§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [27th January], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. Thomas Williams.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Collick)
Yesterday, in his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Minister gave a comprehensive review of the proposals of this Bill which received a most cordial reception from both sides of the House, and if that spirit continues through our Debates and, what is more important still, permeates the operation of the machinery of the Bill in the country, it augurs very well indeed for the success of this new policy in agriculture. The Minister made reference to the fact that I would be dealing this afternoon in particular with Part IV of the Bill, which concerns smallholdings policy.
Anyone who recalls what happened after the 1914–18 war will, I think, be of the opinion that we must avoid the mistakes in the smallholdings policy which then prevailed, and the one essential condition for a successful smallholdings policy is clearly to avoid putting inexperienced men on to smallholdings. I think it was the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Colonel Boles) who yesterday made special reference to this point. The basis, therefore, of our smallholdings policy, as embodied in this Bill, is that smallholdings should be provided only for men and women with adequate and practical agricultural experience. There are, we know, many such men and women in the ranks of agricultural, workers and the sons and daughters of farmers, and I do not think that there.is any doubt that there is a strong ambition on the part of many of these people to rise to the position of farmers and work a holding of their own. We desire that their ambition should be fulfilled and our aim is to give them the chance to obtain smallholdings to farm themselves. If they make a success of these holdings, as we certainly hope they will, then if they have managed to build up their own resources and wish to advance still further, they will be qualified to take a bigger holding.
788 This policy of providing smallholdings for letting to people with agricultural experience represents a fundamental change in the general approach to the smallholdings question. Smallholdings will become part and parcel of our agricultural policy. If a policy along these lines is to be successful in providing suitable openings for promising agricultural workers, we must make sure that none of them is debarred from taking advantage of the scheme merely because he has been unable to save sufficient working capital. Even on present wages, it is far from easy for an agricultural worker to save enough to start working a holding of his own except, perhaps, at an advanced age. We are, therefore, taking power under Clause 52 to provide loans of working capital to suitable applicants up to 75 per cent. of the estimated sum required.
It is equally important that the smallholdings provided should be of adequate size to provide a reasonable livelihood for the tenant and his family, and should also be on suitable land adequately equipped. Under existing legislation, smallholdings are limited in size to 50 acres, or £100 in annual value. The economic size of a farm unit depends on a number of factors, and more particularly on the quality of land and the type of production. A market garden holding of a few acres may provide an adequate livelihood, while a mixed dairy holding may need to consist of 50 acres or, in some cases, even more.
While it is, therefore, desirable to keep the size of these holdings relatively small, we have decided to amend the present definition so as to enable holdings to be created, where necessary, up to 75 acres in size, provided that the full fair rent does not exceed £150 per annum. The normal size of a smallholding will not exceed 50 acres, but this new definition will enable slightly larger holdings to be created where this seems desirable in the interest of providing an economic unit. At the same time we are taking powers to control the selection of land for smallholdings, so as to make sure that it is good land suitable for the purpose and that the layout and equipment give the tenant a reasonable chance of success. In other words, smallholdings authorities, like other land owners, will be responsible for managing their holdings in a way that will abide by the rules of good estate management and enable the occupier to attain an efficient standard of production. Many 789 county councils have already done this, but when one remembers that the average size of a smallholding is at present about 17 acres, and that some 50 per cent. of the existing holdings are bare land holdings, it can, I think, be seen that there is a good deal of room for improvement.
Clause 46, therefore, provides that before land is acquired for smallholding purposes, the Minister's consent must be obtained and, further, Clause 48 provides that the Minister's approval must be given to the layout and equipment of a holding, or the alteration of that layout and equipment, whether or not the smallholdings authority are seeking a financial contribution from the Exchequer to meet some of their losses. In addition, powers are taken to enable the Minister, where necessary, to give the smallholdings authorities directions to carry out any alteration in layout or equipment which may be considered necessary.
I am sure that the great majority of the county councils and the county borough councils, who will continue to be the responsible authorities for smallholdings, will carry out their duties satisfactorily and in accordance with the general policy. We certainly do not intend to interfere with their management of smallholdings except where this is really necessary. We hope that there will be the closest co-operation between these authorities and the Ministry's Land Commissioners who will attend the meetings of the smallholdings committees and subcommittees and will keep in day-to-day touch with the running of the schemes. By this means it should be possible for the administration to be smoothly carried out without any vexatious or irksome delays or the needless exercise of control powers. But where the smallholdings authority, for one reason or another, does not carry out its duties satisfactorily, it is clearly necessary for the State to have the power to see that schemes are properly run. Provision is accordingly made for the Minister, in the last resort, to exercise default powers, and to take over any or all of the functions of a smallholdings authority where these are not being satisfactorily performed. In such circumstances, the Minister would carry out those functions as an authorised agent on behalf of the smallholdings authority concerned.
Another very important aspect, to which I have already referred and which is, in 790 fact, the king-pin of the whole policy, relates to the selection of tenants. Clause 50 provides that smallholdings must only be let to applicants with adequate agricultural experience, and, in accordance with the general policy, lays down, other things being equal, that preference is to be given to agricultural workers. Power is also taken to supplement the general provisions by means of Regulations interpreting who may be treated as agricultural workers for this purpose, thus giving the opportunity to bring in, where appropriate, the sons and daughters of farmers. No preference is given to ex-Servicemen. To give such a preference where they had no previous agricultural experience would be contrary to the general policy. To accord preference to ex-Servicemen with agricultural experience would clearly be unfair to agricultural workers who were, for the most part, tied to the land during the war. Conditions in this war varied considerably from those in the previous war. Men served in the Forces or remained in industry largely at the direction of the Government, and there is, therefore, no longer the same justification for singling out ex-Servicemen for special treatment.
Power is also taken to make Regulations dealing with general management matters, more particularly the tenancy agreements between smallholdings authorities and their tenants. What we have in mind here is that tenancy agreements ought to enable smallholdings authorities to control the amount of other land which a smallholder may farm in addition to his statutory smallholding. In far too many cases at the present time smallholdings are not let to the people for whom they were primarily intended but to big farmers. For instance, in a case which recently came to my notice, a smallholdings estate of about 80 acres was divided into six separate holdings. No alteration had been made in the equipment of the farm, but the main farm buildings and a small piece of land had been let as one holding, while the other five so-called smallholdings consisted of bare land let in each case to farmers farming anything from 200 to 400 acres of land. Nor is this an isolated case. Again, there are many instances where smallholders carrying on other businesses, such as those of cattle dealers or removal contractors, are devoting very little attention to their smallholdings. Clearly, if the purpose of the Government's smallholding policy is to be 791 adequately fulfilled, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, and we and the smallholdings authorities must have power to see that it is remedied.
One of the most important aspects of smallholdings is that of co-operation. Experience has shown that co-operative methods both in the purchase of agricultural requisites for smallholders and the selling of their produce can be of the greatest possible value on certain types of holdings. The Land Settlement Association and the Welsh Land Settlement Society have carried out a good deal of valuable work which has shown beyond doubt that on small market garden holdings tenants benefit considerably from this type of organisation. We are accordingly giving smallholdings authorities the necessary powers for the formation of co-operative schemes for the benefit of their smallholders and we are also enabling them to undertake themselves co-operative schemes for the supply of goods and services to the tenants on their estates and to undertake central marketing of the produce.
There is another form of co-operation which has proved a great success under certain conditions on the estates of the Welsh Land Settlement Society—that of co-operative farming on a profit-sharing basis. Here again power is being given to smallholdings authorities to let one or more smallholdings to a group of persons who want to farm them on a co-operative basis. The necessary powers for co-operation are therefore provided in the Bill. But the extent of our knowledge is at present such that we do not intend to proceed too fast until we have a little more experience in these matters. We want more information on the application of co-operative methods to types of production other than market gardening and of the different forms of farming organisation which can be adopted. We think, therefore, that further experiments should be carried out, and, having regard to their past experience, the Government consider that the Land Settlement Association and the Welsh Land Settlement Society would be the most suitable people to undertake this work.
We are, therefore, proposing that these two bodies, whose original objective of settling the unemployed on the land no longer exists, should nevertheless be con- 792 tinued for the dual purpose of managing their existing estates and of undertaking, on behalf of the Government, experiments in different types of farming organisation, particularly in relation to co-operation. The land which will be needed for these experiments will be bought by the State under powers conferred on the Minister in Clause 54. In addition, the existing smallholdings estates belonging to these two bodies will be transferred to the State in return for the liquidation of outstanding advances by the Exchequer. We consider—and we have reason to believe that both bodies concerned will accept this view— that this arrangement will place them on a far sounder foundation for their future work.
With the high costs of land and building, it cannot reasonably be hoped that smallholdings schemes can be carried out without some loss, at any rate, for a few years. We are, therefore, proposing to continue the financial arrangements which operate under the 1926 Act, and power is taken in Clause 56 for the Exchequer to contribute up to 75 per cent. of the estimated losses on the smallholdings schemes, leaving 25 per cent. to be borne by the local rates. This seems to us a fair division of the financial responsibility, and provides the necessary incentive to the economic management of the smallholdings estates.
This approach to smallholdings is, as I have said, an entirely new departure in Government policy. We feel, therefore, that it would probably be extremely valuable to set up a non-statutory Smallholdings Advisory Council to keep a general watch on the working out of this policy, and to advise the Minister on the many questions which will arise from time to time in this connection. We are proposing to set up such a council consisting of representatives of the agricultural workers' unions, the National Farmers Union, the County Councils Association, the Land Settlement Association and the Welsh Land Settlement Society, together with any other people who may be able to give us the benefit of their wisdom and experience on these questions. I am sure that a council such as this can play a valuable part in working out the policy in the years ahead.
One last point on this question of smallholdings. We are as anxious as 793 anybody to get this new policy into operation as soon as we possibly can after the Bill has been passed, but there is a tremendous unsatisfied demand for smallholdings from men and women of the type we want. Equally, however, at the present time, there is a great shortage of building materials and of labour. For the time being, therefore, priority must be given to housing—and I would ask hon. Members to remember that this includes rural housing—and to the modernisation and replacement of equipment on existing farms. We shall start with the creation of new smallholdings under our future policy as soon as we can, but I would ask hon. Members to exercise patience if we cannot proceed as rapidly as they, and we, would like, if we had at our disposal all 'he building labour we need
Finally, may I make this point, because reference was made to it by several speakers in the Debate yesterday? The third paragraph of the Financial Memorandum refers to 5,000 new smallholdings in the first five years. I rather gathered from the comments of hon. Members who took part in the Debate, that they interpreted that to be some sort of a target or limit. May I make it clear that there is no limit whatever as to the numbers of smallholdings? This reference to 5,000 in five years is merely an estimate, in order to show what the financial commitment may be, so hon. Members can rest assured that we are not handicapped in this Bill by any limitation of numbers over a given period of years.
§ Lieut. - Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
I do not quite follow the point of these 5,000 smallholdings in five years. The hon. Gentleman referred to it as an estimate, but said that it was no guide. Could he be more explicit?
§ Mr. Collick
It is merely to show what would be the estimated cost to the Exchequer supposing we had 5,000 in five years; it is not a limit to the number of smallholdings that can be created in five years.
§ Mr. Collick
Yes. May I now say a word on what many hon. Members yesterday rightly described as the most important part of this Bill, namely, Part I?
794 This system for providing guaranteed prices for the main agricultural products is, clearly, the major part of the Bill. Everybody knows the difficulties from which the farmer has suffered hitherto, when he has had no security of price for his products. We know the result on the labour side because, after all, it is nonsense to talk about having decent labour conditions in the industry unless there is some kind of economic stability for the farmer. Therefore, the point of this important principle of guaranteed prices and assured markets, as embodied in Part I of the Bill, is clearly one of the most important of all the provisions. The Government accept that principle as embodied in the Bill, and, as was rightly said yesterday, almost all the parties in the industry who speak with knowledge today lend support to this principle of having stabilised, guaranteed prices in agriculture.
The machinery for fixing prices is, of course, the annual review which normally takes place in February. The annual review runs over a period of approximately three weeks, in which those who speak for producers organisations come into consultation with those who are acting for the Government. One of the first things dealt with at that stage of the review is this question of possible targets of production. They have the very great advantage of having placed at their disposal statistical data produced by independent economists covering all sorts and sizes of farms in all parts of the country, data which are intended to enable those taking part in the review to get a fairly clear picture of the economics of the industry at the time of the review. One of the successes of this part of the price machinery is the fact that that information is produced by independent economists, and is, therefore, not suspect by any of the parties in the review. Their job is to try to get an overall picture of the economics of the industry. The second stage is when they try to get a global estimate of what is actually necessary in order to create that position of stability by way of prices. There are figures which show farm efficiency, and figures which show the impact of labour costs on different types of farms. Altogether there are all the data necessary to get a correct overall picture. The whole object is to try to get an agreed interpretation of the facts relating to the economics of the industry generally.
795 In due course, the stage is reached when it is quite clear, having regard to possible targets, and economic facts accepted by both sides, how much prices may need to go up, and how much prices may stand to be adjusted otherwise. The whole point is to try to get some sort of clear appreciation of the picture. The next job is that of trying to determine to what degree, and by what amount, it- is to be expressed in terms of commodity prices. There, again, all the necessary data are available. One of the advantages of the Bill is the fact that this system is so flexible. Hon. Members will have noted from the Explanatory Memorandum that the Bill enables several systems to be followed. For instance, there can be a straight price arrangement as in the case of milk, or there are the arrangements of the Wheat Acts, or again acreage payments. There is hardly any limit to the schemes for making such arrangements. The great merit of Part I of the Bill is that any of these methods can be used in order to fix the stable price.
There was some friendly criticism yesterday about the assured market. No one suggests that this is a simple machine, but it has the great merit that it works, and, on the whole, works well. This will be the first time in the history of the country in peacetime, that the farmer will know the price he is to get for his products; in the case of grain long before he sows his seed, and in the case of livestock years ahead. There is hardly a primary producer in the world who enjoys that position. It has advantages which are not in-considerable. Whatever might be put forward as certain disadvantages of the Bill, I think the ordinary farmer understands quite clearly the enormous advantages which the guaranteed price and the assured market give to him. As the scheme stands now, the farmer knows the actual price for his crops at least 18 months before they are harvested, and for livestock products for the ensuing 12 months. In addition, for livestock he knows the minimum prices for two to four years ahead, and also the minimum quantities to which those minimum prices relate. That is a vastly different arrangement from that which was known in prewar days. Up to 31st March, 1950, farmers are assured of a market for all the milk, eggs, fat cattle, fat sheep, and fat pigs they can produce, at not less than the 796 minimum prices announced in March, 1946. That is a pretty long time ahead for a guaranteed price.
When talking of quantities, we should bear in mind that if there is going to be any operation of the Clause in relation to quantity, it is to be determined, as near as may be, at the time when the prices are arranged. That is a very valuable arrangement which I believe almost everybody in the industry fully appreciates. I do not know how much further we could be expected to go in present-day circumstances. I suggest that that gives the farmer all the assurance he needs, and will enable him to plan for his maximum production. I agree wholeheartedly with what the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said yesterday, that in so far as one can see ahead, with adverse balances of payment standing out so clearly, all the prospects are that the agricultural industry will need to produce the very maximum it can produce from the soil of this country, for long years ahead. In addition, one of the main policies of this Government in their policy of full employment will be that, in the future, we shall no longer have two or three millions of people without the means to buy back what they need. We are hoping that, in turn, that should afford a very considerable enlargement of the market. When talking of markets, if we are realists we must face the fact that the prospects are quite good. If we get, as I hope we will, that complete co-operation which was indicated on the general principles of the Bill yesterday, I think the industry is in for a reasonably good time.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough was clearly disposed yesterday to think that we are rather overloading county committees in this Bill. I appreciate that point, and I appreciate the reasoning behind it, which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated. But one of the extraordinary things about the agricultural industry is the amount of willing service which such people as serve on the county agricultural executive committees have rendered. There is no parallel I know of in the country, of any bodies of that kind, which render such outstanding service. The real answer to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is that the farmers organisations, by and large, are parties, in 797 the main, to a good bit that is in this Bill. They want the Bill to succeed. They realise the important part that the county committees will play in their various functions. I do not hesitate to say that the success of this Bill depends very largely upon the success with which the county committees do their job. But I equally believe that there are, in the farming community, men who are willing to render a service to the nation such as this Bill envisages, and that we need have no fears on that account.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also made a few criticisms—reasonable criticisms. He, quite clearly, thought that in the case where the Agricultural Land Tribunal comes into operation, there might be a case for having a further appeal. I venture to disagree with him on that point. After all, the whole machinery of such cases is that long before they come to the appeal stage, a man has to be placed under supervision. He has notice; he can make a request; he can be heard in person by the county committee. Should supervision then be decided upon, he may be under supervision for as long as 12 months, during which time he is given every facility by the county committee to improve either his standard of farming or estate management, as the case may be. Then, at the extreme point, if dispossession is decided upon—and I regard this very 'much as a sanction—then he has the right to come up to the tribunal and have his case reconsidered. The chairman of that tribunal is to be a legal chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and on the tribunal will be a farmer and a landowner. There is also provision for assessors. When the whole of that stage has been gone through, particularly when the further concession has been made that the decision of that tribunal is final and binding, and not even the Minister can overthrow it, every mortal thing has been done to make that machinery as effective as possible. If that were not sufficient in itself, I could only suggest, with the utmost respect, to the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough that he was really answered on this point, I think most effectively, by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) who made a most excellent speech on this Bill. He gave the complete answer on this point when he said that if he were a 798 tenant farmer who was considered to have done something wrong, he would prefer to be judged by a body of landowners and farmers with a legal man in the chair. That is the real answer.
A point was raised about horticulture, namely, the fact that under Part I, which gives a list of scheduled products, horticultural products are not included. I well understand the validity of that criticism. The only point one can make in reply, and it is a fair point, is simply that the articles covered by the Schedule are the main agricultural products. They cover at least 75 per cent. of our total agricultural production. I think everyone will agree that what is suitable machinery of price fixing and the like for most of the products grown—corn, wheat, fat livestock, and so forth—is not necessarily the sort of machinery that is suitable for horticultural products. It is for that reason that we have not included them. There is perhaps quite a lot of thinking to be done yet as to what is to be done about horticultural products. Clearly, they are products that will be influenced by marketing operations, and the industry has not cleared its own mind about what needs to be done in that regard. We might keep in mind, when talking about the First Schedule, that where there may be a case for putting further items into the Schedule, the Bill gives us the power to do it. As the Bill is framed, it gives us power to put other commodities into the Schedule, whenever a case can be made out for putting them in.
I believe that this Bill in its main framework and in its aims is certainly— and this is admitted—the biggest agricultural Bill that has been introduced for a long time. It has been rightly described as a comprehensive Bill, not as the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough rather indicated—a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. It is certainly one of the most comprehensive Bills that has been introduced into this House for a long time. If it is carried through, in broad outline, as it stands, it will give the industry conditions of stability, in which it can prosper, conditions which will remove the bad old days we knew before the war. I ask the House to accept it as the contribution of this Government to building up a stable and prosperous agricultural industry.
§ 4.58 p.m.
Mr. R. A. Butter (Saffron Walden)
The Parliamentary Secretary has given us, quite clearly, his own opinions on the Bill. It is now for me to give some opinions which may not entirely coincide with his. I can say at the beginning that the manner in which he presented his case was, to borrow his own term, most thoughtful and comprehensive. He stated quite clearly the main principles of the Bill, which are that there shall be an element of stability, which shall be maintained by a price system, and that, in return, there shall be certain control of those who farm or own our lands, and also certain incentives to the worker to rise. In these various respects, namely, the balancing of rights and duties and the incentive offered to merit to rise, it might well be the case that agricultural policy can give a lead to industrial policy as a whole.
The Minister said ysterday that industry and agriculture were interlinked. If that is the case, as I hope it will be in our future economy, it is possible, in our agricultural Debates, to foresee to some extent the Debates on the state of the nation which are to take place when the White Paper is published, and discussed some months hence. We are therefore very glad to take this opportunity of stating from this side of the House quite emphatically, that we are unrepentent backers of agriculture as a vital component of our national economy, and that we consider that such claims as were put forward by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), to whose excellent speech reference has been made, should be most carefully and sympathetically examined. The proportion of the national economy represented by agriculture at the present time, with a production of some £600,000,000, is very large, but if it rises to the extent proposed by the hon. Member for Newbury, it may well come up to something like 10 per cent. of our national income. We are, therefore, facing a most important issue today, and I trust we shall do it as a Parliament in which agriculture will take not a back place but a foremost place, and will command even more interest than this Debate is commanding this afternoon.
What we want for agriculture is a radical change in the country's attitude towards it. In the past, agriculture has had her great days. Mr. R. C. K. Ensor, in his book on England at the end of last and the beginning of this century, said: 800Down to 1880, despite all the marvellous expansion of mining and metallurgy, agriculture retained a kind of headship; she was still regarded as really our major industry.It is high time we returned to those days, and it is high time that she ceased to be regarded as a poor relation, a necessitous country cousin, or, to the liberal or radical economist, not an integral part of our economy but something in the social structure that needed to be bolstered up, a hobby rather than a vital necessity to the country. Let us forget that conception of farming and agriculture and let us, as I have said, regard it as something quite vital in the national economy of the country. I should have thought that anybody examining the vast expenditure which is being carried by the present Government, the inflationary tendencies which exist today, and the weakness of our dollar resources, would regard it as essential to encourage agricultural production as one of the most practical ways of restoring our economy. In fact, I would call the agricultural wealth of the nation our one hidden treasure, in addition to our other open treasure, which is the need to work harder and to produce more. If we can combine hard work and the production of more from our own land, we may have made, from this side at least, some small contribution towards the solution of the economic problems of our time.
I do not want to speak too long because, despite the excellent speeches heard from the hon. Members for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), Tiverton (Mr. Amory), Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett), and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) on this side of the House, and others from the opposite side. there are still many more agricultural Members to whom this is the great market day of the year, and it would be a great pity if they were prevented by those on the Front Bench from getting a little market merry and from speaking as long as they want. I have therefore divided what I want to say quite clearly into some remarks about prices, and some remarks about tenure— two features of the Bill—and as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary concentrated a good deal in the middle part of his speech on prices, I propose to take that part of what I want to say first. Let us examine this question of the claim of the Government, as put quite clearly by the Minister. I will quote his words:For the first time in history, the farmer will be able to plan ahead with certain knowledge of market and price, and only another 801 Act of Parliament can rob him of that security."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 631.]Those are fine words, and I think any of us connected with the rural areas, in daily contact with our constituents, will realise that many of our constituents in the farming world are honourable, simple people who have great difficulty in following many of the complexities which beset our lives here. The whole complication of our economic system, of international structure and so forth does not always come their way, and I feel it my business today to try to explain this statement in the light of the international situation as I see it, and of some warnings that we have received from members of the Government themselves. Before I do so, may I say that I hope an opportunity will be offered of bringing horticulture into the Schedule, and of helping it more specifically than has hitherto been suggested. The horticulture industry in Saffron Walden and Stansted is a very remarkable one, and I think it should be given a greater assurance, to balance the assurance given to the rest of agriculture. In the case of market gardening, it is to be noted that the market gardener has to put up with the control side of the Bill, but does not get the benefit of its positive side. I, therefore, hope that both horticulture and market gardening will have rather more consideration than they have had hitherto.
Let us revert to the Minister's claim that the farmer will be able to plan ahead with certain knowledge of market and price, and that only another Act of Parliament can rob him of that security. This claim was I believe made on the basis that the price-fixing machinery, by being given statutory sanction by us here in Parliament, will secure the farmer that certainty in market and price. I might have been more sure of that had I not read the words on the outside of the Bill in the Financial Memorandum, which run as follows:Considerable uncertainty also attaches to the future level of farming costs, to the prices likely to be charged to consumers and, above all. to the extent to which market prices in this country may be affected by developments a broad.''The Government have themselves acknowledged that the very basis of prices upon which the Minister is making this assertion is governed by the most uncertain considerations. If we had had 802 any statement from the Government hitherto that their own attitude towards agriculture was that they wished to find it a permanent place in our own home economy, and that they had a positive attitude towards an enduring place for agriculture in any international negotiations which were going to take place, then we could agree with the Government that it is reasonable to regard this Bill as a step forward. But I must make it absolutely plain that, without this general assurance, we cannot honestly recommend to our own constituents and friends, that this Bill gives the whole solution of the market and price situation.
Let me substantiate this. It is well known that you cannot regard British agriculture, however autarchist or however patriotically agricultural you may be, as a part, by itself, of British economy alone. You have got to take a pinch of the advice of the Manchester School and regard agriculture as being part of world economy. You have to do that if you are facing the facts, simply because we live in a small island and are bound to import a very large amount of our necessary requirements in food. If we accept that fact, let us also face the situation which is confronting the Government. While this Bill is upstairs, and very probably before the Third Reading, there will be discussions in Geneva in April or May on the Report of the Preparatory Commission of the International Trade Organisation, and decisions will have to be taken. What line do the Government adopt towards the discussions already undertaken in the Preparatory Commission, the report of which I have here? There are certain redeeming features in this report, which was published at the end of last year and which vitally affects the future of British agriculture and price structure. In the first place, there is some concession in this Preparatory Report of I.T.O. to the views expressed in the White Paper which was published exactly a year before, together with the Bretton Woods discussion. There is the concession that the Preparatory Commission recognises:that the conditions of production and consumption of certain primary commodities are such that international trade in those commodities is subject to special difficulties not generally associated with manufactured goods.That concession puts one into the right sort of spirit to hope that the Government 803 have some complementary statement to make which will show that they are adopting the necessary tough line about British agriculture in those discussions. We read further on page 12, paragraph (g):the suggestion was put forward by some delegates that the exception"—that is, the quantitative restriction of imports, which is a very vital feature of what may be necessary in agricultural policy—in the case of agricultural products should be widened by permitting restriction of imports without restriction of home production, so as to maintain"—these are the operative words—domestic prices at a level sufficient to cover domestic costs of production, and so as to en-able a domestic surplus to be acquired.The last point interests us rather less than the former two considerations. It was suggested that this should be accomplished by a revision of the existing Articles of Agreement. This, however, follows:However, it was felt by other delegates that such proposals would extend the scope of the exceptions to an undesirable degree.I maintain that unless that exception can be made, and unless the Government give us some indication of their attitude on these subjects, it will be impossible to follow what the Parliamentary Secretary has just been telling us, and to operate the different methods which are set out in the White Paper. There are statements here of subsidies. In certain circumstances a subsidy would he allowed for home production, but there is no definite statement about quantitative restriction of imports. So, if we run over the devices which may be used by, the Government and which are in the White Paper: there is no absolute certainty, but the possibility, of subsidy; there is the possibility of a deficiency payment such as was used under the Wheat Act; there is the possibility of subsidy being given related to the price of feedingstuffs and—this is the phrase which I think is most disquietening in the White Paper—of the other major factors, the most important is the quantity, which has to be covered by a determination.It is precisely that quantitative aspect upon which I maintain the Government have given us no answer, and upon which the security of British agriculture will depend. I apologise for going into the extremely technical and abstruse intellectual exercises, which always emerge 804 from conferences of this sort..No doubt the Minister understands them perfectly and, with his usual lucidity will be able, through his representative, to give us some reply, even though he cannot give us some general indication that the international factors are not going to undermine and subvert the policy of prices. We hope for further assurances that Dominion understandings are to be promoted on the lines of preferences with the Dominions—for Canadian bacon for ex-ample. If he can tell us, in fact, that British agriculture comes first, the Do-minions second, and multilateral trade agreements third, with proper synchron-isation of the whole position in the international picture, he will have done a great service to farmers.
My friends the fanners tell me When I go to my markets at home: "It is not the Minister of Agriculture who is our enemy, but the Board of Trade, those foreign blokes and the Minister of Food." The warring dynasties within this Government are even more remarkable than any which took place in the whole history of China put together. I hope that the Minister will not sit there in complete isolation as a gentle and well-trained Minister of Agriculture, but will assure us that, on the Government's policy for agriculture, he is on top of his companions in the Government in this important respect.
I will now deal for a moment with the questions of tenure which arise in the Bill. The position about tenure is that the Bill acknowledges that there must be an alliance or partnership among the State, the landlord, tenant, owner-occupier and the worker. I want just for a few minutes to examine this bargain from the point of view of each of its partners, to see what further confidence is necessary to be given. My claim over prices was that, unless the Government gave the ordinary small man confidence that the machinations of the international world were not going to undermine the price structure, they would not get ultimate success. I claim also, that unless they give more confidence to those partners than has been given hitherto, they will not have the full co-operation to which the Minister is entitled. Let us take the worker first. The Parliamentary Secretary devoted a great part of his speech to the question of smallholdings. In general we support the principles which he put forward. Perhaps, coming from 805 East Anglia I am influenced on this subject. Our landlord-tenant system is less marked than anywhere else in the country, particularly in Essex, where we are trying to develop large-scale experiments in practical farming. I believe there is just as good a chance for young working men on the farm to rise to the position of foremen or managers of large mechanical estates as there is to take up a position on the old-fashioned smallholding. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not believe that view is confined to me and my hon. Friends; it is shared by the workers' representatives. Let us encourage the smallholding method, without letting the holding get too large—the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned a rather large figure —let us give industry a lesson in incentive, and encourage the bright young persons in the industry by giving them a chance to rise in the large mechanical farm, as well as, in the smallholding.
Other great problems about the worker are mentioned vaguely in the White Paper. Unless we improve the amenities of the countryside, the worker, and particularly his wife, will not fill up the hideous gap. The recent White Paper, first of the duet—which unfortunately has a very poor, thin voice—reveals a 33,000 gap between the labour demands of agriculture and the potential supply. That gap can be provided only if we all approach the countryside in a spirit of real rehabilitation from top to bottom and if we adopt every agency for building cottages and do not just use a certain agency and pillory and hit the others. We should continue to develop water schemes and bring electricity to the countryside. Therefore I believe that, apart from smallholdings there are many other matters' in which we want the worker to be given absolute confidence in order to solve the labour problem of agriculture, which is one of the most important problems.
Now a word about the owner-occupier. He has not been mentioned very much in this Debate but is another very important factor. We should encourage people to occupy their own land. The owner-occupier comes, in the Bill, twice under the harrow. He is to be had for bad estate management and for bad farming. When examining the position, we see that, under Clause 16, his house can be taken away. That house, I would point out, would be called by hon. Members 806 opposite a "tied" house. Like Buckingham Palace and Lambeth Palace it goes from the incumbent when the incumbent goes. If the owner-occupier wants to build a house, what is his position? Suppose he wants to build a house for his cowman. He wants the cowman to live near so as to be at work early for the milking, and not to have to bicycle a long way, perhaps on a cold and wet day.
He cannot make that a house tied to his cowman and obtain the Government subsidy. On the other hand, if he builds a house with the subsidy and the cowman decides, a week or two later, to change his job, he cannot remove the cowman as a tenant under the Rent Restriction Act. Therefore, he is completely tied and hit all round, in regard to one aspect of the tied house, and, when it comes to his own house, that is taken away if his land is taken from him. It seems to me that we must face in Committee some points of this sort, and try to make them more fair, so as to give some confidence to the owner-occupier.
It must be remembered that the position of the owner-occupier in finance has greatly deteriorated. There is a sort idea that fariners made a packet out of the war—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and that they were able to do away with all their arrears of debt and have a great packet ready for development later. There is no more false idea.
I do not believe some of my farmer friends will disagree with me. During the boom years of 1941–44, I cal-culate what with tax and the increase in assets for which provision had to be made for one reason or another, not much more than 7 per cent. of the farmer's total profits, would be retained by him in actual cash for day to day affairs. After the 1945 Budget, as a result of the relief, when the war was over, in the demands made upon him, and the smaller amount put into capital assets, I agree that the position improved. But the House has to face the fact that the indebtedness of farmers to the banks amounts to some £78 million and the indebtedness to other quarters apart from banks, private agencies, landlords, and so on, may be calculated to work out at almost exactly the same figure. When we come to examine the 807 confidence necessary to be given to the owner-occupier or the landlord, this question of credit must, therefore, come into it.
I hope that the Government will consider sympathetically every avenue of credit which can be put into the industry to make things work properly. Perhaps the landlords' biggest problem is the question of rent. It is always unpopular in this House for anyone to stand up and say that he thinks the present level of rents is grossly unfair, but I can be backed by any agricultural economist in this country in what I am going to say now. There has only been a 6d. rise in rents, in the general level, since the 1939 period and just before. In fact, since 1939, rent has gone up only 6 per cent., prices have gone up 90 per cent., and wages about 120 per cent. The point I am making is that if we are to have a proper partnership between landlord and tenant, owner-occupier and worker, each must understand the others point of view, and each must understand that the other has to overcome great and increasing difficulties to meet their liabilities.
Therefore, I myself envisage, if this system is to work, that there will be an accompanying rise in rents and that the Minister himself, through his Land Commission and the Crown Commissioners, will find he has to face this economic question just as much as anybody else. The position of the landowner is not a very attractive one when we examine some of the earlier Clauses of the Bill, in particular when we examine Clause 14 (3) under which an Order can be put on to the landlord at any time, even if he has not got a supervision order at the time. If we compare that with Clause 15 (2), which imposes the financial terms upon this hideous transaction—that is to have an order out of the blue without a supervision order—we find that the frank position is that a landlord can be made to spend, without a supervision order, one year's gross rent every three years, without having any opportunity of going to the tribunal. That is the sort of point which we must examine more closely, because the present level of rents is going to make it extremely difficult to meet that sort of need. I have put some of the practical points from the point of view of the owner-occupier, the worker and the landlord, and I am not going to de- 808 vote any further time to the tenant. He is getting security of tenure and I hope he will do well upon it. I hope also that the tenant will accompany that security of tenure with efficiency in farming. Security without efficiency will cut at the very root bottom of this Bill.
I have attempted, in the short time at my disposal, to run over some of the problems raised in the Bill from the point of view of tenure and of prices. I have tried to make the point that confidence is essential for both of those aspects of the problem. I came across a statement in Lord Ernie's immortal book, "British Farming, Past and Present", in which he says:Politics honourably handled and dealing with principles, not personalities, might and should, play an important part in the recreation of agriculture.Politics has now its chance to play its part and it is our intention, on this side of the House, that politics should play its part by improving the Bill, by obtaining Government statements elucidating policy, particularly in regard to the price structure and its relationship to the international scene, and by securing justice and long-term confidence for the farmers. If we can achieve those things, agriculture may not resume its headship as an industry but it will, at least, have secured an enduring position in our economy.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)
I rise to support this Bill wholeheartedly and I do so as a practical agriculturist and also as a practical politician. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) has a reputation for fair-ness in this House, but I think he was a little unfair in his quotation from the Financial Memorandum which accompanies this Bill. In an endeavour to show that the future of agriculture was less secure than had been stated by the Minister, he quoted the concluding sentence of the second paragraph, whereas, in fact, that is the last sentence of a paragraph the purpose of which is to point out that it is not possible, at present, to define the cost to the Exchequer of this Measure. Therefore, I think the sentence in the Financial Memorandum does not in any way detract from the Minister's statement that this Bill guarantees very largely the future prosperity of British agriculture.
The Bill does that by the system of guaranteed prices without, of course. 809 bringing in any guaranteed quantities or acreages. What, for instance, would be the good of embodying in this Bill a guarantee of both price and quantity, if the industry is not in a position to supply that quantity? After all, there is a labour shortage. Clearly, what we have here is the necessary administrative machine TO adjust prices at sufficiently long notice to enable any commonsense farmer to manage and plan his farm on an extending basis and on a more intensive system of farming, provided he is producing those commodities which the nation requires at the time.
The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question of horticulture not being included in the guaranteed prices. Surely, it must be well-known to all hon. Members that there is no agreement among horticulturists and farmers themselves on this very important matter, and that further investigation is required to produce a system that will enable horticulture to be safeguarded for the future? I am a little puzzled why hon. Members opposite are continually asking for British agriculture to be put first, the Dominions second and somebody else third. Surely, when commodities come on the market and into the shops from the various parts of the world, they will not be labelled in categories—one, two and three. They will all be put together, and the extent to which the British farmer will take his share of our home market, depends upon his ability to rise to the occasion. It is in his own hands. The Government are not here to carve up a section of the home market for the home producer. They are here to produce legislation, and set up the necessary administrative machine to enable all the efficient home producers in this country to claim the largest possible share of the home market, but it will depend both upon administrative efficiency and upon the ability of the farmers themselves to claim that share of the market. According to the demand, on the one side, and the flow of produce on the other, so will our home producers be able to take their full share of what is one of the best markets in the world.
I want to speak for a short time on the smallholdings section of the Bill. Prior to coming to this House, I was entirely dependent on my small farm for a livelihood, and that small farm, for all 810 practical purposes, is classified as a smallholding. Therefore, I have a personal interest in this matter, I would point out, further, that my father before me was a smallholder and that I have for a number of years served on the smallholdings committee of the Norfolk county council. Therefore, I welcome any proposals that are put forward in the Bill for dealing with smallholdings. How hon. Members opposite must envy the Minister of Agriculture his part in bringing forward this Measure, which, in many respects, accords with the previous ideas of the party opposite, so far as it concerns the extensions of property ownership in this country and making more people, as they would say, little capitalists. But how they have failed in that effort in the past. How repeatedly did we from Norfolk, through the smallholdings committee, send up to the former Minister of Agriculture requests for his policy on the future of smallholdings in order that we might make some provision for the period when proposals would be presented. It was knocking at a closed door. We never got a reply, and I think we got the impression that the Minister of Agriculture then was against smallholdings, and in favour of the extension of large-scale farming in this country. When the Labour Party now comes along with a sound scheme for extending smallholdings amongst experienced agricultural workers in the country, I can understand hon. Members opposite looking with a certain amount of envy at the party on this side.
The scheme for providing a certain amount of capital towards the new smallholdings will be welcome, because it will enable these men, when they make a start, to have the use of modern machinery on their holdings. The idea that only large-scale farms can be mechanised is all wrong. Every farm, however small, in this country can be mechanised to some extent, and, by the use of mechanical power greater production can be obtained from the holding and the holder's time becomes of far greater value to him. I welcome, too, the proposals for watching over the selection of tenants and the choice of the most suitable people as tenants of the new holdings. Again, it has been my lot for a number of years to be chairman of the selection committee in Norfolk in building up a list of suitable 811 applicants, which now reaches about 500. Therefore, when I see reference to the possibility of 5,000 holdings in the whole country, I am a little anxious to know whether one-tenth of them may be provided in Norfolk, but I am relieved by the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon that there is to be no fixed limit on the number of smallholdings that can be established in the course of the next few years.
The Minister has made another departure. I welcome very much the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary in reference to the advisory council or committee which he is setting up in regard to smallholdings, but I am a little anxious, when I see the Minister taking more interest in smallholdings, whether he will get the necessary knowledge to be able to administer the scheme satisfactorily, because it requires not merely theoretical knowledge but practical knowledge to guide the development of smallholdings, just as in the case of other agricultural matters in this country. I should like to see the Minister being advised by a committee in this respect.
I think we should make rapid strides with this smallholdings development. It seems to me that it should be possible for county councils to go ahead with their schemes to acquire the necessary land during this year and next, so that the tenants of the new smallholdings can occupy their holdings by Michaelmas, 1948. I know that there is the question of house building and so on, but we have only to build a man a house, no matter whether on a smallholding or on a council estate. It is a question of building a house. It seems to me that the question of buildings need not be such a disadvantage. It is possible to prefabricate farm buildings, and, in some cases, to put up temporary buildings to enable a start to be made. What the man does want is the right start, with the necessary implements to work his land. So, I hope that the Minister will push ahead, and will press the county councils to go ahead, with the smallholdings scheme.
I was also interested to hear the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary point out the need of suitable land for smallholdings, and to hear that the county councils are to have power to acquire suitable land. But I am a little worried about this aspect of the matter. In every- 812 thing that we do, we ought to be able to justify our action on the ground of fairness. If, therefore, we are to acquire good agricultural land from the existing occupiers, then it seems to me that we ought to be able to pay these people the market value of their land. It would be penalising them if we did it on any other basis. Under the present Bill, it seems to me that the Minister could acquire the land at other than its present market value. The same applies to demonstration farms or farm institutes, and, again, speaking from practical experience of this matter, I know that it is difficult for any agriculturist when we come along and say, "This land is ideal for the purpose for which we require it. We want good land. There is the land, and the site is suitable. But, if we use our compulsory powers of purchase, or if we negotiate, then it must be on some basis other than the price at which the owner could sell the land to someone else." I would ask the Minister to look into that point a little more closely, so that we may be able to pay the same price as anybody else, and so that the smallholding schemes, farm institutes and demonstration farms should not start on a basis of something being done which is unfair to the person who previously owned or occupied the land.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
That is a very serious statement to make in the House of Commons. Do I understand from what the hon. Member has said, that he wishes a farmer, who is approached to provide a smallholding, to sell the land in question to an incoming purchaser at something less than its market value?
§ Mr. Dye
That is not what I wish, but that is the position at the present time. I am asking that it should be changed. I could give a recent example as a member of the agricultural education sub-committee in regard to looking for a farm suitable for use as a farm institute. When the matter was referred to the district valuer, he was limited in the price which he could offer to the existing holder.
§ Sir P. Hannon
That is very important. Does the hon. Member mean to introduce a new principle in the acquisition of land for smallholdings, in that a farmer, who now has a piece of land which he is invited to concede for a smallholding, should sell that land at a reduced price?
§ Mr. Dye
I am not asking for that; I am pointing out that that is the position under the Bill now before us and the position today. I am asking, on the basis of fairness to existing owners and to agriculture, that, in this Bill, the Minister should give consideration to that alteration. I think that it is a fair point to make, and I hope that in the Committee stage we shall have a chance to put the matter right.
The continuation of the system of control through the county executive committees is a point on which I should like to make a few comments. During the war, these committees were autocratic bodies. They worked under an autocratic Minister in order to get the food production necessary during the war. But, in peacetime, it seems to me that we must be more democratic in our methods of administration, so far as agriculture is concerned. These committees should act as the servants of the industry, and not as the bosses, and that spirit must be introduced into their operation. I think that the way in which the Minister is proposing to work—by asking for nominations from representative bodies—is a beginning on the right lines. To ask for representative nominations from farmers workers and landowners is a beginning in the way of a democratic approach to the problem, but it does not go far enough. I should like to see the Minister give equal representation to the farm workers as to the farmers, because, whatever might be the investment of farmers and landowners in the industry, unless we can get the workers of this country once more, not only to take an interest in their work on the land, but also a pride in it, we shall not be able to lift agriculture out of the rut into which it has fallen and create for it a clear and firm future. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to keep an eye on the appointments to these committees from year to year, with a view to bringing in more representatives from among the workers and smallholders, and others in the industry, and not just leave it to the two hitherto larger partners, the farmers and the landowners.
Although I believe that secrecy might have been necessary during the war, I do not think that, for a permanent peace-time method, we should have secret meetings of committees in this country. 814 There must be a chance for the committees to make some kind of report locally, so that the people in each county may know what their committees have done and what those members of it whom they have appointed have carried out, and to have a chance of making up their minds as to whether they should nominate the same people again. Therefore, it seems to me that there must be some opportunity for these committees to make a report to the people who originally nominated them. As we know, the county executive committees will be closely tied up with the new national advisory service, and it is most important that the right kind of spirit should operate, both through the advisory ser-vice and the executive committee.
Quite apart from this Bill, there has been some criticism of the agricultural policy. It seems to me in present circumstances when hon. Members opposite criticise the food policy of this Government, as was done yesterday and as has been done on former occasions, and when they infer that it is unwise for the Minister of Food to purchase dried or frozen eggs abroad instead of the necessary feedings stuffs with which to feed the poultry of this country, they are being a little unfair. Does anybody believe that, at the present time, or during the past year, there have been large quantities of feeding stuffs available in this country—maize, wheat and other cereals—which have not been purchasd by the Government abroad? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Hon. Members opposite have had the chance, time and time again, to give information and facts in regard to that matter. We know quite well that there has been a shortage of feeding stuffs and of human foods throughout the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "And transport."] Yes, and there is a shortage of transport. But when hon. Members, who are farmers and, therefore can have unlimited supplies of fresh eggs on their own breakfast tables criticise the Minister for bringing in the only available eggs in the world at the present time, it seems to me that they are hitting below the belt. We know quite well that all farmers are un-rationed as far as eggs or any other foods which they produce on their holdings are concerned. Therefore, when farmers, and Members of Parliament who are also farmers, speak publicly on this 815 matter, as many have done, they ought to be more careful in the interests of fairness, both to the country and to the Government.
I can understand the feeling of joy with which hon. Members opposite like to see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture solving the problems of British agriculture which they, as a party, so completely failed to solve in the past. At the General Election, they could not even put before the country a plain, straightforward policy in their agricultural divisions. They have hesitated to come to decisions vital to the welfare of British agriculture and of the country as a whole. Divided they have been among themselves, and incapable of putting forward an agricultural policy for the nation. I was very interested to read a report of a speech made by my late opponent in my division at the General Election who is an expert on this matter, since he was not only for 12 years a Conservative Member of Parliament but was also a member of the party's agricultural committee in this House. I refer to Mr. Somerset de Chair. This is what he had to say about the party opposite:The party lost the agricultural seats in counties like Norfolkthey lost a lot there—because they failed to produce a long-term policy tor the industry. Mr. Hudson had promised such a policy, but disagreements in the Cabinet at the last moment prevented it being innounced.This is in reference to the last Election.Thus Conservative candidates could only offer farmers security of the 3½ years which was still left to the Coalition Government's four-years plan, whereas the Labour Party made it dear that all the wartime arrangements such as the Ministry of Food and guaranteed prices of production would be continued indefinitely. By the failure to announce the long-term policy the Conservative Party virtually admitted that they were not ready to carry on the conduct of affairs after the war in a field which had always been of fundamental importance to Conservatism.Those on the Benches opposite must be feeling happy, sitting there without much responsibility and seeing the Minister of Agriculture wading through his hard task of producing such a splendid Bill as this, trying to solve the problems and making sure the foundations of prosperity for British agriculture.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
I do not feel that I can join in the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) about this Bill, but I do join with many of my hon. Friends in thinking that this Bill will, undoubtedly, command general support for many of its provisions. It contains a good deal that is open to criticism and much that is intricate and involved. Like my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), I hope that it may be improved as time goes on by Amendments on the Committee stage. It will be generally agreed that the policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets is wise, and so, too, are the system of fixing prices well ahead and also the Government's objectives of stability and efficiency, though I think many of us would like to know in more detail how the Government propose to attain those latter objectives. It is not, however, with these matters that I propose to deal today.
It is with the question of controls and the county agricultural committees by which, under the Minister, those controls will be mainly carried out, that I wish especially to deal today. This Bill envisages one vast system of control. Nothing can be done, it appears, without the Minister's authority. In every Clause we find "the Minister may do this," "the Minister may authorise that," "the Minister may direct" and "the Minister may give or refuse permission." Every man, woman and child in the industry, every building, every acre and every living or growing thing upon it will be found in the octopus-like embrace of the right hon. Gentleman and his minions and, incidentally, of the Minister of Food who, in certain cases, assists him in that embrace. In wartime a considerable measure of control was, undoubtedly, necessary, and some measure of control may be, and probably is, necessary in peacetime, but to multiply and intensify controls as is done in this Bill is unnecessary and unjustifiable. Control can only be justified where it is proved to be essential. Is there any such proof as regards very many of the controls imposed in this Bill? I think there is not. In return for accepting control, farmers receive an assurance, very rightly, of stable and remunerative conditions. But no such assurance is given to landowners who now also have to accept control and 817 under a number of Clauses, as it seems to me, an excessive amount of control. Moreover, besides accepting those controls, in very few cases do landowners get even a reasonable return on their capital invested in the land. An efficient farmer is promised security of tenure, boat there is no such promise for the efficient landowner, and there are many efficient landowners.
Some of the Clauses, moreover, give excessive powers to the Minister without adequate rights of appeal for the landowner; for instance, those Clauses dealing with dispossession of owners and with compulsory acquisition of their land. While controls will be mainly administered by county agricultural committees, to which I shall have a word to say a little later, yet very much must depend on the attitude of the Minister and the direction which he may give to those agricultural committees. While I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's attitude will always be fair and reasonable, I wonder if we may be equally sure that the attitude of his potential successors, or some of them, will be equally reasonable and fair, and whether the attitude of all the officials who may act in his name will be fair either.
In effect, the war agricultural executive committees are to continue in their new form as county agricultural executive committees. But they have many additional functions thrust upon them. I think it is acknowledged that in most counties the work of the war agricultural executive committees was very successful, and that their members were indefatigable and self-sacrificing in the discharge of their duties. In some counties, however—I think in the minority of counties—this was not the case, and I believe in those counties the trouble was that the committee members were not, in all cases, practical agriculturists in whom those with whom they had to deal, and especially the farmers, had real confidence. Moreover, some of them, through pressure of work, were apt to leave everything to their officials who in their turn were often not very highly qualified. The supply of the right type of man was not very large; many were engaged who were not highly qualified or experienced, and some of them, perhaps, were not overburdened with tact.
I suggest, therefore, that the personal factor is of great importance. The mem- 818 bers of these new committees, apart from the Minister's nominees, are to be representative of various bodies, and I would say that that is all to the good. But what will really matter most is that all the members should be, as I have said, practical and experienced agriculturists in whom the farming community will have real confidence, whose advice they will gladly take, and from whom they will accept instructions and decisions.
It is of importance, too, that their officials should be well qualified, and that they should also be tactful in carrying out their duties. But however good the committees may be, there is a limit to the amount of work which they can efficiently carry out, and I believe that that limit is really much exceeded in the proposals under this Bill. In a big county —and the work in a big county is necessarily very much more extensive than the work in a smaller county for a committee of, I think, exactly the same size—the work of the war agricultural committees now occupies at least three days a week, working morning and afternoon. It must be remembered that the members of those committees are unpaid, and have their own affairs to look after. I wonder, then, how they can be expected to cope with the far greater amount of work which it is proposed to throw upon them by this Bill. Is it not almost certain that, even if sufficient of those practical and experienced men can be induced to undertake these increased duties—and it seems to me that in future that is no certainty —they will be bound to leave more and more in the hands of their officials, with the inevitable result of a multiplication of those officials, with their accompanying and unwelcome mass of forms, returns, surveys and restrictions, and with the certainty also that the work will be less well done than if it were done by the members of the committee themselves?
Everything in this Bill—as I think the Minister has said, and as has been repeated today by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—stands or falls by first-rate committees; they are the backbone, so to speak, of the working part of this Bill. If they are to be first-rate they must not be given more work than they can be reasonably expected to undertake. Therefore, I suggest, as one means of lightening the work of these committees, that the county council agricultural committees 819 should not be abolished but should continue to function, thus relieving the county agricultural executive committees of at any rate part of their proposed duties. Provision is made under the Bill for approved forms of contract of tenancy. I suggest that effect should be given to such con-tracts or leases by the parties concerned and their agents, and that only in the case of disputes should the county committees be called in. It seems to me that that again would save much of the time of the county committees, and would ensure that they were only called in to deal with matters which could not be adequately dealt with by the usual means which have been the custom in agriculture. Owner-occupiers, whose difficulties were referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), would, I agree, have to be required to satisfy the county committees that they are observing the principles both of good estate management and of good husbandry. However, I do not think there need be any excessive amount of work put upon the committees in that way.
Finally, I suggest, every county committee should be required to publish annually a report of its proceedings and a statement of accounts. Far more should be made known of these subjects than has been the case in the past. No doubt in wartime it was necessary that these county war agricultural committees should be the instruments of the Minister, and that they should work, so far as the general public was concerned, more or less behind a screen. Very little was known of their proceedings; and I do not hestitate to say that nothing was known of what they spent, which may have amounted to a very considerable sum. I suggest that those reports and those accounts should now be published. The more that is known about the proceedings of the committees the stronger will be their position. Again, I would urge the Minister not to put more work on to the committees than they can reasonably be expected to manage. To do so would be to risk the breakdown of the whole system.
My object in speaking tonight was to deal with the questions of control and of the county executive committees. I would, however, add a word or two about agricultural land tribunals, which are complementary to the county agricultural executive committees. I believe these 820 independent tribunals will be generally welcomed; but in spite of what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, I think there should be a right of appeal to a court having at any rate the status of a high court. It may be the fact:—I think it very likely will be the fact—that there will be very few appeals. None the less, if there are appeals, and differences of opinion on such important matters as, to instance only one, dispossession, then I think it is only fair that a full appeal should be allowed to a person who is to be dispossessed of his property. There will also be some major decisions of the Minister which might well be the subject of an appeal. I have dealt with the two subjects with which I set out to deal: First, controls, which I believe are in many cases excessive both in number and in effect; and, secondly, the county agricultural committees, about which I would again ask the Minister to be sure that he is not putting more work upon them than they can properly do themselves, without the entire work falling upon their officials.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Lavers (Barnard Castle)
It is with pleasure and a great deal of pride that I support the Second Reading of this Agriculture Bill. I have the honour to represent the largest rural constituency in the county of Durham, and I am very confident that responsible farming opinion in the North-East of England welcomes the Minister's effort to legislate for the future of agriculture. I have read many Press reports of farmer's meetings, and they confirm such a viewpoint. I think it is true to say that praise for the Bill extends to many other parts of rural England. Certainly there are points in the Bill which axe subject to criticism, and they can be taken in detail, but they are mainly Committee points. Today, we are debating the general provisions of the Bill. It is pleasant to note that the National Farmers Union and the Agricultural Workers Union, who both represent very important parts of this industry, support the main principles of the Bill.
As the "News Chronicle" agricultural correspondent stated:The Bill is the outline of an agricultural policy which may endure for a century.I claim that the Bill is not just of special interest to our rural community, but is of great importance to the townsman and the industrial worker. The Bill makes a 821 great positive contribution to the whole of our economic life. Obviously, a piece of legislation concerned with food production is of great importance to the nation as a whole. Moreover, industry and agriculture are inter-dependent; they are both part of the same economic system, and a breakdown in one has a corresponding effect on the other.
In the dark days of depression before the war, the lack of purchasing power of the unemployed workers in County Durham, and the other distressed areas, affected the wealth of the farming community. We had the terrible and tragic paradox of people wanting food, and yet farmers were not encouraged to grow it. We should never return to those days. A planned economy calls for a planned agriculture. I am certain that the increasing purchasing power of the British people, through the proposed social services, full employment and a fairer distribution of the wealth of the nation, will lead to an increasing demand for good farm products,' which can be supplied by our national industry. This Bill challenges history. It is the first attempt to plan the agricultural industry and provide a positive peacetime programme. The history of British agriculture has been marked by a series of crises. Between 1875 and 1914, the number of people engaged in agriculture fell by no fewer than 500,000.
The war of 1914–18, which followed, gave the industry a period of artificial prosperity. Farmers and farm workers became valuable men, and we remember the Corn Production Act of 1917, which guaranteed prices for wheat and oats, and also the giving of some degree of a guaranteed wage to the workers. Then peace came, and with it came the inevitable depression. Hon. Members opposite have a terrible responsibility for the decline and depression of our oldest and greatest industry. Thousands of workers left the land, and farmers were. faced with tremendous financial difficulties. Good land went out of cultivation, farm buildings became derelict, land drains became choked up and acre after acre of good land went out of cultivation. No ardent Tory can say it was due to Socialist planning; it was an indictment of Capitalism. We cannot allow history to repeat itself. Our farmers and farm workers made a great contribution in the winning of this war, and they must never again be let down as they were in the past. I feel 822 sure that they will have everything to gain from this comprehensive Measure. As a former member of a county council, I particularly welcome those parts of the Bill which deal with small holdings.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
Is it in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for an hon. Member to read every word of his speech?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
It is not permissible to read a speech. It is possible, however, to make reference to notes, but one hopes that these references will be short and not continuous.
§ Mr. Lavers
I am pleased to note that Clause 45 will permit county councils and county boroughs to undertake smallholding schemes for the localities they administer. As far back as 1892, the Small Holdings Act empowered county councils to create smallholdings. In 1908, another smallholding and allotment Act was passed, and under it county councils were given powers to purchase. In 1919, another land settlement Act came into operation, and in 1926 the Small Holdings and Allotment Act placed upon county councils a certain financial responsibility. In the year 1931, the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act gave the Minister certain powers to provide smallholdings, particularly in those areas where the county councils had proved dilatory in this matter.
If we look at the history of smallholdings, it will be seen that county councils have had an opportunity to provide for land settlements. Here I would quote a progressive county which has taken advantage of the various Acts to which I have referred. I am referring to Durham, which is progressive in most things, including agriculture. It was only the coming of the war which stopped further progress in the county of Durham. It has 70 estates, covering 6,606 acres. The number of holdings is 526, and the number of tenants 1.557. In addition, they have 76 group-holding schemes, comprising 1,374 plots in operation, where the tenancy of the land is held direct by the local associations; these are equipped, stocked and supervised by the County Council. At the present time the County Council has a waiting list of 852 applicants for 20,172 acres, and it is a safe estimate to say that fully 80 per cent. of these applicants 823 would prove successful smallholders. It may be stated that a 50-acre dairy holding was recently advertised by the Durham County Council, and that they received no less than 248 inquiries. The majority of the applicants were of such a fine type, with necessary experience and capital, that the selection committee had an extremely difficult task in selecting the tenant. The man selected on approved merit had been an unemployed miner, who had worked himself up from the Council's quarter-acre holding to a five-acre holding, and now has sufficient livestock and capital for the larger holding.
I do not want to disagree with the policy of the Minister in bringing in people from the industry. That policy has been followed in County Durham, but I do not see how we are to get the necessary recruits from the farming profession. The policy of the Durham County Council, in dealing with smallholdings, has been to give examiners, who are past working in the mines, the chance to develop a new technique, and I suggest in no uncertain way that they have not let the county council down. My information is that there has been some difficulty in obtaining land in Durham, due to the action of colliery companies in taking over farms in order to pay compensation for surface damage caused by underground working. Much of this land is of good quality, and highly suitable for smallholdings, and now that these colliery undertakings and their land have been nationalised cannot the land now be made available for smallholdings? In the past, smallholdings were regarded as palliatives for unemployment. In 1935 the Commissioner for the Distressed Areas offered local authorities financial assistance for land settlement. I trust that we shall never repeat that experiment, because I feel that with full employment there should, be no need for such palliatives. Moreover, smallholdings policy should be determined primarily by agricultural considerations.
In conclusion, I suggest that this Bill offers to our farming community something real and positive. It will give the industry that stability which is so necessary. British agriculture must have stability, and the opportunity to provide our people with the best food it can produce. I am reminded of the words of 824 Henry George, the great social reformer, who wrote, in "Progress and Poverty":Material progress cannot rid us of our dependence on land. It can best add to the power of producing wealth from the land.I beilieve that this Bill will meet the needs of our great population in that direction.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Bury St. Edmunds)
Owing to the shortness- of time perhaps the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Lavers) will excuse me if I do not refer to any of his points in my speech. Like other Members on this side of the House, I welcome this Bill as being a possible framework which will give the farmer the stability that is offered by it, but I must remind the Minister that it goes far beyond the proposals that were made at the joint conference of the Royal Agricultural Society. The frills and bits put on go much further than was envisaged then. Even when this Bill first appeared, support from the farming community was by no means 100 per cent. Farmers are looking and asking for far more outspoken assurances and explanations than have appeared in the Bill. Yesterday, the Minister told us something in his nice, pleasant, way, but there was little more in his speech than has appeared in the Explanatory Memorandum. Many of the doubts which have appeared in the farmers' Press have not been assured. In fact, the Minister appeared to be like a skilful skater who glided around the obstructions and snags that appeared on the ice. Today, his Parliamentary Secretary was slightly more bold, and got a little nearer to those places, but he still did not answer many of the questions which farmers are longing to have answered. I think it is apparent from several speeches which have been made by Members opposite, who quite openly admitted that they were not happy with less than absolute out and out nationalisation of the land, that this Bill is a step to try and placate various individualist farmers. There will, therefore, be more doubt, and more clamouring for detailed explanations.
Part I of the Bill, as we all admit, is the absolute meat on which the whole Bill depends I hope that tonight the Minister who winds up the Debate will be able to promise that before the Measure becomes law we shall be given a draft programme 825 of what this country is expected to produce in, say, the next five years. I hope the Minister will tell us how much our pig, poultry, egg and milk industry is expected to turn out to feed our people. I hope we shall be told how much the country is to provide in the way of horticultural produce, excluding the very special out of season vegetables or fruits that come from hotter climates. Can the Minister give us an estimate of the quantities of grain, sugar beet, and home grown meat which will be paid for under the guarantee during the next five years? If he can do that before the Bill gets much further, farmers will feel much happier. They will feel that there is something behind the guaranteed price, something they can trust, something that will allay the fears that are aroused in them when they hear the Minister of Food making his remarks about buying his food in the cheapest market in the world.
I would also like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he himself has said that the entire success of this Bill depends upon the maintenance of mutual confidence, and that without good will on both sides its machinery just will not work. He is asking a lot; he is asking for the good will of the farmers and not giving, in return, the information for which they are asking. The whole Bill, in spite of the number of times in which the Minister's name appears in it, and in spite of all the officials he will employ, will depend on the agricultural committees, on the voluntary efforts of the men who will run the show in each county. The right hon. Gentleman has given them a great deal to do, and unless they can have the confidence of the farmers and landowners they will not be able to carry out their tasks. The result will be that they will give up the work, so that the Minister will have to hawk the jobs around and will probably get second-rate men who do not know their counties or agriculture. These men will become the complete "stooges" of the Minister, using the powers which have been given in the Bill to force on to farmers some-thing which they will not have. If that happens the Bill will fail.
I pass to Part V—Clause 79 onwards— of the Bill, which deals with the acquisition and management of land. Here, again, I feel that we want some drastic amendment and alteration. The Minister 826 says that it is necessary to have all this acquisition for him to get full and efficient use of the land. Unless he is very careful it will act in reverse. The State farms are not the only means of providing a ladder for promotion. They will provide the ladder for a few. The smallholding farmer, the tenant farmer and the owner-occupier also provide another step in the same ladder.
Clause 80 is one of the shortest Clauses in the Bill, and it is the only one in which the word "research" appears. I think that it could not have appeared in worse circumstances. It says that the Minister has power to acquire compulsorily land needed for research. What effect will that have on the mind of the good farmer? The farmer who gets his land in first-class order and has good buildings has a threat hanging over his head that the Minister will say, "This is just what I want for research." I have been screaming for more research, but do not put it under the heading of compulsory acquisition. When I was in Sweden last summer, I was particularly struck with the research work there, and the money being spent on research. I think that the Minister, who was there not long before I was, will bear me out. A great deal of money was being spent there on research. I visited many farms, and the farmers were all most enthusiastic concerning their country's research work for agriculture. They all said that the money was well spent, and that in the long run it saved them thousands of pounds. Further, they said that they looked to our professors and scientists to give them the initial research and data which they could test out. They said that we had the finest men in the world, but they had not been provided with the land on which they could carry out the tests and trials necessary. Agricultural tests and trials for research purposes need a long time to make them fool proof and conclusive.
One of the excuses for compulsory purchase under Clause 81 is that the Minister says that owners and fanners in the Fen districts and other marginal districts cannot be expected to provide the necessary capital fully to equip those areas. I would point out to him that these men are a very important step in the agrcultural ladder. Many of the Fen farmers came from smallholdings. By hard work, they and their families built up enough to buy a farm on 827 more suitable land. If this land gets into the hands of the State, these young entries will not have the same chance as they had before. They may not have the equipment, and they may not be able to pay for the equipment, but in the years to come the Fen lands cannot go on producing the intensive cereal crops which they have done during the war. In many cases, the land is not good enough and is already "blowing" badly. These farms are more suitable for the mixed farm type, where not so much machinery and not many good buildings are necessary. In that area, the Minister will do very serious harm if he insists on compulsorily taking over some of the land which has been farmed by the war agricultural committees during the war. It was promised then that it would go back to the owner, and the Minister will lose a tremendous amount of prestige and support if he breaks the word of the Government.
Clause 101 deals with the provision of goods and services. I think that during the war we were all agreed that the best way was for the war agricultural committees to run their own machinery and their own agricultural goods. Now that must stop. We must see that the ordinary methods are used for supplying the farmer with his goods and services so that the small man may have a chance to get on. The providers of these implements and goods are already in existence. There are hundreds of thousands of ex-Service men who are first-class mechanics and engineers. We have seen in the Press, quite often, about the mobile workshops moving out to the farms to service tractors. These are the men to be encouraged. It is the men stepping on to the ladder whom the Minister wants. The ploughman who has learnt his job with the tractor, and who has managed to put away some of his wages and buy his own tractor, is the man who will go round to the small farmers who cannot afford their own. He will do it far more.cheaply and economically than this big State machinery service.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Clifton-Brown
There is nothing to prevent him, except that once we have a State service there are always 828 priorities. There is always the privilege by which the State service can get in by the back door, and get that little bit which the average man cannot get. If the Minister thinks that he can supply the services in that way, he will lose the support of every fanner in the country.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
So far, no hon. Member has been brave enough seriously to attack the Bill. Even the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) was very mild in his criticism—so much so that I would not be surprised if before the end of the Debate, the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) appeared in his place to pay a tribute to the Minister of Agriculture for having introduced the Bill. One hon. Member on this side of the House has complained that the Bill contains no reference to the nationalisation of the land, and there has also been criticism that some of the compensation provisions are far too generous, but the criticism has been of a very mild character, and there have been more bouquets than brickbats. Indeed, the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) felt called upon to warn the Minister that when all men speak well of him, he should beware.
I am not surprised that there has been this unanimity of opinion in regard to the Bill. It is a good Bill, and it is easily the best Bill that has ever been introduced in the House in the interests of the agricultural industry. At the same time, while there has been this pretty general measure of praise and appreciation from all parts of the House, I have detected a veiled undercurrent, if I may so put it, in the expressions of appreciation from hon. Members opposite. I am not surprised at that, because I realise that hon. Members opposite must be thinking what a splendid opportunity they have missed. We are discussing now a Bill which one would have imagined the party which has always claimed to represent agricultural interests would have presented long ago. The Conservative Party had ample opportunity to do so, but they never did so, and now they say how much better they could have made the Bill. The fact remains, however, that they did not do so when they had an opportunity.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture said yesterday, this 829 Measure is proof that the Government intend to keep their promise made to the electors at the General Election. This is no panic Measure brought in prior to a General Election. The General Election is some three and a half years ahead— [Interruption.]I am quite certain of that. This Measure is the implementation of a policy that has been advocated for many years. It represents the Government's determination to give to the agricultural industry, which employs 1,250,000 workers, and the main raw material of which consists of 80 per cent. of the land of this nation, the status and stability which the industry has the right to expect, but which it has lacked up to now. As a Member of a central agricultural wages board and of a county committee, I have been in the fight for decent conditions for agricultural workers for many years. I was in the fight that we had to make, I regret to say unsuccessfully, after the last war, when the then Minister of Agriculture, a member of the party to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough belongs, brought in a repeal Bill to do away with guaranteed prices to farmers and the wages board for agricultural workers, with the result that agricultural workers' wages were reduced from 47s. 6d. to 25s. In those days there was once more to be seen hanging in the village branches of trade unions the text:Lord have mercy on us, and keep us all alive.There are nine of us for dinner, and food for only five.They remained on those low rates of wages until 1924, when the Labour Government brought in the Agricultural Wages Regulation Act of that year.
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent the situation; I think he ought to say that the Corn Production Act repeal was undertaken by Mr. Lloyd George's Government.
§ Mr. Wells
It was a Coalition Government with a Conservative Minister of Agriculture. It was not until 1924, when the Labour Government introduced the Agricultural Wages Regulation Act, that agricultural workers began once more, very slowly, to force up their wages, 6d. here and 6d. there; but not once in the whole of that time did the farmers of their own volition come forward with an offer.
830 Any increase that was won was won as the result of the votes of the appointed members of the county committees being cast with those of the workers' representatives. There was, therefore, the position at the beginning of the war that skilled men engaged in agriculture in this country were working a 50 hours' or a 52 hours' week for 36s. I do not blame the fanners entirely for that, because they, too, were let down by the action that was taken immediately following the last war. Thousands of them were in the hands of the moneylenders. I knew of instances where a farmer could not buy a plough, build a fence, or even increase the wages of a cowman, without getting permission from the local bank manager to do so. The position of low rates of wages for agricultural workers was not remedied until the present Foreign Secretary, when he was Minister of Labour during the war, told the House and the farmers organisation that he was not prepared to put agricultural workers under the Control of Employment Order unless they were accorded a wage of 48s. a week.
I have referred to how hon. Members opposite treated agriculture after the last wax, and it is because of that treatment that we lack sufficient skilled men on the land today. It is no good hon. Members opposite blaming this Government for the shortage of agricultural manpower. It is they and their party who drove three out of every ten agricultural workers off the land in the period between the wars. Is it realised that for years it was possible for a farm worker to leave agriculture, go into some other industry for a few weeks, and then, if he had a wife and two or three children, to receive in unemployment benefit more than he would have got for working a full week at his trade of agriculture? It is perfectly true that some men might go back to farming today, as has been stated by hon. Members opposite, if there were more cottages fox them. But wages today are not 32s. a week—they are 80s. a week, and though the treatment now being meted out to agriculturists in these proposals may be thought inadequate by some, no better proposals have been put forth. Certainly there is in them no betrayal of agriculturists. The farmer and certainly the farm worker, will not be slow to draw an obvious comparison. Last time we had a Bill to repeal wages boards and guaranteed prices; this time we have a 831 Bill to place them on a permanent basis. I had evidence within the last week of how rapidly the Conservative Party is losing its grip on the countryside. I was at a village meeting in connection with this Bill, and replying to the questioner, I said, "No Labour Government will ever depart from the principal provisions of this Bill. They will never dare to do so." "No," said the questioner, "but my party may be in power after the next General Election."[Laughter.]
§ Mr. Wells
I am so sorry that the noble Lord the Member for Horsham cannot comprehend the point. That is his misfortune and not my fault.
I said I did not blame the farmers entirely for the inadequate wages which were paid. I believe there was much in what they said in reply to our frequent applications for increased wages. They said that the industry in which they were engaged was a gamble; that the dice were always loaded against them; and that the uncertainty as to price and market plusunfair competition from abroad, was far too much for them. In this Bill they are being given, in the words of the President of the National Farmers Union, the machinery for a stable future in the industry. This time there is no betrayal, neither is there a blank cheque. There is a recognition of the peculiar position of agriculture, its importance in the life of the State, and an attempt to give it the assistance it deserves so that those engaged in it, farmers and workers alike, will, at least, secure a just return for the skill and labour which they put into it.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Sir John Barlow (Eddisbury)
As the time at our disposal this evening is so short, and there are many would-be 832 speakers, I will be as brief as possible. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) made some reference to the importation of eggs, and suggested that it was a wise policy on the part of the Government to import dried eggs, instead of importing grain and corn to produce the eggs in this country. I feel, as President of the Accredited Poultry Breeders' Federation, that I cannot let that go unanswered.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman does not give way the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) has no right to interrupt.
§ Sir J. Barlow
I am informed that 345 dozen eggs can be produced in this country with imported grain or maize at a cost of £15. I am told that the dried egg equivalent of 345 dozen costs some £45 in various parts of the world. I maintain that the feeding- stuffs were available during the past summer and that it was the business of this Government to procure them and bring them to this country to produce the eggs here.
§ Sir J. Barlow
It is infinitely more economical to produce them in this country. I should like to add a word in regard to the reduced number of poultry in this country. Poultry, especially high class poultry, are reduced to a very dangerous level, and the quantity of chick feeding allowed for this spring will probably hardly maintain the accredited flocks in this country, which are most important for the increase of our poultry after the war.
I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the very excellent speech he made this afternoon. He had a grip of the whole position which I think must have impressed us all. When he 833 has the time available I should very much like to see him taking a farm, and doing it all in an equally practical way. That part of his speech which was devoted to smallholdings interested me particularly, because I feel that smallholdings will play a great part in agriculture in this country. We know that production from small farms is far greater on the average per acre than from large farms. The hon. Gentleman has told us that 75 per cent. of the necessary capital can be provided. He has also told us that 75 per cent. of the loss—the annual loss I presume—can be met by the Government, but he did not tell us how long this 75 per cent. loss will be met by the Government. It seems to me that a small owner might go on making continued losses at the expense of His Majesty's Government.
There is also the case of the small owner-occupying farmer owning perhaps 200 acres, who for some reason may have dilapidated buildings and who may have difficulty in putting his farm or his house into proper working order. According to this Bill, the Government may, quite rightly, ask him to spend money, and a considerable amount of money at that, on his farm. If he does not pay it, they may ask him to vacate the farm and let it to somebody else, or, in the last resort, they may forcibly take it from him. It seems to me that people with farms of, say, 200 acres might be well advised to get rid of them immediately, and go to holdings of rather smaller acreage, when the Government will put up 75 per cent. of the capital required and for an unlimited period 75 per cent. of losses incurred.
I have no doubt that it would not be quite as easy as that, but I feel that we are entitled to some exact explanation of how this financial machinery is going to work. Yesterday the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) painted a deplorable picture of a landlord who, I gather, almost annually put up the rents, especially against his good tenants. The hon. Gentleman gave us more than one instance, and while I am not questioning the accuracy of what he said, I maintain that it is mischievous to suggest that that is typical of our landlord system in this country. We all know that such things have existed among landlords; there have been bad farmers and bad workmen, but they are not typical of British farming. I believe that British farming and all 834 those connected with it have, as a rule, adopted a very high-minded policy indeed, and I personally deplore the fact that such instances should be rut forward as being typical of any one section of the industry, because I do not believe that that is, true.
This great agricultural industry cannot be regarded as comparable with any other industry in this country. Agriculture was the basis of our national wealth and prosperity before any factory was ever built here. Rather more than a century ago there were nearly a million farmers on the land, probably far more than there are today. British farmers were the leaders of world farming at that time—the Cokes of Norfolk, the Collings, and all the great breeders and improvers of cattle, sheep and horses, were renowned the world over, and British agriculture had a very great name When considering the temporary depression in the recent past we must not think that it is typical of British agriculture It has had a very great past, and I believe it will have a very great future. British agriculture is essentially an industry with a slow turnover; probably the average turnover of the capital concerned on a farm in this country is not more than once a year. To an industrialist that is deplorably slow, but we cannot hasten the seasons; we cannot grow two crops of wheat in a year, and we cannot accelerate the period of gestation of a cow. We can only improve the crops and the strain of cattle, and achieve greater results by those methods. For that reason, it is unwise to think of British agriculture as a modern industry in any sense of the word. It has had a great past and if it has the mutual goodwill of the people of this country I feel that it will have a very great future.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Woods (Mossley)
The Minister of Agriculture must be quite embarrassed by the reception which this Bill has had not only here on Second Reading, but generally throughout the country, particularly among the agricultural industry. I should also like to congratulate him, knowing as I do that he has made agriculture his own baby, as it were, and has made it his contribution in the Labour movement towards an understanding of, and an interest in, the problem of agriculture. It must be a very great source of gratification to him to be able to present the Bill at this time.
835 I have listened to the criticisms from both sides of the House, and have read the reports of those which I was not present to hear. I am very much impressed by the fact that many of them are not actually criticisms of the Bill; they show apprehension as to what might be, rather than what is actually contained in the Measure. An excellent illustration of that was given in a recent speech by an hon. Gentleman opposite when he made reference to the Clause which gives the Minister power to acquire land for research purposes. The suggestion was that when a farmer has made a success of his land he will be living under constant fear of its being acquired by the State. That is just stupid reading of the Bill, and seeing that this is a tremendously important matter, it is up to all of us to deal with realities rather than with fictions. One can understand this to some extent. It has been a tradition in this country that the rural areas were in some way naturally conservative, and that they were the strength of the Conservative Party— the stable political element in the life of this country. I have taken part in a number of elections in rural constituencies, including those which I have fought myself, and I was always distressed by the way representatives of the party opposite in their propaganda tried to present an antagonism between town and country, maintaining that they were the party which represented the country and that the Labour Party merely represented groups of factory workers. I had hoped that that was ended for all time and that, as we have come through two wars and are still up against a world shortage in food supplies, it would be realised that agriculture is as much a matter for town as for country, and that the prosperity of the town is vital to the success of the countryside. This Bill is an effective reply to the stupidity that the Labour Party is a party of factory workers.
Among the criticisms with which I find myself in agreement is that made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). It is not very often that I find myself in agreement with him, although I very often appreciate his contributions to Debate, but I think that his criticism of the Title of the Bill was justified. As I see it this is not an Agricultural Bill in the big sense; it is, as the right hon.
836 Gentleman said, rather an Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I would suggest that that is almost inevitable as things stand. We have to deal with what is more or less chaos at the present time, and the suggestions made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman have only extended those miscellaneous provisions. The second point made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was that this must be viewed in the light of changed financial and economic circumstances. We are now a debtor nation. I would like to see this problem faced in a much more realistic way as an economic one confronting the people of this nation, both town and country. Whether we like it or not, there are only so many acres available for agriculture. Furthermore, that acreage is totally and utterly inadequate to feed the people of this country, which means that the fullest use has to be made of every acre. It is an economic affair, because not only are the acres limited, but the actual purchasing power of this country is limited, too. What we require to buy abroad should, as I see it, be very carefully assessed, and then that which can be produced on the land in this country should be produced in the most economical way possible. Not only has agriculture to be integrated with the whole of our industry, but I would like to see some Clause in this Bill which provided for the integration of British agriculture with Dominion agriculture, so that we might look at it as a vast English-speaking family with democratic traditions and a standard of living which has to be maintained and improved throughout the whole of the British Commonwealth. At the present stage, this is like asking for the moon.
One or two aspects of this Bill give me serious misgivings. The first is the implication that agriculture will continue limping on crutches provided by the State. There are subsidies, allowances and provisions for making up deficits and so on. Those may be required temporarily and are probably inescapable during this period of world shortage, but agriculture is a fundamental industry, and we cannot deal with our fundamental industries by providing them with free State funds. They must stand on their own feet. I know many farmers intimately and hold them in esteem and affection, and I can say that the best type of British agriculturist wants to stand on his own feet. He resents the implication that his industry cannot be 837 run so efficiently and successfully as to be able to foot the bill, pay decent wages, meet all the outgoings and enable those engaged in the industry to have a good life and to respect themselves as being in no way tainted by any touch of pauperism. This has been clone. In Denmark, where the bulk of industry is agricultural, farmers have held their heads relatively high even during periods of depression and by very efficient organisation and utilisation of all resources available they have made themselves a valuable asset to the whole of Europe. I believe that agriculture can be made economically sound without subsidies.
We have heard a good deal from the Opposition and the Press of suggestions that agriculture will be subject to dictatorship. I think that is inevitable. There must be some effective control, and the most enlightened farmers recognise their national responsibility to produce those commodities which are necessary. An assessment of those commodities should concentrate on the national foods such as liquid milk, meat, eggs and poultry, fresh vegetables and fruit. There is no reason why we should spend money importing the things we can produce in this country just as well and as economically as they can be produced elsewhere, and that is particularly the argument in reply to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Sir J. Barlow) who spoke about turnover in poultry farming. Incubators can be kept going all the year round, and pig breeding is not just an annual event, so that there could quite speedily be a very considerable increase in the volume of pork, bacon, eggs and poultry in this country if it were laid down as a national policy and prosecuted.
I would like to make a suggestion to the Minister and the House in view of all this talk of dictatorship. Such considerable concessions have been made to the industry in this Bill that I have a feeling that some interests associated with agriculture as landlords or farmers may be able to hold the rest of the community in the hollow of their hands. I have one or two questions to put to the Minister. Under his scheme the central commission has power to fix prices, presumably to restrict competitive imports and to find assured markets for the home produce. I have seen no provision in the Bill for any effective appeal against the price fixed on 838 the part of either the distributive agents or the consumer—
§ Mr. Collick
I am not quite sure to what the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Woods) is referring when he talks about a central commission. I am not aware of any sort of central commission under this Bill.
§ Mr. Woods
I am referring to the organisation set up under Clause 1. In the Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933 there was provision for the consumers to make representations, and in other Measures which have been passed —such as the Coal Nationalisation Act— there are provisions for the consuming interests to be consulted, but nowhere in this Bill is there provision whereby consumers, as consumers, are consulted or where they can make an appeal against any of these vital decisions. I hope there, will be assurances on this point.
I am very glad to see the adequate and: excellent provisions for the extension and the consolidation of smallholdings. There have been agricultural enthusiasts who believe that the smallholding is the solution-to the agricultural problem. That is sheer nonsense, but the smallholder can, as demonstrated in the Evesham area, play a very substantial part in solving our problem. I am very glad to see that the Minister will have power substantially to help. It will give satisfaction to a very large number of friends of mine to see that the Government will assist them in applying co-operative principles for making their smallholdings pay.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
It is with great pleasure that I follow my constituent, the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Woods). Most of the speeches today and yesterday have centred round two words, "security" and "efficiency." I suppose the hon. Gentleman's Socialist colleague who sits on the Brains Trust would say, "It all depends on what you mean by security and efficiency." Quite clearly the hon. Member's idea of security is something very different from that put forward by the Minister of Agriculture. It is a security depending upon a strait-jacket, and a Gallup Poll of the members of the Co-operative Society or the nation, as to whether the Minister is right or wrong in his guaranteed prices. We have attached importance not only to the 839 security of price, but also to the security of markets. I listened with great interest to the answer of the Parliamentary Secretary on that point. I do not think he dealt with the point as to the extent of the guaranteed market, and I hope that the learned Solicitor-General will try to give us in precise terms, what is the Government's plan for the size of the market for the industry.
I turn to the third security, the security of tenure Hon. Members may say at once, "Under Part III the tenant-occupier is being given very great security of tenure." I welcome that, but that is not the whole of the argument. Under Part II, both the owner-occupier and the tenant-occupier are having their security of tenure gravely threatened. After all, any one who farms or manages his land may fall out with the Minister or with the committee of the Minister, and then they will be liable to be put under a supervision order immediately. The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) said yesterday that a good citizen never fears a policeman. That is quite true. If you have a good conscience, you do not fear a policeman. Why? Not merely because you have a good conscience, but also because of the fact that if the policeman acts in a high-handed way, you have your redress in court. The policeman is the embodiment of the law which you respect. Here, in the matter of the supervision order, there is not that redress.
To my mind, placing a man under a supervision order is very like the system of placing a man on probation in a criminal court. Surely, if you are to take away a man's good name, you ought to give him the right of appeal to a tribunal? It is not enough to say, "After all, it is merely the first step in the expulsion; on the last step we give him that right of appeal." The damage is done at the beginning, directly you take away the man's good name. It is registered as a local land charge. You are taking away something which, to the owner-occupier and the tenant farmer, is more priceless than anything else in the whole world. I beg the Government to reconsider that point and to give anyone affected by a supervision order a right of appeal to the Agricultural Land Tribunal. I believe that to be vital to this Bill.
Let us be quite sure about one point, that this Bill will place disproportionate 840 burdens upon the owner-occupier. There are many cases in which a man has invested his small means in a house and a few acres of land. He is farming those few acres but the prime purpose is the house, which is his home. It may be— I know it is in certain cases—that those few acres are not farmed so efficiently, at such a high standard, as land farmed by a rich owner-occupier, or a tenant farmer under a rich landlord. Under this Bill, that man, after having been under a supervision order for a year, can be forced off those acres and also out of that house. That is a terribly great hardship. When I came back in 1943, I found that some of my constituents were in exactly that position. The smallholding was their home, and had been their home, perhaps, for many generations. These men have an unfair position under this Bill. If they had not got those few acres, they could not be turned out of their home, unless alternative accommodation was found for them. I ask the Government to see that in this Bill there can be an appeal to a county court judge from those parts of the orders that relate to the house, because that, I believe, is the right way of looking at this matter. After all, the present Government cannot claim that there are such large numbers of homes in rural areas under the dispensation of the present Minister of Health that these people will find no difficulty in getting alternative accommodation, and it will mean leaving these men without a roof unless something of that kind is done.
I want the House to consider for a little what is the most satisfactory system of land tenure in this country. I know that I shall disagree with many hon. Members opposite, but it is a good plan to put our points of view, and voice our disagreements in this Chamber. To my mind, the most satisfactory system of land tenure in this country is that as many as possible should own and farm their own land. I believe that to be good, not only for the health, but also for the character, of the nation. I am distressed to find, in reply to a Question today—hon. Members will find it in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow—that the Parliamentary Secretary said that his right hon. Friend did not think it would be wise to take active steps to encourage farmers to become owner-occupiers. It is clear that in this Bill that step is not 841 being taken. When a large estate owner has been dispossessed, in my view we should allow that farm to be bought, first by the occupier. Let him become the owner-occupier and bring that farm round. But that possibility is not in the Bill, and I can see nothing in this Bill, and nothing in the whole of the Government's attitude, towards encouraging owner-occupiers.
What is the most undesirable form of land ownership in this country? I believe it to be ownership by the absentee landlord, and this Bill will encourage such ownership very largely. The owners who will survive under this Bill are the rich absentee landlords, the corporations and, principally, the State. Why do we regard absentee landlord ownership as undesirable? Because that form of ownership destroys village community life, and you tend to get the position of multiple farming—the position of one successful farmer who has the ear of the agent or the committee of the absentee landlord. He tends to get farm added to farm, until he has a big multiple farm. That is very bad for the social life of the country, and it is equally bad for production, because your small owner-occupier is producing more per acre than your large multiple farmer.
I hope the House will take thought of that change which will come in the life of Britain if this tendency continues. I know the advantages and the disadvantages of the State absentee landlord. The disadvantage is that the State has not the knowledge of the eccentricities of the particular farm, as has the owner-occupier or the small landowner. The advantages are that a State has, apparently, a bottomless purse, pays no taxation on profits, and never publishes any accounts of its farming or management. I have been over some of these war agricultural committee farms, and I have been astonished at the lavish expenditure on improvements and felt very envious. I have asked what the cost was, and what has been the economic return on expenditure. Hon. Members know that the answer can never be given in figures. Parliament never knows on one farm, or on the whole lot, what has been the economic return. From my experience of management and farming I would be surprised if the State had got a good investment from what had been done. Is 842 that not absolutely wrong? We should demand in this Bill, if the State is to come into this great experiment of farming and management of land, that proper accounts should be presented annually to Parliament. If hon. Members believe in nationalisation of land, let us not take the money out of the taxpayer's pocket, if he never sees how it is being spent.
The Government, under Clause 16, take powers to purchase land compulsorily and give a right of appeal to the Agricultural Land Tribunal. They need not use Clause 16 at all, as they have, in Clause 81, a way of getting all the agricultural land they want without appeal to an agricultural land tribunal, at the fictitious 1939 values which were quite different from those of today. But the Government go further, and, in Clause 82, they commit a breach of promise. I believe that Clause to be a dishonourable Clause. The Minister, when in office in 1941, gave a pledge on Clause 10 of the 1941 Act which he is now repealing. He said at that time:The fact that we are given extraordinary powers to deal with landowners, tenant-farmers or owner-occupiers, scarcely justifies us in [...]ying that in all sets of circumstances the land taken over should not at least be offered back to the original owner, if he can satisfy the advisers of the Minister, and the Minister himself, that he can and will farm the land according to the rules of good husbandry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th Oct., 1041; Vol 374, c. 1313.]
§ Mr. Turton
I am glad of the interruption, which shows that the hon. Member never read the Bill I have quoted. Under the 1941 Act, the Minister had only power to resell if he were satisfied that the man to whom the farm was to be sold would farm according to the rules of good husbandry. That is the provision the Minister is now trying to override in this Bill. After all, we want more than security of market, and security of price, we want security of promise. If the Minister breaks that pledge, he can break any other pledge in the Bill. Unless that Clause is removed, I regret that I shall feel compelled to vote against the Bill on Third Reading.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
I would like to take the point made by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Sir J. Barlow) and the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) regarding the importation of dried eggs. They appeared to think that 843 it is possible at the present moment, if we import food, to feed hens to produce all the eggs that are required. I must point out that there has been a great reduction of poultry stocks in this country, and that before the eggs can be provided, it will be necessary to produce the hens. Something like six to nine months must. elapse before the hens begin laying. The Ministry is faced with either purchasing the food, in order to grow the chicks to produce the eggs in nine months' time, or providing the people with eggs now. Because the people require eggs immediately, and not in nine months' time, the Ministry are making these purchases now. I also believe it is a fact that the transport of wheat was impossible at the time- this foodstuff was required, and could not have been purchased in any case.
The question has been raised of supervision orders given by the Bill to war agricultural committees. The last 12 months of the supervision order is the last limit which is placed on the farmer under supervision. That is the time when he becomes aware that he is under supervision. As the Minister pointed out yesterday: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 634.]The county committee must therefore inform the man previously, must have tried previously to get him to increase his cultivation, and finally, as a last resort, place him under supervision for 12 months. In that I think there is ample opportunity for the farmer to recover his position, if he can recover it. In my opinion, if it becomes necessary to place a farmer under supervision he will never recover, because he is one of the type who will make no effort.
There are many points of interest in this Bill which have been discussed at length, and one finds it difficult to make a new point. I will, therefore, be as brief as possible in order that other hon. Members may take part. I view this as a large administrative Measure, which is balanced on the security of a guaranteed price. Provided that that position can be retained, the Bill will succeed in 844 its object, but the test will come when the harvest fields of the world are in full production, and producers are looking round for a market where they can dump their surpluses. In this world of fast contracting boundaries, it is becoming increasingly clear that internal legislation is influenced by international actions, and the action of the World Food Organisation may affect the process of this Measure in our country. I view the Measure, therefore, not only as the foundation of security, but as a safeguard to our farmers and to the agricultural community in general, against the impact of external projects. It places the responsibility of a guaranteed price, whatever the circumstances of the world may be, fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of the Government of this country, so that the farmer, in producing his commodity, will no longer be placed in the position of having to combat the imports brought into this country from the surplus of other countries. The Government will have to guarantee the price, take into account the extent of the overseas markets and have to guard against the importation which would undermine the foundation of this Bill. That I consider to be a guarantee of major importance.
Secondly, there is the assured market. This is also a welcome feature. The urban dweller fails entirely to realise the position of a farmer in making his contribution to the foodstuffs position of this country. Unlike the industrialist, we are not in a position to hold the commodity we produce until the market is ready to pay us the economic price. Our commodities go bad on our hands unless we can sell them when they are ripe, or when they are ready. It is essential, therefore, that we have an assured market, where we can bring our produce, and get rid of it before that takes place. The assured market is of equal importance, to the farmer, as the price, and it is complementary to the price.
We are apt to underrate the power of natural recovery in this world, even after the most devastating war. The great shortage of wheat, from which all nations suffer, was due not so much to the failure of the wheat harvest as to the failure of the other harvests—the maize harvest in South Africa and South America, the rice harvest in India, in Burma and in China, which made those countries draw upon 845 the wheat of the world, which previously they had not taken. It only requires a successful wheat harvest to be obtained in America, and, in addition, a successful maize harvest and a successful rice harvest, and we shall once more have as much grain as we require. That is the position which Sir John Boyd Orr has pointed out—that it is possible for us, in 1947, when the grain harvests are reaped, to have on our hands a surplus of wheat. Therefore, I think that the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture is right in not emphasising too much the wheat harvest of this country at the present time. Even at this moment the difficulty is not so much a shortage of wheat as a shortage of transport. If we had the transport to bring the wheat from the American Continent to this country we should not be in the position in which we are at the present time. So we must recognise that the natural recovery of the grain harvests of the world may come much quicker than we expect.
I welcome indeed the promise by the Minister in this Bill of an assured market. These factors always operate in peacetime. They will no longer directly affect our agriculture as it concerns the individual farmer. These factors will be caught, shall I say, by the international buffer of the world food organisation, which will act as a balance to spread the surplus over those countries which require it. The assured market is, therefore, dependent on the manner in which the world food organisation works, and part of the responsibility for the working of that organisation rests with the Government. There we have the position so far as guaranteed prices and the assured market are concerned. The responsibility from henceforth rests no longer with the farmer to find his market, to take any price that comes along; it rests with the Government now, in view of the control they are taking over agriculture, to provide both the market and the price.
May I give one instance of how it has, in the past, affected the agricultural community? Some years ago I remember taking, along with a neighbour, some fat lambs to the auction. The butchers had a ring—they had a ring in many auctions. We took these lambs into the ring, and they reached a figure, prewar, of 26s. each. We talked things over between us, and decided to walk them home. We took them out of the ring and set off to walk home. 846 One butcher after another caught us up and offered a little more, until we had reached a figure of 35s. We talked it over again, and decided that if they were worth 35s. they might be worth a little more. We walked them home, and the following week we killed four of the lambs and hawked them from door to door. We made 58s., selling them at the butchers' price, and we had the skins left. We were unable to continue, because it was illegal, and the butchers informed the local authority of what we were doing. We now have a position when we can take our stock to the fat market and know what price we are to get.
Turning to the primary products which fall under this Bill, the assured market for all these products will undoubtedly rest on the standard of life of the people of this country. The higher that standard the greater will be the demand for those products—milk, eggs, vegetables, meat, etc. The responsibility for the standard of life once more rests with the Government. If they hold the responsibility for the price, for the market and for the standard of life, then they have the right to have some control over the farmer, the landlord and the land. So far as the limitation of this market is concerned, and the demand which has been made by some Opposition Members that the Minister should say how big this market is, it is impossible for him to say that. No one knows how much milk will be consumed when all the milk which is required is produced.
No one knows how many eggs will be consumed, with the higher standard of life which we have today. We must also look at the fact that today we are teaching children to drink milk in the schools of the country. They are growing to like milk, and they will demand it later on. I wonder if hon. Members know how much milk children will drink if they get the chance? Ask any farmer. We had five children in our home and I remember my wife once telling me that we had run out of milk. I told her that we had had five quarts that morning and she said they had used it. Our family went through five quarts a day. When they get to like milk, children will drink it. We have also to look at the fact that our adult population was also coming to like milk in the prewar years. There were milk bars throughout the country. I once went into a milk bar when milk was plentiful 847 and I found a glass of milk cost sixpence. Being a farmer I measured it, and it took three glasses to make a pint—is. 6d. a pint—12s. od. a gallon. The farmer at that time was receiving is. 3½d. per gallon. If the price of milk is brought down to a reasonable figure in milk bars, there will be a tremendous extension of milk drinking. We do not know what the market for that product will be. So I say that for these primary products there is a market which so far cannot be gauged.
I will close on a point mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) concerning houses and rural amenities. This is a very vital question indeed, and we have to look at this Bill as one part of a great plan which covers housing, electricity, transport and so on. I do not think that we shall solve the labour problem in agriculture simply by building houses; there are so many other factors involved. We are now educating our children up to 14 years of age, or 16 in the grammar schools, and the former limit is to be raised to 15. The children of the countryside are now being educated to like the full amenities which education brings, and are developing a love of art and literature and science. Unless as a nation we equalise these amenities throughout the country, and do not concentrate all our technical and scientific institutes in the towns along with the community centres, libraries, theatres and concert halls, our children, as they are educated, will gravitate towards those centres in order to satisfy the hunger we have created in their minds.
Therefore, it is essential for us to disperse these things throughout the length and breadth of the country, to create in the countryside the amenities which the towns possess, or else produce such a system of transport that it will be possible for the people of the countryside to take advantage of all the amenities of the towns by means of quick and easy travel. Taking the plans of the Government as a whole, covering agriculture, electricity, transport, water and so on, I think we shall be able to balance our countryside with our towns and produce a happy and contented people, this Bill being part of a uniform and national plan.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr, Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
From the opposite Benches we have been 848 told to drink more milk. I am all for that, but we have also been told that the party represented on this side of the House has done very little in the past for agriculture. I do feel however that we have had something to say in regard to Part IV of this Bill. The provision of smallholdings was part of our election manifestos, and our Members have spoken on many occasions on this subject. But I noticed that in his speech in November, 1945, when he advocated his agricultural policy, the Minister did not mention smallholdings. I therefore very much welcome his inclusion of this provision in this Bill, and I feel that hon. Members on this side have done something towards putting it there. If the Minister's smallholdings policy is considered to be good, we might have been able to produce something a little better. But I think hon. Members on all sides of the House are agreed that it is difficult for us to compete with the wide open spaces of other countries in growing wheat and other cereals. In this small island, however, we can very well produce the concentrated goods—eggs, table poultry, bacon, vegetables and fruit—and these are the things which can easily be produced on smallholdings.
Unfortunately, in the past smallholdings have not produced economic results. It is true, as hon. Members have said before, that smallholdings produce more per acre than large farms, but they do not produce more per man or more per pound of capital, than large farms, and therefore are not quite so good in war, owing to the labour situation. But when smallholdings are grouped together, as is proposed in this Bill, they have in the past produced astoundingly good results. I hope that when the Minister introduces his smallholdings, he will see that they are grouped together and run on co-operative lines. If he cannot do that owing to building shortages and other difficulties, I hope he will go very slowly and steadily with them. They have been described by previous speakers as a ladder to better things. The labourer is encouraged to study his job and do his work well, in order that he may eventually become a smallholder. The smallholder is encouraged to become a farmer eventually, and I want to suggest one further stage, namely, that the tenant should be encouraged to become the owner. There is no provision in the Bill whereby a smallholder can ever own 849 his own land. If he gets a stake in the land he will become a useful citizen and proud of his possession. I would like to see some provision to enable him to own that land one day.
I welcome the selection of tenants. It is good that the farm labourer will be given priority all other things being equal. I' notice that the Bill refers tothose who, under Regulations made by the Minister, are to be treated as if they are so employed.By that we may take it that farmers' sons and daughters are included. I hope that farmers themselves are also included. There may be cases of two farmers in partnership who fall out with each other for some reason. The chance of the man who has to go out of that business getting a smallholding should be seriously considered. I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that he hopes to have only full-time people. It will be better for a man who relies on a little business, like a garage, to have a smallholding as a part-time job or a hobby. It will be difficult to legislate for those people, but if instructions are given as to the selection of proper tenants, the trouble may be overcome. It is right that the ex-Serviceman, for reasons given very ably by the Parliamentary Secretary, should not receive special priority. I hope that the ex-Serviceman will be given facilities to learn his job, as an apprentice to a farmer and later at a farm institute. It may take him a year or two to do it, but I hope he will be given every possible consideration. Buildings on smallholdings will be the chief problem. If they are in groups, as they should be, it will be necessary to have houses for the people. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will hold his own in getting priority for these houses from the Minister of Health. Eventually the Minister will want community centres, welfare schools and other necessary amenities.
I want to bring to the notice of the Minister the suggestion that he should equip the smallholdings with heated glasshouses. Enormous funds are spent at the present time on buying from abroad food which is produced in glasshouses in other parts of Europe. We have to produce a small amount of concentrated stuff. If the Minister will buy heated glasshouses, he will save a large amount of foreign exchange which is at present spent on buying commodities abroad. I hope he will 850 also keep tractors centrally, and implements, and even spare labour at the proper local rates. He may also keep seeds and young plants, to be supplied on co-operative lines. I hope that when people apply for these things they will not have to fill in many forms which they will not be able to understand, or which are of such a length that people lose heart and decide not to apply.
I notice in the Memorandum that it is proposed to carry out experiments in smallholdings. A great deal of taxpayers' money could have been saved by the advisers of the Minister taking trips to parts of Europe, and particularly to Denmark. In that country they started farming on land settlement lines some 20 years before the land settlement scheme was started in this country. I suggest that the Minister should take advice from them; a great deal of money might thus be saved. I would mention, in particular, compulsory purchase of land, in connection with smallholdings, at 1939 values. Values have gone up considerably since 1939. If the land is bought at 1939 values, and is then handed to the county council, that body is told that it must charge a full and fair rent at present-day prices. The county council will thus receive a bonus which it will not have deserved at all. Of course, it might happen the other way round in ten years time, but I do not want the landlord to have any unfair advantage. At the moment, county councils will have an unfair advantage. I, therefore, suggest that if land is to be compulsorily bought it should be at present-day prices.
I would mention just one general point. This country will never produce enough foodstuffs to be sufficient in time of war. We were caught very short at the beginning of the recent war. Not only had we no reserve of food but we had no reserve of feedingstuffs. I suggest that when the time comes, not now but as soon as possible, large storehouses should be built in this country, to store not only wheat but linseed cake and other cattle food. That will not only be a reserve in time of emergency, but will see us over a difficult period when we have to change from a peacetime economy to a wartime economy.
In Part V of the Bill I see the Minister is taking power to deal with pests. These powers include the destruction of rodents 851 and birds. Some of the pests are very numerous, and do much damage to the agricultural community. The farmer has had instructions already. The trouble is that the instructions are not carried out. Many stacks of corn are threshed in this country. They are supposed to have two feet six inches of netting all the way round, so as to catch and help to destroy the rats, but that has on many occasions not been done. If it is done, the netting has large holes in- it and is not much use. The Minister may make the excuse that he does not kill the rats because he is short of poison, or because his staff may be disinclined to kill rats, preferring to stay in Whitehall. The rats take no notice of these excuses, and, every year, they do £5o million worth of damage to food in this country. I suggest that the trouble is that the killing of rats and other pests is decided between the Minister of Health, the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture. Now that a provision to deal with this matter has been written down in black and white in the Bill, perhaps the day may come when the Minister of Agriculture will take it into his own hands, and do the job really well. I hope that we shall get that assurance from the Solicitor-General when he winds up the Debate.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
We have covered quite a lot of ground in this two day Debate, all of which I have listened to with intense interest. It seems to me that the duty of the Opposition is to score points, and at this juncture in the history of the Session they have had great difficulty indeed in scoring any at all. In the short time which I have allocated to myself, I can speak only on one or two broad subjects. I am always very interested when the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) comes to the Box like the Wizard of Oz, because I know that he will take up some of our time in trying to find scoring points. Occasionally he succeeds, and the zombies in the ranks behind him cheer, as the Wizard manages to find a point.
I have taken the trouble to find the opinion of the National Farmers Union, and others, upon this Bill. It is agreed on both sides of the House that a little polish may be needed here and there. However, it cannot be denied that here 852 we have the Magna Carta of the farming community. I am considering the matter from the point of view of the entire countryside. I look first at the agricultural worker, whose conditions I want to improve, and then at the farmer, the owner-occupier and others. I pick up one of the agricultural journals, like "The Farmer and Stockbreeder," and I find it says that the outstanding feature of this Bill is the security of tenure given to the good farmer. We are legislating for the good farmer.
I have noticed that on three or four occasions during the Debate opposition has been expressed to Clause 82 and Clause 87, as though the Minister of Agriculture or the agricultural committees will use dictatorial powers and the poor farmer, landowner or tenant will have no possibility of appeal. When one examines these Clauses, it becomes crystal clear that the possibility of appeal exists. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) went into what he considered was an intricate analysis of the present price structure. If hon. Members read the speech of the Minister of Agriculture, on 18th January to the Council of Agriculture, they would see that there is not one point made by the Opposition throughout this Debate that was not discussed in that speech. The Minister gave figures of the gradual growth of manpower and discussed the problem of machinery. Hon. Members opposite have produced criticism and said that we were exporting machinery. We are exporting machinery to the extent of 25 per cent. in value, and not 25 per cent. of production. The Minister pointed out to the Council of Agriculture that there has been no difficulty with regard to the supply of dollars for the provision of spare parts for agricultural machinery. He pointed out that he has kept crawler tractors and combines in this country to ensure that the farmer was efficient. If we are asking the farmer to be efficient, we must provide the means to enable him to carry out his work. In this period of shortage the Minister has done that. I have brought that to the notice of the House, in order that the impression that the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers have forgotten this point, may not be spread abroad.
I have no time to go into further details about that speech. I know that two right hon. Gentlemen are to wind up this Debate 853 so I merely mention two other points in conclusion. The first is that if, in the past, the Opposition always had agriculture at heart, here was a place where they could use their business acumen and their economic talent. To quote figures from Colin Clark, it may be stated that in 1930, to produce £1,000 worth of income, a farmer needed] eight men and £11,000 capital; to produce £1,000 for shareholders and wage earners in industry in 1930, needed only £2,300 capital. My accusation against the Opposition is that they have never, in the past 40 or 50 years, encouraged British capital to go into agriculture. Far from doing so, they sought markets and opportunities for investment in cheap agricultural labour in the Colonies and abroad.
I am rather interested in this Bill, too, because, if we want a good farmer and a, good agricultural worker, we must see that his home is efficient, and that he has the opportunity of efficient living. I would like to pay a tribute to a section of the women of Britain who have been forgotten. We have remembered the land girls and the nurses, but the hard-working wife of the small farmer was, I think, forgotten during the war, and I would like to pay her a tribute. I know that the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough said that there was nothing about housing or electricity in this Bill, but it is all in the programme, and, when it comes, I presume that hon. Members on the other side of the House will come into the Lobbies with us in one bloc, in view of what they said yesterday on the need of the small farmers for modern amenities, in their homes, including water and electricity.
I will conclude with some lines which I once found on a tombstone—the epitaph of a poor old farmer's wife. It went like this:Here lies a woman who was always tired!She lived on a farm where help wasn't hired;The last words she said were Dear friends, I am going,Where washing's not wanted, nor sweeping, nor sewing,And everything there is exact to my wishes,For where folks don't eat, there's no washing of dishes;In Heaven, they tell me, loud anthems are ringing;But having no voice, I'll keep clear of the singing;Don't mourn for me now, don't mourn for me never,I'm going to do nothing for ever and ever.'854 If we look in Virgil's "Georgics," we find the line:Now the time has come to take off the yoke from the smoking horses' necks.This Government have done it. The party opposite had 40 or 50 years' chance to do it, but we have made it practicable in the twentieth century.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Major Haughton (Antrim)
I am sorry if I have to descend from the high realms of poetry, to the few very simple things which I want to say. The only parts of this Bill relating to Northern Ireland are Part I and Clause 94. The hon. Member who has just spoken seemed to regret that the Opposition was not more pointed, but I would remind him that good things are good, bad things are bad and indifferent things are just indifferent. So far as I am concerned, Part I of this Bill is good, and those for whom I speak in Northern Ireland welcome it wholeheartedly.
In days gone by, it was usual, in legislation of this sort, for Orders to be made by three Ministers—the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary—but, in the present Bill, orders can be made jointly or severally, and separate orders can, therefore, be made to suit the different countries. A complementary Bill will, of course, be introduced in due course by the Government of Northern Ireland. The inclusion of the Six Counties means that agriculture over there is assured of parallel treatment with that of agriculture in Great Britain, in respect of all the major commodities. Farmers in Northern Ireland will find no objection to the contention that guaranteed prices and assured markets must be coupled with efficiency. There has been a lot of research work over there which has been advantageous. One of the speakers on this side of the House regretted that more had not been said in the Bill about research, but research work has been going on in Northern Ireland on quite an extensive scale. Mechanisation has made headway, and the production per acre has increased. I am glad to say that the relationship between the Minister of Agriculture in this country and the Minister of Agriculture on the other side is effective, and that the relationship between the three farmers' unions cordial.
As a believer in the fact that the farmers, especially the small farmer, can 855 make a great contribution to the problems of the day, I was gratified yesterday evening to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) put up a well-reasoned and, I think, well-merited defence of the efficiency of the British farmer. In my view, he is capable of matching his skill and his production against any farmer in any quarter of the globe, and I think that the so-called inefficiency of farming in the United Kingdom is too often and too loudly spoken of. Therefore, I very much welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury said in the course of yesterday's Debate. What we all want. of course, is real stability for agriculture in the future. There, again, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury touched on a vital point when he said that the quantities, as well as the prices, that are expected from British agriculture should be stated. An hon. Member opposite said that it was unreasonable to suggest that maximacould be stated, because we did not know how much milk would be drunk, or how many eggs would be eaten, but I believe that, at any rate, minimum quantities could be put into the Bill.
The other point which I want to stress, and which led to some controversy and heat in the Debate, is the question of feedingstuffs. Hon. Members on the back benches opposite went so far as to say that information about the localities in which feedingstuffs could be obtained had been withheld from the Minister of Agriculture. That I hotly deny, because I believe that the Minister would be the first to agree that information as regards those things was supplied to him by hon. Members. I think that the two great things which we must strive for at the present time are a long-term policy of stability when cheap imports come knocking at the door and the immediate policy of producing as much as ever we can for the larder of this country. In conclusion I wish to repeat that the inclusion of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland in Part I of this Measure is welcome, and I am sure that the farmers in Northern Ireland thank the Minister of Agriculture for including them.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
As a Member for a Welsh constituency, I am 856 particularly glad to speak in this Debate because there is no part of the country in which a sound agriculture is more essential than in Wales. Over large areas in North and Mid-Wales one can see today what the decay of agriculture has meant in the depopulation of the countryside and the growing derelict of hundreds of villages. In my own constituency, the county of Merioneth, over 20,000 people have left the county in a little over half a century. Today, the population is only about 40,000; 50 or 60 years ago it was 60,000. It has been cut by half in 50 years, largely owing to the neglect of successive Governments to devote themselves to the well-being of the countryside.
As a Welsh Member—and I am the first to speak in this Debate, although I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) is also anxious to speak—I should like to congratulate the Minister on forming a separate Welsh agricultural land sub-commission. That is an excellent development which we would like to see emulated more faithfully in other Bills. The only comment I would like to make on the Welsh sub-commission is that I think its membership of three is rather small. The membership of the main commission is five. The Welsh sub-commission will have to deal with the same problems and also with peculiarly Welsh problems. One of the three members of this sub-commission will be a member of the main commission, and I hope he will be a Welshman, but I do not think we can get a really representative sub-commission unless its membership is extended. However, that is a point to be argued further on the Committee stage.
I must leave several of the extremely good points with which I had intended to regale the House this evening, because I have promised to be brief. Information will be welcomed on the manner in which these land commissions will manage the estates. I hope they will introduce an element of flexibility and sympathy towards the men who farm the land. For example, when repairs are carried out much can be saved in expenditure by delivering materials and using the skill of the farmer and his men, because by keeping cost of repairs down, although at the same time doing the necessary work, the rent can be kept low. My experience of farmers is that, although they prefer to be owner-occupiers, or sometimes to get 857 together and farm on a cooperative basis, as they wanted to on a certain estate at Glanllyn, Llanuwchllyn, they would prefer to be tenants of a public body instead of a private landlord, because although the rents are low in Wales, the state of repairs on the estates of the big landlords is shocking and appalling. I was glad to hear from the Bench opposite a tribute to the hard work which the farmers' wives have done and do while facing more inconveniences than any other women in the country.
We wish this Bill well, designed as it is to provide guaranteed prices and assured markets, but it must be remembered that it is essential to relate agricultural policy to general policy, and the two most important problems of agriculture at the moment are not prices but labour and the land. As regards labour, the White Paper published last week gave an estimate of the requirement as 33,000 men in labour alone. I think the National Farmers Union figure of 100,000 is probably nearer the mark. If we are to make the most of the land and revitalise the countryside, it is essential that this great number of men should be put on the land. I suspect that the policy of the Minister of Agriculture has been thwarted by the blindness of other Departments. In reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) in the Debate on the King's Speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that farm workers and farmers, with other members of the community, would be called up for compulsory military service when permanent conscription was introduced. That will have a prejudicial, perhaps disastrous, effect on the labour state of the industry. We know there is an essential and urgent demand for men. Yet, in my constituency at the moment there are several farmers who have asked for Italian prisoners of war to be returned to them. They are unable to get labour. The Italians want to come, and yet we cannot get them over here, because the Government Departments will not help. I asked the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Labour, and the Home Secretary, whom I was glad to see listening to so much of the Debate. The matter is being played off between one Department and another, and it is a shocking thing that when the country is short of labour for agriculture the Government should refuse permission for agricultural 858 labourers from other countries to come into this country.
The Minister said agricultural land was scarce, and so it is. Here, I speak with reference to the special position in Wales. Questions which my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) and I have addressed to the Service Ministers have shown that in Wales one acre out of every 10 is held by the Army or the Navy; the proportion is over three times as high as in England and Scotland. That is quite incompatible with making the most of our land for agriculture. I apprehend I would be ruled out of Order if I dwelt further on this subject. However, I wish to make a most emphatic protest, and the House will hear more of this from other quarters; Wales is united against it. It is inconsistent with a good agricultural policy.
In conclusion, it is essential that farmers should understand this scheme. This is a most complex Bill, difficult enough for a Member of Parliament and a lawyer to understand. I do not blame the Minister for the fact that it is complicated; it must needs be. What I do suggest is that popular handbooks or pamphlets should be published and circulated among the farming community, in English and in Welsh, so that they can understand the nature of the scheme. If farming is to be made a success it is essential that the farmer should not feel himself to be merely a cog or an agent, or the mere subject of directives from Government officials. He should be a willing, understanding factor and it is as such that he can play his part in the rehabilitation of the British and the Welsh countryside.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I am sure the House will forgive my taking part in this Debate immediately following another Welshman. First, I wish to welcome the Bill on behalf of the small farmers in Wales. I also wish to make one or two points which I think will be of interest to my own constituency, if to no one else, namely, in regard to the application of the Bill to the small farmers themselves. I hope they will not be forgotten in Part I of the Bill when fixing prices. Security of tenure is a very important factor. Only recently I have been reading the report of the Royal Land Commission in Wales of 1894. Out of 18 sittings in separate centres, in four counties in 859 Wales, I found that the largest amount of evidence was given with regard to security of tenure. In 1894, because of political and religious persecution, there was no security of tenure. But coming to 1946, what do we find? The landlords are not so bad about it, but we find that big vested and financial interests, the city people and the trusts, would, if they were able, dispossess our small farmers. I am glad that there is that security at the present time, and that they cannot be bought out.
I welcome any experimental schemes which will be made by the Minister in some of the uplands of Wales, not forgetting the important point of the production of seed potatoes in Wales, rather than importing them, even from Scotland. I also?wish to say a word of welcome about the goods and services Clause, which will be of great importance, despite what has been said by an hon. Member opposite. The war agricultural committees did a tremendous job in regard to machinery and implements which farmers cannot purchase themselves because of the high cost. That will be welcomed very much, particularly by hill farmers. The same cannot be said* about lime; it is no good saying they can get lime with a 75 per cent. grant when it cannot be got to the farms because of bad roads. On the question whether this Bill will help towards enabling the proper type of people to start on the land and make it a career, I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say such very good things about the smallholdings policy, particularly about the advisory committee.
Here are a few points to inquire into. Let not the county councils make smallholdings a side line. I ask the Minister to look into the proportion of holdings held under lease by county councils, and into the state of the buildings and equipment of the smallholdings committees. I am not one who wishes to add a great number of officials to the scheme, but please, let us have full-time and qualified land agents. In regard to the selection of tenants, let not the ex-Servicemen be disappointed that they are not on the priority list. The training scheme of the Minister should be made more popular, so that ex-Servicemen can join in this scheme and then get holdings as qualified and experienced men. Before we can ask people to take up a career on the land, we must have regard to the unsatisfactory 860 living conditions. I am disappointed, when looking at the reports of the National Farm Survey for England and Wales for 1941–43, to find some appalling facts. In 1941, for instance, there were only 40 farm cottages per 100 adult farm workers. I am disappointed to see, according to the monthly returns of the Ministry of Health, that the provision of houses in Wales is not what it should be. The rural district councils' record is bad, especially one of my own counties. I suggest that something should also be done about the rents which are to be charged for rural houses, and that if the policy of our own Government fails to produce the type of houses required at cheaper rents, something might be done to put the provisions of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act into operation.
Turning to electricity, I find that only 11 per cent. of the holdings have any supply. In Breconshire only eight per cent. of the holdings have a supply, and Radnorshire is at the bottom of the list with only one per cent. of its holdings with electricity. In the case of water, only 32 per cent. of the holdings have a piped water supply, 60 per cent. of the holdings have to depend on wells, the remaining eight per cent. having no supply at all. Surely, if we want people to make a career for them selves on the land, something must be done in these directions, and it should not all be left to the Minister of Agriculture, because some of his colleagues ought to do something in the matter. I agree with the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) that the Welsh sub-commission of three is not good enough for a big country like Wales, and I hope that I shall be a member of the Committee so that I can put down an Amendment to increase the number to five. I read with interest the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I was sorry I was unable to be in the House at the time, but I was isolated because the roads were impassable. I suggest that ha should have ended his speech rather differently, and instead of saying that this Bill "dies at the opening day"—we did not come here to bury the Bill, but to introduce it—it would be better for him to follow Members on this side of the House when going into Committee and we would say "Today is 861 the accepted day. Harden not your hearts, and join in having this Magna Carta for the land."
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lieut. - Commander Joynson - Hicks (Chichester)
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) will, I trust, forgive me if I do not follow him into the wild fastnesses of Wales in view of the experience which he suffered yesterday. I should hate to be landed there myself in case I had to dig myself out of the snow. I would like to comment on the concluding remark made by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. H. Davics). Never have I heard a classical quotation or paraphrase used in less happy or less fortuitous circumstances. The House will recall that in his concluding remarks the hon. Member talked about "lifting the yoke from the steaming horses." The whole gravamen of our objection to this Bill is that far from lifting the yoke, it is locking it more firmly on the agricultural industry and putting that industry in the stocks, and in every other sort of framework which can possibly be imagined.
The hon. Member for Leek, and other Members too, praised this Bill in extravagant terms. They referred to it as a farmers' charter and as the Magna Carta of the agricultural industry. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. Substantially, Part I of the Bill is merely the legislative perpetuation of the system which has been built up by trial and error during the war, whereby we have striven to attain what has been a recognised need —that farmers should have fixed prices and assured markets. Having said that, we have said about all that can be said in favour of this Bill. It has been referred to as a pillar, a framework, a structure, and a foundation for the agricultural industry, but every Member has avoided calling it anything synonymous with a complete entity. It is obvious that all that Part I of the Bill does is to lay a moral obligation on the Government to implement the pious hope which they have expressed that the future of British agriculture shall be prosperous. I shall not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill because, for a long time, I have striven and preached the need for fixed prices and assured markets for agriculture. But we should realise that until the Government come out open-handed as to the ways and means by which they 862 propose to implement the pious hope which they have expressed, the industry will not be a penny the better.
I would like to concentrate for a few moments on one aspect of the matter. I want to, call attention to the compulsory power of acquisition which the Bill confers on the Minister, and, in doing so, I ask the House to realise that this is no isolated instance of the conferring of compulsory powers. It should be regarded against the background of the other powers of the Government to acquire land, against the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, the powers in other Acts and in the Defence Regulations and those which are foreshadowed in the Town and Country Planning Bill, which we shall be discussing later in the week. I would refer to Clause 16, under which the Minister can compulsorily acquire land on the ground of bad management by the occupier, to Clause 17, under which he can acquire land because of bad husbandry, and to Clause 18, where he can acquire it on the ground of failure to carry out orders. These Clauses have been referred to before, and attention has been called to the fact that they do not make any difference, because the occupant, or landowner, has the right of appeal to the tribunal. That appeal is not worth anything and the Solicitor-General in replying will, I feel sure, show,' from the legal point of view, the sheer hypocrisy of pretending that there is any protection at all.
Clause 71 is very strictly limited in regard to its terms of reference. It provides:On any such reference the Tribunal shall determine whether the conditions as to which the Minister must be satisfied before taking the action are fulfilled.The conditions, in fact, are that the Minister gives a certificate that he is satisfied that there is bad husbandry, and the Minister's certificate is the answer to any appeal which the man could have to the tribunal under these Clauses. Before we leave that, I should like to stress the hardship under these Clauses to the owner-occupier. The owner-occupier is in the worst position of any member of the farming community, so far as the Minister's power under these Clauses is concerned.
I do not think it is generally realised that the agricultural industry is in a deeper state of indebtedness now than at 863 any time since 1931. The owner-occupier is generally a person without great financial backing and consequently often has an overdraft. He is, therefore, under-capitalised and over-drawn, and he may, in the event of falling into difficulties with the Minister or his agents under these Clauses, be turned out at 1939 prices and have his home taken away. The Minister can then make a profit on it, by letting it at 1947 rents. It is really not a fair or proper proposition for any Government to put up.
I skip the remaining Clauses about the acquisition of smallholdings, and come to the acquisition powers under Clauses 79, 80 and 81 References have been made to the acquisitional powers under Clause 80. It has long been the custom in almost every civilised couniry for governments to carry out research work, to bear all the expense of research necessary for the welfare of the community, and to lay the result at the feet of the community, so that they may profit by it. This Government adopt exactly the opposite procedure. They wait until some private individual, or combination of private individuals have made a success of their business, carried cut all the pioneer work and built up some profit-making concern and then they take it over. Is it surprising that we fear the powers conferred on the Government by Clause 80? The Minister said that the object of these powers of compulsory acquisition was to ensure the efficiency of the industry. One thing essential to the efficiency of the industry is confidence, and the one thing which the Minister undermines more than anything else by this Bill is the confidence of the agricultural community. Far from being a charter, this bill is a strait-jacket for the industry. If farmers think it is worth their while to go into the Minister's strait-jacket, let them do so with their eyes open. The Minister has ample powers to nationalise the industry under this Bill. He can acquire anything which he wishes and run the industry either in whole or in part. Let the farmers realise that state of affairs, and go into it with their eyes open.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Winchester)
The Opposition have been very hard put to it to find logical grounds for opposing this 864 Bill. They have struggled very hard from early yesterday afternoon until now, and even now they tell us they are not going to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and will reserve their criticisms for the Committee stage and the Third Reading. I think the most important criticism that has been made, among a number of trivial ones, was that made yesterday by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), who stated that he wanted to know, and the farmers wanted to know, the size of the market that was to be assured in this scheme for assured markets and guaranteed prices. That request has been repeated by other hon. Members opposite who have spoken subsequently. It seems to me that the answer to the question has been given over and over again, not merely by hon. Members on this side, but by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. The statement has been repeated that in this world of ours there has been, since time immemorial, half the population undernourished for lack of sufficient food, and that in future, if we are to run our affairs as a civilised, community, as part of a civilised world, we must envisage agriculture and the supply of food as being on a world basis under a world organisation, and not a parochial national one.
That is the issue which must be faced in the future. For the present, as the short-term policy, we can definitely say that in this country we can provide an assured market for every scrap of agricultural and horticultural produce that can be grown in this country. We want to increase the standard of life of our people. That means increasing not merely purchasing power, but the amount of goods, and particularly food, that can be purchased. The people of our country want to eat more meat, vegetables, bread, potatoes, milk, eggs and butter, and this Bill will enable increased production of all those commodities to come about. We want to see to it that our people have a greatly increased standard of life, and we want also to see that the people of the rest of the world share in that increased standard of life, and have greater purchasing power as well as greater consuming power. We want to do away with that narrow national outlook and substitute for it a world outlook, and avoid unmarketable surpluses of certain agricultural products by raising 865 world purchasing power, and not, as in the days before the war, by restricting supplies and destroying foodstuffs. In my opinion, the destruction of foodstuffs should be an international crime and should be scheduled as a crime against humanity.
Let me now turn to a question that has already been dealt with by certain hon. Members, namely, security of tenure. According to Clause 30, the Ministershall not be required to withhold his consent to a notice to quit where the owner wishes to use the land either for his own purposes or to be farmed by a child or grandchild.However, there seems to be a slight discrepancy between that and the statement made by the Minister yesterday, and I should be glad if this matter could be cleared up. The Minister said:If the Minister is satisfied that the owner intends to farm himself, or that he intends it for his child or grandchild to farm, then the Minister has power to exercise his discretion."— [OFFICIAL JREPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432. c. 638/39.]There seems to me to be very little discretion if the Minister shall not be required to withhold his consent. I should be glad if this matter could be clarified by the Minister who is to reply. I also consider that Clause 30 (4) requires a certain amount of strengthening. There will be the case of the farmer who will say he wishes to farm the land himself, or by his son or grandchild, and yet will use it for sporting and shooting, and leave the farming to bailiffs. That is happening now and I should like to see the Clause so strengthened so as to prevent it in the future. There are certain classes of farmers who will by-pass the law if it is possible to do so. There is another factor concerned with Clause 30 (4). I consider that protection is needed for tenants who hold tenancies under the Defence Regulations. Under Clause 30 (4) such a tenant can now receive notice from the farmer who washes to farm on his own account, or through one of his children. There are 47 farmers in Hampshire who are farming land under the Defence Regulations and who are wondering whether they will shortly be receiving notices to quit. According to Clause 82 (2) the Minister, who is himself occupying land under the Emergency Powers Defence Acts, is retaining those powers and not giving them up. I wonder whether the Minister would not extend to the farmer that same protection which he is taking for himself under Clause 82 (2).
866 We are serving directions and orders on farmers today, and we propose continuing to do so under this Bill, but it will be very difficult for the farmers to carry out those directions and orders unless more manpower is provided. The recent White Paper estimated that 33,000 more workers were needed in agriculture. We are satisfied that the Government plans for the future will bring civilised conditions into rural areas and make good past neglect by the Members of the Opposition. There is a lot to be done, a lot of leeway to make up, but we are going to do it and questions of housing, electricity, water, transport, education and other amenities will be dealt with by this Labour GÓvernment. In the meantime however something must be done to provide more labour almost immediately, and I should like to see more energetic action taken to deprive the Poles at present in this country of their present position as a privileged and leisured class in our society by using them far more on our land. [Interruption.]There are many people in this country who fought for it and we require them to work. We see no reason why the party of privilege opposite, should defend this other privileged class when there is work waiting to be done. A large number of Italian prisoners of war did very useful work in agriculture in this country while prisoners of war. Many of them would be glad to come back here and carry on with their work in agriculture. They would be doing the work for which skilled workers cannot be supplied, either by the agriculture committees or by the labour exchanges. This would be a very important factor particularly in our milk production at the moment. We would naturally expect adequate guarantees to be given to our own workers, that their standards would not be jeopardised by the introduction of foreign labour.
May I make a brief reference in the time which I have left to the question of horticulture? I am sorry that the Bill contains only a passing reference to horticulture, and I hope the Minister will not lose sight of the importance of that branch of agriculture. The production value of agriculture is about £140 million per annum, or 25 per cent. of the total value of agriculture while the productivity of horticulture yields £40 to £50 per acre as against £10 from general agriculture. I know there are problems of marketing and 867 distribution, but I think these can be dealt with and a large amount of encouragement given to the co-operative growers associations to deal with those matters themselves. I think, too, that special attention might be given to horticultural officers and that we should attract young and capable people by providing the right salaries for them, when we will see that the high yield and value of the products of horticulture would give us a good dividend in national wellbeing. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), who is a neighbour of mine but who is not in his place at the moment, remarked that the Bill gives the Minister more powers than he likes. He referred to it as "extending the octopus-like embrace of the Minister;" I would prefer to say that in this Bill.the Minister is extending to the industry a friendly handclasp, warm and affectionate, that is very different indeed from the "frozen mitt" that the Tories extended to it in the past.
§ 9.1 p.m.