§ Order for Third Reading read. (King's Consent signified.)
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I do not intend to detain the House for any length of time, not because the Government regard this Bill as unimportant; on the contrary, we consider that it represents a landmark in the agricultural history of this country. This Bill is the foundation on which we can build the future prosperity and efficiency of this great basic industry. I shall not speak at length because the policy and principles embodied in the Bill have been universally accepted, not only by the representatives of the industry, but also by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am justified in that assumption by the general support it has received from the main representative organisations and the general acceptance of its principles from all sides of the House.
Since the Bill was originally introduced, it has been subjected to very minute examination, both in Standing Committee and on Report stage. During the 25 sittings in Committee, many constructive suggestions were made, as well as other suggestions, which were not quite so constructive. I believe that the Bill has been improved as a result of the Committee and Report stages, where many useful suggestions were made, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking hon. Members in all parts of the House for their advice and assistance. Not unnaturally, we could not accept every suggestion made by the Opposition, because there are a few points where there is a fundamental difference of opinion. Hon. Members opposite, for instance, were not over-enthusiastic about land purchase, the Land Commission, control, or even statistics. I can only deplore the fact that even my crystal-clear explanations, and those of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), failed to remove all the latent prejudices of some hon. Members, although I suppose, 715 with a Bill of this kind, it is too much to expect absolute agreement on every conceivable point.
I should like to spend a few moments reminding the House of the basic principles of this Bill upon which the Government's agricultural policy is founded. We believe that if agriculture is to play its part fully and effectively in the national economy, we must provide for it a reasonable sense of stability and prosperity. We on this side—and I think there is general agreement on this—feel that by far the best method to ensure that stability and prosperity is by assured markets and guaranteed prices for its major products, and that is exactly what Part I sets out to accomplish. There has been some criticism and scepticism as to the intentions of the Government in relation to Part I. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), on Second Reading, said that the Opposition accepted Part I as an act of faith. What do these criticisms amount to? They can, I think, be concentrated into two points. The first is that the assured markets and guaranteed prices will apply only to commodities in the First Schedule, and that other commodities, particularly horiticultural products, are omitted. It has been said that it is unfair to apply the efficiency measures of Part II to horticulture without providing the guarantees under Part I. On Second Reading, I explained that the method of providing stability under Part I was not considered suitable for horticultural products, and that other measures would have to be devised to achieve the same object. I believe that the representatives of that section of the industry appreciate this. Moreover, Part I of the Bill covers no less than 75 per cent. of the total produce, which is a not insignificant proportion. I must remind the House once again that there is power in the Bill to add, by order, other products if it is thought desirable. I think, therefore, there are no solid grounds for criticism on that score.
The other main criticism, which was largely levelled by Members of the Opposition, was that assured markets and guaranteed prices were meaningless because there is power in certain circumstances to limit the size of assured markets for particular commodities. On Second Reading, I explained that the national 716 slogan for agriculture must be, for as far ahead as we can see, "A fully efficient and productive agriculture." We hope that as we gain further experience of the system of price adjustments, this will be sufficient to steer production into those channels which will best serve the national interest, but we cannot be certain that in all cases that will happen. Nevertheless, the Government, as the House would expect from a very wise Government—there have been occasions when the Government have been chastised for taking a second view in the light of apprehensions expressed here and there—have reviewed the whole problem, and they have reached the conclusion that, as far ahead as one can reasonably see, they are prepared to accept complete liability for assuring a market for the whole output of the guaranteed price commodities, with two reservations only, namely, sugar beet and oats.
In the case of sugar beet, the eligible quantity will be that which is sold under contract for delivery to factories; that is to say, the factory capacity will be the determining facor. The Government cannot be expected to guarantee a price for beet which cannot be processed. Oats constitute a special problem of their own. In the United Kingdom as a whole, only 23 per cent. of the total crop over the last five years has been sold off the farms. Normally, of course, the bulk of oats is used on the farms for feeding livestock. On some farms however, especially in Scotland, oats are just as much a cash crop as wheat and barley. The problem, therefore, is to fix a guaranteed price which will be fair to such farmers, without encouraging other farmers to sell off their farms oats which should be kept for their livestock. If the supplies of imported feeding grain become appreciably lower in price then there might be a strong temptation for the producer to sell all the oats he could. That is a contingency which we have to guard against, although I do not anticipate that for several years ahead there will he any possibility of large supplies of feeding stuffs at a price appreciably lower than oats which might make it necessary to limit the guaranteed market for oats.
Another reason for some reserve power in the Bill was that later on, based upon experience, we might feel disposed to add to the commodities in the 717 First Schedule. Therefore, while we accept at the moment an unlimited liability for the guaranteed price commodities subject to the reservations I have made about oats and sugar beet, we cannot here and now undertake to do so for any commodity which might be added to the list. It might, in fact, cause this or any other Government to hesitate before making such additions to the list. It must be remembered that this is a long-term Bill, and that we must not by hasty action do anything that would imperil the whole system of guaranteed prices. I am sure Members will not yet have forgotten the fate of the Corn Production Act, 1921. I hope that my statement will completely remove any misapprehensions there may have been on the Second Reading or in Committee.
Now let me turn very briefly to the other twin pillar of the Bill. If we are to give the industry stability we are entitled to expect the industry to become as efficient as possible. This is important, not only from the point of view of the industry itself, but from the point of view of the nation. It must be clear to all, particularly at the present time, that with the currency difficulties we are facing it must be a prime object of any Government to raise the standard of efficiency in such an important industry as agriculture to the highest possible degree. Therefore, apart from all the arrangements we have made, and are making, to provide landowners and farmers with all the up-to-date technical advice we can, we must have power to see that the land of this country is managed and farmed efficiently. Those in the industry who are unable or unwilling to pull their weight must make way for others who will. For this purpose, the Bill provides us with powers to insist on good estate management and good husbandry, and enables the State where necessary to take over, for full and efficient use, land which would not be developed if it was left in private hands. There is nothing terrible or drastic in these provisions. Adequate safeguards are provided for the owner and the tenant, and he can and will have his case fairly dealt with. It is a perfect example of control and discipline from within by farmers, landowners, farmworkers, and technical and scientific persons. Reasonably good owners or farmers have nothing to fear 718 from Part II of this Bill. On the contrary, most of them will welcome these powers, for the unwilling or incapable minority would otherwise always remain a menace to the majority.
The other main part of the Government's agricultural policy is to provide smallholdings for experienced agricultural workers to become farmers on their own account. This is dealt with in Part IV. We believe that everything that can be done to make a career on the land more attractive is of vital importance to the future of this industry. But it is not enough merely to provide the smallholdings. The experienced agricultural worker must have a chance of climbing the farming ladder at a reasonably early age, and for this purpose the Bill gives power to the Ministry to make loans to tenants of smallholdings for working capital. In Committee, I was asked whether I could give a broad outline of how such loans would operate. At that time, I was not in a position to give a detailed answer. I am glad to say that I am now in a position to do so. As Members will be aware, the Minister can advance up to 75 per cent. of the total working capital required for the proper working of the holding. As the maximum loans may be fairly large, we must not make repayments too heavy a burden on the borrower, and I am proposing, therefore, to lay down a general rule that the amount of a loan must always be determined by the borrower's capacity to repay, taking into account his personal qualities and the productive capacity of the holding. At the same time, we want to make sure that no applicant who is really suitable is debarred simply because he has been unable to save enough capital.
With these considerations in mind I am proposing, with the concurrence of the Treasury, to allow repayments to be spread over a fairly long period. The periods, of course, will vary with the nature of the loan. Normally, the period for repayment of a loan for seeds and fertilisers would be three years, while for fruit trees, livestock, or implements it would be six years. I hope that in most cases there will be no need to extend the period beyond 10 years, but to make doubly sure we propose to allow the period to be extended, where it is really necessary, to a maximum of 12 years.
§ Brigadier Mackeson (Hythe)
I would suggest that as cherries take a long time to come to fruition, more than six years would be required.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I hope I have covered the point by stretching the period where necessary to 12 years. The proposed rate of interest under present conditions would range between 2½ per cent, on the short-term loan of three years, and 3 per cent. on the 12-year loan. We shall expect no repayment of principal for the first year after the loan is made. This ought to help the smallholder to establish himself without calling too heavily on his own assets, or compelling him to live from hand to mouth. Where conditions are extremely difficult, we shall allow two years before the borrower starts with his repayments of principal. Interest will, of course, accrue from the date of issue of the Joan. In a word, the Government's aim is successful smallholders rather than impoverished willing slaves. As regards administration, clearly, the best bodies to advise are the smallholding authorities. They know their tenants, and can always keep an eye on them. They will examine all requests for loans and make recommendations to the Minister. They will issue the loans from funds advanced to them on my behalf, and receive the repayments in the first instance. Lastly I am considering, in consultation with the Treasury, the question of introducing safeguards to ensure that the loans will be used for the purposes for which they were advanced, that repayments will not fall into arrears and that wherever practicable security is provided. I trust that these arrangements will commend themselves to the House, and to the industry.
During our discussions in Committee, great play was made by some Members opposite, in particular by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York), about the question of statisticians, and their apparently insatiable appetite for information. Statisticians might, I think, be compared to ladies of easy virtue, for they are simultaneously condemned and much sought after. The statistical needs of my Department are exceedingly great, as hon. Members must appreciate. We are more or less responsible for marketing £600 million worth of food. We have to conduct an annual price review, and it would be exceedingly unfortunate, to either the farmer or the Treasury, if, for the want of essential information, we made errors in the 720 figures varying by £5 million or £20 million. As hon. Members ought to be aware, the perpetual questioner is always seeking more facts and figures, like the old time questioner who once asked what what was the price of wheat in England and of sawdust in Winnipeg. Because so many people want so much information the various kinds of statisticians have to be available and they do a grand job.
That is a brief outline of the basic principles which underline the Government's agricultural policy, as embodied in this Bill. This is one of the most important Measures which this Government have introduced during their period of office. There has been close consultation with the chief representative bodies throughout the building up of the Measure and its passage through this House, and I am hopeful that the same kind of consultation will continue for the purposes of administration. I believe that this Bill provides an opportunity for agriculture to stand in its rightful place side by side with other major industries of this country, and through the implementation of this policy we shall, for the first time, be able to look ahead with confidence to a stable, efficient, prosperous agriculture. A good deal has been said in the past about the shortages of houses, electricity, water, and other amenities. These things were never provided because there was never any real confidence in the industry. Once this Bill is on the Statute Book and this real cornerstone is well and truly laid, I think that houses, electricity, water and the other rural amenities will automatically follow. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
I am sure that the whole House will regret the absence of the Parliamentary Secretary to-the Ministry and wish him a speedy recovery. Both he and the Minister, throughout the protracted discussions we have.had on this Bill upstairs, have shown considerable courtesy to the Opposition, and we naturally feel better disposed towards a Bill where the Ministers have been friendly and accommodating, even though there have been scarcely any Amendments in its structure, than we would have felt had the Bill been in other hands.
The right hon. Gentleman, unlike some other Ministers, has no need to say comfortable and friendly things either to the 721 middle-class or any other class, for he has shown throughout his Parliamentary career that he cares more than a "tinker's cuss" for every section of the community, if that section is doing its best to pull its weight in our national life. None the less, we feel that the right hon. Gentleman has pitched the case for this Bill too high, and a great number of the Bill's apologists in the country have done the same. We did not oppose this Bill on Second Reading, and we do not propose to do so today, because the main part of Part I of the Bill is to continue in peacetime the policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) of guaranteed prices and guaranteed markets, and annual and special reviews.
We believe, that, apart from this, the case for the Bill has been pitched far too high. Provision is made in Part I of the Bill and in the First Schedule, for example, for fixing prices based on the cost of production. About 40 per cent; of the cost of production on the average farm is the cost of labour, and the right hon. Gentleman himself said that there is nothing in this Bill about either the provision of labour or any method of bridging the alarming gap between facilities and needs; nor is there anything about the fixing of labour costs. Prices are to be fixed by the Minister according to the cost of production, but labour and wages are still to be subject to free negotiation. It remains to be shown what difficulties may arise when these twin methods are used for arriving at costs. Again, there is nothing, as the right hon. Gentleman told us, about housing. It would be out of Order to deal with that in any detail, but we all hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his best influence with his colleague the Minister of Health to see that something on the lines of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act is again put on the Statute Book.
Again, the right hon. Gentleman himself inferred that horticulture is to suffer all the disabilities and penalties which this Bill involves without getting any of the security of prices or markets. Horticultural production in last year's figures is valued at 100 million, and that is a pretty substantial omission. Above all, there is nothing in the Bill in Statute form about the size of the home market for which the guaranteed prices are to be given, and branches of the National 722 Farmers' Union, after the first acceptance of the Bill, are beginning now rapidly to realise that it is on the size of the guaranteed market that everything else depends. Really all that Part I of the Bill does is to lay on the Government of the day a moral obligation to make the production of certain certified foodstuffs profitable, but in unspecified quantities. It is, I think, as well that farmers and workers alike should realise precisely what is the situation.
We were very interested in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman in which he gave still one more assurance—that everything in the First Schedule with certain exceptions—sugar beet and oats—would be bought at a fixed price by the Government. I am sure that he would be among the first to realise that Ministerial assurances are not worth a great deal in the uncertain world in which we live. We would have been happier if we could have seen something in Statute form. What is the agricultural community getting in Parts I, II and III of the Bill? On one side, it is getting a promise of a guaranteed market and a guaranteed price for an unspecified quantity of certain products, the fulfilment of which is very largely problematical; and, on the other side, it is accepting controls and penalties which are certain and definite. Once they have been imposed, will they ever be lifted or even ameliorated? Certainly not in the lifetime of the present Government.
It is on the size of the market that everything else depends. May I say, in opening this particular theme, that I think one satisfactory feature of the association of the Socialist Government with the agriculture has been the recognition by most of their responsible leaders that the food subsidies given today, to the tune of nearly £400 million, are not subsidies to the producer but subsidies to the consumer? If free prices prevailed the farmer would be getting far more than he is getting today. This recognition is valuable and will be, I think, of value for the proper conduct of agriculture in the years that lie ahead. The object of Part I of this Bill is stated to be the promotion of stable and efficient agricultural industry, capable of producing such part of the nation's food as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom.
723 Throughout the Committee stage of this Bill, we have tried to elicit exactly what the Government mean by the phrase—" such part of the nation's food as it it desirable to produce in the United Kingdom. Many of us fear that the Government mean, and will mean more and more in the months that lie ahead, that part of the nation's food that cannot be bought more cheaply in foreign markets. Of course, we cannot expect this Bill to contain a Schedule of prices—that is obviously unreasonable—but we think that it is reasonable to ask the Government to say how large this assured market is to be. It ought not to have been beyond the wit of man to devise some phrases in this Bill which would have given that assurance in a form more valuable than the Minister's assurance given a minute or two ago. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), in the Second Reading Debate, gave a suggestion of his own. Many of us have ideas about that and what might have been incorporated in the Bill. That something on these lines should have been incorporated in the Bill is, I think, common ground on these Opposition benches. There is nothing at the present moment to prevent the Minister from varying, as often as he likes, or, at any rate, in two years, the quantities of specified foodstuffs that the Government will buy, merely by using the phrase lately in currency, "changing the emphasis." If this should happen, then all the rosy hopes of the farming community will be falsified, and the basis of the Agricultural Wages Bill, passed through the House recently, will be completely undermined.
To amplify what I have in mind I would like to deal with two items that appear in the First Schedule, pigs and eggs. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently given a rather definite hint that still further cuts in certain imports may be inevitable. It is not impossible that those cuts might apply to feedingstuffs, which have already been cut so drastically that we are now well below even the ration allowed at the height of the U-boat menace. We have in the First Schedule guaranteed prices and markets for fat pigs and eggs. We know that at present we are spending millions on imported bacon and eggs, at a cost, incidentally, which has been calculated to be at least four times as much as it would have cost to import the equivalent amount 724 of raw material to produce the finished foods over here. Should there be further cuts in feedingstuffs, what possible value is attached to the guaranteed market for fat pigs or for eggs? The figures published only a little while ago show that in the last year the number of pigs in England has declined by 300,000, and the number of poultry by two million. What is the value of a guaranteed market if there are to be further inroads on those figures?
§ Mr. T. Williams
I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman while he is making that case, but in view of its possible reactions throughout the country I think I ought to make it transparently clear that there never has been any cutting down of possible imports of feedingstuffs, there is no suggestion of cutting down imports of feeding stuffs, and, indeed, it is our desire to purchase as many millions of tons of feedingstuffs as may be available from anywhere. I should not like it to go forth from this House, nor would the hon. Member I am sure, that there is even a vague possibility of the Government cutting down the imports of feedingstuffs.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
How is it, then, that one can buy maize in France and cannot buy it here?
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Gentleman can inform the Minister of Food that maize is available outside the European Economic Council's allocation, I am quite sure the Minister of Food will be very happy to purchase it tomorrow morning.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think the answer both to the right hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend behind me is that if we were allowed to restore the buying of feedingstuffs through private importers, and get away from the present bulk purchase, we should speedily find that particular difficulty ironed out. There are indeed large quantities of feedingstuffs available as the rest of the world knows well, outside the sphere of the allocation of the Combined Boards, and it has been this constant harping on the political nostrum of bulk purchase which has prevented the Government from allowing private people to go where the supplies are available.
The right hon. Gentleman said in reply to my hon. Friend behind me, that if he knew where feedingstuffs were available he 725 should inform the Minister of Food. That leads me to the next difficulty in regard to these guaranteed prices and markets. If the Minister were himself completely in charge of the whole agricultural policy of the Government, we should be much less disturbed than we are, but we know that he is not. He is one of e number of Ministers, any we fear he is not necessarily the most powerful. I support wholeheartedly the attempts of my noble Friend behind me to get a clarification in this Bill of the rôle of the Minister of Food. We cannot forget the statement made by the Minister of Food on 11th December in this House, that we buy agricultural products at the lowest prices we can get in the world, and we very much fear the outcome of a tussle which may arise in the Cabinet between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture We remember very well the previous difficulty over wheat in October and November, or in February of last year with the Minister of Labour over manpower or again with the Board of Trade over machinery. All these things are very relevant to guaranteed prices and markets.
Again, at the present moment, with the Geneva Conference assembled, we are very alarmed lest suddenly we may find a Government statement to the effect that in order to secure general agreement on an international plane—so it will be phrased —we have agreed to some limitation of our right of control of our home market, which will be very much to the disadvantage of agriculture here. We are afraid that this may well have been the reason why the right hon. Gentleman consistently refused to answer my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) when he asked him two or three times on the Second Reading whether the Government s policy was, first place for the home market and second place for the Empire and Colonial producers.
Lastly, on regard to this question of prices and markets, I think on the Third Reading the attention of the House should be drawn again to Clause 92, in which the Minister takes certain very sweeping powers. It now appears as Clause 95, (Special Directions to procure production). We did our best in Committee to get this Clause deleted from the Bill. We feel that under this Clause the Minister may by direction be able to carry on the work of Clause 4 and undermine the 726 security which he is pretending or claiming the farming community will receive. When we discussed this Clause in Committee the right hon. Gentleman said that it was designed to deal exclusively with the sort of emergency which we encountered in 1914 and again in 1939, and he added that he hoped that 10 would be a very long time before we had to operate these provisions. Then came the Report stage, in which only a day or two ago the Minister moved Amendment strengthening the Clause, and announced that it was his intention to seek the approval of the House for the making of an order later this year—in advance o any emergency—after the appointed day has been settled and announced This is a clear indication of what does happen despite assurances quite genuinely given by the right hon. Gentleman and a clear indication of how it will be possible to undermine that guarantee of prices and markets which the average farmer undoubtedly believes he has obtained or will obtain by this Bill.
So much for prices and markets. In return for these problematical assurances, what is the agricultural community undertaking to do? I have not time to deal with all the various obligations with which rural Britain will now be saddled, but I would like to pick out one or two. Of course, by far the most important of all the changes is that part of the Bill which relates to land tenure. Can we really say that security of tenure has been achieved? The object of the Bill is to see that the good tenant and the good owner can have peace of mind, and can plan ahead for a period of years. First let me say that if the good owner and the good tenant are to have peace of mind, we must accept agriculture, as many of us try to do, as a partnership between the State, the landowner, the tenant, the owner-occupier and the farmworker. Partnerships involves understanding each other's difficulties and problems, and so people have to understand the point of view of the landowner. Since 1939, while prices have gone up 90 per cent, and wages 120 per cent., rents have gone up only 6 per cent. That fact must be recognised, and its consequences cannot be dodged if we are to have partnership on the land.
These new tenure proposals are based on the partnership between a good owner and a good tenant. This presupposes that there are good owners, a view which we 727 have naturally held all our lives and which many hon. Members opposite have also held. Can it be said that under this Bill there is security for the good owner? It is known that a large proportion of the Socialist Party are determined to nationalise the land.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Gentleman says "as soon as we can." Can it then be argued that a good owner, however good he may be, is to have security under this Bill, and will be encouraged to put money into the land and to do all he possibly can to carry out the rules of good estate management, if he knows that active members on the other side are determined to take away his property as soon as they think it politically desirable to do so? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that nationalisation of the land is not, as yet, in the programme, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture said that for better or for worse it was not in the programme last time. But a recent Fabian publication "Towards Socialist Agriculture" takes this view. "Unhappily," they say in effect, "not as yet"—but they hint that all good things come in the end. Private ownership of land, is not yet, of itself, regarded as a crime, even by tenant farmers, although they appear to regard this latter fact as almost incredible.
How can one say that under this Bill an owner, however good, diligent and prudent he may be, can be said to have the peace of mind which is an essential part of a happy partnership? Apart from the undoubted and known threats of hon. Gentlemen opposite, this Bill, through Clause 81, would enable the Minister to do all that he wanted to do by way of nationalising the land without taking any further powers but merely by invoking the powers that are already in the Bill. So much for the position of the owner; what about the position of the tenant under these proposals? Undoubtedly some tenants who have been subject to bad landlords will have improved status under this Bill, but the vast majority of tenants in England have not lived like that. The average farm tenancy, as we have heard frequently in this House, has been 22 years, which hardly suggests a hectic, unhappy and frequently disrupted partnership between owner and tenant.
728 This Bill does certain things. It changes the relationship of confidence and mutual obligation between landlord and tenant into a list of statutory requirements, with all the rigidity and lack of humanity that that frequently involves. By the super-security that it gives to tenants it will mean that fewer farms will come into the market, and the chances of new capital and fresh blood being pumped into the land are diminished. It is very difficult to reconcile this part of the Bill with the very proper objectives of the Government in regard to smallholdings. I agree wholeheartedly with the Government's approach to the problem of smallholdings in Part IV of the Bill. I am glad we are to avoid the errors committed after the last war and to have people who are likely to make a success on the land planted there rather than people planted for social considerations. I speak as representing an agricultural division where, unhappily, every one of our special area tenants has packed up after some years of attempting to make a living out of the land. But if smallholding is to be a step in the ladder, then people must be able to climb higher up the ladder still and the super-security imposed on tenants under this Bill may well reduce the high hopes of Part IV and of many smallholders, and nullify their reasonable ambitions.
Lastly, in regard to tenure, I agree with what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said on the Second Reading—that it may well be that many people who ought to lose their tenancies and who, under the old system, would have lost them, may continue to hold them because of the natural reluctance of their neighbours to weigh the scales against them. As he said, the cumulative effect of having tilted the balance in favour of the existing tenant may in fact lead to badly cultivated land. I think these things should be borne in mind on the occasion of the Third Reading of a Bill of this kind, for it may well result that, with the best will in the world and with every intention to do all we can to help agriculture, we may end by perpetuating, and indeed increasing, some of the very evils that the Bill is designed to remove.
There is one other evil from which this part of what was once the United Kingdom has been happily immune, or comparatively so, though that has not been 729 the case in Ireland. It is the evil of the absentee landlord. Are we not perhaps introducing the absentee landlord into English agriculture? We are setting up a Land Commission with sweeping powers. We have little indication of what land will pass into the holding of the Land Commission, although we have heard about Romney Marsh and part of the Fenland, but with its great powers, which are not yet fully specified under this Bill, the Commission may well find itself a large landowner in England and, inevitably, a large and absentee landowner, with all the consequences to local and village life which absentee landlordism brings. So much for the tenure proposals under this Bill.
As the right hon. Gentleman must be tired of hearing, if we were fairly sure that throughout the Socialist Government he would remain Minister of Agriculture, we should be less disturbed than we now are. Over all these powers hovers the Minister of Agriculture, with a large and growing staff and his share of the 13,000 enforcement officers that now owe allegiance to the present Socialist Government. Here in this Bill in his authority if he chooses—or authority for any of his successors if he should choose—to vary the markets and the prices and to remain the permanent dictator of the British agricultural industry. In addition to all the powers I have specified, he has taken power to refuse appeals on supervision orders, to refuse appeals to the High Court on dispossession orders, and to acquire land by compulsory purchase instead of allowing it to be compulsorily sold. Though he puts in safeguards to calm the public today, these can easily be withdrawn as were the safeguards in the original Clause 82 when the solemn pledges in the 1941 Act to dispossessed owners in the war were quite casually torn up in the Second Reading speech he made some months ago. In addition, he has powers—which he is using and will continue to use—to take away much of the authority of the elected representatives of the people in the county councils, and to put in their places his own nominated servants, piling on to those servants such a burden of work that only people with nothing else to do and, therefore, presumably second-rate people, will be able in time of peace to assume the responsibility.
730 This seems to many of us to be a very heavy price to pay for the problematical guaranteed market and price, but the land has a gift of withstanding and outliving all Ministers and all political parties. It is older than any political party, and once this Bill becomes law we shall naturally work it loyally. Then, when the time comes, we shall work it in our own way and take the fullest advantage of some of its excellent provisions. We must work together on the land and for an agricultural policy not only because of our present desperate situation—it is not, I think, realised that a 10 per cent. increase in home agricultural production would wipe out one-fifth of our total trade deficit last year—but, even more important, because agriculture is not only a profession and a living but a way of life which must be preserved despite all the efforts of party extremists to prevent it.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) always puts me in a dilemma. I think of all the bad points about him—and they are legion—but at the end of it all I have rather a sneaking regard for him. He began by saying that the Minister pitched the Bill too high. The hon. Gentleman will read his own speech tomorrow and he will get an idea of what he means by pitching the case too high. I heard him use such terms as "dictator," "absentee landlordism" What I cannot understand is why he is so magnanimous as not to go into the Lobby tonight and vote against the Bill. Most of his case was based on how extravagant and unnecessary was this Bill. He went to some extent with the argument as to why there should not be this power in certain circumstances of limiting the market over which a guarantee is given. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to read the leader in today's "Times." I know that "The Times" is not in great favour with hon. Gentlemen opposite these days. Nevertheless, it is excellent and it deals at some length with this point when it says:What is important is that the farming community should recognise explicitly the irresponsibility for adjusting production to changing needs.It goes on to point out how any country would find it very difficult to get support from the east bulk of the people for a policy vastly different from that which the 731 Minister is commending to the House in the Third Reading.
I will not go on very much longer to deal with what the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford said, except to say I hope he will allow me to disagree with the implication which he skilfully got into the passage about landlordism, namely that there was no fear of the questionable practices of absentee landlordism in Ireland ever arising in this country. If the hon. Gentleman meant that, some of us who have experience of the countryside would not accept the implication at all. May I say for myself how much I and other hon. Gentlemen applaud the Minister for the persistence with which he has stood by the very good parts of this Bill. We applaud the guarantees despite all that has been said about them and the courage with which the Minister has stood for the principle in them. We applaud the security of tenure. In my division there are a lot of small tenant farmers, and some of the things said by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford would ring strangely in the ears of the tenant farmers of South Derbyshire. We applaud something which the hon. Gentleman did not mention—the provision in the Bill for the advisory services. This is long overdue and it is really something which should be done in a national way and not in a cheeseparing way. We applaud the Bill because we want what the Minister called a sound and efficient agriculture.
The first point I want to make is that when the Minister talks about a sound and efficient agriculture the operative word is, in fact, "efficient." I never believed that there was much in the talk about suspicion between the town dweller and the countryman and between the urban worker and the rural worker. Sometimes that was given as the reason why it was not possible to do so much here for the agricultural worker. But from my experience as a trade union representative of both urban and rural workers, there was always enough of the suspicion that the one was trying to get a sharp bargain at the expense of the other to justify the saying that there was something in this. What is happening under this Bill suggests to me that the countryman should never give the townsman any grounds for suspecting that he is relying on the security given by this Bill and he should never in any measure rest on his oars.
732 "The Times," if I may refer to that leader again, makes the point that the countryman must not use out-of-date methods in respect of marketing in particular. I hope in the operation of this Bill that the farming community will not lose sight of the important obligation that rests upon them, and, unlike the hon. Gentleman for Mid-Bedford, I imagine that if the farmer is getting a privilege and a benefit he should not object to accepting the obligation. The obligation that is laid upon him is to run an efficient industry, and I think that there is one great guarantee about all this in the county executive committees. I want unashamedly to say very vigorously that I think far too little has been said in praise of the past work and in recognition of what is about to be done by the executive committees and the district committees, who are probably the Cinderellas of all. Even a member of a county executive committee recognises that the member of the district committee is the person who gets all the running around and trotting about to do.
I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford use the term "nominated servant." It seems to me to be, of all terms, that most calculated to discourage a public-spirited man who is farming on his own account from giving up his time and helping in the most valuable work of trying to encourage his fellow farmers to do better. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not follow this business of down-grading public-spirited men. We have a tradition and special genius in all these matters, and British people seem prepared to give up their own time and at great expense work for the State, and do it unpaid. To talk about "bureaucrats" and "nominated servants" seems to me to be a horrible way of trying to secure that that special genius of our race goes on.
I want to pay my tribute to these executive committees. I was associated with them during the war, and I know that anyone who was a member of an executive committee claimed that his committee was the best. I think I can truthfully say that there was none better than the one I was on. The members of it were first-rate fellows. Some were very small farmers, some were large farmers, some were tenant farmers, and some were large landowners, but all did very good work indeed. I would not like to 733 associate myself with what has been said on the other side of the House and which has been too easily said, too, by one's own' colleagues, namely, that farmers are in a class by themselves and that we cannot look with great sympathy to them or that they will not extend any great sympathy to us. Those views are entirely wrong. My fear during the war was that when it was over these fine fellows were going to give up this special work, arguing that the crisis was over and that it was time that they returned to their own farms and got on with their job. I had many talks with them about that subject, and I hope that by the passing of this Bill we will get these fellows to go on and do this work despite the fact that the war crisis has gone.
May I say a word for the staffs of the executive committees? There again, if a farmer got angry because something could not be done the person who was chosen to go and take, the full force of his ire was a member of the staff, and I should like to say how very well these people served. I hope they will continue to give the same service in the future and that the Minister will provide for them reasonable security in the jobs that they are doing.
That leads me rather easily to the point I want to make, in regard to the farmworkers themselves. It is fashionable and with much more sincerity nowadays to pay tribute in discussions on agriculture to the work the farmworker is doing. May I say for myself, because I think it is contrary to modern trends, that I have a strong predilection for the old-fashioned all-rounder, and I think we have elevated too much the tractor driver and suchlike men who are rather limited special men. The agricultural labourer, as we called him, was a first-rate man who could turn his hand to anything. I hope we will get away from this modern tendency of elevating some particular and comparatively easily picked up skill and overlook the old-time man who could do everything well.
No matter how much we talk about a ladder of security—and we have done so quite a lot—and about smallholdings as being the means by which the farm-worker can climb up the ladder, it is not every farmworker who can hope to have a smallholding. If we want to convince the farmworker that there is an avenue of opportunity for him, we have to offer 734 something other than small holdings, something on the lines mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford by giving him a sense of partnership. It is difficult to legislate for that or to make the Bill provide for it. Farmers have to be big enough and farseeing enough to make that sense of partnership very real.
During the war we tried to do it by farmers bringing their men into demonstrations and talks, and making them feel that they were really part of the set-up. I hope that we shall go on doing that. I do not see eye to eye with many of my colleagues on the question of executive committee representation. I hope we shall not have differences of that kind in this Debate today. I hope I shall not be too provocative if I say that that is not the important point on this issue, unless unfortunate, or perhaps I may even say irresponsible, organising methods were employed which would benefit nobody. The big issue is to identify the farmworker himself with the industry and with his part in the partnership. I appeal to all who are concerned in the industry, on one side or on the other, to see that this is, in fact, done.
There is one matter I want to mention to the Minister before I finish. One finds up and down the country a concern which is expressed with various degrees of vigour about that part of the Bill which provides for the appointment of county committees. Some of the appointments are in the Minister's own hands in the special sense that they do not come from the panel nominated by any particular group of the industry. The Minister will be aware, without my going into details, that some folk have unhappy views about the nominations the Minister has made in parts of the country, in relation to the interim reconstruction arrangements pending the passing of the Bill. I hope that when the Minister winds up the Debate he will be able to give us some assurances on this matter, without hampering himself for the future. We are passing this Bill in a very different spirit from that in which Parliament used to approach matters related to the land. Today we are not thinking chiefly of agricultural interests but, in a very real sense, of the national administration of a vital national asset. My reason for commending the Bill is not because of the interests of this, that, or the other group in the agricultural indus- 735 try, but because I believe that it will benefit all in the community it the use of a vital national asset.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Brigadier Mackeson (Hythe)
there were many remarks made by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) with which I agreed. I should like to associate myself with the tribute he paid to the agricultural committees. If he reads HANSARD tomorrow he will find that the remarks which he attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) do not quite represent what my hon. Friend said. There is a grave danger of the voluntary members being swamped by the amount of work which is being given to them and of officials having to carry it out. I agree very much with his remarks about the general agricultural labourer. It will probably interest the hon. Member to know that those views are also held by many of us in connection with the Forces, where large numbers of specialists used to receive what some of us think were exorbitant rates of pay as compared with less specialised all-round men.
I welcome a great deal of this Bill. I have always felt that agriculture like defence and foreign policy, should be removed as far as possible from party politics. It is not always possible to do so. We get, as I suppose is inevitable, little rivulets of Socialism trickling in from the other side of the House, and there are features which I personally resent in the Bill. I cannot say I like Clause 12. By not giving a tenant a right of appeal before he is put under supervision we are putting the tenant in the position where rightly or wrongly, a slur is being put upon him for inefficiency. I speak as a farmer myself. I found it rather difficult to discover during the Report stage—I was not privileged to be present during the Committee stage—why some hon. Members opposite felt that being placed under supervision did not bring a slur. I should have thought that if somebody told an hon. Member that he was not running his constituency properly and that the Patronage Secretary was to put him under supervision, he would feel that it was a very great slur, and he would want a right of appeal to a neutral tribunal. If an hon. Lady on the other side were to be put under supervision in her own kitchen—although I think he would be a 736 very bold man who volunteered to do so—I feel she would think it was a slur. The implementation of the provisions in regard to dispossession is one of the vital points in the Bill, and will require to be very carefully handled by the Minister and by the voluntary members and officials who will be assisting him.
If the Government cannot ensure the provision of the requisite houses and machinery so that the land may be farmed efficiently, the lack of those facilities must receive consideration as I am sure they will from the present Minister. The same remarks apply to such matters as fencing and wire, which are in short supply. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred on the Report stage to a man whose herd of cattle strayed into contact with a tested herd. The Minister should be very careful before any reflection is cast upon such a man, and should make sure that the man has not applied for fencing material, which is very difficult to get, and has failed to obtain a permit before the farmer is regarded as having been inefficient in that respect. I believe that the question of efficiency will have to be correlated with the necessity for mechanisation in view of our shortage of manpower, especially in what were formerly chiefly grazing areas such as Leicestershire and Romney Marsh.
I view with great suspicion the shortage of machinery on the land. There was a question on the Order Paper placed by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) today and I was checking up the effect in Leicestershire over the weekend. I am gravely alarmed to see that the exports of tractors numbered 8,256 in the first four months of this year, compared with 5,406 in the first four months of last year. I hope that the Minister will get from the Board of Trade some priorities on this question of the supply of agricultural machinery to British farmers. It is equally true of threshing machines and elevators. We have doubled our exports of threshings drums, etc. If we criticise a farmer for being inefficient when he has not equipment, labour or housing, we may make a very grave mistake and inflict an injustice.
Looking at the Third Schedule of the Bill and speaking as a man of Kent, I am not happy and I should be failing in my 737 duty if I did not say so. The Minister has taken power, no doubt rightly, to authorise the erection of wire work in hop gardens and the growing of herbage crops for seed. Both of those take a large share in Kentish agriculture as well as in other counties, but there is no guaranteed price. Part 1 of the Third Schedule allows a landlord to prevent the planting of fruit. There is no guaranteed price for fruit. It is fruit growing, and particularly the growing of soft fruits, which has always felt the first brunt of the tariff policy going wrong, allowing cheap sub-sidised imports from abroad.
I quite appreciate the difficulties of the Minister, but I hope that we shall soon have further legislation in connection with horticulture. I believe we can make another £50 million a year and save imports to that extent if we get our horticulture going properly. The people of Kent will look to the Minister to take early action as they are not happy at the failure to include a promise of fair prices for wool, fruit, grass-seed and hops. It is only on broad lines and in certain aspects that I welcome this Bill. I wish there was not so much interference and bureaucracy and I hope that at some time a future Government will amend it and give more liberty to the agricultural industry.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)
The Minister has referred to the importance of this Bill in our national life, and I entirely agree with the sentiment he expressed. As a national service, agriculture will be able through this Bill to make an increasingly valuable contribution to the welfare of the State. Despite occasional outbursts outside this House from a few people who are more vocal than the rest, the Bill is in a great number of respects a very popular Measure. It is deservedly popular with the farming community generally because it conveys an assurance to them that the events that occurred in farming circles after the last war will not be repeated. I give wholehearted support to the Measure. I have done so all the way through, and I have done my best to popularise it in the countryside.
I am very sorry at this closing stage of the discussion of the Bill to have to strike a jarring note. Despite what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper Mr. G. Brown), I want to return to the 738 composition of the county agriculture committees. I am extremely unhappy about the position in which this matter has been left. I raised the matter in Standing Committee and was soundly beaten by the Government and Conservative votes. I then sought to make provision to increase the number of workers' nominees from two to three, and to put them on an equality with the farmers. The decision in Standing Committee to reject my plea has been received with general dismay among farmworkers. They and others were hoping for a successful working of the Government's agriculture policy as embodied in this Bill, and they feel convinced that a mistake has been made in refusing to allow the workers to play, what I consider they were prepared to play and will still, I hope, play, a very full part in carrying out the Minister's wise policy.
The county agricultural committees to be set up under the Bill can make the Minister's policy a success or a failure. I also have seen the working of these committees from inside. I served as a member of an executive committee throughout the war. The character of the representation on these committees had a very direct bearing in more than one respect upon the success of the food production campaign during war time, and it will be so in peace time, workers' representatives will be on these committees to assist in directing the Minister's policy, and the chief objective will be the production of more food. Farmworkers will not need much urging to make a supreme effort. They have already made a supreme effort this year and have achieved a miracle. They will not need need much spurring to continue this very fine work; but the Minister's action in regard to the composition of the new committees gives these very valuable men the impression that they are wanted when there is plenty of hard work to be done, but when it comes to handing out a few honours, they are in the back row. I am sorry the Minister has seen fit deliberately to ignore the plea I have made from time to time. In his proposals for the composition of these committees, the Minister gives no guarantee that among the other members will be found any from the ranks of the workers. I wanted the representation to be equal as between farmers, workers, and landlords. Surely, there is nothing for any fair-minded person to take exception to it the representation of three 739 parties invited to join in running a concern is upon an equal basis.
It has been argued again and again by the Minister and others that the Bill does not really concern the farmworkers, but I say that it does. The committees will be big employers of labour. While the Central Wages Board will fix the national minimum wage, the committees will be called upon to make all kinds of adjustments with regard to wages and conditions of work of the many thousands of people they employ. The committees will be in a position to deal with inefficient farmers, hut their action in the granting of cottage certificates may result in the eviction of hundreds of not inefficient, but highly efficient, farm and other workers. The Minister stated that there is not a single control measure exercised by the committees which directly affects the worker, but the whole livelihood of the man who works in agriculture is dependent completely upon the success of the Government's new policy as carried through by the county committees. These are days of working parties and joint production councils, and in this regard we can make the contribution of the farmworker more effective still if he possesses the knowledge that his contribution is regarded as a worthy one, not only on the fields, but in the councils set up to deal with the running of the new agriculture. We are all anxious that the Bill should function on a basis of good will. I do not think the Minister's proposal in this regard will make for good will. I am sorry he has taken this attitude towards the men in regard to the claim they are making, when the whole structure of agriculture in the future, as in the past, will rest upon the workers.
I call attention again to the fact that this party has for years had an agricultural policy. The Bill puts part of this Labour Party agricultural policy into effect. Some of us indulged in policy-making when the chance of translating that policy into legislation appeared to be very remote. The Minister and I were two of the individuals who indulged in that a good many years ago. At that -time we held only one agricultural seat, the constituency for which I have the honour to sit. We did not bother about landlords at that time but said that, on the new bodies to be set up under the 740 Labour Party's agricultural policy, there should be an equal number of farmers and farmworkers. We repeated this in further declarations of policy, and now that we have reached a stage when we are able to translate that policy into action, I am sorry that the workers are to be placed in a further hopeless minority.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Before my hon. Friend resumes his seat, may I say that, while I quite expected him, as President of the Agricultural Workers' Union, to make the kind of speech he is now making, I hope he will complete the story and tell the House that in the policies to which he referred, neither he nor I, nor any other member of the Labour Party, had the faintest notion that such county executive committees as are visualised under Part 11 of this Bill would have the power of exercising control over farmers and landowners that they have. Neither the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) nor any hon. Member on these Benches, nor any member of the Agricultural Workers' Union, ever conceived that for a long time there was the remotest likelihood that we would have the power of exercising that control over the industry which is contained in Part II of this Bill; and it is due to the House and to my hon. Friends, in particular, that that part of the story should be told.
§ Mr. Gooch
I am glad the Minister has taken up this point. I was just coming to it, because the Labour Party's agricultural policy of 1926, a copy of which I shall be glad to hand to the Minister if he has forgotten some of the points in if, sets out in definite language what the Labour Party proposed to when it got the chance. It has the chance, and I say deliberately that many of the points we envisaged in 1926 as being essential for the proper running of agriculture in the future have been deliberately ignored. One of them is the point with which I am concerned today. When I reminded the Minister, in Committee, of the 1926 policy, he made the astonishing statement—and he repeated it in so many words today—that:neither my hon. Friend nor 1, in r926, had the faintest notion that in 1947 we should be privileged to sit here taking a Bill through the House of Commons with power to place farms under supervision, power to give farmers directions as to what they shall or shall not grow, power to dispossess farmers and to acquire compulsorily estates whose owners are not doing their job"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 24th April, 1946; c. 1094.]741 I wonder that my right hon. Friend should have bothered in 1926 to draw up such a policy if he and others did not visualise the possibility of one day being able to put it into effect. When the right hon. Gentleman made that statement in Committee, this passage of Scripture came to my mind:O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?Surely, the Minister is not a doubting Thomas in regard to the policy which he helped to draw up in 1926? I hope he will realise the great importance of securing 100 per cent. support from the workers for his agricultural policy and all that it stands for and all that it will mean for the future of British agriculture. This is a great Measure, for which I think the country will be increasingly grateful.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
I, like hon. Members opposite who have spoken, welcome this Bill and wish it well. A policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets is one which we on this bench thoroughly applaud. I would like to pay a tribute to the Minister for the good temper and patience he has shown in steering this Bill through all its stages up to the Third Reading.
The essence of this Bill is that it should bring stability and confidence to the farming industry, because that industry is different from any other industry in its dependence on uncertain factors, of which the weather, typified by the bad harvests of last year and the disastrous snow of this year, is the outstanding example. The weather and other uncertain factors play such a part in this industry that it is necessary to bring in machinery of this character in order to give the stability of a guaranteed price and an assured market. Those are essentials to the wellbeing of British agriculture, and this Measure gives the farmers and those engaged on the working of the land a new opportunity in time of peace. Much now depends on them, and I hope that both farmers and farm workers will realise that they have representatives on the county executive committees to whom they can communicate their views, and through whom they can perhaps influence the policy of the Minister as carried out in their respective counties.
I regret there are certain things which impair the confidence that the Bill other- 742 wise brings. The first is the fact that there is no appeal to the High Court in matters of law from decisions of the agricultural land tribunals. An omission of that kind necessarily will impair confidence in that a man who has a grievance cannot carry it to a legitimate tribunal. It is also unfortunate that, in Clause 95, the Minister has retained his special power to give directions to farmers. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say on Report stage that there was no intention of exercising that power, and I hope it will be a long time before it is necessary to do so, because any exercise of that power in anything except a real emergency would diminish the confidence of the farming community. Therefore, I urge that, if possible, these powers shall not be exercised by the Minister.
Referring to confidence, there is one other point of which I have experience in my constituency and which I do not think arises in other constituencies. This Bill, at more than one point, gives the Minister power to bring land into public ownership in certain cases for various reasons, of which bad estate management is only one. I do not view that with any apprehension but, once the decision to acquire land by the agricultural Land Commission, or any other public authority, has been made, and once all the various stages of objections, and so forth, have been carried through, it is vital that the take-over should be made quickly. The example in my constituency is that of the Glanllyn Estate at Llanuwchllyn. That is the first estate taken over by the Treasury under the powers announced by the Chancellor a year ago. Although a year has gone by, the taking-over is still in process, with the result that neither the agent of the old landlord is interested, nor is there as yet any agent of the new landlord, and the tenants cannot get anybody to attend to their legitimate claims or requests for repairs, and so on. That is a vital point. When making a transition in ownership, make it quickly and set up somebody who can attend to these things; otherwise, it will be found that the "buck" is being passed from the old landlord to the new and from the new landlord to the old. After so many years of war and neglect of buildings, this is a matter of very real importance in the countryside.
There is one other element which affects confidence. I should not be in Order in 743 dealing with it at any length, but I refer to it because prices are not the whole of the question of stability. The Minister nay often heard me speak on this point, and I will not elaborate it, but I ask him to let farmers, in areas where there is likely to be great demands for afforestation, know promptly what those demands are, so that they may know the position. Long uncertainty is most harmful to the man who wants to develop his holding. The farmers are concerned with certainty and they also want a voice in selecting areas suitable for afforestation. Here I would like to refer to the position of the county agricultural executive committees. Up to the present, it has not been the practice for these committees to be con sulted when land has been taken by the Forestry Commission; yet these committees are the most authoritative body in any county so far as agricultural land is concerned. They are composed of practical men, and I think that more and more their staffs are winning the confidence of the farmers. They have done great work during the war in pushing cultivation up the hillsides; I have seen much of it. It would he an important step to give these committees a greater role by consulting them when a question so likely to affect agriculture, such as afforestation, is being discussed I wish to refer to only one other matter, that is the popularisation and the making known of the provisions of this Bill. I mentioned this on Second Reading. With all the good will in the world, this is undoubtedly bound to be an intricate and complex Measure—not, as has been suggested, because it introduces super-security for tenants. If the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) had known a little about what tenants had suffered in the past from landlords in Wales, lie would know that relation of landlord and tenant cannot be put on an "old boy" basis. It must be put on a legal basis, and I am glad that the Bill does that, because an Act of Parliament is the ultimate safeguard of the tenant. The Measure is bound to be intricate, and it would be advisable to publish pamphlets setting out what are the objects of the Bill, how it will attain those objects, the machinery, and so forth. Those pamphlets should be published in English, and, in Wales, in Welsh and 744 English. That step of issuing well-written pamphlets would be in accordance with the Government's policy of "Telling the people." It would bring confidence in the Bill and would be a substantial step towards making this Bill the great contribution which it can become towards prosperity for British agriculture.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Macpherson (Romford)
With the passing of this Bill another page of "Let us face the future," will be placed upon the Statute Book. It is a piece of sound constructive legislation, and should lay the foundations for a stable and efficient agricultural industry. I believe that in days to come this Bill will be regarded as one of the outstanding achievements of this Labour Government. I am happy to think that it will always be associated with the name of my right hon. Friend, one of the most successful and popular Ministers of Agriculture this House has ever known. I cannot resist the temptation of saying that it is rather ironical that the Labour Party, which has always been derided by the Tories as being exclusively urban minded, should have produced this Bill, which it is generally acclaimed as the charter for agriculture.
Let it never be forgotten that under successive Tory administrations agriculture was shockingly neglected and brought to its lowest ebb since the 1870's. In the 21 years between the two wars three workers out of every 10 left the land, millions of acres went out of cultivation, farmers were sunk deep in the mire of mortgages. Farmworkers were badly housed and scandalously paid. Even in 1938, the average minimum wage in England and Wales was only a miserable 34s, 7d. a week. Just as in coalmining, the children of farmworkers, when leaving school, chose other occupations—any work other than farming, where wages were so bad and prospects so poor. Is it surprising that one of the major problems inherited by this Labour Government is a acute shortage of workers in the agricultural industry—another legacy of Tory neglect? The purpose of Part I of the Bill is to promotea stable and efficient agricultural industry capable of producing such part of the nation's food as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom …745 In view of present-day economic problems these timely words have a new significance. They recognise also the axiomatic fact which students of this subject have been urging for many years, namely, that an agricultural policy must be part of the food policy. Note the order—not that a food policy should fit in with the agricultural policy, but that an agricultural policy in regard to home food production must be determined by the nature of our food requirements. I do not think that is how our more old-fashioned farmer friends quite regard themselves. In developing our new agricultural policy it cannot be emphasised too much that the whole raison d'etre of agriculture is food production, and, may I add, production of the kinds of food we want, in the quantity and quality we want. The fact is that this Bill might just as well be described as a food production Bill as an Agriculture Bill.
I have been in food and agriculture all my life, and I would like to give one or two reasons why I think this Bill is so opportune and so important for the national well being. First, without the stability which this Bill will give to the industry in the shape of guaranteed prices and markets, no food policy can succeed. Secondly, there must be security of tenure, which in large measure this Bill will provide, if we are to have a planned, long-term food policy. Having provided these essential foundations for the industry, we must, without delay, set about making the fullest possible use of agricultural land in the United Kingdom. Great strides have been made during the war years, but there is still room for a big increase in production.
I do not think we value our land sufficiently in this country. Our agricultural land ranks with coal as one of our greatest natural resources. I have just come back from a visit to Holland, when I was again reminded how the Dutch people value their land. Hardly a square yard seems to be wasted, whereas in this country there is far too much land still unemployed or not put to its best and most suitable use. Within a reasonable space of time we should be able to increase the productivity of British agriculture by at least 30 per cent. There is not a farmer in this country who could not produce more if he had the facilities. Under the conditions set out under this Bill, our first 746 task must be to bring every available acre into full production. May I remind the House that the land, climate and native genius of British agriculture is most suitable for the production of the very kind of foodstuffs the country most needs today? I refer to what are known as protective foods—beef, mutton, bacon, pork, eggs and milk—and it is to our own countryside that we must look for increased supplies of these products.
In planning for this production we must remember that our present and future food requirements cannot be measured in terms of prewar figures. In those days a large percentage of our people were underfed because they were underpaid. Conditions have changed. Under our Labour Party policy of full and well paid employment with a better and more equitable distribution of wealth, we must plan for very much greater food supplies than we had before. It must be appreciated that the increased food we shall require, and which we must have if we are to get rid of queues and rationing, will require to be produced in our own country and I firmly believe it can be done.
In a well-coined phrase, the Minister has said that the twin pillars upon which the agricultural policy of the Government rests are stability and efficiency. I wish to refer to the efficiency aspect of this important Measure. There is no doubt that in methods of production the industry generally has made great strides during the war years. British agriculture is more efficient today than ever before, but there is still much to be done. Some of the handicaps to greater efficiency will be removed as a result of this Bill; for example the insistence upon landlords performing their functions of good estate management. The English countryside is still littered with far too many antiquated broken down farm buildings. Large numbers of cowsheds and dairy buildings are in a disgraceful condition, where the production of tubercular free clean milk impossible in accordance with modern standards of efficient milk production. As soon as this Bill becomes law, I hope the Ministry will arrange for each county to make a survey of all farm buildings and stimulate the owners to put these places in order. Nevertheless, much has been done or is in process of being done. There has been a big improvement in the quality and productivity of our livestock. 747 There is organised tubercule testing of cows and a campaign proceeding all the time for clean milk. There has been a wonderful development in the mechanisation of our farms by the increased use of tractors and other modern forms of farm equipment. I doubt whether any other country has made such great strides in the mechanisation of its methods of arable farming as we have in Great Britain.
There is one aspect of efficient production which I wish to emphasise strongly. I refer to the control and eradication of animal diseases. Livestock production represents the major part of home agriculture. As I have indicated, its relative importance is likely to increase. It is a lamentable fact that the loss to the country in livestock and livestock products through animal diseases has been reliably estimated at no less than £30 million a year. It may be more. At the best of times, this would be a staggering loss. It is much more serious now when it is of the utmost importance to increase food production and prevent waste. The Minister is no doubt familiar with the Loveday Report, which stated that over 50 per cent. of our dairy cattle herds are disposed of on account of disease, and that the average productive life of dairy cattle under present day conditions is no more than 4½ years—or half of what it ought to be—because of the ravages of disease. About 40 per cent. of our dairy cows are infected, to a varying extent by bovine tuberculosis.
I do not think it is properly appreciated what an appalling waste of valuable stock and also of bulk meat, as well as labour and money, take place because of this state of affairs. What is the remedy? In my view, it is obvious there should be a wide extension and a great improvement in the number and quality of our veterinary services. I yield to no one in my respect and admiration for the handful of veterinary surgeons whose knowledge and standing is—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I am sorry to interrupt. The hon. Member seems to be getting far away from the Third Reading of this Bill. He appears to be dealing with matters of administration which can be raised on some other occasion.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I would refer to Clause So of the Bill which deals with research, and conclude by expressing the hope that the Minister will interpret "research" in its widest possible sense, particularly in relation to the veterinary side. We are well equipped for research into plants and cultivation, but we are woefully deficient in regard to livestock and the prevention and cure of animal diseases. I hope the Minister will make full use of this Clause and endeavour to deal with the problem of animal diseases by the creation of field stations and animal hospitals, and in other ways.
It is obvious to everyone that we are going to see important changes in the world supply and production of foodstuffs. We will also see changes in the general economic setup in this country. Therefore, it is vital that we should develop to the utmost our own natural resources. I think this will be all to the good. What could be better than employing the greatest possible number of people in the healthy and happy life of our own British countryside? I support this Bill, believing, as I do, that it will lay a firm foundation on which we can build prosperity for farmers and farmworkers alike, and, at the same time, secure the wealth and productivity of this fine land of ours for the nation.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I do not think there is any doubt about the great importance of this Bill. It deals with a part rather than with the whole of the urgent problems which face the agricultural industry. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) when he said that some of the claims which have been made by hon. Members opposite on behalf of the Bill were pitched a little too high. I recollect that in the Second Reading Debate it was the Minister himself who referred to the fact that in some quarters this Bill had been called the "farmers' bible." We on this side of the House did our best during the Committee stage to ensure that the revised version of the farmers' bible should be an improvement upon the original authorised version of it.
This Bill stands or falls, in my view, in toto upon how Part I is implemented. We were disappointed by the very vague way in which the Minister defined the size of the market to be guaranteed. He told 749 us, in so many words, that there was no need to be really apprehensive about the size of the market because of our dollar position. That was taking refuge behind abnormal circumstances. It is interesting to note that he applied exactly the same argument the other way round in regard to Clause 15 (2 b). When we suggested that the sum spent on fixed equipment on a farm during the previous two years was rather an unfair yardstick in view of the difficulty of getting building labour, materials and licences, he replied that the Bill was not designed to deal with perpetually abnormal circumstances. We regard the reluctance of the Minister to define the size of the market to be a very serious omission, and it is so regarded by a very large number of farmers all over this country, who, when they first read the Bill and the claims that were made on its behalf, held a very different interpretation to that which they now place upon it. Indeed, if I might follow the example of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) by quoting from the Bible, I think many will say of the Minister in the words of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, but in a different context:Behold the half that is not told me.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has quoted the queen wrongly. She said:The half was not told me.and meant it in exactly the opposite sense from that in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman used it.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe
If the Government implement to the full Part 1 of the Bill, I do not think that any sensible man would object to the rules of good estate management and good husbandry, or to the enforcement of these rules, but the question is how they are to be enforced. Are they going to be enforced intelligently, or by rule of thumb? The burden of enforcing these rules is placed on to the shoulders of the newly-constituted county committees, which are to have powers of dispossession and cropping far in excess of the powers wielded by the feudal barons of the Middle Ages. The wheel is turning a full circle, and although in the Middle Ages extreme power in the hands of one man was very properly regarded as autocracy, today extreme power in the hands of a corporate body of men is regarded as democracy; but, whether in- 750 justice is done by one man or a corporate body of men, the effect is the same. I am sure therefore that the Minister of Agriculture must realise how vitally important it is that only men of the highest possible qualifications and calibre should serve on-these county committees.
I believe he would be wise to avoid pressing the analogy of the war agricultural committees too far. During wartime, there were a large number of patriotic men engaged in all branches of the farming industry who were too old to fight or were not allowed to go out of the agricultural industry, but who were perfectly prepared for the duration of the war to give service to their country by serving on a county war agricultural committee. I wonder whether it will be quite so simple today to find enough men of the right calibre to serve on these county committees for an indefinite period, as they are now being asked to do, now that the war is over? I think it may be somewhat difficult. It is also very questionable whether landowners, farmers or agricultural labourers who serve on these committees will have any time to attend to their own work in addition to the work of the county committees, and it would be rather a hollow joke if a member of a county committee got into trouble on his farm or estate because he had neglected it through spending his whole time in trying to keep his neighbours up to the mark.
We, on these benches, take rather a different view from those of hon. Gentlemen opposite about the safeguards provided in the Bill against possible abuses, and also about the rights of appeal. On the Report stage, the Minister rejected an Amendment which we moved designed to give a dispossessed owner a right of appeal from the land tribunal to the High Court on a point of law. The Minister produced the extraordinary argument that there was no need for a right of appeal on points of law, because all dispossession questions were on points of fact. I really cannot agree with that interpretation. Surely, the right of appeal to a court of law on a point of law has hitherto been one of the most cherished rights of every British citizen, and one which he has derived throughout the ages from legislation in this House. Moreover, in view of the clamour made at the Margate Conference about the tied cottage, on the ground that, if a man loses his job he 751 ought not to lose his house as well, I think it is remarkable that the Government should refuse an owner-occupier the right of appeal to a court of law on a point of law, when he stands to lose his complete farm, his livelihood, his home and everything he possesses.
The other point in Clause 16 on which the Government have taken extensive powers without, in my view, giving adequate rafeguards, is that on which they rejected another Amendment in which we endeavoured to ensure that, in any case in which the owner concerned had a son who was a minor, at least the trustees should have the right to carry on the management of the farm or estate until such time as the son was of age to look after it. Here, the Solicitor-General again gave an extraordinary reason for rejecting the Amendment, he said:The trustee would be a solicitor who, having an office in some town and knowing absolutely nothing about agriculture, would be quite unsuitable as a manager, and the land, instead of being improved and brought back to efficient production and made to work really efficiently in the interests of the nation, would be allowed to continue to go down hill and get worse and worse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th June, 1947; Vol. 438, c 339.]That seems to be a curious remark from the Solicitor-General about a member of his own profession, and I do not see why a lawyer should not be considered as a person competent to administer the farm or estate. As a matter of fact, two trustees whom I have known personally were themselves members of their respective county war agricultural committees throughout the war. Trustees placed in the position envisaged under Clause 16 would, in fact, employ either a good bailiff to run the farm, or an efficient firm of estate agents to look after the property of the dispossessed owner, which in actual practice is exactly what the Land Corn-mission themselves would do.
That brings me to the functions of the Land Commission. I hope the right hon. Gentleman realises the crux of the whole problem. Whether land is farmed by Mr. X or by the Land Commission, the fundamental problem and the fundamental test of efficiency is the same, namely, whether there is an adequate return on the capital invested. I think it is extremely important that, in the case of any land taken over by the Land Commission, there should be no exhibition of extrava- 752 gant or uneconomic farming, of money being poured in without taking into account whether it is being economically spent. Nothing could be more certainly calculated to destroy the confidence of the agricultural community and to arouse their resentment—
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe
That would depend. During the war, where county war agricultural committees farmed land, there were instances where an enormous amount of money was expended, and where everybody knew that the money spent did not produce an economic return. It may have been justifiable in wartime, but the point I am making is that, in peacetime and over a long period, that sort of farming by the Land Commission can only destroy confidence in the farmers themselves, because they have not inexhaustible supplies of capital. The logical implication of the Bill is a substantial increase in rents. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedford referred to the increase in wages and prices, as against an increase in rent. It is perfectly plain, beyond any shadow of doubt, that one cannot make large-scale improvements in these days, in view of the cost of labour and material, without, in return, increasing the rent. Indeed, the Bill specifically so provides.
That brings me to a point which hon. Members opposite consistently made upstairs in Committee—I think it was also made on the Report stage last week—that there is plenty of capital available to landowners, and that, therefore, there is no excuse for their not keeping their buildings in order. Of course, there is plenty of capital available to them; they can go to the Land Improvement Society or the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and borrow the money. But it is borrowed, and not given. It is borrowed at a rate of interest, and that rate varies according to the length of the period for which the money is borrowed. That, straightaway, necessitates the rent being increased to cover the interest paid by the landowner on the money borrowed to be spent on the farm buildings. That, in turn, brings me back to Part I of the Bill. Will a farm upon which £3,000 or £4,000 has been borrowed from the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation carry the 753 extra rent with which to pay the interest on that money? That depends on the level of prices in Part 1 of the Bill.
Of Clause 30, I would only say that there will be a good deal of heart-searching by the legal profession and others as to the exact interpretation of the "of efficient farming," or whether "greater hardship will be caused" by the Minister giving or withholding his consent. The right hon. Gentleman has made some concessions to us in Clause 30. Some hon. Members opposite still persist in their illusion that a landowner spends his Sunday afternoons in August wondering upon which tenant he will serve notice to quit at Michaelmas. That, of course, is not the case. Even as amended, Clause 30 will have the result of putting a premium on vacant possession, and it will make it very difficult for the smallholder to climb any of the rungs of the ladder towards having a farm of his own, which is what we all want to see him do
In conclusion, I would say that there are too many omissions in this Bill to enable it to qualify as the agricultural charter or bible. If price incentive rather than restriction of quantity were assured, if we were quite certain that only the best type of official was to be employed on the county committees, on the Land Commission and tribunals, if there were further safeguards about the right of appeal, if water and electricity supplies and houses were attended to, and, above all, if when the right hon. Gentleman talks of gaining the farmer's confidence in the Government's long-term policy, he remembers not to mention in the same breath the threat of nationalisation, then, and not till then, there might be some truth in the Government's claim that this Bill is an agricultural charter which will bring long-term confidence into the industry.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
After hearing many of the speeches delivered by the hon. Members opposite, I have come to the conclusion that they do not like this Bill but that, although they do not like it they are, for some unexplained reason, going to support it I think the reason is that it has been accepted by the farming community as a very sound basis for their future security.
754 Many points nave been raised, but I wish to deal only with one or two raised by hon. Members opposite and one raised by my hon Friend the Member for North Norfolk (M[...] Gooch). On the issue of equal representation, one feels that the agricultural labourers are rather looking on the dark side Let us look at the position as it is. Hitherto, a farmer has had full powers in peacetime, and has been under no control. He has "farmed in his own way to the hest of his ability without any directions at all. This Bill places the farmer in a position where he can be under supervision. Under certain conditions, his powers are being taken away from him by the agricultural committee. Therefore, he is in the position of losing something. In the same way, the agricultural labourer has hitherto taken no part in the actual management of the farm. But he is to be given an opportunity in the future to take a hand in the directive part of agriculture. I think that my hon. Friends should look at it in that way, and accept what is in this Bill as a step towards the labourer playing a part in the higher management.
Hon. Members opposite nave rather chided the Minister because he has not stated in the Bill what the market is to be. He has not circumscribed the market; he has given an assurance of guaranteed prices and market, hut he has not stated the extent of the market No Minister can state what the agricultural market will be. It depends on the consumption of food by the people. If the standard of life of the people is raised, they will consume more food. Therefore, it depends upon the standard of life of the people of this country what the market will be. Hon. Members opposite have also chided the Minister for retaining the power of direction. I think that is one of the most sensible features of the Bill, because, if he is to guarantee the price and the market, he will need that power. There is the possibility that agriculture may become over balanced, that is to say that farmers may begin to concentrate upon the growing of certain crops because those crops appear to them to be more profitable than others. That being so, it is necessary that the Minister should be able to direct the cropping of the land in order to keep the food policy balanced.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I feel that the power of direction which he holds is a safeguard for the farmer and for the price and the market. I view this Bill as a genuine effort on the part of the Government to balance agriculture in the productive life of the nation and to balance it alongside, and in co-operation with, industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. T. Macpherson) has referred to the fact that the Government, who have always been considered as predominantly industrial, have brought in an Agriculture Bill of this magnitude, worthy of the support of the whole agricultural community, within two years of coming into power. That is a remarkable achievement. This is a food production Bill which aims at enabling the farmer to produce as much food as possible. The two principles of price and market which are laid down in the Bill are essential in any industry for security. There is enough natural insecurity in agriculture to occupy the farmers' time. I want to put in a word of warning on production. Agricultural production is not comparable with industrial production. We, as an industrial country, are apt to consider the two together. Our machines do not manufacture goods but assist in their creation, and when they are produced enable them to be dealt with quicker.
The danger in this Bill is that with guaranteed prices and markets and with more security, the farmers will race on towards greater production to the danger of the health of the land and of the animals upon it. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford skated over thin ice when he dealt with diseases, but, in my opinion, there is that danger in the Bill. The tendency will be to force production at the expense of the land. I fear that during the war, and, in some cases, prior to the war, we forced our land to an extent that has been responsible for some of the disease now existing in our stocks. This forcing is inviting trouble, for it creates weakness in the crops and animals, and disease in the land. I hope that in the future we shall guard against this danger of forcing at the expense of health.
However effective and efficient the administrative machine may be, the success of this Bill depends upon the practical work of the farmer; that is the secret of 756 this Bill. A short while ago the Minister of Education was here. I am sorry he has gone, because I would like to have told him that what we need in agriculture is an educated community. We need more education for the sons and daughters of farmers and farm labourers. We need to bring up to date scientific and technical development on the farms. At present there is no adequate education scheme to bring this into effect.
§ Mr. Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)
When the hon. Member says there is no education scheme, is he entirely ignorant of the scheme now operating in many counties, not only in farm institutes but in secondary education, which comprises the teaching of agriculture in the secondary schools?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
Even though I have allowed the question to be asked, I could not allow an answer to be given.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I take note of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope there will be an extension of the facilities in order that we shall have educated and trained young farmers on the land.
This Bill gives great powers to agricultural committees, and it places a great responsibility upon the Minister. I plead with the Minister to deal with the committees with tolerance, in order that they will use sympathy and understanding in their work. Some writers in the agricultural papers over the last few months have done their utmost to discredit the agricultural, committees. From time to time the Minister has been called a dictator, and in some cases a Fascist. I very much deprecate the attempts by some of these agricultural writers to discredit the committees before the Bill has begun to operate. I hope the farmers will not look upon the agricultural committee in the way in which it has been described, namely, as "the committee with the big stick." When I was a small boy I looked upon the policeman and the schoolmaster in that way, but the child of today looks upon them in an entirely different manner, and I feel that the farming community will regard the agricultural committees in the same way as the child of today looks upon the schoolmaster and the policeman. They will regard the committees as their friends and, with understanding and 757 appreciation of the difficulties, the committees and the farmers, working together under the sympathetic guidance of the Ministry, will do a great deal of good.
I have travelled in many countries and have seen agriculture in many places, but in these islands, with their varied climate, different soils and mixed types of farming, we have the most interesting type of agriculture in the world. I feel that we are living in the most interesting country in the world. I have seen what are termed the "wide open spaces" calling for men. There are thousands of acres of wide open spaces here today calling for men. They are capable of greater productivity. That productivity can be procured. I am glad to say that, under this Bill, the obligation is laid upon the Agricultural Committees to see that the land is cultivated. They have a tremendous task. There are thousands of acres with which they can begin at once that at present grow nothing—neither grain nor roots nor do they support flesh. For the health of our people, in the interests of our people, for the security of our people the agricultural community has an opportunity such as they could not find in any other country in the world. I am glad to have been a member of this party whose Government is now in power when a Bill of this nature has been introduced to place agriculture upon a firm foundation from which, secure in the knowledge that this production will not be wasted, it can make a contribution to the economy of our country that will play no small part in putting us on our feet again.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert (South Molton)
As a man occupying a wide open space at the moment, I am afraid I cannot agree with all that the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) has said. In particular, I disagree with him that the Minister requires the wide powers given him under Clause 95 to direct the crops to be grown. To my mind he can give quite sufficient inducement to the farming community by adjusting the prices. Again, I disagree with him when he says that he does not think hon. Members on this side of the House are in agreement with this Bill. I think all hon. Members are in agreement with the general intentions of the Bill, which, as I see them, are to give the farmers and farmworkers good living con- 758 ditions, to enable the farmers to make a sufficient profit to pay good wages, and to give the owners of the land a fair return upon their capital. But to many of us on this side of the House there is a great difference between having a good intention and putting it into effect. We remember the old saying that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
One thing is certain, and that is that the prosperity of agriculture depends upon prices. During the vast 50 to 60 years prices have been low; the reason they were low was, I submit, a political one: the majority of voters in the country wanted cheap food. There was plenty of food in the world, and we in this country had the ability to buy it. It was not until after 1931 that serious efforts were made to raise the prices of farm produce, and, oddly enough, I think I am right in saying, all those efforts were opposed by the party opposite. Now we are told that we need never worry again about low prices because under the Bill we are to have guaranteed prices. I wonder just how much faith we can put in this guarantee.
The great weakness of the present method of fixing prices is that they are fixed by the Minister himself, having consulted with various experts and the various representatives of the farming community. But the final decision rests with the Minister himself. He may well wish to put up prices, but he will have to stand up against pressure from the rest of the Cabinet, from Ministers, such as the Minister of Food, who are anxious to keep prices as low as possible. At present prices are kept down under the camouflage of the guarantee; and, in my view, are not economic. Only on Wednesday, during the Report stage of the Bill, the Minister, in arguing that the State should take over the land if a landlord were dispossessed, said:Probably a good deal of money will require to be spent to bring the farm back to a decent state of management."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1947: vol. 338, c 323.]He went on to imply that a private individual would not be able to command that money. I assure the Minister that, if it were economic to put money into land, there would lye plenty of money available. I have here the figures of the rents for about 20 farms in Devonshire. The rents are actually 2s. 9d. an acre lower today than they were in 1880–2s. 9d. [...]ower 759 today than they were 65 years ago. That, to my mind, shows, quite conclusively, that prices for farm produce are by no means high enough.
§ Mr. Stubbs (Cambridgeshire)
Is it the hon. Member's policy to increase prices and then to increase rents?
§ Mr. Lambert
To my way of thinking, it is impossible for an owner-occupier to keep his buildings in a proper state of repair owing to low prices.
§ Mr. Lambert
I want to see farming made prosperous. We have to get a balance. At the moment, the price of farm produce, which is kept down, does not enable a farmer to make sufficient profit to pay a wage that compares well with other wages paid in the country and to pay a sufficiently high rent to give an adequate return on the capital involved. Another thing in this Bill that causes me nervousness is that the Minister has very great powers. All through the Bill one sees the word "Minister." I am afraid that under the Bill the number of officials will increase. In Devonshire there is an agricultural college responsible for training officials and a training centre where men are taught to cultivate the land. It is an odd commentary on the state of agriculture in Devon today that the college for training officials is working to capacity, whereas, at any rate until two months' ago, the training centre could not get a single male student.
I gather there is a shortage of people with the necessary skill to fill the various appointments. I urge the Minister not to fill the appointments until he can get men with the right qualification, I suggest that the right qualification would be for a man to have successfully farmed his own farm for a certain number of years. In Devonshire, many farmers are saying that the officials who come round have a secondary school education, with a few letters after their names, but otherwise know little or nothing about farming. If practical farmers were giving advice, I am quite convinced that the instructions would be simplified, and the number of forms and 760 statistics required would be reduced. Therefore, I hope that under this Bill we shall not get a large increase in officials without practical experience. I trust that my fears about the Minister putting his good intentions into effect are groundless, and that under the Bill British agriculture will be able to play her part to the full in helping this old country to become prosperous once more.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I think that in most Debates on agriculture in this House it is possible, from whatever quarter the speeches come, to find a general measure of agreement. It is so on this occasion, on the Third Reading of this Bill. However, I have noticed one or two extraordinary points of view put forward by hon. Members opposite. For example, the hon. and gallant Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) sought to show, by the example of the tied cottage, that in not allowing an appeal from the tribunal there was some injustice to the farmer who might be dispossessed. If a farmer is adjudged by his peers not to have farmed his land in accordance with the rules of good husbandry and is given a year under supervision, if he is then adjudged unsuitable to remain in possession of the land, but has yet an appeal to the tribunal, there appear to me to be adequate safeguards. I can well imagine that if farm-workers were given treatment such as that in respect of eviction from tied cottages and if they had the right of appeal to a tribunal composed of their fellows, there would be very few evictions, and that would go a long way towards meeting their case.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) spoke of the Socialist rivulets in this Bill. It is quite obvious that there are not any too many, if we are to irrigate the mud banks which have silted up during so many years of Tory administration. The general feeling of all who have taken part in shaping this Bill is that it is not merely a good job of work but, taking the long view, the most important Measure introduced in this Parliament. The Minister has, quite rightly, come in for some generous expressions of appreciation from all parts of the House, and they are very well earned. However, it leaves me slightly uneasy that during the discussions on this 761 Bill so many hon. Members opposite have expressed the view that they would be thoroughly happy about it so long as my right hon. Friend continued as Minister of Agriculture. One fairly certain way of making sure of that would be for them to withdraw their candidatures from the rural areas, for I can assure them that we would go on keeping him in office.
We on these benches are very proud that it has fallen to a Labour Government to provide what the farming community has waited for for so long, but until now has waited for in vain—the machinery for a stable and prosperous future. But in this House we can provide only the set-up, the framework for a prosperous industry. The farming community must give it bones and flesh; they must use it to deliver the goods, because sweet words will not plough a single acre. Successful administration will depend on the quality and enthusiasm of the men and women who form the county and district committees, to whose work tribute has already been paid in this Debate. They, in turn, will be powerless unless the farmers and farm-workers are imbued with the spirit that commands success. I think that a considerable amount of harm has already been done by hon. Members of this House and by agricultural writers who have expressly played down this Bill and written it down in every aspect. Today, no one who has taken part in this Debate has gone so far as the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite), who last week described this Bill not as the "farmers' bible" but as Dante's "Inferno." At least there are no writers who have been as foolish and destructive as the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness who, to say something in has favour in this respect, has the advantage of knowing practically nothing of the subject he was then discussing.
§ Mr. Collins
Well, he did not show much knowledge in making that remark.
The spirit that will command success is the spirit embodied in the realisation that farmers and farmworkers are members of the same family of producers, that their joint interest lies in working together and not in competing with each other, and in building up the industry on which the future of the nation depends. Farmers 762 must realise, too, that they are still faced with the formidable obstacles set up during the last 60 years of rural neglect: shortage of labour and skill, shortage of machinery, water and electric power, the handing down of inadequate and out-of-date buildings, and lack of amenities for their men. Happily, farmworkers are a race apart. The amazing loyalty which resulted in a 10 per cent. increase in output per man during the war has been evidenced anew during recent weeks, when they packed into one month work which normally occupies three. They know that their work means food for the people, and that year in, year out, they have one of the hardest jobs in the country. Despite the vagaries of the weather, and with very little help from anything or anybody, they plod on, taken for granted, like the food which arrives on the table of every home, which to many arrives as if by a miracle: It does, and usually the miracle is the farmworker.
In my view, it would pay good dividends if it were possible to clear up some of the outstanding grievances, such as wages, the tied cottage and committee representation, and if the farmer could take his men into his councils and discuss with them the target the farm could achieve if they all pulled their weight together. Above all, we need to arouse, in all connected with the land, a sense of vital urgency in tackling the very great tasks which lie ahead, because in my view the farming industry holds in its hands one of the major parts of the responsibility for our complete national recovery and rehabilitation. But it is an unhappy fact—and we have to admit it—that since the war there has been a decline in tillage acreage and in livestock population. This has been due largely to causes beyond our control, but the farmer, the farm-worker and the Government must work together as a team in triple harness, not only to recover lost ground but to expand still further. We need to plan for a minimum increase of three million pigs, 20 million head of poultry, seven million sheep and large numbers of beef cattle. All these things would be done much more speedily if the people in our towns and urban areas concerned themselves as much with the production of food and in considering where the food comes from as they do with eating it. That applies to hon. Members inside this House as well ac people outside. Then, in my view, agri- 763 culture would get the top priority which it needs. All people must realise that the open door to freedom from food shortages lies in maximum production from our own soil.
At this point I should like to say a few words about a part of the Bill with regard to which I am somewhat uneasy. It concerns the lack of certainty about horticulture. I am fully aware that it is quite impossible to include horticulture in the First Schedule. We know that the Minister has given assurances, which have since been added to by the Parliamentary Secretary. We are hoping, as a result of the conversations at Geneva, that it will be possible to produce a more settled plan for horticulture, but there is no use denying that horticulturists who formerly had the best, the most profitable and productive part of the industry, are distinctly worried, and will remain so until these difficulties are settled. Everyone in horticulture knows very well the goal he wishes to reach, but very few can say the means of getting there. There has to be a great deal of consultation and discussion between all those connected with the industry in one capacity or another and with the Government departments concerned, to hammer out a satisfactory solution to the problems confronting horticulture today.
We shall get maximum production if this Bill is implemented to the full, but the Minister must see that no backsliding is tolerated and that the vested interests, whether they be like the owners of fishing rights who have laid waste so many thousands of fertile acres on the Hampshire Test and Avon, or the multiplicity of distributors who absorb an absurdly high proportion of the price the consumer pays, are dealt with as the national interest demands.
With this Bill, and with the right spirit among all concerned, only one thing is lacking for complete success, and that is sufficient finance. Estimates of the new capital required vary from £700 million to £1,000 million. Whatever the sum, it must be provided, and it will be the finest investment we can make. I welcome the fact that the Minister has been able to give details of the financial proposals in respect of smallholdings. I think that they are on the right lines, and will be welcomed in the countryside. I hope 764 that facilities of this kind can be extended to other farmers. County committees should be empowered to issue certificates to farmers requiring loans for approved capital expansion, and interest rates should not be more than for Government loans. If this were done, it would provide the essential new stimulus and lubricant that the industry needs, and with it, in the realisation that in agriculture it is now or never, the Government can bring our land back to the idea of "Merrie England," a land of work and freedom, a land of ordinary men with a way of life which is an example to the world.
§ Mr. T. Williams
On a point of Order. I have just been informed that during the course of my observations, in referring to the interest to be charged to smallholders for short-dated loans, I mentioned the figure of 2½ per cent. If I said that, it was obviously a mistake. The figure should be 2¼ per cent.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
The speech to which we have just listened is an illustration of how dangerous it is to make any critical remarks concerning the speech of another hon. Member. Surely, the remark the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) made concerning the intervention by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) could be applied with equal effect to the speech of the hon Member for Taunton. Were it not for the fact that those of us who served with him in the Committee upstairs know full well his interest in agriculture and his ambitions in that direction, we might have anticipated that he was speaking purely from a theoretical basis rather than from practical knowledge of the subject. The hon. Member fell into one error into which the Minister has never fallen. The Minister has never given any indication of complacency about the future operations of this Bill or of the agricultural industry. The Minister shares with us a very full realisation of the difficulties that lie ahead.
There is much in the Bill that is good. It has been said that we have had some 765 difficulty in re-orientating our views in regard to this Bill. That is not so. Much of the Bill is good. It introduces an element of stability into the industry which we welcome. It confirms a good deal of present practice which has been proved successful as a result of experience during the war, but there is also a good deal of the Bill that is not good. Particular reference has been made already to the limitations imposed upon the industry by the First Schedule. The First Schedule limits for the time being, until the Minister amends it by order, the parts of the industry to which the assured markets and fixed prices shall be applied. I believe that the limitation goes further than that. The mere fact of limiting the number of commodities specified in the First Schedule automatically limits the whole of the industry in regard to progress, development, initiative and effectiveness. In so far as progress is being held up and development stultified, the Bill is a bad thing. The more the industry is put into strings, the more it is tied down to the tracks along which it has to run, the more development is stultified and future prosperity limited.
I want to point to another bad thing which this Bill brings about, and again it is one of the items to which reference has been made. When the Explanatory Memorandum first came out, we thought that the Bill was to be of a universal character to ensure the prosperity of the agricultural industry. Clause 1 seeks to make provision by way of guaranteed prices and assured markets for a stable and efficient agricultural industry, which is also mentioned in the Memorandum, and imposes a further limitation most effectively by giving this assurance only in regard to the produce mentioned in the First Schedule. That will have a very grave and deleterious effect upon the whole future of the industry. When we consider the question of assured markets, limited as they are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) made so clear, to the amount of production which is thought to be in the national interest, how is the farmer to be able to judge what he shall produce, and what he can produce profitably, without knowing whether or not his crop is to be included? The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) said that the only limit was the national demand, and that the 766 standard of living of the people would fix the amount of production. I do not see how that can possibly be, because we know that whatever the amount of our production, we can never achieve a production sufficient to supply the needs of our people. The right hon. Gentleman put it far more succinctly. He said that as far as he could foresee, we should be able to maintain a fully productive industry. If that is so, why should it not go into the Bill? He is suggesting that things which may be wrong can be taken out of the Bill in future—
§ Mr. Alpass
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the articles mentioned in the Schedule, is it not specifically laid down that the Minister cannot delete any of them, but can only add to them?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I agree, but I was not referring to those articles. I was referring to the question of full production, and to the limitation of full production by the fact that, as provided for in Clause 1 the assurance comes in only for such part of agricultural production as is in the national interest. I would like to criticise Clause 20, which has been referred to in our earlier Debates, but not today. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was his objective that the industry should be run by the industry and disciplined within the industry. We quite see the point he is making, but how can that be said in conjunction with Clause 20? The House will recall that we had a great deal of discussion in Committee about the powers of the Minister to acquire land in certain circumstances. We went into detail about the owner of land who, for some reason or other is to be dispossessed, and who also happens to have an interest in some adjacent land less than the interest of ownership. This Clause gives power to enable the Minister or, failing agreement between the parties, the land tribunal, to assume an interest of ownership in the second piece of land, so that, should the circumstances demand it, both parts of the land can be compulsorily acquired—
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
—without any reference whatever to the true ownership of the second piece of land. How can that possibly be said to be fair to the owner of the second piece of land, or to have any- 767 thing to do with the industry running itself? It is a most arbitrary provision under which the industry itself will have no possible right of control.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Under the terms of the Bill, the Minister would not dream of taking over such a piece of land unless he was recommended to do so by the county agricultural executive committee. These committees, as the hon. Member knows, are composed of farmers, landowners, agricultural workers, and agricultural technicians, so that the advice would come from those within the industry itself.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I appreciate the interjection, but it still does not necessarily take account of the rest of the interests. The owner of the second piece of land might be serving overseas, or not available at the time. If the matter went to the tribunal it would be taken out of the hands of the industry. I would like to say a word or two about the land tribunals. They are the sole judges of fact and law. We are getting into a difficult position here now, because we have heard, during these Debates, some very severe criticisms of people in my profession, solicitors, who seek to take an interest in agricultural affairs, or have it forced upon them through trusteeship and matters of that sort. We have been told by the Solicitor-General that they are unlikely to be successful, or even efficient, in their administration of agricultural estates. Yet it is just those people, solicitors and barristers of not less than seven years' experience, who are to be made chairmen of the land tribunals, to be judges of fact and law in connection with practically every kind of dispute which can arise under this Bill. The criticisms which have been levelled in this respect cannot be supported by the tendency of the Minister in regard to the general administration of the Bill as a whole. I can still see no reason why there should not be an appeal from the decision of a tribunal. If, as has been said, no question of law is likely to arise, what harm is there in giving a right of appeal should any question of law arise? In the interpretation of this Bill I cannot foresee otherwise than that questions of construction, which are questions of law, are bound to arise.
768 May I say a further word about the committees themselves? Everything in this Bill turns on their work. The right hon. Gentleman taunted me the other night with my lack of faith in these committees, but I know his taunt was in the nature of a jest, and that he knows as well as I do the need for supporting the committees. We both have the very highest regard for many of the members of these committees, whom we know personally. Therefore, I accept his taunt in the spirit in which it was offered, but are we not, in this Bill, overburdening these loyal, hardworking and practical farmers? If there is no solid nucleus of practical farmers on these committees, the whole essence and administration of the Bill will fall to the ground. The whole essence of the right hon. Gentleman's desire that the industry shall be governed, controlled, and disciplined by the industry will fall to the ground. But are we not, in the immense amount of work which we are asking the committees to do, overburdening them and at the same time rendering it almost impossible for them to carry out the administration of the Bill and also their own work as practical farmers? That is the danger I see with regard to the working of this Bill by the committees.
I feel also that there is a further danger. The best farmers who serve on these committees are inherently of an independeat turn of mind. They would not be good farmers if they were not independent individuals. Yet how much independence are they to have in their service on the committees in the future, unless the Minister is able to give them an absolutely free rein to make their own decisions, and to carry out their own duties with the minimum of interference and the minimum of guidance from Whitehall? These men will not allow themselves to be curtailed in their decisions and 'be put into a position of being regarded as, what in fact they are, the Minister's agents. That is a difficulty with which the right hon. Gentleman will have to deal to reconcile the position these independent people who are upheld in the industry, looked up to in the industry, and regarded as the industry's independent friends and advisers, and who are, at the same time, the Minister's agents.
The Minister has in this Bill many powers of a discretionary nature, and I 769 hope, as everyone in the agricultural world hopes, that those powers will be used with the utmost delicacy and discretion. Throughout the Bill the Government take powers to do all manner of things, but each time we are given an assurance that the powers are either to be held in abeyance, or used in a very limited fashion or for a special purpose and that we need not worry. The Bill is built up of these assurances, which are of the utmost danger, and I trust that the Government will deal very delicately indeed with the very wide powers and discretion that they have taken. Finally, may I again emphasise that if the Bill is to be a success, as we all wish, the whole thing will depend on administration which is based upon the relationship between the Ministry and the county committees.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Major Wise (King's Lynn)
I implore the House not to be at all dismal about this Bill. The object tonight is to speed the Bill on its way. I do so with very real gratitude to the Labour Government which has brought the Bill into being. I was glad that the Minister, in his opening speech, referred to the work of the Standing Committee, and the general good feeling of friendship which prevailed in the Committee. There were many Amendments moved by the Opposition, some of which, I am prepared to, admit, were proper and appropriate Amendments, and were accepted by the Minister. We on our side of the Committee also helped to hasten the passage of the Bill. Our Amendments, few in number, were not all accepted by the Minister, but we are thankful that some were accepted, as our contribution to the Bill.
Under this Bill the Minister is given tremendous powers—both with regard to owners and tenants. I would impress upon my right hon. Friend—and I am certain he will act in this way—that he must gather round him good practical people to man the agricultural executive committees, so that in future these committees may not be under any stigma. In my view, there are no evils in the Bill, but there are one or two points that I wish to touch upon. I am glad that in the negotiations that have taken place during the discussions on the Bill, it has been found possible, in another direction, to improve the compulsory purchase powers of the Government. There was a 770 good deal of hesitation in the minds of many of us about the proper amount which should be paid when the State compulsorily purchases land. The compulsory purchase procedure and the amount of compensation to the owners have been improved.
I wish to refer to the question of compensation for farmers who are dispossessed by reason of the action of the State. It is quite possible—I think that this is an example which may be given—for the Ministry of Transport to purchase a transport undertaking—a garage and all the rest of it—adjoining a farm occupation. The compensation paid by the Ministry of Transport to the owner of the premises may be two to five years' purchase on the annual profits. If the Ministry of Agriculture purchase the adjoining farm, the measure of compensation then provided by the State to the farmer who loses his business is not in the nature of two to five years' purchase on the annual profits, but one year's rent, which is concluded to be one-third of his profits. In fact, this amounts to not more than four months' profits on the farming occupation. I hope that in future it will be possible for the Government to collect together the various pieces of their compulsory purchase Measures, and to ensure that everyone who is deprived of his business for the benefit of the State is given full and proper compensation.
There is another matter to which I should like to refer briefly. Under the Bill an owner is protected against a tenant who exercises a high standard of farming. There is a statutory obligation whereby, before a tenant on going out can claim for a high standard of farming, a schedule of the condition of the holding must have been made during some period of his tenancy. The owner is protected by Statute, but the farmer who happens to be dispossessed is not so protected. The farmer can ask his landlord to have a record of the holding made, but there is no definite statutory obligation that that should be done. It is a matter for arrangement between the owner and the farmer, although if they disagree as to who should make the record there is, as a last resort, a provision in the old 1923 Act about the way in which it should he made. If there is statutory protection for the owner against a claim for a high standard of farming, so in the same way there should be statutory protection for the tenant who 771 may have a claim for deterioration of the holding or for dispossession thrown at him. That particular Clause should be amended in that way.
I pass now to the composition of the agricultural committees. It is a difficult position in which we find ourselves. Many of us on this side of the House—maybe there are only a few, but I think there are many—are not too happy about the proposed composition of the agricultural committees. I will not go into the matter in detail, but I suggest to the Minister that it would be a very good gesture towards the farmworkers if, in regard to certain committees, he could meet them half way. In certain counties it might be possible for the number of agricultural workers on the committees to be increased. In other counties it does not apply, but—I am thinking generally in terms of the Eastern counties—if the Minister, in nominating his special representatives, could nominate an additional farmworker, it would go a long way towards mitigating the sense of injustice which the men feel at the present time. I want that to be done for this reason. Only yesterday I happened to be speaking at a meeting, and a farmworker came up to me afterwards. The only question he asked me was, "Can you tell me when the Control of Engagement Order comes off, because directly it comes off I am leaving the land?" We do not want to have men leaving the land if it can possibly be avoided. We shall be very short of labour in the future and I hope, therefore, that if the Minister can do something to keep the men on the land by meeting any grievances they have in regard to the manning of the agricultural committees, he will do it. I am certain he would be thanked by the men and by those who represent them.
I have one final question to ask, and it is almost a hardy annual. It is a matter on which a good deal of discussion has taken place, both in the Committee and in the country, and possibly when the Solicitor-General replies he will say "yes" or "no" to it. Does the Bill provide in any shape or form for the abolition of spring traps? I mean the total abolition, both in the open and in the holes, and if not, is it the intention of the Government to amend the 1939 Act accordingly? I put that question to the Solicitor-General, and in my concluding words, I express the hope that the Bill 772 will have an early passage through the House.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I hope the hon. Member opposite will forgive me if I do not follow him completely, because if I followed him I might be out of Order, and in fact, drawing a red pilchard across the trail. When this Bill was before the House for a Second Reading, I did my level best to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, but unfortunately I did not get in that time. Then the Bill was whisked away from this Chamber and went to the Committee upstairs, and I had no opportunity to speak. There is a certain Clause in this Bill in which I am very interested, and I thought that when the Bill came down here on Report stage I should have my opportunity. But no, sufficient discussion had taken place already on that Clause, and you saw fit, Sir, quite properly, not to call it for discussion, and once again I was unable to take part in the Debate. What I want to say this afternoon is this. Bills are Bills, as we all know; they are introduced on the Floor of this House by Ministers, and now we have to come to the Third Reading, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House have quite rightly and properly referred to the fact that a Bill does not in itself make a healthy agriculture. That is a very important point to remember.
There are many good points in this Bill, many doubtful points, and many points where the i's are not crossed and the t's are not dotted. I should hate to think that agriculture in this country may be looking at a mirage on this question of guaranteed prices, for guaranteed prices can ring a strange bell if they are not related in any way to costs. In passing, I would like to draw the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries—I emphasise "and Fisheries"—to the maximum prices for fish. If there is a maximum price for fish it does not necessarily mean that the price cannot drop, and the Minister knows that the actual price to which it may drop may not be an economic price for the fishermen. Similarly, when we have a guaranteed price in an Agriculture Bill not related to costs, it is not of itself a guarantee to the farmer. The Clause to which I referred previously has reference to the question of horticulture. What did the Minister say at that Box this afternoon in moving 773 the Third Reading of this Bill? He said that 75 per cent. of agriculture was in the Bill and 25 per cent was not, just as if 25 per cent. was a small amount that did not matter. Twenty-five per cent, is a very large amount indeed, and when I think of my own Division in Cornwall, of all the horticulture carried on in the west, and of its importance, I would remind the Minister that 25 per cent. is not just a small amount to be cast aside.
My hon. Friend on the Front Bench referred to the fact that if agriculture could increase its production by 10 per cent. it would have a big effect in saving imports, and though the right hon. Gentleman opposite has been here most of the afternoon he may have caught sight of the evening papers and the headlines they have today on the question of the restriction of imports. He knows full well the vital importance of maximum production, and would like to recall his attention to the way in which during the war years Cornwall played its full part, and from time to time carried out the instructions of the Minister knowing full well the importance of production at that time. Cornwall in the days of old may indeed have been a grain-growing country but it is not so at the present time. Yet its farmers, irrespective of cost to themselves, were quite willing to go on in the interests of the United Kingdom, and they carried out to the last every instruction that the Minister saw fit to issue.
In the passing of this Bill the Minister would do well to bear in mind that what really matters is the spirit of the Bill and its administration. This country must have a healthy agriculture maintained in every way at the top priority. That is what is necessary, and that is what the farmers are looking for today. It is not so much the words contained in the Bill but feedingstuffs, rural housing and such things which will maintain a healthy agriculture.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I am glad to have this opportunity before saying "goodbye" to the Bill, to commend it without any of the reservations we have heard from the other side of the House particularly and once or twice from this side of the House. I think it is a first class Bill. Together with the Bill for the 774 nationalisation of the mines, it is the most significant of the Measures that we have put on the Statute Book since we have been in power. These two great Measures represent the corner stones of the new economic policy of this country. I should also like to congratulate the Minister, though someone has said that that was heaping coals of fire on one's head. I think the Minister deserves congratulation. He has given us a Bill which is broad and statesmanlike in conception. During the period when the Bill was passing through its various stages he has been both courteous and patient with all of us. I think it was an hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House who said that this was legislation by assurance. If that is true the assurances that the Minister gave us on the Committee stage of the Bill—and they were a good many—have all been implemented as we found when we came to the Report stage.
§ Mrs. Manning
There may have been some more assurances about which we will hear more later on. It has been said by some hon. Members that this Bill is the dry bones of our policy. I should liken it to a bare field which has to be ploughed, enriched and sown before we can get the best out of it. If we are to get the good which is envisaged in this Bill we have to get together. It means that the farmers, the workers and the agricultural committees, which have today come in for some unfair criticism, but who, I believe, are doing a first class job of work, have to get together. I do not think that we should denigrate the activities of these, committees; they should be upheld by us so that they realise that we support them in their work. If we can do that then the farmers in the country will also trust them. If we do all these things we shall be able to get out of the Bill ail that the Minister envisages.
Of course, we shall always have to come back to the matter which I have so often laboured in agricultural debates—the question of labour. In that connection I should like to suggest to the Minister that he needs more than the co-operation of those who are engaged in the industry, he needs the co-operation of practically every one of his colleagues in the Cabinet. He needs the co-operation of the Minister of 775 Health to give housing and water, water it the houses and on the farms; of the Minister of Education to give the people good schools for our villages without which no self-respecting worker will live there; of the Minister of Fuel and Power to give us electricity in the homes and on the farms for, without electricity a farm cannot be properly worked; of the Minister of Transport to give us buses so that our villages shall not be isolated; of the President of the Board of Trade to let us keep more of our agricultural machinery in this country so that, even if we are short of labour, we shall be able to mechanise and mechanise this great industry of ours.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
Before the hon. Lady finishes that part of her speech, I would ask her to include the Minister of Supply to give us more than a 2 per cent, allocation of steel.
§ Mrs. Manning
I have mentioned as many as I consider are necessary to show that what I am really asking; for is the co-operation of the whole Cabinet with the Minister of Agriculture to make this Bill a success. That is what I really wanted to do and no more.
I feel that during the whole of the Debates on this Bill both upstairs and down here we have all—and by that I include hon Members on the other side of this House as well as on this side—not only been thinking of those who work on the land but have been conscious of a shadowy third listening in to our Debates, perhaps not really so shadowy for I mean all the people in this country They are all interested in this Bill because it has as one of its objects to provide food for our people. It is because it is a Bill to provide food for the people of the country that the Minister has taken so many of the powers which hon. Members opposite have resented because they are something quite new. It is because of this new conception of the land, as land held in trust for the whole of the nation, that the Minister has had to take the powers set out in Clause 95.
It is absolutely necessary that we shall never be caught again as we were in the past, when right at the last moment with the enemy at the gate the Minister had to give directions as to policy It is also because of the great importance of this Bill to the whole of the country that the Minister has had to take the power which he 776 has taken in Clause 84. We cannot afford any longer to have any part of this country unproductive. I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) and the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) in the views that they take about the Land Commission. I really believe that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford was going far wide of the mark when he compared the Land Commissioners with the absentee landlords of Ireland. Are we going to rack-rent the land? Are these Commissioners going to exploit those who live in and about the great farms which we hope will be an example to the whole of the farming community? Are we going to leave those people in the same condition as were the poor tenants on the farms of Ireland?
I do not agree either with the view taken by the hon. and gallant Member for Windsor that in taking over these lands we shall be doing something which is unfair to other agricultural owners because we are able to pour more capital into them than other farmers can afford to do. Has it not always been the case that some farmers could put in more capital than others? Have not some farmers been able to buy better equipment and erect better buildings than others, and as a result have they not been able to get better production? There are some parts of the land of this country which it would cost far too much in capital expenditure for anyone privately to bring into a state of production. Are we to allow that land to waste, because that is the only alternative. I am quite sure that hon. Members opposite, when they come to think about it, will realise that this is an extremely valuable part of the Bill. It may be we shall not get a return for our capital for a long time, but in the end it will repay one hundred fold. I would only ask hon. Members to think back what has been done in the Fens, sometimes by private enterprise and during the war by the Government. There is no more rich and fertile part of this country than our Fens and the Fen farms which have had money spent on them. I regard this as being an extremely important part of the Bill about which hon. Members opposite need not have arriére-penseés such as they have had this afternoon. I want to refer to only one other part of the Bill—one which is very dear to my heart. For many years 777 I have been closely connected with the young people in our villages and small agricultural towns as secretary to the rural schools advisory committee. How often rural parents have said to me, "No, my boy is not going into agriculture. Once an agricultural labourer, always an agricultural labourer." Part IV of the Bill at long last gives to the good, ambitious, hard-working and energetic young farm-worker who wants to get ahead, the opportunity to take the responsibility of owning land of his own. The announcement which the Minister has made to us this afternoon concerning the terms upon which such a young man can obtain capital make this provision infinitely more valuable than any of us had dared to hope. I feel Mat the day has now come when any young man may start on the land with the sure knowledge that he can go right up the ladder and eventually farm in his own right. For the reasons I have given, I believe that this Bill is one of the greatest and finest Measures which this Government will place before us in their whole period of office, and I hope that we shall work together to obtain the fullest benefit from it.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) has told us that it is essential that the whole Government should work together for the good of this Bill, and I agree with her. I only express the hope that the Minister of Agriculture will hold his own very firmly with the other Cabinet Ministers with whom he has to sit on so many occasions. While the memory of the speech of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) is still fresh in my mind, I should like to refer to it. He complained that agricultural labourers were not having sufficient representation on the executive committees. I have met a number of agricultural labourers and have not found that that complaint is prevalent, and I have had no single letter on the subject. There is no doubt that the committees have to deal with matters which confront the farmers and the landowners, and I think that Members of Parliament should have broad minds and when they come to this House should speak as they think best for the Bill and the country as a whole rather than for one section of the community—a practice which is only too pre- 778 valent in some quarters of the House at the present time. It is a pleasure to be able to approve and support this Bill this evening, more especially as it was brought in originally in its nucleus state by the Coalition Government, and is aimed at supplying us with stability and security. The present Minister of Agriculture, who was then Parliamentary Secretary, played his part in helping to bring in the Bill, and I am sorry that, owing to illness, his Parliamentary Secretary is not here now to help him to pilot the Bill through the House.
§ Mr. Williams
I said that the seeds were sown by the Coalition Government and the papers were firmly established in a pigeon-hole at that time. We have the land of this country as our heritage. It is a capital asset and we are unable to change it. We cannot go and obtain another form of capital just by purchasing it. So having got the land, we have to make the best use of it. We have to employ every corner and every little piece of that land to the best of our ability, and for that reason many hon. Members on this side of the House have deplored the fact that there is a possibility of the quantity of foodstuffs to be produced being limited. That is the weak part of the whole Bill, but I am glad that the Minister has appreciated the big part which smallholdings may play in the future of agriculture. It is certain that smallholdings produce more per acre than any other form of farming; it is also true that they produce less per man, but in this age of machinery that problem is rapidly diminishing, and I believe that in future with this machinery—especially the small mechanised cultivators, hoers and diggers suitable for small plots of land—smallholdings will play a very big part.
For that reason I welcome the fact that the Minister has told us today the conditions upon which he is prepared to lend money. I thought they were entirely satisfactory, but I can never understand why tenants who own smallholdings through smallholding authorities can obtain loans while those who hold them through their landlords cannot. It is a piece of unfairness the reason for which I fail to appreciate, but the Minister is adamant that they shall not be given loans except through the local councils. I 779 hope that these holdings are to be run on co-operative lines and that the Minister will keep his eye on them, because while smallholdings were a gross failure after the last war, those run on group lines, where the members have to buy through their own association at the cheapest price and sell their finished goods, also through the association, at the best price, have almost always been an unqualified success. I appeal to the Minister to bear that in mind and not to be too hasty in starting smallholdings unless those conditions prevail.
I should like now to turn to what I do not like about this Bill. I like the principles very much, but running right through the Bill one sees signs of the frame of mind of the Socialist planners. They believe that in theory they are doing the right thing; we believe that, when practice comes to play its part, in many cases they will fail. Enormous powers are given to the Minister; to farm the land himself, to supervise it without appeal, to dispossess, in some cases unfairly, and to demand forms, which in many cases are unnecessary. On these four subjects I want to say a few words. These powers may be reasonable in themselves. The idea is good, but when there is no appeal and when there are arbitrary powers and controls which are carried out in an inconsiderate manner that does the Government no good. The question of the Minister farming himself has been described as a back door to nationalisation. There are plenty of alternatives and they have been put to the Minister. He can either put the land up for sale or find a tenant. He assured us that he means to farm the land himself only in very exceptional cases but, as we have pointed out, assurances are no good. We should have liked to see it in the Bill. If he intends to farm himself, we want to know the results of his farming, and we desire that the accounts should be included with the report of the Land Commission so that we can inquire into them, criticise them and, above all, make suggestions. I know the figures are to be published, but the Bill provides for them to be published in such a form that none of us will be able to find the results without an undue amount of unnecessary work.
I come now to supervision. In itself that also is perhaps a good measure and 780 we agree to it, but when there is no appeal against it and when a new tenant going into a farm is put under supervision just because the previous farmer was under supervision, that is plainly calling a man guilty before he has had a trial of any sort. If we are to have these controls, we must have justice and sympathy with them and they must be free from politics. When we come to dispossession, in many cases the landlords may be short of materials and labour and unable to carry out the directions that have been given to them. They may be dispossessed, but the Minister assures us that it will not be done unfairly. It does not say so in the Bill. Having dispossessed them, the Minister can take over the land himself. That savours of politics, and the Minister may be criticised later for nationalising the land in this peculiar way.
All sorts of forms may have compulsorily to be filled in under the Bill. In many cases those forms have already been demanded under other Bills, such as the Statistics of Trade Bill. The Minister will not even give us an assurance that there will be no duplication There is very serious complaint about the number of forms that we have to fill in at the present time. A case has been brought to my attention of a certain food "snooper" who came down to a farmer in Frinton and made many demands He asked the farmer how many acres of wheat he grew last season, how much corn it produced, what quantity was threshed and what number of quarters were left in the stack. He asked the farmer if he had sold it all or had he kept some for seed. The farmer explained that he had answered all those questions to the Minister of Agriculture and that it was a waste of time to give the answers over again. The food "snooper" agreed that it might be a waste of time, but said that those were his orders and he had to get the answers all over again.
The officialdom which runs through this Bill and others will eventually, in my opinion, bring this Government down. The Bill has many weak points. It has controls, some with little justice. It gives little consideration to the farmer and the landlords who have given good service in the past. Many of these controls are being carried out without giving the people concerned "due notice." We have constantly brought this matter to the attention of the Minister during the passage of the Bill. An official can en on to somebody's land 781 to see that supervision orders are carried out or can go to look at land which he thinks might be suitable for smallholdings, or poison can be put down; and it can all be done without giving notice to the occupier. This is a good Bill, but it is being spoilt by so many inconsiderate controls. I have one more protest, if I may make it, and it is that under the Bill steel traps have been prevented from being laid.
§ Mr. Speaker
On the Third Reading Members may talk only of what is in the Bill and not of what is outside the Bill. I nearly stopped a previous speaker on this subject.
§ Mr. Williams
As that hon. Member got away with it, I thought I too was going to escape but as it was my last protest I will bow to your Ruling Sir and resume my seat.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton (Sudbury)
I wish to address myself to a narrow point which has been raised by hon. Members apposite regarding Part I of the Bill and particularly in regard to the fact that no fixed quantity is laid down. The argument of hon. Members to the Labour Government is: "You say that this is a charter for agriculture, but really it is not, because you give no guarantee whatever of the quantities for which you are going to give guaranteed prices. In all probability, those quantities, in the years to come, will become much reduced." That is their implication. If I had a jaundiced and suspicious mind, I might say that the reason for this attitude is that hon. Members opposite are a bit mortified to think that it has remained for a Labour Government to bring forward this great Bill and that they themselves missed the opportunity of doing something of that kind. Really, I have a kindly mind. I think that many of them génuinely feel there is some danger of the happenings that they suggest. They have an excuse for it, because their minds are no doubt steeped in capitalist philosophy and they have no understanding of What Socialism and Socialist planning really mean.
What we Socialists stand for is the utmost use of the resources of the community for the benefit of the community. Our complaint against the other system is not only that the cake is so unequally divided, but that it is such a miserably small cake. That is the case because we 782 lamentably neglect and waste our resources. There is no question about it. We have only to look at the way we used our land in the inter-war period to see that. Our literature shows the same facts conclusively, if anybody takes the trouble to look at, it. Years ago, we asked for a planned agriculture. This idea that a flood of cheap imports is necessarily a good thing because it means cheap food is not a Socialist principle. It may possibly be a Liberal principle and part of the Liberal philosophy. It is certainly not part of the Socialist philosophy, because it cuts at the root of proper planning of our resources. What happened when we allowed cheap imports to flood in?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member is going rather wide in this interesting discussion. He must stick to the Bill, which is being read a Third time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton
Certainly, Mr. Speaker, but I was taking up points about Part I with which so many other hon. Members have dealt. I was explaining that there was no fear such as is felt by hon. Members opposite that production from the land will be reduced. I am sure that it will, on the contrary, be extended. Hon. Members may ask: "Why then does the Minister hesitate to put in any fixed figures?"—as they are so anxious for him to do. Surely, as a matter of common sense it is clear that no one can foresee exactly what the trends of agriculture will be. I believe that we must have a high output of cereals for a very considerable time to come. I believe there will also be a trend to place more emphasis on animal products and slightly less on cereal products. No one can say just what the balance will be. Therefore, to ask the Minister to tie himself down to' rigid definite figures is not sensible. When so shrewd a Member as the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) makes such a suggestion, I am inclined to wonder how serious he is and to what extent his tongue is in his cheek. I do not believe that a Government of any complexion would commit themselves to rigid figures of that kind. This Bill is a charter for agriculture so long as the Socialist Government are in power. I believe the countryside will go on from strength to strength and will never look back. If anyone has any doubt, let him study the principles on 783 which our policy is based and he will then be fully reassured.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
Those who find this Bill, as did the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise), almost wholly without evil, will be somewhat shaken by the last remark of the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton), who appears to think that this Bill will only be a charter for so long as the Socalist Government survive; in which case its benefits are likely to be rather more short-lived.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton
I did not say "only." I said it was quite certain while the Socialist Government were in power. I do not deny that it might be made use of by other Governments.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
That will no doubt act as a great consolation to the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury when the Socialist Government falls in due time. I have not had the same advantage as have so many hon. Members who have spoken of serving on the Standing Committee which dealt with this Bill. I was prevented from so doing by the fact that the Standing Committee on the Town and Country Planning Bill was proceeding simultaneously. Both these Bills deal with the use of land, but they have had a very different course in Parliament. Upstairs they proceeded side by side, the guillotined and the unguillotined, the bound and the free; and the result is interesting because the Minister is able to come with his unguillotined Measure to this House this afternoon and claim for it, rightly, the credit that this is a Bill which has been considerably improved by criticism and constructive suggestion from all parts of that Committee. He is getting his Third Reading unopposed, and when the Government spokesman introduces this Bill in another another place, he will not be under the same humiliating necessity as was the Lord Chancellor of apologising for the scanty treatment of that Bill in the House of Commons. That is a tribute to the way in which this Bill has been handled. As comparisons are odious, I will leave it at that.
Various hon. Members, including the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), have expressed the wish that 784 hon. Members on this side will not denigrate this Bill. I do not think that it is denigrating a Bill of this character to emphasise its limitations. After all, we cannot make agriculture prosperous by Act of Parliament any more than we can make people happy by Act of Parliament. But just as by Act of Parliament we seek to remove causes for unhappiness, so in a Bill of this nature we seek to remove things which obstruct the way to prosperity in agriculture. As we know, the two obstacles—we are getting a little tired of the well-worn metaphor of the twin pillars which seems to have been rather over used in the course of this Bill's Parliamentary history—which stand in the way, and which Part I of this Bill seeks to remove, are the obstacles of instability of price and lack of an assured market. We have heard a good deal, in regard to Part I of this Bill, as to whether or not the lack of definition of the size of the market is a considerable drawback. The Minister rightly pointed out in his opening speech that Part I is designed to give stability to the farming interests and that Part II is the method by which the Government in return for that get a guarantee of efficiency from the farming interests. It is, therefore, a question of quid pro quo.
§ Mr. T. Williams indicated assent.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am glad to see that the Minister assents to that. The point is that whereas the Ministerial quid is absolutely defined, the quo for the farming community is left much more indefinite. The regulations and compulsive procedure of Part II are definitive and emphatic; but the extent of the market is undefined in Part I. There is, therefore, a lack of balance between the two Parts which in the Minister's view balanced each other. Before leaving Part I, I should like to associate myself with various speakers, including the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), in the hope that something more specific is shortly to be done to include horticulture in the benefits of Part I than it has so far been found possible to do.
Part II was described by the Minister as "control and discipline from within." Of course, the ultimate compulsive sanction in all these cases is that of the Minister. Part II lays down the rules, and arms the Minister with these compulsive sanctions. I suggest that, in this democratic community of ours, an ounce of 785 co-operation is worth a pound of regulation and a whole ton of compulsory sanctions. It has been stated by hon. Members that this Bill will succeed in so far as it is democratically administered and administered in a Spirit of temperate conciliation and discretion, and also in so far as the basic surrounding difficulties can be met and coped with. We all know what these difficulties are—want of equipment, want of feedingstuffs, and, perhaps most enduringly, want of labour on the land.
I make no apology for returning to the question of labour, which has been referred to by so many hon. Members. The vital question is the retention of British labour on the land, and the attraction of British labour to the land to replace the prisoner-of-war labour as it leaves. We shall only succeed in this if we can provide the rural housing and amenities of which the countryside stands so desperately in need. The Minister referred to this aspect of the question in the closing passages of his speech. I noticed that the mellifluous, even tone of his voice accelerated as he reached this inconvenient topic; and in a few hasty sentences he said that once we had this Bill in operation, rural housing and all the other amenities would follow. I do not share the easy optimism with which the Minister addresses himself to these very real problems. I have the uneasy feeling that it is more likely that a failure to deal adequately with these basic problems will prevent the Bill from doing what we hope it will do. This Bill must be viewed as a beginning and not as an ending—
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am glad that proposition commands assent from hon. Members opposite. I hope they will not be lacking in a spirit of independent initiative in pressing upon the right hon. Gentlemen who sit in front of them the needs of the countryside. I hope the Minister will regard this Bill not as a shield with which to guard himself against criticism, but rather as a weapon of offence with which to compel other Members of the Cabinet to pursue constructive policies in the interest of the countryside, particularly in regard to the provision of rural housing and amenities. I would ask the Minister to show himself not only a Minister in this House, but a man in the Cabinet, and to insist on the point 786 of view of agriculture being heard there. There is another factor on which the success of this Bill is dependent; a factor related to that of physical amenities, but not altogether to be identified with them. That I can best express by borrowing a phrase which is in vogue in educational circles—parity of esteem.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
It is a high-sounding and abstract phrase, and I can well understand that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), with his precise mind, finds the phrase a little unintelligible. For his benefit, therefore, I will try to translate it into rather more concrete and specific terms. I believe that in this country we have to get back to a position where the phrase "a country cousin," instead of being one of amused tolerance, is one of admiration and even envy. That is the position to which we must get if agriculture in this country is to succeed. We have taken a step towards that in this Bill; Part IV, which deals with smallholdings, does something to create a ladder of opportunity. We may be sure that, as long as agriculture is thought to be a blind alley occupation, it cannot have parity of esteem with urban occupations; and so long as it does not get that parity of esteem we cannot hope, however good our legislative machinery, to keep labour on the land.
We have made a start at any rate. But I would say, in conclusion, that although there is much that is good in this Bill, I believe that the Minister has not perhaps quite appreciated how utterly dependent the success of this Bill is on these other basic difficulties which surround agriculture today. Therefore, I would part with this Bill with the thought that, whatever is done by way of procedure and regulation, it is only by solving the basic problems that we can feel the confidence that we would wish in the future of British agriculture and in our national well-being, with which it is so closely involved.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Stubbs (Cambridgeshire)
I have listened for the last three hours to speakers on the Opposition Benches, and I am at a loss to understand their minds. There is one word in the English dictionary 787 which I have heard more times than any other word I know, and that is the word "fear." All I have heard this afternoon is fear of this, or fear of something else which may arise out of this Bill. I wonder how far hon. Members opposite were expressing the minds of those engaged in this great industry? The Minister had consultations with the National Farmers' Union, which gave the Bill its blessing. From what we have heard this afternoon, it does not appear that hon. Members opposite are satisfied with the feelings of the National Farmers' Union. Conferences have been held all over the country, and those of us who attended them did not find fear of what might arise as a result of this Bill. I am wondering whether the fear is a political one, a fear that the Opposition will lose their power in the countryside as a result of the support of the National Farmers' Union for this Bill. Looking at the past 30 years, the bad old days of agriculture, when farmworkers were treated more like beasts of burden than human beings, with tied cottages in miserable surroundings and a lack of sanitation, we must remember that we are taking up a legacy of the past, of land grossly neglected for years between the two wars.
This Bill opens a new chapter in agriculture, removing from the fanner the curse of the instability of the industry, because of the guaranteed prices he will now get. How often have I known a farmer to come back from market and, because he has received a miserable price for his stock or produce, to knock a shilling off his men's wages. I have known that happen time after time. This Bill, then, is the charter of the farmers and the farmworkers. If only those men who lived in the horrible past could raise their heads now, they would see that, as a result of this Bill farmworkers are to be treated as human beings and given a square deal. But if this new charter is to be a success, it must have the co-operation of both sides of the industry. If we are to have that co-operation, we have a right on the workers' side to claim equal representation, both on the county committees and particularly on the district committees. Since representation is provided for in the Bill, I am at a loss to understand why there should not be, equal representation. It is granted in other industries Is it 788 because workers are subservient to the capitalist interest? If so, the farmworker puts his whole life into the industry.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams), who said that there was no great controversy in the countryside about equal representation. That is not true. At meetings in county after county, the workers have asked, "Why have not we got equal representation with the farmers?" I believe the Minister did what he could. I regret there is not equal representation—that is all. I think we shall get it by and by, because we are partners now in this industry—farmers and farmworkers alike. We have a glorious opportunity to bring agriculture out of despondency into prosperity. We now have one chance in a lifetime to make a great success of this industry, and it is to be regretted that we have not got equal representation.
The success of this Bill will depend upon manpower, and where the manpower is to come from when the German prisoners and the Poles have gone, and we have to depend upon our own manpower, I do not know. Yet, as I say, the success of this Bill, and the prosperity which we hope will arise out of it, depends upon manpower all the time. That means that it depends entirely upon the amenities of the countryside. The Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture know that we must have more and more houses in the countryside. We must have water, sanitation, electricity and all the other amenities in the countryside, before we can expect the men who drifted from the land to look for employment elsewhere years ago, to come back to the land. These men will not do so unless they have equal representation on the committees, and also enjoy the amenities which are enjoyed by the workers who are engaged in other industries.
I welcome this Bill. I have been "through the mill" in this industry. I knew what it was to fight when wages were 10s. a week, and not what they are now, when we have reached the highest wages which this industry has known. I have been in the highways and byways, standing by the farmworkers in those days of a miserable 10s. a week, when, as I have already said, they were treated like beasts of burden. That is true. Thank goodness, arising out of this Bill, we shall see that the men of the 789 countryside have the chance of their lifetime. I hope that in dealing with smallholdings the Minister will make the best use of the land which he took over in the war years in Fenland, splendid land which was previously neglected, but which has been brought to a high standard of fertility. I hope it will be used for these smallholdings, and that the smallholder will be given decent land, and not had land which someone else has worked out. I hope he will be given a fair chance. This Bill has faults here and there—what Bill has not? I welcome it because I believe that when it is put into operation it will, in the end, work out for the benefit of the industry, so that the economic resources of the earth shall be used for the benefit of all, and the land restored to the common people
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Bury St. Edmunds)
I would like to bring to the notice of the Minister a complaint he made against me the other day to the effect that I was complaining about the "big stick." We have talked a lot about what we think is lacking under Part I, and I feel we have a right to say something about the rules and regulations that appear later in the Bill. The Minister said that I was complaining about controls and regulations and nationalisation. I agree that a stick is a good thing to a certain extent. A prodding stick with which to push on the lazy and the laggard in the industry is to the good of everybody and to the good of the industry, and will not do the good farmer the slightest harm; but we do not want to see that stick becoming a sort of prodding interfering stick, with its statistical requirements and its tremendous number of snoopers going around. I would remind the Minister that in a hive of bees drones are bred. They do not breed to anything like a large extent in a good active hive, but the moment that hive begins to fall off a great many more drones are bred. The result is that the worker bees die off. During the winter the honey runs out, the drone then fails to get the one object of his life, and the whole colony dies. We need to remember, in relation to the multiplicity of forms, statistics, snoopers and other drones which have come into the agricultural industry, that a certain number are healthy, but that an excess will lead to 790 the death of the hive. That is a matter we need to keep very much in mind.
To return to my metaphor of the big stick, the prodding or supervision phase is all to the good, but let us consider the next use of the stick, in the case of the man who does not respond—the boy who has not taken notice of that first minor beating. Then the big stick has to be used against the obstinate, useless man who has not taken notice. No one has any objection to that; it is good for the industry that he should be got out of it. But when that stick is used, first of all to beat a man out, and then to stop young new blood from coming in, in fact to put the bar up, and to say, "No; young blood cannot come in because this is now a nationalised industry; you can only conic in as a worker," it is bad for the industry. I hope that that will be remembered, and that once the big stick has been used to get out the bad man, it will then be put away and opportunity given for this lad, about whom we hear so much, to go up more than one rung, right to the top.
In Clauses 99 and 100 we find, as I said the other day, that the Minister has listened to and taken notice of the people in his Department who are the pest officers. I am afraid that these officers are not skilled in their job. If they were they would never have made suggestions to the Minister for all this poisoning of animals and birds. I hope the Minister will think again on that point and decide that it is not really necessary None of us wants to see crops destroyed by any animal or bird, but that can be avoided if skilled men are asked to do the job of getting rid of the animal or bird concerned. It should not be done by throwing around the countryside poison which will do much more harm to our natural bird and animal life than anything else we have heard of for a long time.
I wish to speak about the agricultural committees. Every time we have asked about the subject the Minister himself has told us that the whole Bill depends upon these committees. We agree. We must have the best blood in the committees. I ask the Minister to compare present clay circumstances with what was happening two years ago. There are good men on committees now, but they are saying, "It is not the same as it was during the war. Now we have to refer almost everything 791 to Whitehall," If that is said now, it is a terribly bad start. I ask the Minister whether in the next few months he cannot alter circumstances so that the men will say, "We are now able to give more decisions than ever we did during the war." If that is done, the first-class man on all sides of the industry will be represented on the committees. If it is not done, the standard of the committees must deteriorate and the second-rate chaps will be called upon to serve. Then, as the Minister says himself, this Bill will be very difficult to run.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
It is grossly unfair to imply that the county committees or the district committees are unable to act without referring everything to Whitehall. I know from experience in my own constituency and others that during the snow and floods in the winter action was rapid and that farmers owe something to the district committees who took upon themselves the onus of judgment during the emergency. It is unfair to give the country the impression that action by these experienced people is stultified completely by red tape or by Whitehall. I also want to take up a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) when he was discussing the issue of the size of the market and was accusing the Minister of having failed to put into the Bill something that could be read as a formula giving the exact size of the market. That is an absolute impossibility. The size of the market depends upon the industrial and agricultural prosperity of the country. It depends upon the purchasing power of the people.
There has been a lot of unreality about this Debate. Hon. Members have been trying to find something wrong here and there, and saying to the Minister, "Will you see that the farmer, or the agricultural worker, is protected?" I like the audacity of the Conservative Party and other parties outside the Labour Party, who are now telling us what we should do to protect the agricultural worker and the farmer. I hope that the next hon. Member to speak in this Debate will take me up on this point. I accuse the Conservative Party of having neglected agriculture. We needed Part I of the Bill to protect it. I ask hon. Members to 792 challenge me if they think I am wrong. It has long been a custom of British business and British economists to preach to this country that British agriculture was inefficient. Because it was inefficient it was neglected. Between 1920 and 1935, 12,000 agricultural workers a year drifted away from the rural areas into the towns. They drifted away because agriculture was neglected. Big business and industry said, "Industry is efficient. We will keep that efficiency and we will impor' cheap food."
In 1935 the agricultural output per worker in this country was somewhere in the neighbourhood of £159. In America it was £170. There was comparatively little difference between the agricultural output per worker in Britain and in America. But in industry, American industrial output per man was £730, while the output in Britain was only £254. N[...] big industrialist cried that because, British steel and British coalmines were inefficient they must neglect British industry. I do not think that I am twisting the argument when I say that it has been part of the policy of the party opposite to neglect agriculture. It is because of that neglect that we have to have Part I of this Bill.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that during the period of the Socialist Government, between 1929 and 1931, 35,000 men left agriculture and 150,000 acres of hand went out of cultivation?
§ Mr. Davies
I appreciate that fact. I also appreciate that at present we need nearly £1,000 million of capital invested in the land because no investment took place owing to this neglect. I must get back to the Bill. In Part I we talk about the guaranteed market and prices. The Linlithgow Committee investigated the issue of the margin of prices, and in 1923 they said:Our investigations have led us to the conclusion that the spread between producers' and consumers' prices is unjustifiably wide. Taken as a whole, distributive costs are a far heavier burden than society will permanently consent to bear.In 1939 this country spent £1,198 million on food. That amounts to over 29 per cent. of personal consumption or 26 per cent. of the national income. We spent that money, but the farmer and the importer received only £640 million. We 793 are trying to give guaranteed markets and a guaranteed price under Part I. Ultimately, we will have to look into the vital problem of marketing and distribution and the number of units dealing with it.
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) said to the Minister, and the Minister corrected him, that we were not concerned so much with importing feedingstuffs. Under this Measure we have the possibility of providing statistics. One thing which we neglected in the past was to develop the small miller throughout the country. In 1913 we imported only £100,000 worth of cattle feedingstuffs. Bat the monopolies and combines, by 1934, were importing £7,750,000 of animal feedingstuffs and we were becoming more and more dependent on ships to bring the food. To bring stability to our agriculture we must encourage once more the development of milling on a small scale so that the offals can be available to the small farmer. With the advent of electricity to the rural areas, milling could be made an economic proposition for the farmers of Britain.
Clause 83 of the Bill deals with research and provides for the building up of a pyramid of information to make British agriculture efficient. In connection with this Clause, I believe that rural education should be taken into account. It is pathetic and tragic to walk through the villages of England and see the sad little schools in which the children of rural England have to be educated. I maintain that, if we are to get more labour on to the land, and our people to stay on the land, we must provide for the children of the rural areas the same educational opportunities and facilities as we do for the children born in the towns. It is necessary to urge upon the Minister of Agriculture that a degree of co-operation greater than ever before must operate between the Ministers of Health, Education and Transport, in order to build up the educational facilities for the English countryside that will enable the people in the country to do the work on the land.
I also hope that, in regard to educational research which is dealt with in Clause 83, there will one day be an investigation of the possibilities of extending our system so that we can get a national veterinary service, in order to bring about a greater purification both of milk and cattle than 794 is possible at present. On this side of the House we are all agreed in welcoming this Bill. On both sides of the House we are indebted to the Minister of Agriculture for the kindness he has shown to those who brought forward Amendments during the Committee stage, and we all wish this Bill well.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
I have the unenviable task, of answering in ten minutes, a case which could be answered and also making my own speech, and I think that, with the consent of the House, I had better get on with my own speech. I must say, however, that when the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) was presented with any facts, he immediately hustled off and got back to the Bill. I will do that myself, and I say straightaway that, ever since I have been in politics, I have stood for the main principles of this Bill—guaranteed prices and assured markets—and I have always been perfectly prepared to accept the corollary that we should have to prove to our fellow countrymen that the industry was efficient. Ever since 1939, nobody has ever had any doubt as to the very high general efficiency of the whole industry. I do not deny that the guaranteed prices and assured markets side of the Bill does not go far enough, nor do I deny that the control side of the Bill goes too far, but one thing which I think we should make plain to the industry is that this Bill does not and cannot give the industry security. No Act of Parliament and no politician can do that, but the nature of the position we are in today can be seen from the activities of the two parties in the House during the passage of this Bill.
The Labour Party have refused to accept unlimited markets to which guaranteed prices apply, and have refused to concede first place for the British farmer in the home market, but they are sympathetic. On the other hand, the Conservative Party, by its action in the Committee upstairs, pledged itself to no limitation of quantities, and also, I believe, to giving the British farmer first place in the home market. Both sides of the House, therefore, are in general agreement, though they have used different methods of putting forward their particular points of view. Unfortunately, the Government of the day are unprepared to translate 795 sympathy into an active and actual part of the legislative programme.
On the question of security, it is my contention that the security of the agricultural industry depends entirely upon the strength and unity of the farmers' unions in this country. If they are strong and united, and if they pursue, as they have pursued, a statesmanlike course, then the security of the industry is more assured, and if, together with that, all three partners in the industry continue, after this Bill has become law, the cooperation which has been so successful during the war, that will make doubly sure that the main weapons which the industry can use for its own security are available to it. As to the corollary, the control of prices, there is no doubt that this Bill offers two alternatives to the industry—self-control or control from Whitehall—and it is entirely dependent upon the industry itself which of these controls becomes uppermost.
I am convinced that the whole key this Bill is the agricultural committee, and I will go further and say, to each of the three partners, that they must insist that their very best men in each county or district are placed on these committees. It is the duty of the best landowners, farmers and farmworkers to serve on these committees. I have already been told by one landowner and one farmer, "I simply cannot take on the job, as I have not the time to do this job and run my farm or estate." In spite of that, I say that it is their duty in the national interest to serve on these committees, and I can only express the hope that they will do so. If the best men are there on the committees, I do not think there is any danger of the officials getting control, but if the officials do gain control, the whole of this Bill will break down. I am convinced that the Minister must take very careful action here, because, unless the chairman of the committees is a more powerful character than the executive officer, the latter will tend to run the committee, and, if that happens, again the whole background and importance of the committee will fall to the ground. One further point in this connection. While the shortage controls still remain, these committees cannot work successfully, for the simple reason that they are entirely overloaded with work and that is another 796 we must get rid of these shortages.
There are two points which I would like to make concerning management. The first is about security of tenure. Security of tenure is a very good thing, and I want to see every first class farmer given complete security. That is a good thing, but this Bill goes much too far and gives gilt-edged security to the moderate farmer, and also reduces opportunities of farms becoming available to young men. That is another reason why I think the security of tenure provisions go too far. Further, certificates of bad husbandry will be no more easy to obtain than before the war, because the county committees will have the duty of turning out a bad farmer, and they will not like to do it.
The second point concerns the responsibilities of the landlord. Under this Bill, they are seriously reduced. Before the war, the responsibility for estate management and for discipline on the estate rested on the owner. When this Bill is passed, the responsibility will rest on the shoulders of the committee. That is a thoroughly undesirable thing. But there is another point. The income with which to maintain and to manage the estate is not available today, owing to the rise in costs and to the various measures which have caused an inflationary tendency in the cost of maintenance and repairs. Therefore, the industry will have to face an increase in rents of an order of 30 per cent. That increase should apply only to farms in thorough repair, and which have a piped water supply and electricity. I think we can justly claim that this is a new experiment in industrial democracy. But there are two dangers, either one of which may destroy it. One is party politics and the other is false economic theory. I pray to God that the industry will be preserved from the party politician and the economist.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)
A few days ago I was reading a speech made by the President of the National Farmers' Union some months ago. I was particularly struck by his words. He said:I hope that, now the war is over, British agriculture will never again find itself in the position in which it was in 1939.May I assure the President of the National Farmers' Union, the whole membership of that Union and all agricultural workers 797 that under this Bill British agriculture will never again find itself in that position. The very fact that this Bill begins by referring to guaranteed prices and guaranteed markets is an indication that the Government intend to see that the agricultural industry, which has always been regarded as a Cinderella industry in the past, even though it was of such vital importance to this nation, will assume its proper perspective in the industrial affairs of this land.
It was conclusively demonstrated during the war that British agriculture, though badly neglected in the past, was able to rise to the occasion when events demanded, and right well did it respond. During the war, we adopted what I would call short-term policies in British agriculture. As a result of adopting those policies, we gained great experience and valuable information. Because of that experience and information, the policy contained in this Bill is not merely a short-term one, but a long-term one which will give to British agriculture that assured success which we all desire to see.
There are two things in particular in this Bill to which I wish to refer. The first is that I welcome the fact that all steps possible will be taken, through scientific research and development, to produce a greater sense of productivity in regard to the British soil. As a result of the information gained, we may, perhaps, by a rotation of crops, be able to double the quantity of produce produced in the past. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will see that all steps possible are taken to utilise to the full the brains and the ability of the scientific research development committee, and to encourage it in every respect because, at the present time, England needs every ounce of food that can be produced, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
The other matter to which I wish to refer is the question of smallholdings. We all remember what happened at the end of the first world war, when tragedy came into many lives because ex-Service men were encouraged to put their war gratuities into smallholdings, only to find out when it was too late that no guarantees were given to them. From the very start, they were fighting a losing battle, Eventually, many of them found themselves out of business and faced with great hardship. Today, the position is an assured one. I welcome the fact that be- 798 fore any man is to be allowed to take a smallholding, he will have to have agricultural experience. As I listened to the eloquent appeal made at an earlier stage by the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), I felt a certain amount of sympathy with what he said. All things being equal I hope that if the ex-Service man has the necessary agricultural knowledge, he will be considered when making his application for a smallholding. I claim that we owe it to him for what he has done for us, and that we should give him some stake in the future of his country. But I want him to have the necessary experience, because I do not want to happen to him what happened to so many ex-Service men after the 1914–18 war, who, though inexperienced, were encouraged to take up smallholdings in which they lost their all.
As I have listened to the Debate in this House, I have had a vision of the future of agriculture. I speak with some knowledge of the countryside. I want to see the derelict buildings removed. I want to see a sense of prosperity in the industry, and I want to see the agricultural worker housed in a decent home. More than that, I want to know for certain that the agricultural workers' wages will be assured at a decent rate, as they are today. I believe that through this Bill the farmer will be able to pay decent wages because he will be guaranteed security. I would conclude by congratulating the Minister upon having produced this Bill. It will give to the agricultural community a greater sense of security, justice and equity than it has ever enjoyed before. More than that, it will give to the people of this country the food they so much desire and need at the present time. The prosperity of this Bill will depend upon the way in which the agricultural committees operate.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I hope that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his arguments. I merely wish to say a few words on this very important Bill, which is now reaching its final stage. First, I wish to thank the Minister for having met us on so many of the points which we raised during the Committee stage. I am afraid that I cannot thank him for doing the same on the Report stage. It seemed to me that the Government back benchers had got at him, and 799 that he then put his bat in the block hole. This Bill has been described as the farmers' charter and bible. I would rather call it the farmers' gamble. It is a gamble in that the farmers have agreed to lose their freedom for the prospect of the guaranteed prices mentioned in Part I of the Bill. I am not going to say that the farmers always had freedom in prewar days. They were always limited by the price of foreign imports. For this reason they are prepared to take this gamble, and to accept a certain amount of restriction in order to get a guaranteed market.
This Bill is a very good machine. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), I think it was, described it as a good framework upon which the farmers and the farmworkers were to build up the flesh. It is the negotiators at the annual price review who will be responsible for clothing the structure with flesh. The success or failure of this Bill depends upon agricultural prices, and I hope the Government will not be led away by the idea that it is because of the lack of technical knowledge and so forth that the farmers are not able to produce the goods. There is too much talk nowadays about the advantage of technical knowledge and of the benefits which will be obtained from the national advisory service. They are all very well in their place, but the main consideration is the price which the farmers will get when they produce the food. I cannot say that at the moment we, or the young men, have quite the confidence we ought to have in our future. An hon. Member said there were more young men on the waiting list to go into the technical colleges for instruction, than there were at the agricultural colleges where they were going to be turned out to do the job. That is all wrong. The men who ought to be going into the industry are those who are going to do the job on the land, and not those who are going into the national advisory service.
What we are nervous about in Part I of the Bill are the words:Such part of the nation's food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce.We do not think the present Minister or the Government will do anything to limit our output at present, but, if and when food from abroad can be produced more 800 cheaply. I would like to know whether we shall be "sold down the drain." I know the intentions of the Minister are good, but will he be able to withstand the demand for cheap food? Several hon. Members opposite have blamed Conservative governments for the neglect of agriculture. No government is responsible for that. It is the industrialist-minded members of the community who have "sold" us during the last 100 years, when we were obliged to change our old agricultural policy to the industrial policy, and when the only demand made by the country was to get cheap food in order that cheap labour might be available for industry. If that day comes again, I am afraid the Government may have some difficulty in withstanding the pressure.
Part II of the Bill refers to supervision. The hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) became quite lyrical on the advantages to the farmer who would be put under supervision. One was almost led to believe that the farmers would he waiting in a queue to be put under supervision. The farmer is a proud man, and the last thing he wants is to be put under supervision. That is why we have endeavoured to obtain the right of appeal from the decision of the county executive committees. On the question of dispossession, we have heard the Minister say that if land is taken over from an owner, accounts will be provided. I hope they will be provided in such a way, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) said, that we can understand them. We do not want those accounts mixed up so that we cannot sort out what the county executive committees are doing in the way of making a profit or a loss. I hope that when the Minister has to take over any of these farms, he will produce accounts on a profit and loss basis in the same way as they have to be produced now for Income Tax purposes. They will serve an excellent purpose in that the Government will have some practical data when they come to decide prices. Now I understand they have to listen to the economists on both sides, and they have no practical figures in front of them, but, speaking for myself, if the Ministry take over any farms and farm them, I will be prepared to accept for the purposes of the price review whatever figures the Minister can produce on his own farms.
801 Part III refers to the protection of good tenants. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) that a good farmer should be fully protected. I think he has been fully protected in the past, but we must be careful to see that the under-average farmer is not over-protected. It will be very difficult for a county executive committee to pass a dispossession order on any of their fellow men, and that is why I think an appeal to an arbitrator would help them out of their difficulties. I am afraid that if great care is not taken, there will be so few farms corning into the market for the young and energetic men, that they will be forced out into some other industry. I want these young men with the necessary knowledge and ability to have an opportunity of taking some of these farms which at present are not turning out the produce to the extent to which they should.
We welcome that part of the Bill dealing with smallholders, but the Minister must be realistic about the matter. Smallholdings have been provided by county councils for a good many years, but because of the prices which have been received for the produce grown on them, there are less smallholdings today than there were before the county councils started to provide them. That will happen again unless the price reviews allow such a figure for the produce that the smallholders can live. The Minister should remember that the smallholder relies mainly on the smaller aspects of agriculture such as poultry, bacon and probably norticulture in some districts. Therefore, if the Minister wishes to retain these men and let them have a reasonable living, he must ensure that the prices for their commodities are kept at remuneraive, figure
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) with regard to the provision of assistance for a smallholder who requires to go on to a smallholding which is not necessarily held by a smallholding authority. The smallholder is entitled to assistance, whether he goes into a smallholding under a certain authority or whether he goes into another smallholding. I appreciate the objection is that this might benefit some landowners, but I cannot follow the argument, because any landowner who has a smallholding can let that smallholding without any assisted smallholder coming on to his land. It would be bad 802 luck for a prospective smallholder if he did not have the opportunity of going on to a better smallholding than was provided by a smallholding authority. It must be remembered that today there are many smallholdings which have grown up with fruit trees and so forth, and which will be a much better proposition than any smallholding authority will be able to offer for some time. We quite agree that the smallholder should be selected by the smallholding authority.
I hope the country will not be led to believe that because we are getting stabilised conditions, we are the spoilt darlings of the Government. All that the farming industry asks is that it should have the same kind of protection as the industrialists get. When I have been asked why the industry wants a stabilised market, or protection, and why we cannot hold our own with the other countries, my answer is: why cannot the industrialist hold his own without getting a 33⅓ per cent. tariff? All I ask is that we get a tariff or assistance similar to that which the Government give to industry.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
At the end of a Debate in which so many speakers have dealt with so many points of view, and with only about five minutes to go, it is not easy to say something new. I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), who said that the size of the market depended upon the purchasing power of this country. I think that that was not answered by any hon. Friend of mine. Surely, the size of the market for this country must depend upon the policy of the Government. It must depend upon what is the Government's policy with regard to subsidies; and whether it is to pay a good price for British produce; or to buy in the cheapest market abroad, and so constrict our borne market. It also depends, not on the purchasing power of this country in general, but on the policy of the Government as to how that purchasing power is directed. It may not he directed towards agriculture at all.
With regard to prices, and the price guarantees in Clause 5, which makes provision to enable producers to plan ahead, those guarantees are excellent as far as they go. They guarantee prices for commodities named in the First Schedule under two headings, and in Clause 5 (I, 803 a and b), for a period up to two years or 18 months ahead. It cannot be overemphasised—and the Minister knows this fact better than I do—that it is the price of a particular commodity which will guarantee whether or not that commodity is produced in sufficient quantities. If a good price is given—the right price, a paying price—we shall get that commodity, whether it is wheat or any other commodity, in sufficient quantities.
The only other aspect of the Bill I intend to touch on in the time available is that of Clauses 82 onwards, which deal with Ministerial powers. During the Report stage, I was twice called to Order for mentioning the fact that the powers taken under these Clauses are leading, or could lead, to what so many of the Government desire—the nationalisation of the land. We on this side feel that that is not the direction in which we should like to be led, and, not unnaturally, we feel it grossly unfair that an owner of land or a good farmer who occupies and owns his farm, should be at a disadvantage compared with the tenant farmer, and could be turned out through no fault of his own. Clause 82 gives the Minister power to acquire land by agreement; Clause 83, to acquire land for research; Clause 84, to ensure the full and efficient use of land for agriculture by compulsory purchase or hiring; Clause 85, to obtain possession of land to ensure full and efficient use by compulsory purchase; Clauses 86 and 87, to acquire land compulsorily, by further powers; and so on, up to Clause 95, which gives the Minister power in respect of cropping, and so on; and, by making an order, he can extend those powers from year to year. We on this side do not like that. I ask the Minister whether, under those Clauses, there is security of tenure for the owner. There is none. It just does not exist.
The hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), in an excellent speech, said that the Socialist principle was that land should be held in trust for the nation. If I want to make a trust for my children, I am not entitled, either by law, or by authority of the Holy Scriptures, to start making that trust by stealing from my neighbour. But that is exactly what "land held in trust for the nation" under Socialist principles would appear to mean, if the Government are going to take from the owners of land their property
§ Mr. Alpass rose—
§ Brigadier Peto
I think there is not time now to give way. If I may summarise the Bill as I see it, it is in the main as good a Bill as we could see for the tenant of a farm or a smallholder, but it provides no guarantee of security to a landowner, even to a good landowner or to an owner-occupier. It lays great stress and importance on good estate management and husbandry, and the full and efficient use of the land. Unfortunately, as the hon. Lady the Member for Epping also said, the full and efficient use of the land, and all those very estimable objects, are completely unable to be fulfilled at the present time through lack of the necessary materials, the necessary labour, machinery, fertilisers and feedingstuffs. They are entirely unable to be fulfilled at the present time owing to the obstinate policy of the Government, which is wedded to bulk purchases of those goods to the detriment of our own industry. They have failed, in my opinion, to take any steps to attract labour to the land or to direct labour to the land. They must either attract labour to the land or direct it, and there is no step that has been taken so far to attract labour to the land.
In conclusion, I should like to remind the House of a sentence that was used by President Truman in a speech at Kansas City on 7th June which was reported today, and which I thought rather sensible:One of the great lessons of history is that no nation can be stronger than its agriculture.In my opinion, it is up to each one of us, and, in particular to the Government, whose responsibility, after all, it is, to ensure that no step is left untaken which could possibly render our agriculture stronger than it is. We must make quite sure—one and all of us, on whatever side of the House we sit—that this Bill does produce the goods, and that our agriculture is as strong as it can be, so that by its strength our nation shall prosper.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
In the words of the old song, we have "kept right on to the end of the road." Now we come to the final speeches in this House on the Bill. I hope that I may be allowed to say two things on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The 805 first is that we very much appreciate the assiduity with which the Minister has explained the details of the Bill at all stages. He was most courteous and kind to us. In that I include, of course, the learned Solicitor-General, who has been so constantly at his side. Secondly, we all regret very much the absence of the Parliamentary Secretary and the reasons for it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take from us a message to the Parliamentary Secretary that we have missed him in the last three days of this Debate, particularly in view of the unfortunate incursions of the Paymaster-General in his place.
The Bill has been well discussed, with two days on Second Reading, 25 mornings in Standing Committee, two days on Report, and again today. I do not think the Minister or any one else will object to the fact that it has been adequately discussed. There was a great deal in it, and I think the Minister will probably agree with me in saying that my hon. Friends who served on the Standing Committee were also very assiduous in their attentions to the Bill; and I would say that we have made it better, in some ways, than it was when first introduced, though, of course, we have not got anything like as many concessions as we would have wished. It now falls to me, in the final stages, to review some of the pros and cons of the Bill. Before I do that, I should like to say that, quite irrespective of the merits of the Bill itself, it has one general blot. In the past this House has frequently complained of legislation by reference. The Minister has been very good in this Bill, and there has been comparatively little of that; indeed, he has promised to consolidate what there is as soon as possible; but, lo and behold, in substitution for that horror we have had a new one: legislation by assurance, and that is a very bad one.
I do not invite any hon. Member who was not on the Committee to go through the OFFICIAL REPORT Of that Standing Committee to see what all the assurances were, but I hope I may be allowed to pick out what we have had here, on the Floor of the House, in order to show hon. Members what I mean. First, on Clause 3 the Minister assured us, in column 241, that there would be as short a time as possible between announcing the change of prices and the change of quantity to which 806 it referred. Secondly, on Clause 18, in column 417, the Minister assured us of the reasonableness of county committees when arrangements were being made as a result of the dispossession of occupiers. Thirdly, on Clause 6, now Clause 70, in column 499, there was an assurance that the annual reports will include accounts. Fourthly, on Clause 71, in column 503, there was an assurance that there will be an estate management sub-committee of the county committees. Fifthly, on Clause 95, in column 538, there was an assurance that individual cropping directions will cease as soon as the Bill becomes law. Sixthly, on the Ninth Schedule, in column 565, there was an assurance that the county committees will be consulted as to their staffs. There were six assurances on Report, and, true to form, we had one again this afternoon. We have had a final assurance, on Third Reading, that with regard to the quantities referred to in Clause 1, the Government will accept unlimited liability for everything produced, except oats and sugar beet. That shows the technique which has been adopted on this Bill. I hope the Minister will still consider th6 possibility of writing some of these assurances into the Bill before it finally gets on to the Statute Book.
One sees what has happened. It is so much easier, and indeed so much quicker, to draft legislation taking very wide powers, even if one is perfectly certain one does not require them, than to direct one's mind, and the minds of those busy people, the draftsmen, to pin-pointing the actual points with which one wants to deal. Such legislation has its dangers, because in after years, when new circumstances may arise and the Minister wants to legislate, some clever person will turn up and say: "Oh, by the way, you have got these powers in an Act of 1842," or something like that, and will bring them to life for purposes for which they were never intended. There have been cases of that kind. I hope the Government will not pursue this technique any further.
Having said that, I will pass to the substance of the Bill. There are still, of course, some bad things in it from our point of view. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) said that he did not think we liked the Bill. After listening to the speeches today, it is clear that there have been parts of the Bill which I am sure everybody did not like, to some ex- 807 tent. I say quite frankly that I do not like some of the Clauses. For example, I do not like Clause 98, which deals with pest control, amongst other things, because, as it stands now, it is completely unintelligible. I think I know what it means, and I think that what is in it contains same dangers to the general animal life of the country, as has been said by my hon. Friends today. I think some of the Clauses are quite objectionable. For example, Clause 84, which deals with the acquisition of land by the Minister to ensure its use; Clause 85, which is a flagrant breach of faith of the assurances—and here is the value of assurances, although these assurances were translated into legislation—given during the war about the return of certain lands which had been taken. Again, I take exception to Clause 95, which gives the Minister the power to make special directions instead of taking them when necessary under emergency powers. I will come back to that point in a minute. Those are some of the things which I do not like. Perhaps other hon. Members do like them.
On the other hand, what can I put in the balance on the good side? We all agreed during the Second Reading, which was not divided against, that agricultural prosperity was to be sought for from a building based on the twin pillars of stability and efficiency. To that, all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, stand committed. However, I did ask certain questions at that time; questions which I said we would have to bear in mind as we went through the Bill in detail. For example, the first question that I then posed was anxiety as to the size of our agricultural production. There have been various attempts to improve the matter, but I am still not satisfied, because Clause 1 (1), still limits the general objective tosuch part of the nation's food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom. …The whole thing turns upon the question: who decides what it is desirable to produce? There is nothing in the Bill stating anything beyond the opinion of the Minister and the Government of the day to settle that problem. As I said then, and as has been repeated today, we are anxious because of the statement—possibly made in an uncautious moment; I do not know; but anyway, the definite 808 statement—of the right hon. Gentleman's colleague the Minister of Food that, of course, this Government would buy food for import at the lowest prices at which they could get it in the world. That is why we are anxious on that point.
The second question I put was: is it necessary to have all the controls that are in the Bill? Some have been modified during the passage of the Bill, but I am still not satisfied that there are not too many. The third question I put was: will the county committees be able to do the job? The hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), who has been so helpful, said just now that we on this side of the House had been unfairly criticising the committees. I do not think that is so. I do not think any of us, certainly consciously or intentionally, criticised the work of the committees. What we criticised is the possibility of putting too much on their shoulders, and the possibility of not getting absolutely the best men from all the different sections to go on the committees. My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) has just made that point very well, when he said that, as we all believe, the whole foundation of the system depends upon the efficiency of those committees; they cannot be what we want them to be unless all of us, in our own spheres, try to persuade the very best men we know to go on them, because it is work of the highest importance.
The fourth anxiety I had on Second Reading was whether we were not giving super-security to the less efficient farmers to the detriment of the land itself, as well as to the disadvantage of the younger men. The Minister has gone some way towards meeting that with the alteration he made to Clause 31. Lastly, I asked why the Minister, in dispossession cases under Clause 16, should compulsorily purchase the land and farm it through the Land Commission, and I am not satisfied with the answer to that question. These are the problems which I have been' weighing up in my mind when having to give advice to my hon. Friends and to others prepared to take it, on what to do on Third Reading. I am not entirely satisfied with the answers given to these five questions, although I recognise that the Minister has gone some way towards meeting us.
The main conception of this Bill has been that of guaranteed prices and 809 assured markets. Part I, the stability portion, is not, as one might expect from some of the speeches we have heard, purely a Socialist bright idea. It is an idea which has been going on for some time, and was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in February, 1945. The security and stability the Government are aiming at will not—I am sure hon. Members will agree—come merely from Part I, because coupled with guaranteed prices and assured markets, from the point of view of stability comes the necessity of there being confidence in administration. Here some difference of opinion arose in Committee about the whole question of the relationship between the county committees and the farmers, or the landowners, whom they are to look after.
The looking after comes before the question of supervision, and the Minister and some of his supporters seem to have the idea that all this looking after or supervision, using the word in its technical sense, is really a kindness done to the farmers by well-informed neighbours on the county committees, who, like Kim, are the friends of all the world. We are in doubt whether the farmer being supervised will take that view of those who are doing the looking after or supervision, even if it is being done by friends and people whom he holds in the highest esteem. The Minister says there is no stigma about it, but I have a feeling that the farmers would rather not be looked after than be looked after, to put it no higher than that.
In assessing the question of supervision, the committees have to consider whether the responsibilities of farming or estate management are being fulfilled. We secured here a valuable concession from the Minister in regard to the necessity of taking into account "all relevant circumstances." The trouble is that even now we are not sure exactly what that covers. We tried to find out whether it included the economic use of capital and an adequate return on capital, whether it was being used for buildings or otherwise. We ought to know the answer to that, but we do not know, for the simple reason that on 4th June, in column 257 and the next eight columns of HANSARD, the Minister in two successive speeches said not only "yes" but "no." It is a very important point which should be definitely settled.
810 This leads me to another reflection. The committees have to settle many important questions, both practical decisions and, in many cases, interpretation. There is to be no appeal on a point of law, and yet, in describing the Bill, the Minister is unable to give an answer to a simple question of this sort. That strengthens the argument we put forward that if a question of interpretation of the law arises, there should be some method of taking a decision elsewhere; otherwise, it is really sidetracking the normal methods of justice, and is the negation of that free democratic system we all want to have adopted. I hope that even now the Minister will look again at this question of appeal. If he accepts our advice on this, then, pro tanto, it will increase the confidence which all parties in the industry will have in the committees, and the more confidence is increased in the committees, the more we shall increase that general stability which, as hon Members will recollect, is one of the two original pillars.
There is much more needed in trying to reconcile the success of the administration than we can see so far. There is much more needed than mere regulations and stability of prices and markets. Roughly speaking, we can say that the landowners and farmers must be satisfied that if they manage or farm their property according to the rules of good estate management or good husbandry, as the case may be, they will not be harried by the minions of the Minister. If they can be satisfied on that, it will give the most confidence and stability. Therefore, we do not like quite so many threats of fines, imprisonment, supervision, dispossession, and all the rest, which are still in the Bill. The committees which are to be entrusted with the looking after, the supervising, the guiding and eventually the advising as to dispossession have themselves to comply with the Minister's directions. In many cases, as we have found out, and as is obvious from Clause 12, these committees are the judge, jury and prosecutor, which is a combination of functions comparatively rare in a non-totalitarian State. We would prefer that some other arrangement existed here.
On the question of security, one finds great powers are given to the Land Commission to manage and farm. These powers will very likely tempt them to do 811 a good deal more than is wise. It will lead to a much greater increase in bureaucracy, and so security will become insecure. I am not at all sure, when we take all that into account, that we may not be buying security at too high a price. Naturally, before deciding what to do, one has to find out what all three partners in the industry now say about the Bill. The landowners still have many criticisms, but they are willing to let the Bill go forward. I still feel strongly about one point we have already discussed. I still think that something ought to be done to make it possible for a man who has bought land for that purpose to secure the use of it for his son. When an owner is dispossessed, there should be the possibility of putting the land under trusteeship in order that, if he is anxious and capable of doing so, in due course his son may be able to manage it himself. But, generally speaking, the landowners are prepared to let the Bill go forward.
The farmers are in the same position. They are prepared to let the Bill go forward. The Minister will know, however, that farmers and landowners consider that there should be more appeal. The workers are willing to let the Bill go forward, but from what we have heard, here and elsewhere, they have their criticisms; they have complained of the composition of the committees. The House can deduce, therefore, that the three partners in the industry are pleased to let the Bill go forward. None of us here are partners it the industry, or their delegates. We are here, as Members of Parliament, to decide what we think is right in the interests of the nation as a whole Of course, the final responsibility must rest with the Minister, and the Government and their supporters, for they have the power and the numbers. Even so, the Opposition has its part to play.
Now, may I come to my conclusion? First, are these famous twit, pillars of stability and efficiency strong enough in the Bill? On either count. I am not sure that they are. The framework is there—I am willing to admit that—and it will be possible for others, if not this Minister, to strengthen both. Therefore, on this ground I would not reject the Bill. The system of guaranteed prices and markets is, I believe, over-elaborated. I think the Minister will find himself in difficulty by trying to control the two variable 812 factors of price and quantity, when it could be done by a properly devised price mechanism. On that very point, the Minister has done a dangerous thing. He has put the whole basis of stability in jeopardy by his Amendments to what is now Clause 95. Quite apart from any war emergency, which, we were told upstairs, the Clause was meant for, he has taken powers to regulate grass and arable husbandry. He has gone in for too elaborate a system of price and quantity mechanism, although the idea is right. On the security, confidence in administration, side of the picture, which I have been trying to describe to the House, there are too many latent powers for the Minister The right hon. Gentleman has assured us that he does not intend to use them all fully, but they are there and, to that extent, are risky. The difficulties can be avoided by efficient and able leadership, and this Minister may well be able to give it to the industry. At any rate, I sincerely hope so. I am glad to see the Prime Minister, because he knows that efficiency and ability are far from being the hallmarks of his colleagues. It may be, however, that the Minister of Agriculture will make the very exception which proves the rule, that we may not get from him a grasping use of all the powers he has taken, but only the use of such of them as are necessary for efficiency, ability, and leadership. But that may not happen, to put it at its worst—and I do not want to put it at its worst—because, after all, we all want to see this Bill work.
We have only certain reservations and doubts. We are all at one in wanting to see the new idea work if it can be made to do so. We have only put out warnings, and we are trying to assure the Minister that in our view, at any rate, there are certain pitfalls which he and his colleagues would do well to try to avoid. Fundamentally, as I said at the beginning of my speech and also on Second Reading, we think, that along this road something can be done. The Bill provides the skeleton, and I think the Minister is in the fortunate position now of being able to clothe it and to make practical a long-term policy for British agriculture. Because these possibilities are there, I do not propose to vote against this Bill on Third Reading, despite the fact that it is full of faults of omission and commission, because I believe that it is pos- 813 sible to make use of the opportunities it provides, and I hope that they will be seized as quickly as possible. I can always console myself and my hon. Friends with the thought that, the Bill being what it is, if this Government do not make good use of its opportunity, there will be other Governments in due course to take its place, and they will be able to use this Bill as a foundation—because it is a workmanlike foundation in its essentials—and drive a broad highway to prosperity for all concerned with the agriculture of our beloved land.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)
I think that we all feel something akin to a lingering regret at saying "goodbye" for the time being, at any rate, to a Bill of which I think most of us have grown rather fond. I would like on my behalf and on behalf of my right hon. Friend to express our appreciation of the spirit in which the Bill has been received, and to thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for their helpful and useful contributions, made both during the Committee stage discussions of, this Bill; on the Report stage and today. We are, after all, dealing with a basic industry—an industry which is fundamental to the welfare of this country. Some one and a quarter million of our citizens are engaged in it in one way or another. It has not had altogether a happy past. For some 18 years before the war, there was a steady drift away from the industry, and millions of acres of land which could have been brought under cultivation lay derelict.
Times have changed. We are no longer a creditor nation. We cannot rely on buying overseas with our investments the excess of our food requirements above those we can produce ourselves. All these things have to be borne in mind. Rising standards throughout the world bring it about that other countries have less to sell to us, and the net result is that, more than ever, we are dependent on what has always been a fundamental industry of this country. Therefore, there was need of an urgent and drastic attempt to put that industry on its feet. By saying that, I do not mean to imply, in any way, a reflection on British farmers. On the contrary, particularly during the war, we made immense strides in mechanisation 814 and in increasing the scientific and technical knowledge of the agricultural industry. For that we are largely indebted to the war agricultural executive committees. In framing this Measure, we have had the inestimable advantage of seeing exactly how they worked, and how they tackled the war problems. We can profit by their example and their experience, in setting up what is a basic feature of the present Bill, the agricultural executive committees. May I echo the words uttered with very great emphasis by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) who said that in his view it was the urgent and imperative duty of the three partners in the industry to provide their very best men for the committees. That is a sentiment which I would cordially repeat.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, this Bill depends upon how it is operated—not only how it is operated by the Government, but how it is operated by the three partners in the industry through their mouth-pieces the executive committees. That is why it is so urgently necessary that the very best men should again be called upon to come forward and give unstintingly of the service which they gave during the war ordeal. It is, I know, asking a lot of them, but there is after all a very great tradition of service in this country, and we have every confidence that once more we shall not ask in vain for the members of the committees to give of their very best in making this most important Measure work for the common good.
Fears have been expressed that they may be over-burdened with work. With regard to that, I would say that if one compares the measure of the volume of work which will be upon their shoulders when this Bill is in operation with that of the work which they so admirably carried out during the war years, the likelihood is that as time goes on they will have less work under the provisions of this Bill than they discharged during the war. After all, during the war they had a great deal of work in connection with the allocation of priorities on various materials, recommending licences, fertilisers, feeding-stuffs, and so on; and as the materials position gradually eases that particular burden should gradually he lifted from their shoulders, and they will be able to con- 815 centrate more closely upon the pure administration of the functions imposed upon them by this Bill.
Criticisms have, of course, been expressed of the Bill. Points of detail have been discussed, and, indeed, in certain respects the Bill has been attacked. When I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) this afternoon making the opening speech for the Opposition, I rather wondered for a moment whether the Opposition were going to divide against the Bill, but we are reassured to hear from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that they have decided not to do that, and that we shall accordingly pass the Bill unanimously without a Division through its Third Reading Stage in this House. Of course, broad questions do arise under the Bill. The Bill is based upon what have been described as the twin pillars of security and efficiency. Nobody would dispute that if the Bill does secure safety and peace of mind for the farmer, the country has the right to ask of the farmer and of the landowner, that they shall manage their land efficiently, particularly in present day circumstances.
The first question asked therefore is whether the Bill really does provide for security. We say unhesitatingly that it does. As far as one can see ahead in the future there will be a demand—and, as my right hon. Friend indicated, the Government have accepted the responsibility—for all the output that can be produced of those goods which are mentioned in the First Schedule to the Bill. That is a very considerable measure of security, and will go far to implement the policy of guaranteed prices and markets. That has, of necessity, to be subject to two qualifications indicated by my right hon. Friend in the case of sugar-beet and oats. Each has its own particular characteristics. With sugar beet the limitation will be the quantity that can be processed in the factories, but the factories at the moment are already catering for the whole available output of sugar beet.
The Minister explained the peculiar circumstances which obtained in the case of oats and also why it was necessary that there should be some limitation in the future in regard to them. In the case of other commodities not at present in the First Schedule, but which can be added, 816 it may also be necessary to impose a limitation, and it is in the interests of those persons who produce these commodities that there should be the power which is contained in Clause 4 to impose a limitation on output, because if the Government have not that power, they might hesitate to add to the First Schedule commodities which could be included when the time comes.
As has been pointed out by several hon. Members, horticulture is not included. My right hon. Friend has explained the reasons why. They are because of its seasonal character and the perishable nature of its products. Other methods must be found for horticulture, and the Government are seeking and are actively discussing how the general benefits of this Bill can be extended to that branch of agriculture. It takes time and the problem is entirely different. Whether it will be marketing or some other method which will be adopted, I am not in a position to say at the moment.
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford and the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) were concerned about the words in Clause 1such part of the nation's food.They asked what was the meaning of those words, and they implied that there was some sinister significance to be attached to their use. No such meaning is to be attributed to them. What is the object of those words? The object is that we cannot hope in this country to produce all the agricultural produce which we require. We have not got enough land and land here is scarce. We are not like the United States, or Australia or Canada. We can only produce a certain proportion of our own food, and, therefore, when those words are used in Clause 1 of the Bill they refer to the fact that we must decide and guide our agricultural industry towards the production of that part of our agricultural produce which is within our compass. That is the only reason those words are there inserted, and I cannot repeat too often that we will take all those articles of agricultural produce which are in the First Schedule. We must bear in mind that we can never aspire to produce all the food we consume in this country, and so we used what to our mind was the natural descriptive phrase to outline the general purpose and scope of the Bill.
817 I should like to call attention to one statement made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford which I think was rather unfortunate. He said that the feeding-stuffs position now was worse than at any time in the worst days of the war. I am sure that he did not wish to mislead the House, and he is not quite accurate in that suggestion. Because his words might give a misleading impression I propose to state the real facts. In point of fact, the ration allocation during the period of the war was based on one-eighth of prewar numbers; it is now one-sixth. It is on the upgrade, and the Government have announced that farmers may retain up to 20 per cent. of their wheat and barley crop for the 1948 harvest for the feeding of their own stock.
§ The Solicitor-General
Certainly, but I can tell hon. Members now that the incentive effect of that is shown in conditions in the industry. The price of young store pigs has been progressively rising, which indicates that there is a considerable measure of confidence in pig production in the industry.
§ The Solicitor-General
Certainly, I am quite aware of that, but nevertheless the fact is that the prices of young store pigs have been going up which, as I have said, indicates a considerable measure of confidence. [Interruption.] I do not know what else it indicates. However, the main burden of my argument is to correct a misleading impression which I thought the hon. Gentleman might unwittingly have produced. Those are the facts. The feedingstuffs position is certainly not at its worst and, in fact, it has improved and is still improving.
With regard to the security which the Bill provides reference has also been made to the statement by the Minister of Food on 11th December. Too much importance has been attached to that. What that statement meant in its context was simply that as we had to buy abroad—we cannot, as I have said, produce all we require— 818 clearly it is to our interest not to pay more than we have to pay for what we need to buy. That is the only significance to be attached to that statement, which has really been magnified out of all proportion by an exaggerated apprehension in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the Geneva talks, and with regard to them I can only repeat an assurance which has been given before that we are keeping ourselves free to develop unhindered the agricultural policy first outlined by my right hon. Friend on 15th November, 1945, and now embodied in the actual terms of this Bill.
Closely allied to that question is the old Clause 92—the present Clause 95—and the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough accused my right hon. Friend of some measure of inconsistency. If we look at the language actually used by my right hon. Friend, and not that which has been attributed to him, we find that he has been completely consistent throughout. I would invite hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider carefully what he said, which was that it would be used for crises comparable—"comparable" is the important word—with the crises of 1914 and 1939. He was simply instancing those by way of illustration as being crises of the kind of gravity which he had in mind. The Clause is for use equally in the case of a national food crisis in peacetime. In the event of war, obviously the likelihood is that there would be wartime legislation which would be appropriate to the actual conditions, the precise nature of which I cannot and would not attempt to foretell. The right hon. Gentleman has been completely consistent on that. The Clause is for use in a peacetime food crisis. As he had already announced, it is his intention, directly after the appointed day, and, indeed, probably some time early next year, to bring forward an order under that part of Clause 92 introduced by the Amendment which deals with the tillage area and the acreage which can be kept under grass, in order to maintain the food crop area. My right hon. Friend announced that on the Report stage, and it is an instance of how he intends to operate the Clause.
I want to pass from the security aspect to the other aspect of the Bill which deals with the terms of tenure. The hon. Gen- 819 tleman began his observations with regard to that part of the Bill by saying that the owner of land was left out in the cold because whereas rents have not gone up wages and costs have. Of course, everybody knows that rents in agriculture follow slowly behind. The reason that wages have gone up is that they were so disgracefully low before the war. Agricultural wages then ranged between 30s. and £2. I did not know, and I could not gather from the words of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, whether he was lamenting the fact that those rates had gone up. It sounded to me as though he were lamenting the good old days when you could get an agricultural labourer to work for you for between 30s. and £2 a week. The Bill has dealt with that situation. The House will see that in Clause 35 arbitration machinery is provided for adjusting the rents of agricultural holdings. It provides that they can be re-assessed by a process of arbitration before one of the arbitrators appointed under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923, an official arbitrator appointed from the panel set up by the Lord Chief Justice.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to complain about the old Clause 81. He asked whether that was a covert way of beginning nationalising the land. I can assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that if we intend to nationalise the land we will not do it in that hole-and-corner fashion. That Clause is essential to ensure that land will be brought into efficient production. It can be used when the private owners of it, or those who are running it under private enterprise, cannot reasonably be expected—the emphasis is upon those words in the Clause—either to provide or to maintain the fixed equipment necessary to run that land. It is for that purpose, in the event of it being impossible for the private owner to provide the fixed equipment, that the Minister is given power to acquire land compulsorily, in order, and solely in order, to maintain it in efficient production in the general national interest.
I believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite and my hon. Friends are satisfied with the Amendment which was made to Clause 30 dealing with security of tenure and im- 820 posing restrictions upon the operation of notices to quit. We feel that the Amendments we have introduced in the Clause should have the effect of enabling young farmers to acquire agricultural holdings. We hope that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House are satisfied that the grounds of criticism which were advanced against the Bill in that respect have been disposed of.
§ The Solicitor-General
Perhaps I should substitute "The House, with one exception." The suggestion was made that the Land Commission might give rise to a system of absentee landlords, but it is intended to operate the Minister's functions, so far as they are vested in the Land Commission, through the agricultural land service; that is to say, they will operate through fully paid civil servants who will have experience and qualifications as land agents, and will be fully employed for the purpose of operating the Minister's functions. There are many other aspects of the Bill on which I should touch, had I the time, but I relinquish them with the less regret because they have been exhaustively gone through already during the Committee Stage and, so far as many of them are concerned, during the Report Stage.
I commend the Bill to the House for Third Reading as a Measure of great importance to our national economic wellbeing. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough described it as a mammoth Bill. None of us has ever seen a mammoth but no doubt it was a useful and beneficent animal. This Bill certainly is a giant Bill. We believe it really opens a new future to British agriculture. We believe it contains a new charter. It depends how it is operated, but we believe we can rely with confidence upon the co-operation with the Government of the three partners in the industry. The Bill has been fully investigated and fully discussed and, despite some reservations with regard to details, the House thoroughly approves its general purpose and scope.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.