result of their knowledge and experience can be so appealed against. May I say one word about the constitution of these committees? I regret that the Minister has not thought fit to give equal representation on these committees to the agricultural workers as he proposes to give to the fanners The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough seemed to overlook the fact that, in addition to the county committees, there are district committees. These district committees will be composed of farmers in the various districts who know, and are in touch with, the farmers, and who know the class of land and the kind of crops that the land can grow. Therefore, I think there can be no fear that this work will be done in a slipshod fashion and that orders will be served on people by those who do not understand their difficulties.
It is equally necessary that the landowners should be compelled to carry out their obligations, which are that the holdings should be equipped in such a manner as to enable farmers to carry on the work of cultivation efficiently. Now it is evident that that equipment is sadly lacking. Estimates vary from £500 million to £1,000 million as to the amount required to be spent on the farms of this country to equip them properly. The chairman of my county agricultural committee and the chairman of one of the largest district committees in my constituency have both stated that many of the farms in their district and county are in a shockingly scandalous and disgraceful condition. I suggest that the country can no longer afford what has been described as its most valuable material asset to be neglected in this fashion, and I am glad that in the Bill the Minister has taken power to deal with those landlords who have betrayed their trust. The exercise of this power in a few cases early in the operation of the Act will have a very salutary effect.
I think everybody will agree that farming is essentially a long-term operation. In addition to fair prices, it is absolutely necessary that farmers should be able with confidence to look forward to reaping the fruits of their own labour and expenditure. This, in my opinion, is the main argument for security of tenure. Its absence has resulted in many severe hardships and injustices. May I refer to one or two cases in my own experience? A 684 farmer came into my division and became the tenant of a farm considered not a very good one He spent a good deal of money improving the state of that farm considerably. In a few years he was served with notice to quit. When he saw the agent he was told, "We do not want you to leave, but the farm is worth more money today than it was when you came in." The farmer said that that was all right, but who had made it worth more? He was then told, "If you like to pay £50 a year more rent you can carry on." That was repeated in a few years. A few years later, he received another notice and thought the rent was again to be increased. But he was then told, "You have constructed on this farm a Dutch barn". It had cost him more than £100."If you like to sign an agreement that you will not ask for compensation for the exhausted value of that barn when you leave the farm, the notice will be withdrawn."
Many years ago I took a prominent part in advocating security of tenure as chairman of the county Farmers' Union in the county where I lived. I well remember attending a meeting in London where some of the fanners said that they did not want anyone to come between them and their good landlords, but they got on nicely, and did not want to be disturbed. But the good landlords did not live for ever, and what happened when they died? On the largest estate In my division, when one landlord died his successor made his acquaintance with all his tenants by serving them with notice to quit. In the same envelope was a letter saying that if they agreed to pay an increase of rent, on the average 30 per cent., the notice would be withdrawn. In a more recent case, a very large estate in Wiltshire changed hands when a prominent gentleman died and his successor, who was going to sell, said, "I would have offered the farmers first refusal, but the whole object of the sale is to raise as much money as possible." What about the interests of his tenants? The farmers would have the opportunity of competing at the auction, he continued. What would that result in? The better the man had farmed the higher price he would have to pay, if he wanted to retain possession. In other words the expenditure, skill and effort of the farmer would be capitalised against 685 him. In my constituency there is an estate two parts of which have been sold. Owing to the directions of the will of the previous owner, a certain sum of money has to be found out of the estate every year for a certain person. It is suggested that another large slice of the estate will have to be sold, and all the farmers are in a state of trepidation and suspense. How can farmers carry on under such impossible conditions?
Under the Bill the good, efficient farmer will be secure, because the only ground on which the Minister can consent to a notice to quit is that the succeeding, or prospective, tenant will farm in a more efficient manner. I regret that the protection which this Clause affords is going to be withdrawn from those who own a farm and wish to place their son or grandson in as tenant. I suggest that that is a condonation of injustice. It makes no difference to the hardship a tenant in possession will suffer whether he is displaced by an outsider or the son of the owner. I hope this matter will be reconsidered, and that the Minister will afford the protection given to other tenants in that position.
I make a minor criticism of the Bill; some people might think it is not so minor but I see no justification whatever for the continuance of a subsidy in aid of ditching. From time immemorial the cleaning of ditches and keeping hedges in order has been an obligation of the tenant. I have made valuations of farms where the tenants have not touched the ditches for many years, and the incoming tenant has been allowed sufficient money to put the ditches right. But this Bill says to the incoming tenant, "You were allowed so much to put the ditches right when you came in. The Government are going to give half the cost of what you were allowed. "This part of the Bill penalises the good fanner, who has kept his ditches in order, instead of the slack, inefficient farmer. There is less justification for the continuance of the subsidy in aid of liming the land. I know that lime deficiency is a very serious thing, but lime is an artificial manure. Why should the Government find three-quarters of the cost of one ingredient? It seems illogical to spoonfeed farmers in this direction by subsidising 50 per cent. for cleaning out ditches and 75 per cent. for liming the land.
686 The Minister will have the power to acquire the odd pieces of land and parts of farms that have been cut about owing to certain improvements. It is planned that two great motor roads connecting with the new Severn Bridge are to be constructed and they will go through the heart of my Division, one from North to South, and the other from East to West. A lot of farms will be cut about, and the tenants disturbed. These men have been disturbed on account of the national interest, and we are not opposing that. But they should be given first priority to become tenants on any farms which the Minister gets into his possession. That is merely elementary justice.
There are other aspects of this wide and comprehensive Bill to which I would refer if time permitted, but my colleagues will no doubt have opportunity of referring to them later. The attitude of the Opposition, expressed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough, reminds me of an incident which took place many years ago in my constituency. We had the then President of the South Wales Miners' Federation delivering an address. There was also the then Lord Mayor of the City of Bristol present, who said after the President had spoken, "I have been delighted to listen to the speech and would like to say I am in agreement with him on principle. But when we begin to apply the principle, it is there that we part company." That seems to me to be illustrative of the attitude of the Opposition. They say that they agree with the Bill in principle, and then, when we begin to apply and implement the principle, they express their disagreement.
In my opinion this Bill will prove a landmark in the history of the great agricultural industry of this country. No longer will it be possible to deny to the worker on the land the wages and conditions to which the importance and value of their labour entitle them. "We cannot afford it —we have all heard that cry from the farmers. That objection will be consigned to the limbo of the past. If the Bill is administered in the spirit in which it has been framed, as I hope and believe it will, agriculture will be restored to its rightful place in the economy of the nation, and those who produce the food the country needs will receive their full and just reward.
§ 7.51 P.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Boles (Wells)
Having listened to the Minister's eulogy of this Measure, I think that on both sides of the House the Bill, or rather the principles of the Bill, will be received and accepted. I wish to refer for a moment to Part IV, dealing with the provision of smallholdings, because on this occasion the Minister has evaded many of the pitfalls which beset many previous efforts at the settlement of ex-Servicemen and others on the land in smallholdings. The skeleton of the scheme is before us, but the flesh and blood will have to be added, and that will be at the discretion of the Minister. We are not yet clear how the details are to be filled in, either administratively or in regard to the personnel concerned. These are important matters and I have made an effort to get special opinions from the experts in the county councils on the smallholdings problem, but they have not yet had time to make any considered decisions on the matter. It is clear that the county councils, as the potential landlords of the smallholders, will, as is visualised in the Bill, have to submit to some form of supervision, presumably by the land commissar—or should we call him the commissioner? He, it seems, will be the man through whom the Minister will exercise control over the county councils.
We know that in the large number of smallholdings administered at the present by county councils there are a great many black spots. By and large, throughout the country the standard of the county councils as landlords of smallholdings has not been very high. There have been many reasons for that, apart from what is perhaps the main reason— the constitution of the bodies who are landlords, which makes it impossible for them to do what would be possible in the case of an individual landlord. The county council member is liable to object to good money being thrown after bad, and the large sums required to be expended on buildings and maintenance will be objected to by the ratepayer. I welcome the Government's so-called change of policy on the settlement of these smallholdings. We know that on previous occasions the ex-Serviceman was led down the garden path and ended by losing his gratuity or whatever he might have put into the smallholding. It is, of course, no new principle; in prac- 688 tice, consideration has been given to the qualifications of the smallholder before he has been allotted a small holding under the council scheme.
I feel that the Minister's idea of a stepping stone is a very good one, but the 75 per cent. which is to be given to the smallholder to start him off is too high. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) discussed the question of the small farmers in his constituency, and pointed out some of the difficulties they were undergoing, and the desirability of enabling them to carry out some adjunct to their farming operations—keeping pigs and poultry, cheese making, butter making and the like. The smallholder is affected in exactly the same way. Presumably he has not a large enough agricultural acreage or grass acreage to make his smallholding sufficient without similar adjuncts. No doubt the basis in grass counties will be milk, and as a basis it will function very well, but it also requires side lines in the shape of pigs and poultry. Apart from any other reason, these are a necessity for the health and fertilisation of the land, and are of great value, especially on a smallholding. I feel that if the Minister could make some concessions to help the smallholder to obtain poultry and pig food, that would go a long way towards making certain of the repayment of that 75 per cent. which is to be lent the smallholder for a start.
The Minister's adoption of this farming ladder is a relief to many of us. It sounds like a conversion to a view which we on this side of the House have held for some time. We have been told tonight that we have been converted to some of the principles held on the Government benches, but I feel that the Minister has, in some way, become tainted with the views held by hon. Members on these benches, for he starts off with the smallholder, and the farm worker, who, he hopes, by climbing the ladder, will become a farmer, as I have no doubt will be the case. Through becoming a farmer, he will of course become a capitalist, because the Minister is to guarantee him such high prices, that the farmer is bound to accumulate some of this world's goods. More power to him. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will profit that way. Somehow or other the Minister will have made a little coterie of capitalists. I hope that what is to follow after that will receive due consideration. Will the scalps of such a capitalist be 689 added by the great white chief to those of the other landlords with whom he is to deal in this Bill; or will this particular capitalist be in a special category, and be regarded indeed as the Minister's child? In any case, may we hope that flowering shrubs or groups of trees will hide this ultimate end from the climbing farmer.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
This has, I think, been the most remarkable Debate upon agriculture to which I have had the privilege of listening during my time in this House. For all of us are combining to bless the Minister of Agriculture, and this is practically without precedent in any Debate on this subject. We approve of the principles of his Bill; we praise the Minister for having introduced it and, in short, I have never seen such a happy family in my life in this House on the subject of agriculture. Moreover, I think it would be very ungenerous, even for a friendly critic of the Government, not to recognise that this Bill does represent a substantial advance on the situation as it was at the time of our last Debate on agriculture.
Since 1942, when I returned to the House, we have had quite a number of Debates upon agriculture. From the beginning, the thing for which I, among others, have pleaded has been a long-term policy. We have tried to press upon the Government that agriculture is a long-term business, and that provisional arrangements from year to year do not enable the farmer to take any long-term view in his planning of the operations of his farm. And so we have pleaded for a long-term policy for agriculture. The last time we debated the subject, we got a four-year policy. That was better than a one-year policy. Now this Bill gives us an indefinite policy, a policy which is not terminable by anything short of some quite unforeseen national emergency. That is good.
To that extent, I bless the Bill. I bless the Minister for bringing it in, and I approve of the principles of the Bill. They are the things that farmers have pleaded for during all my adult life—the guaranteed market and the fixed price. Those are the two pillars of the Bill, in return for which there is exacted from the farmer efficient production, under the penalty of ejection if he does not give it, but with compensation for that of which 690 he is deprived. Those are the essential principles of this Bill. Nobody from either side of the House has been able to attack them. But there is a phrase in St. Paul which I would beg now to call to mind: "Beware when all men speak well of you." I cannot help wondering whether the reason why we are all speaking so well of the Bill is that it does not deal with the point about which probably we should be quarrelling if the Bill did deal with the point.
§ Mr. Brown
It is the disposition of the hon. Member for West Fife to import the worst possible interpretation into the words of St. Paul. But the word is "Beware." Not to be diverted from this serious topic. I cannot help feeling that the real problem here is that, while we give the guaranteed market and the guaranteed price, nobody knows what the market is that is guaranteed, and nobody knows what the price will be! With very great respect and affection for the Minister, I would tell him that it is those two things that are worrying the farmer, and unless we answer the farmer's anxiety on those two points we do not give a long-term assurance to agriculture.
The Minister will say, quite fairly, "How can I, in a Bill, prescribe in detail the size of the market? How can I, in detail, allocate it between one form of agriculture and another? Those are things we shall have to look at from year to year. How can I tell you what the price is going to be years in advance? All I can tell you is that we will fix them 18 months or so ahead of the crop." It is very difficult to quarrel with that reply, because I do not believe that any one of us could do any better than the Minister of Agriculture on that point. But it is true that we have to do something, if we are not to have agriculure afflicted by a worse enemy than the three that were referred to from the Liberal benches, and that is the decay of faith of the English agriculturist himself. If we are not to have that, we have to assure the farmer of three things, and it is because I want the Minister to give at least the benefit of his mind upon these that I mention them. What the farmer wants to know is this: Is it intended that agriculture, from now on, shall be given it rightful place in the total economy of 691 the British people? That is question number one. Will agriculture be given that position? Question number two is: Will the Ministry continue so to sustain it whatever happens behind it? Question number three is: Will the Ministry continue so to sustain it, to the best of their ability, whatever happens elsewhere in the world?
Those are the three questions to which the farmer wants an answer. I would like to spend a few moments on each of the points. What is the rightful position of agriculture in our total economy? I do not intend to become involved in a mass of figures, and I do not think it is necessary. But it is necessary to maintain in Britain a proper balance between agriculture and industry. That has not existed since the middle of the last century. That is my first point. My second is that it is socially ruinous for a community to allow too large a proportion of its inhabitants to live in cities and towns. There must always be the reservoir in the country from which to draw. My third point is that in the light of two wars in a single- lifetime we dare never again be too dependent upon imported food for our survival in time of war. Those three things imply a picture of the part that agriculture ought to play in the total economy of our people. Can we have the assurance of the Minister that the Government intend to sustain agriculture in that position?
Second, will the Government sustain agriculture in that position against trouble in the rear? This is a question which I could put with equal fairness to both sides of the House, for the truth is that both sides of the House have let agriculture down in the past. It is only now, after two wars, that we are thinking in terms of a long-term policy.
§ Mr. Brown
I was going to deal with that later. I will deal with the more ancient criminals first, and will come to the hon. Member's party in a moment. In regard to this question I am at the barrister's box, not in the dock. My party, if I may say so, has not yet had office. Its prospects are good, but so far it has no past. I say that the Tory Party can be attacked for this. There was a time when agriculture was the primary interest of the Conservative 692 Party of, England. However, in the course of the last two centuries, the centre of gravity inside the Tory Party changed. More and more it became the party of great industrial capital, and of shipping and insurance interests, until the time came when agriculture was fourth or fifth on its list of loyalties, instead of being first. Historically, it is the case that it was under a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Conservative Minister of Agriculture that the Corn Production Act was repealed after the last war, and agriculture was precipitated into the pit. That is the indictment against hon. Members above the Gangway on this side of the House.
The indictment against the other side is that the Labour Party developed primarily as a party based upon the trade unions. It represents, in the main, the people of the towns, and it was in the towns that it grew up to be a great political force. It inherited the old Liberal doctrine of "free trade" and the "cheap loaf". I remember the first election on that issue with its posters showing the "big" and "little" loaves. If one voted for the Tory Party, one was to get the "little loaf." If one voted for the Liberal Party, one got the "big loaf." This was in 1906, and the Labour Party was, broadly speaking, with the Liberals on that issue. We could not see, then, that the issue, before very long, was likely to be whether there would be any loaf at all, but within eight years that had become a very serious issue indeed. If we are ever confronted with the issue of the dear or cheap loaf, we should never entertain the prospect of obtaining the cheap loaf at the cost of the ruin of agriculture in this country.
Next, the question is, will agriculture be defended against the shock of external events? I do not know what the answer to that is. I do not know what commitments we have made with America. I do not know what further commitments we shall make if we have to go there for a second loan. I do not know what our commitments are with Canada or the Argentine, though occasionally one hears pretty ominous remarks, as, for example, "We will continue to buy food as cheap as we can." That will be done by increased subsidies at home, or by the impact of low prices upon our producers. The agricultural community here wants the answers to these three questions, and 693 the answers are not in the Bill. The Bill gives us the machinery through which the answers can be given. It gives us the guaranteed market and fixed prices, but it does not tell us what the size of the market is, or what the price is to be. I do not think that this Bill—although I welcome it, and, if it is to be divided against, I shall vote for it—gives us the answers on these points. I accept the Minister's statement that he cannot give the answers within the terms of this Bill, and I perfectly well understand that. What we want from him, while thanking him for the framework which he has given us, is to know if he can give us what is in the heart and mind of the Government on those three issues. Is this a good weather Bill to be sustained whilst prices are high, or does it represent a long term policy and indicate that the Labour Party, from now on, will never again, at any cost, allow agriculture to collapse, as it did between the wars, or decay for decades, as it did before the war of 1914? Only the Government car, answer that with the broad assurance that the farmers want, for if the heart goes out of the farmers, nothing else will come in.
The author of a recent book, Colonel Pollitt—not Harry Pollitt, but perhaps a distant cousin—asserts the proposition that Britain can feed itself, not necessarily on the prewar diet but on one just as nourishing as the prewar diet was. But he adds that the farmers would have to get so many hundreds of thousands more men on the land; that they would need £600 million more of fixed capital, and £400 more millions of floating capital to put the industry on a proper basis. And he says, further, that if we did this, we could employ an extra 800,000 men on the land. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where from?"] If it comes to a question of where they are to come from, hon. Members opposite lay themselves open to the retort that the biggest obstacle to getting all the men we need is the short-sighted stupidity of the trade unions, and a lack of moral courage on the part of some of the Members of the Government. I do not want to go into this. There may be a shortage of manpower in Britain now, but there is none in the world and none in the Empire We could find a couple of million surplus people at the present time in the West Indies alone. That is quite true. [Interruption.] I do 694 not want to go into this manpower business, but when I am attacked I always hit back. I beg the Minister to give us the benefit of what is in the mind of the Government on these three issues. The Bill does not satisfy the farming community that it will get the new capital and manpower required, and, without that, the Government will not sustain agriculture in the position to which, historically it is entitled, and which it is desirable, socially, that we should give it.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)
I desire to join in the general welcome which has been given, inside and outside this House, to what I regard as a great Bill. My farm worker colleagues and I have ventured to describe this Bill as a great measure of advance, and I think that that can be regarded as an accurate summing up of the Measure. I was hoping, when this party was returned to power, that a Government which is largely composed of those with very remote connections with farming would try to do something big for agriculture, and this Bill certainly comes up to expectations in that respect. To my mind, it takes agricultural legislation further than any other Bill of this kind, and it represents a very great advance, upon which I desire to offer my personal congratulations to the Minister.
Much was done during the war years to assist agriculture by the granting of subsidies and advice and directions, because, in the main, in wartime, we needed something from that industry. Farming's contribution towards the winning of the war was no mean one, and the industry has certainly deserved well of the nation now that peace has returned. I am glad to hear from both sides of the House expressions of the opinion that we will want an abundance of food to be produced from British farms. I believe that the more we can produce here, the more favourable will be our position, from a financial standpoint, as more food produced from our own farms means a saving of precious dollars. I am sure that if we give every encouragement to our farmers, they will go all out to meet Britain's need in the time of peace. I think this Bill will supply what is needed, and that, this encouragement being forthcoming, our food producers will be able to plan ahead with a great deal of confidence. What the industry has always lacked in peacetime, 695 and particularly up to the outbreak of the war, has been stability, and confidence as to the future. More complaints have been made today that no Government can legislate for the weather, but a Government can create conditions under which efficient farming can not only be made to pay its way, but also provide a valuable asset to the State in the matter of the health and general wellbeing of the people.
I do not wish to dwell on the general aspects of the Bill, except to say that it continues assured markets and guaranteed prices to farmers in return for efficient farming. It will certainly be an encouragement to the man who is anxious to succeed but, at the same time, it will provide certain penalties for those not prepared to play the game. I know that great objection to control in peacetime has been raised by farmers, but control will continue. The farmer ought to bear in mind that the control will be exercised from the locality, and that it will be a benevolent control. I believe that the average farmer would rather have a period of benevolent control, and even protection, such as is provided for in the Bill, than to be submitted to a continuance of the hard treatment of repression experienced in the years between the wars.
There are two points in particular on which I wish to comment. I welcome the proposals contained in the Bill which will enable county councils to extend their smallholding schemes. I hope that it will not be long before the county councils will be placed in a position to make an actual start on what has proved to be in great demand in many counties. I know that there are diverse views about the creation of smallholdings, small farming units, but I think that, while the demand for smallholdings exists, that demand should be met under certain conditions and, if necessary, with what I regard as very necessary safeguards. The Bill wisely stipulates that the new smallholders shall be men with agricultural experience, men who, in other words, are more likely to make a success of the job than others. I think that the Minister is here seeking to avoid a repetition of the mistakes that characterised the smallholding schemes after the last war. Those pitfalls must be avoided at all costs The 696 only criticism that I have to offer against the smallholdings provisions in the Bill is that I wish it had been made a statutory duty on the part of smallholding authorities to provide cooperative schemes for supplying goods and equipment to smallholders on their estates, and to undertake the marketing of their products. I do not think that the new tenants should be left entirely to themselves; the authorities should give the services, and thus make doubly sure that those men who taken on smallholdings will succeed under normal farming conditions.
I am sorry to have to strike a jarring note in the midst of the paean of so many eulogies on the Bill, but, although I am 99 per cent. behind the Minister on this Bill, I am not altogether with him on the remaining I per cent., and it is with that that I wish to deal in particular. In my mind, the composition of the new committees is of extreme importance. If the Bill is to do all that it sets out to do, and if the envisaged new agricultural policy is to succeed in all parts of the country, a great deal will depend, not only on the composition of the new committees formed to manage the business, but on the spirit in which they do their work. I profoundly regret that, up to now, the Minister has rejected my plan for including workers' representatives on the new county agricultural committees. On the original committees there was one workers' representative. Throughout the whole period of the war, I was the sole workers' representative on an agricultural committee. As a matter of fact, I served as a member of that committee until I was given the sack by the late Minister of Agriculture, and before standing as a Member of Parliament.
Being the sole workers' representative on such a committee, one is in an absolutely hopeless minority, and especially is that so—and one feels it keenly—when it comes to dealing with applications for certificates for possession of farm cottages. On the present committees there are two workers' representatives. On the new committees also there are to be only two out of a total of 12, the other members being mainly composed of farmers and landlords. Merely from the standpoint of equity, I would submit to the Minister that there should be more workers on these committees. The workers expect their own Government to treat them fairly in a matter of this kind. The farm workers 697 of this country are prepared to play a very full part as the junior partner in making the Minister's proposals work, and they desire and are definitely asking for more recognition.
I know it may be argued that the duties of the new committees do not directly touch the interests of the workers, but I submit that they do. The workers' very livelihood depends on the faithful discharge by the committees of their duties, and I would ask the Minister to give the farm workers of this country the privilege that goes with a full partnership. He certainly will not lose by it, and the gain to the committees, if this concession is granted, will be all the greater. I have always thought that it was part of the accepted trade union policy to give the workers the right to participate, at all levels, in the conduct of undertakings and to assist in their direction along the lines best calculated to serve the communal interests. I submit that two workers' representatives out of a total of 12 members who are to sit on these new county agricultural committees is not good enough and I sincerely hope that, when the Rill reaches the Committee stage, the Minister can be induced to take the line that he will give to the workers what they consider to be their rightful due.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Heathcoat Amory (Tiverton)
I wish to contribute a modest note or two to the symphony of welcome which has been given to the aims of this Bill—aims which were lard down by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in the last Government and continued by the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Agriculture. I believe that most hon. Members would regard it as a very sad day were agriculture to become heavily enmeshed in party politics, and it is encouraging to find so much common ground in this Bill on which we can build solidly and enduringly. About the Bill in general, I would like to echo three things that have already been said.
First. I wish to express regret that horticulture and allotments do not seem to be covered in the Bill. That seems a strange omission in view of the importance of that section of the industry. Secondly. I feel that, if the provisions in Part I are to be effective, the passing of this Bill 698 should be followed very soon with the fixing of targets for the size of the industry and quantitative production. The reference in the Bill to that matter does not really get us anywhere at all. Thirdly, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) has said, there are far too many opportunities for the Minister to go into the landowning merchanting and farming, businesses. I am not against an extension of Government activity, provided it takes place in appropriate fields, but I do not believe that that is the appropriate level for Government activity. If the Minister is going into that field, then we must fall back on making sure that proper detailed accounts are provided which will show us exactly the losses that he is going to make.
I would like to speak for a few moments on one aspect of the problem of getting prosperity in agriculture, and that is manpower That is the crux of both the short-term problem of maintaining maximum production and the long-term problem of ensuring a prosperous and healthy countryside. The stark truth is that at present, excluding temporary labour, the amount of manpower available, or in sight, is quite inadequate to ensure full production, which is the aim of this Bill. The average age of those in the industry is deplorably high, and I suppose when the labour controls are finally removed more workers may be lost. Worst of all, the industry is not at present revitalising itself in the natural way by recruiting boys leaving school. In the years facing us there will be an acute overall shortage of young labour in industry in general, and this will exert a very strong pull on agriculture. The seller's market for young labour is a permanent one. The bald fact is that in spite of the improvements which have taken place, agriculture does not yet appeal to the young man as an industry worth entering. We have got to see that as soon as possible conditions are created where it will do so. Success will only be won when a sufficient number of boys, having a free choice of a variety of careers, when the time comes to leave school, deliberately choose agriculture as a good one. We are some way from that state of affairs at present, I am afraid, but we must be satisfied with nothing less than that as our goal. To start with, I believe it is a wrong assumption that young men today 699 do not look ahead and do not exercise a good deal of commonsense in picking their jobs. I think they do. The first thing is to show that the industry is really going to be rejuvenated and modernised, and I think the Bill does go some way in that direction. Mechanisation surely should be pushed as far as it can be, for many reasons, but not least because mechanisation appeals to most young men.
Basic wage rates are important, but I think the opportunities for progressive jobs are still more important. An ambitious youth going into industry today can generally see a road ahead to a job of skilled status, and beyond that to posts of greater responsibility. In the past, the farm worker has not received, in the public esteem, the status to which his skill entitled him, and that state of affairs must be put right. Possibly the way lies in emphasising recognised grades and technical posts which require skilled qualifications, and which are rewarded with the sort of pay that a skilled worker gets in industry in general. If this is done, apprenticeship and training schemes can lead up to these posts. The technical interest stimulated by the Young Farmers Clubs points the way. It is impossible to overstress the need for better and more modern amenities. Water supplies, sanitation, housing, electricity and transport —all these needs are really urgent. Some of them, I know, will take time, but what is absolutely essential is that a much more vigorous and determined start should be made than the present Government show any signs of making. It is an old problem —the problem of priorities. If the Government want people to believe they mean business, they must give priorities to enable something to start happening. Take transport, for example. That is a matter in which something can surely be done quickly. It seems wrong that, apparently, preference should be given to longdistance holiday coach traffic working in parallel with the railways, before much needed extensions to rural transport services.
More licences for new houses in rural areas must be given. Those of us who live in the country know that some labour is available, and some is being wasted at present. I hope the Minister will remember also the need for priority for water schemes, on which so many rural housing schemes depend. The Minister of Health, 700 I hope, will be forced to swallow his pride and reverse this decision not to continue the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. Never was there surely a more stubborn, stupid piece of doctrinaire obstructionism than that decision. In my own county we have modernised over 2,000 houses, and a further 6,000 are there to (be done. Those 6,000 could, I believe, be completely modernised at a cost of not more than £500 a house. Compared with the cost of a new house which, with sites and services is not much short of £1,500, and bearing in mind the need above everything else for keeping these skilled men who are now in the industry contented, surely that is a job worth getting on with. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what has happened to the Report of the Rural Housing Advisory Committee, and whether he does not agree with us that the conduct of his right hon. colleague is deserving of the severest censure.
I would like to say a few words about smallholdings. In general, there is no doubt that the future is with the big farm. It suits mechanisation and modern methods, but, nevertheless, I believe smallholdings have a part to play, for two reasons, first, because some people value independence so much that they do their best work only when they are working on their own. These people are often terrific workers, and in their hands smallholdings can be economic. But more important, I think, as has been mentioned already, is that it is a step on the ladder of advancement, to enable a capable farmworker to become a farmer on his own before he is too old, and that alone is a sufficient justification for the proposals in this Bill. Before leaving the question of employment, I want to refer only to one other matter. The prisoners of war are going home, and that is right, I think, but I hope the Government will take their courage in both hands and actively encourage these Polish ex-Servicemen to enter those industries where there is a national and permanent shortage. At present the action of the Government and the unions is intolerably ungenerous in that respect. The Government should go further and open our doors to displaced persons in Europe of good stock and satisfactory antecedents.
Before I conclude, I want to say a few sentences on two other points. The poor old landowner is to be put under further restrictions under this Bill. No one will 701 deny the need for the highest possible standard of estate management. Some of the provisions of the Bill as it stands may weaken somewhat the traditional relations which have existed between landlord and tenant. That makes it all the more important that the efficient landlords' position should be economically sound, and when one compares the rents ruling today with the costs of upkeep it is obvious that that is not so at present. It is true I believe that, on the average, rents are slightly lower today than they were at the end of the last century, whereas maintenance costs must have increased four or five times at least. A fair equation between rents and expenses is absolutely essential if agriculture is to be prosperous as a whole. If the landlord is to play his part he must be given a fair chance to do so.
The last point to which I wish to refer is administration. The Minister has referred I think to the county executive committees as the kingpins of the setup, and I think he is right. When we are making these new plans I think we would do well to say a word of thanks to those members of the old war agricultural committees who, on the whole, have done such a grand job of work during the past six or seven years. During the war they performed prodigious labours, usually on top of doing their own jobs. What was the reason for their success? Surely, the reason why their decisions were, on the whole, readily accepted by farmers was because of the confidence they had in the members of those committees as men of standing and knowledge in their profession? Now many of those men are tired out and will be retiring.
I think the success of this scheme will depend very largely upon getting men of the same calibre to act on the new committees. I hope the Minister will be wise enough—and I think he will be—to ensure that these men have scope for independent judgment and action, because unless he gives them reasonable scope in that direction he will not get the best men. I do not think he wants to have merely "Yes"-men on those committees. Much will depend, too, on the officials. I have heard some rather disturbing rumours as to the lack of experience of some of the men being appointed to positions on the National Agricultural Advisory Service. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will remember that farmers today are ready 702 to accept guidance and advice from men in whose judgment they have confidence; but they are, by tradition, suspicious of officials and quick to resent lack of practical knowledge and incapacity. If there are not enough experienced men available, then for heaven's sake at present only fill those jobs for which there are really good candidates, and leave the others open.
In every cell of this Bill one can detect the bacillus of bureaucratic control. That, as we know from experience, is a bug with a virulent and robust constitution which, given the smallest encouragement, propagates prodigiously. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman aspires to being a dictator himself, but I think some of his minions may do so, and the greatest vigilance will be required on the part of everyone to spot the first signs of the spread of this dread contagion. It is not really autocracy that I, personally, fear so much as inefficiency which results from over centralised control. The overriding danger, I think, will be an attempt to run the farming industry from Whitehall. The future of British agriculture, like all other British industries, surely depends on quality: quality of management, manpower, fertility of soil, livestock, equipment and products. In the vital matter of manpower we can be satisfied only with the best, and we must not be satisfied till we have created conditions generally so that, when the time comes to leave school, most boys in rural areas and some boys from the towns will deliberately choose agriculture as being a career with prospects. Then, and then only, will health and prosperity be assured to the countryside, and security and balance to our national economy.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory) is, in my view, in error in his comments on the officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. The complaint, if any, is not that inexperienced men are being appointed, but that extremely experienced men are being appointed to comparatively low grades. If in due course the hon. Member meets the senior officer for the South-Western Division of the N.A.A.S. —as I had the privilege of meeting him on Friday last, at a meeting of an agricultural club composed of farm workers and farmers—he will find he is as unlike the popular conception of a bureaucrat as 703 anyone could possibly be. Because other hon. Members have joined in the chorus of welcome to this bill I do not think that should debar me from adding my small quota. I feel that with this Bill the Minister has made his mark on the land, and the years to come will show that this is a vitally important step towards the rehabilitation of our country.
The fact that general welcome has been shown both inside and outside the House is, in my view, due to the fact that this is the first major legislative step to redeem British agriculture from the disastrous decline of the 1880s. It is a grand framework within which the picture of a prosperous countryside can be painted. It provides all the essential conditions for prosperity on the land. But it is only a framework, and success depends upon the efficiency, the skill, the energy and the determination with which the Bill is applied, not merely by the Government but by the whole of the farming community. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) mentioned that the Opposition hope to improve the Bill in Committee. I am sure that we on this side of the House echo that hope. But we also hope that the Opposition will approach the subject in a proper spirit of humility, and in a proper spirit of gratitude that at last a Government of this country has really set about the task of putting agriculture on a proper footing, a task which should have been attempted 50 years ago.
I do not want to raise points which could be brought up more properly at the Committee stage, but to me there is one vital question which I know is exercising the minds of the farming community today, namely, the level of agricultural production. In the Bill this, in effect, is such production as may at any time be considered by the Government to be in the interests of the country. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough expressed a horrid little bit of doubt. That may have been because, remote as it may seem at the present time, there is perhaps the vague possibility that at some time in the future the Minister of Agriculture may not be a member of the Labour Party, and he may therefore, have memories of the Corn Production Act. Although it is true that the Minister cannot, in a Statute 704 of this kind, state in precise terms the levels of different branches of agriculture, if he specified minor branches, such as horticulture, he might be doing harm to others which were not specified.
I think that the Bill does not place sufficient emphasis on the vital need to increase production to the utmost that our land will sustain, and to maintain it at that point. The Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade have told us constantly that it is essential for our exports to be increased to a level 75 per cent. above the prewar volume. But except for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture we do not hear anyone appreciating—as it must be appre-cited—the effect of increased home food production on our export position. It is not merely a question of relieving home food shortages. The fact is, increased home food production must ease the export strain on our manufactured goods, which again releases more goods for the home market and provides much needed incentive; and it has a very good and valuable counter-inflationary tendency. We must not forget that so far half our expenditure on the American loan account has been for imported food. This fundamental truth is not sufficiently realised, and certainly not sufficiently acted upon, either in this House or in the country.
It does show that the influence of the 19th century's preoccupation with manufacturing, foreign investment, and shipping, is still very real. It is a point that we have to get over. We must strike a new balance in this matter of agriculture and the rest of industry, of our home production and exports, or else we shall go hungry in the years to come. Today, in spite of bumper grain crops in the United States and elsewhere, there is a serious overall shortage, and our share of actual imports is dangerously low. The position has recently been revealed as much worse in that respect than it was a few months ago, and the situation cannot quickly improve. With Europe more hungry than at any time since the Thirty Years' War, with India, China, and other countries in dire need, our share, Britain's share, in any arrangements likely to be made by the Food and Agriculture Organisation must be less than it was, less than it was, say, before the war. In my view, all the available food export surpluses, not only in the immediate future, 705 but for many years to come, are likely to be less, for a variety of reasons. The improvement in living standards in the exporting countries must mean increased consumption for the people and increased feeding of grain to livestock; and these two, home consumption and feeding to livestock, are bound to be priorities, which, when put into operation, we shall come up against.
World agriculture reached its peak of territorial expansion somewhere about midway in the interwar period. Through soil erosion a good deal of the farmlands of the world have been simply blown away, and the price of the abandonment of the methods of good husbandry, has now to be paid in diminished crops. This, to my mind, all means that increased production costs will keep up real world prices, and, as has been pointed out by several Members, home prices are pegged below world prices. I do not subscribe to the view that world real prices are likely to come tumbling down. There has been, too, in other countries a shifting of the emphasis of agriculture to industry, not an entire move over, but a partial shifting which must increase world competition for shares in decreased world food surpluses. This all means less imported food here, both of necessity, because it will not be available for importation, and, I hope, as a matter of policy, and the only answer is to grow more food at home.
I know that grain—a point I have been pressing a long time—is not the only world shortage, but I do want to emphasise that, contrary to views that have been expressed tonight, it is essential to maintain higher grain production as part of our long-term policy, and the present target of 2,500,000 acres is, in my view, not sufficiently high. We ought to maintain as a minimum the 1944 acreage, if we are adequately to feed our people and build up our share of the World Famine Reserve, which will, probably, be the outcome of the World Food Council. We can do it, because we have in this country the necessary conditions of soil fertility, of climate—however it may be abused—and farming skill; and this Bill with its long term guarantee of assured markets. We only need sufficient labour and machines.
We know, of course, as the hon. Member for Tiverton has been saying, that we must have in the countryside amenities to 706 hold the men and to attract them— electricity, domestic water supplies, drainage, houses, transport. These we must have, and they are coming. Whatever cynical remarks there may be, they are coming. I do not subscribe to the view put forward about the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. To my mind, £500 expenditure on an old house appears likely to take labour that could be more usefully employed on building new houses. But we have got to have the houses. But there are some things we can do, in my view, now, and which, I hope, the Minister, when he replies, will deal with. We want, first of all to make the people of this country realise that the farm worker is as much a national hero as the miner. We have, by means of education, not only for the farm workers but for everybody else, to change the status of the farm workers. I hope any obstacles or obstruction that stand in the way of Polish workers, or Italian workers, or others who can find permanent places on the land, will be removed. It is quite intolerable that any artificial obstruction of this kind should be allowed to stand in the way of the labour we need immediately.
I hope, too, that, any kinds of machinery which are in short supply in this country— and I know that, in many respects, there is a surplus of some kinds of machinery for export—but any in short supply, tractors and things like that, should not go out. It seems to me, whatever the exporters may say about preserving export markets, that it is utter folly to send out a single tractor that is urgently needed here. The foreign exchange we can get for it costs us ten times more in the cost of imported food, and we cannot contemplate that going on. We must also—and this is quite important, and it is immediately important—see that prices are at a level to permit wages to farm workers and a return to farmers on a level with those in other industries. We know that during the war, although we lost 100,000 farmworkers to the Forces, although there was a drop in imported feeding stuffs from 9,000,000 to 2,250,000 tons per annum and there were difficulties with machinery, we increased production by 70 per cent., but in my view we have done little more than scratch the surface.
A great deal more can still be done. We are under-manned, under-farmed and under-machined. I think it is true that 707 there is not a farmer who could hot increase production. There is no reason at all why our mid-term target could not be a further 50 per cent. increase, with the eventual objective of making Britain substantially self supporting in food stuffs, once our policy in this Bill is directed to that end. Farmers can also increase production with their existing labour force if they will explore the possibilities of working their farms on a cooperative basis with their employees, through a private company with a limited return on capital. I know the phenomenal results which have been obtained when the farm workers have been members of the farms on which they worked, where they were agents instead of instruments of production. That I think is one of the secrets of production per head and production per acre.
The basic reason why farming has not paid in the past—and I think we are all agreed on this—has been that those who needed the food have not had the money to pay for it. This Government, with its policy of full employment, has settled that trouble and has turned an enormous potential demand for food into an effective demand. Therefore, with this Bill, the conditions for farming prosperity are brought about. They merely have to be implemented. I hope that the farming community, with the grand assistance provided by the Bill, will satisfy the demand for food and make British agriculture the corner stone of our national prosperity.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I agree with what the hon. Member has just said about tractors but I do not think the facts support what he says about world production. Sir John Boyd Orr, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, has said that there is a very great danger even in 1947 of having an unwieldy surplus of grain such as will affect world prices, and I think we must take note of that. Speaking as a Scottish Member, I am only directly concerned with Part I of this Bill and a few relatively unimportant Clauses later on, although what is contained in the control section is no doubt what we shall get when the Scottish Bill is introduced. As I do not want to trespass on the time of the House or incur the criticism of my English and Welsh 708 friends, I promise to keep to Part 1. In any event, with the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) who has now left the House, I consider that this is the most important section of the Bill, and I must say that I thought the right hon. Gentleman skated rather delicately across it. I consider it is the most important part of the Bill because if it falls down the rest of the Bill is not worth the paper it is written on.
I see in this Part evidence of a genuine attempt on the part of the Minister and the Government to get rid of what in the past has been the bugbear of the farmer and his industry. By that I mean financial uncertainty arising from the wide fluctuation in price of the commodities he has to sell. Looking at this Bill the question I put to myself is, to what extent is stability guaranteed? Secondly, I ask if it is being bought at too great a price? My hon. Friend behind me said that in this Bill we have got control with knobs on but not only that, the Government are imposing permanent control. The farmer is an individualist if there ever was one, and while he is prepared to accept a very great deal of supervision he will not, in my opinion, accept what is in this Bill, unless in return he is given a firm guarantee for a continually expanding and developing market for the produce he has to sell. The farmer, and he is no fool, knows that when there is war there is scarcity and inflation, and that he enjoys an ensured market for all that he produces. But he also knows that the time will come when his Indian summer will pass away and he will be faced with abundance and possible deflation, That is why today, above all, and before he accepts control in this manner, he wants to know what is to be the size of the market that is to be assured. He wants to know what is the limit of production for each branch of agriculture. He wants to know what is the policy for marginal land production, and if he is a dairy farmer or a livestock farmer he wants to know what the livestock policy of the Government is.
I consider that these are vital questions, and upon the answer, in my opinion at any rate, the success or failure of this Bill will depend. If there is no answer, then the Government have not got a food policy and this Bill is built on sand. A great deal is said today about efficiency, and I am certainly not one of those who 709 believe that agricultural prosperity lies along the road of old-fashioned ideas. I have tried to practise efficiency myself, and certainly today agriculture is more efficient than it was in 1939. That is partly due to an increase in technical knowledge, partly to prices, partly to the work of war agricultural committees, but in the main it is due to the fact that the farmer, in war, has had the full opportunity to produce which, in peace, has always been denied to him. That is a fact. He has had a full opportunity to produce during the war, and he has been denied that opportunity in the past. Unless then under this Bill, he is given a full opportunity to produce, it is ridiculous to accuse him of inefficiency and unreasonable to expect him to be efficient. Hence I attach very great importance to Part I.
In my view, Part I will be valueless until a decision is taken, and an announcement is made by the Government, on what is to be produced here at home. Only then will the farmer have the certainty of real stability and confidence in the future, which will justify the sacrifices he is being asked to make in the form of controls. Today, as has been pointed out, we are living in a time of world shortage of food, and as a result prices are controlled down, but when scarcity conditions have passed away-and according to Sir John Boyd Orr that time is not very far distant—we shall be faced with the old familiar problem of how to maintain a flourishing home agriculture, despite a considerable volume of imports, and how to prevent prices declining to a level that will endanger our home industry. It is obvious that when that time comes, our whole policy will have to be reversed. Instead of keeping prices down, we shall have to bolster prices up above the free market price. I greatly fear that when that time comes the right hon. Gentleman opposite will not be the big boss; it will be the Minister of Food, and behind him we shall probably find the Chancellor of the Exchequer in close attendance. Through the escape Clause in Part I, as far as I can see, the Minister of Food will have no difficulty whatever in limiting home production to make room for the imports he deems desirable in the national interest.
I am particularly interested in the Minister of Food because I happened to be the Member who put a Question to him 710 about purchases in Denmark, and asked how he reconciled that with the Hot Springs Resolution. I asked him how it was that he was buying below the cost of production and how that squared with Hot Springs. His reply was:We buy agricultural products at the lowest price we can get them in the world."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1946; Vol. 431 c. 1156.]That makes nonsense of the Hot Springs Resolution, and it must have sent a shiver down the spine of every thinking farmer. The Hot Springs Resolutions have apparently disappeared into history, and we are back to the bad old days again. The right hon. Gentleman will admit, I think, that this is a grave warning to British farmers, and is the sort of thing which shakes his confidence as to what is to happen when the period of scarcity has passed away.
Wherever we look there is nothing concrete in this Bill in regard to prices or money. Take the Financial Memorandum. Even the estimates of costs are qualified by such phrases as "actual cost will depend very largely on circumstances." In respect of the six main heads of expenditure, it is stated thatno estimate can be given at the present time.In this absence of definite commitment of Government expenditure, no matter how optimistic one likes to be, one cannot help feeling apprehensive about the future of agriculture, if there is an economy campaign. The continuance of the war agricultural executive committees alone is a great expense. Their costs are high, and it is at least doubtful whether peacetime farming can bear such a heavy overhead charge, on a scale even approaching what was essential in war. The Financial Memorandum states on page iii:no appreciable increase is anticipated.Then Clause 1, which states that the Bill is to ensure the provision of guaranteed prices and assured markets, is vague and indefinite. Almost everything is left to the discretion of the Minister. Phrases such as, "in his opinion," or "factors appearing to him" occur all along the line. The only thing which is dead certain is that it will be absolute folly for farmers to imagine that the Bill will give them guaranteed prices for all they can or care to produce of the products listed in the First Schedule.
711 I would like to ask the Minister a question which seriously concerns Scotland. I notice that wool is left out of the Schedule of guaranteed commodities. Wool is a major agricultural commodity; it contributes, to a large extent, to the income of a much neglected section of British farming, namely, sheep farming. Scotland's sheep population is equal to half of the combined flocks of England and Wales. We have had the Hill Farming Act, and my experience in the North is that although it is recognised that that Act is a good one the Scottish farmer is shrewd enough to see that it leaves the business end of his job, the economic aspect, completely neglected. Hence our interest in wool. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether there is any new plan for wool? I am not asking for wool to be put into the Schedule in the Committee stage, but maybe the Minister has some explanation about this omission. We in Scotland would like an assurance that wool will be treated in a manner which will give real assurance to hill farmers.
I have resisted the temptation to discuss other parts of the Bill which are of great interest to me, but they do not apply to my country. I fully agree, however, with what the hon. Member for Rugby said, that if this Bill is to have any real meaning what we want is a declaration, perhaps not today, but soon, from the Minister indicating the definite objective of our home agriculture. No one has the slightest notion what it is. Farmers and landowners are asked to accept supervision, direction, and dispossession, yet they have had no indication at all of what our target is in terms of production. Surely, it is only reasonable that they should be given a firm undertaking as to the size of the assured market. Then, and only then, will they have confidence to go ahead in the knowledge that they will have an assured market and fair prices for their production. We are saying, in this Bill, to the farmer and landowner, "You will be supervised, sold up, and kicked out if you fail to discharge your responsibilities according to the views of the Minister," but the Government, on the other hand, fail to give the lead they should be giving by saying what their responsibilities are under this Bill. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has the interests of British agriculture at heart, 712 and is much respected by the agricultural community. I would like to say to him that that respect will be enormously increased if he will tell the farmers now what they are expected to produce.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Forest of Dean)
I think that the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) was a little too modest in confining his remarks solely to Part I. Is there any reason why a Member North of the Border should not discuss matters South of the Border? After all, we are the United Kingdom, and I should not withhold from discussing matters North of the Border, if I thought that they affected the general purposes of the Bill.
This Bill is one which is long overdue. Much of our legislation on agriculture, in recent years, has been of a piecemeal nature. At last, we have a comprehensive Bill. I cannot remember any agricultural Bill of this nature since 1931, when we had the Agricultural Marketing Bill. I am quite sure that any Government of whatever complexion would have introduced a Bill of this kind. Hon. Members opposite would have introduced one had they been in Government, or at least the equivalent of Part I—they would have been more timid of the other Parts—but a Bill of this kind was obviously long overdue. We have had recently an Agricultural Wages Bill. Now we have one which really deals with the industry as a whole. It contains a commendable principle. If the protection of the State is given to an industry, that industry must carry the obligation of efficiency. For the first time, the industry of agriculture is being made something like a public utility. Part I is the vital part of the Bill. Hon. Members opposite, are reflecting views which seem to be still held in the farming community—the fear of food surpluses, dumping and low prices. I think that the guarantee for the success of Part I is implicit in the world situation today.
The world situation is such that for a long time ahead, as far as any Government can foresee or legislate for, the world will have to consider not abundance but famine. That is the much greater danger that stalks the world today. The effects of a destructive war will be with us for years, and everything has to be done to increase output, not only here, but in every country in the world. A 713 further guarantee was mentioned, I think, by the Minister in his speech—the guarantee of the Hot Springs Conference, which lays an obligation on all its signatories to work for a higher standard of living, and higher food values for the masses of the people. There is also the loss of soil fertility. The danger of constant cropping of the same kinds of crops has been going on in the Americas for a generation or more. That in itself is going to make a surplus unlikely.
I am glad that there is in Part I mechanism for special reviews. The trouble there was last summer when a crisis was caused by wage increases, which upset the price structure in the industry, would not have happened if there had been a mechanism for price review as foreseen in this Part of the Bill. When a new situation arises it is vital that there should be special attention paid to it, and it should be open to the industry and the Minister, who must, of course, take the initiative, to have a special price review in order to prevent a situation arising like that which happened last summer. While on this subject I should like to support the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise), and which has also been mentioned by speakers from the Farmers' Union and others during the last few weeks, namely, that where a price cannot be agreed on there should be a special tribunal set up to which that disagreement on price should be referred, not, of course, to make a final decision, because that must, of course, rest with the Minister, but that there should be a consultative council which should be the last body to give advice before the Minister makes a final decision. I think that something like that is essential to meet the undoubted fears of the farming community that their interests might be over-ridden.
It is vital that prices should be fixed not necessarily having regard to wages only, because we have got to consider what I hope will be increasingly possible, namely, increased efficiency in the industry. The higher wages that are being paid today can be paid by the industry if every opportunity is given for the greatest efficiency to be exercised. Unfortunately that is not entirely the case today. The wages that are being paid would be no burden on this industry if the industry had every prospect of getting labour saving machinery including the latest kind 714 of appliances and processes. For instance, such things as the beet raising machine would do away with a great deal of the laborious work in the lifting of sugar beet. Then there is the potato lifting machine and the manure distributor. I have had experience of the manure distributor and I find it has been able to reduce the hours of labour on that kind of work. I have seen the potato lifting and sowing machine getting through the work quicker and with less labour involved that is the case when hand picking and sowing has to be done.
How can the farmer today get all these things? He has not got the opportunity. Indeed he has the greatest difficulty in keeping his existing machinery running, and I am afraid the Ministry are far too apt to think that everything is all right. Time and again I and other hon. Members in this House have asked Questions in regard to the number of machines which are held up on the farms in different counties because they could not be repaired. It is not the farmer's fault that he is not able to get the best out of the land, and I hope that the Minister will take good care to see that in the coming year we shall have everything that can possibly be provided. I know that under Part I there are various impositions upon the farmer such as compelling him to furnish information and statistics as to his method of farming. I know that that jars somewhat on the farmer and that he does not like to have to sit down and fill up forms and all that kind of thing, but for the advantages he is to receive under Part I that is the least he can do in return and I am sure that all reasonable farmers will see that it is absolutely essential.
There is, however, as I see it, one weakness in Part I, which has been referred to by other hon. Members. It is that there 'is nothing really for the horticulturist. It has been said, in the course of this Debate and elsewhere, that protective foods are to be so important, particularly fruit and vegetables. Well, that is the kind of produce that the horticulturist is concerned with, and yet he is not to get very much out of Part I. I know that marketing schemes and the fixing of prices are difficult in the case of horticultural products because the markets are often very local, but at the same time since the horticulturist will have to put up with the same restrictions and impositions as the other branches of the industry who are to benefit more directly I think that 715 something must be done for nun too. I hope the Minister will do something more than just hold out vague hopes as he did in his speech, and that something rather more will come to the horticulturist in due course. I hope the Minister will indicate in the near future what it is to be.
Part II of the Bill which amends the Agricultural Holding Act is again something which is rather overdue. It is vital with regard to tenant right that uniformity should be established, and our very complicated system based on the custom of the country really ought to go The Minister is to issue Regulations after consultation with the various experts concerned, and those Regulations will lay down new conditions of tenant rights, compensation for outgoing tenants, and the like. That is very important and is no doubt the correct method, but I think the Regulations ought to be laid before Parliament, and that we ought to know something about them. This is another example of the delegated legislation of which we have so much. I think that this House should, whenever possible, keep control and be able to watch and make its comments, or even stop Regulations of this kind. It is sufficiently important, I think, to have the principle adopted that this House should have the last word.
Again, in regard to agricultural holdings and security of tenure, I think the provisions of Part II are highly important. No more can men be liable to eviction from their holdings for increased rents or on account of the sale of the estate. It will put an end to a very objectionable form of land speculation, although it still leaves it possible for a man to buy land, or, if he owns land, to improve it, and obtain interest on the investment in respect of what he really puts into the land —a thing which he is perfectly entitled to do. He is not, however, entitled to ask for something which he obtains only as the result of the activities of the community.
The Minister is taking powers to control the local authorities in the matter of small holdings and to issue regulations. I hope he will see that competent people are put on the committees which will decide on the persons who will go into these smallholding schemes. Everything depends on 716 that. It is very largely a question of psychology to determine the right type of person to make a success of the smallholding. Some men like to work for themselves all day and every day and do not mind how much they do as long as they are working for themselves. Others with a different mentality prefer to work on a large farm at a fixed wage and with fixed hours. They are obviously not the type for a small holding. Therefore, the persons sitting on those committees are all-important. There is a place for smallholdings in the agricultural set-up of the country. I am glad that the Land Settlement Association is going to be recognised and will continue its very useful experimental work. It is not possible to set up smallholdings everywhere. In a country like this which has such tremendously varied geological formations, soil and climate, certain types of holdings do better in one part of the country than in another. If we apply a scientific mind to all this, smallholdings can be made a success.
In regard to the ownership of land, the Bill adopts the practical method of not interfering with the existing land ownership system, provided it is efficient. In the very complex system of land ownership which we have in this country, in which there are now increasingly large numbers of public utility corporations owning land and the old landowner of the last century is getting scarcer and scarcer, and in which there are very many more family farmers than before, it is wise not to tamper too much with the system but to lay down certain principles, the main object of which shall be that the land must be used to its utmost capacity and that those who fail to do that must relinquish their right of ownership. Of course, if agriculture is run efficiently there must be large capital investments made in the land in the course of the coming years, and I am glad to see that in Clause 14 (3) the principle is laid down that owners must not only maintain their land but must improve it. In other words, as I read it, it is not enough for an owner just to maintain the existing equipment on his holding. He must be prepared to introduce the latest methods and type of equipment necessary for the industry.
The Minister his taken power in this Bill to own land—the first time in this country, although in Scotland the Secretary of State has had power to own land 717 for some time I would like to see something bolder than is envisaged in the Bill and in the speech of the Minister. I do not want to see the Minister concerned only with sub-marginal land on the Welsh mountains or the Romney Marshes. I do not see why he should not experiment with State farms on better class farming land as well. Can he do that?
§ Mr. T. Williams indicated assent.
§ Mr. Price
I am glad to know that, for I thought, judging by his speech, that was not the case.
To conclude, I do not think farming efficiency will be brought into force so much by the measures foreshadowed in Parts II, III, IV of the Bill. The vital part is Part I, because I believe that the bulk of the farmers of this country want only encouragement and security to bring their farms to the fullest pitch of efficiency. Just as the agricultural worker did heroic work during the war, so did the farmer, and he will continue to do so in the future. It is not his fault if he has not the latest and best implements; it is not his fault that half of those he has are unable to be used because they are out of order and he cannot get the spare parts for them. I am certain that all elements —the owner, the tenant farmer, the owner occupier and the worker—will do their duty in the spirit that accentuates the countryside today, the spirit which loves to see land improved, the fields grow green, the woods increase and the cattle wax fat. To the real countryman that is the spirit of life, and this Bill, I think, will do something towards maintaining that spirit.
§ 9 37 P.m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
So far, we have had for the most part a realistic Debate on what is a practical Bill. I think most hon. Members have succeeded in putting aside their party spectacles and we have heard something about green pastures and so on. I think the Minister must be well satisfied with the reception this Bill is having from the House today. Any sensible Minister bringing forward an agricultural Measure would expect some criticism, but I think on all sides of the House we have shown ourselves mainly to be concerned with the good of the land, and have all been ready to put aside our prejudices. Of course, agricultural policy offers a boundless field for the political 718 pamphleteer. As an agricultural journalist, I suppose I must have read, and tried to make intelligible hundreds of agricultural policies from many different quarters, and the Minister, too, has had that great advantage and experience in considering policy.
It was not until the Royal Agricultural Society in the middle of the war brought together the partners in the industry—the farmers, the landowners and the farm workers—and also other people knowledgeable about farming but not necessarily actual partners in the industry; it was not until they brought the responsible leaders of agriculture together, that we really began to see the form of a national agricultural policy, a policy which would carry the support of the agricultural community and which would enable agriculture to develop on lines that would really serve the long-term interest of the nation. The job that agriculture has to do is surely the job of providing plenty of good food economically for the towns, not only in war but in the years of peace also. In my view—and, from what has been said today, in the view of a great many hon. Members—a fully productive British agriculture is more vital to us now, than it was even in 1940 because then we had the lend-lease supplies. It was vital, particularly in the years after America came in, that this forward base in our operations should be well supplied and should be in good fettle.
The Americans helped us very greatly. They are helping us still today, but on rather different terms. I think the country should understand clearly that it is even more vital today than it was in the darkest days of the war and it is likely to be vital in years to come, to have a fully productive agriculture. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he were a prudent man, would determine that the £33 million in dollars we spent on frozen and dried eggs last year would not again appear on the American loan account. We cannot afford it, especially when we have the equipment and experience to produce that stuff in this country. That is just one item which a fully productive British agriculture could put on the credit side instead of the debit side of our national balance sheet.
The annual output of British agriculture today is close on £600 million. Even so, our soil is not producing much more than half the nation's food. It was a higher 719 proportion in 1944 and 1945, but production has slipped back a little since then, and today it is little more than half. In my view, the target should be £900 million compared with the £600 million at present values. I believe this is well within the capacity of agriculture, if agriculture is given its head.
This Bill starts off on the right lines. I think we have all agreed on that today. Assured markets and steady prices for home produce are essential if we are to have a fully developed agriculture in our industrial country, where food markets will always be subject to world surpluses varying greatly from one year to another. Part I of this Bill sets out to continue the wartime system of guaranteed markets and guaranteed prices. We learned very clearly in the war that on the basis of a guaranteed outlet for the produce of the land, farmers could go ahead and do miracles with the aid of their workers, and let us pay a little tribute, in passing, to the landowners, who came in and helped to a great extent. But, having in part I given this general undertaking about guaranteed prices and guaranteed markets, having ventured so far, the Government immediately hedge it round with a provision that the guarantees are to be limited tosuch part of the nation's food as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom.That may mean much, or little. It depends a great deal on the political complexion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the President of the Board of Trade, of the day. It gives no secure foundation for the development of agriculture. I have not been in this House long enough to know whether it is possible to write into the Bill definite quantities, so that this guarantee of market and price is going to mean something to the man who has to do the job. The nation should make a firm bargain with British agriculture to expand production, particularly on the livestock side. Those are the products we need for the better feeding of our people, and in foreign trade they are the most expensive products. I have mentioned the £33 million for frozen and dried eggs last year. How can that target be set out to the farming community in this Bill? I do not know, but it is a matter we should consider when we come to the later stages 720 of the Measure. Could it be done by consultation with the Council of Agriculture—which unfortunately is to disappear under the Bill—or some similar body with knowledge of farming? I submit that the right basis for the bargain that the nation should make with Britsh agriculture should be something on these lines: "We need to fix a guaranteed market for the produce of at least four million, dairy cows, four million other cattle, 20 million sheep, the produce of 80 million poultry, five million pigs, 2,250,000 acres of wheat, 750,000 acres of potatoes and 500,000 acres of sugar beet." If we can write something into this Bill in these firm terms, farmers, farm workers and landowners will know what their responsibilities are. This guarantee is all too nebulous and vague. We are asking the farming community—and I hope that the Minister who is to wind up this Debate will confirm this—to take a definite responsibility for the proper feeding of our people. They should be told the measure of their responsibility, so that the individual farmer can make his plans with confidence. It is only on this basis that we shall get full production on an economical scale.
What would be the cost of such a guarantee? I believe that given the right conditions British agriculture can match the world. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who rather suggested that there was something inherently uneconomic about our farming, the size of our farms, and so forth. I just do not believe that. I have had the opportunity of seeing a certain amount of farming in Europe and America, and it is my view that if we can get the right basis of confidence over a period of years we can produce the essential foodstuffs in this country at no greater cost than that at which we can buy them abroad. I believe that a firm bargain with British agriculture would pay the nation a good dividend in the years ahead, when our economic position in the world will continue to be uncertain. There is no need to continue the Ministry of Food indefinitely, with its bulk purchasing ideas, in order to work a system of guaranteed markets and prices for the British farmer. If farmers here will organise the marketing of their produce as effectively as their competitors in the Dominions do for our British market, any payments due to meet the guarantees can 721 easily be inserted through the marketing organisation. That is already done in the case of overseas producers. It can be done perfectly well here.
I come to Part II of the Bill, which sets out the responsibilities of landowners and tenants in using agricultural land. It has been said in this Debate that this is a part of the bargain, that this is the rather bitter part of the pill. I do not regard it in that way. It does not worry me, even though I am a Tory Member of Parliament, to take a part in placing firmly on the farmers and landowners in this country, the responsibility for using our agricultural land properly. Of course, this part of the Bill not only insists on the proper use of the land, but gives the State wide powers to serve directions and insist on proper use, and if the farmer or the landowner is recalcitrant, to dispossess him. I am a strong believer in a code of good manners in farming. We are fortunate in having a well developed sense of good husbandry in this country. Britain has been the cradle of good husbandry in the last 200 years. We have only to recall men like Jethro Tull, Lord Townshend, Bakewell of Dishley and Coke of Norfolk to recognise that. Not only have we benefited by the continuing system and standard of good farming in this country, but we have been able to teach the world, and today Canada, America and other countries are still looking to our experience to enable them to build up a satisfactory system of mixed farming.
We have nothing to be ashamed of in our standards of good husbandry. Even before the war, in the days of depression, these pioneers had their disciples, and, happily, many more disciples came forward during the war years when we had this basis of guaranteed markets and prices. It does not worry me at all to insist on good husbandry by both the landowner and the tenant farmer. Of course, the Minister is taking pretty drastic powers. If the man does not behave, he can be fined £100, or given three months in gaol, for failing to carry out a direction, and then there is ultimate dispossession when the Minister can take over the land and farm it himself. These are drastic powers for a Minister to hold in peacetime. Of course, they are open to abuse by an extremist Minister who could create fanciful offences to oust every owner and every tenant, and create vast 722 State farms such as were tried in Russia. I hope we have more sense in this country; but the powers are there in the Bill. Happily, the Minister may delegate his powers. I wish the Bill said "shall" instead of "may". The Minister may delegate them to the agricultural executive committees and herein lies the only safeguard against the Whitehall octopus. Five men are to be appointed by the Minister, and three are to be selected from a panel of names submitted to the Minister by the National Farmers Union, two from the farm workers' unions and two from the Central Landowners Association. I think they should be able to work together well as a team under a chairman appointed by the Minister.
I am glad that they are only to be appointed for three years. I think there is great value in the membership being refreshed from these representative bodies every there years. They will be public-spirited men who will take on this work. Great responsibilities' will rest upon them. It is true that they are bound by Clause 68 to comply with any directions given by the Minister, but they must have the courage of their convictions for there will be occasions when they will know better than the Minister and his underlings. If they are wise, they will use the stick sparingly. Advice from practical men of repute, rather than a threat of direction, is really the best way of restoring a farm. They will need to keep a close eye on the Minister's staff of 11,000 who will be employed with the committees and on the National Agricultural Advisory Service. Nothing would destroy the confidence of the farming community more quickly or more surely than if farmers, owners or workers, saw their representative suborned by a Minister to suit the political ends of the party which happened to be in power at the time. We have to recognise the danger of committees being used as a smokescreen for political dictatorship. That will not happen, I am sure, under the present Minister, but it could happen under this Bill. The members of the committees carry very great responsibilities to their fellow farmers and to the nation. We do not want any Quislings in agriculture. Personally, I would prefer outright election to these committees. I believe that would place fairly and squarely on the farming community, the responsibility for maintaining and devel- 723 oping a code of good husbandry and high farming to meet the nation's food needs.
Part III of the Bill revises the Agricultural Holdings Act. I think it is generally on sound lines. There will be a good many points to be thrashed out during the Committee stage, the chief one being the additional security of tenure given to the tenant farmer. The sitting tenant is made secure for life, unless the owner can satisfy the Minister that the change of occupation is likely to result in the more efficient use of the land. As a tenant farmer for 20 years, I know that differences may arise between landlord and tenant, but I am not sure that this criterion—the efficient use of the land—goes quite far enough in determining good husbandry and the proper care of the land. I think we shall need to look at that definition in Committee. I want to see landlords taking more, not less, interest in the farming of their estates, because we shall need their full cooperation in getting the re-equipment of agriculture for full economic production in future.
Part IV of the Bill, dealing with small holdings, is very modest. It is suggested that there should be 5,000 new small holdings created in five years. Let us not forget that we have already got 300,000 farms in this country of under 100 acres. There is nothing world-shaking about this. Then, it is proposed that they are to go only to men with practical knowledge. I have sat on a smallholdings committee, and I know that we have, in fact, given preference to those with practical knowledge, and therefore, I see nothing marvellous about this, though I think it is quite sound and modest.
With regard to Part V of the Bill, I have already touched upon committees, but we also have here agricultural land tribunals. These are to be the farming community's appeal board on vitally important questions. I know there will be differences of opinion about that, but my own view is that the proposal in the Bill is about right. If I were a tenant farmer who was considered to have done something wrong, I should prefer to be judged by a body of landowners and farmers, with a legal man in the chair. But, when we come to the Agricultural Land Commission, which is also empowered by this Bill to manage or farm land vested in 724 the Minister, I personally hope that the Commission will be no more than a "Mrs. Mopp" in agriculture, cleaning up and tidying, but not attempting to farm, or indeed, to manage, land on the grand scale, because we must get rid of farming at the public expense. In my view, the Commission should either sell or let the place quickly, when the tidying up and cleaning up has been done. Estate management and farming call for personal responsibility and personal enterprise. There is an old saying that the master's boot is the best manure for the land. Bureaucratic masters in Whitehall and little kings of bureaucracy in county offices will not serve the land very well, and it is only if the land is served well, that the plates on the dinner tables of the people of this country will be served well.
The Minister is taking drastic powers in this Bill, and all kinds of horrors can be read into it. He may stifle British agriculture with red tape; that is the danger of this Bill. It reeks of Whitehall. I think there is too much Minister in it, but, no doubt, it can be pruned a little during the Committee stage. I shall support the Second Reading because I am a sufficiently profound believer in the vigorous common sense of the farming community to think that it will prevail, and I believe that, given their heads, farmer, landowners and workers will provide for the nation a full production in which we can all take pride.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.