§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)
We now leave tropical Africa and come back to the green fields of England. I could not help feeling rather hungry during the concluding passages of the speech of the Minister of Food, especially when I thought of those vast sums of money being spent on places like the Tennessee Valley, and what a lovely place England would be if we had all that money to spend here in developing our agricultural industry.
My hon. and right hon. Friends and I put down this Vote for discussion today because we thought it would be a good opportunity for the Minister of Agriculture to tell the House and the country to what extent the agricultural industry is making a contribution to the economic crisis. Since taking this decision, the whole position has been changed by a broadcast speech made by the Minister last Thursday in the Home Service and entitled "On Your Farm," which dealt with the agricultural expansion programme and the livestock feedingstuffs position. I think it is true to say that the Minister's broadcast came as a profound shock, and the only conclusion to which we could come on that broadcast was that the Government, in their anxiety to escape responsibility for the economic position of our country, are looking round for scapegoats, and that last week it was the agricultural industry which was picked out as the target. The Minister, in fact, used very strong language in his broadcast. Referring specifically to the agricultural expansion programme, he said:It is a crisis in our plans and our hopes for agriculture, and I have to tell you now—and he was speaking to the farmers——that we are in grave danger of failing in our task.The whole tone of this broadcast implied that the industry was not playing its part, and this attack by the Minister upon those engaged in the industry, who have not relaxed their efforts in ten arduous years, is bitterly resented by the men and women who have worked so hard and who have made such a great contribution both to our war effort and our national economic recovery. In spite of those efforts, they are now told that there is an agricultural crisis, and that the agricultural 2556 programme is in jeopardy, while it is further implied that it is their fault.
This evening, I want to examine the charges which the Minister made, and to try to show to the House that it is not the industry so much as the Government which is to blame for the present position. When I say that, I wish also to say that the industry is very much alive to its responsibilities, and that anything I have to say will not be said in any sense of complacency, because it is realised that there is much more to be done in this industry throughout the country.
Today, the industry is being asked to advance on three fronts simultaneously. It is being asked to increase the numbers of livestock—and we all agree with that—to produce more food for human consumption, and also to produce more food for feedingstuffs for the livestock population. These three things together would have been possible if the Government had implemented the specific promise which they made on the introduction of their programme in August, 1947, when the Lord President of the Council, addressing the chairmen of county agricultural executive committees on the expansion programme, used these words, which have been quoted before:Large increases of feedingstuffs must come from imports, and even scarce dollars will be spent on all that is obtainable, since this operation must lead to ultimate dollar savings.I shall refer to the feedingstuffs position in detail in a few moments, but there is one further general observation I would like to make.
It has never been, and I hope it never will be British farming policy to "mine" the fertility of the land, and it must be remembered that, at the beginning of the war, the land of this country was full of stored-up fertility. When we had a common enemy at our gates, we had to draw heavily on this fertility during those war years. That cannot go on for ever. The Minister will agree that one cannot run a five furlong race in the same manner as a two and a half miles race. Today the land is feeling the effect of that period, and it is absolutely vital, taking the long view, that the laws of good husbandry must be applied if we are to obtain the maximum production from our soil over a long period. To expand much further our cereal acreage, while it 2557 may help as a purely temporary measure to relieve our economic position, would be folly in the long run, and, as the Minister admitted in his broadcast, we are dealing today with a long-term problem. That is why we on this side of the House resent so profoundly the word "crisis" which was used by the Minister. One would expect "crises" to pass, but the need to grow more food at home is no passing fancy. It will remain for a long time to come.
It is the policy of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to secure the steady efficiency and economic expansion of home agriculture in order that it may produce at least half as much again as it produced immediately before the war. The Government have been circulating recently in the United States a publication entitled "Britain Speeds the Plough." I wonder whether the Minister of Agriculture has seen it. It is an admirable document, which describes the efforts of our agricultural industry in terms very different from those of the Minister's broadcast on Thursday of last week. It is published under the auspices of the British Information Services, and it talks about the great contribution made by British farmers today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But only the other day the Minister was abusing everything that the industry did. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
There is one very important discrepancy here which I hope the Minister will correct. In the concluding chapter of this booklet are the following words:In addition to the Agriculture Act, Britain's farmers have a short-term programme for producing more crops and livestock.Are the Government genuine in believing that their policy is long-term, or is it just a short-term expedient? It is very important that we should get that matter cleared up. In this Government publication, it is stated that they consider it to be a short-term policy.
Now I turn to the specific charges made in the Minister's broadcast. In my view, the most serious was that insufficient attention has been paid to the conservation of grass. It is very difficult to get the correct figures, but there are two commodities concerning which we can see what has happened in recent years. One is silage and the other is dried grass. The House will be interested to know 2558 that, as far as silage is concerned, this year's estimate of 1,250,000 tons is nearly twice what the production was last year, when it was 725,000 tons, and four times what it was in 1947, when it was only 328,000 tons.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
As the hon. Member knows quite well, silage is a new development. I consider that those figures show quite definitely that the industry have made great progress in the production of silage since the announcement of the programme in 1947.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Now let us take dried grass as another example. The output of dried grass has been gradually but surely increasing from 60,000 tons in 1947 to 110,000 tons in 1948. It is estimated that this year the production should reach 180,000 tons. I think it is true to say that, with more experience of the new methods of dealing with grass, the quality is also improving. I believe that this expansion will continue to increase, Whilst we are in no way complacent about this matter, I think the House must agree that those figures are a complete answer to the implied charge that insufficient attention has been paid by farmers to the conservation of grass.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I hate to intervene while the hon. and gallant Gentleman is speaking, but I do not know whether he read my broadcast or not.
Mr. T. Williams
I never complained about not reaching targets in regard to either silage or dried grass. Indeed, I stated that they were going on very nicely.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The right hon. Gentleman did not complain about not reaching the targets for those commodities, but he did imply that insufficient attention has been paid to the conservation of grassland, and I think that will be borne out by anybody who reads the broadcast.
I will now turn to livestock. I agree that the Minister did not blame the 2559 producers of livestock, but it will interest the House to note that in spite of the feedingstuffs muddle—and I think that everybody on all sides agrees with that—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Before I sit down I shall be surprised if I do not convince the most dense people by the figures I shall give that there has been a muddle. As I was saying, in spite of the feedingstuffs muddle, the degree of self-sufficiency achieved on our farms has been very remarkable, and very substantial increases have been made in the number of dairy cattle, pigs and poultry.
I had intended to give the House some figures, but as we started late I will give only those that deal with fowls for Great Britain, excluding Northern Ireland. In March, 1947, there were 32,283,000 fowls and in March, 1949, there were 49,525,000—a very large increase. Those figures can be found in the digest of statistics for June, 1949, table 102. There has also been an increase in other livestock products, and this has been done by the farmers in spite of the difficulty of feedingstuffs.
Now I turn to what the Minister said about tillage acreage, and there, I think, he was most unfair to the producers. He talked about the wheat acreage this year having been missed by 500,000 acres and the feed grains by 150,000 acres. As far as wheat is concerned, the Minister knows perfectly well that the lateness of last year's harvest, the result of the wet autumn, was responsible for the shortfall in the winter wheat. When we get a situation of that sort, it is seldom possible to make up the whole of the autumn-sown deficiency in the spring of the year. The Minister really cannot blame the farmers for the weather of last autumn.
As far as grass and coarse grain are concerned, the position is more difficult, and I ask the Minister whether I am right in calculating that the 150,000 acres of which he said we were short represent only about 2½ per cent. of the target. If it is only 2½ per cent., then I think there will be no difficulty in the years to come to catch up on that figure. The Minister seemed to imply that it was extremely serious, whereas, if we are within 2½ per cent. of our target figure, that, I think the House will agree, is reasonably satisfactory. I hope I have said enough 2560 to show that the attack of the Minister of Agriculture upon the farmers was entirely unjustified.
With regard to the part played by the Government, I am afraid that I must here repeat what I said in this House on a previous occasion. Our view is that the most economical contribution which agriculture can make at the present time is an increase in livestock production based, if not to the extent they were before the war, at any rate upon a proportion of imported feedingstuffs. On the question of feedingstuffs, we believe—hon. Members opposite may take a different view—that the Government's record has been deplorable. A correct solution of this problem is not only the cornerstone of the agricultural production policy, but it would also do a lot to solve our dollar deficit today.
At this point, I must remind the House of the statement made by the Minister of Food on 12th July, 1948, which is still unanswered, when he told the House that it was three times as expensive to produce meat at home on imported feedingstuffs as it was to buy it abroad. A week later, I had the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and, on 20th July, 1948, I submitted a detailed argument to this House to prove that the Minister of Food was wrong. The Minister of Agriculture, while unable to substantiate his colleague's extraordinary calculations, used these words. Referring to my statement to the House on that day, he said:I will submit his case"—referring to what I had said—to the Minister of Food, and perhaps the answer may come next year on the Supply Day for the Ministry of Food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1948; Vol. 454, c. 250.]Time went on, and we came to the appropriate Supply Day on 5th April. Perhaps the House will recollect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) opened the Debate and he again asked the Minister of Food for an explanation of his statement, but his request was not answered, and we still await an answer.
Since then, to complete my argument, a further set of facts have arisen which prove that the statement was completely false. If the Government really believe that statement, of course, we shall never get any feedingstuffs in any quantity. Why 2561 should we, if we really believe the statement made by the Minister of Food? The Economic Survey of 1947 said specifically that £1,000 worth of feedingstuffs would save nearly £2,000 worth of imports of livestock products. The House will agree that if the Minister of Food had been right in his statement of 12th July, 1948, it would have meant that between March, 1947, and July, 1948, the situation had so changed that it had become six times as expensive to produce meat at home. That is obviously fantastic. I commend these arguments once again to the Government, although personally I am convinced that the Ministry of Agriculture really agree with us on this argument.
Our policy is quite clear on this matter. We believe that we should use some of the Marshall Aid dollars to obtain an immediate supply of coarse grains. It is set out in writing, and that is the considered view of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I would at this point draw the attention of the House to the recent Report of the Economic Co-operation Administration on 15th June this year which sets out exactly what the Marshall Aid countries spent up to 31st May, 1949, on various commodities. They spent 111 million dollars on meat, 101 million dollars on dairy produce, and 145 million dollars on coarse grains, and of these sums the United Kingdom spent just over 79 million dollars on meat and 64 million dollars on dairy produce, but not one dollar at all on coarse grains.
It might interest the House to know how some of those amounts were distributed. To take an example, France spent 24 million dollars on coarse grains and Denmark spent over 12 million dollars on coarse grains. The House must realise that these countries then produce livestock fed on Marshall Aid dollars, which in due course of time will come into our market, and our farmers will be told that they are inefficient because they cannot produce the livestock here, when they have not been given the feedingstuffs. There is a real danger here, and it is one of which I must ask the Minister to take note.
Let me put it in another way. If we had, in fact, spent 144 million dollars, which we have spent on meat and dairy produce, on maize at between 140 cents a bushel, which is the present United 2562 States price, and 200 cents a bushel, which is last year's price, we could have bought 2 million tons of maize. That happens to be exactly the quantity that the National Farmers' Union asked for in May of this year, when they calculated that with that amount of maize the industry could produce an additional three ounces of fresh pork per week on the ration for the whole population. I am not suggesting that we could have spent it all like that, but the fact remains that if we had spent our dollars in that way, that is the contribution which we could have made to pig meat in this country.
Turning from the Marshall Aid countries, I should like for a few moments to discuss the recent Anglo-Argentine trade agreement. I understand that we are to spend about £20 million on maize in the Argentine at the current price of £17 a ton, which would buy us rather less than the l¼ million tons we bought last year. I ask the Minister to check those figures and let me know if I am accurate. If I am, I consider that we ought to buy more maize from the Argentine, because I believe the maize is there. Then I ask the Minister if, with his colleagues, he has arranged to give priority to imports of maize and coarse grains from the Argentine, because another problem comes into this particular negotiation, apart altogether from agriculture. I understand that the landed price of coal which we are sending from here to the Argentine cannot be fixed at a reasonable price unless the shippers can be sure of return cargoes of maize or other cereals, so as to reduce the freight rates on the outward run.
Unless some co-ordinated action is taken quickly we may again see maize being burned in locomotives in the Argentine because they will be unable to pay the high cost of our coal. It happened before, and it might happen again. In ships which take the coal the only suitable return cargo is coarse grains or maize. Does it not seem mad, to put it at the lowest? We want the maize for our livestock. The Argentine want the coal, and because there is no co-ordination between Government Departments we are not getting the maize, and the exporters are having great difficulty in sending out the coal at an economic price. I hope the Minister will inform the House 2563 that he will at least look into that point and take such action as may be necessary to put the matter right.
§ Mr. Alpass
From where does the hon. and gallant Gentleman get the information on which he bases that statement?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I have very excellent facts on which to base that statement from the people who are trying to export coal.
I now turn to another valuable form of feedingstuffs, and that is milling offals. I do not want to deal at great length with this subject, but I would point out that a reduction in the extraction rate from 85 per cent. to 82½ per cent. of home produced wheat would provide approximately an extra 150,000 tons of wheat offals. That is only from 85 per cent. to 82½ per cent. I do not ask for a very large reduction, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) earlier in the week, because I know that the medical authorities take an interest in this matter, and the argument has been used that the medical authorities might be opposed to such a reduction. I do not think that is true about the figures I have given, however, because at the post-war loaf conference, which was held in October, 1945, the Medical Research Council, the Chief Medical Office of Health and the medical advisers to the Ministry of Food were in agreement that the standards of nutrients required in our bread are to be found in a loaf made from 80 per cent. extraction. I, therefore, put this matter to the Minister for further examination. If we got that extraction rate reduced, it would be a major contribution to our feeding-stuffs position.
I was going to refer to the possibility of doing something in conjunction with our Canadian friends to see whether we could not make some arrangements by which we did not import so much flour from them, so that we would have the benefit of the milling offals if we milled it ourselves. Time is getting on, however, and I think I have said enough to convince the House that if the Government as a whole—and I am not blaming the Minister of Agriculture entirely—had tackled this problem in a more resolute manner, our position would have been very different today and our agricultural expansion programme would have been 2564 well on the way to achievement. I believe that to be profoundly true.
There is one other aspect of this problem which I must mention. It is in an entirely different category, but I think the Government are equally to blame. In the horticultural industry confidence has been completely destroyed by the deliberate policy of glutting the market with imports exactly at the moment when our own crops are being harvested. How can our horticulturalists believe that the Government are in earnest and that the nation desires the products of their labours when they see many fields of vegetables ploughed in, as they were during last year, while more and more vegetables are being brought from other countries? The House should realise that we are dependent upon home horticultural production for three-quarters of our total requirements. Where, and at what price, can this production be found abroad if our own industry is made so unremunerative that our growers are forced out of business? I ask the Minister to give this his serious consideration.
I think I have said enough to convince the House that it is the Government and not the industry who are at fault at the present time. I am certain I shall have hon. Members on all sides of the House with me when I say that they have a real personal affection for the present Minister of Agriculture. But we are becoming increasingly dismayed at his manifest incapacity to deal with the problems of increased production, either through his control of the county agricultural committees, which should be steering, guiding and helping farmers in their cropping plans, or through his influence with his colleagues inside and outside the Cabinet. They seem to combine to thwart his policy rather than to co-ordinate with each other towards its achievement.
I urge the Minister to stop talking about the crisis in agriculture and, in the months ahead to go forth into the country, having equipped himself with a team of personal liaison officers, to keep him in touch with the work of the county committees. In many counties today the team work and drive which was so marked during the war period under the direction of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), and which is equally essential 2565 at the present time, is very sadly lacking. The county committees are doing their best. They are crying out for a lead and that lead can come only from the Minister of Agriculture himself. I hope the Minister will not fail the country in his duties during the next few months.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)
After listening to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) I am left wondering a little why he has spoken at all. He has chided the Minister for attacking agriculture. I thought it was the duty of any Minister to speak frankly to the people with whom he is most concerned. I sat in my own home on Thursday of last week and listened to the Minister's broadcast. I sat there as a farmer because I wanted to know what he had to say and I wanted to be free in my own mind to let his speech make its own impression upon me, as it would upon any other farmer. The impression which it made was that something in the development of our agricultural programme was not going right. Just what is it?
We have heard this agricultural programme and we have discussed it in this House, and I do not remember hon. Members opposite ever saying that it was a bad programme or that there was anything wrong with it. With the development of our agriculture, of our crops and our stock over a five-year period it was a good programme to put before the country. What do the returns of 4th June reveal? They reveal that the number of pigs and poultry and other stock has inclined to outstrip the programme but, on the other hand, the crops of corn—wheat and oats and barley—most of which would be used for feeding the stock, have fallen behind. Is not that then the element of crisis which we see in the present position? Should not then the Minister speak frankly to all the farmers and say, "Look here; this cannot go on. You are doing very well in producing more cattle, poultry, pigs and sheep according to our estimates and according to our programme, but if we are to feed them and fatten them we must have more feedingstuffs from our own country."
It was known when the programme was announced in 1947 that we should 2566 have difficulties from year to year in the amount of feedingstuffs that we could import. I have been brought up in agriculture, and in my younger days I have seen hundreds of thousands of tons of cotton cake, linseed cake, groundnut cake and other feedingstuffs brought into this country. Ever since the war we have known quite well that these things would not be available in anything like the quantities; that they would be available in only a fractional amount of what we received in the early part of this century.
If we are to have alternative feedingstuffs we must look to our own fields and our own grassland and to the development, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond referred, of silage and drying grass as one of the chief means in making up the deficiency in imported feedingstuffs. On that side I do not think there is anything to grumble about. But unless we are going to have home grown wheat, our poultry, quite clearly, will not be there. The same argument applies to pigs. Nothing would be more regrettable than anything that would put a stop to the rapid development of the production of pigs and poultry in this country and the fattening of more cattle.
So I think the Minister was wise in going to the microphone to tell the whole agricultural community what he had in mind, and in going later to the leaders of the National Farmers' Union to have a frank talk with them about it. I hope that he will take all sections of the agricultural community into his confidence, the workers, the farmers, and such owners as there are left to us. There are not so many as there used to be, I believe.
§ Mr. Dye
There are more, are there? If there are more, then they are also cultivators of the land, and, therefore, they are not landlords letting their land to other people. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given me a point. The landlords are decreasing in number, and the number of farmer owners has increased. I include the latter as farmers. That is a development which I should have thought hon. Members opposite would have welcomed. It has been going on faster under this Socialist Government 2567 than it did under Tory Governments. Given a chance, there is no doubt that we shall make more rapid headway.
To return to my point, I think that that is the nature of the crisis, and I hope that everyone in the industry, every person with authority and responsibility, will leave out of the discussion that element of party desire to exploit the present position with an eye upon the next Election. It may be that we shall have to make some changes, and in that respect one can, perhaps, refer to the latest statement that has been made by the party opposite, which has now put its policy before the country.
§ Mr. Dye
Well, it is a policy. It is described as a policy. There is one item with which I should like to deal because of what happened in the House earlier today. The document says:A Conservative Government will give the British farmer first place in the home market, and guaranteed prices and markets for the food he can produce up to our general target in accordance with the rules of good husbandry.I do not know whether the party opposite has made that statement on the basis of our latest experience of guaranteed prices. We have guaranteed prices for potatoes, early potatoes and main crop potatoes. When I ventured earlier today to suggest that we should no longer guarantee the price of early potatoes hon. Members opposite said, "Come over here." But their policy is to extend the system of guaranteed prices, not to limit it.
I was bold enough to ask for a move away from the guaranteed prices for early potatoes because I do not think it is possible for a year ahead—or even, for that matter, for a month ahead—to determine how the supply of new potatoes will go on the market. If, therefore, we have a fixed and rigid system of guaranteed prices for potatoes, starting at say £30 a ton, and each week decreasing by stages, either weekly or at four-day intervals, then that price will determine the number of potatoes which are lifted. This year the guaranteed prices the producers were receiving caused lifting faster than the consumer could consume the potatoes at the fixed price.
2568 That is where, it seems to me, a mistake was made. If there had been a system that would have allowed the price of the potatoes to come down to the consumer, then we should not have had a large proportion of our early potatoes sold for stock feeding at about £2 a ton, and at the same time our main crop of potatoes practically standing still as a growing crop owing to the drought—so indicating the possibility of a smaller crop for the winter and spring months—and instead of lifting our early potatoes, as there was encouragement to do. I think had there been a fall in prices in potatoes because of a much heavier yield farmers would have got as much money as they did because of the greater consumption there would have been during that period. When, therefore, I did suggest that there should be a limiting of the guaranteed prices to the main crop of potatoes, and to make an alteration so far as new potatoes were concerned, hon. Gentlemen opposite said, "Come over here."
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
I do think that as the hon. Member is making such a song and dance about this he ought to get his facts right, at least. What we were saying was that arrangements for transport and sale would be left in the hands of private enterprise, and we thought that that was thoroughly explained in the statement.
§ Mr. Dye
I say that sale and distribution of the crop from the producer to the consumer should be left, because it is the kind of crop for which the system of guaranteed prices months ahead is not suitable. We could have a bigger acreage and a heavier crop, and there is no mechanism working that will either keep back a big crop or induce consumers to buy greater quantities.
We must review our agricultural policy from time to time as it operates with a view to checking any difficulty that may arise. I think we are on very firm ground when we want guaranteed prices for our principal products, and I think it is also true we should keep them going, but we must see that we do not extend the policy to products for which it is not suitable. Therefore, I do think that we should have regard to the changes brought about by weather and other conditions, and we must always be ready to adapt British agriculture to suit the needs of our country as we are both a nation producing 2569 agricultural goods and a nation that imports them.
We need food for ou[...] people and feedingstuffs for our livestock. Now hon. Members opposite are calling out for the importation of coarse grains from America, under Marshall Aid. Well, there is in the United States a surplus of soya beans and the money spent on them will be of much greater value to British agriculture than an increase of coarse grain, for it is the element contained in the soya bean that will help to improve the quality of our feedingstuffs. Therefore, when I read the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite made in different parts of the country telling the farmers that they could have the vast quantities of coarse grain under Marshall Aid and making comparisons with France and with other countries, I think they are trying to lead the people up the wrong path.
It is quite clear that France has had to import more feedingstuffs. If hon. Gentlemen will only read the latest N.F.U. Information Service, they will see the sorry plight into which French agriculture fell in 1948, as a result of which they had to have a greater quantity of coarse grains. I have recently been speaking with farmers from my constituency who have been on a visit to Holland, and there they saw the great efforts of the Dutch people; but everyone of them told me that the Dutch people—and they themselves when they were in Holland—had a lower standard of food than we have in this country. In spite of the fact that the Dutch are importing feeding-stuffs they are also compelled to export the food they produce.
§ Mr. Dye
Of course, there is no rationing, but that does not make food abundant. It means that some people get very much more, and others much less. These farmers are not necessarily Socialists; I suppose most of them will vote Conservative; but they told me the truth as they saw it in Holland, and I therefore assert that the kind of story which is being put about, that Denmark, Holland, and France have derationed food and are having a much better time than the people of this country, is nothing but moonshine.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I think that the House and the country owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale), not only for having opened this Debate but for the terms in which he did so, and I earnestly hope that every farm worker and farmer will read his speech and study the figures and arguments he put before us. Because they were so adequate and so convincing, and because our time is so limited, I will confine my remarks to three or four topics, relying upon the figures given by my hon. Friend to sustain and support my argument.
I agree with him most profoundly that there is great dissatisfaction in the horticultural and market gardening side of the industry. The neglect of them has been a factor in causing anxiety amongst farmers and farm workers generally. It is clear to me that there ought to be an undertaking that the man who grows vegetables here will get a fair price, and sometimes a higher price, and not be undercut by foreign imports at the very moment of his best production. I earnestly hope that the Government will give such an undertaking. If not, we must wait for a change of Government, because it will certainly be the policy of the Conservative Party to do that.
I also wish to add my voice to what he said about pigs and poultry. In none of our agricultural Debates have I heard from the Government side an answer to the charge that the Government are neglecting the best economic action it is in their power to take to improve our production of pig meat and of eggs and poultry. Every 1,000 dollars used for importing feedingstuffs for pigs and poultry produces more than 1,000 dollars in food value. A simple policy of growing more of our own eggs and bacon would be not only agreeable to our housewives but profitable to our balance of trade and also to the farmers. I have heard no argument which convinces me that that is not true. The pig breeds very quickly, and affords one of the ways in which to make up for shortages of meat without having to wait many years for the meat to become available.
I must observe that there is still dissatisfaction amongst agricultural workers 2571 about their rations. Workers in heavy industry receive special rations; and although I know that the farm workers also receive some special rations, on the whole they are worse off. They are even worse off than some who work in town, in factories and offices, who have admirable canteens which give them a full midday meal off the ration.
I want now to turn to housing. There is still not enough preference given to agricultural housing, and the Minister ought to strengthen his hand and his arguments vis-à-vis the Minister of Health, who presumably controls these priorities. Here I must make one or two brief observations about the taking of so much good agricultural land for housing purposes. I claim to be the first to appreciate the extraordinary difficulty that people in the small towns have about housing.
In a town of only 10,000 inhabitants in my constituency, there are still 450 families on the housing waiting list. I hesitate before saying anything which might delay for five minutes the provision of one house to help to reduce this waiting list, but the fact remains that it is no use our proclaiming a policy of leaving the best and most fertile land for farming instead of taking it for housing if, when a particular instance comes to our notice, we take the opposite view. It is like calling for economy and being unable to indicate any one item over which we could economise. I therefore say that each one of these cases that is brought to light, where the best land is being taken or is threatened to be taken for housing purposes, should be looked into.
At the moment, in my constituency there are plans to take over 100 acres of the very best agricultural land for housing. It is true that only 13 acres will be taken at once, and it is argued "Well, that is not very much, we may as well let it go through." Even the officials of the Minister of Agriculture do not see the danger of the next move, but deal only with that very limited point; they do not look at the plans and see that once these 13 acres go, a further 100 acres will go, and that the loss once made is irreparable. The merits of this particular case are very evenly balanced, and I propose to put them before the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health in the hope 2572 that they will look into the matter again to see whether they cannot encourage the local authority to find alternative sites.
In that connection, I have just one complaint: that the Minister of Health is both judge and jury in his own case. It is his inspector who goes down to sit as a kind of tribunal to see fairplay between the various interests, and that seems to me to bias in advance a decision in favour in his view rather than that of the Minister of Agriculture. Put in a sentence, housing is one of the our direst needs, but it is no good housing people if they cannot be fed, and we are perilously near a situation in which we shall find difficulty in feeding our people.
Finally, I wish to comment on the general position in which we find ourselves. I do not want to say anything which may seem to be of a party political nature. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite want me to do so, I am very ready. The policy which has been pursued by this Government is not dissimilar from that set down by the Coalition Government; this Government are simply carrying on the policy introduced during the war years, which has now been running for about 10 years. I earnestly hope that the townspeople, who in the long run will benefit so much, will support and sustain this policy, so that it may become our recognised long-term policy, irrespective of party. However, we cannot for ever go on increasing the payments which are being guaranteed. We cannot go on for ever increasing production by increasing the guaranteed prices. We have to adjust the payments to give an incentive to the worst land.
If the nation is to get better agriculture in the long term, it must spend capital on the land itself rather than on the crops taken off the land. Some Government some time will have to look into this and see that money spent on the land brings a much greater long-term reward than money spent on the crops. That is not to say that appropriate guarantees must not be given and become part of our long-term policy, which is what I was pleading for earlier in my remarks. Whatever may be the merits of the groundnuts scheme, in the long-term it would have been much better for the country had the £25 million spent in Africa been spent in this country.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvonshire)
The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) made a very fair point in regard to the rations of agricultural workers. I suggest that the provision of mobile canteens should be encouraged in rural areas. I have seen a little of the work of mobile canteens in one or two parts of the country, and I confess that I rather like the idea, but I have not seen any extension of this service in the last year or so. It is something which might bring to the agricultural workers and to the farmers an added incentive. It would supplement the rations of the agricultural workers so that they could enjoy the same facilities as the industrial workers in our towns.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) that the production of livestock is outstripping our production of feeding-stuffs. I am sure that those who read the article by an outstanding expert, Mr. L. F. Easterbrook, in the "News Chronicle" last Friday, will have grasped that point very thoroughly. I agree with him that the problem is also a psychological one. There is a certain uneasiness among farmers of all grades, a certain lack of confidence and urgency in what is happening and what ought to be done. I hope that the Government, in spite of their very great difficulties in this and other fields, will take note once again of these complaints which some of us have to bring forward in agricultural Debates.
In some areas, particularly in Wales—I cannot speak in any Debate without mentioning that country—they feel there is a real threat to their security of tenure by the proposed activities of other Departments, the worst offender being, of course, the War Office. I do not want to expand this point, because it has already been made perfectly clear how the proposals of the War Office are upsetting farmers and actually causing a drop in production. The War Office exasperate our farmers by their apparent thoughtlessness in making huge demands for good farming land, sometimes half a county, and then after a period of suspense and expense withdrawing or whittling down their original demands.
Then we have the Forestry Commission—in my country they complain that the Forestry Commission plant more seeds of alarm than trees. Time and again they 2574 threaten to evict good farmers from excellent farms. What my farming friends say—and this is from the point of view of bolstering up morale and providing inspiration for the efforts which must be made in the next year or two—is, and this comes from a letter I received his morning—We agree we must have timber and land must be found for it, but why take perfectly good farms when there are plenty of tracts not suitable for farming but perfect for forestry, and, above all, why not publish a long-term policy of expansion with detailed maps in good time to prevent disturbance or the fear of disturbance, which is equally bad.When a farmer is in fear of being disturbed in his farming, he feels a lack of confidence in going ahead and does not invest or work the farm in the way that it ought to be worked. If there must be land acquisition, we should have a clear policy on the subject.
Another thing which would rouse enthusiasm is a really bold policy for developing hill farming and marginal land. We had an extremely good Debate on marginal land a few weeks ago, when some very good suggestions were made. We must have a long-term policy for marginal land, and the mere fact that we commit ourselves to a substantial policy of development would have a really fine effect on the agricultural community generally. We know that from time to time the Government have done a great deal to assist marginal land production, but grants are not the final answer to the problem. What is wanted is capital expenditure, and in this connection I rather like the suggestion of agricultural credits put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon). That is certainly something which should be looked at seriously.
All this links up with encouraging a new spirit of adventure on the land. There is need also to encourage a new system of venturers. We need enterprise and we also need new entrepreneurs. Security of tenure is so great now that there is real difficulty even in changing tenancies. The result is that we are in danger of stratifying farm leadership. The young farm worker, or the son of the farmer, feels rather frustrated today because, with the prosperity and the new security of tenure around him, he finds that farms with vacant possession are at 2575 a premium. If they are to be had at all, then a very high price has to be paid for them. I believe we ought to pursue a policy of creating marginal holdings on acquired land, and extending really generous credits to farm workers and sons of farmers who want to launch out on their own.
§ Mr. Roberts
I agree, but I am pleading for a new and fresh drive because I think the point ought to be stressed. In the circumstances it will prove exceedingly difficult to introduce new young occupiers if we carry on, as we ought, with security of tenure. We ought to get them in some other way, and I rather think that the encouragement of acquiring marginal land and land which has lapsed, might be the way out.
In conclusion, I must say that whenever I talk to farmers I find that never before in the history of the Ministry of Agriculture—and I do not know how far its history goes—has there been a Minister who has had the confidence of the rank-and-file farmer in so marked a manner as my right hon. Friend. I must also say that, by and large, I find there is a feeling among the farming community that the present Government are making an almost unprecedented effort to give a fair deal to the countryside.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
The hon. Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. G. Roberts) has advocated bringing new blood on to the land. I would say that what is required is a stronger administrative lead. I do not agree that it would be a good thing to put farm workers on marginal land for a start; I would rather see them have a fair chance of a smallholding on good land. We want larger holdings, because the gross output per acre is naturally small from poor land.
§ Mr. G. Roberts
I certainly would not, as a general rule, urge that the young farm worker or the son of a farmer should start on marginal land unless it was found that he was deliberately keen and an applicant who ought to be encouraged to develop a difficult piece of land.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
All right, we will let that pass.
I urge the Minister to do everything in his power to stop opencast mining, particularly where it has been found impossible to restore the land. In my constituency several sites have been cast open and now that they have been cast together again there is no subsoil drainage, it is not good land, and nothing will grow. It was good land before. Not a lot of coal was obtained from the land, and it was obtained only at great expense.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) says we complain of the agricultural production programme. We do nothing of the sort. What we complain about is the Minister saying that it has not been carried out; it is his responsibility to see that it is carried out. In that responsibility he has failed, according to his own broadcast admission. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk also said that farmers have failed to produce coarse grains and crops that were required, but had in some cases outstripped the livestock programme. The simple answer is that farmers produce what pays them best. It is much more profitable to produce certain types of livestock than it is to grow crops which are not remunerative. Only next year, and for the first time, will wheat be a really paying crop to grow. It is one of the crops which have fallen short of the Minister's target. Beef, for instance, does not pay; it is produced in only small quantities.
I think there is a general feeling among farmers that they do not like being looked after by the Ministry or county agricultural executive committees or any other officials who interfere with their business. I therefore suggest that the Minister should think of new methods of getting the co-operation of the farmer. During the war these committees were set up and directions were given—they are still favoured in some quarters—to farmers. They heartily dislike them, and would not play if they were given directions today.
I should like to show the right hon. Gentleman how he might give farmers more incentive in the general management of production. I, personally, would like to see a considerable increase in producer marketing boards, in connection 2577 with which we recently passed an Act. In some cases crops have been under-produced and in others over-produced. For instance, last year potatoes were over produced and the Ministry lost, I think, £10 million. This year early potatoes have been difficult to dispose of through the Ministry. Farmers have been unable to sell them when they were ready, or distribution was so badly organised that the crop went to waste. Indeed, potatoes are quite a joke among the farming community. I was talking to a farmer recently about the possibility of growing potatoes to feed pigs, and whether they would pay, and he said, "They would pay if I sold them to the Ministry at £9 a ton and bought them back at £3 per ton."
If we had producer marketing boards I should like to see them made responsible for the growing of a crop up to the target figure for which the guaranteed price was offered. Had that been the case last year, producers would have been responsible for growing potatoes up to whatever quantity the Government considered essential to avoid rationing, say 7 million tons. Further, I should like to see these boards institute a system of contract cropping. They might get producers to contract to produce quantities of crops at certain times, for instance, early potatoes. That might have saved trouble this year. These are merely suggestions which may want a lot of examination.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
The hon. and gallant Member is speaking about farmers' criticisms of potato guarantees. Does he suggest that the guaranteed market for main crop potatoes should be abolished? I should like him to follow up his most interesting suggestions in regard to the alternatives. What would happen when it was a late crop year and the quantity of potatoes was much less than the quantity needed to avoid rationing?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
There are a lot of disadvantages with this method which will occur to anyone immediately. [Laughter.] Let me answer the point. The point which I will take first is that I do not suggest that the guarantee should not be met. I said that the guarantee should be met up to the quantity which the Potato Board—this is only an instance, as it might be any other commodity board—undertook to produce, 2578 and no more. I see no reason why the Potato Board should not make contracts with farmers to produce certain quantities, say 100 tons or 10 acres. They would then make every effort to grow that quantity.
It would be a far more satisfactory method in my opinion than trying to persuade a farmer to grow a certain acreage which he does not want to grow because he thinks it does not pay anyone. He is not particularly interested in the yield. I remember when we had direction being told to grow a certain acreage of wheat. I was only too pleased to make a light sowing of the wheat, being sure that what was still underneath would grow well. If I had undertaken to grow so much per acre it would have been a different story. I was asked what punishment I suggest for farmers who failed to fulfil their contracts. It is a difficult point. One might withdraw some of their feedingstuff allowance. I am only putting the point to show that the present system of exhortation through county committees is far from satisfactory. Farmers do not particularly like it.
The only thing which has any effect upon the quantity of crops is the old remedy of the price incentive. Farmers will grow all they can of what pays them best on their own land. A good instance of that is egg production. I know I shall become unpopular when I say that the price per egg promised this winter is quite the best thing in farming. Everyone I meet talks about how they are going to keep a certain number of hens regardless of whether the foodstuffs will be available. We might have good production: I am not prepared to say that there will not be a glut of eggs in the years to come. That is quite within the realms of possibility. There might also be a shortage of foodstuffs. There are great possibilities of development in the methods by which the industry is managed.
I should like to say a word about feedingstuffs. I feel it is time that we had more of them. We have had only something like one quarter of the amount of feedingstuffs from the Argentine compared with what we had before the war. There must be many other places where we could get fresh quantities. What is even more important than the total quan- 2579 tity that we import is that better methods should be devised of distributing the feedingstuffs. Too much importance is still attached to the amount of livestock that particular farmers had in 1939. Newcomers to the industry get little or no encouragement. The Minister introduced a scheme last summer which allowed farmers to have a very small quantity of feedingstuffs according to their acreage. I should like to see farmers, who produce and deliver goods to the right packing station encouraged by being given feedingstuffs on a bigger scale according to what they produce. That is a system which will be a great encouragement to producers.
I hope no one will get up in this Debate and advocate, as I saw advocated in a farming paper the other day, the resumption of the direction of cropping, because if the Minister thinks that is advisable he will quickly find that the majority of farmers do not like it and will not tolerate it. There must be other ways in which the right hon. Gentleman can hit the target which he has set. When he tells the farmers they are failing, he must consider the administration as failing, too, and it is quite time he thought out new methods or else got out and gave someone else an opportunity to run the industry more successfully.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
Many points have been raised this evening which I should like to follow up, but if I did so, many who want to participate in the Debate would not be able to do so. Therefore, I shall confine my remarks to two matters, one of which has been mentioned by several speakers and another which is of particular concern to my constituency and also of general concern to agriculture and to the community generally. Much has been said with regard to the feedingstuffs problem and its interest to the farming community cannot be denied.
At the same time, I feel that there is a tendency to smugness on the part of the Government and their critics in facing the position. On the one hand, the Government take up the attitude that nothing can be done to help the agricultural industry to get feedingstuffs, and on the other hand, there is the popular 2580 cry that the agricultural industry must at all costs be supplied with greater quantities of feedingstuffs. The Government are advised to use Marshall Aid for that purpose and are told that more maize is available from Canada and we are asked why arrangements are not made for procuring far greater quantities of milled offal.
I feel there is too much dogma on both sides in this matter. There should be a reasoned approach both on the part of the Minister and on the part of the farmers. The Minister probably is making this reasoned approach, but whether he is getting proper backing from his colleagues in the Government is another matter. As far as Marshall Aid is concerned, while one must have a sense of responsibility in advocating the expenditure of dollars on anything these days, I feel that the Government should not adopt a closed door policy on the question of spending dollars on feedingstuffs. The same applies to the other two points I have already made. While irresponsible assertions can be made with regard to the possibility of certain new sources being explored, I am certain more might be done to assist the farmer in this direction.
A point which causes me anxiety is that the demand for feedingstuffs to date has been a demand at artificial prices. Recent price adjustments may result in reducing demands by small farmers; it is too early to know whether that is going to happen. If it does it will be another headache for the Ministry. I should like to hear more about the possibility of increasing the home production of feedingstuffs. To my mind a great deal more could be done in this direction. It would be presumptuous on my part to develop the theme as to whether there could be greater home production, but there is one area where more might be done and that is marginal land. I feel that a larger production of feedingstuffs could be carried out on marginal land if we had more ambitious schemes of assistance than we have at the moment. I was glad that the Minister of Agriculture heard the Minister of Food defending the groundnuts scheme today. I hope he will take what his colleague said to heart, and think of it in the terms of assistance which might be given to increase the production of feedingstuffs in our marginal land.
2581 A comparison has been made—and I do not now think it is a comparison which will stand up to all the tests—in the earlier part of this evening's Debate between helping East Africa and developing it through the expenditure of anything from £25 million up and the way we are improving our marginal land by expending £300,000 a year, which I am told works out at something like 4½d. an acre. If we are really serious about tackling the problem of feedingstuffs, and if we really believe that a solution for this problem lies in greater production of home produced feedingstuffs, we should be more imaginative in tackling the problem of producing feedingstuffs on marginal land.
Besides their anxiety about getting an increase in feedingstuffs, farmers are also equally anxious that there shall not be sudden fluctuations in the ration. The farmers in my area are afraid of the ration being boosted to a level which cannot be maintained. If that happens, farmers' programmes will be disturbed. That has occurred in the accredited poultry breeding scheme. I do not suggest that the Minister's explanation that he could only keep up the level on autumn accounting by prejudicing the basic ration is not correct, but it is unfortunate if the farmer's scheme of operations is to be disturbed in that way.
The same thing applies to calf rearing in respect of which additional rations are particularly needed. There are all sorts of rumours about changes in the rationing scheme. One rumour is that there will be changes directed towards penalising poor milk production. I hope the Minister will see that any differentiation which is brought about will not prejudice the position of the small farmers, particularly those on poor land. There may be many explanations for a poor level of production, and one may well be "poor land." A farmer on poor land is not in a position to produce feedingstuffs for himself on anything like the same basis as a man on far superior land.
Another matter to which I wish to refer is of particular concern to my area and also of general concern. It is the attitude of the Minister and his Department toward T.B. eradication. The county of Cardigan occupies a unique position with 75 per cent. of clean herds, the highest in England and Wales, and the neighbouring 2582 counties, Carmarthen and Pembroke—the Minister has given them full credit—follow very closely. We have heard nothing in the last three years whether the effort towards the establishment of clean areas—the total eradication of T.B. from our herds—is to be followed to a logical conclusion. I hope the Minister will have something positive to say in that direction.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister of Health is now recommending that hospitals shall use pasteurised milk instead of T.T. milk? Does he think that is the way to encourage milk production?
§ Mr. Bowen
I am glad that the hon. Member has made that interruption. The Ministers of Health, Agriculture and Food ought to be putting their heads together over this. One thing I can assure the Minister is that the present gallonage premium itself will not be sufficient to guarantee that the areas which have reached the 75 per cent. level will maintain that level if there is no prospect at all of a really general scheme of T.B. eradication.
I do not believe it for one moment, but if the Government take the view, now that they have the Milk (Special Designations) Act, that pasteurised milk is to take the place of T.T. milk, they ought to say so. However, I do not think it is. Let us follow things to their logical conclusion. If it is not so, why is not something being done to establish clean areas. The three counties which I have mentioned are around the level of 75 per cent. T.B. eradication and are suitable for the establishment of a clean area. Why is not a pilot scheme being arranged there, for it is a step towards the establishment of clean areas throughout the country?
I am told that the trouble is finance. However, a scheme of this kind would assist the producer and the consumer, it would be a good thing for agriculture as a whole, and it would certainly be a good thing for the health of the nation. I hope that something will be said by the Minister to assure the House that the question of compensation for reactors will not stand in the way of the introduction by the Ministry of a scheme of this kind. In the area I have suggested I am certain that the question of compensation could 2583 easily be settled and that the Minister could come to an arrangement to establish a pilot scheme without delay. Neither the farming industry as a whole nor the Treasury should stand in the way of a reasonable arrangement, which would undoubtedly bring considerable benefits to the community.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)
I wish to take a different line from that adopted by most hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate. I must disappoint the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) in reference to what he said about direction. This is not the first occasion on which the nation has looked to agriculture for a substantial contribution to assist in a difficult situation. I am glad that the Minister has told farmers that our food plan is in peril. My right hon. Friend has said that we must see that the job we have to do is well-planned, well-founded and well-balanced. Many farmers in all parts of the country will respond.
The times are so serious that I wish to put forward a suggestion which will not be popular with hon. Members opposite. I suggest that there must be a return to some form of direction. The efficient farmer who is concerned with the welfare of the State will have nothing to fear. The Minister should be in a position to exercise some control over the ordinary farmer who grows onions when his land should be devoted to wheat or sugar beet, and then denounces the Minister of Food because he cannot sell the onions which he should never have grown. In other words, I suggest that the Minister should have power to compel the cobbler to stick to his last, and to leave the growing of horticultural crops to practical horticulturists.
I wish to advance the views of farm workers on the present situation. They have been thinking about the food production crisis, and they take the view that bold steps are necessary. I beg the Minister to be courageous and to take in hand the farmer who is not pulling his weight. He can only do that by taking to himself again a power which he formerly exercised. I refer to the power of direction.
The views of the farmers and landowners are often heard in this House, but 2584 I am afraid that the views of the farm workers, as expressed by them, are very rarely heard. A resolution passed by the executive committee of the National Union of Agricultural Workers only a few days ago expressed in definite language what the farm workers feel about the problem. In the resolution they advocate not only:… a planned industry and properly supervised acts of husbandrybut they… urge the Government to consider the reorganisation of the agricultural executive committees with provision for more adequate representation of the workers, the resumption of directions for cropping, the increased mechanisation of agriculture, and the maintenance of county machinery depots and the cultivation of derelict land. …Only in that way do they suggest that the Minister will be able to make a success of his job. The time has long passed when a real effort should be made to plan the industry and to supervise husbandry. I assert that many county agricultural committees today are kicking their heels and wondering what to do next. I think that they should be organised upon an entirely different basis. After the committees have been reorganised and issued their directions, I am certain that no patriotic farmer will refuse to play his part. I wish to pay my tribute to the farmers and farm workers for the fine work they have done. I believe that if encouraged by the Minister, with direction in the background, they will do an even better job in the difficult days ahead.
I listened with great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said at the weekend. He said that the Conservatives would give the British farmers first place in the home market. The Labour Government have already done that. He further declared:We will give the farmers clear guarantees.Not only have the Labour Government given the guarantees but, more important still, they have given the cash to the farmers. In respect of the production of many crops, I believe that the sky is the limit.
May I say, in conclusion, that I do not think we should spend any more money on marginal land or reclamation schemes. I think the key to the solution to our problem is increased production of the 2585 kind of crops that are urgently needed from the land that is already farmed. I do not think that the agricultural expansion programme can be realised without a new sense of urgency, but it is within the province and power of the Minister of Agriculture to give that new sense of urgency which will produce the goods we want.
I congratulate the Minister on having formed a council of the nation—Minister, farmers and farm workers—and I have no doubt that plans can be devised to overcome the present crisis and make the way fair for a return to the full realisation of the Government's agricultural expansion programme.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
This Debate has been in strong contrast to the similar Debate which took place a year ago. On that occasion, the Debate was opened by the Minister of Agriculture, who seemed proud not of his own achievements but of the achievements of the industry, because he said:… it was our duty to make provision so that farmers could go full-speed ahead and establish the industry now, and for as far ahead as one can see, as an integral part of our national economy. I believe that the opportunity has been seized with both hands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1948; Vol. 454, c. 249.]There was no doubt that both farmers and farm workers were pulling their full weight, but somehow in recent months there has grown up a certain confusion in the agricultural industry concerning what the Government and certain hon. Members opposite think of the industry's achievements. It was started by the hon. Member for North East Ham (Mr. Daines) when we were discussing the Agricultural Marketing Bill, when he said:It seems that what lies behind this Bill is capitalist syndicalism, where, so far as the welfare, high profits and even high wages of one industry are concerned, they are given at the expense of the community. I do not accept it as the function of the Labour Government to formulate policies that give advantages to one section of industry at the expense of the consumer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 1795.]That speech meant that there was a division in the party opposite which we regretted, because we considered that that policy had had the full support of the House. If I remember rightly, that speech 2586 was followed only ten days later by a speech by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who, in attacking hon. Members on this side of the House, said:They are encouraging the farming community to adopt the attitude of a pampered keep of the rest of the community. That is an attitude of mind which is neither healthy for the farmers nor likely to contribute to their good. It is time they learned that this people do not eat exclusively for the convenience of the farmer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1949: Vol. 463, c. 3058.]I am sorry the Parliamentary Secretary cheers at that remark, because I think those were unhappy words for future harmony in the agricultural industry. Unfortunately, that is only an indication of what certain Members of the Socialist Party are now thinking.
There has been published recently a document entitled "Socialism and Farming," which has the further title of "Challenge to 1950," whatever that means. I see that the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) seems to have more than a passing acquaintance with this document, and, on turning to page 16, where there is a summing up of the position as seen through the eyes of those who produced this document, I read:It has recently been calculated that in terms of work-performance per man-year, the average agriculturist in England and Wales was 2 per cent. less efficient in 1946 than in 1937–39 in spite of the fact that the extra-manual power (horses and tractors) at his disposal had doubled. In simpler terms this means that farmers and farmworkers were not working anything like as hard in 1946 as in 1937–39. And there is no reason to believe that they are working any better today.It goes on to say:Although there are other factors involved, … it seems to be agreed that many farmers and farm-workers are taking life a little too easily.
§ Mr. Turton
When I mentioned this document, I thought the hon. Gentleman gave an affirmative nod, and therefore I thought he had some knowledge of the document.
§ Mr. Turton
I am delighted to hear it, but I am trying to find out how many hon. Members opposite support this document which is prepared by one of their principal party organisations, to which a large part of the Socialist Party belong. Throughout this Debate there has been a current of discontent among the speakers opposite, and I fear that unless we can get from the Minister some greater assurance that his party are united on agriculture, and are also in agreement with us that farmers and farm workers are doing their best to achieve reasonable targets of production, there will be a certain amount of disappointment among the agricultural community.
We started off with the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye). He said that in his view, something was not going quite right. I listened very carefully to his speech. I always pay great attention to the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk because he is a practical farmer and usually gives very good advice to hon. Members, although we do not always agree with it. But I thought he made a very dangerous suggestion when he said that his party would be ready to take out of the schedule commodities to which guaranteed prices had been attached. Surely, the one common basis of Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals has lately been this system of guaranteed prices. We started it in the days of Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, a former Minister of Agriculture, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and the present Minister of Agriculture have played a very large part in it. But the whole plan will be broken if we adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk that a commodity can suddenly be taken out of the schedule. That struck me as being a mistake.
Then we had a speech to which I listened with great interest, from the hon. Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. G. Roberts). He said that there was a lack of confidence and urgency. He felt, as I understood him, that the Ministry had not been representing the interests of agriculture in the battle with the War Office and the other Departments. I 2588 entirely agree with that criticism. I think it is a weakness in the present administrative set-up, and I should like to see it altered.
But the final speech which I feel has exposed this division came from the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk. He believes that the whole policy of the Government should be radically altered, that we should reintroduce direction of cropping, and that we should not take the measures which the Minister is trying to take to assist the cultivation of marginal land. It struck me that the only radical cure which the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk was suggesting was the substitution of the present Minister of Agriculture by the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk. That seems to me to be the aim and object of his conclusions.
But surely it is unfortunate to have this criticism of the Minister and his policy from Members of his own party. It means that confidence is going out of the industry. The Minister added to that lack of confidence by the broadcast that he made on Thursday. It struck me that farmers listening to it could not clearly make out what they had failed to do. It is quite true that the Minister said—and this is the first conclusion I reached on reading the report of his broadcast—that he charged them with having failed to produce half a million acres of wheat. He immediately said that that was caused by the weather, and I thought that was well explained by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) who led for the Opposition today. I believe the Minister is wrong on this question of setting such store by wheat acreage. I am quite sure that what we want to get is a balanced agriculture that preserves its fertility and, at the same time, gets the highest quantity of protein food that we require in this country. I do not think we shall get that by 2¾ million acres of wheat.
Every time I have spoken on this question of agricultural policy, particularly on 27th January this year, I have always made it absolutely clear that I believe that to get more than two million acres of wheat today would throw our agricultural economy out of balance. It would be far better if the Minister concentrated on getting the country to grow more coarse grains and getting larger areas 2589 down to good temporary grass. That is my view and I discount that part of the Minister's broadcast.
The next accusation which the Minister levelled against these unfortunate farmers and farmworkers was that somehow they had failed in their production of barley, oats and mixed corn. I thought that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond exposed the weakness of that accusation pretty well. The Minister said that the farmers had failed to reach their target this year by 2½ per cent. I wonder if there is any other industry that has so narrowly failed to get its target laid down in the Economic Survey. Really, was it worth a 10-minute broadcast on Thursday if that was the only failure? There has been a failure, because we had expected to get more meat by more feedingstuffs. It is no good hon. Members opposite saying in this House that we do not want and need not import more feedingstuffs today. For agriculture to get its maximum production, as we have laid down in our plans to the O.E.E.C., it must get more feedingstuffs from abroad in addition to getting more from ploughing up the land in this country.
Let me say a word on marginal land production. Unlike the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk I believe the most economic way to get this marginal land into production is to give grants under a marginal land scheme not only for the cost of the services but also for the capital improvements required to fit out that land for greater production. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Caernarvonshire forgot—
§ Mr. Turton
I am not in favour of nationalising the marginal land and I must tell the hon. Member at once that when the Government start farming this marginal land—and the Minister can check me and tell me exactly what profit was made—I believe the losses will be so exceptional that it will not be good for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would probably have to go to Switzerland for a longer period.
In my county I have had complaints from farmers that when they try to obtain 2590 grants under the new scheme, they are denied them because, they are told, they are too good farmers. In other words, farmers who are bad farmers can get the grant. I know of one large area of bracken-covered land. The farmer is not a man of substance. Last year he applied for a grant for doing half of it and he received a grant under the marginal scheme. This year, when he applied for it, he was turned down on the ground that he farmed a certain amount of land above the marginal nature. As the Minister's Department is charging £14 an acre for converting bracken land with their machinery, I cannot see how we shall get the marginal scheme working unless we have the grant, not on the state of the man's bank balance, but on the nature of the land which is to be improved.
Turning to feedingstuffs, I want to know why we cannot get more feedingstuffs at the present time from the Argentine. With his colleagues, the Minister has concluded an agreement with the Argentine Government. Why is it that the amount to be spent on feedingstuffs is just two-thirds of the amount which was spent last year? We find we are going to spend a good deal more on meat—two-thirds more than last year—but we are to spend only two-thirds as much on feedingstuffs as we spent last year. When we turn to oilcakes and meals, we find that, whereas last year we spent £19 million, this year we are to spend only £12 million under that agreement.
It means, therefore, that farmers have not failed but that the Minister of Food has failed he has failed to provide the feedingstuffs required. He has achieved less than his target by 30 per cent. of cereal feedingstuffs and 32 per cent. less in other animal feedingstuffs and oilcakes this year than was the case last year. The Minister ended his broadcast by asking all farmers to look at themselves and say, "Am I playing my part? Why not?" The man who has not played his part in this matter is the Minister of Food, and that is the answer to the broadcast by the Minister of Agriculture. I wish, instead of making that broadcast, the Minister had come to the House and told us why he and his colleagues are failing.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
On a point of Order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? When the right hon. Gentleman has made his reply to this Debate is it the intention that the Debate should be carried on or will that conclude the Debate?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think a question of Order arises, but, in fact, under the Standing Orders of the House it will be necessary to put all the outstanding Votes at 9.30, and there will then be no opportunity for any other speeches.
§ Mr. Granville
May I call your attention to the fact, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the preceding Debate was to have stopped at 6.30 to allow this one to begin, but that this one did not begin until 7.0? This is a vital Debate on agriculture. We may be indulging in communal feeding inside two years—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat at once. He disobeyed my order, and he did not sit down when I rose. If he had not now done so, I should have had no alternative but to order him to withdraw from the Chamber. The Standing Orders provide that all outstanding Votes must be put at 9.30, and the Chair has no option but to put those Questions.
§ 9.6 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I have listened with all my usual interest to this Debate, but with much more than my usual amazement at some of the statements that have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, all of which I hope to be able to reply to later. Certainly, much of the thinking that has gone towards these proposals, and of the criticisms by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) is wide of the mark.
I should like to explain for the benefit of hon. Members opposite what the expansion programme really is, for it seems to me that, although it is two years since the programme started, hon. Members Opposite still know nothing at all about it. In the Conservative Party statement, "The Right Road for Britain," which, I feel, will never be regarded as a classic, there is certainly one statement with which I positively agree. It appears on page 30, and is:British agriculture should produce at least half as much again as it did just before the war.That statement is neither novel nor original. I announced in 1947, when I set out the various targets, that the figures represented an increase in production of 50 per cent. on pre-war production. That is what we thought, and now the Opposition are taking to themselves this idea. It is to their credit, at least, that they are only two years behind, for they are usually 22 years behind.
The object of the expansion programme was to enable us to produce from our own soil food which would not be available abroad, or if available, for which we could not pay, particularly where dollars were concerned. The methods we outlined to achieve a 50 per cent. higher output were to maintain a high level of production of crops for human consumption such as wheat, potatoes, sugar beet; a wide extension of livestock; 20 per cent. increase in milk; 30 per cent. increase in eggs; 10 per cent. in beef and veal. Those are percentages over pre-war levels. They are much bigger increases over the figures for 1946 to 1947, except in the case of milk. We also set out to aim at a large increase in pig meat, mutton and lamb. We did not, however, expect to achieve all these targets before 1952 or 1953, unless in the case of milk. Those are still our targets, and wherever they can be exceeded they will be.
However, we cannot rely upon the unlimited supplies of feedingstuffs which were available to us before the war. Indeed, then we were able to import 6,000,000 tons every year, to which were added 3,000,000 tons of home grown 2593 grain and nearly 3,000,000 tons of milling offals, and so forth; a total altogether of approximately 12 million tons. The byproducts are still available, but on a lower scale, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) stated in his observations.
Imported feedingstuffs are much more precarious than before the war. There is little likelihood of dollars being available in 1952 and later years for maize from North America. Oilcakes and rice bran from India and Burma have fallen off, and there is no assurance that that situation is open to recovery. We are still getting supplies from the Argentine and elsewhere, but even in the Argentine the production of maize is much less than it was pre-war, and no one can tell what supplies will come from non-dollar countries in future years. I shall reply later to the figures given by the hon. Baronet, which are, as usual, a fantasy, as I shall be able to show. We must never forget that we are not the only country requiring feedingstuffs who will perhaps have no dollars to pay for them. There will therefore be other competitors, in the non-dollar markets.
Those, briefly, are the reasons why we felt that our supplies of imported feedingstuffs were not certain—I put it no higher than that—to exceed 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of the pre-war volume. Certainly no one can at this date foresee what supplies may be three or four years ahead. Although there may be supplies in North America it is not easy for me, or indeed for anyone else, to see just how we are going to pay for them. If the shop is full of goods it is of little or no use to people who have no money in their pockets.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite, with that wild spirit of abandon that they display when they are in opposition, say that they would jump in now with Marshall dollars and buy more feedingstuffs. Apparently they do not even yet appreciate that Marshall dollars are provided on a fixed quantity each year, and possibly on a diminishing scale. Therefore, to use Marshall dollars for feedingstuffs—and the figures mentioned by the hon. Baronet almost staggered me—we shall certainly have to reduce our imports of something else, and I should like to ask 2594 the Opposition what essential imports they would reduce. Cotton? Would they put our textile industry in Lancashire in difficulties?
If the figure mentioned by the hon. Baronet were acted upon, it would cut off from the United Kingdom 50 per cent. of all the food, drink, tobacco and raw materials imported from the U.S.A. in 1948. If the Opposition are willing to cut off 50 per cent. of the whole of our raw materials, which would mean our industries closing down, then they ought to stand up on the platform and tell the world that they actually mean that. If they do not mean that, then all these statements about spending dollars on feedingstuffs are so much moonshine, and unworthy of hon. Members of this House.
Our realistic aim is to increase livestock production as rapidly as we can with home grown feedingstuffs, supplemented by imports to the maximum we can afford to buy. It is because our only certain supplies when imports come to an end are those produced at home that I recently found it necessary to draw farmers' attention once more to the fact that in their own interests, as well as in the interests of the nation, they should grow more feedingstuffs for pigs and poultry, and conserve more grass for winter feeding of cattle and sheep, thereby releasing still more concentrates for pigs and poultry.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order! The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that he is not entitled to rise and speak unless the right hon. Gentleman in possession of the House gives way.
§ Mr. Granville
Although the right hon. Gentleman has not much time, I thank him for giving way so that I may ask him a simple question—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order! The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. If he will forgive my saying so, his real complaint is that he has not been called. That is unfortunate, but Mr. Speaker has exercised his discretion, and there were a great number of Members who wished to speak. The right hon. Gentleman only gave way when I rose. I do not know whether or not he desires to give way to the hon. Gentleman. Mr. Williams.
§ Colonel Dower
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the Minister constantly to ask questions of Members on the Opposition Front Bench and then to give them no opportunity to reply?
It seems to me that apparently I am not now to be allowed to reply to this Debate which has been going on for two hours.
§ Mr. Granville
—been fortunate enough to catch your eye. That has never been my complaint, although I have sat through the whole of this Debate.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. Unless the hon. Member resumes his seat when I rise I have no alternative but to direct him to leave the Chamber. If the hon. Member has a point of Order, and it is a point of Order, I will hear him. Mr. Granville.
§ Mr. Granville
My point of Order is that this Debate has been robbed of 25 minutes by the preceding Debate.
I am sorry that the hon. Member was not called to speak, but he really ought not to do his best to prevent me from replying to the Debate.
I hope the hon. Member will not spoil my chance of giving a reply.
Members opposite have on several occasions referred to the policy adopted by European countries using Marshall Aid to build up their livestock. Looking at the July Bulletin of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, entitled "Food and Agriculture Statistics," we find that the export of maize from the Argentine and the U.S.A. for 1948 is 2,700,000 tons, and that more than half came to the United Kingdom. We find that Holland received 230,000 tons, France 188,000 tons, Belgium 126,000 tons and Denmark 9,000 tons, whereas the United Kingdom received nearly 1½ million tons. No Member opposite has given us credit for what we have achieved. I ask Members opposite to test these figures for themselves and if they find they are right, as I fear they will, to withdraw the wild and misleading statements which they have been making for many months.
We have to remember that although these countries are using Marshall Aid to buy their feedingstuffs, they do not have to import the raw material we have to import to keep their industries going. In any case, we have obtained very large quantities of feedingstuffs from non-dollar sources. What the position of these other countries may be at the end of Marshall Aid is their business and not ours. It is certainly not our policy to run the risk of having to slaughter our livestock two or three years hence because we have made a muddle of things now.
I am glad of this opportunity to reply to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) and to the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) and correct the many false notions they have about feedingstuffs. The hon. Member for Newbury referred on 18th July to the ration of pigs and poultry when he was less than fair to us—there was far too much politics and too little accuracy. 2597 The hon. Baronet fell into the same error. He said that the ration for pigs was little more than one-fifth of the pre-war quantity, but he made no reference to my announcement on 19th May which gave a further half million tons of feedingstuffs for pigs.
As a result of that announcement, from September next there will be one and a half million tons of feedingstuffs exclusively for pigs, compared with 400,000 tons in 1948 and one million tons this year. That is a very steep increase for which the hon. Member for Newbury gave us no credit at all. The hon. Gentleman knew the facts just as well as I know them.
With the basic ration calculated on 9/40ths of the pre-war registrations, and the amount required for the treble bonus scheme and the extended scheme, the quantity we are allocating is equivalent to at least one-third of prewar registrations. That is apart altogether from any allowance for farrowing sows, pig clubs and domestic pig keepers. The hon. Member said I had been treated badly by my Cabinet colleagues, and had not been given a chance to help farmers improve their livelihood. The old story, "The Minister is not a bad fellow, but he keeps bad company," might go down all right with some Tory audiences and keep the fading embers of doubting Toryism alive, though not for long, but the fact is that these results could not have been achieved without the assistance of my colleagues.
The total amount of feedingstuffs distributed by ration for 1946–47 was 2.7 million tons. The quantity we propose to distribute during 1949–50 is no less than 6 million tons. The effect of this will be that the feedingstuffs issue of rations, together with unrationed concentrates such as the grain which the farmer is allowed to keep on his farm—oats, linseed etc.—amounting to another 4 million tons, will be 10 million tons for 1949–50 compared with 12 million tons pre-war. The hon. Gentleman talked about the one-fifth being about 20 per cent. of the pre-war figure, but the fact is that the amount being allocated is more than 80 per cent. of the pre-war figure. It seems as though the hon. Baronet the Member 2598 for Richmond and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) want to reduce the amount of feedingstuffs available to nil. I hope they will make a mental note of these figures and, when they go back to their constituencies, will talk no more about one-fifth or 20 per cent. but about 80 per cent. or more of pre-war feedingstuffs being available—
The figures are unchallengeable. These improvements are due to the successful conclusion of the agreement with Argentina, and reasonable prospects of supplies from non-dollar countries.
§ Mr. Turton
The right hon. Gentleman challenged some figures which I gave, and now when I want to controvert what he said he will not give way, Mr. Speaker. Is that in Order?
§ Mr. Speaker
Certainly. The right hon. Gentleman is in possession of the House and need not give way.
It may not be pleasant for Members opposite to listen to my reply, but they will have to listen to as much of it as I can give them in the time available. The agreement with Argentina, with reasonable prospects of supplies from other non-dollar sources, will not only enable us to carry out the improvements I have mentioned, but will enable us to take two other steps which, I am sure, will startle and distress the Opposition. Hitherto, no regular ration has been made for calves over the age of six months. We have had advice from all quarters that the absence of this provision leaves a serious gap, and I am able to announce to the House that a ration will be provided for calves over six months during the winter period beginning 1st October next. I wish to make it quite clear, however, that I can give no promise of a repetition during the following winter, or that any dollars will be involved in this arrangement.
A further non-recurring measure will be taken almost immediately. It is customary 2599 to issue rations for cows and heifers which calve down in October and November as a sort of steaming up allowance. On this occasion we are giving an additional ration of one cwt. of cereal for each animal concerned. This ration is very much needed, because of the drying up of our pastures during the hot weather.
Having announced these improvements, which may very well prove to be only temporary, I want to emphasise what I said to the N.F.U. last week and in my broadcast statement, that it would be rash for us to count on an annual supply of rationed feedingstuffs at the level I have already mentioned, or at least an expanding supply sufficient to maintain our livestock population. We are convinced, in fact, that it is reasonably certain that we shall have to require a higher degree of self-sufficiency for dairy cows for rationing purposes from 1st October, 1950. There are some problem areas which need special treatment, and we shall be working on that in consultation with the various organisations concerned as to the most practical method of giving effective aid to those special areas.
We believe it is perfectly feasible to keep up the output of milk by increased use of home feedingstuffs, especially grass and fodder crops, thereby releasing coarse grains to maintain other rations. I am making this announcement in order to give dairy farmers good warning so that they can make their cropping plans for 1950 with the provision of protein feedingstuffs, such as silage and dried grass well in view. If they use hay, silage and dried grass for the maintenance of the first gallon of milk in winter it would release large quantities of oilcakes and cereal foods for pigs and poultry.
Side by side with this expansion we must continue to press for more wheat acreage notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for Newbury on 18th July and by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton this evening. An amount of 2¾ million acres is not beyond our capacity without unduly unbalancing the industry at all. As a matter of fact, in 1943 we had 3,600,000 acres and in 1944 3,350,000 acres. We would not aim at 2600 that figure today, but all the expert advice I get is to the effect that we can touch that target by 1952 without unduly unbalancing the agriculture of this country.
I notice that my time is nearly up, and there are some questions to which I simply cannot reply. All I would say is that so far as the hill farming and marginal land schemes are concerned we have no reason to doubt that the total of £4 million set apart under the Hill Farming Act for this purpose will be taken up before that Act expires. The marginal land scheme is on the small side, but should either or both be found to be not sufficient for their needs, then the Government will be ready to look at both schemes again.
I hope I have said enough to compel hon. Members to change their propaganda, and instead of talking about one-fifth of the ration or 20 per cent. pre-war they will write down in their notebooks 80 to 85 per cent., and if hon. Members opposite try to uphold and maintain the honourable tradition of the Tory Party for truth, rural Britain will stand by its saviour the Labour Government.
§ It being Half-past Nine o'Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Business of Supply) to put forthwith the Questions, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to IX of the Civil Estimates and of the Revenue Departments Estimates, the Ministry of Defence Estimate, the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates and the Air Estimates.
§ [For details of the remaining Resolutions, see OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1949; Vol. 467, cc. 2371–2378.]