Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum not exceeding £20, be granted to His Majesty towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Marginal Agricultural Land for the year ending on the 31st March, 1950, namely:
|Class VI, Vote 8, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries||10|
|Class VI, Vote 9, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Food Production Services)||10|
§ —[Mr. Glenvil Hall.]
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)
My right hon. and hon. Friends have put down this Vote for discussion today because the solution of the problem of securing increased meat from the marginal land of this country appears to be the most effective way by which the soil of Great Britain can make a major contribution to the present woefully inadequate meat ration of our people. We are sorry that the Minister of Agriculture cannot be in his place to hear the discussion. We appreciate full well the reasons for his absence and we are glad to have the Joint Parliamentary Secretary here. I propose to deal with the subject in two parts, first by examining the provisions of the recent order No. 536, which is entitled "The Agricultural Goods and Services (Marginal Production) Scheme (England and Wales), 1949," and then to review the whole position and future possibilities of increasing production from marginal land.
The order has been made and laid before Parliament under powers given to the Minister of Agriculture by Section 103 of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1947. On this side of the Committee we look upon this scheme as merely an extension of the goods and services scheme which was originally introduced during the war and which has been extended by a Statutory Instrument ever 2122 since. The purpose of the scheme, and of other schemes of this nature, has been to assist certain farmers by authorising the remission of part of the charges which would otherwise be made in respect of goods and services supplied or ordered by their county agricultural committees.
The first point to which I would direct attention is that the scheme applies only to occupiers. Applications invoking the assistance of the scheme may not be made by owners. Owner-occupiers may use the scheme only for such goods and services as are required by them in their capacity as occupiers. We believe that the omission of owners from the provisions of the order limits the usefulness of the scheme to such an extent as virtually to make it of very little value.
In this connection I would, in passing, give one example, namely roads. One of the great problems in marginal land is the improvement and the location of roads. They do not come into the order at all because they are looked upon as the responsibility of the owner, as capital development. I think the Committee will agree that that is one of the most important pieces of work that must be done in areas where there is marginal land. The Committee may fall back upon the argument that perhaps the Minister would not be entitled, under Section 103, to provide for such services, but the Act clearly lays down provisions relating to the management of land; so that owners could have been included in the order if the Minister of Agriculture had so wished.
Turning from a major criticism of the order—I hope the Committee will agree that it is a major criticism—I come now to some details of its provisions. I refer first to paragraph 7 which limits to special circumstances, according to the discretion of the Minister, such services as bush clearing and reclamation of derelict land. Those services cannot be authorised for county committees unless the Minister so directs, and they shall not be supplied at less than normal charges. We consider that this is a very grievous mistake, as those two services are the most important of those to be carried out under the order and are, incidentally, by far the most difficult economically for the farmers to carry out. We believe that there again is a big gap in the order.
2123 When it comes to the administrative provisions of the order I would direct the attention of the Committee to paragraph 5, "Conditions of eligibility." Subparagraph (3) lays down conditions of assistance which are so involved as to be quite impracticable for county agricultural committees to administer. To quote one passage:the Minister or the Committee shall have been satisfied … that the operations covered by the programme would be uneconomic on the unit in question for the time being, and that other necessary operations on it might be prejudiced by the execution of the programme at normal charges;How can county committees and farmers make progress with schemes under this order when such a condition is included? It is extremely difficult for county committees who are versed in these matters, but quite impossible for the average farmer to understand. I hope that the Minister will explain to the Committee exactly what is intended by these words and, indeed, that he will go much further and review the history of what has been accomplished under the various orders dealing with marginal production. For example, how much assistance has been approved to farmers under the orders and, perhaps most important, how many counties have taken advantage of the orders and operated them in recent years before this one was introduced.
That brings me to the question of finance. The Minister of Agriculture, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) last week informed the House that the amount of money available under this order would be £300,000 per annum. I hope the Minister will inform the Committee how he proposes to apportion this sum to the various county committees, as it would appear to us on this side of the Committee to be quite inadequate. The Minister will, no doubt, by now have had an opportunity of studying the report of the Exmoor survey, carried out by the Somerset county branch of the National Farmers' Union. He will agree, I think, that this survey is a most valuable contribution to the problems we are discussing today. It deals with only 80,000 acres, but Exmoor is typical of many other areas.
In dealing with finance the report states definitely that this sum is far from sufficient, as follows: 2124The Exchequer grant of £300,000 under the new Agricultural Goods and Services (Marginal Production) Scheme is quite inadequate as an impetus to production in view of the circumstances disclosed in a recent economic survey referred to. It amounts to about 4½d. an acre.I have tried to assess where the figure of 4½d. an acre is derived from, and I think it has been taken from Professor Dudley Stamp's Land Utilisation Survey of 1948 in which he assessed the position to be that there are 20 million acres of marginal land, mainly enclosed—that is the kind of land with which we are dealing this afternoon—and 4½ million acres of mountain and moorland.
So it would appear that under this order the assistance which is to be given to the marginal land producers is in the neighbourhood of 4½d. an acre, which the Committee will agree will not meet the case submitted to the Government today. I hope that in this part of my remarks I have said enough to convince the Committee that an entirely new approach to the question is required and that this order, which does nothing more than perpetuate the goods and services schemes, is merely toying with the problem facing us at present.
Now I turn to the problem in its wider aspect because my hon. Friends hold the view strongly that there is an urgent need for a constructive and bold policy for the rehabilitation of marginal land farms. We believe that this should be a permanent national requirement, not a temporary expedient, and upon that hangs the future of our marginal land. I said in my opening remarks that we believe it is from marginal land that we can make the greatest additional contribution to the meat ration of our people. Also it must be appreciated, as is brought out so clearly in the Exmoor survey, that there is within the agricultural industry a depressed section of good farmers on marginal land, and it must be one of our primary purposes to restore the profitability of these areas, thereby creating the inducement to develop them.
In this process I believe the first and most important field which we must attack is that of essential capital expenditure. The Committee will want to know in what way capital expenditure should be incurred. I shall suggest a few examples: drainage schemes, farm roads, farm buildings, adequate water supplies—it is no good increasing the cattle and 2125 sheep population if there are not adequate water supplies—fencing and walling, reclamation of derelict land, which would include bracken cutting. A decision must be taken by the Government on these matters and a lead must be given by them before they advance from their present static position on the important question of milk versus meat. This is particularly important as far as farm buildings are concerned.
Last year all records in milk production were broken with a total of 1,426 million gallons. This is no less than 182 million gallons more than in 1937—a large increase. So I think the Committee will agree that this overall position is satisfactory, and we hope that it will continue. Within this large total there is no doubt that there are many small hill and marginal land farmers who have been saved by guaranteed prices and assured markets. Yet, on the other side of the picture, if meat production has to be increased, and it must be from two national points of view—both to achieve a properly balanced agricultural industry and to reestablish the Sunday joint on the dinner tables of our people—it is primarily to the marginal and hill farms that we have to look for an increase in the cattle and sheep population.
I think it will be agreed on both sides of the Committee that cattle and sheep can graze on the same pastures, as they are complementary one to the other, and eat different grasses. A good example of that is what has been accomplished by my hon. Friend the Member for Kinross (Mr. Snadden), who is unable to be in his place this afternoon. He and his partner, by embarking on a large capital improvement scheme in the Highlands, have not only successfully re-introduced cattle to that area, but at the same time have considerably increased the number of sheep which can be grazed per acre on the same farm. To do that he had to set up a very big scheme of capital development, involving roads and drainage, and followed it up by re-seeding and grass conservation.
If that kind of scheme were extended to many other parts of the country, in a very short time we should see a big increase in our animal population, both of cattle and sheep on marginal land. Professor Ellison, who the Committee will agree is a great authority on these 2126 matters, has estimated that marginal land could provide 250,000 more store cattle per improved million acres per year, which would eventually turn into an increase of between 12 per cent. and 15 per cent. of the home produced meat ration. The sheep population could be rapidly increased at the same time.
That brings me back to those who have built up small dairy herds on marginal land. I suggest that scheme should be created for collecting cream from those farms and thus performing a twofold purpose by guaranteeing to those who have gone into milk production the sale of their milk in cream and once again giving the British public a taste for pure fresh cream which they been so long denied. If such schemes were introduced, that would further encourage beef production through an increase in the number of calves which could be reared from the skimmed milk thus made available. I notice that the Exmoor survey make this suggestion in a slightly different form. I hope the Minister will definitely tell the Committee that his Department are in favour of these suggestions and intend to do all that is possible to encourage the bias towards meat production from marginal land.
So far I have referred to upland districts, but marginal land is not confined to those areas; it can be found in practically every county in the British Isles. I have had brought to my notice a scheme in Hampshire where in the course of one year 170 acres of scrubland has been reclaimed by the work of three men with modern equipment and is now growing a good crop of wheat. I suggest that this could be multiplied a hundredfold in different parts of the country. When the capital development has been provided, much can be done to increase fertility and in this field I believe direct re-seeding is the solution in many areas and most certainly good grassland management is in all cases absolutely essential.
I hope I have said enough to convince the Government that they should take back their Order 536, and introduce bolder and more extensive measures to deal with this problem. I suggest that the quickest way to achieve this would be to——
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I think that would be the worst way; we should get no further forward, but would produce less meat for the people of this country. The quickest way would be to amend the Hill Farming Act, 1946, to include marginal land. During the passage of that Bill through the House my hon. Friends urged the Minister to take this course.
§ The Chairman
The hon. and gallant Baronet will permit me to say that we are not allowed to discuss questions of legislation. He may mention the matter in passing, but I hope he will not go into it in detail.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I was only mentioning it in passing as an example of the simplest way the Government could introduce a practical scheme to deal with this problem. I think I shall be in Order, without saying anything more about the amendment of that Act, if I refer to what the Minister of Agriculture said during the Second Reading of the Measure on 3rd June, 1946. The Minister said:the problem of marginal land farms is really one for long-term policy, and not one for this rather temporary Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 1722.]Three years have passed since the Minister used those words and we still have no long-term policy. Even in the area covered by the Hill Farming Act very little has been accomplished as far as I can gather in my wanderings about the country.
In all these matters the Government have always seemed to take action too late to be effective for our needs. We follow the usual procedure—I am not grumbling at the Minister of Agriculture in this matter—my hon. Friends make a suggestion in this House or outside and a long period elapses. We press our suggestion and, after that, the Minister somehow convinces the remaining members of the Government to do something. Then something gets done, but it is too little and too late, with the result that we have the meat ration as it is today.
As an example, take the calf rearing subsidy. We have different ideas in the Committee as to exactly what the subsidy should be, but we are all agreed that that scheme has done a considerable amount to increase stores on marginal land. But it was introduced two years too late. If it had been introduced two years earlier, we should have had more cattle in this 2128 country today and they would have been maturing and rapidly becoming beef. The same could be said in regard to pigs and poultry. On this side of the Committee we pressed and continue to press for more feedingstuffs. Is it not true that if the Government had been prepared to spend the amount of dollars they are spending this year on pork, 18 months ago on feedingstuffs, our problem of bacon, pigmeat and pork would not be nearly as critical as it is at the moment?
The Minister now has the chance of introducing a comprehensive scheme to deal with production from marginal land. He has had the "all clear" from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In his speech at the annual dinner of the National Farmers' Union this year, when referring to the problem of marginal land, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:The problem of marginal land of all sorts is a great problem in national production and in this exceptional case the Government have decided that special ad hoc assistance must be continued.Is this miserable little order the result of that lead given by the Chancellor? Those words give the Minister of Agriculture his chance. How much better would have been the position today if even a small proportion of the money spent on the groundnuts scheme in East Africa had been devoted to improving our marginal land. By now, this money would have yielded a good return in increased production of meat. I urge the Minister to delay no longer, but to take action on the lines I have suggested on behalf of my hon. Friends and go forward with a bold scheme to deal with the problem.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) ended a speech which we all enjoyed with some brave words which will look good as the prologue—or epilogue—to the next edition of the Conservative Party's agricultural charter. I was a little puzzled when he spoke of his wanderings about the country and said that he had seen very little accomplished. He must have been wandering——
§ Mr. Brown
I am glad to have had that retreat. If we pursue him, we may get a little more retreat, as we did from someone else who got as far as Derby and retreated. If he kept his eyes open when looking through train windows, he would find that more has been done than he was inclined to say. I was amazed to hear him say that his hon. Friends pressed us on the matter of developing home agriculture and that we followed. He said that some of the things we did were two years too late. We all know him for a very modest and likeable chap, and I think that what he meant was 20 years too late—and that is the tragedy. We are doing our best to catch up as quickly as we are able to do. My right hon. Friend, who is unable to be here today, is performing a very useful function for agriculture in the country. If he were in the usual possession of his voice, he would be here taking part in this Debate, and he is very sorry he is not able to do so.
On the general theme of the speech of the hon. and gallant Baronet there will be no disagreement. Clearly, the vital need to increase meat supplies is one on which we all agree. That necessarily means that we must face the fact that to get substantial and significant increases involves making the fullest possible use of our marginal land and, indeed, of all agricultural land in the country. Since we have been doing so much work in increasing intensity of production on all our good land, it means we are forced back on to marginal land to get the increased home meat production of which the hon. and gallant Member spoke. It is difficult to say with any certainty either what the cost of developing marginal land will be, or the results which will accrue from that development. Marginal land is not something which is static. The cost of bringing it into production and the results which accrue from that policy differ very widely.
Any survey which was undertaken with a view to showing what the national picture is would be extremely costly, very impracticable and rather misleading, because the information would be so diverse. On the other hand, there are various surveys, the work of our county committees, and what is being done by people like Professor Ellison. Through these surveys we have built up a fairly large store of knowledge of what needs 2130 to be done, and what the results might be of embarking on that work. We are doing what we can through our Agricultural Advisory Service; in East Lancashire, especially, where there is a particular problem, we are obtaining an experimental farm with a chain of selected small farms with a view to learning ourselves what is the best kind of practice and then demonstrating it to others.
The hon. and gallant Baronet referred to a number of things that need to be done—capital works, as he called them—if we are to get ahead with this job. Most of the things he mentioned, however, are covered by Government assistance. At one point of his speech I thought the hon. and gallant Baronet rather misled himself. He spoke mainly about Order No. 536—the Marginal Production Order. But that is not the only means of Government assistance towards marginal land production, or even the most important scheme of assistance. Most of the things which he mentioned—drainage, water supply, farm roads, farm buildings, fencing, walling and land reclamation—are able to attract Government assistance under one or other of the various schemes which we have formulated.
I think it might be useful if, with the Committee, I were to go through the wide range of things that we are doing and by means of which assistance is available towards getting our marginal lands into better shape and increasing our food supply. As I have said, there are many other schemes, some more important than the Marginal Production Order, which is not the miserable little order which it was described as being by the hon. Baronet. It is not so much money that is the limiting factor in these matters; it is very much a question of balancing all the available resources we have—labour, machines, etc.—and using them where they will achieve the best results.
A good deal of pressure has been put upon us, quite rightly, to ensure, under our agricultural expansion programme that we should do all we could to help the small farmer who was being pressed to farm in a way in which he would not farm normally and traditionally. But to some considerable extent we have had to balance the use of our available labour, over and above the direct employees in the industry, and the use of 2131 our available machines. Even if we voted all the money in the United Kingdom it would not have made it any easier to divert labour and resources from assisting those who could do an immediate job, and have done it very well, and put them to the assistance of lands where the farmer, because of his background, was not himself immediately prepared to get on with the job. As machines come into the industry and the farmer becomes more used to the new techniques the picture begins to change. To that extent we are able more easily to turn our attention to longer-term projects without suffering any grave handicap to our immediate production. During the last two or three years we have been faced with that situation, and the picture is changing today because of the way in which the industry is beginning to invest in capital development itself.
When looking at the general picture of what we are doing to assist marginal land production I think the most important thing to remember is the assistance given to the hill farmer. A large proportion of our marginal land is on the hills and uplands. The De La Warr Committee estimated that there were some five million acres in that category when they were considering the matter before 1944, when they reported. In Scotland, I am told, the area is twice as much. Clearly, therefore, this is the great bulk of marginal land. In 1946, the Hill Farming Act was passed, which divides assistance into a number of categories. First, it maintains the principle of paying subsidies to those hill farmers who maintain hardy sheep and hardy cattle on the hills in accordance with good hill farming practice. Its main purpose is to ensure to them a reasonable stability in their income from sheep, and to encourage them to adopt and extend the practice of running hardy cattle, particularly breeding cows, up on the hills and thereby increase their income
There are two other important byproducts. In the first place, the Act seeks to improve the upland pastures and increase the supply of store cattle for the lowlands, which is of a special importance at this time of meat shortage. Second, by offering summer grazing for agisted cattle from the lowlands it has greatly decreased the strain on the dairy farmer, and has enabled him to 2132 make greater use of summer grazing for direct milk production. The subsidies payable in that way have been of enormous value, and have helped a great deal. The Act did not break new ground altogether; it merely placed on a legislative basis what had been going on previously. But where it did break ground was by giving a real stimulus to the long-term rehabilitation of hill farms, so that they could be turned into economic enterprises.
The hon. and gallant baronet spoke about certain conditions in the order, to which I shall refer before I sit down. We must bear in mind that the aim of this scheme is not to find a new way of paying out money to the industry other than through the price structure. It is to turn the hill farms, the marginal land, into economic productive enterprises. There is no point in having any scheme of assistance which does not achieve that object. Under the second part of the Hill Farming Act the Exchequer may give grants equal to half the cost of schemes of rehabilitation and improvement on hill farms. Here, of course, the grants are available to any landowner or tenant, or groups of landowners and tenants, who submit schemes which the Minister is able to approve as adequate for the purpose of rehabilitating the land.
There is a very wide range—some 23 or more—of items of rehabilitation and improvement which can form the basis of these schemes. Improvements of this kind are not limited only to land that is defined under the Act as hill farming land. They may embrace any other land which is run in conjunction with the hill farm. There may be a good deal of ordinary marginal land which will get assistance under the Act because it is land being run in conjunction with the hill farm land. Schemes can cover new buildings, improvements to buildings and improvements on marginal land farmed in direct association with real hill land. Exchequer grants under this Act, as the Committee will know, may amount to £4 million in the period during which the Act is alive, and with the approval of the House we may ask for an additional £1 million, to bring the total up to £5 million. We must not, however, be misled by the figures £4 million or £5 million, since they are Exchequer grants of half the total cost. The expenditure of the 2133 Exchequer's money will mean that the country is investing £8 million and possibly £10 million in the rehabilitation and improvement of the important marginal lands on our hills.
May I give a short progress report of what we have done? These schemes are complicated; they take time to prepare, submit and check. It is most important that the taxpayer should get value for money, and that the schemes that are submitted are comprehensive and will achieve the ultimate rehabilitation of the hill farm. So far, the Act has run about half its course, but that is not to say that half the period during which the money is to be spent has run. A lot of schemes will be delayed action schemes. Up to the end of April of this year, the estimated cost of works, including improvement schemes in the United Kingdom either approved by us or under consideration, amounted to £4½ million, divided approximately equally between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other. At 30th April, out of 1,891 schemes which have been put up for consideration in England and Wales alone, work was going on in no fewer than 700 cases, which will cost a total of rather more than £800,000. Therefore, work was actually proceeding in very nearly half the total number of proposals put up for consideration, and the total value of schemes which have been put up for England and Wales is very nearly a half of the total—£2 million.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)
Does the hon. Gentleman mean £4,500,000 of Government money or does that relate to both sides—the Government and the industry?
§ Mr. Brown
Roughly a half from the Government. It is quite obvious from these figures and the fact that we are only half way through, and that the rate at which schemes are now coming forward is half as high again this year as it was last year, that the time taken to prepare the schemes is being caught up. We shall probably need to come back to the House for the additional £1 million; we shall use up all the money that was attracted under the original Act.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary talks of £800,000. Is that the cost of the scheme and not the Government's share?
§ Mr. Brown
It is the cost of those schemes on which work is proceeding. The £4,500,000 is the total cost of all the schemes which we have as yet received. The Government will pay something of the order of 50 per cent. of that.
I would refer to the Exmoor Survey and the comments which the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond made on that point. He used the somewhat amusing figure of 4½d. per acre mentioned in the Survey, which has been out about a week or so; there has not been much time for any of us to go into it. It is clear from what the hon. and gallant Member said that that figure is arrived at by paying attention only to the £300,000 for the Marginal Production Order. Much of Exmoor will come not under that but within the definition of hill farming. I shall give some rather significant figures about Exmoor. We have received 50 schemes covering 26,000 acres of Exmoor—well over a quarter of the total area—the total estimated cost being £90,000. That is additional to the £300,000 to which the Survey referred. A much higher proportion of the area is already covered by schemes which have been put up for improving Exmoor than is covered by schemes which we have received from any other hill-farming area of England. Work is proceeding on a number of these schemes.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary now add anything to the reply which I received from the Minister to a Question on 31st January last? How many of these schemes in Exmoor have received approval for work to start?
§ Mr. Brown
The difficulty I have in answering that question is that work does not proceed only after the scheme has received final approval. In the first place we receive a scheme in principle, without 2135 details. It is then sent back for the compiling of a detailed scheme, which has then to be forwarded and considered in detail. We may give authority for work to proceed in advance of the final approval I cannot tell the hon. and gallant Member how many schemes have been finally approved, but work is now proceeding on rather more than 13.
§ Brigadier Peto
The answer which I received on 31st January was that in no case had work been started at that time on any scheme which had been submitted, so that what the hon. Gentleman now says shows an improvement.
§ Mr. Brown
The point I am making is that a good deal of work is obviously being done on Exmoor quite apart from the marginal land scheme, and a figure of 4½d. per acre is a little unfair and unreal. The total figure which we anticipate spending on hill farming up to 1951 will run into several millions. There will, in addition, be £900,000 provided in the next three years under the Marginal Production Order. If these are added together and all the other forms of assistance—drainage, liming, water, etc.—are ignored, we have a figure much nearer 11s. or 12S. per acre than the 4½d. mentioned in the Survey, with which the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond amused himself.
The Committee may like to know the sort of improvements which have been included in the improvement schemes to which I have been referring, and the approximate cost under principal headings. Out of rather more than £2 million in England and Wales, farm buildings schemes which we have so far received account for over £400,000, farm houses and cottages for rather more than £300,000, improvements to permanent pasture—manuring and re-seeding and things of that kind—£300,000, fencing rather more than £200,000 and roads rather more than £150,000. It should be remembered that I am speaking about schemes which have been submitted only up to the half way mark and before the upsurge has arrived. Water supply, drainage and electricity each account for about £100,000. Both water supply and drainage attract grant under different arrangements as well as under the scheme to which I am now referring.
2136 The total Government contribution towards costs both on hill and upland farms will therefore be considerably in excess of the figure which I have given.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
What has been the expenditure on cottages?
§ Mr. Brown
The remaining chief items are liming, shelter belts—vitally important in some of these areas—and the provision of sheep dipping accommodation, each of which has accounted for about £50,000 in the schemes so far received. I understand that in Scotland the total sum is about the same but the distribution between the various items is rather different.
The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, who I hope will bear in mind the enormous amount of work that is being done, pointed out that outside the scope of that scheme there are marginal lands which cannot qualify under the Hill Farming Act. It is to them that the other Order, No. 536, is directed. It is to meet the needs of farms of this sort that the marginal production scheme was devised. This scheme is not new in principle. It continues, as it were, a scheme which was in existence, which was based on the authority of annual Appropriation Acts. This new scheme began on 1st April as an agricultural goods and services scheme under Section 103 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, and goes a good deal wider than anything we had in this direction previously.
One reason why I was disappointed by what the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond said was because he seemed to talk as though we were doing something very limited when in fact we are going a good deal wider than hitherto. He asked me what would be the increase in expenditure. In the previous year expenditure was at the rate of £50,000 to £60,000 annually whereas under this scheme expenditure is expected to be of the order of £300,000 a year, something like a six-fold increase when compared with the previous 2137 arrangement. I must emphasise that this scheme is only one of several measures directed to raising the productivity of marginal land, and we shall be unable to do justice to what is being done as a whole unless we set the scheme in its proper perspective among the other schemes.
The hon. and gallant Member criticised the fact that the sort of work which one would expect the landlord to do is excluded from the scheme. Whatever sum of money is available its total imposes a limitation. With £300,000 per annum available for England and Wales the assistance under this scheme must of necessity be rather more limited than that given under the Hill Farming Act. We have thought it right, in order to secure the utmost benefit, to exclude from the operation of the scheme landowners' works which could normally be required of them. Semi-capital and expensive works like farm roads, clay marling and any land reclamation which exceeds a field or two, in other words big schemes of reclamation, are not included in this scheme. The object of the scheme is to use the sum available to the best advantage. We believe that the best way to do this is to concentrate on such things as improving crop husbandry by encouraging the use of fertilisers, lime sprays, etc. One does not wish to say anything to hurt anyone's feelings but with the kind of farmers generally found on marginal land that is probably the way to get the biggest immediate improvement.
Under this scheme my right hon. Friend is authorised to approve the supply of goods and services at less than normal charges. It may be that the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond was misled when referring to paragraph 7, which says that except at the Minister's discretion certain things shall not be supplied at less than normal charges. That is merely because those things can be very expensive and could run away with a large part of the £300,000. Everything can be supplied under the scheme at less than normal charges but before those goods and services referred to are supplied, the matter must be referred to the Minister. It does not mean that they are excluded, but because of the abnormally high cost we wish to look at their provision in relation to other goods and services and not to spend all the money on expensive goods which give a limited 2138 amount of benefit when the money could be used to better advantage. A wide field is covered by both goods and services and the main conditions of eligibility are that the programme for which assistance is sought shall be calculated to increase or maintain food output, and that a grant is necessary because the operations covered by the programme would for the time being be uneconomic.
The hon. Member asked about paragraph 5 (3). Obviously some watch must be kept. The rate of grant is usually 50 per cent. and most of these farmers will be able to obtain the rest of the remaining 50 per cent. on credit terms. A considerable amount of work can be done by the small farmer even on these, amounts.
I wish to say a few words about the differences between this scheme and previous practice. We expect an expenditure of £300,000 a year in England and Wales as against £50,000 hitherto. The second fact, which I rate highly, is that committees under the old scheme had no discretion, but had to send every scheme to the Ministry. We have now given county committees a discretion up to £100 per farm per annum. Anyone who has served on a county committee will know that that provision will give them considerable scope without having to refer to the Ministry. Bigger schemes will be referred to the Ministry while the immediate or urgent work is proceeding.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Does that mean that any scheme of over £100 must come to the Minister?
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, any scheme of over £100 per year will come to the Ministry. The hon. Member looks as though he does not like the sound of that, but the discretion will enable immediate and urgent work to proceed while the bigger scheme is coming forward in the ordinary way. It does not mean that the bigger scheme is turned down but that a check is kept over expenditure.
§ Mr. Roberts
I thought that the hon. Gentleman's point was that there was to be more speed in getting these things going. I was disappointed to hear that schemes over £100 had to be sanctioned by the Minister.
§ Mr. Turton
It is not in the order. When the hon. Gentleman says £100, does he not mean that £50 is the amount of the grant?
§ Mr. Brown
No. I think I am right in saying that, but I shall make quite sure. I think that it is for a scheme which will attract £100 grant per farm per year, but I shall make sure of that before the end of the Debate.
There was one other difficulty in the past. It was that the scheme had tended to become rather too closely associated in the minds of people connected with its operation with upland counties and with re-seeding. All have now been told that the new scheme is applicable to all counties and the improvement of crop husbandry is as important as any other. We had the difficulty in the past that the receipts of marginal production assistance and hill sheep and cattle subsidies were mutually exclusive and that the scheme did not cover certain other kinds of services, such as ditching, which attracted other grants.
These mutual exclusions have now been removed and the schemes can receive assistance under this order notwithstanding that they attract grants in some other way by some other provision. A good deal more latitude has been given to our committees in the interpretation of the conditions describing the financial status of a farm. We have gone to some trouble to see that our committees have been made more clearly aware of what we want them to do in this way. Therefore, I think we can say that the improvements we have made in this scheme show clearly that the Government are pursuing a vigorous course of action, that they are not at all complacent and that they wish to see a good deal more done. Indeed the sum of £900,000—nearly £1 million—for which we have provided under this order shows what we expect to do.
The hill farming and the marginal land production schemes obviously involve expenditure over a short number of years of a considerable sum of money, but they do not end the forms of assistance to marginal land production. The hon. 2140 and gallant Baronet raised a question of the calf subsidy scheme. That clearly is of particular benefit to these people because their lands are so suitable for calf rearing.
I should like to take the opportunity of announcing publicly that the Government have decided, subject to securing the necessary Parliamentary approval, to make an order under Section 1 (4) under the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, to extend the calf-rearing subsidy to cover calves born in the United Kingdom up to 30th September, 1951. The existing scheme would have run out in September of this year. For calves born after 1st October, 1949, and before 1st October, 1950, the rates of subsidy will be £5 for a steer calf and £2 for a heifer calf. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides who took some part on our somewhat exciting discussions of the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act will see that their views have been taken into account in the new rates which have been fixed.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
The hon. Gentleman has not taken account of my view. I wanted to abolish the subsidy.
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend must be happy that we have come somewhere near his view in one regard.
The rates for calves born during the last year of the subsidy period will be settled at the time of the 1950 February price review. One point which will please my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) is that, in addition, from next October the standard of quality for eligible calves will be varied as necessary to avoid any grounds for criticism that calves that are not worth rearing are being reared to attract the subsidy.
Other indirect methods are grants for liming, drainage and water supplies. People on marginal land will benefit, as will others, from the proposal of the Government to provide grants of 50 per cent. for the restoration of rural dwellings. Of course, one must not forget that Part I of the Agriculture Act, 1947, by its guarantees, gives considerable assistance to these areas because indirectly they gain from the guarantees to the lowland fattening industry and, therefore, create a better market for stores.
Obviously one way in which one could give a good deal of help would be to bring 2141 wool within the ambit of Part I of the Agriculture Act. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that if producers will get together and agree on an orderly marketing scheme for wool we shall be glad to bring wool into the Schedule of guaranteed commodities under that Act. I am happy to say that I understand that the producers' organisations are making substantial progress in their efforts to formulate a satisfactory marketing scheme for this purpose. I hope that I have said enough——
§ Mr. Brown
I am not sure that I wanted to be tempted too far along that line. I recognise the courage of the hon. and gallant Baronet in going as far as he did. I thought that perhaps it was easier for him than for me. Obviously, there must come a point where a controlled movement from one to the other must take place, but I think that it would be very rash for me to embark on any statement of policy. Such a statement ought to be made by my right hon. Friend after some considerable detailed consideration as to whether or not we have reached the stage at which that swing ought to take place.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Could the hon. Gentleman say that he will look at the possibility of some sort of scheme dealing with cream?
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
Under the marginal production scheme grants will be available to hill farmers as well as to marginal farmers. There are a great number of marginal farms which are not eligible for grants under the Hill Farming Act. Does what the hon. Gentleman has said imply that there will be less grants available for that class of farm?
§ Mr. Brown
No, I do not think so, but to some extent that might be true. I said that schemes which attracted grants under one of the other ways, would not be excluded under this scheme. To that 2142 extent, some part of the £300,000 might go on improvements which attracted grants under the Hill Farming Act. Some of the matters which will attract grants are water supply schemes, drainage schemes, and then there is the liming subsidy arrangement. Hitherto these have been excluded, but they will not now be excluded. To that extent, the marginal farmer will gain because he will be able to draw grants under the two different heads. Perhaps on balance they will cancel each other out.
I hope I have said enough to convince the Committee that the Government have not failed to recognise the importance of the marginal land problem and have not been idle in their attack upon it. The hon. Baronet said that a new approach was wanted and that we must take the order back. I hope that I have now convinced him that it would be a disservice to the industry to take the order back. The order goes a good deal further than hitherto we have been able to go. I believe that in this, as in other agricultural matters, my right hon. Friend and the Government have a solid record of achievement behind them. However, we are not complacent about this. I agree that much remains to be done before we can say that we have mastered the problem of our marginal land whether on the hills or on the lower slopes. I recognise that we have probably moved into the position where we are able to make a much bigger attack upon the marginal land on the lower slopes. I recognise the poverty of these areas as regards essential services such as roads, and the low level of equipment on many of the farms. Therefore, we are already thinking what further action may be necessary, particularly when the Hill Farming Act expires in 1951.
When the Hill Farming Bill was introduced my right hon. Friend explained that the Government proposed, for the five years of the Act, to try out a voluntary system. I would emphasise that improvements now depend on the submission of schemes to us. The initiative is with the landowners or the tenants, as the case may be. It is a voluntary scheme. If they are to receive benefits from it, much depends upon submitting a scheme. We recognised at the time that one difficulty about such a course is that where it is desirable that an important scheme 2143 should cover a very large area, the reluctance of one owner to participate might greatly diminish the value of the whole scheme and might even make it impossible to proceed. So long as schemes are on a voluntary basis, there is a risk of a certain degree of fragmentation.
Clearly, in thinking about this problem from now on, one of the matters which must be considered, should financial assistance towards rehabilitation of hill farming land continue, is whether a bolder approach involving compulsion, or the acquisition of land owned by a non-co-operative landowner, would not yield greater benefits. We have also to consider the very difficult question of common land. That is a difficult question. It is not enough just to toss it to one side. It is a question of whether the country can afford to allow waste acres to remain in their present unproductive state. It is also a question of whether we can afford to let the common land which was brought into cultivation during the war, return to the commoners and revert to its pre-war state. We must face up to this question. We must think about it.
Since the Hill Farming Act was passed, there has been a material change in meat supply prospects which emphasises the need for further efforts to secure even greater productivity from our hill farming land and other marginal land. As I have tried to show, my right hon. Friend has this problem under review and I know that he will give the fullest consideration to any concrete suggestions which hon. Members may like to make during this Debate.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I am glad to have the opportunity of taking part in this Debate, because it happens to be just 12 months ago today since I kept the Joint Parliamentary Secretary here until 12.30 a.m. in order to discuss this problem. On that occasion we had a "big" House of about half a dozen Members and probably the staff looked at us with a considerable amount of annoyance because we were keeping them up unnecessarily. I am glad to think that this Debate is taking place at a reasonable hour and that it has been initiated from the Front Benches instead of the back benches.
2144 In spite of what the hon. Gentleman said on several occasions about the Minister not being complacent, I am afraid that I do not agree with him. I think that not only the Minister but the country is complacent on this question of waste land. About three months ago I broadcast on the subject of idle acres. That was the only time in my life when I had a fan mail. I received letters from all parts of the country agreeing with what I had said, describing what was taking place and suggesting what else could be done. The only letter I had which did not approve of what I had said was from a member of the Liberal Party to whom I replied by pointing out what that party had done in the past.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I do not want to enter too much into that question, but I could not resist making that comment.
In spite of the many activities to which the Parliamentary Secretary called attention, one can find more waste land during a ten-mile drive through the English countryside than one can find in the whole of Denmark. I cannot help feeling that too many people are still living in the hope that the 19th century, with cheap food produced from the virgin soils of the world, will return. If people continue in that belief, it is my opinion that some day they will be even more hungry than they are now. I do not think that the growth of population is sufficiently realised. It is worthy of consideration that the population of the world is increasing at the rate of 20 million annually, and that in this country during the last 12 years the population has increased by three million whilst agricultural land has decreased by 800,000 acres.
It is quite obvious that with a decreasing agricultural area the rate of population increase must bring disaster to the world and that we shall be involved. We have also to look to the immediate future for our food supplies. We must face the fact that the export trade upon which we depend—as many of the leaders of the Socialist Party have said—for the purchase of our raw materials and foodstuffs—I believe that food and feedingstuffs come to about £900 million a year, plus what we get from 2145 our invisible exports and money from the American people—is getting more difficult, a fact which is acknowledged by all. The American Loan comes to an end—I hope it will—in 1952. Therefore, we must make up our minds that by 1952 we must produce not a few million pounds worth of food, but several hundred million pounds worth more than we are doing at present,
There is another problem that we may have to face. I do not want to put myself in the position of an economist, but, having read what many of them are saying, I feel that sooner or later this country will have to consider devaluing the pound. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said quite emphatically that he would not entertain that idea, but circumstances may force it to come about. As I understand it, the immediate result would be that our export trade would be assisted to an enormous extent, but that the cost of our imports would rise very steeply, and that is why in my view the waste land can do such a lot for the economy of the country.
The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned what has been done to bring back this land into production. But how long, at the present rate of progress, will it be before we get a few million of the 16 million acres which are today scheduled as rough grazing? We are discussing marginal land which includes, of course, a great deal of that rough grazing. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) has said, marginal land exists all over Great Britain. It is not land which lies at the foot of hill country; it is land which exists in every county in the country. I was rather surprised to see a statement by, I think, the president of the Red Poll Society a short time ago to the effect that within 40 miles of Ipswich there were 100 square miles of marginal land which could be brought into production. [An HON. MEMBER: "You would not like to farm it."] I would not mind, at a price, and I am sure I could make more use of it than is being made at the present time. Individual people or groups of individuals have tackled this waste land to see what can be done with it.
If there is any hon. Member in this House who wants any evidence as to how much marginal land there is in existence in the country and what can be 2146 done to deal with it, I suggest that he buys the journal of the Farmers' Club and reads the lecture given by Professor Ellison and the discussion which followed. I think it was a most enlightening discussion, and I am quite sure that the Ministry of Agriculture have read every word of it. All I hope is that having read it, they propose to act upon the suggestions made therein. I want to see the Ministry make use of their county executive committee staffs, not in connection with farming individual farms or in operating machinery pools and losing a lot of money by so doing, but by being instructive and by making a detailed survey of every county, parish by parish, and submitting to the Ministry details of the marginal land which can be tackled in a particular area.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Am I to understand the hon. Gentleman as saying that he is in favour of not having a machinery pool, for example, in Herefordshire, to assist the small farmers there?
§ Mr. Baldwin
Definitely. I think the time has gone by when the taxpayers of this country should be called upon to waste money on machinery pools in the way we see it wasted in that connection wherever we go in the country today. If a farmer has a farm which it is not economical to run with his own machinery, then he should not cultivate it; he should keep it unploughed and improve his grass. To plough up smallholdings which are better under grass is not an economical thing to do. The smallholder in such circumstances should improve his grass and purchase more feedingstuff with which to feed his poultry and pigs. That is how he can contribute his bit to the country.
In my opinion we are faced with three alternatives unless we tackle this question of waste land as a battle operation. They are mass migration, starvation, or an increase in home production. I want to see the Ministry tackling this matter in a much more forthright manner than they are doing at present. I do not wish to say anything about mass migration, although I believe in spreading our population round the Empire, but that must wait until we have faced the immediate future, as otherwise we shall be short of food. This week we have passed a Measure in this House which is going to cost the country millions of pounds for 2147 the rehabilitation of dwelling-houses. The sum involved is an unknown quantity.
I suggest that there is something much more important than providing an extra bathroom or something else to a house, and that is that the dwellers should first of all have something on their plates to eat. I have nothing to say about spending money on housing the people—I agree that it is a good thing—but, at the same time, let us rehabilitate the land as well as the houses.
§ Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)
May the hon. Gentleman be forgiven. As he knows, one of the main reasons given why the essential workers cannot be attracted to the countryside is because the farmers cannot build them a fit place to live in.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I was coming to that point. I suggest that, instead of wasting time and energy in building new towns, the Government ought to spend that money on building houses in the countryside. At the present moment, I am taking up with the Ministry of Health the problems of two rural districts which had to wait nearly three years before getting a licence to enable them to go on building rural houses. They are now in the state where they are asking the people in those houses to pay a rent of 31s. a week. To ask an agricultural worker to pay one-third of his wages in rent is too stupid.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I am sorry, Major Milner, but I was rather tempted along that line.
This week I have been in the company of a party of young farmers from Denmark, and I discussed this question of waste land with the leader of the party. He said that he thought we were farming very well in this country, but I pointed out to him that when foreign visitors come to this country they are only taken over the best farms, and I told him that I could take him to land where nothing was being done. With regard to waste land in Denmark, he said that the Danish Government were running a scheme whereby land due for rehabilitation attracts a grant of two-thirds and that the remaining one-third is advanced in a way of a loan and repaid commencing after 2148 a period of three years. I suggest that something of that sort might well be carried out in this country. I am not suggesting—and I notice that the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) is not present—that this should be done to assist the landlords of this country. The scheme could be tied up in any way we liked, but let us get this land producing, otherwise disaster will overtake us.
I wish to end by saying that not only is it necessary for our survival as a nation to get our people into the countryside, but that it is necessary for us to remember, if unfortunately war comes again, that the second line of defence is our food production. Instead of sending tractors to Poland in order to bring back food to this country, surely it is better for us to keep them here and to provide the food in preparation for that day if it ever comes.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
I am very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) was not present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) because I think he would once again have claimed that an hon. Member opposite had justified his nationalisation project. It is a sad commentary on the farming community of this country that after all these years and all the schemes which have been put forward by the Government to provide grants and subsidies for different types of land, the hon. Member for Leominster should point out that the owners and tenants of that land all over the country have failed miserably to bring it into production. If they have failed with all those schemes at their disposal, what course must be taken to bring that land into production?
I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on making out a very good case, but he reminded me of the housewife who was spreading a little bit of butter over a great deal of bread. The marginal land of this country is, I think, the most difficult problem with which the Ministry of Agriculture has to deal. It is a most complex and diverse subject, and whatever may be the solution, it is the most costly. To bring this land into full production will, in my judgment, need at least £100 million. The little schemes—the hill farming scheme, the grants and the subsidies that are made— 2149 merely touch the fringe of the problem. They never get to its roots, and they will have no permanent effect upon bringing this land into proper production.
Marginal land is of two types. There is the land which is marginal through neglect—and there is a great deal of it even in these days—and there is the land which is marginal because of its geographical position, because of its poor soil and because of its stony ground, and so forth. The land which is marginal through neglect could be brought into good cultivation under proper management and could be kept useful and productive through proper farming. On the other hand, the other type of marginal land will take a tremendous amount of money to bring into cultivation.
The Ministry have not yet seriously tackled this problem. They need a bold and courageous scheme, as suggested by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale), in order to bring this type of land within the agricultural scheme for the whole nation. These piecemeal palliatives of subsidies and so on are no solution at all. Until we get right down to the rock bottom of this problem, any improvement upon the tables of this country will be very slight. My firm belief is that the financial requirements of this land are quite beyond the resources of private individuals. It can only be dealt with by the Government, and it is upon the Government's shoulders that the burden must fall.
Apart from the marginal land, I am afraid that over a long number of years we have developed something far worse, and that is the marginal farmer. The marginal farmer will have to be dealt with just as the Government have to deal with the marginal land. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned East Lancashire where I live and where I have seen marginal farming ever since I was born. I understand that East Lancashire is, in the eyes of the Ministry, one of the most difficult areas in the country.
In East Lancashire they have farmed through the years by the easy method. The importation of cheap feedingstuffs before the war enabled the farmers in that area to lay a foundation for an absolutely artificial type of farming. It is far easier to farm out of the proven 2150 sack than it is to plough and cultivate one's land. We developed a type of land which was used simply for summer grazing and winter hay, and it was neglected for the rest of the year. We also developed the farmer who prefers to buy imported feedingstuffs and use his land entirely for the purpose which I have just mentioned.
This trend reached its climax just before the war with the development of the Boutflour system of farming. Professor Boutflour, with his system of "steaming up" cattle, condemned roots and told the farmers to give as little hay as possible, to feed 3½ lb. of meal for every gallon of milk and to produce milk by utilising imported feedingstuffs. It may have been a profitable method of farming, but it was disastrous both to the farmer and to the land which he ought to have been cultivating. It permitted him to neglect his land, and the result was that we had full pails, fat cattle, thin farmers and poor land.
§ Mr. Kenyon
The labourers were poor also. As I have said, this system produced the marginal farmer. How are we to deal with this problem? I have put forward this idea before, and I make no apology for doing so again. First, we must create the economic unit. There are far too many small farms on this type of land, and no matter what may be the subsidies, grants and prices, the farms are entirely uneconomic and will remain so. At present they are kept going in all kinds of ways.
Let me give three examples of farms in an area which I know well. In farm No. 1 the farmer is farming 18 acres of land. He has one cow and two calves. He does not plough. He cuts his grass and grazes his cattle. His wife keeps a draper's shop in a nearby town and that keeps the farm going. Farm No. 2 is a farm of 25 acres. There is a farmer, two sons and three daughters. They farm by agisting cattle through the year. Not one of those persons farms the land. They all work in mills down in the valley. The only bit of farming they do is when they leave the mill at night and come home. On farm No. 3 the farmer simply uses the farm in order that he may live in the house. He turned over 2151 his land to another farmer who lives about half a mile away, and he himself works for a contractor. I could multiply these cases time and time again throughout this area.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Without multiplying the cases, could my hon. Friend give me the details of these three cases? He will know that under the Agriculture Act the county agricultural executive committee has full power to deal with cases of this sort. Will my hon. Friend give me the details of those cases?
§ Mr. Kenyon
Certainly if my hon. Friend wishes. I should add that when I discussed this matter with the advisory officer he said, "If these people are turned out, who are we going to put in their places?" We should get the same type of person because the farm itself is not an economic proposition. Until the Ministry groups these farms into an economic proposition—which will require a tremendous amount of money, because the houses and buildings very often need re-siting and the whole area needs to be made into a compact unit—nothing effective will be done with that type of land.
§ Mr. Odey (Howdenshire)
How does the hon. Member propose that this type of farm should be dealt with?
§ Mr. Kenyon
I was just coming to that point. It varies, as so many things vary in agriculture in this country, with the locality. Local conditions will determine what the economic size of a farm should be, but I would say that on marginal land no farm should be less than 150 acres. With 150 acres a farmer can afford to purchase the necessary machinery with which to work his land properly. He will be able to do a certain amount of ploughing, and with his stock, poultry and pigs he will get a comfortable living for his family.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Exmoor Survey reveals that the average size of an Exmoor farm is 150 acres, and they are among the least profitable farms in the whole 2152 country? Therefore, it would seem that 150 acres is not an economic unit of marginal land.
§ Mr. Kenyon
I said that local conditions would determine what the economic unit should be. In my area 150 acres is an economic proposition. I would point out that in the Exmoor Survey it is stated that 250 acres produces an economic return. The economic farm varies with the locality and according to the circumstances surrounding it.
First we must make an economic unit of the marginal farm. Secondly—and this is a very important point—the credit facilities available at present for this type of farmer are inadequate. From questions put to my right hon. Friend from time to time, it would seem that he considers that the facilities provided by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and by the joint stock banks are adequate to meet the needs of this type of farmer. I beg to differ. What is required is Government support, even if the credits are obtained through the joint stock banks. Government support is needed, with the Government acting as a guarantor, with greater facilities and cheaper credit. That is far better than giving grants and subsidies. The farmer would much rather deal in a businesslike way with his finance than accept gifts from the Government.
Larger credit facilities will make a tremendous difference to all these farmers. I refer particularly to the young farmer. A young man came to see me about four weeks ago. He has taken a farm of over 100 acres and he has been to his bank to try to obtain some credit with which to run the farm. He has a little stock and a little machinery, and with some help from the bank he could run that farm profitably. However, he is quite unable to obtain any credit whatsoever. The bank does not look upon it as a safe proposition.
§ Mr. Kenyon
He is a tenant farmer. Therefore, he cannot bring in his farm as security. The only security he can offer is the stock on the farm. It is in cases like that where Government support is essential. This problem of finance is driving many of our young farmers off the land. The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond quoted a large number of 2153 cases in which capital is provided. Capital is available for building, roads, fences, walls, drainage and for the recovery of derelict land. The farmer makes his living out of his cattle and his land. When he has all this capital expenditure laid out it is useless unless he has the money for stock and crops.
What we require credit for is in order that the farmer can provide stock and crops—something out of which he makes his living and which contributes to the needs of the country. I think we are becoming lop-sided or top-heavy with capital expenditure. We can overdo it; it ought to be balanced. Lay out a certain amount of capital expenditure at the same time as you lay out a certain amount of money for stock. We are overbalancing agriculture by providing this capital expenditure without, at the same time, providing the wherewithal for the farmer to develop his stock and his land.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Member will not have forgotten the goods and services scheme which my Department operates. That will certainly cover the question of crops and of cultivation operations. I rather wonder whether he is suggesting that there is nothing at all which the farmer should be expected to provide for himself.
§ Mr. Kenyon
But the goods and services scheme is totally inadequate. We must come out with a bold scheme.
I am sorry that I have taken up so much time, and I should like now to come to the manner in which this land should be developed. We have to concentrate on the growing of grass on marginal land, for that is our greatest crop—the growth of stock from grass, the development of ley farming. It is surprising what can be done with marginal land if one concentrates upon that aspect of farming. I shall give only one instance, and that from my own farm last year. Last year, 1,200 ft. above sea-level, we grew a crop of oats and peas. We dried them by the Scottish method of "tripod-ing." Last year was an exceptionally bad year for drying crops of this nature and even for drying grass, but we succeeded for the first time in the history of our farm; we threshed that crop, we had it ground and it lasted for the cattle until the beginning of March. That is on a purely marginal farm It can be done if one, first, has 2154 the grass foundation, the stock to do it and the knowledge on the part of the farmer of how it should be done. It is undoubtedly our salvation, the salvation of the marginal farm—the development of the farm for stock-growing and stock-rearing, providing both mutton and beef for the needs of the country.
We have been noted in the history of this country for adventure and for the acceptance of risks. I think it is the spirit of adventure and the spirit of risk which has made us great. Here we need to take a risk. I know it will be a risk. We need to risk our capital, with Government backing, on the development of this land. I am confident that the farmers would rise to the occasion, that they would feel the obligation which lay upon their shoulders when this credit was placed in their hands, and that the Government would not lose money, as they do lose it today by grants and by subsidies. I am confident that the Government would have a good return from a large outlay and that the farmers would themselves create what the Minister desires—a land that is productive and is contributing to the tables of the housewives of this country in a far quicker way than any scheme which has yet been put forward.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland)
Northern): I should like in a moment to make some comments on the interesting speech we have heard from the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), but first may I say that I listened with interest to the Parliamentary Secretary? I think he proved that a great deal of help was being given to farming and that some help was being given to marginal farming, but what I think he completely failed to convey was that there was any deliberate target and purpose behind this new Marginal Production Order.
As I see it, the position is that at the beginning of the war we had an agricultural revolution and we left a system which did not serve this country well, and which had existed between the two wars under the Conservative Party. As a result, we established in this country a much higher level of arable farming. That goes on; it needs certain help and guidance, but it has been a success. Secondly, we enormously increased our milk production. I believe that is well on the 2155 way to reaching its target every year. It is steadily going up and it is a great contribution to the country. The problem which we are considering today is how to do the same sort of thing for the industry of meat production, and particularly the production of mutton and beef, which, partly as a result of the other two campaigns, has greatly suffered.
From the answer given by the Minister of Agriculture when he was first asked about this, I think on 5th May—and nothing the Parliamentary Secretary has said today has dispelled the impression I had on that occasion—it became perfectly clear to me that this order is introduced as a result of pressure, suggestion, cajolery and persuasion. At last the Ministry have said: "We shall have to do something about this marginal land." It is not introduced with a precise and definite object, with a request to the farmers, "Go ahead and meet this situation; and the only place in which you can meet it and the only way in which you can meet it is to produce mutton and beef from the marginal land." I believe that that is the case; I believe it has been shown technically that this thing can be done. It has been shown by agricultural advisers, it has been shown in universities, in colleges and on demonstration farms; it has been shown on big farms and on small farms; there have been demonstrations all over the country of how we can increase the productivity of marginal land, of hill land, fivefold and tenfold. Technically, it can be done, and there is nothing to stop it.
We have Professor Ellison's figure that if we want 250,000 more stores we must practise this improvement on one million acres. Yet, when the Minister of Agriculture is asked on 5th May how much land he expects £300,000 to improve, he says he does not know and that it depends on how much of this assistance is taken up by farmers. There is no plan behind the thing. When the Parliamentary Secretary spoke about it today, he said he did not know how much marginal land there is. Is that not something which should be found out? What is the margin in which British agriculture can expand its production on this type of land? Is not that a vital thing for the Minister of Agriculture to know? I should have thought that the figures were known to some extent. Sir John Russell has given 2156 a figure that, since 1891, 2¾ million acres of land have become marginal. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) is not here, because, incidentally, I work it out that during that period the Conservative Party were probably responsible for the government of this country for about 40 years, the Liberal Party for about eight years and the Labour Party for perhaps a couple of years, or more if we include the four years since the war.
That, however, is beside the point. The main issue is that land which, at the end of the 19th century, was producing food at a reasonable level has gone out of cultivation and become marginal to the extent of 2¾ million acres. It would be an achievement if it could be brought back into cultivation. I agree that I am going back 50 years and that it cannot all be done in a hurry, but at least it would be something to aim at. Why should we not aim at something big, as the hon. Member for Chorley suggested? We spend £50 million or so on the groundnut scheme. We are prepared to spend something of the order of that sum on producing meat in Australia. Why not spend something of the order of that sum on this production, which is under our own control, here in this country, and which, I insist, is technically possible and has been demonstrated everywhere as being possible?
The answer I have heard—and though the Parliamentary Secretary did not pursue the argument very far today he did touch on it—is that it is better to spend our resources, not so much in money as in manpower, machinery, fertilisers and so on, on the better land. If that is the case, cannot it be proved? Can we produce 250,000 store cattle by spending money on the better land? If we can, well and good—spend that money if we want 250,000 stores.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. What I said was that at one stage it may be arguable that it is the wrong thing to do, but that as machinery becomes available it may well be that the time will come to switch our available resources to an attack on the marginal land. That is the theme I was developing. I was not saying that in all circumstances it was a case either of the marginal land or of the better land.
§ Mr. Roberts
That intervention would suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary believes that at this stage—granting him, at this stage—we could get results from the marginal land. I believe that we should get a quicker return from marginal land than from the high hill land for which the Hill Farming Act provides. I believe that the provisions of that Act are very good and that that is a very good thing to do, but it is a long-term policy.
It seems to me that this marginal land, which is already enclosed and some of which was in much better production 25 to 50 years ago and which, as far as I make out, amounts to about six million acres, would, if we could improve it all, give a production of mutton and beef which would be a very substantial contribution to the feeding of the people of this country. Even if we cannot improve all the land, I do not myself see that this order and the amount of money it proposes to spend will do more than encourage and help a few marginal farmers who are exceptionally enterprising and who will put up schemes to their county committees and will be able thereby to obtain help on their own farms. It will not really make a substantial and noticeable contribution. It will not start the movement for producing enough improvement to make a real difference, or to make us really substantially more independent of the Argentine in 10 years' time than we are today.
I believe that this technique is not only technically sound, and that we can improve land with modern methods so as to achieve this extra production, but I believe that at the present time it is financially well worth doing for the tenant farmer, given certain conditions. The first condition is that he has the capital to do it. The marginal farmer, of whatever size he is—and I am coming to the point of what the hon. Member for Chorley said—has not the capital to do it at the present time. Whether his farm is of 25 acres or 150 acres he has not got the capital to make the necessary improvement. If you ask marginal farmers—it is my experience, at least—why they are not making these improvements, they will tell you frankly that they cannot afford them. They have gone into milk selling, the most 2158 enterprising ones, in order to get their monthly cheque.
The high price of stores is due to the high price set by the Minister for fat cattle. I certainly give him that credit. The production of stores is a profitable business. But, again, frequently marginal farmers have not the capital to last the two and a half years until they have sold their store cattle, and if they have not the capital for that, they certainly have not the capital to spend something like £10 an acre on re-seeding, or considerable sums on buildings—if they own their farms—or a great deal on manures and fertilisers. Though it is quite a good scheme, the total finance which is behind it is not going to make any real difference to the financial position of the marginal farmers. That is my belief. I think the hon. Member for Chorley was right, and that there is a case for re-grouping marginal farmers. But it is not only a case for making them larger; in some cases it is for making them smaller, so that the land which is under one farmer's control can be farmed more intensively.
Therefore, I come to the last difficulty which prevents this sort of development, and it is one which has all kinds of implications. I cannot go into any great detail, because I am sure I should soon be out of Order, but one of the difficulties of high-lying farms is that people feel and are isolated. The roads are bad; they have no telephones; they are a long way from schools, from doctors, from shopping centres; their houses are bad. There is a whole social problem to consider with regard to the higher lying farms and villages. I believe that in some cases the way to improve the land would be to improve the roads. A way to get more of the schemes carried out would be to improve housing and provide more houses.
People will nowadays often go to quite isolated places if they can get better houses. Were this problem considered not in England but as a problem in Australia or East Africa, some sort of priority would readily be given to the housing, at least, for the workers concerned. There would be new housing, the planning of new villages, perhaps, and the planning of a new transport system. I wonder whether we could not approach this problem in that sort of way? It may be that 2159 it is not necessary for parts of England, but certainly in the Highlands and, I imagine, perhaps in parts of Wales, it would really be worth while taking a biggish area to see whether it could not be replanned, not only in respect of the size of the farm, but in respect of the layout of the whole district.
I believe that this order is only the first step. Sooner or later the country will expect to get a bigger meat ration. I do not believe that, with demand increasing in other parts of the world, we can rely on getting nearly as large a proportion from overseas as we did before the war, and I think that not only the country-people but the townspeople will demand that the Government make a really big effort to solve this problem. I say again—I have repeated it ad nauseam today—that this can be done: technically it can be done; there is no scientific difficulty about doing it. I do not believe there is a difficulty about doing it as a business proposition if the capital is available and if the personnel are there who want to do it. They can be attracted to this sort of job. Eventually, I believe, the Government will have to satisfy the people that this opportunity is not being missed, and that a really big effort to provide a much bigger meat ration from our own resources—a much bigger proportion of our beef and mutton from our own resources—is being made.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)
I want to say a few words about what the Parliamentary Secretary said. The Parliamentary Secretary, like his lord and master, is a very good friend to agriculture, and we on this side of the Committee fully appreciated the difficulty in which he found himself. He had to defend this situation in which there are something like 16 million acres lying, not idle, but not fully employed. He had to defend that situation, and he told the Committee that there were various difficulties, that there had been great improvements, and that, instead of £50,000, £300,000 was being spent. He went on to talk about how hill farming development and all these works mounted up in cost. They do mount up to a sum total of capital expenditure of various sorts to something like £6 million by 1951.
2160 This is a huge problem with which we are faced. As the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) and my hon. Friends have pointed out, it is the overriding problem of the nation's food supplies. It seems to be tackled not with a pair of Treasury scissors, not with a trowel borrowed from the Ministry of Works, but with toothpicks pinched off the Treasury banqueting table. It is the scale of investment which we regard as totally and absolutely inadequate, and it is the gravamen of our charge that there is here a great area which ought to be made productive.
As the Minister rightly said, it is an area which is very diverse in character. It is an area of great variation in land and of great variation in land use. Incidentally, it may be of interest to hon. Members opposite, that that, of course, is one of the fundamental arguments against land nationalisation. However, I should be out of Order if I were to pursue that subject. The fact remains that we are faced, as my hon. Friends have said, with this very grievous food shortage, especially of meat. There could be no better quotation to make at this point than one from that most interesting pamphlet, "Labour Believes in Britain." On page 14 it is said:In the battle of food the nation cannot afford one wasted acre or one inefficient farmer.With that we on this side of the Committee are perfectly prepared to agree.
We have to face the fact that there has been since the war a complete change in our terms of trade. There is no longer foreign investment; there are no longer food supplies coming in so easily. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) pointed out, the situation has changed and will permanently remain changed; and we have to face the fact that if we are to get meat on to the plates of the people of this country we must increase meat production in this country. In time of world economic expansion we shall find it extremely hard to get more from abroad, and in times of recession we shall find it easier to get meat in large quantities. If there is a recession now there will be meat, but if we have an upswing of the economic cycle we shall be short. The fact remains that we must provide our own meat. That means the development of these 16 million acres. 2161 Whether it is possible to develop all those 16 million acres is the point at issue.
I was amazed by the Parliamentary Secretary when he said that there is no need to carry out a survey in this matter. I should have thought that every conceivable charge could be made against the Government for not having looked into this matter on a national scale long before. The whole problem, I believe, is that the Minister and the Government on the whole tend to approach this matter in a far too slap-dash a manner. I will quote from a Government statement which, I think, sums up the whole attitude and approach of the Government—of the Government rather than of the Minister actually concerned. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he spoke at an N.F.U. dinner, when, doubtless, he was polite, if acidly polite perhaps, said:The problem of marginal land of all sorts is a great problem in national production, and in this exceptional case special ad hoc assistance must be given.That is precisely the problem, that the assistance being given is essentially ad hoc and ephemeral. The Government have to consider this seriously.
Our charge is that there has not been proper research carried out. As the hon. Member for Chorley and the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said, research should and must be carried out at the local level, not only into the economics of the thing but into the sociological aspect. My hon. Friends and I, again and again, have raised the whole issue of land use. Despite what the Prime Minister said the other day, agricultural land is being lost at the rate of about 50,000 acres a year. That loss has to be made up somehow. I agree that there must be a certain amount of land going out of production. With the expansion of cities and so forth that is only natural, but there should be this review of this special problem of the land, and it has not taken place. Judging from the Prime Minister's answer to me the other day, it is not likely to take place. The Prime Minister said:I see no need for the appointment of a special committee to control land use, which can be adequately done under existing departmental machinery."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd May, 1949; Vol. 465, c. 874.]Since 1891 there has been this grievous loss of agricultural land, it is still 2162 going on and this survey should be carried out.
The second thing which emerges quite clearly is that the Government have been working this matter in a way which is entirely hand-to-mouth. We have seen the anomalies which have crept in. I should like to mention the overall and rather absurd distinction which is made between marginal and hill land, when, at the same time, the Minister pointed out that low-lying land could be treated as hill land for the purposes of the Act provided that the herbage is of the right sort. Then there is the question of the cattle subsidy. Again the hill cattle subsidy comes under the Hill Farming Act, yet, as the Secretary of State for Scotland well knows, hill-farming schemes as such are not permissible under that Act. The whole thing stands out as one of hand-to-mouth legislation with occasional help given by the Minister and his assistants, who, I believe, are trying as hard as they can but are not supported by the Government as a whole. That, I think, is the whole point.
I think that we ought seriously to consider, as the hon. Member for Chorley said, whether the type of assistance being given is the right type of assistance; whether this matter should not be considered, not in terms of subsidy as such, in this ad hoc, ephemeral way; but, considering the scanty food of the people of this country, whether it should not be approached from the point of view of capital investment. I would say that there has been too much subsidy in proportion to the amount of the investment carried out. I suggest to the Government that now that they have secured some sort of agreement with the Argentine, and some little success in carrying out what we on this side of the House have always advocated—that is, the immediate advance of further feedingstuffs to our own pig farmers—they should stop for a moment to consider whether they should ameliorate and improve the existing organs of legislation, or go in, as soon as possible, for a much larger scheme of capital investment in these marginal areas.
The whole danger of subsidies is that the long-term and lasting effect is not great. What is needed, in the changing conditions which we see today, is that this country should make use, as the Government supporters say in their 2163 pamphlet, of all available acreage. That does not mean just a policy of subsidies, but a policy of capital investment, and not capital investment of the tune of £6 million or £7 million, but capital investment on a really large scale. I think that there should be amelioration of the existing legislation, but I think that it is far more important that we should look at this matter as a much broader issue, namely, that this marginal land is a reservoir from which can come the stores, whether they be cattle or sheep for fattening, and thereby increase to a great extent the meat ration of this country.
There are, I think, various lines of approach which should be made. The first important thing is to see that a proper review is carried out in this country. There are bodies prepared to carry out that review, not only the county agricultural executive committees but the National Farmers' Union, which is at the moment investigating such an inquiry, the Central Landowners' Association, and, of course, the Land Survey people under Professor Dudley Stamp. In addition, as the hon. Member for Chorley said, I believe that in future we should make approaches not merely to individual farmers or individual landowners, but to groups of farmers and groups of landowners. It may well be that in certain areas—I do not want to be dogmatic on this point—it is far better to get some form of grouping of co-operatives and people working together to develop the areas. That is not an argument for land nationalisation, but an argument for voluntary effort and co-operation which, I believe, would be forthcoming from the farming community.
The next think is to see that the national agricultural advisory services are switched more to this idea. Experiments in Aberystwyth, and Wales in general, are remarkable, but I think that it will be found that throughout the country they are very little known. The next great thing is to see that, as the hon. Member for Chorley and the hon. Member for Leominster said, there is flexibility of agricultural credit to farmers and landowners in addition to grants and loans. I believe that the approach of the Government should be far more from that angle. The approach of our party when returned will be far more from that angle. The terms of trade have changed since 2164 the war and changed completely. Today there is complete economic justification for what I am saying.
§ Mr. Fraser
No indeed it cannot. If there were a plebiscite, we would be returned tomorrow. It is on the capital side and the injection of capital into farming rather than on the ephemeral side of subsidies that we must rely, although subsidies must continue for some time to play their part. We must have capital injected into this marginal system and better credit facilities for the farmers.
This is a huge problem. If only six million of the 16 million acres could be put into production, the difference to the people of this country would be more than 6d. a week in the meat ration. How long that will take to come about I do not know. I know, however, that it is today, from the technical point of view, possible. Hon. Members know full well about the production of grass-drying machinery, new silage methods and methods of re-seeding which have been carried out, and the modern application of technique means that this country could carry a much heavier head of cattle than it does today. With strong action, the Government could begin on this great problem. I believe that it would be a well worth-while investment. Some hon. Members opposite have said that the country cannot afford this type of thing. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, it is vital that we should afford this type of investment. It may well be that the Government could make this, when they have unemployment difficulties and so on, one of their priority schemes for capital investment in the time of a threatened recession.
When one compares our prices with those abroad today, the price of British-produced meat is, of course, well above that of estancia or ranch meat. These prices will come down and can be brought down with proper development. To take one instance, the enormously high price of store cattle in this country is due largely to shortage and with a further increase of store production the price would come down. The people of this country want more meat, and I think that they would be prepared to pay more for their meat if there were meat to offer 2165 them. We have to change our ideas about cheap food. If we were to ask the people of this country, I believe that it would be their serious and right and proper judgment that they could afford and would be willing to pay, even at the present level of wages and income, 2s. and more for meat and that they would be willing to pay it. We can produce meat here. It will cost money but when the investment has been made, costs will slowly begin to come down, and there will be a sure and certain supply. I think that the Government have a duty to this country to see that these acres are developed and to give to the farmers living in the marginal land a new deal and to the people of this country an extra cut on a decent Sunday joint.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) on three points—the people of this country need more meat; it could be produced on our marginal land; and we have to tackle this matter not merely in a determined way but in a way that will show that we mean it to be our long-term policy to make the utmost use of our marginal land. This problem has arisen in the last one and a half centuries almost every time we have been "up against it" for food. We have then always had this lift-up, and the marginal land which has given this, has then been allowed to drift down again when conditions have become easier for the importation of food from abroad. Since this is such a really vital matter, it is regrettable to see so few Members taking part in the Debate or apparently even willing to attend to listen to it.
The hon. Member for Stone mentioned the question of research. As he is aware, a most valuable and fair-sized research has taken place in the last two years, as is instanced in the document known as the "Exmoor Survey." One paragraph in that Survey emphasises the manner in which one type of people has been neglected at a time when the generality of farmers are doing very well, and probably better than ever before in their lives. It states:Less than half the men farming on Exmoor today weathered the 20 years of agricultural depression which followed the first world war. These years were probably the saddest in the whole history of the district. Farmers and farm workers left the land; houses, buildings 2166 and fences were neglected; much of the improved land reverted, and the deterioration of the rest was reflected in its crops and stock Hard work for small and uncertain reward created conditions akin to serfdom. Some times the farmer's wife earned more by taking in visitors during the summer than her husband could make in a year on the farm.That I am sure can give no satisfaction to hon. Members opposite, and leaves them in a poor position to lay any charge against this Government. If they had done anything even approaching their duty in the years that followed the first world war, we should not be facing this grievous problem in anything like the form in which we are facing it now.
§ Mr. Collins
The Socialist Party by 1931 had produced the policy that was implemented to a great extent by the war-time Government, and which provided the ground work on which we are now basing a policy, which will produce not merely better conditions for the farming community, but more food for the people of this country. What a minority Government did during those two years has nothing to do with what was not done by a party, which had an overwhelming majority in this House during 18 of the 21 years between the wars.
I hope my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary will study this survey very closely, because it gives figures covering 80,000 acres and some 400 farms. It indicates that the average Exmoor farm is about 150 acres, and that five out of every six have a profitability of only £107 per 100 acres per annum, which is less than the wages which would be earned in agriculture by the members of the family who provide the labour. That is, too, in the years when farming generally is prosperous, and is not like anything good enough. In other words, we are talking about a depressed class and depressed land in the midst of a community, which is, generally speaking, prosperous.
On the farms themselves there are small fields of four to seven acres. Buildings are quite inadequate, and very few have proper approach roads while only two have electricity supplies from a public source. That will give some idea of the gross inadequacy of their equipment. They are very short even 2167 of capital to equip themselves with stock, and one marvels sometimes at the fact that these men are still able to farm at all. That they are still there is largely because of their own efforts.
I want to make the point that the balance is weighted against them, which is because of the inevitable war-time pressure, and the bias towards dairying, which has meant, when prices are fixed, a depressing of prices in other directions. One has only to look at the facts. For example, a pound of meat produced brings the farmer 1s. 3d. and a gallon of milk, which requires about the same effort, produces about 2s. 6d. or 2s. 8d. In other words, the rewards in dairying are practically double what they are for the production of meat on land of this kind. This is something which must be altered. In spite of everything today, in places like Exmoor the income from dairying is less than it is from the rearing of cattle or sheep, but a great many farms have had to go in for dairying simply because of the cash cheque which they get. They cannot afford to wait for the rearing of meat. These things are admitted, and the remedy is, in fact, specific. On Easter Sunday I stood in a field of a farm on the Brendons, where a pedigree herd of Guernsey cattle were grazing. It was beautiful thick herbage, and I learned that the yield from it produced £84 sterling per acre per year, and I do not think there are many farms throughout the country of which that is true.
So the job can be done. First of all, it needs determination that it shall be done; the right plans to back up that determination; and money, though I am not of the opinion that it needs the vast sums which have been suggested. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) mentioned a sum of £100 million. I do not think that anything like that sum is needed even today. We have to realise that the whole of our marginal land is a natural livestock reservoir not only for store cattle, but for breeding stock. The marginal farms also perform the intermediate function of raising cattle for finishing them off on better land.
On the question of money, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has referred to what the Government are already doing. They have indeed done 2168 valuable work, but the Exchequer grant of some £300,000 under the Goods and Services Scheme works out, if we are to accept the figure of 12,000 acres of land capable of substantial improvement, as little more than 6s. per acre.
§ Mr. G. Brown
My hon. Friend must bear in mind that I dealt with that point, and I pointed out that if there is added to the £300,000, the sum of £4 million or £5 million for hill farming and the great expenditure in all kinds of other grants, including grants for water, drainage, lighting and so on, it works out that the marginal farmers are likely to get a figure which is nearer 12s. than 6s.
§ Mr. Collins
I appreciate that this is only part of it, but what we are considering is that in spite of the schemes which my hon. Friend has enumerated, these marginal farms are still depressed, and not in the position, for the reasons I have stated, to produce the food which we know are capable of producing. I submit that it is from that standpoint that we must look at this matter. If it is a fact that by improving one million acres of land we could raise an increased number of up to a quarter of a million stores, then that is a matter of vast importance.
I do not subscribe to the shallow view that it is wrong to spend millions in East Africa and not to spend more millions here. Each of those schemes and ideas have their values. Each of them should be done, for they are likely to show a return, but the point is that because we are spending money in East Africa it is no reason why we should not also very carefully consider ways of effecting improvements on our own marginal land. I know that it is sometimes said that there is a constant pouring of public funds into the land. It is the unfortunate lot of this Government in many respects to have to take over something which is more or less lying in ruins, and, at a time when we are in extremely straitened circumstances, have to restore the deficiencies of earlier years. That position, however unfortunate, has to be faced.
I submit that for a moderate outlay on marginal land allied to the skill and industry of the farmers who in most cases are a tough lot or they would not be on this marginal land, we can produce an adequate return. The machinery already exists in the Hill Farming Act and the 2169 Calf Subsidy scheme, though I would like to see fewer farmers receiving subsidies, and instead see some of the money going to the marginal land. Some farmers tell me they are producing pedigree cattle, and when a heifer calf is dropped it is worth £50, but they also get a £3 subsidy for it. Some of that money could perhaps be used to better advantage on marginal land. As has been said, the Agricultural Goods and Services Scheme is another useful Measure.
I ask that careful consideration should be given to studying this narrow division between hill farming and marginal land with a view to bringing the provisions of the Hill Farming Act to cover, in many if not in all cases, the cattle and sheep raised on the so-called marginal farms, and that the implementation of the Agricultural Goods and Services Scheme should be enlarged with an increased annual grant. I feel that this is a vital and important matter. The Government's record in respect of agriculture is something of which we can be very proud, but in this particular matter our situation demands that something substantial should be done. If that is so, let it be done urgently and with the view that on this long-term measure this country cannot and must not ever go back. It has to be continuous, and I hope that it is in that spirit that my hon. Friend will consider the remarks, which I and other hon. Members have made, so that our marginal farms can make a very valuable contribution to the food supplies of our country.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Before I come to the question of marginal land, I should like to say how pleased we are that the Government have agreed to extend the provisions of the calf subsidy scheme, and we are especially pleased that they have adopted the suggestion made from this side of the Committee that the steer subsidy should be increased in order to give extra incentive to meat production.
Every speaker, including the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), has delivered critical attacks on the Government for their policy towards marginal land. But the first shot in the campaign was not fired today, but last Thursday by the Minister of Food when, in winding 2170 up the Debate on the purchase of meat he used these words:The meat shortage in this country is entirely accounted for by the fact that we cannot as yet produce anything like the quantity of meat at home that we were producing before the war. There is roughly about 300,000 tons less meat being produced at home than was being produced before the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1946; Vol. 465, c. 1575.]That is the indictment they are facing today. It is because the Government have not in the last three and half years faced up to this question of marginal land that we have got this deficiency in home-produced meat at present. It was necessary during the war to change the balance of our agricultural economy in order to concentrate more on cereals, and to let our cattle and sheep population decline. That was an inevitable result of the submarine menace, and the necessity to rely more on canned meat than on fresh meat.
That phase of agricultural economy had ended by the end of 1944. By then it was becoming clear to the whole country that Britain should be getting back to a policy of more livestock. I remember well my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) making it quite clear in an announcement he made in the House on 5th December, 1944, when he said,It is contemplated that during the period of the four-year plan, ending in the Summer of 1948, some change will be necessary in the character of our agricultural output to meet changing national requirements in the transition from war to peace. Broadly the change will mean a gradual expansion of livestock and livestock products and a reduction from the high war-time levels of certain crops for direct human consumption."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th Dec., 1944; vol. 406; c. 366.]My complaint against the Government is that they have allowed 3½ years to pass without taking any effective steps to deal with this problem. The main argument that the Parliamentary Secretary has to answer in this Debate is: Why is it that since the Government came into office in 1945, the number of cattle going to slaughter in this country has not increased but has decreased by 200,000, and the number of sheep and lambs going to slaughter has not increased but has decreased by 700,000? The document that has been quoted very frequently, the Exmoor Survey, and quoted not least by the hon. Member who sits for that constituency, 2171 the hon. Member for Taunton has told us that if the Government had adopted a policy of improving this marginal land there would have been an addition of 5d. to the meat ration by doubling the present contribution from home production. That is the estimate of the Exmoor Survey.
We on this side of the Committee stressed that point of view in the Debates on the Hill Farming Bill in 1946. Unfortunately, at that time the hon. Gentleman who is replying to the Debate was not the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. He will no doubt remember that Debate. In particular, we argued that, in order to get an increase in meat production, it was vital to widen the scope of the Hill Farming Bill, so as to provide for marginal land. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) was then, and still is, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He put the case for the Government. For some reason, the Ministry of Agriculture preferred that the answer to our case should be put by him. It is right that the Committee today should remember what that answer was. This is what he said:I think all sections of the Committee appreciate the problem of marginal land, but that probably must be dealt with at another time. The farmers of that marginal land … have not benefited, as has the agricultural industry generally, by the assured market and guaranteed prices for agricultural commodities during the war years. I think that even in the future they are not likely to benefit proportionately unless something is done for them specially.… The £5 million proposed to be spent on the rehabilitation of hill land would not suffice to rehabilitate the hill farming lands in this country if we should so widen the scope of the Bill to bring in the marginal land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 25th June, 1946; c. 2037.]We are still waiting for this policy that was going to be dealt with at another time. I cannot see, having listened to the Parliamentary. Secretary's explanation and to his juggling with the figures in order to make 4½d. become 12s. per acre, that he himself is satisfied either with this order or thinks that with the Hill Farming Act he is tackling the problem of marginal land. Let me deal with the "gratifying progress" report—the expression that he used—about the Hill Farming Act of 1946. As he said, half its time has already run. Now two and a half years have passed. What has been done under that Act? In the first year, 2172 1947–48, the Government included a sum of £60,000 for work to be done under that Hill Farming Act. That was the estimate. How much was spent? Not one penny. In the second year, 1948–49, the Government put down in that estimate a sum of £300,000 under the Hill Farming Act. How much was spent? A sum of £7,990.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Is not the hon. Gentleman now making a criticism of the farmers of marginal land, who were not prepared to take advantage of the legislation which was on the Statute Book?
§ Mr. Turton
I will discuss the reasons for that situation. I will not leave that point. That is not the kind of gratifying progress report with which the Parliamentary Secretary delighted the House. I got up to ask him to make it quite clear that he had already approved schemes costing £800,000 out of which £400,000 would be spent as grants. In that figure the Parliamentary Secretary exceeded the figures in the Estimates of last year. Now the brake is to be put on. They then expected to spend not less than £300,000. Now they expect to spend, according to their estimates, £150,000. I cannot think that the Government are tackling this hill farming side of the matter with the dash that we should expect of them. Is it the farmers who have been slow in preparing schemes? Is it not that the Government had been slow in considering these schemes and that they are so muddled in their administration between the counties and Whitehall that little has been done or will be done in the immediate future, either this year or next year?
§ Mr. Collick (Birkenhead, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman give us the evidence on which he makes that statement?
§ Mr. Turton
If the hon. Member will read the document which has been so often quoted today, "Meat from Marginal Land," he will note that the Exmoor Survey has said that one of the drawbacks of the Hill Farming Act—I will quote from page 9—is:It is considered that the scope of the Hill Farming Act, as at present administered, is too restricted; nor is it administered uniformly in all counties.The ex-Parliamentary Secretary may well feel rather unhappy that the Hill Farming Act is being administered so badly 2173 by his successors. The problem of hill farming does not really touch the problem of marginal land. We have often felt the Government were tackling this matter, as they have tackled others, at the wrong end. We should improve first the land which shows the greatest return, not the land on the top of the hill but the marginal land.
In what I think was a very misleading reference to the Hill Farming Act, the Parliamentary Secretary said that it was possible that fields in marginal land would be included in the Hill Farming Act. That has only limited application to where there are on such a farm moor sheep that are qualified under the Hill Farming Act. That means that it is only the minority of marginal land farms that are included. The problem of marginal land must be tackled if we are to increase and improve the meat situation. I should like to quote one further passage from the Exmoor Survey which has not been quote up to now. It states, in page 8:The Survey confirms the generally accepted view that the marginal land farmer is the most depressed class in British agriculture today—and next to him the hill farmer. They are depressed because of their low level of remuneration. They have run out of capital. They are often forced into dairying under unfavourable conditions, because of their need for ready income.They go on to say that in Scotland, Northumberland and Wales economic surveys agree with the results of the Exmoor Survey.Two out of every three farmers on hill and marginal land are earning no more than the value of their own family labour.That is the problem, I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree. As he goes round the country he will see that life is uneconomic for the people on the marginal land. What good is it, as has been announced today, to throw an odd £100 among the marginal farms in the country. That is not the way to tackle the problem. It has no imagination or drive and it may produce bad farming rather than good. Farmers may want to bring back into good cultivation by reseeding a field of some 12 acres. Is that a problem which they can tackle under the £100 scheme? £240 would be the cost of the seeds alone. I suggest that the Government should think again on this scheme which would concentrate the 2174 round sum grants on a very small number of farms.
We should try to organise ambitious schemes for opening up areas of marginal land. The first thing that my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out in his opening speech was that unless the Government face the problem of roads in remote agricultural areas they will never attract the maximum number back to those lands or bring profit back to those marginal farms. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to take that matter back to the next meeting of the Cabinet and tell them that in order to bring productivity to the marginal lands he must be able to do something to increase and improve roads. Most of the marginal areas are not equipped with good roads. They must be so equipped. That is work of a capital nature.
I did not gather from the Parliamentary Secretary that he disagreed with my right hon. and gallant Friend when he said that this was urgently necessary. What he said was that the sum of money available imposed definite limitations. That was one part of his speech with which I agreed, and I sympathised with the Parliamentary Secretary when he had to make that remark. Imposing such a limitation is negativing a solution of the problem. The danger is that by excluding work of a capital nature we are going to throw that work on to the tenant instead of on to the landlord, where it should be placed.
One of the greatest mistakes in the order is that by putting in it works such as fencing and ditching, which are normally carried out by the landlord, they will be forced on to the tenants by this order. Therefore, it is important that the Government should reconsider the wording of Order No. 536. And while on that order, would the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether there is any limit to the number of farms which county committees may help under the £100 limit? I gather that as there are 60 county committees under his jurisdiction, it will work out at 50 farms per county. Will a county be allowed to help more than 50 farms?
The real test of the Government's agricultural policy directed to marginal land comes when one looks at the distribution between the different grasslands in the present economy. The temporary grasses have gone down in acreage since the Gov- 2175 ernment went into office; the permanent grasses have increased by 400,000 acres. What about the rough grazings? They were 5,550,000 when the Government came into office; today there are 1,000 more. So the result of the agricultural policy which the hon. Member for Taunton found so hard to criticise is that 1,000 more acres have become rough grazing. Surely we must tackle this problem by works of a capital nature, works that will encourage the farmer to get back into livestock production, and works that can be carried out by a tenant.
Finally—and I believe this is most important of all—we must have a system of encouragement of price that will help these marginal farmers to grow stores by getting a good price and a good market, whether it is for scalded cream or butter or some other form of cream. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary after this Debate, and after he has taken into consultation Members of the House of Commons, to consult those bodies which are at present studying the problem of marginal farming. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) said, there is today a committee of the National Farmers' Union studying this problem, and bodies such as the Central Landowners' Association and the National Union of Agricultural Workers are vitally interested in it. I do not ask for a committee which would involve delay, but I ask for new action based on consultation.
Then will the Parliamentary Secretary go back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say that he and his Minister cannot tolerate the limitations imposed by this small amount of £300,000? We do not grudge the money to the grandiose schemes of the Minister of Food, such as the £50 million for the East African groundnut scheme, but we do say that if a far smaller amount than that had been spent on the marginal areas of England, more meat would have been produced for the housewives of this country.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
Before the Parliamentary Secretary replies, may I ask one question?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Bowles)
The hon. Gentleman may in the course of the Minister's speech ask a question, and the Minister might then give way, but he cannot do so at the beginning.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I may have occasion to regret that Ruling, Mr. Bowles. This has been in many ways an interesting Debate, interesting for the light shed upon the speeches of hon. Members and their attitude on political issues elsewhere. I hope I shall be forgiven for starting perhaps on the wrong tack, if I say that when we have been backing this industry more than it has been backed in the lifetime of most of us in the House of Commons, when we have been putting all kinds of capital reinforcements into the price structure elsewhere, at a time when hon. Members opposite are continually pressing for reductions in national expenditure, it really is fantastic to make all this criticism that what we are doing is not enough.
Hon. Members had better get their political views straight. If they want to pretend to their agricultural constituents that they would double anything we do, that is all right, they can do it, although most agricultural constituents will have memories of what hon. Members opposite did when they had the chance. But they must not at the same time pose to other sections of the community, as the party that would get Income Tax and other taxation down because it would spend less. It cannot pose as being able to do both things for different sections at the same time. I suggest that there has been some refusal to face the facts with all this pressure to do yet more, to spend enormous sums of money and to take bolder views.
Before I deal with the points that have arisen, may I clear up three points that arose on my earlier speech? The hon. and gallant Baronet asked what was the acreage covered by the hill farming improvement scheme. I gave the cost but was unable to give the acreage. The figure for England and Wales is 730,000 acres, for Northern Ireland 80,000 acres, and for Scotland 2,220,000 acres. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) asked for the expenditure on cottages. I gave the figure for farmhouses and cottages of £300,000. Expenditure on cottages alone was £120,000 in England and Wales, within the inclusive figure of £300,000.
Then I was asked, both by the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) and the hon. Member for Thirsk and 2177 Malton (Mr. Turton), about the £100 discretion on which, apparently, I completely confused the last-named hon. Member for he is absolutely in the air over this. The £100 discretion is £100 of grant as I said, and not £100 total cost. While on that, the hon. Gentleman was rather scathing about what he called the £100 "scatter" policy, which, he said, would lead to bad farming. He has it all wrong. All I said was that to speed up the approval or the beginning of work, and to reduce delay before the work begins, committees now have authority to put into operation immediately, or to pay out immediately, on any work up to a limit of £100 per farm in any area without reference to the Ministry. The re-seeding of a 12-acre field, if it cost more than £100, would still qualify but the committee would not be able to authorise it at once. It would come into the Ministry, to the Land Commissioner, in the ordinary way for approval, but that would not stop it being carried out because it was a more expensive scheme.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Could the Parliamentary Secretary go a little further and say how long in his estimation these schemes will take inside the Ministry before they get final approval? Is it four months? I knew of one case which took as long as that.
§ Mr. Brown
Not if I have anything, to do with it, and if hon. Gentlemen know of any schemes taking that time, I hope they will let me know. It has been quite a headache to get the administration running smoothly. I should have thought that four months on a marginal land scheme was exceptional, although there have been some cases under the Hill Farming Act where we have taken more time because they were rather more comprehensive schemes. The intention of the marginal scheme is to get our part of it down to weeks, not months. I should be glad to know of any cases, because it gives us a chance to see where the bottleneck occurs.
I hope the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has it right now, that this is merely a limit over which the committee has not discretion to act but has to refer schemes in the ordinary way. The hon. Member also asked me whether I could say that my right hon. Friend will listen to the 2178 views of the N.F.U., the N.U.A.W., the Transport Workers' Union and the other bodies representing the landowners' interests in order to see what wider action could be taken. I said, and I repeat, that my right hon. Friend is considering this problem in the light of changing circumstances, and will certainly take full account of the concrete suggestions which I hoped would be made in the Debate. They have been extremely rare as it has turned out, but what I said about this Debate is certainly true about any views expressed to us outside. We are considering the wider aspects of this and will certainly take account of anything that other people have to say. Certainly the Exmoor Survey is one of those things which we shall be considering.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton tried to make some point of the fact that we have spent little money in the first two years of the Hill Farming Act. I pointed out that necessarily the implementation of the work was almost certain to lag behind. Although the Act runs out at the end of five years, we shall still be doing work under it for some time afterwards because these are comprehensive and big schemes which are bound to take time in preparation. Time is also taken before the farmers put in their schemes, and so I ask the hon. Gentleman not to ride off too easily on that point.
It is not solely a matter of Government responsibility if the scheme does not work out. If it does not, we shall have to consider seriously what has to be done to get the marginal land into full production. I say there is a responsibility on those farming the land, there is a responsibility on the industry, and if we make provision for schemes and schemes do not come in quickly enough for the work to get ahead, it is not necessarily a criticism of us. I refute completely the suggestion that we have been delaying them. I say the fact that we have given authority for work to proceed on 700 of the first 1,800 schemes, many ahead of final approval, is the answer to that suggestion.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) had the total expenditure all wrong. He said we were envisaging capital investment in this industry to the tune of £5 million or £6 million and that it was neither here nor there. I cannot make the total figures of investment 2179 under the hill farming schemes less than £13 million.
§ Mr. Brown
It is not only Government money. Why will hon. Members Opposite talk as if it is only Government money? If the sole responsibility for farming these lands properly were on the Government, and if only Government money were to be taken into account, then many of my hon. Friends would be entitled to say that in that case the Government had better reconsider the future of the industry. The hon. Gentleman is doing the greatest disservice to the industry and to the farmers. It is not only Government money. What we are doing is to make a contribution to them in order to assist them in what is, and what ought to remain, their fundamental responsibility. Therefore the figure is £13 million and not £5 million or £6 million.
§ Mr. Brown
It is not exactly what the hon. Gentleman said. It is even less what he said, for another reason. One would think that hon. Members opposite had never heard of the 1947 Agriculture Act, had never heard of the expansion programme, had never remembered that we have, since the implementation of the expansion programme, put in £40 million a year by way of the price structure in order to provide £200 million for investment in this industry. We have put in £40 million a year over five years in order to provide from Government sources a large part of the capital needed because we knew the industry had had such a raw deal in the years before the war, about which hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to know a good deal.
We accept what is in "Labour Believes in Britain." We take the view that we cannot afford to waste a single acre. All the schemes I have outlined—the Hill Farming Act, the marginal land scheme, the other forms of assistance such as the Goods and Services scheme, our own committee services are all ways in which, on top of the Agriculture Act, on top of the expansion programme, we are trying to see that we do not waste any acres.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has had to leave. When he gets 2180 back to Hereford and starts talking to his small farmers and tells them that he has advocated the complete withdrawal of our machinery pools, he will have an uncomfortable time. For an agricultural representative in this House to talk like that, with the picture of world population and food as it is and with the heavy dependence on North America and all the tragedy one drought in North America or one crop failure would bring—there has been a series of good harvests there—to talk as though we could lightly do away with the acreages of cereals and potatoes we are growing in this country, is to do a disservice.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what my hon. Friend said. If we took away the machinery pools we could release the small farmers on arable land from arable cultivation.
§ Mr. Brown
And we could not get the acreage of cereals in this country. To that extent we would be more dependent on North America for cereals and that would be doing the greatest disservice to our people. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) mentioned three particular farms. We have all the power necessary to deal with people who are farming in that way and if he can give the details I will find out what the county executive committee are doing about it. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), who told me he was unable to stay, said that we had failed to show a deliberate purpose in this marginal order. Again, that is taking the marginal order out of the picture in which it must be set. I was very careful in my opening speech to say that we cannot deal with this alone.
The deliberate purpose is the target of food production set out in the programme, of which we are now in the second year of achievement. The order is the means by which we seek to enable one group of farmers suffering exceptional difficulties to have special assistance in addition to other assistance they get, to meet their part of the target. There is a very clear picture.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I wish to ask an important question which contains a practical suggestion. Following the Exmoor Survey, will the hon. Gentleman invite Lord Fortescue, Mr. Tom Robbins, Mr. John Robbins, Mr. Oliver Robbins, 2181 Mr. Westcott, Mr. Clatworthy, Mr. Harry Watts, and Miss Mary Etherington to advise him how to increase the sheep and cattle population of Exmoor? I am sure they could make a practical suggestion, and I will supply their addresses.
§ Mr. Brown
At least some of those names are well known to me. I am on friendly terms with some of them and know something about that area. Exmoor happens to be one area in the country making much better use than others of the assistance open to them under the Hill Farming Act. We do all we can to assist them in doing that. I am sure that if they take advantage of the arrangements we shall step up production much more.
We have had an interesting Debate. I cannot believe that anyone would say in respect of this group of farmers on the marginal and hill lands that they are not better backed up in their job today than they have ever been before. They have a guarantee of security and the benefits of the price structure and there are these additional schemes which we are discussing today. I like much more than the note struck by some hon. Members, the speech of the Deputy President of the National Farmers' Union at Seale Hayne, which was quoted in last week's "British Farmer." He said he believed the outlook for British agriculture was better than it had ever been. He went on to say:I think we are taking part in a second agricultural revolution. We have the greatest opportunity we have had for 100 years to rebuild the industry.That is the note which should be struck and that note is being struck in the change of attitude in this industry since we have been in power. If we talk about the responsibilities of the industry and then about the duty of the Government to help them to meet those responsibilities and a little less as though the responsibility were all on the Government, we should get on better in the countryside. Of course we have not solved the problem of the approach to the marginal land question. It has occupied the time of greater men than I am. We have to find the answer and we will think about it and be glad to hear others, and if a bolder approach can be found, I am sure my right hon. Friend will consider making it. In the meantime, we say quite firmly that we 2182 have made a pretty big effort in helping to give these farmers an opportunity to do a better job than they have done before.
§ Mr. Joseph Henderson (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum not exceeding £50, be granted to His Majesty towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Rural Water Supplies for the year ending on the 31st March, 1950, namely:
|Civil Estimates, 1949–50|
|Class V, Vote 1, Ministry of Health||10|
|Class V, Vote 13, Department of Health for Scotland||10|
|Class VI, Vote 9, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Food Production Services)||10|
|Class VI, Vote 20, Department of Agriculture for Scotland||10|
|Class VI, Vote 18, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research||10|
§ —[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]