§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
As its name implies, this Bill is intended to provide payments for farmers in order to meet an emergency in our agricultural affairs. I am sure that no hon. Member would deny that the disasters of last winter and spring and their effect on our food supplies justify exceptional measures of this kind, and I am proud that the Government, in this moment of adversity, were not hesitant in coming to the aid of agriculture. The late harvest last year held up cultivations and it was indeed a magnificent achievement on the part of the farmers and farm workers to plant something like 1,950,000 acres of winter wheat. Then we had the prolonged bitter winter, which brought catastrophe to our hill farmers, and on the hills and lowlands together we lost something over 4,000,000 sheep and lambs, including approximately 25 per cent. of the total hill sheep flocks.
Then, on top of all this and as a direct result of the blizzards and the inevitable thaw, nearly 700,000 acres of agricultural land were flooded, including about 325,000 acres of tillage. Then again, the lateness of the season, and the waterlogged condition of much heavy land in particular—which was not necessarily affected by the major floods—made the original target of 2,500,000 acres of wheat quite impossible. It did more, it reduced the 2358 potential yield of other crops. Farmers and workers, however, have done and are doing their level best to rescue from the wreckage as much as they can with both energy and enthusiasm, and I think I ought to pay them a wholehearted tribute for the work they have put in during the past few weeks and months, for all concerned have, in a magnificent way, worked together to alleviate the sufferings of men and animals, both on the hillsides and in the flooded areas. Everything that could be done was done by farmers and their workers, by the National Farmers' Union, by the county agricultural executive committees, by the hay merchants—and indeed, by the Royal Air Force, to get hay and fodder to starving sheep and cattle on the hillsides.
Here I should like to pay a warm tribute to the inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. for their prominent part in these errands of mercy, and also for having rescued animals in the flooded areas which otherwise would inevitably have been drowned. I think that their efforts deserve the highest possible praise. In the flooded areas immediate action was taken by the Government to mobilise all their resources, both civil and military. Government action was coordinated, material and equipment were mobilised to stop breaches in river banks, and to drain the flooded land as soon as that became possible. In this connection, and I am sure hon. Members will agree with me when I say it, we are greatly indebted to the Dutch Government for the loan not only of their expert drainage officers, but also of their very special drainage equipment. I should explain here that all this Government assistance, in whatever form it was given, was provided without any charge whatsoever to catchment boards, and all the money spent on emergency work is being reimbursed from public funds.
Fortunately, despite the calamity of the floods, somewhere between 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. of the total arable acreage which was under water is now carrying crops, and the residue still under water has been reduced to less than 1,000 acres. I think that justifies me in saying that the coordinated efforts of all parties concerned have been admirable. They were almost on the basis of a wartime measure. Indeed, the worthy work of making the land available for cultivation had to be a gigantic combined operation 2359 if it was to be successful, and the Government, drainage authorities, local authorities, voluntary organisations, individual farmers, workers and landowners fortunately all worked together as a team. There is not the slightest doubt that these measures reduced the disaster to the narrowest possible limits, but owing to the spectacular nature of the floods—which attracted much more attention than the bigger disaster on the hills and fells, although the latter was much more serious both to farmers and national food production—I anticipate that today more will be said about the floods than about the hillsides.
For that reason I want, if possible, to emphasise the unprecedented nature of those floods. As every one knows, the winter rainfall was excessive. We had exceptionally heavy snows which were followed by a rapid thaw and then by unusually heavy rainfalls, and the melting snows ran straight into our overcharged river systems. All this was aggravated by fierce gales. These factors account for the floods, and I could quote statistical evidence to demonstrate that these were of a quite exceptional character, and that there are no possible grounds for suggesting that the floods were due either to delay or negligence in carrying out drainage schemes, or to wartime drainage works carried out in the uplands. It may have been that in the years before the war less work was done than might have been done, but I allocate no blame for that either to catchment boards or to governments. The floods were definitely unparalleled in their extent and we have no assurance that next winter Nature may not break even the disastrous record she gained for herself this year.
Urgent work must be done if our river systems are to be able to carry the volume of water that may descend upon them next winter. The drainage authorities are therefore carrying through emergency works of rehabilitation as quickly as possible, and to help them the Government have promised increased financial assistance—so much so that a conference of the Association of Drainage Authorities recently approved unanimously a resolution expressing wholehearted appreciation for this Government assistance. As far as the Ministry of Agriculture can take steps all possible 2360 steps are being taken to ensure that this urgent work is not held up for want of either manpower, materials, or equipment. These necessary works will undoubtedly absorb all the technical resources of the catchment boards for the rest of this year—that is, assuming that we are to make a genuine effort to prevent a recurrence of what we witnessed this year.
Reports have now been received from all the catchment boards involved, and these are being discussed individually with the boards concerned, so that Government resources can be drawn upon to help as they were during the emergency. There has been pressure here and there in some quarters for us to hold a series of public inquiries into the floods. I readily understand the feelings of farmers who have suffered and who wish for discussion and, indeed, for such assurance as an inquiry can give, but the preparation of the material for such an investigation, and the length of time which the inquiry would take, would divert the technical staffs from the urgent measures which are now in hand. Therefore, while it may be desirable later on to hold one or two inquiries I am of the opinion that they should be deferred for the present so that works of rehabilitation can go full speed ahead.
The leaders of the National Farmers' Union have pledged themselves to help all they can in the new production drive and if not to erase then at all events to reduce the effect of this unparalleled disaster, and I believe that it is only by intelligent planning on the part of the Government and of those associated with the industry that we can hope to accomplish this task. The Government and Parliament can help by practical encouragement to those who have to do the work. This we have given so far, are still giving and, I hope, shall continue to give, and the Chancellor's promise made recently that he would not be niggardly has been abundantly fulfilled.
As the House is aware, two public funds have been established to alleviate distress and loss. There is the Lord Mayor's National Flood Distress Fund and the Agricultural Disaster Fund. The Lord Mayor's Fund, to which the Government are contributing £1 million, exists for the alleviation of distress and hardship 2361 caused by personal or domestic losses from the winter storms and floods, and, of course, farmers and farm workers will be eligible for assistance from this Fund in the same way as ordinary members of the public. Fortunately, the response to the Lord Mayor's Fund is extremely gratifying. Not less than £1,480,000 has been contributed from all parts of the world, including the Dominions, the Colonies, and countries not associated with the Empire, and I think that the House would wish me to express the heartfelt gratitude and appreciation of all who have suffered so grievously for the helping hand extended by their own fellow countrymen, by so many members of the Imperial family, and by many friends in other lands, too.
The personal and domestic losses through floods have affected all classes of the community, but in large parts of the country farmers' means of livelihood have also been impaired. The floods have taken toll in ruined crops and stock and damaged land, but the loss from frost and snow, particularly among hill sheep, has been far greater. To alleviate this additional direct loss of crops, stock, and means of production—which is estimated to be in the neighbourhood of £10 million, £8,500,000 of which is attributable to losses of livestock, mainly sheep and lambs—the National Farmers' Union of England, Scotland and Wales have launched the Agricultural Disaster Fund and, as hon. Members will be aware, the Government have undertaken to contribute a sum approximately equal to that provided by donations. The present total, excluding the contribution from the Exchequer, is somewhere in excess of £400,000. Contributions are still coming in and, what is more important, a scheme has been prepared under which farmers can contribute by voluntary deductions from the sale of their produce. This could and, I hope, will amount to a very considerable sum, so that with the Government contribution there will be quite a vast sum available to assist victims of the disaster. Many large contributions have been made by business firms—including fertiliser companies, insecticide manufacturers, the corn and seed trades, veterinary surgeons and the agricultural Press—but I think that one of the most affecting contributions came from a tiny tot who sent her total savings 2362 wholly in facthings. Then the trustees of the Wheat Pool of Western Australia, enclosing a cheque for £1, 000 in English currency, wrote:We pay tribute to Britain's farmers for their great achievements in the war years and for their strenuous efforts to combat the more recent flood crisis.We applaud them for their warm sympathy and generosity. From the practical point of view the emergency has two different aspects, the first its effect upon cropping, and the second, its effect upon our future milk and meat supplies. Cropping and milk are more or less of a short-term nature, but the meat aspect is much more a long-term matter. Cropping is affected in two ways. First, there was the general lateness of the season, which means heavy expense in overtime or excessive payments to contractors, and may also involve the risk of lower yields, with, in turn, lower returns for each hour of work put in. It was for this reason that the Government decided to make special additions to the prices of crops sown during this spring. The details of those prices were worked out with the National Farmers' Union. They have been issued to the Press and I need not refer to them here.
One of the special cases we had very much in mind was heavy land which, although not flooded, had been waterlogged and would be very difficult to prepare for a spring crop. Apart, however, from the general difficulties common to farmers all over the country, the flooded areas were a very special problem of their own, arising from the need to get a crop, no matter how small—even though the crop itself was far less than would normally be expected. This Bill provides, as I explained in an earlier announcement I made to the House about the payments, an insurance for farmers who have cropped recently flooded land where there was an abnormal risk of low yield. If such farmers have contacted the county agricultural executive committees and have complied with the reasonable conditions laid down, they will be sure of getting this extra acreage payment as well as the fixed price for their produce.
The Bill enables the Minister to make and lay before Parliament a scheme to make payments, in respect of specified crops grown this year, at prescribed rates 2363 for different crops. Before making any grant, however, the Minister must first be satisfied that because of abnormal flooding over that land or in the immediate neighbourhood, there is abnormal risk of loss from growing crops on the land in question; secondly, that apart from floods, the land would have been cropped this year; and thirdly, that the farmers' cropping proposals are, in all the circumstances, appropriate. I ought to say here that, in order to help farmers, experts from the Ministry of Agriculture have provided farmers with a schedule of crops according to the particular week or month in the year in which they can be sown.
The House will have gathered that, apart from making the actual payments, the county agricultural executive committees will be responsible for administering the scheme. All land which was under water on or after 21st March will be eligible for these grants if there is an abnormal risk in cropping. Among other cases, however, which the committees will be able to certify, are those where land was waterlogged by interrupted drainage due to flooding, and cases where, although the flood water had disappeared before 21st March, there was still an abnormal risk of lower yields because of flooding. The Bill provides that the scheme may specify different rates for different crops or in relation to the different purposes for which the crops are grown. The acreage payments vary from £3 per acre for certain fodder crops to £15 per acre for potatoes. The figures are well known to hon. Members. The idea behind these varying rates is that farmers may not expect on large areas of flooded land more than two-thirds to three-quarters of the normal yield. The gross return per acre which a farmer can expect in a normal year varies with each crop, and, with such crops as cabbages and turnips grown either for human or animal consumption, according to the purposes for which the crop is grown. Therefore, the rate of payment in each case has been calculated to make up approximately the loss from these lower yields. I do not pretend—I am sure hon. Members would not expect me to pretend—that these payments will do exact justice in every case. Indeed, that would be just impossible. All we can 2364 aim at is to do rough justice, and that I claim we have tried to do in the scheme we have in mind and in the various Clauses of this Bill.
Let me pass from floods to snowstorms. At once I feel I must apologise for any lack of clarity in the Bill or in my exposition of the purpose of the Bill. Unless one has the background of the hill sheep subsidy scheme in one's mind it may be extremely difficult either to follow the Bill or perhaps to follow my exposition of it. Hill sheep farmers are, of course, accustomed to severe weather and to some losses, but this year the severity of the losses has been utterly abnormal. The incidence has varied from locality to locality and sometimes even in one locality. Some farmers lost very few ewes but there are other cases we know where not less than go per cent. of the total ewes on a farm were lost. The lamb crops in those cases were reduced almost to nil.
Ewes and ewe hoggs and, to a large extent, ewe lambs represent the capital equipment of the hill farmer. Therefore, compensation for such losses, as far as the fund will allow, will be provided from the Agricultural Disaster Fund. But the loss of capital is not, unfortunately, the only loss Income from the sale of wool, old ewes and surplus lambs will be gravely reduced in 1947. This smaller revenue is not limited to 1947, for I fear that it will continue until the flocks are actually restored to the 1946 numbers. At best the recovery in the size of flocks is bound to be extremely slow. There is little or no possibility of buying breeding ewes or shearlings, and in any case such sheep need to be acclimatised to the hills. However, where purchases are possible for restocking, grants from the Disaster Fund will be used for that purpose, but also—and I want to emphasise this—the goods and services scheme which has now been extended to include livestock, can be used for re-stocking should purchases be possible.
I am glad to be able to announce that the rate of interest for credits advanced for this purpose under the goods and services scheme for re-stocking where livestock was lost through frost, snow or floods has been reduced from the normal rate of interest of 5 per cent. to 2½ per cent. That ought to help those who have suffered from adversity in more ways than 2365 one, but it is quite clear to me, and I think the industry itself, that the deficit, broadly speaking, will have to made up by breeding. This is a very slow business. The problem is how to help the farmer to maintain himself in the meantime. For some years past I believe very few hill farmers could or would have survived had it not been for the hill sheep subsidy which has now been paid since 1940, and which is continued under the 1946 Act. That subsidy is designed to maintain at an approximately stable level the aggregate income of hill sheep farmers. The rate of subsidy is fixed in the light of the average increase or decrease in income derived from the farming operations in the previous 12 months.
This method will continue, and in order to make up the farmer's income to the approximate level of previous years, the rate of subsidy for 1948 and subsequent years will be increased to take account of reduced revenue from the sale of wool, ewes, lambs and other things during the current and subsequent years; that is to say, the hill sheep subsidy for 1948 will be based upon the income of hill farmers in 1947, and as no calculation can be made in 1947 as to what the total income will be, it will, of course, be impossible in 1947 to fix the hill sheep subsidy for the year 1948. This is not to say that every individual farmer will have his income made up to the same extent, since the rate of subsidy is uniform and is calculated on an average basis. Those whose losses were heaviest, unfortunately, will still suffer some loss of income, while those whose losses were light may just about maintain their income of 1946. As a means of levelling, as far as possible, the incidence of loss, the Government propose to pay the subsidy during the next two or three years not on the basis of the numbers of sheep in the previous December, but on the numbers on the farm in December, 1946—that is before the blizzards occurred. Hon. Members will therefore see that the person who in December, 1946, had, say, 200 sheep on his hillside, but lost 50 per cent. of them, next December will have only 100 sheep left, and if the hill sheep subsidy in 1948 was based on the remainder, the 100, he would suffer a loss of 50 per cent.
Therefore, the decision of the Government was that the subsidy shall in paid in 2366 1948, 1949, and, perhaps, 1950, not on the actual number of sheep on the hillsides in the previous December, but on the number of sheep which were on the hillsides in December, 1946. In Clause 2 (3), it is provided that this provision may be made generally or in relation to individual farmers. The intention, of course, is that when we return, as I hope we will in two or three years' time, to the system of paying the subsidy on a normal basis—that is, on the number of eligible sheep in the previous December—it will be open to an individual who has experienced great difficulty in rebuilding his hock to continue receiving the subsidy on the basis of 1946 numbers.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
; Could the right hon. Gentleman make one point clear? Does the right to apply for a subsidy on the 1946 basis extend to all hill farmers, whether they suffered loss or not?
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member will wait a moment, perhaps I will cover the point he has in mind. Incomes will necessarily be reduced this year, whatever the Government may do, and, somehow or other, farmers must be assisted to survive until those incomes are made up by increased subsidy payments in 1948. This implies—and I think many hon. Members have suggested it either in questions or in speeches—a loan rather than a grant; and it is proposed, therefore, that those farmers who desire it shall received this year an advance on their 1948 subsidy payments, and Clause 3 makes provision for that. These proposals have been discussed with representatives of the industry who agreed that the advance should be on a sliding scale varying with the rate of loss. Where losses exceed 60 per cent. an advance of 10s. per eligible ewe in December, 1946, can be made, which will give a total subsidy for this year of 18s. 9d. instead of 8s. 9d. Where losses are less than 60 per cent., or where the flock is kept under conditions which attract a lower rate of subsidy, the advance will be correspondingly diminished. But special provision is being made for the very small flock owner who, on the recommendation of the local committee, will be able to draw a higher rate of advance than he would otherwise be entitled to, so long as it does not exceed the limit of 10s.
§ Mr. Snadden
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I assume that farmers whose losses were 60 per cent. or over can apply for the maximum advance of 10s, a ewe. Could the right hon. Gentleman indicate how the advance will be graded down? I do not think there is any official information on that point.
§ Mr. Williams
The scheme has not yet been made available for laying before Parliament, but our idea is something on these lines: On losses of 60 per cent. or over, the advance can be as much as 10s. a ewe; on losses of 45 per cent. or over, 7s. 6d.; 30 per cent. or over. 5s.; 15 per cent. or over, 2s. 6d.
§ Mr. Williams
Those are the figures we have in mind. Corresponding provisions are being made for advances in 1948 against 1949 payments, since we do not anticipate that the flocks will have been rebuilt by that time, so that those farmers who have been most hardly hit will have a full two years in which to draw advances against future subsidies. As hon. Members would expect, in order to provide safeguards against a very tiny minority who might be tempted to remain on a farm until they had drawn all the advances, and then quit, advances will not be made to those who are known to be quitting the holding during that year; but where a farmer is compelled by force of circumstances to leave, the advance can be deducted from his successor and, of course, in such a case account of that will be taken in the valuation on outgoing. The essence of these schemes is to make payment as quickly as possible both as regards acreage payments and hill sheep subsidies. Therefore, the Bill provides that any payments or advances made before the schemes under the Bill are presented to Parliament will be deemed to have been made under the authority of those schemes.
That is as clearly as I can explain a comparatively complex little Bill, and, in commending to the House this short Bill, which I think represents genuine, practical, sympathetic assistance by the Government, I would lay stress on the fact that its main objective is to promote the maximum food production this year in all the difficult circumstances, while at the same time, bringing help to those who 2368 have suffered from such severe adversity I believe that the money provided by the Chancellor has helped and encouraged farmers to keep heart, to carry on and to add to our food supplies as much as is possible, and it is in that spirit that I commend this Bill to the House.
§ 11.39 a.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
We have all listened attentively to what the right hon. Gentleman has said in describing this Bill. On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I accept the Bill. I do not know that we can go so far as to say that we welcome it, because it does not go very far in the direction which is necessary, but so far as it does go along the right road, of course we naturally accept it as a Measure representing, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the genuine, practical and sympathetic attitude of the Government. We have to consider it, as the right hon. Gentleman has so rightly said, against the background of the double disaster of flooding and frosts. I do not doubt that in the Debate speeches will tend to go from one to the other, because I doubt whether, in the nature of things, any constituency, even the largest, can have suffered from both. My own was one which suffered most from the floods. If, therefore, I speak rather more about that, it is because it is the part of the trouble with which I am best acquainted. If I may take that first, in regard to the payments for dealing with the floods, it is quite clear, as the Minister has said, and as the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill states, that the object is to devise a scheme:to enable acreage payments to be made for spring sown crops where he—that is, the Minister—is satisfied that owing to abnormal flooding the growing of a crop will be attended by an abnormal risk of loss.In fact, it is a scheme for underwriting, to a certain extent, the crops which it has been found possible to sow in those areas, and it is assumed, under the plan of the scheme, that some crops will be raised. It may, as the Memorandum states in the next sentence:be possible only to obtain about two-thirds to three-quarters of normal yields, …either because of the late sowing or the state of the land, and the rates of acreage payment for the various crops have been 2369 calculated on that assumption. Therefore, those who will have been able to get some crops sown and eventually harvested will get roughly proportional benefit; it is only rough justice that the Minister could hope to achieve. That is all right as far as it goes but it is a case ofwhosoever hath, to him shall be given.But there is nothing in the Bill, and nothing has been said in the Minister's speech, about the unfortunate man who will not be able to get anything out of his land because of the abnormality of the flooding. I do not know how the gap has occurred, but we have ventured to put down an Amendment to the Money Resolution which would open the door, so that under the Bill something could be done for that person. He must be quite an appreciable person, because in a statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture in May—I do not know how far the figures have been modified since, but that is the latest official information, so far as I know—he said that out of 700,000 acres with which were flooded 70,000 acres are not, to use the word he used, croppable. I do not accept the word "croppable" but I think we all know what he meant. It may very well be that in some of these areas there are considerable proportions of land which will be quite unable to benefit under this scheme because they were so badly hit and, therefore, a farmer in that position is to get nothing.
I hope the Minister will be able to look at that problem. I do not know whether he can do it in this Bill or not, but if he cannot, what is the solution? Where else is the farmer to look? Is the answer that he has to look to one or other of the funds, or is the answer that something further will be done by the Government? The whole background of the problem is the abnormality of the situation—the abnormal flooding. It has nothing to do with what happens to a greater or less extent each winter or spring; this is something which is abnormal. That leads me to another series of questions which I wish to put to the Government. They are cognate to the Bill, though the Bill does not, in fact, cover them. As the Minister has referred to the various funds, I think it is proper, and in Order, at least to raise the question. The abnormality of the floods is such that it has brought great losses and burdens to other people apart 2370 from the particular group of farmers who are dealt with in Clause 1 of the Bill. I wish at least to pose a question as to how, and from where, help is coining to these groups of people.
The first group is the local authorities themselves. The right hon. Gentleman has not said anything about them at any stage, so far as I know. I understand that some reimbursement is being made from the Lord Mayor's Fund to local authorities for some of the expenses they have had to carry, not in major remedial works, but the daily alleviation which they had to provide for people affected by the flooding—opening up canteens and rest centres and providing food in the flooded areas, etc. I understand that a certain proportion—I do not know whether it is all—of that kind of assistance, is coming from the Lord Mayor's Fund, but I hope that the Government will not think that this is necessarily all that may be involved. As I know, certainly in my own area, the tremendous floods played havoc with many roads. Is the fact that these floods were abnormal to be considered a reason for unusual assistance to local authorities in those areas? I should like to know. It is not an agricultural question—I quite accept that—except that it does react on the agricultural community, because if there is to be a great increase of local authority expenditure, that will come out of the population which ex hypothesi has suffered from the floods.
Then there are the catchment boards. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech, dealt with this problem. I shall be glad to look again at what he said, which was that up to now all the expenditure which had been involved had been reimbursed by the Government without charge to catchment boards. I suppose that covers the emergency work that has had to be done. The very abnormality of these floods will inevitably bring vast expenditure to catchment boards. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who speaks for another area, would say the same in regard to that area as I do about the Trent, and the right hon. Gentleman could say the same of his own constituency, north of that. If the costs of catchments boards are to be increased, they will fall upon the very communities which have suffered from the flooding. I hope that we shall 2371 hear something more about that part of the expenditure. I should like, on behalf of those who sit on this side of the House, also to acknowledge, as did the right hon. Gentleman, the help we got from the Dutch in this matter. I know of that particularly in my own constituency.
I would like to pass to another group of people with whose difficulties we must sympathise, and for whom I am not quite sure anything can be done under the Bill. That is the case, again, of the flooded areas, where buildings have been destroyed, that is to say, farm houses, cottages and agricultural buildings. I have had some instances in my constituency. I suppose all hon. Members will remember that rather dramatic photograph taken in the constituency of the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) where the water gradually came down and one saw how each day the house diminished. I take it that the house disappeared in the end. What is to happen about assistance for rebuilding that house or similar accommodation? I do not know of instances similar to that case, but on the general proposition there have been houses, cottages and agricultural' buildings damaged beyond hope of repair. I do not quite know what the answer is to that. I can quote a case which has been brought to me of an agent writing to the owner and saying that he has made a careful survey of a house and other buildings and come to the conclusion that the house was incapable of repair, and that the buildings were incapable of repair at reasonable expense, and that new ones must, therefore, be provided. Is that owner to have any assistance from anywhere? I would like to know, because I understand that assistance from the Lord Mayor's Fund in cases like that has been decided upon in principle. Help from any source is acceptable, but the Minister himself, as I understood it, pointed out just now that the Lord Mayor's Fund was primarily to deal with distress or hardship in relation to personal or household circumstances.
I had rather envisaged that to mean the kind of hardship and distress which occurred not particularly in the agricultural areas, but throughout the flooded urban areas where people's furniture, 2372 linoleum, kitchen equipment, and all the rest of it, were concerned. I thought that was the broad distinction between that fund and the Agricultural Distress Fund. I am now informed with some authority that the reconstruction and repair of buildings, including agricultural buildings, is to come within the Lord Mayor's Fund. If that is so, I should like to have it confirmed because I know that a number of persons are affected by this. There is one cognate matter before I leave this point. Again, I wonder where assistance is to come from. When I say that I wonder where assistance is to come from, in this case I am making the assumption that it is the desire to assist, owing to the abnormality of the flooding, different groups of people who have suffered, and not merely pick out one lot. As the Bill is drawn, we are picking out just that section who, to quote the Memorandum, have been able to spring-sow their crop but where the growing of it will be attended by an abnormal risk of loss.
We have picked out that lot of people, quite rightly. I am only asking whether, having done that, having acknowledged that the floods were abnormal, any assistance is coming to any other sufferers and, if so, what is the source to which they should look? There is the local authority, the catchment board—I put them in very broad groups—and the landowner or farmer whose buildings have been destroyed. Then there is a rather small group which may not be extensive. I refer to the market gardener group. They may be covered by these acreage payments in certain cases, but they may have lost greenhouses, glass and equipment. I have a case in mind at the moment where a considerable number of houses were lost. That there must be quite an element of importance in this case is to be found again in the statement made by the joint Parliamentary Secretary in which he was congratulating himself that the Government had acted—and I am glad that they did—very quickly in this matter and had already diverted over two million square feet of glass for this purpose. That sounds quite a lot of glass, but it is not all cloche glass which has been lost. In many cases greenhouses are concerned. I would like to know what the Minister thinks will happen in those cases.
The Minister has referred to these two funds and I am sure that everybody will 2373 join with him in thanking those from overseas who are assisting us in this disaster. But unless the Minister, or whoever it is, is very careful, I am afraid that there is likely to be considerable overlapping and difficulty in knowing to whom each fund applies and how applications are to he made. I think it would be a good thing if the Minister could grip the fund business perhaps a little more strongly. I do not know, but he may have all the necessary co-ordination at the top level. I am sure, however, that it is necessary to have a good deal of co-ordination, not only at the top level, but down in the localities where payments are being made. One hears of Mr. So-and-So getting a payment for this and Mr. So-and-So getting a payment for that, and one wonders whether some people are to get two or three payments and others none at all. A great deal more co-ordination ought to take place and, incidentally, I think that there should be a little quicker payment in some cases. So much time is necessary in collecting the information about losses and then, I suppose, scaling them into some sort of general class, that time goes along and people are not getting the assistance which the very existence of the fund was meant to give.
Having said all that about the general financial background, I would say that Clause 1 and the scheme which, of course, we have not yet got in detail but which depends on the Bill, looks to us as being likely to meet that portion of the case with which it is meant to deal, but not, of course, with the other portion. In regard to the second part of the Bill, there, again, there seems to be some difficulty in keeping clear the line between the State assistance which is to be given under the scheme in the Bill, and these various funds. As the Minister has said, there is increasing use of the goods and services scheme. However, perhaps there, again, real co-ordination will bring the right kind of assistance. I do not say it is the right amount of assistance because I am not sure that the amount as envisaged here is enough, but it is the right kind of assistance.
Before I speak about sheep, I ask the Minister why he has left out hill cattle. The inclusion of hill cattle would he entirely within the scheme of the Bill. After all, the Act which this Bill seeks to amend, the Hill Farming Act, deals with 2374 cattle as well as sheep. The information given by the Joint Parliamentary UnderSecretary—I do not know whether it has gone up or down since then—was that in May over 50,000 head of hill cattle have been lest. That means that a very considerable number of people are to be left without any assistance at all. I hope that the Minister has not closed his mind to that point either. It is, of course, quite clear that the disaster for hill sheep was of the greatest magnitude. The right hon. Gentleman gave a figure, unless I misheard him just now, of a loss of something like £8,500,000 in connection with sheep. I find that figure very hard to reconcile with previous information, except that it is very much greater, because in reply to a Question on 16th June, the Minister gave an estimate of about £5,500,000. Whether the figure be £5,500,000 or £8,500,000, the Bill itself does not propose to assist to the extent of more than £2 million plus the amount of any advance in respect of the subsidy payable in 1948.
Therefore, the Bill obviously does not set out to fill the gap of the losses which have been caused. On the other hand, I think the right hon. Gentleman would justify himself—again if I understood him rightly—by saying that in some cases the loss of ewes had been as high as 90 per cent. Then he went on to say that that, of course, must be considered as the capital equipment of the hill sheep farmer and he would, for that purpose have recourse to the Agricultural Disaster Fund. That is what the Minister said. Therefore, I take it that his view is that where it is in the nature of capital loss, the Agricultural Disaster Fund will help, but where it is a mixture of that and current loss—it is very difficult to say at any given moment which it is, and that is part of the complication of the problem—it will come within the scope of the Bill. If that is so, we are very doubtful whether the proposed subsidy is high enough. We are advised that to make it a reasonable proposition, in view of the calamity, it should be at least double what the Minister has in view. My hon. Friends, no doubt, will explain that.
§ Captain Crookshank
No. I said that at least double the present proposals would be more in keeping with the extent of the losses and the magnitude of the disaster. It is clear that we must not 2375 overlook the loss that will be incurred owing to the absence of the sheep, because they are dead, and the value of the wool which will be lost. Here again, part of the problem is re-stocking and recreating the whole industry. Part of the problem is to keep the men, the farmers or the shepherds, in hill farming, and not let them go away to do something else. That is part of the problem because they may go away and then there will not be anybody to carry on what is, after all, one of the most important parts of this industry. That is the dilemma in which the Minister is placed. If, somehow or other, a sufficient income is not found in order to keep the men there, they will go, and then, whether or not there are ewes available in the future, there will not be the men. That is part of the difficulty. I hope that the Minister or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to expatiate a little more on that subject. So far as it goes, we welcome it, but we are not satisfied that it goes as far as is necessary, taking into account the abnormality of the situation. As the Minister said, we recognise, of course, that people who farm in the hills are accustomed to severe weather in winter, but that this year the weather was abnormal. We know that people who farm in the lowlands have to take the risk of floods. We know that, but as soon as we get something which is so abnormal as it was in both these cases this year, there is justification for Parliament looking into the matter and trying to restore the balance, the status quo.
I was not satisfied—and I am certain that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely will not be satisfied—with what the Minister said about the inquiry into this whole problem. I accept the view that there is a great deal of emergency work to be done by the catchment boards and their experts during the coming months to make the best arrangements for fear that something of the sort might happen next winter or the winter after. But the Minister must be aware, not only from his Yorkshire contacts, but also from his Lincolnshire and Isle of Ely contacts, that not only in the agricultural areas, but also in the urban areas, there has been some considerable disquiet over the whole problem of whether there need have been such bad floods as there were. I recog- 2376 nise, as he says that the experts are going to be hard pressed in the coming months, and that to have a big inquiry would involve a great deal of investigation and work. But, for all that, I hope he will not close his mind to having some sort of inquiry in the reasonably near future, before people have forgotten what happened and before the people who are there at the moment disappear to other parts of the world. I am not suggesting that we should have a great Royal Commission on land drainage at this stage. I do not think that is necessary, but I would have thought there was a case for the Minister appointing, perhaps, one or two real experts—engineers of worldwide reputation—to go into the matter, and to have a quick look round to see that nothing very obvious had been omitted. It would give great satisfaction to the people in the district, whether urban or agricultural area dwellers, because they have all suffered alike.
I can quite see the Minister's point about the technicians being hard at work, but I still think we might have a small roving commission of experts to make quite sure that what is being done now, broadly speaking, is on the right lines. It is the future that we are more concerned with. We want to be quite sure that any remedial works undertaken now are being undertaken on the best lines, and that, if one catchment board is doing something which is good, the others should be acquainted with it. I think there would be value in finding out a great deal more about these troubles of today in regard to flooding, whether, for example, we are likely to have them frequently in the future, not as the result of abnormal rain, but owing to the abnormally quick run-off of the water as the result of improved drainage higher up. I hope the Minister will not close his mind to having a full inquiry at an early date in order to make quite clear that, in the future, everybody is working on the right and most up-to-date lines.
I will now come back to the Bill and say that, in so far as it goes, it must be acceptable to anyone who has been anxious about the flooded areas and the hill areas, but in neither case does it go far enough. It may be that sufficient assistance from other sources will be brought to those who suffered most. As the Minister said, this may be done by 2377 the two public funds which have been set up. If that is so, I would ask him to see that there is a real co-ordination of the whole of the sources from which moneys can be drawn to aid these people, and to make it clear that it will be made available to the limit of our powers to people who, through no fault of their own, suffered very terribly in the early months of this year.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
First, I wish to congratulate the Minister and his Ministry upon the promptness with which they have tackled this question. It has given great satisfaction to the farming community. Like the right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank), while I accept the Bill, I, too, wish that it had gone a little further. Before coming to the Bill itself, may I say that it is a matter of gratification to all of us that there is now a greater realisation in the country, especially among industries other than agriculture, of the debt that they owe to agriculture, and a realisation that it is, after all, the basic industry. They now realise that more and more, owing to the fact that it is so difficult to provide the wherewithal with which to buy food from abroad. They also realise that as much encouragement as possible should be given to the farming community in order to get a higher and better production of food.
This matter falls into two parts, one dealing with the flooded areas and the other with the hill areas. In my part of the country we have not suffered from the floods to anything like the same extent as people in the Fenlands. I wonder what is abnormal. We have certain areas along the banks of the Severn and the tributaries of the Severn that suffer from floods year after year, and it is difficult to say what is normal and what is abnormal. As far as this year is concerned, I do not think that they suffered very much more than they have been suffering year after year in the past. I do not want to go very much further into this question, because the Minister and I are now in correspondence with regard to it. However, I would urge that such steps as can be taken to rectify the genuine suffering that exists should be taken fairly quickly, and in consultation with the local people. I am fearful of the Minister and his advisers 2378 relying upon experts from outside who do not sufficiently consult the local people, and who, as a consequence, are apt to make mistakes. That sort of thing has happened in the past, and I hope that in anything that is done in the future reliance will be placed on the local people and their experience of what is necessary.
I support what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said with regard to what I am sure is an omission. He rightly said that the main purpose of this Bill is to try to encourage the production of food, even during this abnormal period. But it has a secondary purpose—to assist those people who have suffered owing to the floods. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider in the Bill, and especially in the Money Resolution which follows it, whether it is not necessary to add some such words as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman or as I suggested, so as to cover the case of the person whose land is so sodden that he is not able to tackle it and put in a crop. If a man is able to tackle his land and put in a crop, he gets the increased price for that crop and also the benefits given under this Bill, but if the land is so bad that he is unable to touch it, then he gets nothing. I am sure that the Minister does not want that.
I now come to hill farming. We shall undoubtedly be faced with a really difficult situation with regard to food production, and in particular with regard to production on the hill farms. The hill farmers are essential in the farming community, because they are the ones who breed the young cattle and sheep which the other farmers need. That is why it is very essential to give such assistance to the hill farmers as will encourage them to go on working and producing. They have had abnormal losses this year. The right hon. Gentleman gave a case of one who has lost 90 per cent. I know one poor farmer—he is 10 years older than I am, so he must be getting on—to whom, when I saw him, I said, "Well, you have had it pretty heavily." He said, "I have, I had 300 ewes at the beginning of the winter; I skinned the last this morning."
The point I want to put is this. They have lost their capital; they have lost their incomes for many years. But they have lost something very much more. It has been almost heartbreaking—it has 2379 had a psychological effect—the burying of those dead animals, on which the farmers have worked. I was glad to hear the Minister repeat this morning that it is our interest to keep those people on the land. Our fear is lest they should turn their hacks on it, and give up this eternal struggle against Nature. They have always lived on the land. In Wales, our culture, our literature, our best people come from those hill lands and those small farms; and they are the very people whom above all we desire to assist to stay where their homes and their livelihood are. Has the Minister really done enough? Personally, I do not like these calls that there are for people to come on to charity in a national disaster in an industry such as this, upon which the welfare of this country depends. When there are extraordinary disasters like this, we should all go to the farmers' assistance and not make appeals of that kind, because such disasters as this are national calamities. I am not depreciating the generosity of people who are giving of their charity; it is right they should; but we should not be dependent on that, but dependent, in the main, upon the Government and what they can do.
What are the losses? The Minister has now said the losses with regard to hill sheep and hill cattle amount to £8,500,000. It will take them years to get back into their old position. I am glad that he is taking the flock as it was in December, 1946, as the basis. He knows there will be no ewes on the market next September, as there usually are—nor the following September—and that even if there are they will be sold at enormous prices, quite rightly. He knows that ewes have to be born on the hillsides, and brought up on the hillsides, and that the farmers have to live with them there and take care of them there until they learn their respective territories. It will take years to build those flocks again. What I am afraid of is that the assistance given by this Bill is not enough. I had a letter yesterday morning from one of the biggest hill farmers in the Plynlimmon range. His loss has amounted to over £3 a week. He, as the Minister knows, is taking part in the discussions representing the hill farmers. He was a party to the negotiations the results of which are in this Bill. But those negotiations took place a few weeks ago. Now the farmers are 2380 able to see the disaster more clearly, and he has written to me this letter:Now that the hill farmers have had time to look round and have verified their losses, the position is really very much worse than was at first realised, and I am very much concerned as to how the hill farmer is going to survive during the next two or three years. Owing to the heavy loss of lambs—and on the the Welsh hill farms the lamb crop does not yield many more than 15 lambs per too ewes—a very serious reduction in income will be suffered. The yield on my farm is to per too ewes. Wool, another important item of income—the Minister himself mentioned this—will yield nothing to speak of, and those surviving have 'cast' their fleeces already. The loss of income from wool cannot be over emphasised. Draft ewes will not be available for a couple of years. The rate of subsidy proposed in the Bill will not be sufficient to keep the hill farmer going, let alone help him rebuild his flock and cattle. In view of this, the subsidy rate should be doubled and a loan made available free of interest for a period of 10 years. The Government must be made to realise that agriculture in this country is doomed unless the interests of the hill farmers are safeguarded adequately, substantially and immediately. This very important reservoir of store sheep and cattle must be maintained at all costs if this country of ours is to survive.That is a very pathetic letter. I shall never forget when the writer of that very letter came to see me first during the middle of the blizzard. He had no idea what his losses were going to be, but he had some idea of the losses of his smaller neighbours with 100 or 50 sheep. He could not tell the story of their disasters and losses without breaking down. I urge the need of preserving those men, and going to their assistance. They have had a really hard blow; and it is those very people who give help to the lowland farmers in a way in which the lowland farmers cannot help themselves. I am grateful for the Bill as far as it goes, but I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to the extent of the help he is proposing to give.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
Like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), I welcome this Bill as far as it goes. I beg the Minister not to close his mind to the request made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for a public inquiry. We do not want a heresy hunt, or anything of that kind. The Church Estates Committee, on which I have the honour to serve, are owners 2381 of land in the flooded areas. We have tenants there who have suffered grievously. Practically unanimously there is this demand for a public inquiry into the circumstances. I feel—and I say it with sincerity—that those anxieties among those people, while they appreciate all that is being done now, will not be allayed by what the Minister has said in regard to the public inquiry. I am informed that the recent floods are the worst since 1790. Be that as it may, three times within the memory of living men disastrous floods have occurred, and these Fenland farmers ask, and ask quite rightly, Is this sort of thing to go on? It is not a matter of £s. d.; that is not the point at all. May I bring to the Minister's attention a quotation from a short article, which appeared in the "Observer" a few Sundays ago? This writer, after describing the effect of the floods, went on to say:All this has made a terrible impression on the Fenmen, and now that the fatigue and shock have worn off, they are bitter about it. Rightly or wrongly, but almost unanimously, they are blaming the Great Ouse Catchment Board for what has happened. They pay high land-drainage rates to the Board for protection against water from other counties which pay no such rate. And with much the same wilful pride that miners and fishermen have in their craft, they have little respect for the engineers who failed to prevent the disaster, or to halt it once it had happened.It is probably true, as the article goes on to state, that the engineers of the Great Ouse Catchment Board are not to blame. It is probably not their fault that nothing has been done since 1940. I believe I am correct in saying that in this area they have 70 inland drainage boards. Under the pressure of wartime conditions, to get increased production there has been intensive clearance of ditches and water courses, with the result that more and more water has been thrown on to the catchment boards. One has only to stand, as I did recently, at Denver Sluice, and watch the course of the Great Ouse below the sluice, seeing the waters of the New Bedford River flowing into the Great Ouse, and knowing that both rivers are tidal, to realise what must happen with a sudden thaw and a great rush of water unable to get away. One need not be an engineer to realise that the waters would break the banks at some place, which is what happened.
The Fenland farmers feel sincerely that whatever steps were taken to deal with the situation which arose, they are entitled to 2382 know all the circumstances, I put it to the Minister that there is virtue in a public inquiry, inasmuch as it would reassure the people on what is now being done to prevent this situation arising in the future. The courage, initiative and tenacity of some of these men in the Fenland areas, who were thrown on their own resources to deal with this problem, ought to be made known. I will quote just two instances which came to my personal notice. They are not exceptional in any way, because they can be paralleled by many other cases. One of the Church Estates tenants noticed a break in the dyke bank north-west of Prickwillow bridge. He immediately got together a party of farmers and faun workers, with tractors, to stop the gap with bags of soil. The work was carried on continuously for several days, and the gap was stopped. If that tenant had taken the advice of the drainage authority to abandon his holding and rescue his possessions, a very large area of the Fens would have been inundated. My second case is that of a tenant who worked a Commissioners' pump for two weeks, which entailed continuous coal stoking. In addition, he installed another auxiliary pump, and much land was saved from flooding.
I consider that a public inquiry will help to weld together the people in this area to deal with any situation which may arise in the future. As the Minister has applied himself to this problem so well, I ask him to bring his imagination to bear in regard to the feelings of these men and women. I ask him to believe that it is not a matter of £s. d. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery has said, these men have their roots in the land, and it tears out their hearts when these things happen. Let them be assured that there has been no breakdown, and if there has been a breakdown, let them be assured that the position will be met in the future. Then, with their staunch character, the Fenland people will rise superior to all that has happened, and will go on playing their part in the agricultural life of the community.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am grateful to be allowed to follow the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden), because a good many of his remarks apply to my own constituency. He mentioned Prickwillow, where I was 2383 present on the night when the real danger was apparent. I can certainly testify to the work which was done that night. It was truly magnificent, especially as there was almost a zoo mile an hour gale blowing at the time. Perhaps I may be allowed to speak on behalf of my constituency, and to say that I am grateful for the support which has been given by Members to the idea of a public inquiry.
I should like to join with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) in saying that we appreciate the benefits which will come from this Bill. But, I believe, with him, that the Government could have gone further. The whole matter seems to turn, to some extent, on what is meant by normal flooding, if there is such a thing. In the Fenlands flooding outside the Washland is abnormal. The Washland was designed for the purpose of flooding, to accommodate a greater amount of water, and to get that water over large areas. of land where there is little fall. The moment the water comes over the Wash banks, flooding in the Fens becomes abnormal. I am a little worried when I hear Members trying to differentiate between normal and abnormal flooding. As soon as the water comes over the banks, there is no control of it until the river level itself subsides.
There are several omissions from the Bill, in particular with regard to the 7,000 to 10,000 acres still under water in my constituency. That land will suffer considerably from the point of view of fertility, and it has been estimated that the value of the land will drop by something like £20 per acre. How long it will be before that value is restored it is hard to say, but the manurial value which has been lost may take a long time to restore. When there was a threat of floods many people sold their cattle. Next winter they will have to consider what they will do to obtain the same amount of manure as they had this year. There is another group of people who ought to be considered—those in the northern part of my constituency. There is a long main, drain there which goes to the Tydd pumping station. The land in the lower reaches is drained by gravity into the main drain. Owing to flooding in the Crowland district and the Welland area, the river level rose so much that it was not possible for these people to drain their land by gravity into the main river for more than two 2384 hours, two or three times a week. There was the great danger of the pumping station being submerged. The result was that the land became waterlogged through its own rainfall, and sowing was held up until late. Yet all this does not come under the heading of "abnormal flooding." My own feeling is that it was owing to abnormal flooding that they were not able to get their land properly drained. Some consideration should be given to those people, and the question of their crops not being up to the standard of a normal year.
Then there is the question of disturbance. About 130 families were flooded in the Ely rural district, and had to go to live with friends or be accommodated in another district. They have been put to considerable expense, and it is important that we should consider how they are to be compensated. Then there are seed losses, such as potatoes. The small men have suffered particularly, because they grew less than the minimum acreage required to obtain a grant from the Ministry of Food. There is the question of the deterioration of implements. I have heard it said that farmers are not particularly careful about their implements, and we know that that charge is not entirely untrue as implements are left in the fields to get rusty. But there have been losses of and damage to implements which have been properly looked after, when whole farmyards became flooded. Raging gales, and flotsam and jetsam in the water, caused much damage to implements. In addition, there has been heavy wear and tear on machinery as a result of the concentrated drive to get dry land into cultivation again. The work which has been done in the constituency of the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye), and my constituency, has been truly remarkable, and is a great tribute to all concerned, including the agricultural executive committee. There is also not covered by the Bill the question of the difference in crops between farms which were highly mechanised and farms which were managed, as best as could be, with very little equipment. There is no doubt that the highly mechanised farms were more easily able to carry out steady cultivation, while the smaller farms have had to carry on on their own.
I have mentioned public inquiries. The hon. Member for the Park Division men- 2385 tioned the Great Ouse Catchment Board in particular, and quoted an excellent article which appeared in the "Observer" the Sunday before last. I would like to point out, in fairness to the chief engineer of the Great Ouse Catchrnent Board, that he did his best, considering what he had to do when the floods came. He worked very long hours, in superhuman fashion, and his assistant engineers did so as well. The military authorities have been given great credit for scaling the breach at Over below Earith, where the water came over the top of the banks. They certainly deserve much credit for the work which they have done. I think that it should be known that it was an engineer of the Great Ouse Catchment Board who originally suggested the use of the Neptune tank. He had been a sapper officer during the war, and I think that he should have the credit.
With regard to public inquiries there are several reasons, I think, why we should have them. The first is in justice to those people who have been flooded out. Recently, I put a Question to the Minister asking him to hold these inquiries, and I quoted to him, in a supplementary question, the fact that certain houses had been badly damaged. He said that he did not see what that had to do with holding public inquiries. I ask the right hon. Gentleman frankly: If his house had been almost destroyed as a consequence of a wall having been battered out by the flooding, would he be satisfied? I do not think it is sufficient to say, "These things must happen; I do not want to know why they happen." I think that it is only natural that any small householder would want to know why.
§ Mr. T. Williams
If my house had been washed away I should prefer the builders to spend a month on rebuilding rather than merely talking about why I lost my old one.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I agree that the right hon. Gentleman would want to know what was going to be done about it, but I think that he would also want to know why it happened, in view of the fact that he would still be living in the area administered by the same local authority as before the flood occurred. That leads me to the second reason why I think there should be an inquiry. It would serve 2386 as a good check on the way in which the existing Land Drainage Act is being administered, and the way in which the catchment boards are being run and the internal boards as well. Throughout this Debate, there has been a tendency to suppose that only a few people want these inquiries. I assure the Minister that that is not so. The Soke of Peterborough has now requested an inquiry into the reason why the Crowland bank went. St. Neots, Godmanchester, St. Ives and the Haddenham Internal Board also want inquiries, and there are many other individual members of internal boards and catchment boards who are prepared to have an inquiry, and think that there ought to be an inquiry. I know that the Minister has not yet turned down the idea of having inquiries and that he is prepared to look into the matter again. At the same time, memories are short, and memories for details are particularly short. If we leave these matters until the work is done, and until the technical staffs of the catchment board are free, I think we shall have to wait several years. By that time a great deal of the knowledge of the details will have been forgotten. Therefore, the inquiries will be by no means as valuable as they would be if held now.
The answer is not, I think, that we should have a Royal Commission, nor do I think a Select Committee is necessary. I believe that if the reports issued on land drainage in 1877 and 1927 were fully read today and implemented we should not get flooding again. The answer should be found to such questions as: How far did the existing plans cater for meeting the flooding which has occurred: were those plans fully adhered to; how far was this flooding foreseen and what preparations were made over and above the existing plans if and when these floods were foreseen; what damage has resulted; how soon can it be repaired; how are the repairs to be financed? Finance is the crucial problem. The hon. Member for the Park Division said that money was not the most important factor in this case. I am afraid that it is. I think that the matter of financing the long-term projects and the work done in the interim period is one of the greatest problems of all.
One of the tragedies about the rivers now is that they have lost much of their profitability. I have spoken to various people on the subject of navigation with 2387 regard to the way in which the rivers could be put to good profit. When the 1927 Royal Commission sat, evidence was given which showed that one of the greatest disadvantages to the Middle Level was that a certain aqueduct which could be used for navigation caused difficulty in getting the water away through the main drain. This is not an easy problem, and it is one which should be looked into in the light of the report already made, and not necessarily in the light of a new report, which will probably take several years to prepare. I think that if we can bring in more profitability from our rivers, so much the better. At the same time, it is "pay, pay, pay" all the while. It is where that payment takes place that is important. The hon. Member for the Park Division mentioned that no work had been done since 1940. I do not think it is fair to say that. I gave the figures in the Debate on 24th April, and they were fairly considerable. I think that the general impression is that the work is being done in the wrong way, and that it ought to be done in the outfall.
§ Mr. Burden
The big scheme which the Great Ouse Catchment Board had in hand about 1940 had not been fully planned, and, therefore, it has not been done.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I think that £880,000 has been spent in the Fen area and £37,000 on the tidal portion. With regard to the outfalls of rivers, however far one goes in deepening the channel and widening it, it will silt up again and return to its normal character in time unless one keeps up a continual dredging process. That may run the country into enormous expense. Whether it would he justified or not is questionable. I think that the Minister, especially in view of the fact that he came to the House today and indicated that he was not prepared to hold public inquiries, should have told us what is to be done, what plans have been decided on, what plans are under consideration for the long-term project and what is to be done to cover the interim period. I was glad to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) say that he hoped that local experience would be borne in mind. There are men who have lived in the Fens all their lives and know more about the flooding there than any man coming in, however expert. I hope that full 2388 advantage will be taken of that personal experience and that it will be put to good effect. In the report of the Great Ouse Catchment Board,.to which the Minister referred, it is quite clear that we had a "let off" this year despite the disaster which happened. I should like to quote this. So far as tides are concerned, it was stated:It would have been possible for wind conditions in the North Sea to have caused abnormal tides in the Wash and tidal rivers for several days on end. During such a period the waters in the south level might have been held back for several days with disastrous results.It so happens that the tides went right this time, and it was lucky for us in many ways. The problems which beset both the catchment boards and internal boards, and now the Government and the whole country, are such that I think we must realise that the plans which have been drawn up for the long-term prevention of floods do not really cover floods of the magnitude we had this year. If we have floods next year of 50 per cent. of the magnitude of those of this year, I dread to think what disaster will happen, because a great deal of work has to be done and I very much doubt whether it can be done in time.
In conclusion, may I say a few words on the matter of the funds. The way in which contributions have been made to the Lord Mayor's Fund, not only from this country but from numbers of the Dominions, Colonies and other countries outside, is truly magnificent. It is a sign that it is a matter of international interest, though perhaps it is not a matter of as much national interest as it should be. As the Minister has said, Dutch engineers and others helped, but from my own experience I know that there are men in England who ought to have been consulted before going to Holland.
So far as the funds are concerned, I believe, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, we shall have confusion if we are not very careful. One thing I think should be mentioned, and that is that His Majesty's Government have control over the Agricultural Disaster Fund and the Ministry is working very closely with the National Farmers Union on that matter. But so far as the Lord Mayor's Fund is concerned, the Government, though they say they have given I million to it—I should 2389 prefer to say that they have given £1 million of the taxpayers' money—have no control over its administration whatsoever. The Lord Mayor is a public-spirited man and is obviously doing very valuable service through his Fund, but it seems to me that the Minister should consider the possibility of getting some of the Lord Mayor's Fund devoted to the rebuilding of houses and particularly farm buildings which were damaged. Many of the farm buildings were very fragile and many of them will have disappeared altogether in the floods. In replacing them, very heavy costs are involved and I hope the Minister will do something about it.
So far as the administration of the Agricultural Disaster Fund is concerned, I am not the least satisfied, in view of what the Minister has indicated this morning, that it will be big enough even if doubled out of public money to meet the costs of those who will not benefit under this Bill. I hope that the Minister will explore every avenue that he can with a view to seeing that those who do not benefit directly under this Bill are covered as far as possible. I quite appreciate the reasons why he cannot under this Bill say right at the beginning that he is prepared to cover everybody, whether they have got in any crops this year or not, but the time has now passed when it is reasonably possible to have any hope of sowing a decent crop this year, and, therefore, I hope he will consider the people who will get nothing in this year, and will be far more generous to them than this Bill seems to indicate. When we come to the Financial Resolution, I hope we shall be able to achieve something in that direction. While agreeing that this Bill will serve a very useful purpose, I hope the Minister will not feel satisfied, and that he will not only face the future but also the present situation.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
This is an agricultural Bill and I sit for an urban constituency, therefore my intervention will be very brief. The Debate has centred around the demand for a public inquiry into the recent floods. That suggestion was voiced by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). Of all the Members of this House, he was the one to voice it. He, of course, has 2390 characteristics which commend themselves to both sides of the House. He is always very suave, he sounds so eminently reasonable, but I could not help feeling that he made that suggestion with his tongue in his cheek. The suggestion was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) and now the House has just had the spectacle of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), pleading for a public inquiry and in the course of his remarks proceeding to demolish the whole of his own case. I am glad he did so because we do not want a public inquiry. The facts are known. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely said that if the lessons of the Royal Commissions of 1877 and 1927 had been assimilated—these were not his words, but they were to this effect—there would not have been the disaster that did in fact happen as the result of the recent floods. That was what he said, and of course it is true.
But let me return to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough, who was a Minister of the Crown sitting on the Front Bench when the 1927 Royal Commission Report was published. If he was not on the Front Bench he was certainly in this House, and he has been in this House ever since, sitting for the constituency of Gainsborough, which happens to be in the lower reaches of the Trent and is exposed to all the ravages of Trent flooding. In 1927, out came the Report of the Royal Commission. Let any hon. Member of this House read paragraphs 40, 41 and I believe 42 of that Report. The Report makes quite clear what any man of sense knows, without having a knowledge of hydrodynamics, that owing to the development and advance of civilisation, rivers are called upon to discharge functions for which they are not in fact fitted by nature. Of course, that is pretty obvious. The Report came out in 1927, in 1928 nothing happened; but in 1929 there was the General Election and a Labour Government, with the result that something did happen—the Land Drainage Act of 1930, which created the catchment boards and endowed them with funds. My constituents ever since then have been paying in hard cash through the rates twice a year to endow the catchment boards with funds.
The question arises, what will the catchment board do? They had schemes. We 2391 are told that the Great Ouse Catchment Board had schemes ready by 1940, but what were they doing between 1930 and 1940? In those days, when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough was a Member of the Government, there was no shortage of material and no shortage of labour. It would have been easy to carry out engineering works of the first magnitude, which were needed on a catchment area basis, all over the country. There was plenty of labour, plenty of materials, plenty of everything, but, unfortunately, the Government of that day were obsessed by nonsensical, doctrinaire ideas about finance. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Member for Gainsborough says it is still a matter of finance. With great respect to the House and to him, it is not—it is a matter of manpower and technical knowledge.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman in regard to his remark about my demolishing my own argument, whatever else this inquiry looks into, one of the things it should look into is the administration of the existing law, and I said that in my speech—the administration of catchment board affairs. On the second point, whether it is manpower or finance, I merely said that I was quoting what the engineer of the Great Ouse Catchment Board had told me himself—that it is a question of finance above all other things.
§ Mr. Norman Smith
I do not accept the opinion of the chief engineers of a catchment board on questions of finance. Few of them know anything about it. Having spent a lifetime trying to probe the mysteries of that subject, I can tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that if he wants information about finance, he will be wasting his time going to the otherwise estimable gentleman who is the engineer of the board. The hon. and gallant Member said that he wanted an inquiry into why the Crowland Bank went. The only inquiry possible in a case like that would be a technical inquiry by technically competent persons. One cannot state in words of the English language the reason why that bank went. I do not know if the hon. and gallant Gentleman is interested in semantics, but if he is not it is about time he was. The only way you can state adequately the reasons why the bank went is by employing not 2392 words but mathematical symbols. What is wanted is not another inquiry; that would be a waste of time, but' that the catchment boards should proceed to do forthwith what they ought to have been doing between 1930 and 1940 when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough was an influential member of the Government of the day. The catchment boards should use the powers and the money given to them under the 1930 Act, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist the pressure for an inquiry.
What I hope the Minister will do is to keep his people busy and make certain that the catchment boards are not allowed to delay any longer but get on with the job. I speak with feeling on this matter because 4,000 of my constituents had their homes flooded for the reason that the catchment boards did not use those powers in the 1930's when they should have done. Let us waste no further time over this inquiry business, but let us use the machinery we have. I am very glad to have received an assurance in a letter from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that this matter is being considered at the very highest Cabinet level. That is necessary because it is a matter of manpower and material priorities.
§ 1.2 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Bury St. Edmunds)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Nottingham (Mr. N. Smith) has given us less help with this Bill than he might have done, since he has used the short time available to range back over the past and to blame the catchment boards for their behaviour in that earlier period. The catchment hoards may deserve some blame for the distant past, but how is that likely to help us now? The hon. Gentleman said that we should tell them to get on and do the job, and added that they have the money. I do not know where that money is, but it certainly is not in the hands of the catchment boards. They have used nearly all the money that has been given and during the war years they could have used much more if they could have obtained it and the labour. They did all they could, and we now have to catch up on that period.
I want to say, first, that I feel that there is an impression in the country and, perhaps in the House also, that the Fens 2393 farmer is a kind of millionaire, and that he has only to put something on a piece of that lovely dark soil and then sit back until it brings him in money. That is not so. Some of the fenland is first-class, but a great deal of it is very moderate in quality. Many smaller farmers work 12 to 16 hours a day with their families right through the year and obtain just enough, if enough, to live on. It is not all gold in the Fens. I ask the Minister, as every hon. Member has so far asked him, whether he cannot reconsider how he can bring help to those farmers whose land cannot be cultivated this year. In my constituency we were, perhaps lucky. We did not have all our fens under water, but the Great Fen certainly was under water and was nowhere near cleared last weekend. Even where the water has been cleared there is now mud. The local drains are full and the land is therefore, completely water-logged and will grow nothing.
The Minister said quite rightly that he was out to obtain food this year, but surely he must consider obtaining food for next year, too? In the part of the Bill which deals with sheep he has adopted a long-term policy catering for one, two or three years, but in the part dealing with the Fens the provisions are confined to those farmers who are able to produce a crop now. It does not matter how small the crop, the farmer is still to receive help if it is produced this year, but I do hope that the Minister can do something for the man who is unable to grow a crop this year but has to get his land ready for next year. He has to continue to work and to use his men cleaning the drains, and the moment he can get his tractor running on the land he will begin to cultivate it. He is the man who wants help now to tide him over until Christmas time. He has nothing to look forward to in the way of part payment from the Ministry under the Bill or from what crops he can sell. He will have nothing until next year, and he will he wanted then for producing food just as much as the man who is growing a little this year.
The Minister says that such a farmer will obtain something from the Disaster Fund, but when will he get it and what will he get? As far as I can make out from what the Minister said, there was something like £400,000 in the fund to 2394 meet those cases and, in the hill farming area, £8,500,000 for the loss of sheep and £1,500,000 for the loss of land crops. It does not seem to me that there is likely to be much money available for the man who cannot grow anything this year, but surely he should be given just as much as, if not more than, the Minister is providing under this Bill for the man who is growing only part of his crop. I do not see that he can obtain it fund the Disaster Fund unless that fund can be made to grow very much in a very short time.
I should like to emphasise too what my hon. Friends have said on the subject of a public inquiry or some sort of local inquiry. Our fens, as I have said, are still under water or only just clear, and during the past three months we have not seen any work going on to repair the dykes. At present we have only had people put on to clean and restart a pump. The pump which was erected during the war has been found to be so low that it was under the level of the flood water. The banks of all the dykes are weak and have been almost undermined. If we should happen to have a bad period of frost and then some rain next winter many of them will not stand up to half the weight of water they stood earlier this year. We do not say that we should be given priority for having the banks mended because we know that there are places in neighbouring areas which have been far worse hit than we have, but that is the kind of thing which would come out in an inquiry. It would give the farmer much more confidence because he would know what was being clone, why the floods occurred in his area, what was now proposed to prevent a recurrence, and also what order of priority his local area was receiving.
The work of repairing the banks is practically all manual labour and it is, therefore, a matter of finance. Last weekend I was asking men down there what was happening and their answer was, "Well, what can happen? Where is the money coming from to pay for the labour?" Labour is scarce and it must be paid fog at big rates if the work on the banks is to be done before there is a chance of another break next winter. That money is beyond the resources of the catchment board and should be dealt with under this Bill. Something should be said 2395 as to how the Government propose to deal with the banks, in order to safeguard the money they are paying out under this Bill to the farmer on the farmland below the bank; otherwise, they may have the same thing over again next winter if the weather is unkind. I ask the Minister, first, to give us some hope that he can do something for the man whose land cannot be cultivated this year other than to say that he must wait for the Disaster Fund; secondly, to say a word about Inquiries and change his opinion about them; and, thirdly, to see that money is available to rebuild and strengthen existing banks before next winter.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Stubbs (Cambridgeshire)
The question of Fen floods is nothing new to those of us who live in the Fen areas. Over the last century Fen floods have occurred on an average every ten years. We had a great flood in 1937 which swamped thousands of acres of some of the best land in East Anglia. One would like to know whether or not an emergency scheme was adopted after the 1937 flood, and, if so, one would like to know what that scheme was and whether provisions were made, based upon previous experience, to meet any further emergency that might arise?
There is very keen feeling among the farmers and smallholders that district inquiries, into the floods would serve a useful purpose, and it is in the interests of the Minister to agree to such inquiries. There are men in those areas who can contribute very usefully from their knowledge of how to deal with floods and handle the banks. My experience is that such men have never been consulted. Experts are always brought along, and in discussions one is told, "Leave it to the experts." Sometimes experts do not live up to their reputation, and it would be valuable to have the contributions of men whose families have lived in the Fen country for generations and who know the Fens from A to Z, and back again. Such men would contribute a great deal of useful matter if district inquiries were held.
The present shortcomings are due to the gross neglect of the past. It will not do for hon. Gentlemen opposite to try to escape their liability for what happened years ago. We have not forgotten 1921. We have not forgotten that there were 2396 2,500,000 unemployed. The money was there. We paid about £200 million a year for men to do nothing. Those men could have been used for this work. I remember the former Member for the Division which I now have the honour to represent and the Member then representing the Isle of Ely coming to look at our floods in 1937. When they returned to the House, they asked what it would cost to solve the problem, and they were told that it would cost £33 million to £40 million. What was the answer? It was, "Oh dear, we cannot afford it." There were unemployed men anxious for work, and yet this work could not be done because of the cost. The responsibility rests with the Opposition because of their gross neglect. The last flood might have been averted.
What we are concerned about now is the solution of the Fen floods once and for all. I hope that district inquiries will take place and that there will be a Royal Commission to find a lasting solution. The conscience of the nation has been awakened to the danger of these floods from the point of view of food. In Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely there are vast tracts of the most prolific land in the country. No one knows how near that last flood came to putting that land out of cultivation for many years.
I turn now to something the Minister did not mention. There is nothing in the Bill about fruit farms. In my area there are many glasshouses. Many thousands of tons of tomatoes are grown in them. There is nothing in the Bill to say that these people will receive help. This was mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). Not only have the glasshouses gone and not only are the boilers out of use, but it is difficult to get new boilers and to get these houses erected. Those men have lost not only their glasshouses but the good crops of tomatoes they should have had this year, which would have been a good contribution to our food supplies. Are such people to be dealt with under this Bill? At the moment, they are like the man who fell out of the balloon—they are not in it. We want to get those people in. Hundreds of acres in my area are under fruit farms which may have no crops this year. I do not know what effect the water has had upon the fruit trees, but the experts tell us that the orchards are 2397 likely to be out of action, and I hope the Minister will look into that.
Farmers in the Fen areas nave built up their farms after many years of hard work. Within a few hours the whole thing is swept away—houses, furniture, stock and everything else. I do not like this charity idea of "throwing a shilling in the hat" to meet cases of this sort. It ought to be done on a much higher level. These men in the Fen areas have a heartbreaking job. The whole of their lives have been devoted to it. They are beginning to say, "If this is Fen farming, let somebody else do it," and the nation may be in danger of losing these expert farmers. The best farmers in the country are those in the Fenland. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Well, I believe we have the best farmers in my area; no doubt, other hon. Members believe the best farmers are in their areas. We are told that the farmer should be encouraged. If we are to encourage him we must offer him more than we have done hitherto. The farmers are inclined to say, "Must I go on for another 10 years building up my farm again, and then have to meet with the same thing again, in 10 years time? We need security." There should be a solution to this problem once and for all.
The Minister said that urgent work must be done before next winter. I would like to know what this work will involve. Is it something in the nature of emergency work which ought to have been done years ago, or does it involve patching up the banks? Patching up will not do now; we want something more substantial than that. I believe there is a scheme embracing the area from the High Level to Denver Sluice, involving a sum of about 3,500,000. I do not know whether that will solve the problem, but I think something bigger than that is needed. It is all very well for Bedford; they send the water down to where we are, and we say, "They can keep their water, we do not want it." The whole problem should be tackled in a bigger way than it has ever been tackled before.
I hope the Minister will agree to these local inquiries which will ease the feelings of these farmers and assist them. Following that, I hope there will be a Royal Commission to deal with national waterways and solve the flooding problem once and for all. People in other areas have just as big a responsibility to pay for 2398 waterways as we in the Fen areas. This is a national question. They depend upon the Fen areas for their food, and they should pay their proportion of the cost of the upkeep of the national waterways. Farmers in some areas pay 25s. an acre and others 11s. an acre towards the upkeep. For a farmer, that is a handicap to begin with. Arising out of this national calamity, I hope there will be no turning back. I trust we shall go ahead with these district inquiries and, possibly, a Royal Commission in order to deal with the problem of the Fen floods, so that in ten years' time we shall not face a similar calamity which will put out of cultivation thousands of acres of land which are so bady needed for the nation's foot supply.
§ 1.26 p.m
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I must first tender my apologies to the Minister and to the House for not being present at the beginning of this Debate. The reason was that I had a bad throat and I was trying to get it mended. I join issue with the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) in blaming the Opposition for the calamity from which we have suffered. I do not think it was worthy of the hon. Gentleman, and I think he can do better than that. Just as the great storm on that Sunday night in March while it showed various weaknesses in Nature by blowing down trees, and various weaknesses in man's handiwork by blowing down chimney pots, did not show that the whole plan of Nature was wrong; neither did the floods necessarily show that the whole of our catchment and drainage system was wrong, but merely that it has its weaknesses.
I am one of those who would disagree with the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Norman Smith) and agree with the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire in that I believe that something can be gained by having local inquiries. But we do not need to look back to the past, except so tar as it can help us in the future. An inquiry should not take the form of recriminations, but of trying to explore the particular weaknesses in our scheme and to find what faults were made in the actual day-to-day operations of flood control which could be avoided in future; and I suggest that, if we look into these matters, we will find there are a few specific things which need to be done in order to minimise, if not entirely prevent, such difficulties in the future. But we 2399 should be deceiving ourselves and tooling the younger generations, if we necessarily assumed that the whole matter is capable of easy and quick solution. However, there are some things which can be done.
My constituency of Huntingdonshire lies in the Middle Level and the constituency of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire lies in the South Level. The Middle Level suffered very little, whereas the South Level suffered a great deals. It is claimed by the Middle Level Commissioners, and by those who live and farm in the Middle Level, that one of the reasons why we suffered less was because of the St. Germains Pumps which were installed at considerable cost a few years before the war. They had nothing to do with any party in this House, but they were due largely to the initiative of the Middle Level Commissioners and particularly of the late Mr. Hugh Whittome. It was possible to get the water away from the Middle Level more quickly than it could be got away anywhere else. Now, it may be that an inquiry would show that by cutting a further outlet somewhere in the region of Denver Sluice, the water could be got away more quickly from the South Level.
I turn to this Bill. The Government are to be congratulated on the Bill, so far as it goes. They are to be congratulated also upon using the opportunity of providing incentives to the extent that is done in this Bill. Indeed, if it had been called "the Agriculture (Incentives to Immediate Production) Bill" it would have been quite an accurate description. This is only "Phase two." "Phase one" was the attempt to raise funds by means of charity. This is "phase two" of Parliament's shire in the fight of the country against the elements; and, as the Debate is, fortunately, a wide and ranging one, I hope I may be forgiven for suggesting what the other phases might possibly consist of. Having at any rate flown over all the flooded areas of Fenland, and seen a good many of the districts on the ground, I would say, looking at this matter from a long-term farming point of view, that the biggest trouble is the damage to buildings, people's houses and farm equipment. Indeed, in the deeply flooded levels, like the 20,000 acres flooded by the Earith Gap in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) my observation leads me to believe that there is not a single house or 2400 farm building which is safe and usable for the future. The land was flooded to a depth of from five to 20 feet and the floods are still there in a small portion of the area; and the waters, swirling round, and the fine soil which was churned up, have left all these buildings silted up, and the walls are permeated with this muddy solution. In many cases walls and roofs, etc., have fallen in. There is, therefore, in that district in particular, a serious resettlement problem, and one which can only be solved by a special building drive. I do not see how normal agricultural production can be restored in that particular part and in other places which were deeply flooded, as that part was, unless the aid of the Minister of Health can be enlisted for the rehousing of the people.
If I may talk about farming, instead of drainage—if it is not too much out of fashion in this Debate—there is, from the farming point of view, a respect in which I myself could have wished this Bill to help, and which I do not think any of the charitable funds can help. It is quite a big problem. The immediate problem with which the funds are intended to deal is the relief of immediate hardship, and not financial loss on past crops. Even in the Middle Level, where there were portions which were slightly flooded, a great deal of hardship was caused to small Fenland farmers by the loss of last year's crop of potatoes which were still lying in clamps. So far as I know, none of the funds do anything to help those farmers. In many cases the farmers also lost this year's seed corn and this year's seed potatoes; and I do not think that the way in which the funds are being administered will allow for the repayment of such losses, but I stand open to correction. All I say is that I do not know.
§ Mr. Renton
It may be, but I am not aware of any such provision. If the hon. Member can enlighten me, and perhaps other hon. Members, I will give way.
§ Mr. Renton
If that is being done, I must confess that I was not aware of it.
2401 A further point is the position of the internal drainage boards. An inquiry in regard to them is badly needed, because they have an immediate and most urgent problem to which to attend. Their problem is to put their part of the drainage system into good order before next winter comes, because I believe that we must be prepared for a pretty hard winter. The various weather experts say, and it is within my own recollection, that hard winters run in pairs. The winter before last was not a hard one; it was a mild one. Last winter was a hard one, and we must expect next winter to be another hard one. It is, therefore, of vital importance that internal drainage boards should be getting their drains restored and put in order, but they have their difficulties. The first is lack of labour, the second is lack of finance. Lack of finance is a trouble which the Minister can do a good deal to overcome within his present powers. Recently I had cause to ask him to ensure that an internal drainage board got a grant before the work was done, instead of having to wait as under the old system until the work was done, before getting their grant. If it were made known to the internal drainage boards that they can get a grant in advance—it is only 20 per cent., I believe—and if the Minister could see his way to raise the percentage which could be paid, there would be some hope that this year, while the summer months are still with us, the vitally urgent work which the internal drainage boards have to do would be done. I conclude with the hope that the Minister will not regard this Bill as a completion, or anything like it, of his work in respect of these floods. We certainly look forward to other wise measures, and hope they will go further than does this Bill.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South Western)
This is not the first time that it has been my pleasure, in a Debate on agriculture to follow the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton). It is always a pleasure to listen to him, as he usually makes very constructive suggestions for dealing with the problem under discussion. On behalf of the constituents I represent, I welcome the Bill, the Second Reading of which the Minister has moved today, and also his lucid explanation of this useful little Measure. I look upon it as the second phase in the development of combating 2402 the effects of the floods of the past winter. The first phase was carried out by the people on the spot, when they first tried to limit the extent of the floods, and then pumped them back into the rivers. They have done this so well that a large proportion of the land has been saved from the floods, and made available for cropping this season. The way in which both the local farmers, workers and drainage board people, assisted by the military, naval, National Fire Service and Air Ministry people, combined to fight the effects of the floods was a fine piece of work. Rarely in the history of this country has so much flooding been limited so quickly, and the land got back to cultivation again.
One does not know what will be the size of the crops, or the effect of the flooding on the size or quality of the crops. I hear disturbing reports in some places that, although the crops came up very quickly, they are showing the effects of the flooding on them, and they may be very small. But the farmers and others are to be congratulated on the way they speedily got to work to get the land ready for cultivation so that some parts should be available this year. They did that almost entirely because it is their nature so to do. But, at any rate, the Government were very quick in offering the scheme embodied in this Bill to encourage them to get a full crop this year. In so far as the Bill does that, it is a very good job of work. We hope that the combined efforts of the Government and of the cultivators will result in better crops than seemed possible at one time and about which there may be doubts at present. In the encouragement which the Bill gives to farmers to get on with the task of cultivating their land and getting in a food crop for this year, it does very well. It is essential that Parliament should implement the promise and pass this Measure as speedily as possible. The agricultural executive committees are already working on the supposition that this Bill as drafted will be approved. However, if in its passage through Parliament we can make some improvements that will be well and good.
The loophole in regard to the assistance to Fenland farmers is a point which has already been indicated. Those whose land is flooded for so long that it cannot be cropped this year will get no assistance under this Measure, nor will those who 2403 are able to get the water off but not able to get a crop this year for human or animal consumption. If they get a crop this year which is ploughed in for next year, they will get no assistance. I wish something could be done to cover the needs of the whole of the farmers of the land which has been flooded in the Fens. This is very valuable land indeed. A good deal of time has been taken in this Debate in discussing the broader problems of land drainage in the Fens. Demand has been voiced by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House for an inquiry into the administration of the Ouse Catchment Board to try to find out if there were any faults in administration or any deficiencies in control of the rivers under its charge. I cannot agree with the demand for an inquiry. The whole facts are known and they are very simple.
For 120 years there has never been such a volume of water poured down these river channels as was the case last winter. It has been known for years that if anything like this quantity of water came down from the high lands, then at certain places the banks could not possibly stand. The banks of the main river, the Ouse, for a good distance up from the Wash stood the test all right, but the channel was not wide enough to take the weight of water. The question with which most farmers in this neighbourhood, and indeed the internal drainage boards, are concerned, is whether with the knowledge which the Ouse Catchment Board has at its disposal, and the schemes they have for dealing with this problem, they can be put into operation to prevent similar floods recurring? We ask that the banks should be strengthened at certain places and that efforts should be made to build up other areas so that in the event of the banks of the main river or the tributaries breaking, there is a second or even a third line of defence to prevent the water spreading over the whole neighbourhood. If there is to be an inquiry, time will be taken before any decision can be arrived at.
From my conversation with members and officials of the Ouse Catchment Board it seems to me that the facts are known and that a scheme has been evolved which will prevent floods in this neighbourhood. This scheme requires an engineering feat which may take from five 2404 to seven years to carry out. Obviously, it will be very costly. That cost ought not to fall on the neighbourhood. This is very largely a national concern and it should be a national undertaking We ask that, in addition to this Bill, the Ministry of Agriculture should make up its mind as speedily as possible on the scheme which has been put forward, and thus enable it to be carried through. Most probably it will require another Bill to be introduced into this House before the scheme can be adopted but, to hold the confidence of the cultivators throughout the Fens, it is essential that the Government should make their declaration on the flood prevention scheme quickly, and indicate the amount or the percentage of financial aid which will be forthcoming. With that knowledge, the cultivators of the neighbourhood can continue with their task of farming and the internal drainage boards and commissions can get on with their job of cleaning out the drains in order to get the water away. In addition, the Ouse Catchment Board can continue to strengthen the banks and, if necessary, to dredge the river at certain places so that next winter the water can be got away.
This Bill is but a stage in the operations against flooding. Its cost in the case of the Fens might be small compared with the greater undertakings for flood prevention which are required in that neighbourhood. That aspect is the one with which I am mainly concerned. When I read through the provisions for bringing assistance to the farmers in the hills, I have every sympathy with them. Their losses of livestock seem to be greater than the losses suffered by those in the Fens. Therefore, it is only right that Parliament should make provision to assist them. Assistance to enable them to keep going is not enough. If assistance is given, it should be with a view to encouraging development in the future which will bring these people on to a more profitable basis more into line with the rest of agriculture. The farming of sheep has for many years been a declining proposition in this country. Their numbers have been increasing. As producers of meat, they are not of so great importance as cattle.
If this country is to produce a greater proportion of its beef in 1949 and 1950 onwards, then calves that are being born this year and next year, instead of being slaughtered, ought to be reared. It seems to me that if encouragement could 2405 be given to hill farmers to rear more calves with which to supply the needs of lowland farmers for cattle for fattening, a great benefit would accrue. I am told by people in the trade who normally buy store cattle in different parts of the country, that in Norfolk at the present time they are meeting with competition from people from the hills. As a result of that competition the price of store cattle is going up. That arises out of the immediate need, but looking at the larger problem, the production of beef in this country during the next few years, we need to rear every available calf. I would like to see a scheme which would bring hill farmers more into cattle production and less into sheep production, although the two can go side by side. If they would rear calves that would be available for fattening in other parts of the country, good work would be done.
Looking at this Bill, and considering the position of Norfolk at the present time, I feel bound to say that some of the people who have suffered most are getting no benefit whatsoever. I know of one particular farmer who lost every crop on his farm in the terrible hailstorms of last summer. Of course, there were others like him. This year all his crops are practically a failure, not because of the floods, but because of the drought. The drought, in many respects, has hit Norfolk harder than the floods. I am not going to plead for financial assistance for these people, but the fact is that many acres of Norfolk are today uncropped and will remain uncropped because of the drought that followed the floods.
In my postbag this morning I had two letters, one from the clerk of an internal drainage board, who was concerned about the long-term policy of flood preventions, and the other from a small farmer in my Division. I will quote from the letter of the latter. He says:We do not ask for charity in relief measures, but we want to be saved from going to money-lenders. Do you think there is any hope of the Government putting aside a sum of money that can be borrowed on about a four or five-year basis to tide us over till the 1948 harvest? I will state my own case, and I am only one of many other unfortunates who have worked hard from a labourer to where I am now, and now all is lost. I have 20 acres of barley, not half of it germinated, which I shall have to apply to be permitted to plough up. Ten acres of oats which want ploughing up, but because small seeds are sown therein must wait, but the oats will be worthless. Nineteen acres of 2406 spring rye practically hopeless, and six acres of sugar beet not up, and most probably will have to come to the plough unless we get a soaking rain within three days. We have had no rain worth mentioning since the thaw set in. As a farmer you know we have costs to meet—rent, tractor repairs, manure bill, foundry bill, and also to live next year. Surely the Government can give a helping hand to us as they did to the FensIn his speech this morning, the Minister of Agriculture indicated the wider use of the goods and services scheme which will be able to help these farmers and many others who have been hit by the abnormal weather conditions. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) seemed a hit pessimistic and prophesied another bad winter to follow this one. I do not know what will happen, but I certainly hope that we have seen the last of the disasters as the result of the bad weather. If we have not, then I hope that the Government will stick to the task that they have undertaken of assuring to British agriculturists all the help the State can give them in overcoming their problems and in producing for the nation the food we so badly need.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
This Bill is divided into two parts, the first part dealing with the damage from abnormal flooding conditions, and the second part, to the consideration of which I understand we now pass, to the damage suffered by hill farmers. What I have to say—and I can say it very briefly indeed—will be confined entirely to one omission from that part of the Bill which deals with assistance to hill farmers. It has been referred to by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), who asked why it is that hill cattle are left out of the scheme. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye), whose speech the House has enjoyed, as it always does enjoy authoritative speeches by practical men, referred to the need for encouraging the cattle industry.
To my mind, the most extraordinary thing is that the cattle on the hills have been entirely left out of this Bill. I can only think that was an oversight, and not a deliberate omission. The House will remember that a year ago we passed the Hill Farming Act, and in Section (13, a) of that Act we provided for sheep subsidy schemes and in Section (13, b) for cattle subsidy schemes. But in the Bill before 2407 us today the Government are giving assistance only to the sheep farmers, and not to the men who have cattle on the hills, and who also have suffered great losses. I know that the Government regard cattle on the hills as important, and I know that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I believe, is to reply to this Debate, is fully cognisant of the need for encouraging the raising on our hills of the maximum number of cattle of a hardy kind. If there is any doubt about that—and I do not think there is—I would call the attention of the House to his own words. In the Committee stage of the Hill Farming Bill, he said:I think that it is a desirable thing that we should build up stocks of hill cattle on the hill farms throughout the country. I have taken the trouble to look at some of the hill farms and I have seen the advantages that have accrued to some of the farms where the cattle stock has been built up in recent years …A little later on he said:I readily give the assurance that it is our intention to build up the breeding stocks in the hill farms. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee "D," Tuesday, 25th June, 1946; C. 132–4.]A properly balanced hill farming scheme requires the keeping of cattle as well as the keeping of sheep. The cattle keep down the bracken; sheep spread bracken. In Scotland, there is a saying that "the cattle make the green glens, the sheep make the black." Cattle keep down coarse grasses, and so improve the grazing for the sheep. By their feeding, by their manure, by what Sir George Staple-don has called their "hoof cultivation," cattle are great improvers of hill grazing. It seems to me to be quite extraordinary that they should be excluded from the modest help that is given by this modest Measure. There have been losses of cattle on the hill farms. The losses have not been so heavy as have been the losses of sheep, but there have been losses. I was talking only this week to the factor of an estate in Inverness-shire, where the losses in hill cattle have been as high as 33 per cent. He quoted other instances—he was a man who spoke with authority—of losses of 15 per cent., 20 per cent., and 25 per cent. on estates which he knew and farms which he knew; and those losses have fallen, as they have so often fallen, most heavily on the small men; and those are the men 2408 of whom we are thinking particularly today.
In so far as there have been losses in respect of hill cattle they will lead to revenue losses next autumn. Those are exactly the kind of losses which this Bill seeks to indemnify. Capital losses, we are told, are to be treated by another agency; but it is the revenue losses, the losses of the men who will no longer have stock to sell in the autumn, that this Bill seeks to make good. I want to confine what I say—though there is much more I could say—to this one point, because I believe it will gain more force if made alone in a short speech. I cannot see any reason why cattle on the hills should be excluded from the provisions of this Bill, and I hope the Government will be able to make some pronouncement to show that it is their intention that they should not be so excluded.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
I want to begin my remarks with some reference to the question of flooding and drainage, and then to pass on to the wider question of losses among hill sheep. I agree, in the main, with those hon. Members who consider that this is a national question, and that the cost of this drainage should be a national cost. This year publicity has been given to the heavy losses caused by flooding because they have been mainly concentrated in certain areas; but in many areas of the country losses by flooding take place year by year. In one village in my constituency, for 16 years out of 20 they have been flooded at least once each year, and during the last year four times. The villagers there have suffered losses for 16 years. Sometimes the farmers have also suffered losses. Sheep have been washed down the river, haystacks have gone down the river, potatoes have gone down the river. For 16 years they have borne those losses themselves. Since the last Drainage Act their drainage rates have been increased, but still the losses continue; and I think it is time for a complete review to be made of the drainage schemes of the country, and for them to be taken over on a national basis, and proper engineering work put in, so that these losses which affect one little village here and there—but which are to the individuals concerned quite as disastrous as the losses to the many in the last disaster have been—shall not for ever 2409 recur. I think these things ought to be looked into and prevented.
I pass to the losses of the hill farmers. These also have gained publicity because the losses have been mainly in one type of stock, sheep. It is not the first time that the hill farmers have lost sheep. In my area, last year was nothing like the winter of 1940–41. We had heavier losses then, but we had to grin and bear them. Last winter the losses were, perhaps, more extensive throughout the country. The figure of £4,000,000 is a very great figure, but I cannot accept it as the extent of the loss until I see the 4th June returns. The 4th June returns will give us a more correct figure than the estimates which have been made. I know there have been tremendous losses. I have seen one hill farm where 200 sheep were buried. When the snow melted I saw one lot of 300 dead ewes under one fall after the snows had cleared. But there are scores of farmers who have come through without any loss. In the figure of 4,000,000 the whole of the losses are said to have been estimated.
In a normal year we always lose some percentage. We lose some of the ewes out of the flocks before lambing starts; we lose some of the ewes during lambing time; and we lose some of the lambs after lambing has finished. There are always losses for the hill farmers during a normal winter. I feel that in this figure of £4,000,000 those have not been taken into account. I do not want to minimise in any way the loss that has taken place. It has been very grave, it has been disastrous; but I do not want to over-emphasise it, and I shall look forward with interest to the 4th June returns.
As many hon. Members have pointed out, it is the loss of revenue which is going to affect the farmers who have suffered these losses until they can replenish their stocks. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) pointed out, it is a question of re-creating the stocks. That is the difficulty. The farmers cannot merely go into the market and purchase more ewes, because the ewes have to be brought up on the ground to which they belong. In many cases, the transferring of ewes from one area to another is simply asking for trouble, because the ewes are not suited 2410 to that soil; and in many cases the sheep have to be brought up on a particular piece of ground, otherwise the tremendous cost of shepherding the sheep that are not used to that ground is enormous. It is a question of the farmers building up their stocks over a period of about four years.
What is to happen? I feel that the provisions of this Rill are not adequate to meet that situation. I would have preferred a scheme of subsistence allowances. If a subsistence allowance were given to a farmer over a period of four years, it could be down-graded as he increased his stocks and was able to sell his draft ewes and wether lambs. A subsistence allowance would enable him to build up his stocks on a sound basis, without taking any risks, which he may have to take under this scheme. The risk which is encouraged in one part of this Bill is that the farmer shall retain his draft ewes longer on the hills. It may come off, but it may, on the other hand, create more losses. The reason we move draft ewes from the hills to the lowlands is that they have finished their work on the hills and have begun to feed lambs badly, lose their wool, and in some cases, come off with broken mouths, and so on. It may be absolutely fatal to carry them on for another year on the hills. If we have only half the storms we have had, it will wipe out the stocks which ought to drafted to the lowlands, where they could produce one or two crops of lambs in the next two years. With a proper allowance, the farmer could sell these draft ewes in exactly the same way as before, which would prevent any risk of further losses.
Turning to the question of cattle on the hills, this is a long-term policy to increase the number, but the difficulty is that to keep these cattle through the winter, we must have an abundance of hay. We have no meadows on the hills, and we have no opportunity to grow large quantities of hay or silage crops for feeding in the winter. Cattle, more than sheep, need food in the winter, and if we can obtain sufficient hay from the lowlands, and it can be transported in the early autumn to the hills for feeding the cattle in the winter, all well and good. The transport of hay failed lamentably last winter because of the heavy falls of snow. The hay must reach the farms before there is any danger of snow.
2411 Losses are part and parcel of everyday farming. Publicity is given to losses when they are big and in one place. If one farmer loses 100 head of cattle it is a disaster, but if a hundred farmers lose one cow each, it is not. It is when we have this concentration of losses in one area that we get the trouble. Losses are always with us, such as losses from disease which wipe out scores of sheep each year. These losses point to one thing, and it is that it is time we had an agricultural insurance scheme, contributed to by every farmer, whether it be on the basis of a levy per acreage, or a levy on stock or produce. This is something which could be inquired into. I do not like the idea of appealing to the public when we have losses of this nature, asking for charity time and again. It brings the industry into disrepute. There are sufficient resources among the agricultural community to evolve an agricultural insurance scheme with the assistance of the Government. It would meet losses, and would bring confidence to the agricultural community by guarding them against these disasters. While welcoming this Bill, I hope to have something more to say, during the Committee stage, about certain proposals with which I do not agree.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
We have listened to a most interesting and constructive speech from the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), who, as we know, has great experience of hill farming. I am sure the House will forgive me if I leave the question of the floods and cross from the East of England to the North-West of Scotland. I represent the largest hill-farming area in the country, and the one which has the largest stocks of sheep, namely, more than 600,000 head of sheep. We have suffered this year much heavier losses than in the years 1940–1942. It is curious that we should have had these heavy losses this year, because we have not had the snow on the lower levels which we had in those previous years. On the other hand, we have had something which has not been known, so I am told, for 50 years. I am referring to the spell of frost which continued solidly for eight weeks. It had the most disastrous effects. We had heavy snow falls in some of the Islands, and these two factors combined to bring about the disastrous losses.
2412 As the Minister said earlier, farmers do not undertake farming thinking that they will not have any losses. Risks have to be taken, and if there is one section of farmers who realise that they are in for trouble, it is the hill farmers. The case carne to my knowledge last weekend of a farmer who had a lamb crop of 400 of which only four lived. I should like to stress what other hon. Members have said, that while this Bill goes some way towards helping farmers in their revenue losses, they still have to depend, according to the Minister, on the Disaster Fund or the Lord Mayor's fund for recouping their capital losses. These capital losses will take at a minimum' some four years to rectify, as the hon. Member for Chorley has said.
I want to turn for the moment to the question of hill cattle—cattle and sheep really go together on the hills. It may be said by the Minister that there has been a very generous form of assistance given this year, under the hill cattle scheme in Scotland, of £7 per head for breeding cows. Nevertheless, owing to the very heavy frosts, and owing to the difficulty of transporting hay during the winter months, hill farmers have suffered severe cattle losses. The small man can ill afford such losses. In one part of my constituency which is populated entirely by crofters appeals were made to me during the frost begging me to try and get hay for their cattle. I telephoned every authority I knew. The cattle were starving. In despair, I telegraphed the Minister and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, asking for help. But there was no surplus hay ha available in the Highlands of Scotland, and that help could not be given. It is, therefore, rather surprising that the question of hill cattle has been left entirely out of this Bill. As has been said so often, the hill farm and hill sheep industry is the basis of British husbandry and some means should be initiated to assist the industry, without recourse to such things as the Lord Mayor's Fund, or the Agricultural Disaster Fund, to enable farmers to go ahead and see a future for themselves which is not entirely fraught with crises and great risks.
§ 2.22 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) I was pleased 2413 to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), because it helped to put into very fair perspective the position of hill farmers today, and the losses they have recently suffered. I agree that sentiment has been introduced into this matter, and that there has been danger of exaggerating these losses, serious though they have been. Nevertheless, I think the House has been correct in promptly and generously, offering sympathy today both to the farmers in the fens and the farmers on the fell. I think, too, that we might spare a few crumbs of sympathy for the Minister. I know he will not mind my saying that he must be rather disappointed. In his best benevolent uncle manner he has been persistently telling the farming community, over the last two years, about the advantages and the golden future ahead if they would all become converted more or less to the policy of a planned economy. He must have been congratulating himself that he had made some small progress when an old-fashioned and powerful force one could perhaps say a reactionary force—the weather—burst in upon him. Unless this Government or any other Government finds means of taking the weather into partnership, then farmers will continue to enjoy better, and worse, and, occasionally, very bad years.
If distress is to be avoided, the price structure on which farming operates is the all-important thing. It is more important than any palliative or expedient which may be resorted to in cases of extreme distress such as today. So far as the hill farmer is affected by the Bill, what he and the nation wish to see is full opportunity to build up his flock again and, so far as possible, to meet special hardships. The assistance which the Minister is offering consists of two elements—grant and loan. I am sure all Members who have been in touch with the farming community will agree that one thing the farmer detests more than anything else is any help which savours of charity. I hope we shall not suppose that this problem, or any future problems of a like kind, will be met by anything which has the appearance of charity, even though that is not its very nature.
As regards the element of loan, I was glad to hear the Minister say that the goods and services scheme had been modified to try to meet this situation. I feel 2414 strongly that the fairest and best way to meet this situation is to make credit available to the farmers in the shape of loans at a small rate of interest—not at no interest, as that will be charity—repayable over a reasonable period of years. That need may have been met in part by what the right hon. Gentleman said about the goods and services scheme. I understand that it can now be drawn upon to build up stock, but what will happen where a man wishes to replace his stock, and cannot find it in the market? Will there be an important gap which the goods and services scheme will not be able to bridge? The few shillings which can be borrowed in advance under the hill subsidy scheme will not meet that need.
I am not sure whether all Members realise the heaviness of the actual revenue loss to the hill farmer who may have lost only a small proportion of his flock. Losses of 80, 90, or 100 per cent. have been mentioned, but if a man owns coo ewes, and loses 25 per cent. of them, his cash returns this autumn would not be 25 per cent. down, as some might expect, but would be 45 to 50 per cent. down. I have been into these figures, and I think that is correct. For the next two or three years his returns would be from 30 to 35 per cent. down. The percentage loss in cash returns is infinitely larger than the percentage loss of ewes which he might have suffered last winter.
Further the small man will be put into a difficult position, because his credit is not high; it is he that needs the help of this House. He will be exposed particularly to two temptations. The first is that he may be encouraged to sell ewe lambs and older ewes which he might have kept on the fell for another year, because the prices for ewe lambs and draft ewes will be very high this autumn. It will be a difficult temptation to resist, for a man in financial difficulties if he sees the opportunity of getting a little ready cash, for an old ewe The second temptation which is much more serious, although a less immediate one, is that the farmer will think of giving up farming altogether, and perhaps find a job as a shepherd for one of his neighbours. He might think some-think like this, "It is a good deal easier and better life. I am getting a certain £5 or £6 a week as a shepherd, and a cottage. It is a less precarious existence, and I shall not have to slave away for the next three or four years wondering 2415 whether or not I shall ever be able to build up my flock again." So I ask the Minister to look into these two questions and see whether it can be made easier for the small man to resist these temptations.
I would like to suggest two other ways in which the right hon. Gentleman can help the hill farmer. The first is by sparing him from growing potatoes. In my own county, the acreage which is expected to grow potatoes does not sound very much, and I am sure the farmers in the Minister's own Division would be able to grow that extra acreage with little trouble and a certain amount of pleasure and profit. But the farmers on the fell are in great difficulty in growing potatoes. The yield and the profit is small, and if the right hon. Gentleman could spare those farmers this laborious work, I am sure they would appreciate it. It would give them an opportunity of sowing that land to grass and making more hay, the importance of which to the hill farm has already been stressed this afternoon.
Lastly, let me say frankly that I am extremely 10th to suggest anything which may lead to any measure of control, even a temporary measure of control, but I do not know whether the Minister has thought out any schemes by which the slaughter of possible breeding stocks can be prevented this coming autumn. Has he considered, with the agricultural committees, the possibility of helping a man searching for ewe lambs or ewes to be put into touch with others who may be in a position to sell. For a short period, I think it would be an advantage if such a scheme could be worked out—a scheme which would put buyers and sellers of ewe lambs into contact with one another, and so prevent any possible good breeding stock finding its way to the feeders and then to the slaughterhouses. I hope my right hon. Friend will look into these three points and see too whether he cannot bridge any gap by the issue of a loan on generous terms because without such a loan, the farmer who has suffered loss will have his difficulties carried on from one year to another.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I want to speak on behalf of the Welsh hill farmers. I shall not attempt to do any more than to dot the i's and cross the t's of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery 2416 (Mr. C. Davies). What he said with regard to the hill farmer is absolutely true. Sometimes when I hear his Welsh eloquence I have a doubt in my mind because I think that his heart runs away with his head, but on this occasion I know from my experience that what he has said is absolutely true.
This is not a hill farming problem; it is a national problem, and I hope that the Government, on behalf of the nation, will realise that. We have to remember that the hardy men and women and the hardy stock bred on the hills are the lifeblood of this country and we have to realise that for several generations there has been an exodus of men and women from the hard life of the hills. That was recognised to a certain extent by the Hill Farming Act, and for that Act I thank the Government, but we have to go a great deal further if we are to keep these people on the hills. We have to make it worth their while to live on the hills. I wish to thank the Government tom their prompt action in the assistance which they gave to the hill farmers; but I ask them to give those farmers something very much more than is included in this Bill. The problem that is facing the hill farmer is a long-term problem. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery quoted a letter written to him by a prominent flock master in Mid-Wales. I know very well the owner to whom he referred, and I am quite prepared to accept what he said as being true. I think that it would be worth while studying what he said with regard to the production of lambs per 100 ewes at the present time. I think that the figure he gave was that he had on his own farm something like 3,000 ewes and the production of lambs was ten per cent. I do not know whether that has been thought out. It has to be realised that ten lambs per 100 ewes will not cover the replacement losses. Of these 10, five on the average will be wether lambs and the remaining five ewe lambs will not be enough for replacement of draft ewes
Therefore, it is not a question of one or two years in which to build up the stocks on the hill. In my opinion it will take much more like 10 or 11 years to build up these flocks. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) mentioned the loss of revenue to the hill farmers. The hill farmer is a man who has not benefited from war prices. He has not reaped the advantage of the livestock 2417 policy, which has been quantity and not quality, and therefore, his financial position is not very strong. That man has to be assisted when his harvest comes along in the autumn, his harvest being the sale of his draft ewes, and we have to stop him, if it can be done, selling any of his female stock which should be kept on the hills.
I think there should be no difficulty in seeing to it that each autumn until his stock is replaced a loan is given to him. I suggest that it should not be at a low rate of interest, as has been suggested in the Debate, but at no rate of interest. I think that it will be quite possible for that man to prove what his harvest is and for him to be given a loan, and thus keep the sheep on the hills. We have to build up this stock, otherwise the livestock policy to which this country is pledged will suffer immensely. We have also to remember that the farmer who is short of capital will not be able to stock his hills and the result will be that the grazing on those hills will suffer as it has suffered for many years. He will not be tempted to take any assistance from the Hill Farming scheme because he will not have money enough to replace the stock he has lost. That is a point which must be considered. I endorse what many hon. Members have said—that this is not a local problem. This is a national problem which should be faced up to wholeheartedly by the Government.
I endorse the sentiments of the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), who mentioned the question of an insurance fund to meet these losses. I agree with him that there is nothing more obnoxious to the farmers of this country than that they should have to come cap in hand every time they get a bit of a loss. I think that the insurance fund could be built up from the farmers own profits, and I suggest that we ought to put the farmers in a position in which they have not to come cap in hand every time they suffer a loss, but that we should make their job so worth while that it will be possible for them to put by something to meet their losses when they occur.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Drayson (Skipton)
I am glad to take part in the Debate after hearing the speeches of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) as my constitu- 2418 ency is geographically situated between them. I was able to bring to the notice of the House in April the plight of some of the farmers in my constituency. We welcome the tribute paid by the Minister to the efforts made by all the farmers affected, and by the county agricultural committees and members of his Ministry who have given their assistance. I do not know, however, whether I can agree with the Minister when he says that this Bill is calculated to promote maximum food production. It will promote food production, undoubtedly, but I feel that there must be a number of qualifications before he obtains maximum food production. There are a number of limitations in the way of feedingstuffs, and so forth, which we would all like to see removed.
What I am most concerned with—and other hon. Members have expressed doubts in this matter—is the difficulty of actually keeping the farmers on the hills, and I hope very much that the assistance proposed by the Government will achieve that end. I warned the House at the time, in April, that there might be a flight from the hills if no assistance was given, and I am still receiving information from representatives of farmers in my constituency that a number are, in fact, giving in their notice. I would like to see more incentives introduced, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has just said. If farming could be made attractive enough, there would be no difficulty, but the immediate problem is to keep the farmers on the hills and assist them in re-stocking, because that is the only way in which the deficiencies can be made up.
I am interested to see in the newspapers this morning that this Debate coincides with a statement by the President of the National Farmers Union on the serious state to which our flocks and cattle ale being reduced and the ultimate effect it will have on our food supply. Here, I ask the Minister to see that any payments which are to be made shall be made without delay. The farmers had hoped, after the disaster in March, that money would be forthcoming immediately to meet some of their pressing demands, but they have experienced considerable delay in receiving payment.
A number of hon. Members have paid tribute to those who have assisted the Agricultural Disaster Fund. When I spoke before on this subject, I expressed 2419 some doubt about the difficulties in the administration of that fund, and the Parliamentary Secretary at the time said he was surprised that I did any such thing. But a number of hon. Members today, as well as the Agricultural journals, have supported me on this matter. The right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) said he thought there would be some difficulties in administration. My farmers tell me that they do not want anything that savours of charity, and I would like to suggest that perhaps at least the Government's contribution to this fund could be made in such a way as to provide interest-free loans to farmers for the next five or ten years. By that time they should have sufficiently rehabilitated themselves to be in a position to contemplate repayment, paying whatever the current rate of interest might he at the particular time. The extension of the goods and services scheme will undoubtedly be of assistance, as also will the reduction of the rate of interest from 5 to 2½ per cent.
There is one other point which my farmers have asked me to bring to the notice of the Minister, and that is the question of a, calf-rearing subsidy. They feel that it would be of great assistance to them and to the country in building up our stocks of food. I would like to support the suggestion of the hon. Member for Chorley in regard to an insurance fund out of which farmers could make provision themselves for these disasters without having to depend on special emergency Bills and disaster funds, as they have to do at the present time. I welcome this Bill as far as it goes. We do not feel that it goes entirely to the root of the problem, nor can the money which is to be made available be considered adequate at the present time.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
It falls to me to be the last speaker from this side of the House, and I think I can say that we have had a very satisfactory Debate on this important Measure. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), in his opening speech, went very thoroughly into many of the points which have been worrying hon. Members, and he clearly stated the views of the Opposition on this Measure. 2420 The majority of hon. Members who have spoken today have referred to the flooding in the Fen area, but I am not in a position to say very much about it, because I am a long way from the Fens, and have no intimate knowledge of their difficulties. However, as the second part of the Bill applies to the whole country, including Scotland, Wales and Northern England, I propose to say nothing more about the flooding, but to concentrate my remarks on the second part of the Bill, dealing with hill sheep and so on.
The hill farmer, for some reason, is not very good at making his voice heard in market places and public meetings, probably because he lives in a rather remote part of the world and for that reason his voice does not count for much. I can say, living in an area where there are a large number of important hill farmers, that the hill farmers are today stunned by the losses they have suffered, and they are extremely discouraged by the bleakness of the outlook. The tragic story of the disaster which has befallen the hill sheep industry, and incidentally the extent of the damage done to the future food supplies of this country, cannot even yet be accurately assessed. In some parts of the country we are still at the gathering and clipping stage, but I would like to ask the Minister straight away if he can give us any preliminary information in regard to the June return. One might suggest that, in view of the magnitude of the disaster, some preliminary figures should have been produced in this Debate. If the Minister has them, perhaps they can be given in the reply.
What I think can be said with accuracy now is that the winter and spring of 1946–47 will go down in history as the worst in the annals of sheep farming—I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) about 1941—even including the disastrous winter of 1895. I am told by the old hands that though 1895 produced a far heavier fall of snow, fine weather followed and so the lambing went on all right, but after last winter we had torrential rainstorms in April which drove the ewes away from their lambs and turned the ditches, drains and burns into mountain torrents, at any rate in my part of the country. The result was that the lambs perished where they were dropped, or were swept away by the floods, and when the ewes were too weak, after the winter snows, to stand up to the gales, they 2421 perished with them. It was not so much the snow and frost that caused all the damage as the rain and gales which followed after.
I was glad to hear the Minister go out of his way to pay a tribute to the workers and farmers who have suffered all these losses during the storms We often pay tribute in this Rouse to workers who face hardship in the course of their duty, and I would like to put on record my tribute to the shepherds who suffered from and fought the elements during those terrible storms. In my own area, weighed down by heavy soaking coats, wet to the skin and numbed with cold, carrying on their backs their lambing bags and a host of other things, including inoculation equipment, they struggled valiantly to save their sheep, and I have heard of many cases of pneumonia since. I think, we should put on record our appreciation of their work.
Looking at this broad picture, what has happened is a national disaster, and the loss, as has been pointed out, is not only a loss of sheep which it will take years to replace, but also a very heavy and important loss of wool. I have talked to many experts about the wool position and I am informed that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the wool loss and that the year 1947 will be the lightest crop ever shorn. In Scotland, with which I am most conversant, we estimate that our losses will be not less than 20 per cent. on an average and that our lambing will be reduced from the normal 80 per cent. to somewhere in the neighbourhood of between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. In some areas, notably the border country and Wales, losses are far higher than that. I believe that in Wales they have perhaps suffered more severely than we have in Scotland, but coming at a time when the country is crying out for an increase in the protein constituent of our rations, and having regard to the already depleted state of our sheep flocks this is a very serious situation calling for urgent Government action.
I think that when the figures for our British sheep stocks are published, whenever that may be, it will be found that they are the lowest ever recorded in our history. I am informed that there is a drop from the pre-war days of 1939 of 10 million head of sheep. The question is whether this Bill goes as far as it 2422 should towards helping the stricken industry to rebuild its depleted flocks. It is certainly in the national interest that it should, for the hill flocks, as has been pointed out today, form the reservoir from which the bulk of the sheep of our country flow, and that is a fact that is often forgotten.
When examining a Bill of this nature I think it is often a good thing to take a few actual examples of what has happened and to see what the Bill does about them. I have taken the trouble to collect figures of actual losses. Let me give two actual examples of the financial loss suffered where the damage sustained is not extreme, but about average or below the average believed to apply to Scotland and Wales. Take farm A with 500 ewes, a 20 per cent. ewe loss and a reduction in lambing from 85 per cent. to 50 per cent. The capital loss is 100 ewes at 70s., which represents £350, but the revenue loss in lambs and wool at current market values is £487. showing a total loss from this farm of £837. Then take farm B, a 500 ewe flock with a 10 per cent loss and a reduction in lambing from 85 per cent. to 60 per cent., which is extremely moderate. The amount of the capital lost in ewes is £175, but the revenue lost in lambs and wool is £337, showing a total loss of £512. Both these figures are exclusive of large additional fodder costs estimated at 4s. per ewe which, if you have a 500 ewe flock, amounts to £100 for hay alone. What does this Bill do to assist these people? It should be recognised that the examples I have given are not extreme or exaggerated, but average cases. In fact, I think that they are below the average given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies).
I understand from what the Minister has said that the Disaster Fund is to deal with capital losses and I do not particularly want to go into that part of the matter at the moment. I particularly dislike the Disaster Fund because it savours of charity, and I believe that this dreadful experience should have called for a national effort in the form of a Government fund. For the sake of information, however, I should like to ask the Minister two questions about the Disaster Fund. We want to know particularly, in the North, if the outgoing farmer—that is, the farmer who is vacating his holding in 2423 1947—is to benefit from that scheme. He, of course, cannot obtain any assistance under this Bill in the form of advances against subsidies he will not receive. Is he to be given anything from that fund? The same applies to the outgoing farmer in 1947 who will not be the owner of a flock bred in November, 1947 and, therefore, is not entitled to assistance which will follow on the higher subsidy. Our farmers in the North would like an answer to those questions. Scotland is a small country but has a very important hill sheep stock in relation to its size. What is the proportion that is to apply to Scotland? That is all I want to say about that, but if we throw the capital losses into the hands of the Disaster Fund and hope for the best my two examples show clearly that the revenue loss suffered is well in excess of the capital loss sustained.
The object of the Bill is surely to make good a large proportion of the revenue loss so as to help the hill farmer to rebuild his flock. He needs cash to carry on and he needs it now. That is the main point I want to make in this Debate. What does he obtain by way of assistance under this Bill? In the case of my first example, the 20 per cent. loss farmer, whose revenue loss in £487 or nearly £1 per head, all he seems to obtain now is an advance of 2s. 6d. per ewe against next year's subsidy because it is based upon a sliding scale. If he had lost over 60 per cent., he would receive 10s. but being a 20 per cent. loss farmer he will receive only 2s. 6d. What does that amount to? It amounts to £62 10s. or 12 per cent, of his revenue loss, whereas the 10 per cent. loss farmer—the man who has lost £337—being below the minimum on the sliding scale of advances does not receive anything at all.
Can anyone say that that will help these people to weather the financial storm in which they now find themselves? Of course, the Minister will say that in 1948 both of the examples I have produced will rank for higher subsidies at the new rate based on the 1946 return, but that will not help these farmers this year who want money. They will not receive that subsidy until well on into the following year and it is this year when they need hard cash, because they will have almost nothing to sell. Although the intentions of the Bill 2424 are admirable, as my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out in our opinion the assistance offered is inadequate for the task in hand. In my view the assistance contemplated will do very little towards helping to rebuild our hill farms. There is no substantial immediate relief and the subsidy of 8s. 9d. now due was due in any case and is calculated on the economic conditions of the previous 12 months. The advance under this Bill on the sliding scale could be said to amount to something only where losses are colossal. Over 60 per cent., there is a 10s. advance per ewe, which is something, but I cannot think that such meagre assistance as a £62 advance against a £487 revenue loss will make much difference to these hard-pressed farmers who are deprived of such a large part of their revenue, even if the Disaster Fund were to cope with their capital losses, which is extremely improbable. I cannot see the Disaster Fund doing anything more than touch the fringe of this problem.
I should have thought that the Government would have put up a scheme that would have produced what I might call a wider discrimination between the non-loss farmer and the heavy sufferer. What happens to the "no loss" farmer—and there are "no loss" farmers? The "no loss" farmer will come in for an extremely dear trade this autumn. He will sell his ewe lambs and wether lambs for very high prices indeed. He will benefit to the maximum extent possible in 1948 and it will not matter a hoot to him whether his returns are based on the following year or on 1946. I do not begrudge a man money because the whole industry has suffered and the farmers need all the money they can get, but it is rather extraordinary that the small man who has suffered heavy and severe losses gets only this tiny advance under the Bill.
The method adopted in this Bill will not necessarily encourage the retention of female stock on the hills. I agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) who said that cast ewes and ewe lambs will this year be in tremendous demand. Lambs will be the dearest for 30 or 40 years. A farmer who has any ewes or lambs and feels that not enough assistance is being given to him in the form of cash under this Bill, or through the bank, or in any other way, will be tempted to market them in order to obtain the higher prices. His subsidy will be 2425 the same in 1948, whatever he does, because it will be assessed on the 1946 basis. The Minister must realise that that would not be a good thing in the national interest. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) will agree that hill farmers tend to work on averages and if they find that high prices are being paid and that no adequate assistance is being offered, they may be tempted to get those prices for their stock now hoping sooner or later on the basis of averages to he able to get back to their original numbers.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) mentioned the prohibition of sale of female stock for slaughter. That suggestion has been put forward by organisations throughout the country. If such a plan could be effected it would be useful, but the more I think of it the more I feel that it would be much more than useful because this year farmers will secure much higher prices in the store market than from the grading centres and will only send for grading female stock quite unfit for breeding. For that reason, I am not sure that this scheme will be anything more than useful, but if it could be effected it would be a good thing. In any event, it is not always right, as the hon. Member for Chorley pointed out, to keep old ewes too long on the hills. They should be brought down and slaughtered.
I am disappointed with this Measure. It is a rather timid approach to meet the position caused by a great disaster. The Government could have done a good deal better. The assistance offered is, in the opinion of hon. Members on this side of the House, inadequate to meet the losses suffered by these people, and the method adopted does not seem to encourage the restocking of our devastated hill farms that one would have expected. The most important point is on the long-term needs of the country and not the short-term needs. The money is not there. These farmers have suffered devastating losses, and they have nothing in their pockets or at the bank. In many areas, especially in Wales and the Border regions of Scotland and Northern England, and even my own county, farmers will have very little to sell this year. They must live somehow while stocks are built up. The alternative is to clear out.
I do not want to criticise the Bill without putting forward some sort of constructive proposals which would help if 2426 they were given proper consideration. I will submit to the Minister two short-term proposals and two long-term proposals which I believe would, to some extent, meet the situation with which we are now faced. The first one sounds rather absurd, and I hope the Government are already taking steps in this direction. First, they should see that the subsidy now due is paid at once instead of delaying it until the end of August or September. Let the farmers have their cash now. That should be simple enough.
The second proposal is to take back the Bill, eliminate that part of it relating to the advance against next year's subsidy, and offer to all hill farmers who have suffered a loss in excess of, say, 15 per cent. an interest-free loan payable over a period of, perhaps, 20 years, with the first payment becoming due after the period of loss is ended. That idea is really contained in the Minister's own proposal, because by reducing the interest in his goods and services scheme from 5 per cent. to 2½ per cent., he has admitted the principle of having to get the lowest interest posible. Why not wipe out the interest altogether, and give these people an interest-free loan instead? Surely, they have suffered enough. My third proposal is that the subsidy payable next year could and should be announced immediately.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Surely, the hon. Gentlemen is asking for the impossible. How can we announce the 1948 hill sheep subsidy before we know what the economic returns of the hill sheep farmers are for 1947, which has always been the basis of calculation for the following year's subsidy?
§ Mr. Snadden
I am glad the Minister has put that question. I rather hoped he would. I have already said in my speech that in the past it has always been the case that the subsidy has been based upon the economic conditions of the previous 12 months. My point is that the plight of the hill sheep industry could not possibly be worse. It does not matter what the economic returns are this year. The industry has suffered such a devastating blow that the Minister could announce a subsidy tomorrow.
§ Mr. Williams indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Snadden
The right hon. Gentleman does not agree. To wait for the 2427 economic returns before deciding what the subsidy for next year will be, seems to me to be procrastination. I would also put forward the suggestion that when the Minister is considering his next year's subsidy scheme, he should consider including in it ewe hogs. If we are to do our best to retain our female stock in the hills, it is obvious that the ewe hogs should be included in the subsidy scheme.
Lastly, I suggest that a proposal put forward in the Balfour Report, which was not adopted by the Government might be given serious consideration from a long-term point of view. I admit it cannot be done at once, but I would like the Minister to look into the question of wether sheep in any future proposals he may have in connection with the subsidy scheme. Many experts believe that this would greatly help towards re-establishing our hill farms, because if these wethers were put back on the hills they would act as a stop-gap until the ewe stocks on the hills could be built up. Encouragement is needed to do that, because no hill farmer will forgo the high prices which will rule in the autumn sales, not only this year but next year and possibly the year after, for male sheep and wether lambs, and keep them on the hills and grow them into bigger mutton, unless the Government give some incentive through the subsidy scheme to keep those wether sheep on the hills.
Many hon. Members who have spoken have raised the question of hill cattle. I do not want to go over all the arguments which they have already put, but I wish to ask the Minister why hill cattle have been missed out of this Bill? That will give him an opportunity to inform the House why, when this Bill was being drafted, cattle were omitted. We are told that the losses of hill cattle amount to 50,000 head. There is a point involved here which goes far further than merely the cattle on our hills. This country has gone nonsensically mad on milk. Today we want increased production from the heavy workers in industry if we are to produce the export trade which will increase our standard of life. The miners, the agricultural workers, the steel workers, do not live on milk. They require an increase in the protein content of their rations—meat and dairy products. For that reason the question of cattle on the hills becomes more and more important. 2428 They are the reservoir from which our store cattle come to give the heavy worker what he requires in his diet in order to produce. I hope the Government will not feel that this is something which the farmer wants to get for himself. It comes into the complete picture of the economic reconstruction of our country.
Our sheep industry is a great actual and potential source of supply. I do not believe that subsidies and small advances on them will be sufficient to save many hill farmers, even in my area, where the losses are not extreme, from bankruptcy. The disaster fund is disliked by the majority of farmers because it savours of charity, and in any case it cannot be expected to cope with the capital losses that have been sustained. I hope the Government will take seriously into consideration the question of making an interest-free loan available to farmers who have suffered more than, say, 15 per cent., or whatever other figure might be agreed upon. My right hon and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough, in his opening speech, said that we did not intend to divide against this Bill. We approve of the principle, but we feel that the assistance offered is not adequate, and is not in line with the disaster which has been suffered. I would remind the Minister that the Hill Farming Act, which passed through this House recently, with its 50 per cent. contribution from each side of the industry, is jeopardised because of these gigantic losses. If the Government would only be a little more generous than they are being under this Bill, they would get their dividend back from the Hill Farming Act in the rehabilitation of our whole farming land.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
I have no complaint whatever to make about the tone in which today's Debate has been conducted. For all of us who have been present throughout the proceedings it has been a most informative and interesting discussion. What is surprising, however, is that every Member who has spoken from the opposite side of the House has deplored the inadequacy of these proposals
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, but we on this side of the House have for a long time believed 2429 that when such disasters strike the country and bring such hardship to certain industries in the country, it is up to the Government to step in and help so far as they can. Hon. Members who sit on the opposite side of the House have not believed in the past that that was so; it is a discovery of theirs. What is equally surprising is that no Member, even on our own side of the House, has acknowledged that this is the first time in the history of this country that proposals of this kind have been brought before this House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
Surely, the hon. Gentleman must realise that that goes with the very rigid control of prices which the Government are exerting? They are now a partner in the industry, and must take the risks.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not quite right. What the House might be big enough to appreciate is that this spring the Government have done a lot, a surprising amount, to assist those who have been adversely affected by the severe winter—particularly those concerned in agriculture—without any very great pressure from hon. Members of this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is a fact. Some hon. Members have asked if this is the only Measure or whether they can expect other Measures to help these people. Of course, the Government have helped in other ways. With the delayed spring and the need for maximum production, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture was able to come to the House straight away and say that he proposed to offer price adjustments. They were proposed because of the severity of the winter and the lateness of the spring. That was something done without any pressure being brought to bear on my right hon. Friend. Next, the Government readily subscribed £1 million to the Lord Mayor's Distress Fund. That was another measure of help which I should have thought was not ungenerous. Thirdly, the Government have undertaken to subscribe to the Agricultural Disaster Fund an amount approximately equivalent to that which is subscribed privately. I have every reason to believe that that will amount to millions of pounds. Is that nothing at all? All that is in addition to the provisions contained in this Bill. Hon. Members have said, "Is this all we can expect?"
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Will, the hon. Gentleman agree that as far as Scotland is concerned no steps whatever were taken to provide, as the right hon. Gentleman provided, transport of forage to the hill farms?
§ Mr. Fraser
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had wanted to make a speech he might have endeavoured to do so earlier. He has imported into the discussion a matter which has not been raised up to now in the course of the Debate. I think if is only fair to the House for me to endeavour to reply to the Debate which has gone before. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) welcomed this Bill so far as it went, but said that it did not go far enough. He was perfectly entitled to make criticism and he called attention to the plight of those who, perhaps, have been most stricken of all, those people who have lost the buildings, and those whose land is still under water who are not able to crop this year. These people will get nothing from the underwriting provisions of this Bill.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked whether they can be given any further assistance. I do not think that they can. He instanced those people who had lost buildings and he said that they did not know to which fund they should make application. Of course, this Bill gives them nothing with which to replace the buildings. However, we are advised—and we have made some inquiry into these matters—that losses of the nature he described are most likely to be assisted from the Lord Mayor's Fund. The Agricultural Disaster Fund representatives have already been in touch with the Lord Mayor's Committee which is to give special consideration to the matter referred to by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman at its next meeting. I believe that is due to be held in the course of next week. I hope that between them they will be able to work out from which source these people will be assisted, but, as I have said, it seems to me to be more likely that they will receive assistance from the Lord Mayor's Distress Fund.
What can we do for those people whose land is still under water and who are to get nothing under this Bill? For the most part, they will have received some assistance out of one or both of the funds to which I have just referred, and I do not 2431 think that we can be expected to Import into this Bill a provision to give an acreage payment, or some other kind of assistance, to those who are, unfortunately, not going to be able to grow a crop this year. We have not said that the primary purpose of this Bill is to compensate for loss of income. It is not. It is a food production Bill—a Bill to stimulate food production. We really could not bring forward a Measure to compensate the agricultural industry for losses suffered during the severe weather in the early months of this year. Indeed, we are all aware that many other businesses and industries also suffered losses as the result of the severe weather, which losses will not be recoverable in the course of this year. That is a fact, and no one is saying that we should step in and help them. However, we sympathise with them, and we think that the Government have given very tangible proof of their sympathy in the measure of assistance which they have given to the funds to which I have referred, and to the assistance they have given to most, if not all, of the farmers who have suffered flood damage.
When discussing the same matter, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) referred to the rebuilding problem, and asked whether the Ministry of Health could help these people. I can give him the assurance that the Ministry of Works are doing their very best to help them. I am told that they are not showing any reluctance to grant licences for rebuilding and for materials with which to rebuild as quickly as possible those cottages and farm buildings which have been destroyed by the floods. Many hon. Members have appealed to my right hon. Friend to provide that there shall be public inquiries into the work of the catchment boards in different parts of the country. One or two hon. Members on this side of the House have said that such public inquiries are unnecessary because the facts are already known. However, my right hon. Friend agrees that a public inquiry into these matters would tend to give greater reassurance to those who fear a recurrence of these floods. In the course of his opening speech, however, he said that, at the present time, he might not be justified in diverting the energies and efforts of those whose job it is to make good the damage so recently done, to the conducting of a public inquiry. He 2432 listened with sympathy to all that was said on that matter, and he will give further consideration to the desirability of having these public inquiries held at an early date. But I do think that as yet his own view is that it would be a mistaken policy to have them conducted just now, and that it would be in the best interests of those parts of the country that the technical people available to him should be engaged in devising measures to make good the flood damage done and to take what steps they can to see that there shall not be a repetition of it next winter.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon asked me about potatoes in clamps, and he said he feared that the potatoes would be a dead loss to the farmers concerned. That is not so, of course. I think that he was persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs). My hon. Friend was, I think, right—though I have not a note of what he actually said—the position being that the Ministry of Food made a purchase of the potatoes in clamps and asked us to keep the potatoes in clamps. Many of these potatoes were washed away in the floods. The Ministry of Food will still pay.
§ Mr. Renton
Can the hon. Gentleman say that that applies to all potatoes grown last year, other than seed potatoes? Can he say what happens to the seed potatoes that were in clamps?
§ Mr. Fraser
It does not apply to all potatoes, but some potatoes will, in fact, be compensated for out of the Agriculture Fund. But I am glad to say that the potato loss is nothing like so considerable as it was once feared it would be—nothing like as great as many people at one time feared it might be. I pass from the flood damage to the second part of the Bill.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the matter of potatoes, would he answer the point I raised about the matter of the potatoes which were not end-of-season reserves and were grown on acreages under three, and which farmers were free to sell, but in fact, did not sell before the floods?
§ Mr. Fraser
I cannot give any assurance to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think there will be assistance out of the Fund. I am not quite sure I do not want to mislead him in any way. Now I turn to the second part of the Bill, and I will say something about the hill sheep 2433 subsidy provisions. The question was asked on this part of the Bill, and it has been repeated by my hon. Friends in the course of the Debate, why it was that we had left out cattle? The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) said he wondered if they were just forgotten, and thought that this was a most unusual omission. I wonder if he has really examined the difference between the hill sheep subsidies scheme and the hill cattle subsidies scheme, which are quite different, have different purposes, are differently calculated; and the time of year, to which reference was made, is quite different. Indeed, if we had made any provision for increased hill cattle subsidy at all in this Bill it would have been required to have been done in a very different way. The amount provided for adjusting the hill sheep subsidy would not suffice for cattle, and the mere insertion of the word "cattle" here and there in the Bill would not be a proper way of covering cattle.
Do we want to cover cattle in this Bill? As hon. Members know, the reason for the hill sheep subsidy scheme is that the Government believe that the economic return to the industry is not a reasonable return, and does not afford a reasonable standard for the hill farmers of this country. Therefore, some additional money has to be found. After estimating the economic return, and after placing that against what is estimated as a reasonable economic return, we find that a balance has to be provided by way of subsidy. The hill cattle subsidy is intended to do two things. Firstly, it is intended to induce, hill farmers to graze a certain number of cattle on the hills, because that is good for the hills, enabling hill farmers to graze more sheep. Secondly, it relieves the pressure on lowland grazing.
§ Mr. Snadden
Surely, there is a change of policy indicated in the last few months? The whole of the assistance offered is now transferred to the breeding cow, while grazing is now of secondary importance.
§ Mr. Fraser
We want to induce the hill farmers to take their cattle on to the hills because it is good for grazing. Hon. Members know that, although ewe lambs can be bought, they cannot, in many cases, be put on the farms, because the flocks have to be built up gradually over a number of years. It is quite different in the case of cattle; they do not have to he acclimatised.
§ Mr. Fraser
I do know a little about the hills. It is a fact that the hill farmer, receiving his cattle subsidy, might conceivably have as many cattle on the hills to qualify this year as last year; he might easily have more cattle in 1948 than in 1946. The hill sheep farmer who has lost heavily cannot possibly have the same stocks in 1948 and 1949 as in 1946. There was need for adjustment in the case of the hill sheep subsidy schemes to enable farmers to build up flocks over a number of years, but there was not the same need for adjustment in the case of hill cattle.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
This is really rather extraordinary. The Minister says that the purpose of the hill sheep subsidy scheme was to provide against revenue losses which will occur next spring, because there will be no wool and no young stock to sell. Exactly the same thing has happened in the case of cattle. Cattle have been kept on the hills at the desire of the Government, and they have been lost owing to the abnormal weather, which means that the farmer will not have the revenue next spring to restock.
§ Mr. Fraser
The farmer finds that his income from lambs, cast ewes, and wool is going down because his sheep population has considerably decreased. We are trying to make good some of his loss by the adjusted subsidy. The hill cattle subsidy is given in respect of the number of hill cattle grazed on the hill farm for a certain time during the summer months. There is no reason to suppose that the number grazed in 1947 will be lower than the number in 1948, or that the number grazed in 1948 will be fewer than the number grazed in 1946. All of us know that the income from wool, cast ewes, and lambs will be down considerably as compared with 1946, having regard to the decrease in the ewe population through the severe winter. Whereas there is a very good reason for adjusting the hill sheep subsidy, there is no good reason for adjusting the hill cattle subsidy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) made a suggestion that the farming industry might itself start some sort of insurance scheme. It must have been a source of gratification to him to find that suggestion supported by at least two Members on the opposite side 2435 of the House. I do not know what may be made of it, but I think the idea might well be discussed with the leaders of the industry. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) asked me what would happen if a farmer was not able to find stock in the market to build up his flocks. I hope the farmer will not squander his money on pushing up prices, with no good result to himself or to the industry in general. The farmer who has lost heavily, particularly in sheep on hill farms, will be able to build up his flock slowly, and it would be better if he were careful in the use of the income he has from normal sources this year, together with his subsidy and any advance payment to which he may be entitled. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough asked about the total loss of livestock, the difference between £5½ million and £8½ million. The difference may be explained in this way: the estimate of £5½ million is the value of the hill sheep which have been lost. It is estimated that the value of the hill cattle that have been lost is about ½ million and the estimated total value of hill farm and lowland stock is about £8½ million.
§ Mr. Fraser
No, the total loss to hill farming is estimated at £6 ½ million, of which £5½ million is for sheep and £1million for cattle. The other £2 million is accounted for by the loss of livestock on lowland farms.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)
This raises an important point with regard to the goods and services scheme announced by the Minister in his speech, when he said that the rate of interest for loans would be dropped from 5 per cent. to 2½ per cent. Will the losses incurred in flocks and herds, other than hill cattle and hill sheep, come within the provisions of the new loan?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am sorry that I cannot tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I will look into the matter. I do not know whether it extends beyond the hill farms. I know that my right hon. Friend is particularly interested in the hill farms, but as to the point raised I will make inquiries. Several hon. Members have referred to the possibility of the killing off of 2436 ewe lambs and calves needlessly, and indeed, quite shortsightedly, in the present circumstances. The Minister of Agriculture tells me that the Hill Farming Advisory Committee for England and Wales have already discussed this possibility of ewe lambs being killed off needlessly, and he also tells me that he has asked that the Ministry of Food graders should undertake to advise sellers not to offer for food supplies ewe lambs that may be better kept for breeding and disposed of in another way I do not know what the result is likely to be, but I hope that it will be a good result. He also tells me that the agricultural executive committees have been exercising certain powers to buy up calves if they think that they will be slaughtered needlessly, and I can only express the hope that the committees will exercise these powers wisely and prevent the killing off of calves which should be allowed to grow up and produce more calves of which there is such great need, provided we can get the feedingstuffs for them.
I think I have covered most of the points of substance raised in the Debate, except one or two points mentioned by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). He said that the small man would be in very great difficulty, and could we do something particularly for him. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend, in preparing these schemes, to provide that the small man shall be specially treated as regards advance payments. The hon. Member quoted, I think from a newspaper, the intended provisions of the scheme.
§ Mr. C. Davies
That only meets to some extent the loss of income. What do the Government propose to do in regard to loss of capital? The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that the hill farmer is a part of the whole of farming economics and a very essential part. If Ire has lost his capital he cannot help drawing the comparison between the amount given under this Bill and the amount which the Government have given to a charitable fund, £1 million, with what the Government have been prepared to spend for example in Germany—£80 million—while leaving these people practically destitute.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hill farmers, of course, will get some assistance out of the Agriculture Disaster Fund for capital losses. 2437 Hon. Members must not despise that fund and say it is charity, and ask whether the Government cannot do something, because the Government are already contributing 50 per cent. of the money.
§ Mr. Renton
When the hon. Gentleman says "the Government," would he be precise and say that what he is contributing is the taxpayers' hard-earned money?
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that when the Government give money to this fund or any other fund, it is, of course, the taxpayers' money, and the money to be found under this Bill is also the taxpayers' money. People do not fool themselves that what the Government are giving to the Agriculture Fund is money from some other source. The Chancellor is not finding it out of his own pocket. It is the taxpayers' money and I think that hon. Members have not fully appreciated the extent to which the Government have assisted agriculture during this difficult period. We must not lose sight of it. We have been told that this is a timid approach to the problem and have been asked for interest-free loans. The hon. Member who asked for them did not seem to give any credit at all to my right hon. Friend for saying today that the loans made available under the supplies and services scheme were to be at a rate of interest reduced from five to 2½per cent. If he had not announced that at the beginning of the Debate, he might have had appeals to reduce the rate of interest, but having without any pressure at all said that the interest charge in future shall be not five per cent. but 2½ per cent., my right hon. Friend gets no thanks from any quarter, but only an appeal for interest-free loans.
Surely an interest-free loan would be a subsidy? The Government have to raise the money, and every hon. Member opposite seems to be complaining about the Chancellor's cheap money policy. They complain about the reduction of the interest rate on money given to the Government and say it is being pushed down too far, but it is because of that that we are able to reduce the interest charged. We cannot—it would not be wise to do so—give interest-free loans, which indeed would amount to a subsidy, and if we were to do that it would be better to 2438 make a modification or adjustment of existing subsidies than to pile on another one.
I ask the House to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. I ask hon. Members to remember the many ways in which the Government have endeavoured to get agriculture out of a difficult period. The different funds, the price adjustments to which I have already referred, the provisions of this Bill—all these are quite new, but all are taken for granted by hon. Members opposite. It is very difficult for us on this side of the House to believe that if the party opposite had been sitting on this side any proposals would have been brought forward at all. We, however bring them forward, believing that it is in the best interests not only of agriculture but of the whole country that we should do so. We have not been ungenerous, and I am sure that the farmers of this country know that we have not been ungenerous, but it is not very helpful for hon. Members always to pour cold water on anything the Government do, knowing that the only effect it can have, if there is any result at all, will be to cause the farmers not to have confidence. I think that what we have done gives good reason for confidence, and I hope we shall now be able to get this Bill.
§ Mr. Baldwin
The hon. Gentleman made an important statement about ewe lambs finding their way to the grading centres. Does that not impress on him the importance of taking steps to advance money to the farmers who have to pick up ready money by selling their ewe lambs?
§ Mr. Fraser
We had better not try to solve every problem by paying out more of the taxpayers' money. I said that we were aware of the danger and that the danger had been represented to us. This has been considered by the Hill Farming Advisory Committee in England and the Ministry of Food, and we must not be without hopes that steps taken by the Ministry of Food will have good results.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Michael Stewart.]