§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Sparks.]
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I make no apologies for bringing forward a matter which I have raised on several previous occasions, although to do so now may seem ungenerous in view of the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture on 23rd March. I refer to the idle acres of Great Britain. I look upon it as a matter of extreme importance to the survival of this country that every acre of land in this country which is capable of production should be made to do its job. Therefore, although the Minister said on 23rd March that the facts will be made available when the committee that has been investigating this matter has sent in its report, I would point out to the House that the time for investigation and for talking has gone by, and it is time that the Government took active steps to tackle the problem with which they are faced.
I shall endeavour, so far as I possibly can, to keep politics out of this Debate. This is not a party issue. It is an issue which I think all hon. Members who have agricultural experience will agree should be tackled. We could spend the whole of the afternoon in debating the past, as to which party was responsible for the neglect of agricultural land in Great Britain. I would say that the country decided for an industrial era over the last 100 years, and that no single party was responsible. It was the opinion of the country that industry was the only thing that mattered, and the result was that our land became derelict. Many of our forefathers were driven off the land, houses tumbled down and buildings went into disrepair.
That position has now completely changed, and I am giving the Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity to make an announcement this afternoon which will carry the process a stage further. If I may use a football analogy, I hope that this afternoon I shall manoeuvre the ball in front of the goal so that the Parliamentary Secretary can pop it in.
1332 What this country is not realising sufficiently is that our industrial supremacy has gone. It has been going for many years without the fact being appreciated. While our industrial supremacy and export trade were diminishing, we were kept on our feet by the invisible exports and the investments abroad which our forefathers, with their thrift, made possible. Two world wars and the fact that we have taught other nations how to manufacture goods means that we are in a position completely different from that which prevailed before the last war.
We are, at the moment, living in a fools' paradise. We are living by the aid of our American and Empire friends—
§ Mr. Baldwin
—and in a short time that aid will have finished. The Parliamentary Secretary says that this is nonsense, and many of his hon. Friends have said the same. I do not think so, but I do not want to get into any political controversy.
§ Mr. Baldwin
The Parliamentary Secretary says, " Hear hear," but it was he who started this exchange.
We have been dependent to a very large extent upon help from our American friends and from the Empire, and with that help, by getting our food without paying for it, our industrialists have been able to export goods in payment of sterling balances which are called unrequited. What we must face is the time when American aid ceases and when we shall have to stop sending abroad goods for which no payment is forthcoming. That will be the testing time. As one who voted against American aid in the first place, I hope that when it ceases, we shall not again go on our hands and knees asking for assistance. Five years after the war, it is about time that we stood on our own feet without tying ourselves to any other country.
My only complaint of a political nature is that this problem has not been tackled with the urgency which it demands. This is no reflection upon the Ministry of Agriculture. The pace of this operation must be a Cabinet decision and be con- 1333 ditioned largely by the amount which the Chancellor may feel it is possible to provide to bring back the land into full operation. About three years ago, in one of our yearly crises, the Prime Minister mentioned the importance of raising our agricultural production. That seems a long time ago, and I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary something which is up-to-date and ask him to give to us in the countryside some hope that this problem is to be tackled as a battle operation.
I am sorry that I have kept the Parliamentary Secretary away from his engagements tonight. He will think that he is fated in these Debates, because the first time I brought this matter forward two years ago, I kept him out of bed in the early hours of the morning. Since then the Opposition gave up a Supply Day last October, when this matter was thoroughly discussed and a very useful Debate followed. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that vigorous action is being taken, but I cannot agree. I appreciate, and am not throwing any contempt at, the arrangements which provide grants for drainage, for water supplies, or those under the marginal production order, but in view of the magnitude of the problem these are a very small contribution.
By way of comparison, I should like to call attention to the vast millions of money which have been expended, through the Overseas Food Corporation, on the groundnuts scheme, on the Gambia poultry scheme, and on sorghum growing in Queensland. I do not wish to say anything about the development of the colonies, but I feel that if that money had been made available for the land of this country we could have obtained very much better results. In the Socialist manifesto " Labour believes in Britain," it is stated that:The battle of food cannot afford one wasted acre or inefficient farmer.I quite agree. I do not always agree with the Socialist Party, but I agree with that and I want to see them take steps to implement that declaration.
I am fully aware that surveys are at present being made. There is the National Farmers' Union survey, the land utilisation survey and I think the Ministry of Agriculture are themselves conducting a survey. But the time for surveys has gone. A comprehensive survey of the land is contained in the National 1334 Farm Surveys of England and Wales of 1941 and 1943. No further surveys are needed; neither is it necessary to go on with the experimental farm in East Lancashire which was foreshadowed by the Parliamentary Secretary when he participated in the Debate last October.
We want no experiments. All that we need to do is to look at the practical jobs of work that are being done throughout Britain. There are the great reclamation schemes by Lord Lovat and by my hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Snadden); on the East Anglian shores some enterprising men have reclaimed from the sea thousands of acres of land; and there are other practical examples on the hills of Wales. We have the Exmoor survey. What more surveys do we want? What we want is not further surveys, but action. In addition to the surveys I have already mentioned, there exist excellent papers by Professor Ellison, Mr. Moses Griffiths and Mr. Beresford, all practical people, who have written very good papers and have given lectures on this subject.
There is no need for any further delay. What the Ministry of Agriculture should do is to get in touch with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, make the money available, and instruct every county agricultural committee to get on with the job and to give to the practical men in the counties the authority to tackle these problems. Any further waiting is completely unnecessary. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that the Chancellor has recognised the value of the reclamation of marginal land, for at the National Farmers' Union dinner last year he said that money would he made available for a continuation of the marginal reclamation scheme.
Let me give an illustration of the possibilities of land which is completely derelict but which can be made to do a job. Close to my farm a small area of land became available in January. It was almost completely covered with thorn bushes, bracken and heather. The new purchaser got busy with bulldozers and a prairie buster plough. He limed the ground and slagged it and, with any luck in the way of weather, a crop of corn will be forthcoming in the autumn. At a modest estimate, that 25 acres of land will produce enough bacon to provide a weekly ration for 34,000 people.
1335 If the hon. Gentleman would like to engage in a little arithmetic to find out what would be the result of tackling a million acres of land, which is quite an easy job—there are a million acres of land which could do just as much as the patch to which I have referred—he would find that the Ministry of Food could be dispensed with tomorrow, or at least as soon as the land comes into cultivation. That is how quickly this land can be made to produce. In my own county there are about 8,000 acres of this marginal land, and a modest estimate by the county agricultural committee is that that land can be made to produce anything from 15 cwts. to 20 cwts. of corn per acre. If anyone cares to work that out in terms of bacon, he will see that a great contribution would thus be made to the housewives' larder compared with that obtained for the millions of pounds that have been expended and are still being expended on overseas gambles, from which we have, so far, had no results.
I know that the Parliamentary Secretary optimistically said in June, 1948, that the Government scheme would provide 250,000 tons of groundnuts per year when it really got going. That was two years ago, and it is about time it had really got going, but I cannot foresee 250,000 tons of groundnuts per annum yet. It may be said that we cannot, in present conditions, afford the vast amount of capital expenditure which would be required for the policy I am advocating. I suggest that it could be saved from some of these gambles which are going on abroad and could be put Into a certainty in our own countryside.
I go still further—and in doing so I am laying myself open to criticism among many of my former friends. The £6 million or £7 million a year which we are now spending on the calf subsidy scheme would be better expended on the reclamation of marginal land, and we should then secure a real increase of store stock. During the Committee stage of the Measure dealing with the matter, I said it was fantastic to think that that money was being made available to a great majority of farmers, of whom I am one, who receive a subsidy on a calf which they would have reared whether they received a subsidy or not. It would be better to spend that money on bringing 1336 land back into cultivation so that people can begin to rear calves on that land.
I desire to call attention to what, in my view, is the greatest waste of land in Great Britain today. I refer to land known as common land, which is in existence all over Great Britain. A great deal of it is lying waste in the middle of fertile land. This common land is held under a variety of conditions. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to make a statement today about this common land. The time has come when this matter must be tackled. Much of this land was requisitioned during the war by the county agricultural committees and was brought into cultivation. I have had personal experience of some of that land, which grew 30 cwts. per acre of wheat. The day is close at hand when that land must be handed back to the commoners. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us what he proposes to do.
In the Debate in June, 1948, he used words to the effect that the Ministry were determined that county committees should take any land which could reasonably be taken without undue interference with common rights and public rights of recreation. I know that in discussing common land one lays oneself open to a great deal of criticism and probably misrepresentation. Amongst many of our common holders there are somewhat unhappy memories of the Enclosure Acts of the 19th century, and when any suggestion is made about any further enclosure there is immediately an outcry. I wish to make it clear that I am proposing to do nothing to hurt the commoner or the people who want to use the commons on which to throw their empty tins and beer bottles when they are on holiday. I wish to see that all interests are protected and that the commons are made of some present use to the common holders. Before the war these commons were absolutely useless. They were a menace to the good farmers adjacent to them as the commons could be breeding places for vermin and a source of weeds, etc.
We should do something to make these commons of some value. There are several ways of dealing with them, and I put forward some suggestions in the hope that they may be of some help to the Ministry of Agriculture. I must first 1337 say that every common must be treated on its merits. The condition of a common in one part of a county may be quite different from that of a common in another part. Therefore, the decision as to what should be done to a common should rest largely with the county agricultural committee, who know the local circumstances. Some commons have a court leet, and in those cases it is known what are the rights attached to each holding. On other commons there is no court leet, and there are no documents in existence to tell who has common rights, nor can it be said what those common rights are. Those cases are difficult to deal with, but they must be tackled.
I suggest that the commoners should be given a portion of the common as their land, which they themselves can enclose. In that way we shall overcome the difficulty that is aroused as a result of the Enclosure Acts. My suggestion is that whatever rights a common holder has in respect of a common he should be compensated by being given a portion of that land. He should then be made to farm it as the rest of the land in the neighbourhood is being farmed. Another way of dealing with the matter is that the commoners could form a cultivation committee which should be put under the same supervision as any ordinary farmer, and they should be compelled to keep that common in production in the same way as any farmer in the neighbourhood is compelled to keep his farm in production. A third course, which has been suggested in my county, is that the county agricultural committees should farm the land on behalf of the commoners and arrange the rotation so that a portion would be under temporary pasture and there would be available some good grass on to which the commoners could turn their stock.
A great objection to any of these courses is the fact that we are endeavouring, so far as we can, to put our dairy industry on a completely T.T. basis. If the occupier of a farm which has been passed under the T.T. order has common rights those rights are of no value to him, because he dare not turn out his cattle among cattle which do not come from a T.T. farm. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something on the provision of cattle grids, which was mentioned in the Gracious Speech; in so 1338 doing, he might avoid a Debate next week. If these commons were enclosed there would be no need for cattle grids. I know that there will be an outcry from the Minister of Town and Country Planning against these propositions because the ramblers' associations will be up in arms.
As I said before, I do not wish to do any harm to anybody. My experience of common land is that, generally, all that is necessary is a 30 or 40-yard verge on each side so that people can come along on their half-day or holiday and leave it littered with waste paper, empty tins and beer bottles. I would not like to deprive them of that opportunity, and I would still leave that verge. I would also leave a wide pathway over the common so that members of the ramblers' associations might enjoy a ramble in the future more than they can at the present because of the thorns and bushes on the ground.
I hope I have made some constructive suggestions and I would urge the Government to take steps such as Denmark took many years ago. There were great areas of marginal land in Denmark, where the population live under worse climatic conditions than we experience in this country. That may be difficult to believe, but it is so. In Denmark grants up to two-thirds of the cost were given, and the result is that there is less waste land in Denmark today than could be discovered if one took a walk for five miles out into the countryside in Britain. The present Minister of Agriculture in Eire, Mr. Dillon, is taking the same steps. He has cut away all " red tape." He has formed a separate Ministry and given grants up to two-thirds of the cost for approved schemes. The result is that he is so inundated with schemes that he cannot tackle them fast enough. Those are two examples from two countries from whom we are buying a large proportion of our foods. It seems to me suicidal to buy our food from those countries while our own land is lying idle.
One of the results of bringing this land under cultivation would be that we should save foreign exchange. This question of foreign exchange will always be a difficult one for this country in the future. The economy of the nineteenth century has gone, and will never return. The export industry of our country will have a hard job to provide the exchange necessary to 1339 buy the raw materials with which to keep our industries going. As a nation we are unbalanced in that respect, more than any other country in the world. It is about time we translated some of our population from these development areas and built-up areas into the fresh air of the countryside.
Another benefit would be that if we developed all the land which I am proposing should be developed, we should not only restore the hardy store stock necessary to keep our own animals going, but we should also be able to infuse into the nation a little of the virile manhood and womanhood which it had a 100 years ago, when we were mainly an agricultural nation. An infusion of that sort of blood would be an advantage. After 100 years of industry and two wars, I consider that we are becoming an exhausted population. Last, but not least, the provision of more food from our countryside is a second line of defence. In two world wars we have been practically on the verge of starvation owing to the fact that we have been almost unable to keep the lifeline necessary to feed the population.
A great deal of our war effort had to be diverted—especially so far as the Navy was concerned—to keep that lifeline. Heaven forbid that war should come again, but we are spending millions for defence purposes and I say that a few million spent in seeing that, if war does come again, we shall have food on our own doorstep, instead of having to depend on food brought across the water, would be a good thing. Food brought across the water would be subjected to a much more intensified form of underwater attack in a future war than we have ever experienced before. If reports are true Russia has an enormous fleet of underwater craft, and I say that if we blunder into war without taking the necessary steps to see that we increase our food supplies, then we shall deserve all that we shall get.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
With the general principle enunciated by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) that we should produce to our utmost capacity and, so far as possible, conserve our food supplies, every intelli- 1340 gent Member in this House would be in agreement; but for him to say as he did in effect, that he was not so much blaming the Minister of Agriculture as the Cabinet, because the Cabinet did not tackle this problem with urgency, seems to me to be a bit of belated philosophy; and proves that he has not studied the records of his own party.
If ever there was a party with a poor record so far as agriculture is concerned, a party which neglected the land of this country, which paid agricultural labourers a semi-starvation wage, which drove men off the land in hundreds of thousands, which helped to cause slums in our towns and cities in order to make profits for manufacturers, it is the party to which the hon. Member belongs that certainly deserves the utmost stricture. For him to try to tell this House that the Labour Party and the Government are failing in their obligations and record regarding the agricultural workers of this country is, if not a piece of blatant hypocrisy, a piece of thinking unworthy of any hon. Member who occupies a place in this House.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) has mentioned the word " hypocrisy." Is it not more blatant hypocrisy that his party has gone to the country saying that the Socialists do not believe in the nationalisation of the land?
§ Mr. Mack
The question of hypocrisy does not. I do not think it is hypocritical for the Labour Party to make speeches about their immediate policy in regard to the land. At the moment the Labour Party have stated they have no intention of nationalising the land, but they have added that if there is any land which is derelict or wasted, or of which proper use is not being made, then the Government will reserve to themselves the power to deal with that land.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
Would not the hon. Member agree that in fact there have been so many contradictory statements from the Labour Party about this matter of the nationalisation of the land that we do not know where we are?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think we ought to discuss the nationalisation of the land on the Adjournment, because it involves legislation, and therefore it is out of Order.
§ Mr. Mack
I appreciate your kindly and correct intervention, Mr. Speaker. I was tempted to reply because of the ignorance of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will proceed to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Leominster. Is he aware that between the two wars—I think my figures are correct-3 million acres of good land in this country went out of cultivation? Is he aware that for many years the agriculture labourer was grossly under-paid and over-worked, and that those two things inevitably went together? Is not he aware that, so far as making the men happy and contented If concerned, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Labour Government in general, deserve the encomium and appreciation of every Member of this House who is not a purblind partisan? That is the record of the Labour Government.
I wish that this wonderful building were full of farmers, rich farmers, prosperous farmers with rubicund faces, which would indicate that they were being well nurtured and looked after by the Government for the first time in the history of this country. Even the farmers kept pretty quiet during the election—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I have listened with the greatest interest to the hon. Member's speech. Do I understand him to say that he himself is a typical rubicund British farmer?
§ Mr. Mack
No, I am not. I have the honour to be a Britisher and I regard that as a great honour, but I am not rubicund and I am not a farmer. The important middle part, is t hat which I claim the honour to be. I would say to the 1342 noble Lord, whose presence in the House always makes my heart leap, as, in the words of Wordsworth:when I behold a rainbow in the sky.The hon. Member for Leominster asked why we should go on our hands and knees for American aid. Every good friend of America in this House—and I am sure we are all good friends of America—would tell the Americans, as between friends, in a very blunt and honest way, that the American people greatly benefited by British sacrifice in the last war, and that whatever help they have given—and we have never failed to appreciate it—is only a part payment for the great sacrifices we made when, alone at one stage, we took the brunt of the enemy's assault. Even if we did little in agriculture at that time, because of the call on our manpower and the sacrifices we made, and the fact that we had to lend money to other countries, surely it is to the collective credit of this nation that, at least, we played an honourable and noble part, and the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) would be the first to appreciate that.
We will discuss a few facts about the position in agriculture today. It is well known in this House that nearly half the food we consume is produced in this land. That is an outstanding achievement, but I admit that there is room for improvement. I feel sure that the Ministry would be glad to receive any positive and practical suggestions from any quarter of the House which would help towards more production. If the hon. Gentleman was dribbling the ball into position for us to put into the net, to use his football metaphor which is so appropriate the day before the Cup Final, I would say that at least we are the people who will score the goal. All his manoeuvring—and perhaps manoeuvring is the right word to use in this connection—however clever, and however much pattern weaving there may be on the greensward of political debate, will not in itself achieve the scoring of the goal which, alone, can give victory to British agriculture. Let the hon. Gentleman leave the goal scoring to us, and I am sure he need have no worries about it.
There is another factor about the money laid out in agriculture. I am open to contradiction, but I understand that we have paid something like £40 million per 1343 year in capital investment in agriculture over the last five years. That is by no means the whole story. I think it is right to say, and again I am open to contradiction, that in this country the land is more fecund, more productive, than it is in any other country in the world. British agriculture, with all its limitations, is the most highly organised agriculture in the world. Whether one considers countries on one side of the Atlantic or the other, the same comparison applies.
That has been achieved in a few short years. If we go back and look at some.of the towns like Stoke-on-Trent, Wigan 'and the big manufacturing cities, we will find that the slums, those dreadful, grim and grimy conurbations, have been the outcome of the fact that the land was neglected. Many fine potential agricultural workers and farmers were driven from their land because of debt, incompetence, inadequacy and a supine policy pursued by the party to which the hon. Member for Leominster belongs. I hope that he is not leaving the House now—
§ Mr. Mack
I am overjoyed. It is a matter for great encomium that an hon. Member taking part in an Adjournment Debate, has to leave the House because he cannot stand the full facts, although I am prepared at any time to give way to him or anyone else if they can confute the statements I have made. The fact that the hon. Member has left is a noteworthy incident which we can rightly remember at an appropriate time.
Under the boundary alterations, a certain amount of agricultural land has been put into my constituency. I want to say this, because I think it is worth knowing. When I went to be introduced to my new constituents, I found that they had been in what was hitherto a Tory constituency. I explained the Labour Party's agricultural policy, as far as I could. I do not claim to have any special knowledge of it, and I would not for a moment try to represent myself as a practical man in farming. I have only the average intelligent understanding of farming which I think every lay Member of this House can have. The facts are before them.
1344 When I went before them for the first time, they sported their colours and they said to their squires, or the big farmers or others in the district, " We are very proud and honoured to belong to the Labour Party." They did that, they said to me, because they had been given a new outlook on life. They said, " For the first time we are given a decent wage. We are now able to get cottages. We are not so much tied to the land as we were in the old tied cottage days." I admit, however, that a certain amount of that trouble still exists, unfortunately. I was glad and gratified to see that wonderful feeling of joy which was manifested by the people. They rejoiced in the fact that here at last was a Government with imagination and a sense of practical achievement.
I am very sorry for the hon. Member for Leominster, for his own sake, that he has thought fit to take himself from the precincts of this Chamber. He has not done himself justice. His words will have been reported, and I feel sure that every fairminded person who has no axe to grind and no malevolence in his make-up, reading and studying the Debate and having the facts before him—as I am sure they will be put before him by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary —will, for himself, assess which party has done the most for agriculture. I feel confident that the Ministry will be the first to grasp greedily any practical and helpful suggestion, from whatever quarter it comes, if it will mean that land which is not being used to full capacity can be taken up and made productive, so that our people will have ample food, good food and cheap food. They will do it equally to ensure that the man who sows the land, the man who uses the thresher and the tractor will be able to have a decent standard of living to give him encouragement to pursue a noble livelihood and to give the people of this country heart and good feeling for the future.
§ 2.58 p.m.
Major Hicks-Beach (Cheltenham)
I want to take this opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to one aspect of the development of common land. I think that, straight away, I should disclose that I am one of those unfortunate people known as Lords of the Manor, with quite a large acreage of common land. The aspect of the development of 1345 common land to which I want to refer is that which concerns forestry. In my case, during the war, and through no fault of any Government, I was forced to cut down a considerable acreage of woodland to assist the war effort. As it is common land, under the law I am not allowed to enclose it to replant. I do not believe that it is in the interests of the commoners, myself or the nation, that I should be debarred from replanting that common land.
The difficulty is to find an organisation of commoners with whom to deal in order to get consent to the necessary temporary enclosing. I should like the Government to consider whether they can lay down some procedure where it is in the interest of the nation that some form of enclosure may take place temporarily. Perhaps there should be a Ministry to which application could be made. That Ministry could set up an inquiry to hear the commoners, the public and all interested parties. If the Minister considers it advisable he should be in a position to make an order for temporary enclosure while our commons are being replanted, although I would add that I have no desire to interfere with the common rights of anyone.
The suggestion of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) that there are these areas of common land which can be used for agricultural development may well be true, but it is not my experience. I believe that common land has a great part to play in the development of forestry and in the pleasures of the people, but the difficulty which arises today in replanting forest land did not exist 40 or 50 years ago, because the land was not used very frequently and there were no week-end motor parties. I hope the Government will consider whether something can be done to provide for commons to be replanted in the national interest and the interest of individuals and the lords of the manor of the commons concerned.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has done a service to the House by enabling us to discuss this very important question of marginal land. If we are to raise agricultural production substantially in this country, it can only be done by reclamation of marginal land.
1346 The first point I have to submit is that there is a surprising lack of information at the present time about the extent of marginal land. The other day I asked the Minister of Agriculture what was the amount of marginal land in each of the counties of Wales, and the amazing reply was that that information was not available. I asked the right hon. Gentleman further questions, and he said that a survey was in progress. The questions which I now desire to put to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture are these: How far advanced is the Government's survey of marginal land, particularly in Wales? When may we expect to have the result?
My second point is this. I think the Government's policy with regard to the Hill Farming Act has been acceptable to all parties in the House, and certainly to the hill farmers themselves. The only complaint I would make about it is that it is not proceeding rapidly enough, though I will not proceed with that argument now. When we had a Debate in the last Session of the last Parliament on the subject of marginal land, the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replied, dealt almost entirely with what the Government had done under the Hill Farming Act. I am not complaining that the hon. Gentleman took advantage of the Debate to set out his Government's record, but the real problem which we are facing today, and the problem we should look into, is that of reclaiming that land which does not at the moment count as hill land—that marginal land which does not come within the scope of the Hill Farming Act. There are some millions of acres of such land, and our concern at the present time ought to be with that particular land.
The next point is that these marginal land farmers who do not come under the Hill Farming Act undoubtedly feel a considerable grievance at present because they do not enjoy the advantages of hill farmers. Very often, they are farmers who have not got the capital to develop and reclaim the land; very often they are tenant farmers, who feel a certain injustice. I know that certain concessions are made to them in respect of the services provided by the agricultural executive committees, but nevertheless these advantages fall very much short of the general provisions of the Hill Farming Act.
1347 The last point is that, undoubtedly, a great deal of money will have to be spent on reclaiming this marginal land if we are to increase production from it. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether the Government have any plans in mind for spending money on reclaiming marginal land when their survey has been published. How do they propose to raise the money, and is it to be by agricultural loan or otherwise? In fact, I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell us whether they have any comprehensive plan at all for marginal land. At the present time there is far too strong a tendency merely to take that land for afforestation, and I venture to think that if we spent only a part of what is now being spent on planting trees on that land in developing it for food production, the immediate return to the nation would be far greater.
The hon. Member for Leominster referred to a paper by Mr. Moses Griffiths, a distinguished agriculturist in Wales, on the problem of marginal land. At a public inquiry in my constituency last November, that gentleman said that if all the marginal land in this country were adequately developed we could sweep away meat rationing as soon as that was done. The hon. Member for Leominster also referred to the hundreds of millions of public money now being spent on defence. I feel that if only a small part of those hundreds of millions were diverted to the far better use of improving the land of this country, it would result in a much better defence, not only in time of war, but to our population in every sense in time of peace.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)
The concluding passage in the speech of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) is a familiar theme of of mine when addressing this House, and I certainly subscribe to the fact that if only a fraction of the nearly £800 million which we are spending this year on defence were sunk into our agriculture, it would be a real benefit to the nation. But I do not wish to obtrude that argument into this Debate, because I believe that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has done a very useful service in drawing our attention to the need for developing our marginal land. 1348 This matter certainly affects us in Scotland a good deal.
We in Scotland cannot complain of the lack of surveys of marginal land. We have very elaborate surveys, and we only wish that we had a policy in keeping with them. I think that the hon. Member for Leominster rather over-stressed his case. While we do need to take advantage of every possible facility and opportunity presented to us for developing and improving our food supplies, it is a mistake to think that we can live in isolation from the rest of the world, and, to use his words, "Paddle our own canoe." We have to think of an agricultural policy in relation to food production in other countries, and I think it should be linked up with Lord Boyd Orr's proposals for a world food plan. We cannot consider our agricultural development apart from that of the Colonies and the Commonwealth.
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there have been most interesting discussions going on between representatives of the National Farmers' Union and representatives of similar bodies in the Dominions which, at any rate, represent a step forward towards that end.
§ Mr. Hughes
I welcome that interruption. I rather thought that the hon. Member for Leominster regarded our experiments in developing food supplies in other parts of the world as gambles overseas. Although I follow him to a certain extent, I cannot see that the development of food supplies in the Commonwealth countries, in Africa, or in other parts of the world should be considered as a separate policy from the development of food supplies in this country.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if the African is fed according to his wants, and if we are to get work out of him, there will be no food coming out of Africa for this country?
§ Mr. Hughes
Even if there is no food coming out of Africa for this country, we have to remember that the Africans also are members of the British Commonwealth. The hon. Gentleman is only proving my point. In these days we cannot think of this island as being isolated from the food production in other parts 1349 of the world. We cannot live in isolation. We cannot go back and become a small agricultural country without reducing the standard of life of our people. Whether we like it or not, we have to remember that we have become an industrial nation. I agree that the sooner we get that top-heavy state of affairs remedied, the better. Yet we must remember that our food plans should be linked up with food plans of other countries. I hope the hon. Member for Leominster will join with me in supporting the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I hope he is prepared to link his plans for food production in this country with the world food plan with which the name of Lord Boyd Orr is associated and which is the only permanent solution of what is an international problem.
But I come to the question of developing marginal land in Scotland. The hon. Member for Leominster referred to the proposals of Lord Lovat and the hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Snadden). I wish the hon. Member for West Perth had been here to elaborate his proposal for developing marginal land in Scotland. He and Lord Lovat, in previous Debates here and in another place have outlined rather sketchily their proposals for using the Highland land of Scotland for procuring more sheep and cattle. In one Debate the hon. Member for West Perth rather startled me by suggesting that the deer forests of Scotland should be taken over for the rearing of sheep.
I was rather surprised to hear criticism from the then Secretary of State for Scotland that it was a romantic idea that deer forests could rear sheep. I do not subscribe to that at all. In my own constituency, for example, we have upland marginal farms where, I believe, there can be a considerable increase in the number of sheep that could be reared for food. Here I am entirely with the hon. Member for Leominster because I believe we must encourage to our very utmost the development of sheep rearing in the upland areas.
I am not sure that he has approached the matter from the right direction. This will mean an enormous capital expenditure in Scotland. The hon. Member finished when I began to be very interested because he said it would be necessary to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and get the money—as if 1350 this were a very simple process indeed —and then let the agricultural executive committees get on with the job. I would be prepared to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to demand an enormous capital expenditure for the upland areas of Scotland. But who is to have the benefit of this money? Surely, we are not going to develop sheep rearing in the Scottish Highlands in order to increase the income of the landlord.
I put it to the hon. Member for West Perth that, as he began to get his hazy, sketchy idea into something like concrete and practical form, he began to realise that the implication of what was coming from the Conservative Benches was a vast expenditure of public money and a public enterprise. The State was to come in, and he was advocating something in the way of nationalisation of agricultural enterprise. I believe we have to do it on a big scale and that we cannot hope that the ordinary small farmer can put a large amount of capital into the development of sheep and cattle in the Scottish Highlands, for example. I suggest that this is absolutely essential, and that we have got to give the utmost support to any concentrated demand for the reorganisation of our agriculture in order to increase the food supplies in this country. We cannot go back to the 18th century.
When I heard about the common land, which is not so much a problem in Scotland, I was reminded of a poem by G. K. Chesterton which ended with a reference to the common land turning up in the squire's back yard. Whether they like it or not, hon. Members opposite who' are demanding the organisation of agriculture on new lines to give us an increase in our food supply are unconsciously developing an argument which must involve them in greater and greater support for public enterprise. I can foresee the time when this demand will take the form of land corporations in the Highlands developing the idea of Lord Lovat and the hon. Member for West Perth, and being committed to a large measure of Socialism without knowing what they have done. I beg the hon. Member to realise that this would result in growing more food in this country and would also lead to people leaving the towns and going on to the land, which would be a public service.
1351 When that time comes we shall have to spend more money on the development of marginal farming. We shall have to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I hope that we shall get some favourable result. But one cannot talk of decreasing national expenditure, as the Leader of the Opposition has been doing during the Budget Debate, saying that we must cut our expenditure—one cannot do that on Mondays and Tuesdays, and then come here on Fridays and say, " Go to the Chancellor for an unlimited supply of public money." If the economy of this country is to be changed, public money must be used usefully and productively.
I was very glad to hear an hon. Member refer to the danger of blundering into a war. If we concentrate our attention on the constructive measures necessary to improve the standard of life of our country, I do not believe we shall be in so much danger of blundering into another war and ruining our agriculture and our national economy.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent (Guildford)
I should like to refer to the point which was made just now by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I do not agree that public financial assistance on The scale that has been suggested would necessarily lead to nationalisation or to a national corporation: The mere fact that this land is marginal means that there is a considerable risk in getting profitable production out of it. It is impossible for a public corporation to undertake work of that kind without losing money, much more probably, than private enterprise.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) referred to the capital sum of £40 million a year which, he said, was coming into the industry. I imagine that that is an allusion to the £40 million,a year which was injected into the industry after the price review of 1947. That was intended as some contribution towards the capital heeded for the expansion programme, but it does not touch.the question of marginal land which we !are how discussing. As a matter of fact, I felt that the hon. Gentleman's allusion Ito marginal farming was the only marginal part of his speech.
1352 I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) for raising this subject which is of great public interest at present. With him. I should like to see financial assistance given to marginal land farming. I should like to see the calf subsidy retained as well. That is a very valuable measure; let us keep them both. I should also like to see the East Lancashire experimental farm proceeded with; indeed, I do not see why we should cut out any of those things.
On the general approach to the marginal land problem, it seems to me that we have to take a clear line. There are something like 17 million acres of what is called rough grazing, and I think a great deal of it will always remain rough grazing. It seems to me that the kind of approach we want is something in the form of a capital grant or a loan which will enable this land to be brought into economic production. The point was very rightly made by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) that a particular aspect of it is the near hill farming land which does not receive the benefit of the hill farming grant. Undoubtedly, many of those farmers are in serious difficulties today. It will not need very much of an economic deterioration to make those farms empty.
The sort of approach which I hope the Minister will make is to find suitable areas which can be brought into economic production and of a kind where the economic production will be strong enough to stand up to competitive conditions after a capital sum has been expended to bring them into full production. The sort of developments which will be needed for that include, probably, improvement of communications and roads, probably improvement of public services and certainly the introduction of main services like electricity and main water supplies. Certainly, too, we shall need facilities for the people to get into the towns, so that they can enjoy the ordinary amenities of life and entertainments which are enjoyed by people in the more accessible areas.
It seems to me that that is the kind of proposition which will be most profitable. We have all been talking for several years about schemes for the development of marginal land, and I hope the Minister is reaching a point where 1353 he will be prepared to act in this matter. I feel that there are areas—it may be a million acres, it may be four million acres—which could be brought into economic production, provided the capital work is done at the beginning—and that is obviously a job for the State. I hope that by the time the Minister has received the final survey, which, I believe, is now being completed, he will be willing to take action along those lines which will greatly add to the total food supplies of the country and will enable food production to be continued under economic conditions, even if competition becomes more severe.
§ 3.22 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
I am very glad that the Debate on this most important subject, initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), was not deflected very far from its course by the raucous echoes of the election speech made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack), and that we have been able to return to the real purpose of the Debate. I do not want to take up point by point the charges made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, but I think I can say that, in general, he tried to leave the impression that the fact that all land in this country is not equally well equipped and equally well farmed, and that some is what we call marginal land, is something for which the Tory Party can be blamed.
§ Mr. Mack
To guide the hon Member, may I point out that what I said was not that at all? What I said was that in the years past good land, potentially productive land, in this country was rendered derelict by a lack of foresight, imagination and good government on the part of the Tory Party and that the agricultural workers were in many cases compelled to go to the towns and to overpopulate them.
I do not think that that is really very relevant to point I was making. In general, I will stick to what 1354 I said: that the impression which the hon. Member left, to which the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) said " Hear, hear " so loudly, was that a great deal of blame attached to the Tory Party because all the land in this country is not equally well farmed and equally well equipped.
The Tory Party did not make the land of this country, and surely every hon. Member knows that all land is not equally fertile and has not the same problem of access. The problem of marginal land, excluding the odd example which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme may. be able to find in his own constituency or elsewhere, is an economic problem. I think that the marginal land which we are now thinking about is the land which we cannot under present circumstances' farm satisfactorily and at a profit. It may fall below the hill-farming line or be land close to the seashore, it is not all going to be an equally economic proposition until science, or some other method, can arrange for all the land of the country to be equally fertile, all to have the same access and all to share theoretical perfection, which is obviously quite impossible.
I do not want to confuse this issue by bringing in all the hill farming arguments. That is another subject which has been covered pretty adequately, except for the farm workers' house, in the provisions of the Hill Farming Act which reached the Statute Book in the last Parliament. But we still have this other problem of the marginal land to deal with. I do not think that to subsidise fertilisers, which is the tendency of the Minister of Agriculture at the present time, is to tackle the problem at the right end. Surely, the first thing that we have to do is to see that adequate capital equipment is invested in the land if we are to have any permanent improvement. Tackling the problem by subsidising fertilisers is not going to have a permanent long-term advantage, although it may be a most important short-term one.
I would like to impress upon the Minister the importance of encouraging the flow of capital to that land, and particularly to consider the problem of roads, which are a most costly item. Without good roads, we are not able to 1355 farm that land intensively. Equally, I am doubtful whether the improvement we hope to get in the production from marginal land is going to carry the interest charges and the heavy cost of making up the necessary roads without some special measure of help.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said " we " were spending £40 million of capital on that land. I am not quite sure whom he meant; whether he was speaking for the Government, speaking for the farming community, or speaking for himself.
The most important aid to the flow of capital to that land in recent years was contained in the Finance Act at the end of the war. If the Parliamentary Secretary can impress upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to try and extend his Income Tax reliefs on the investment of capital for fixed equipment on marginal land - and he has a day or two in which to do it - he would probably be doing the biggest service which the Government have it in their power to do at the present moment.
On the question of commons, which my hon. Friend also raised, we have a number of Measures on the Statute Book dealing with commons. None of them, I think, is very recent. I wish he would look into that. There are, as we know, schemes by which commons can be regulated. I think that is the technical expression. But surely there are too may cases in which one awkward man can stand in the way of what we would all like to call progress.
I do not think that it is necessary for us to have a lot of bulky new legislation, but I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to look into the present rules under the Acts to see whether he cannot simplify the system by which the commoners themselves are entitled to regulate their commons. Those who have had anything to do with commons regulation know the difficulties we are up against and that often the records of the authorities are obscure or lost. That is an important point, and if he can simplify these methods we shall all be grateful.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme also said that he would welcome— 1356 and he thought that the Minister would —any practical suggestion for the improvement of marginal land. I will venture to give one which I think is a new one. It is that this problem of marginal land immediately below the hill-farming contour should not be considered solely as an agricultural problem or solely as a forestry problem. The county represented by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) is likely to be considered solely as a forestry problem. It really should be looked at as a combined operation.
If the Parliamentary Secretary would cast his eyes to any of the neighbouring countries in Europe, he would find on such land, not enormous blocks of forests which have swept the agricultural population off their farms, but woods of moderate size on the steeper banks and flourishing farms in between, flourishing because of the shelter given by the woods, more productive and fertile than would otherwise be the case. We know that the Forestry Commission are not interested in agriculture, and that the farming community is little interested in forestry. If that could be got over, the whole problem would become very much easier. Shelter on the hill lands is one of the things we most lack. We lack shelter even more vitally than fertilisers.
If the Parliamentary Secretary remembers nothing else of this short speech of mine, will he please remember that, in the opinion of many people who have looked at this problem overseas as well as at home, the solution is easier if one can bridge this gap between forestry and agriculture. By considering this problem as a combined operation, I am quite certain that within a few years it will be possible not only vastly to increase the area under forestry but also vastly to increase the productivity of the farms in these areas.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
The fact that we on this side of the House are convinced that the Labour Party policy has been responsible for the greatly increased prosperity of the countryside—after all, we can have a bit of politics in an Adjournment Debate—need not divide the House in the serious consideration of this problem of marginal and common land. I do not claim anything like the expert knowledge of some Members oppo- 1357 site, but I feel that this is a matter in which we must be very cautious. It is an old economic axiom that the marginal producer sets the price, and obviously there is a point beyond which the development of marginal land becomes uneconomic from the point of view of the community as a whole. That is not in any way to underestimate the importance of this subject.
There is one particular point on which I should like to give a warning, which relates to common land. I am a commoner in the New Forest, where we have a number of interesting experiments going on in regard to the improvement of grassland. I am not a practising farmer, although one day I may be. Every week-end, when the House is not sitting, I see these beautiful patches of greensward as I drive past. In the distance what at first appears to be a crowd of crows is, in fact, a con-congregation of all the cattle on this improved land. The result is, as agriculturists must know, a deterioration in the rest of the rough grazing. Therefore, I make the point that in tackling common land the Minister and his agricultural executive committees must be satisfied that any improvements they make will be fully used by the commoners, otherwise money is wasted and the final result may be worse than before.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
The Parliamentary Secretary will perhaps agree with me that the use of the word " marginal " in its application to land is very difficult. It is extremely difficult to define land, and the word " marginal " gives the public at large the impression that we are pouring money into the schemes which will show no return. Today, the very existence of the country is marginal, especially as regards food supplies. The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) rightly pointed out that this matter should be considered in relation to the broadest possible scheme of things. It was also pointed out from this side, by way of interruption, that if more food is grown in Africa, a large part of it will be consumed in that country. We are seeing that with all these schemes of development now.
When we talk about marginal land in this country, it is advisable to understand that the great bulk of our land—whether 1358 it be the 15 million acres that some people talk of or the more conservative estimate of four or five million acres—is infinitely superior to a great deal of the land now being developed in areas such as South Africa, or in parts of South America. I was in Venezuela at Christmas time and saw some of the land that is being developed, and I believe that the land in the glens of Scotland has infinitely greater agricultural possibilities. Lord Boyd Orr's ideas may be slightly askew from day to day, but the general tendency of the world undoubtedly is the Boyd Orrian one, and the one that we are faced with on the long-term view. I therefore think that we should all be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for initiating this Debate this afternoon.
The immediate line that I should like to follow for a few minutes is the question of the actual shortage, and what looks like becoming a continuing shortage, in the world meat supply. I believe that to approach it from the angle of what meat we can produce in this country will perhaps get over some of the difficulties, though not, I am afraid, the difficulties of the Parliamentary Secretary in drawing the line between what is hill land and what is marginal land. That is an awfully difficult line to draw, and I sympathise with him in having to cope with that problem. The fact is, we are suffering, and may well continue to suffer, from a shortage of meat in this country. When one looks at the price that one cwt. of meat fetches today in Chicago and in the big American meat markets, one is really staggered by the cheapness of our own product. I believe it is 40 dollars for one cwt. there at the moment. When I was in America I went into a butcher's shop to buy a chop, not to bring home but just to find out what its price was, and the price was fabulous: 80 cents. That may be what hon. Gentlemen opposite call a retail margin. Even in the wholesale markets in the States one finds that today the price of meat is simply fantastic.
§ Mr. Fraser
That may be, but let the hon. Gentleman remember that he is getting quite a lot from capitalist America today. I believe, therefore, that we should look at the problem from that angle. The figures produced by Moses 1359 Griffiths and others show that there is in this country a possible production of another 200,000 tons of meat in the shape of more beef and more mutton, and I believe that to be perfectly possible.
Before we embark on any actual scheme for marginal land or hill land, or what might be called land which it is necessary to develop, attention should be drawn to two things. First, we are not putting nearly enough emphasis on quality production, which will lead in the long-run to a deterioration of production. This country has always been proud to be the stud farm of the world in all lines of animal production. It is undoubtedly disastrous that today cow meat and beef meat should fetch approximately the same price in the market. That is one factor which needs a great deal of stressing, and prices should be adjusted to make quality production more attractive. Only by producing quality, in the most efficient way, shall we produce the greatest quantity of meat for the amount of feedingstuffs that is allowed. Only thus shall we solve our problems here at home. Quality is most important, although perhaps outside this discussion on marginal land.
The other thing is the use of grassland. There is no question but that all experts would say that as a nation we are not using our grassland in the most efficient way, and a great deal more encouragement should be given there. How that is to be done, whether by the Agricultural Advisory Service or by other means, I do not know; but I am sure that that should always be uppermost in our minds. I should be very happy if the Parliamentary Secretary carries away with him those two thoughts, as I am sure the whole country would be if the action suggested were taken.
As to the actual plan to be embarked upon for marginal land, or for all these areas, whether they be above or below that level, the most important thing, of course, is that the survey should be carried out. I gather that that is being done, except in Scotland, and I should like to have information on this from the Minister when he replies. The time has come when, pressed around as we are with difficulties abroad, with most of our foreign assets gone, the use of the land should be much better controlled 1360 than it is at present by Government Departments. There is far too little coordination of land use and far too lavish use of land at a time when it is essential that we should carry out the maximum conservation of land.
My third point is this. It is essential to give to those who are engaged, or who are prepared to engage, in marginal or hill land production the maximum amount of long-term guarantee. All these things will take a great deal of time to get under way. They cannot be done quickly. It is clear to everyone who comes from Scotland and the Highlands or from Wales, that huge areas which were formerly in production have gone out of production. It will take time and money to restore them. One of the present troubles is that everyone working on these schemes is working on a very short guarantee of a matter of only three or four years. I think that in 1951 most of these subsidies and forms of assistance die out. This is a vital matter and one to which it is most essential that consideration be given.
One could go into a great variety of smaller points, including the question of the calf subsidy, which is necessary for milk cattle but which should not be applied to beef, and whether there should not be encouragement for cattle and sheep in hill schemes. One thing which emerges —and this is the last point I should like the Minister to take away with him—is that it is essential that the people who are to go into these things should be given, a programme which will last, not over one or two years, but over 10 years; and then we shall get people coming into the marginal agricultural industry. I hope that the Minister will see his way to saying something along these lines this afternoon, otherwise I fear that when he brings forward on Tuesday his Bill for cattle grids, he will be putting the grid very much before the cattle, and not only the cart before the horse.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Captain Soames (Bedford)
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) stressed the fact that the Government have put the farmers in a position to be able to produce sufficient food to feed half our population, or 25 million people. He did not add, however, that at the end of the last century we were 1361 producing enough to feed that same number. Surely, today, with the advances of science, we could do very much more than that.
I do not believe that much more food could be produced off land which is already in full production. We must maintain the fertility of the land, and it would be a mistake—indeed, I do not think it would be possible—to attempt very much to increase our food production in the way of store crops from land which is already under cultivation. If we are to increase our production, it is, therefore, to other land, and, of course, to marginal land, that we must look. Many attempts have been made to estimate how much marginal land is in existence which could be brought into full production. I should have thought that it was impossible to define marginal land, just as it is to define exactly what is good land or bad land, but there are certainly at least two million -acres which could be brought into production.
The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) spoke about sheep in Scotland, which is rather more a problem of hill farming than of marginal farming. He asked who, if the Government were to give a grant of money to make this land capable of rearing sheep, was to get the return for the expenditure of that money. He went on to say that we on this side of the House are constantly advocating that the Government should cut expenditure and then immediately afterwards asking for more money to do more things. Surely, he 'will agree that there is a difference between expenditure and capital investment?
On the other hand, I agree that this is a most difficult problem. If we examine the speeches made on both sides of the House on marginal land we find that we eventually get down to the main fundamental problem, which is: where is the money to be obtained to bring it about. I should be most grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would deal with that subject. If the Government make a loan to the farmers or a gift to the farmers or to the land to bring it into cultivation it is difficult to see that it is right for the farmer who is cultivating that land to have the benefit of that capital investment which he has not himself made.
1362 I do not wish to harp on this subject, but I put forward, in a speech I made on the Budget on this very subject, the idea that a land loan should be launched and the money loaned to the farmers. Assuming that £35 per acre would be required and that the acreage involved would be two million, the sum required would be £70 million, which I do not think could be found by the agricultural community today. In my view the best way would be to find that money within the country and get the people to invest their money in the land, something which has never happened before. In that way we will get the money and, as a result of it, the priceless dividend of more plentiful and cheaper food.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
We have had an interesting Debate today. It is entirely out of Order, as I, as Father of the House, know, to say anything which might reflect upon the House as a whole, but I wonder if there is any other country in Europe the legislature of which had before it a question of such immense importance as the one now before us, namely, what we should do with millions of acres—which is being discussed from a non-party point of view, on the whole, with useful speeches from both sides of the House—where there would be such a thin attendance even on a Friday. It is typical of the over-urbanised attitude of this country, which I am afraid this House reflects, towards the agricultural problem. l see the hon. Gentleman opposite shake his head. I do not intend to make a political speech; indeed, he will be rather pleased with what I shall say, but it is a fact that there is, and always has been, an over-urbanised attitude in Britain towards the land.
It is to the credit both of the late National Government and—I would pay this tribute to the hon. Gentleman—to the credit of the present Government that in the last 10 years we have to some extent broken through that and tried to get the " little street-bred people " as Kipling once called them, in a rather derogatory term, to realise that they could not eat the pavements and that, in the end, we have to rely upon those connected with the land for our food. In this Debate we have gone rather beyond the very important question which was raised by 1363 my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) in his most interesting speech. We have gone into all sorts of questions. One was raised by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on the subject of Lord Boyd Orr.
I do not wish to get out of the ambit of the Debate, and I would only deal with that subject by saying that here, again, where no party issue arises, there is room for more controversy on this question of whether or not there is a sufficiency of food in the world for the population of the world, than there is on any other matter. I assure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that I am not making a party point when I say, as one who has visited every colony in Africa, with two exceptions, that it is the fact, as one of my hon. Friends reminded him in an interruption, that if the Africans were given a sufficient diet for health it would probably mean the use of every acre of land in Africa for food growing. I believe that the Sahara is advancing at the terrifying rate of something like a mile a year. I know something of the land in Northern Rhodesia, and can appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for producing everything possible in this country.
I wish to deal with one specific point in this connection. The House will always pay attention to the views, however well or badly expressed, of someone who has had personal experience. I have had some experience not as extensive as the experience of some of my hon. Friends, but in the last few years I have had personal experience of the reclamation of derelict land. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows I have had many private conversations with him and with his right hon. Friend on the subject of derelict land. I cannot speak with the authority of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) who made a useful and helpful speech, or with the authority of my hon. Friend who spoke so well about the hill lands. But I can speak about the land near London.
I would start by making this affirmation, which I do not think anyone will deny: that, unfortunately, there is more land within 60 miles of London that could be cultivated—and which would be cultivated in any other European 1364 country—but which is not cultivated, than there is in the same distance from any other European capital. Again and again when going through what is sometimes known as the Garden of England, the County of Kent, French friends of mine—and the French are more an agricultural people than other nations realise—have said, " We think your country very beautiful, but we do not know why there is so much land which does not appear to be cultivated." They have said that they thought the best of our farms are as good as any in the world, but they do not understand why there is so much land which is neither properly afforested nor growing any crops. We have to cross the Atlantic to see a comparable condition. We have to go to Canada or America to see so much land unused within a distance of the capital.
It is no use any hon. Member making the party point against me that this all happened in the years before the war. It is true that it did, but the war started 11 years ago. Therefore, we may criticise both my right hon. Friend and the present Minister, if we wish to criticise them both impartially, for the fact that even after 11 years from the outbreak of war there is still, despite everything done since the war, this state of affairs. It is no reflection on the farmers and in that connection I would repeat what I have already said about the views of French visitors. In my opinion the general level of farming in this country is good. Indeed, I think we have the most highly mechanised farming industry in the world, and that there is a co-operation between the farmer and farm worker which is a joy to see and a credit to both.
What is the reason for these huge areas of uncultivated land within 60 miles of London? There is the question of common rights. There is a permanent misconception about commons. In this over-urbanised community of Great Britain there is a supposition that commons are intended purely for recreational purposes. That is quite incorrect. The original purpose of commons was to provide, as the term implies, common pasturage for cattle, sheep, goats and horses. It is quite true that in recent years some commons, quite a number near London, have been, and are still, governed by special Acts of Parliament, which make them purely recreational.
1365 I do not think that any resident on the outskirts of Putney Common could tether a horse or a goat on that common. He would probably get into trouble with the London County Council if he did. Incidentally, that in itself would astonish most people from abroad. They would say, " What do you mean? Where there is grass in a public place, merely used for walking over, people cannot use it for grazing. Why is that? What is wrong? Do not the English want to produce their own food? " But, of course, there would be an outcry if anyone were to use Putney Common for that purpose.
There are other commons which are still remote from large centres. There are several in my constituency, and several in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), who made such an excellent speech this afternoon. I only give these as examples. There are hundreds or thousands in other parts of the country. Some of them, within living memory, provided pasturage for sheep, cattle, goats and horses, but they are now overgrown with bracken, thorns and brambles. The majority of these commons are not used to any great extent for recreational purposes.
Here is an interesting, though perhaps delicate, point to bring up, because it affects the position of the police. Some of the commons to which I refer are still used, to some extent, for grazing, despite the fact that they are largely overgrown. Some portion of them may still be grazed. They are used because the local police officers do not put into operation the law which punishes a person for allowing cattle to stray upon the highway. In the case of other commons where cattle and sheep were grazed in the past—perhaps under a different police authority or with a local superintendent with a different point of view—it is impossible for the commoners to turn out their cattle, because they are punished if they allow them to stray.
I must be careful on this point, because I cannot remember whether I took up this matter with the hon. Gentleman's chief in a speech, or whether I took it up privately with him. If I took it up privately, I must not repeat the conversation, but I do not think that I shall be committing any fault when I say that there are difficulties about getting a 1366 common attitude towards this matter. I should welcome a statement from the Minister, as would my hon. Friends, that, so far as it is proper and right for the Minister to try to influence police authorities, he would welcome commons in remote parts or the country being allowed to be used for grazing, without punishment for allowing cattle to stray.
The position is rather ridiculous. If one motors through the New Forest at day or night one sees cattle all over the place. A few miles away, in another police district, if a cow strays on to a road after grazing on a common, the owner is summoned for allowing his cattle to stray. There is something wrong with the situation. I cannot go into the question of the alteration of the law. Indeed, it is not necessary, because this could be dealt with by, shall I say, tactful action, on the part of the police.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster made some suggestions about how to deal with commons. I am in general agreement with what he said. I am not sure that I am in complete agreement on the questions of detail which he put forward. As he himself said, this is not a matter for controversy between the two sides of the House: it is a matter open to differing opinions. I was in complete agreement with him when he said that it was something in the nature of a national scandal that all this land, which once produced food, in the form of giving grazing to animals, is no longer used. I withdraw the phrase, " Something in the nature of a national scandal." It is a national scandal to which attention has been called.
The other type of land which has become derelict, and it is found particularly in the Weald of Sussex and Surrey, and in many other parts of the Home Counties, is land which was originally agricultural land and which was put down to coppice land some 110 or 120 years ago, when there was a period of agricultural depression, when agricultural prices were low and when there were high values on the products of woodland industry.
§ It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed. without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]1367
§ Earl Winterton
Some of this land is still valuable coppice land, but a great deal of it is derelict coppice land, which no longer fulfils its purpose, and some of it is land on which the standard trees have been cut and which has never been 'afforested. I would put in a plea, not only on behalf of my own constituents, but on behalf of the whole or a very large portion of that huge area known as the Weald of Sussex, Surrey and Kent, for the consideration of this particular question.
There are these thousands of acres, whether of derelict coppice land or of land where the trees have been cut, and it is no use saying that they should be afforested, because it is a fact that the existing programme of afforestation in this part of the country—that is, of land already in the occupation of the Forestry Commission—will take at least ten years to carry out. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford would agree that one main difficulty 'is that there is no housing accommodation for the men who will do the forestry work. It will, therefore, take at least ten years, and, moreover, the private owners in most of the district are doing their best in the way of afforestation and cannot do more than they are doing now.
The third type of land which has be-tome derelict is that which has still not been reclaimed since the new policy was inaugurated at the beginning of the last war and is now covered with brambles and thorns, which in the Weald and many other parts of the country grow very quickly. I believe that if a survey was made of the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Guildford and Farnham and my own constituency—and there are about 20 other constituencies affected—it would be found that there are thousands of acres which would come into the category which I have mentioned, and. in the country generally, something like five million acres. My own county agricultural committee have given me some assistance by the use of bulldozers and other modern instruments and by blowing up stumps, I have converted a small quantity of worn-out woodland into reasonably good agricultural land.
The county agricultural committees in Sussex and Surrey—I am not familiar 1368 with the operations of other committees —have carried out, sometimes on their own and sometimes in co-operation with landlords, extensive schemes of reclaiming land which is overgrown with thorns and bramble. I was given a personal example of this co-operation in work which has been carried out on a portion of my own land at my home. There is an area of some 80 acres which has been overgrown with gorse and bracken ever since the days of the agricultural depression. Part of it, by an arrangement into which I do not want to go, but which was a completely fair one, between the tenant, the A.E.C. and myself, has been cleared by the A.E.C., and today has a permanent pasturage as good as I have seen anywhere on the Wealdan clay, and infinitely better than many of the permanent pasturages one used to see before the war in the best grazing districts. To the best of my belief, I think it pays.
We are not asking today—indeed, it would be out of order to do so—for legislation; we are asking, as my hon. Friend put it, for further investigation into this matter, and for the extension of certain already existing schemes. Speaking purely for myself and without necessarily being in agreement with my hon. Friends without consultation with them—although I think they would all agree—I say it is high time, quite apart from the question of marginal land and the sort of land which my hon. Friend so well described, that public attention was focused upon this huge area of unused land in the south of England. This is no reflection on the Minister or on my right hon. Friend his predecessor, but the continuance of this unused land is a reflection on the commonsense and on the common patriotism of the British people.
My hon. Friend said that this country always blundered into war. It does not blunder into war; it has war forced upon it. It may have a war forced upon it within the next two or even 10 years. God forbid that it should be so, but if, again, we do have a war forced upon us, other people will say, " What an extraordinary thing it is that after everything you experienced in the last two wars, you still have these millions of acres in Great Britain not producing all they should for human and animal consumption." That is why in this House of Commons on a Friday afternoon, with a meagre attend- 1369 ance, we are dealing with matters that go to the very root of our national existence and our national future.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
When I was shaking my head at an earlier stage, I was not, in fact, inviting the Father of the House to withdraw his kindhearted support; I was merely seeking to show that I was in agreement with what he was saying except on the point about the attendance in the House. It is only fair to point out that no one, least of all the hon. Gentleman who initiated this Adjournment Debate or myself, expected this Debate to arise as it did, and I am sure many of our hon. Friends would have been here had there been the prospect of a full Debate on this important subject.
One other thing which the noble Lord said at the end of his speech really makes the whole Debate worth while. He concluded by saying that there was great need to focus public attention upon this problem. Many of the things that have come up in this Debate—which some hon. Members in an Adjournment Debate are prepared to pick up so lightly—such as the enclosing of common land, will never be successfully tackled, no matter what Government sits on this side of the House, if we do not manage to focus public attention upon them.
We have a lot to do in that way, and, therefore, I hope that this Debate will help. I was astonished that I did not receive from the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) beforehand the points he was going to raise. The letter which he said he sent me never arrived, but when he began to speak I realised that he was making the speech he had made before and that, therefore, such intimation was superfluous. As this Debate has gone on, it has been interesting to see how every point made by the hon. Member for Leominster has been answered by somebody else. I am not going to intervene between him and his hon. Friends as to who is right, but it shows that the problem cannot be regarded as easily and obviously soluble as he proclaimed it to be.
There is a great deal of difference of opinion about the nature of the problem. I was very glad that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) 1370 was able to take part in the Debate. He not only made a grand speech, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but he brought a very welcome breath of fresh air into our discussion of the nature of marginal land. It is not good enough to talk as though a vast area which is not producing, say, Aberdeen Angus or Hereford cattle, is all marginal land and that it could all be brought into cultivation to grow good quality beef if only we went to the Chancellor for enough money. That is nonsense. All the money in the world could not do it unless one first finds what is the dividing line between that land which is not an economic proposition and that land which would produce results if certain carefully controlled work were done upon it. Many hon. Members seem to talk as if it were a simple question of asking for money. It is a question of what sort of work one can do before land can be turned into reasonably productive land.
The hon. Member for Leominster declared, in a wild passage, "No surveys are necessary, nor are experiments we want no experiments." Really, with very great respect, I must tell him that a good deal of surveying has to be done if we are to discriminate between worthwhile land and land from which we would receive no return at all after we had done all the job. While he performed a service in giving a chance to the House to discuss this question and to hon. Members to make their valuable contributions, the hon. Member for Leominster managed to miss the target pretty completely. He will say there is nothing unusual in my saying so. But when we are discussing this marginal land, in which we are all very interested, it is really absurd to start with a lengthy passage about this country living on other people and getting food without paying for it, and so on.
It is really not fair to our people. It is no part of the argument. It adds nothing to the discussion. It is rather insulting to a lot of people who are working very hard outside, and it is very insulting to our agricultural industry. They well need our support and it is my right hon. Friend's job, to see that they get it. The industry is doing a grand job, and I suggest to the hon. Member for Leominster that we have a duty to perform in this House. That duty is to give some recognition to 1371 what is being done, even when we are discussing what else ought to be done.
The hon. Member for Leominster talked about various sums of money the Government makes available in one form or another as being " small enough." I have not had time to obtain the figures which I would have liked to quote, but let us look at some of them. These figures for the whole area do not relate only to what could be called marginal land, but consider the hill sheep and cattle subsidy of over £21 million during 194849. That sum must mean considerable help to people who farm those areas.
The hon. Member for Leominster may state that those areas are not marginal land, but they are really part of the same problem. That is particularly so where one thinks of land above a certain line: but we also have to think of land which is worked in association with it and which is below that line, and that is very often the real marginal land. The great puzzle to me, if I may digress for a moment, are the people who talk about marginal land and then wander off and talk about marginal farmers. I have said before that the two things are not the same. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) began talking about marginal land and then referred to the aid to marginal farmers. They are two separate things.
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, but hon. Members -often talk about them in that way, whereas they are different things. A scheme which will aid marginal land may well be of no use to a marginal farmer who may be failing on what is not marginal land because he has not got the wherewithal or the knowledge to do the job properly.
Mention has been made of the hill sheep and cattle payments. I ask hon. Members to consider the calf subsidy payments which amounted to £3i million last year. The hon. Member said that if that amount of money were put into the marginal land without the survey we should get better results. Let me give the figure, which I have been able to obtain since he spoke, relating to what has happened to cattle since we had the calf subsidy payment. In 1947 there were 1372 386,000 male cattle under one year, and in 1949 there were 581,000.
The hon. Member for Leominster referred to the need for stores in order to get the marginal land to do the job we want it to do. When one sees the male cattle under one year, and from one to two years, growing so well, I think one can draw the deduction that what we are now getting are the male stores being carried on instead of being knocked on the head at an early age, which used to be the case. Therefore, the calf subsidy has been of great assistance indeed in helping to solve the problem of getting marginal land to do its job. What is true of cattle of one year is also true of cattle of one to two years; they have progressed similarly, and the same applies to the female cattle.
Let me remind hon. Members that the land drainage and water supply payments for the same period amounted to nearly Eli million. Much of that has gone into land which, before that date, was not being farmed economically and which could reasonably be regarded as being involved in this marginal problem. The lime payments for that period were nearly £5 million in the United Kingdom. I recently went into Wales and saw a very wonderful job being done on some of the hill lands there by a very distinguished hill farmer. Very largely, the improvement was due to the use of lime; very little else was responsible. One was able to see from a long way away the difference in the areas which he had been able to treat and the areas which he had not been able to treat. I think that the £5 million payment, which is no small figure, has made a considerable contribution in this respect.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman is missing my point. It had nothing to do with hill farming. I am pointing out the value of giving lime.
Let me now deal with some of the points which were raised by other 1373 speakers. May I say to the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks-Beach) that I have the greatest sympathy with the point he raised about setting up an organisation of common owners who would agree to the temporary enclosure of these commons for the purpose of afforestation. We have that point very much in mind, although it is none the easier for having said that.
The hon. Member for Merioneth asked about the survey. We have had our little body of experts busy on this and, arising out of their discussions and deliberations, my right hon. Friend is now considering what line of action he can most usefully recommend to his colleagues.
§ Mr. Brown
It means that the committee have done a large amount of work in collating evidence and information which we had and that my right hon. Friend has now to consider what sort of action can usefully be recommended, arising out of the evidence which we have at our disposal.
I have not much to say on what was said by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), except that I largely agreed with the approach he made to this and the attitude he adopted, particularly when he spoke of the importance of finding suitable areas. I think that is the big issue. It is not a question of entering into a vast scheme all over the place but one of finding suitable areas which seem to be worth while tackling in one way or another, and then tackling them in that way.
There are many other points I should like to mention but there are three main points which probably cover most of the detail which has been raised. There are three problems here. First, there is the problem of what we call marginal land—a term which none of us is able to define very satisfactorily, although somebody did attempt a definition this afternon which I thought was not too far out. Second, we have to divide it into land which is worth tackling and land which we shall have to leave. There must be some limit to the amount we intend to spend on it. We have had this working party, which has done a considerable amount of work, and their report—if we can so describe it —is being considered by my right hon. Friend. He will then have to confer 1374 with his colleagues and the Government wi:1 have to consider coming to the House with a proposal which seems worth while, in the light of the evidence which we have, for spending the money to provide the facilities and the physical requirements with which to tackle this problem.
§ Earl Winterton
That will, I take it, include the special case—for to a large extent it is a special case—of areas like those which I mentioned.
§ Mr. Brown
I was saying that we must approach the problem in that way, and I think, in the course of that, the areas in the Weald which the noble Lord mentioned and which we all know so well must come into consideration. There must be consideration as to whether that is the sort of area which one can deal with in the light of such a scheme.
Then, I think, we must bear in mind the assistance which is being made available under the Hill Farming Act, and the very considerable work which is being done both on hill farm land and on land adjacent to it or worked in connection with it—and I have some figures on what has been done with which I will not bore the House although they are quite impressive. That, together with anything else we are able to do by a more general marginal land scheme, will give us the most reasonable opportunity which we can expect to have of tackling this problem in a sensible but, nevertheless, bold sort of way—the boldness being tempered, of course, with caution.
Separately, there is this marginal production scheme which we have in a small way at the moment. It is quite separate from the marginal land problem. There is a certain amount of land which could do better than it is doing at the moment if the people doing the job were themselves in a better position to do it. It is to meet that special category, land which is often on the border of being marginal land proper, that my right hon. Friend has the marginal production scheme, through. which we are spending something like £600,000 a year in Great Britain. He has announced that that is to be extended and the expenditure is to be doubled to Ell million a year so as to cover a whole range of things which could not possibly come under it before. 1375 We are proposing to remove the means test, which we had to operate because of the ceiling of £600,000, and that will let in a lot of other people.
§ Mr. Brown
I have not the time to give way again. A good many of the proposals of a reclamation type, which, hitherto, we have had to rule out because of the limit of the sum of money available, will now come within this scheme, quite apart from whatever we are able to do, or feel able to do, on a bigger scheme of marginal land production.
§ Mr. Brown
I think that it will be limited to the occupier as before. This is a marginal producers' scheme, if I may use the term, and the financing of it is limited to the persons producing there. The landlord would have to come in under a wider and different scheme. We hope to devise a scheme which will be administerable by a county allocation of funds and which will give the committees in a county the job of dividing them and allocating them within their county. I think that we shall get a better job done in that way.
I want to say a few words about commons. Many of us who saw what the committees did to the commons during the war and the so-called sins committed by the agents for the then Minister, regard them with concern, and wonder what will happen when they are allowed to go back. There are three types: commons in the urban areas; commons with little or no open space value, although very often with a potential fertile value; and commons which may or may not have a fertile value, but which may be useful for forestry or something else. There has been much sniping about the Forestry Commission. But if hon. Members who raised this matter would look at the 1948 Report of the Forestry Commission and read what is said there about land acquisition and use, they will see how far the two Departments have come together in arranging for the use of this sort of land.
1376 With regard to the three categories, (a) presents no very great agricultural problem; (b) does. Many of these commons were requisitioned during the war. Two hundred and eighty are under requisition. My right hon. Friend has power under section 85 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, to buy this land compulsorily. We have asked the Committees to review the matter and to put up to us proposals where it is considered that we ought to purchase the land. The land obviously must be decent land at that stage and capable of good agricultural production. There comes the difficulty. My right hon. Friend is not only Minister of Agriculture but also, in a sense, the custodian of commons, and he has to balance these things one with the other. We are considering in which cases it would be right to proceed with purchase, with all the rights of the lord of the manor and other people to appeal to the tribunal, and my right hon. Friend will do his utmost to carry out his rather awkward obligations in this respect.
The question of the control of the commons that go back to the commoners is a matter which we have very much under consideration at the moment. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) will know that the N.F.U. of Herefordshire have made proposals for the control of commons by commoners' committees, to see that they do not go back once we have put them into decent grass condition. We hope to work out some useful things along those lines.
I have not the abounding enthusiasm of some people with regard to this matter, but I have a great interest in it, and there is a great job to be done here. If we proceed reasonably cautiously and with a determination to do that job along the lines I have indicated I believe that we shall be doing very much more than by making wild speeches and talking in terms of tens of millions of pounds.
§ The Question having been proposed at Four o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Half-past Four o'Clock.