§ Order for Second Reading Read.
§ 3.33 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a very short Bill, but I think that the House will agree that the subject is both large and important. The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the Government's long-term proposals, which I announced in this House last July, for increasing our meat supplies at home by making better use of so-called marginal land. Briefly these were, first, to provide £10 million for 50 per cent. grants for carrying out voluntary schemes for the improvement of livestock rearing land in upland areas; second, to provide a further £5 million for the continuation of the existing grants under the Hill Farming Act, 1946; and, third, to continue for another five years the subsidies on hill sheep and hill cattle.
As the House will be aware, attention has been focused for a considerable time on the problem and possibilities of increasing supplies of meat from what is widely known as marginal land. There have been debates on the subject in this House and in another place. Papers have been read by prominent agricultural scientists, many memoranda have been submitted, and, more recently, a panel of the Welsh Council studied the problem and made some recommendations. The Government, as usual, gave their urgent consideration to the question but could not of course make to the House proposals involving very large sums of money without first making thorough investigations into the cost and the possible increase in the output of meat. Finally, therefore, the Government submitted the matter to a working party of officials of the Agricultural Departments and two distinguished agricultural scientists, Professor Ellison of the University College of Wales and Dr. Yates of the Rothamsted Experimental Station.
As to the precise meaning of "marginal land," even experts would concede that it varies according to the sense in which it is used. But most of us would agree that when we refer to marginal land we 820 have in mind the type of land in upland areas of the country which is suitable for livestock rearing. All those who are acquainted with this land agree that its present contribution to our food supplies is smaller than what is possible and is certainly smaller than is needed. The reasons for this perhaps lie largely in the past. In many ways this land has suffered in the same way as the hill farming land higher up suffered for many years.
Indeed for many years before the recent war these upland areas suffered from a very serious and prolonged depression. Neither farmers nor landowners had the confidence or capital to keep the farms in good order and fully productive. In fact what farming there was survived largely by the reduction of expenditure at almost every point. Some farms went out of production. Others, especially in England and Wales, turned over to milk production, for which many of them were ill-suited. Those who followed the traditional stock rearing policy, however, were unable to improve their land or to stock it fully. Farm workers left these remote farms, and in some districts there was really a serious decline in the remote rural population.
Farmers in the country have as a whole benefited materially in recent years as a result of the 1947 Act, which provided for guaranteed markets and guaranteed prices. But upland farmers have not benefited to the same extent because they produce few cash crops for immediate sale, and although the prices paid for fat cattle and fat sheep must influence to some extent the price of store cattle and store sheep, the position of those farmers has not improved as much as that of the rest of the farming community.
The Hill Farming Act, 1946, was the first major attempt to cope with this long-term problem of the upland areas. But it dealt only with a part, although the larger part, of the total area, and it did not cover fully all the stock rearing land to which I have been referring. This land is often of intrinsically better quality and more favourably situated than hill farming land, and with proper treatment is capable of yielding far better results. Some financial assistance has been given in the past for certain forms of marginal production. But these schemes were purely on a short-term basis. If we are to arrest the decline 821 in the agricultural population of these areas and to increase the output of meat, then something much more fundamental must be done.
Many figures have been given about marginal land—some of them almost astronomical. We believe, however, that apart from the land covered by the Hill Farming Act, there may be in the United Kingdom about 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 acres of stock rearing land in the upland areas, whose productive capacity could be materially increased by suitable improvement. To support increased numbers of stock this land would have to be suitably improved not only by fertilisers, fencing, drainage and, in suitable cases, by reseeding, but by other more permanent improvements, such as the improvement of housing, farm buildings, roads, and water and electricity supply.
In short, we reached the conclusion after careful consideration that nothing short of the principles on which assistance was provided for the rehabilitation of hill farms would succeed if well worth while results were to be achieved. I should explain that these hill farming improvement schemes have to be sufficiently comprehensive in character to ensure that the farm is put in a proper working condition so that the maximum benefit can be obtained from the capital invested. Half of the cost of the work is met by a Government grant, and the landowners and tenants jointly provide the rest. The schemes are purely voluntary.
In deciding whether to foster this development and, if so, what funds should be made available, the Government had to take a realistic view and balance the advantages against the many competing demands for the investment of public and other money. If the whole of the 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 acres were suitably improved—a rather tall job—they might eventually produce each year about 400,000 extra store cattle or the equivalent in store sheep. These when fattened on lowland farms would probably give us no fewer than 130,000 to 140,000 tons of high quality beef and mutton per annum. In view of the difficulties we have encountered and are still encountering, in the Argentine and elsewhere, there is no need to remind hon. Members of the advantage of securing that increased production of meat if only we could get it.
822 Therefore, on all counts, including that of security, I am sure the House will agree that a reduction in our dependence upon overseas supplies of meat is a desirable object. For some years now we have been conducting a grassland campaign which aims at improving the stock carrying capacity of our lowland pastures. We have provided a good deal of assistance for grass drying, we have given all the encouragement we can to farmers to produce silage and, more recently, we have made available grassland fertiliser subsidies which provide further help. These are all aspects of the same central policy. As I have said on previous occasions, the slogan should be "Ten per cent. more output from 10 per cent. less grass," using the acreage saved for other produce including feedingstuff crops.
We want to increase the stock rearing capacity of the uplands to keep in step with the expected increase in grazing capacity in the lowlands. There is also the need, both on social and agricultural grounds, for assistance to provide reasonable amenities in these upland areas, for without them the already sparse population may decline further. Last, but by no means least, I am sure that hon. Members will agree that we must look to increased production in the hill areas to help make good the steady loss of good agricultural land for housing, schools, new towns, playing fields and similar non-agricultural developments.
We certainly do our best to divert development from the best land to poorer land where this is available. But we cannot prevent this loss altogether. Indeed, in a recent leader in "The Times" which referred to house building and the policy of hon. Members opposite even though it is an impossible policy at the moment—there was mentioned a figure of six million houses which might be built in 20 years. The erection of six million houses in 20 years is exactly the 300,000 a year which has been referred to. I ask hon. Members to imagine the number of houses per acre and the area required for schools, playing fields and the rest. One can readily envisage the possible loss of 750,000 acres of land in a short space of time. I leave that most unpleasant thought with hon. Members. In any case, hill and marginal land seems to present one of the best ways of mitigating this loss—at a price, of course.
823 The Government, bearing in mind the many demands for capital expenditure, decided to set apart £10 million for five years for grants for the improvement of land in upland areas, other than hill farming land, and in addition a further £5 million for grants for improvement schemes under the Hill Farming Act. In Clause 1 (3, a) of this Bill we have in effect run these two proposals into one. We have given a definition of "livestock rearing land" which includes all that land which under the Hill Farming Act of 1946 was defined as hill farming land. In addition, this definition covers all the other upland stock rearing land to which I have referred.
We saw no really good reason for making a distinction between improvement schemes on hill farming land and schemes for the improvement of other stock rearing land further down the hill. That will avoid unnecessary bookkeeping. Section 2 (4) of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, provided for maximum Exchequer grants of £4 million which could, with the approval of the House, be increased by a further £1 million. The number of schemes submitted is such that the extra £1 million would certainly be required but for this Bill. However, in Clause 3 we now propose to increase the limit from £4 million to £20 million.
Although we have decided to make no precise allocation between the different kinds of livestock rearing land, broadly we can regard the sum of £20 million as being made up of £10 million for hill farms and £10 million for other upland farms. I am afraid that £10 million will not be sufficient to complete the rehabilitation of the four million acres which I have mentioned. If we were to assume an average expenditure of £20 per acre, the £10 million would only be sufficient to provide for 50 per cent. grants on one million acres. However, we have to make a start and we shall exercise our discretion to see that the funds available are used to the best advantage. In approving schemes on a selective basis we shall be guided by the advice of the agricultural executive committees.
The fact that landlords and tenants will have to put up half the money is the best guarantee that full advantage will be taken of the improvements. We intend to rely on the voluntary principle as we 824 have done under the Hill Farming Act, and the services of the county agricultural executive committees and the national agricultural advisory service will be freely available to owners and occupiers, both in the preparation of their improvement schemes and in making the best use of them later. For the recalcitrant few who abuse the scheme in one way or another, we can use the efficiency provisions of the Agriculture Act.
I want to say a few words about the 1946 Act and the hill land to which it applies. The 16 million acres of hill land in the United Kingdom are unique in that they are the breeding ground of foundation flocks of hardy sheep numbering some 4,750,000 ewes. The purpose of that Act was to get comprehensive improvement schemes to restore farms and make them into sound economic units, where that was possible. We took the view at that time that, with sufficient help and encouragement, owners and tenants would do the job, and events have shown that that confidence was not misplaced. Full use is being made of the assistance offered, and, with still one year to go during which schemes can he submitted, schemes already approved or under consideration at the moment are estimated to cost no less than £8½ million, and it may be interesting to hon. Members to know that the schemes completed—and there are no fewer than 3,380 schemes approved—are estimated to cost no less than £7 million.
I am sure that hon. Members will readily understand that we are only paying the Government grant when the scheme is completed, unless it be a case where the owner or occupier finds himself in dire straits. Therefore, in making the calculations about the value of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, I hope hon. Members will not base their deductions upon the actual amount already approved.
§ Captain Duncan (South Angus)
May I also ask the Minister a question? He said that the money was not paid out until the comprehensive scheme was completed. Is that correct? Are not parts of the scheme paid for as and when finished?
The difficulties in regard to a scheme partially completed are administrative. As a matter of fact, we will always help a farmer who is trying to help himself.
These schemes would absorb more than the £4 million which was made available under the 1946 Act. They may cover as many as 23 different kinds of improvements, which are all set out in the Schedule to the Bill. These schemes must be sufficiently comprehensive to ensure full rehabilitation for hill farming purposes, but I should like to say a word or two on this point, because I think there is some misunderstanding, and because the same conditions will apply to the livestock rearing land which we are bringing into the scheme.
It is sometimes said that the word "comprehensive" leads to over-elaborate schemes, when really all that is necessary is the application of lime and fertilisers. It has been suggested that some would-be promoters have been deterred from going on, and that may be a good debating point, but, in the light of our experience, it has no substance in fact. Instances where an owner or occupier has refused to agree to a comprehensive scheme have been negligible since the scheme actually started, and, in any case, it is a question of the right approach, and I think that I can justifiably claim that the county agriculture executive committees, mainly composed of landowners and farmers, with the addition of workers' representatives, and the Department's technical officers, do know the way in which to make these conditions of real benefit to owner and tenant. Few or no complaints have been received, certainly in England and Wales.
As for those who, from lack of funds or for other reasons, cannot undertake a comprehensive scheme, they can still benefit from the lime and fertiliser subsidies, but we are dealing here in this Bill with farms that need more than fertilisers to make them fully productive, and if the State meets half the cost of providing, say, an access road or an agricultural worker's cottage, we must be sure that the full value is not lost because some other improvement, such as, say, fencing or a new cow byre, is left undone.
There have been complaints about the delay in approving schemes, and I plead guilty at once, but all the fault has not been on one side. I am sure hon. Members opposite, indeed in all parts of the 826 House, will agree that a scheme of this character, new to the farmer, who was in the position of not knowing exactly what was meant by a comprehensive scheme, must have its teething troubles, but I can assure the House that the initial difficulties were long since overcome and that delays now are practically nil. This obviously is a long-term job. It requires both courage and vision, as well as money, but I am happy now to say that, so far as hill farming schemes are concerned, the job is well under way.
Before looking at the details of the Bill, I should like to refer to the subsidy schemes for hill sheep and hill cattle. The provisions of the Hill Farming Act, under which they are paid, are due to expire next year, but, as they have been of very great benefit, we propose to continue both for a further five years. I could not make the claim that we have brought a lot of farmers or workers back to hill farms, but I think I can justifiably claim that we have prevented a further decline in these remote rural populations.
I should like to say at once that it is not our intention to pay the subsidy on sheep or cattle grazed in areas outside the scope of the Hill Farming Act, but to continue the scheme as we are carrying it out at present and in its present form. The hill sheep subsidy will, therefore, continue to be payable only on hardy ewe flocks kept on mountain and hill land which is suitable only for hardy breeds of sheep, while the hill cattle subsidy will be payable on cattle grazed on similar land or on rough upland grazing.
The object of this scheme was to keep this essential industry in being—to keep it alive. The rate of subsidy has varied year by year. In 1948, following the terrific blizzard of 1947, the rate per ewe was 16s.; for 1950, however, the rate is 5s., and I expect that, as more schemes an.; brought into being, even that subsidy will continue on a diminishing scale. I am glad to be able to tell the House that, because of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, and the subsidy schemes, the very heavy losses sustained in 1947 are being rapidly restored.
The hill cattle subsidy is somewhat different from that of sheep. In England and Wales and Northern Ireland, the subsidy is paid at two rates, the higher on breeding cows and heifers and the lower one on other stock summered on hill 827 land. In Scotland, the subsidy is paid only on breeding cows and heifers. The objects of the subsidy in England and Wales are threefold; first, to increase the number of cattle on the hills; secondly, to make room for more cattle in the lowlands by summering cattle on the hills; and, thirdly, to improve hill grazing. In England and Wales, the county agricultural executive committees have the discretion under this scheme to require that no less than 60 per cent. of the cattle subsidy shall be spent on improvements, and, since the scheme started, I think I can claim that something over £1 million have been spent on such improvements. This scheme is also due to expire next year, but will be extended for a further five years, if the House agrees.
I would like to say a few words on the detailed provisions of the Bill. Clauses 1 to 3 amend the improvement scheme provisions in the Hill Farming Act by extending the class of land eligible for improvement grant, and the period during which schemes may be submitted, and by increasing the funds available. Clause 1 extends the class of land. For reasons already explained, it substitutes the expression "livestock rearing land" for the existing term "hill farming land," and this definition covers both hill land and the land rather lower down, and will simplify administration enormously. Perhaps I should explain this as clearly as I can because it is of considerable importance.
The intention is that any land will be eligible so long as it lies generally within an area consisting predominantly of mountain, hill or heath, and is suitable for little else than the breeding or rearing of cattle or sheep. The assistance, therefore, is not intended for the improvement of land which is, or which after improvement would be, suitable to any material extent for the production for sale of milk, fat sheep or fat cattle or cash crops.
I want to make it quite clear that the purpose of the proposed grants is to help to increase the output of beef and mutton: the grants are not intended, therefore, for the dairy farmer, the fattener of sheep or cattle, or the grower of crops for sale. I know that during the war some farmers on marginal and hill land went into milk production on farms wholly unsuitable for that purpose. 828 I hope that this Bill will encourage them to return to their stock-rearing activities. However, I ought to say that the production of milk and milk products, such as butter, cheese or cream, on a farm devoted mainly to stock rearing, or which could properly be so used, will not disqualify it for assistance if the suggested improvements are for stock-rearing purposes. Much the same will apply to farms producing pigs, poultry or seed potatoes as a subsidiary part of the farming business.
Another point I want to make clear is that although land may be situated in an area consisting predominantly of mountain, hill, or heath, it will not be eligible unless it consists of land which, even after improvement, is suitable for little more than the raising of store cattle and sheep. Areas like the Chilterns, the Cotswolds, the Downs, the heaths in the South and South-West of England would, in general, all be ruled out on that score. The new land to be eligible will, generally, be contiguous to hill farming land, and lie in the same general upland areas. There will be no altitude limitation, and any land in these areas will qualify if it really is livestock rearing land.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
From what the Minister has said, it would appear that the heathlands and moorlands of south-eastern Cornwall will not be included. Is that what he means?
That is exactly what I mean.
Hon. Members may ask why we have excluded marginal land in lowland areas. That is more or less what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. The answer is that probably nine-tenths of so-called marginal land is in upland areas. The rest comprises pockets and stretches of land throughout the country of varying size, character and situation. The problems of these "bits and pieces" are often quite different from those of the stock-rearing land covered by this Bill. Most of them are, or could be made with improvement, suitable for activities other than stock rearing.
I think, perhaps, I can ease the mind of the hon. Member for 829 Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall). Some areas in the deep West may come within the terms of the Bill, but the areas to which I referred—I should have said "South-East"—will be excluded.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am obliged to the Minister for drawing attention to the difference between Cornwall and England.
Some hon. Members may have in mind land not completely overlooked by the Government, for which some assistance has been provided under the marginal production scheme.
Clause 2 extends the Hill Farming Act for a further five years. Clause 3 increases the amount available under the 1946 Act from £4 million to 20 million, and, in addition, it provides for a further £2 million if necessary subject to the consent of the Treasury and the approval of this House. Leaving Clauses 4 and 5 for the moment, the effect of Clause 6, stated simply, is to extend the hill sheep and hill cattle subsidies for a further five years to 1956. It may appear from the wording of the Clause that in England, Wales and Scotland this subsidy will expire in 1955, that is, nine years after December, 1946. But that is not so. The number of sheep on which subsidy is paid is the number in the applicant's possession on 4th December in the preceding year. That explains clearly, I hope, that the subsidy will be paid in 1956. In Northern Ireland, the relevant date is in January.
Clause 4 however, provides that where a person contributes under an agreement under Section 10 of the Highways (Provision of cattle-grids) Act, 1950, to the cost incurred by the highway authority of installing a grid on a public road, and the grid is required in connection with an improvement scheme, then an improvement grant can be paid on that contribution. Clause 5 provides for certain minor amendments to the First Schedule to the Hill Farming Act, which specifies the improvements which may be included in schemes. Broadly speaking, these new additions or amendments are made in the light of our four years' experience.
Under Section 18 of the Hill Farming Act, the Minister may make regulations for the control of rams in England and Wales, designed to prevent the use in specified areas, first, of inferior or unsuitable rams, and, secondly, of any rams, 830 whether suitable or not, at unsuitable times of the year. Those unsuitable times will, of course, be based on the advice and guidance of the experts in the county, including the county agricultural executive committee. The purpose of Clause 7 is to enable the Minister to provide in these regulations, (1) for the seizure of rams in respect of which an offence has been committed, and, (2), in fairness to the farmer, for appeal against a decision that a ram is unsuitable. The only other Clauses to which I need refer are Clauses 9 and 10 dealing with the delegation of the Minister's functions to local committees. I need only add that the county agricultural executive committees, who are the local committees under the temporary 1946 Act, will continue to administer these schemes under delegated power.
That is my rather brief summary of the Bill and the reasons for it. In the Government's view, the development of these latent agricultural resources is both wise and urgent, not only as an insurance against diminishing overseas supplies of meat, but also as a contribution to the improvement in the social conditions of our upland areas. The success of these measures ultimately depends upon the willing co-operation of land owners and occupiers. If this is forthcoming, as it was under the Hill Farming Act, then these proposals will go far towards helping marginal and hill lands to make their proper contribution to our food supplies as well as assisting remote rural communities to enjoy better social conditions, amenities and standards which they have been denied for so long.
This Bill, in fact, represents the second stage—the Hill Farming Act being the first—of the attack on the long-term problem of these areas, and, as such, I hope the Bill will commend itself to both sides of the House. This is not the end of the problem; it is simply the beginning of the end, and I invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)
As is customary in introducing a Bill, the Minister has explained very fully the detailed provisions it contains. If I may, I will recapitulate the provisions of the Bill as explained by him. In short, they are threefold. First, there is the extension of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, for a further five 831 years, and that brings the date up to which improvement schemes may be submitted to 1956. Secondly, as the Minister explained in detail, the Bill provides for the extension of the period of provision of the hill cattle and hill sheep subsidies, as far as England and Wales are concerned, until December, 1956. Thirdly—and here, if the House will permit me, I want to go into greater detail than the Minister did—it provides for the extension of the class of land which may benefit under the Hill Farming Act to "livestock rearing land."
It is round the definition of "livestock rearing land" that a considerable part of our discussion will revolve. Under Clause 1 (3) (a) it is explained that "livestock rearing land" is… land situated in an area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath … suitable for use for the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle but not for the carrying on, to any material extent, of dairy farming, the production, to any material extent, of fat sheep or fat cattle or the production of crops in quantity materially greater than that necessary to feed the number of sheep or cattle capable of being maintained on the land.I apologise to the House for quoting that particular paragraph, but I believe the whole administration of the scheme depends on whether or not what it means is clearly understood by hon. Members of this House and by the country outside. To implement the provisions of the Bill, and especially the last provision to which I have referred, the Government are making available money for improvement grants to the extent of £20 million in all, with an additional £2 million if the Minister, confirmed by a Resolution of this House, thinks it necessary.
We welcome this Bill as a contribution towards the solution of the problem of securing increased production from a proportion of the marginal land in the United Kingdom. I am very interested that the Minister today gave us the figure of what he considers to be the amount of marginal land to be dealt with. When he gave that figure of between 3½ million and 4 million acres he said "we believe"—and I take it he means the Government—that that is the figure as a result of the last survey of this problem he has in his hands, and which has not been made public. They have assessed the problem from that survey as one of dealing with between 3½ and 4 832 million acres. That is a very interesting figure for the House to have. No doubt we shall consider it very carefully and attempt to check it from the resources we have at our disposal.
It ought to be remembered, in connection with this marginal land problem, that my hon. Friends have pressed the Minister for a Measure of this nature on many occasions. It will be within the recollection of the House that on the Committee stage of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, an Amendment was tabled to establish a definition of the land which would benefit under provisions of that nature. It might be of benefit to recall now that that Amendment proposed that the expression "hill farming land," which was the expression used in that Act, should includemountain, hill and heath and marginal land in upland and hill districts.That was in 1946 and we have had to wait until now, December, 1950, before the Government have moved in the matter at all. Surely, if the Government had accepted our Amendment during the Committee stage of the Hill Farming Act we should now have had a very large proportion of the additional 130,000 tons of extra meat which the Minister hopes to have, at some future date, from the provisions of this Bill.
I should like to make another quotation of more recent date—from the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, on 8th March this year. I used these words in referring to marginal land:We on this side of the House still believe that the most effective way of dealing with this admittedly most difficult problem would be to extend the provisions of the Hill Farming Act to include marginal land…" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 384–385.]I think I have now said enough to explain why my hon. Friends intend to support the Second Reading of this Bill today, but I would emphasise most strongly that we consider this Bill as only a contribution and certainly not a complete answer to the problem of all our marginal land in the country.
I return now to the definition of "Livestock rearing land." Clause 1 of the Bill extends the grants for improvements to land predominantly mountains, hills or heath. Though I listened to the Minister very carefully, I am not yet clear exactly what is meant by these particular 833 areas. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be more specific as to the Government's interpretation of this definition. May I give an example? Will the Brecklands of East Anglia be included in this definition under "heath"? I admit it is not upland. The Minister said, "Land which is capable of producing cattle."
I happen to have before my eye an example of how a scheme of this nature has been carried out during the last two years. In the area concerned, in one scheme in which just over 1,200 acres were reclaimed, the head of cattle in December, 1948, was 231. Today it is 452, an increase of 221 in two years. It seems to me that that is just the kind of scheme that should be incorporated in this Measure.
Mr. T. Williams
The hon. and gallant Baronet must have forgotten what I said. It is true that certain heath land can be improved, but it can be improved as a dairy farm, as a farm on which cash crops are raised, but not necessarily would it be a livestock rearing farm, and it is exactly with that that this Bill sets out to deal.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The instance I gave the Minister was in fact a livestock rearing scheme. I read in a letter in "The Times" only last week that the Suffolk Branch of the National Farmers' Union considers that in Suffolk alone there are over 100 square miles which might benefit by schemes of this nature. There is another part of the world to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) referred, that is Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. We should like to know definitely by the close of this debate whether that area is included in the Bill.
Let me refer for a moment to the Financial Memorandum attached to the Bill. There it specifically mentions "… upland areas of the United Kingdom." Yet I think the Minister will agree that only a proportion of our total marginal land is situated in upland areas. The Minister gave a figure which surprised me very much, and which I am certain surprised my hon. Friends. He said that nine-tenths of marginal land is in upland areas. That is a new figure for the House to consider, and no doubt the Minister has got it from his recent survey.
834 Can the Minister inform the House whether the provisions of this Bill are confined to upland areas or not? It is still not clear. If "heath" is not an upland area, would "heath" be included if it were a suitable sort of heath? Or should we assume that there will be no scheme within the provisions of this Bill if the land in question is not within a certain altitude—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
—and that the rest will have to wait for later legislation?
I should like to refer to the statement which the Minister made in July, outlining the proposals, when he used these words:I would emphasise that the approval of schemes will need to he on a selective basis."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 100.]I should like to ask the Minister what exactly he means by "selective" and how he is going to ascertain which schemes warrant approval. This leads me to the actual administration of the grants. I gathered from the Minister's speech that it is proposed to administer these schemes through the county agricultural committees, but I am certain that the House would like to hear in more detail how he, proposes to allocate the grants between one county and another. If they are to be selective, can he explain on which factors he will base the priority of one scheme over another? He referred to the First Schedule of the. 1946 Act, in which there are a large number of things which can be done under these schemes, and I think it would help the House if he could give us further details on that point. I think it will be agreed that it would be most unfortunate if rough justice were introduced into another piece of agricultural legislation.
I feel further that the Minister will agree that if the scheme is to operate successfully there should be uniformity of application of the grants. This is of the utmost importance if we are to avoid a situation in which each county fights for the largest share of the whole cake. If we get into a position where each county area is trying to get the greatest share of the whole cake, it will be most unfortunate both as regards the efficiency of the scheme and the expenditure of public money.
835 While I am discussing the type of schemes to be dealt with under this Bill, I should like to come back to the point with which the Minister dealt at considerable length in his speech, and that is the point dealing with comprehensive schemes. I assure the Minister that this is not just a debating point. It is a very real point in the minds of many people in different parts of the country, although it may not have reached the ears of the Minister himself or those who advise him in the Ministry of Agriculture. This may be because the people who are concerned about this point have been in possession of the official document on the subject, Form H.F. 24, which is headed: "Grants for improvement of hill farming land in England and Wales."
I should like to refer to this explanatory leaflet because it outlines how grants can be obtained under the Hill Farming Act. The first paragraph says that financial assistance can be given to owners and occupiers of hill farming land who are willing to carry out comprehensive schemes for the improvement of their land. The Minister today changed those words slightly, and used the phrase "sufficiently comprehensive." That is a very big advance, and I hope that the Minister, by means best known to himself, will see that the people in the country realise that he has changed his position in that regard.
The expression "sufficiently comprehensive" is different from "comprehensive." There is no doubt that a large number of people have not put in schemes because of this word "comprehensive," and I hope the Minister will not refuse schemes because they are not comprehensive. I believe there are a large number of holdings in the upland areas of this country where a very real increase in production could be obtained by only a small improvement. I cite as an example a new road or a new fence or a local drainage scheme or even a cottage, any one of which improvements would make a big difference to the level of production of the farm in question.
The Minister gets about the country, and I would ask him or the Parliamentary Secretary whether, in their own experience, they do not know of any farm which would be improved enormously if it had the facilities of a modern road to take modern agricultural machinery. I suggest 836 that automatically, overnight, this would be the means of a great increase in production on that farm. I hope the Minister will consider this as a really germane point for the success of this Bill. From the financial point of view, if a small improvement is all that is really necessary, surely it would be very wrong to incur the expenditure of the taxpayers' contribution by insisting upon a comprehensive scheme. I feel that must be the view of all hon. Members, in whatever part of the House they sit.
I am fully alive to the benefits that can result from great comprehensive schemes in certain circumstances, but I ask the Minister to remember that there are very many small farmers in areas affected by this Measure, many of whom have neither the acreage nor the capital to warrant a large-scale scheme. They must not be forgotten in the overall plan to increase production, and I hope the Minister will be able to give the House an assurance on this point.
I should like to say a word about the farms—and there are some in the upland areas—which are specifically excluded from the provisions of this Bill. That is land which is usedfor the carrying on, to any material extent"—those are the operative words here—of dairy farming, the production, to any material extent, of fat sheep or fat cattle or the production of crops in quantity materially greater than that necessary to feed the number of sheep or cattle capable of being maintained on the land.This limitation in the definition of livestock rearing land raises two important points. First how does the Minister interpret "material extent"? Where does he intend to draw the line?
This afternoon I do not intend to be drawn into discussing the difficult question of beef versus milk, because in my view much of the land we are discussing today should be the nursery which supplies the lowland farmers, on the one hand, with good store cattle to convert into beef, and on the other hand, replacements for the dairy farmers of good, clean, healthy stock. I have no doubt that hon. Members who may catch your eye during the debate, Mr. Speaker, will deal in more detail with these two aspects of this problem and also the problem of the important branch of farmers on the upland hills who have their economy based upon 837 the dual purpose cattle which produce both milk and beef. I hope the Minister will be able to give more information on the question how exactly the Government intend to interpret the phrase "material extent." I hope they will give it a very wide interpretation, because it is certainly not clear in the Bill and it was certainly not clear from anything the Minister said today.
My second point on the exemptions refers to the future, and particularly to the distant future. This is a point which the Minister should consider. If a farmer receives today a grant for improvements carried out under the provisions of this Bill, has he then committed himself for ever not to carry on dairy farming or beef production to any material extent, and never to change his form of husbandry on the holding which he occupies at the time when he receives the grant under the Bill? I hope the House can be given an assurance that that is not the intention of the Government because, if that were their intention, it would result in great administrative confusion in the years to come.
I turn now, to the financial provisions of the Bill. The Hill Farming Act has been the law of the land for four years. Although the Minister gave us some new figures today, the public know only what has been printed, and what has been printed as official information is that out of £4 million available for improvement schemes, only £249,000 had been paid out by 31st October of this year. That would appear to the general public, as certainly it appeared to all of us until we heard the Minister's statement this afternoon, a very bad start for the new Bill. It is a bad start which none of us wants to see.
But the Minister said that there are a large number of schemes which have been approved but not completed. The remaining sum involved in the 1946 Act is £3,751,000, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply today, will be able to tell the House how it has been allocated up to date. Has it been allocated to schemes and, if so, are the majority in Scotland, in England or in Wales? In fact, would he give the House a closer report of what the position is so far as the 1946 Act is concerned?
Under the Bill we are discussing, as has been said on more than one occasion, 838 a further sum of £16 million is made available for grants under the 1946 Act, as extended by this Bill. I ask the Minister to give an assurance that efficiency and economy must be an essential condition of the acceptance of any scheme so that the country as a whole may reap the maximum benefit in the form of increased production at the smallest possible cost. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that, in approving schemes, on no account would schemes be approved which were likely to create further marginal land problems in the future, because if we did that, then the good we are doing now would result in far more difficulty to some Government at some future time.
In connection with this capital expenditure to improve the hill land and marginal land, it must also be remembered, as I think the whole House appreciates, that the producers themselves, the farmers and landowners—whether occupiers or owners—in fact contribute a larger sum than the Government contribute. So far as the schemes are concerned, they have to raise capital on a fifty-fifty basis, but it must also be remembered that, in addition to their share of the cost of improvements, if the objectives of the Bill are to be achieved they will have to find further capital for increasing the numbers of livestock on their holdings. In other words, the occupiers will have to find at least a sum more than equal to the Exchequer contribution for the capital works necessary. For that purpose it is essential that adequate facilities for cheap credit should be made available. I hope the Minister will be able to indicate to the House that he has that point very much in mind.
Many of my hon. Friends want to take part in this debate so I shall conclude my remarks by reminding the House that prior to 1939 we used to eat about 55 lb. of beef and veal each year per head of the population, whereas today we are getting just over 36 lb. Professor Ellison, writing in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society last year, used these words:Whilst the hill lands may be the first reservoir of livestock for the lowlands, the poor or marginal lands, whether they are high or low lying, have a real complementary part to play between the genuine hill and good lowland areas. The occupier of marginal land has a very important function to perform in pursuing a definite breeding policy through using draft animals from genuine hill lands to produce potential store stock of the quality and type required by the good land farms.839 We on this side of the House, in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill today, hope that in the fullness of time the rehabilitation of some of the marginal land in this country will mean a very real increase in our home meat production from which the whole nation will benefit.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
This Bill is an indication that His Majesty's Government, and indeed the whole House, if one can go by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), are willing and anxious to entrust the farming community with more money in order that it may develop its potential productive capacity. In that respect it is a reply to some of the criticism which was heard in the House earlier this year, and I hope that will be noted in all quarters.
In the closing sentences of his speech, my right hon. Friend indicated that this was not the Government's last word with regard to assistance to agriculture and the development of our land. He said that it was the beginning of the end—or the end of the beginning—and that there were other things to follow. I assume from that that he would probably welcome some friendly criticism about measures which ought to be included in subsequent Bills. After all, one of the principal arguments that he used in introducing this Bill was that each year we are losing good agricultural land for housing, industry and other purposes and that we must make good that loss. It is not just a question of acre for acre. We ought to be bringing into production a far larger acreage than that which we are losing, because some of the land which we have lost in recent years has been good agricultural land, and it may well require five acres of marginal land to be brought into production to make good the loss of one of the acres which has gone out of production recently.
The point I want to make is that we have been losing agricultural land to housing and other purposes all over the country, north, south, east and west; and yet this Bill will assist to bring back into production only marginal land which is situated in hilly country, while there are farmers who are being dispossessed of good agricultural land in the Eastern 840 Counties, in the Southern Counties, in all parts of the country. Therefore, it is essential that we should cast our eyes around these areas to see what land there is that is not at present being used for agricultural purposes, so that we may bring it into the category of really productive agricultural land. It is along that line that I would especially encourage the Minister.
Of course, all the idle land is not in the hills or even near hills. There is still land in the valleys and on the plains that could be brought into production if it were thoroughly drained. We have common lands and heath lands which, because of some ancient rights attached to them, cannot be properly used, and which, indeed, can be a hindrance to the improvement of agriculture. Take, for instance, an area to which I have been this weekend in South Wales—the Gower district—where there is common land with common rights of grazing over it. That land could be rapidly improved from the point of view of eliminating tuberculosis from all the stock. If there is common grazing land in an area where the farmers want their herds to be fully attested, it is a problem for the Ministry, and I would therefore ask my right hon. Friend to look at this problem of common lands.
I have had brought to my attention in my own division recently a case of a common of about 100 acres. It was brought into cultivation during the war. The parish council were recently informed that the land would be laid down to grass and handed back in the same state as it was before the war, when it was neglected and needed draining, when there was no one to spend money on the drainage, and when it was overgrown with weeds and rubbish. Its grazing value was very low, but its arable value has been high. Yet because no attempt has been made so far to find agreement amongst the commoners and the parish council and everyone else interested in maintaining the land in full production, the productivity of that land is to be lost and the land handed back to its former state and to uncontrolled grazing. I think that is all wrong.
If the Minister had powers to requisition land during the war, and if everybody is in agreement that it is in the national interest that full use ought permanently to be made of such land, then surely some action could be taken to save 841 such land for agriculture. In this particular case there could be smallholdings on the land, and a proportion of the rents could be used in the parish for such purposes as those whose rights over the common were extinguished might determine. So I think we ought to look at the broader problem of the undeveloped land of the country, and take such steps as will enable all that land to be brought into full production in all parts of the country, irrespective of whether it is on the hills or amongst the broad acres of the Eastern or Southern Counties.
Again, we find, even in the Eastern Counties, that the Forestry Commission are in competition with those who would make agricultural use of land. I was recently called into an inquiry at Thetford concerning some land in Suffolk. The Forestry Commission were seeking powers of compulsory purchase of the land so that they could plant trees on it. The owner of that land has in recent years developed 4,000 or 5,000 acres which previously were useless heath; he has brought it into good agricultural use, and is growing lucerne on it and grazing dairy and beef cattle on it. We know that we shall require trees in the future, but I think we must safeguard land which by modern methods can be made to produce an abundance of food, which the country needs.
There is a complete change in this matter. I know of land which the Forestry Commission have bought for £3 or £4 an acre. They have bought thousands of acres at that price in the Eastern Counties. They did it when land was cheap. Nowadays the same kind of land can be used for the growing of heavy crops of carrots and lucerne, which in turn help to produce milk and beef in abundance. I should like to see a real effort made to bring all the commons and heaths of the Eastern Counties into full agricultural production. The nation will need that. If we are spared, as we all hope, another world war, there will be demands for land for housing and for recreational purposes. We want to be ahead of that demand, and to bring every bit of land that can be made into agricultural land into full use as quickly as possible for the production of the food that we need.
There is another criticism I would make of the administration so far of the Hill 842 Farming Act. I recently had my attention drawn to some mutton that was exhibited, not in this House, but in the butchers' shops.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
There is some here.
§ Mr. Dye
It was pointed out to me by the butchers that it had come down from Yorkshire and had been slaughtered in Norfolk and sold. It was poor stuff. It was a shame that the animals had ever been killed. What is the purpose, from a national point of view, of subsidising the keeping of sheep on the hills if they are slaughtered when immature for mutton? Surely, the purpose is to rear stores on the hills; and if that is so, then there ought to be some machinery to ensure that they are sold to the farmers who will fatten them on the lowlands. They ought not to be sent direct to the Ministry's collecting centres for slaughter. There must be a breakdown there somewhere.
§ Mr. Dye
I am not attributing blame to anyone. I am merely drawing the Minister's attention to what is happening today. I say quite clearly that, in my opinion, that it is for the graders, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food to see that we do not subsidise to the extent we do without getting value in meat. The whole purpose of the subsidies must be to bring more meat to the consumers. While lambs are slaughtered when they are still small, we shall not get a greater quantity of meat. I think we want to be assured that there is a demand from the people who can fatten sheep and cattle, and that they have the necessary foodstuffs with which to fatten them.
Hon. Members opposite will be clamouring for more feedingstuffs. That, of course, is quite right; we do want to import more feedingstuffs. But they will also be clamouring for more timber, and if it is a question whether such dollars as are available should be spent on timber or on feedingstuffs, it will depend on the mood of hon. Gentlemen opposite which they ask for. It is for the Government to see, in times of scarcity such as we are now approaching, that the demand for imported feedingstuffs is met in order that we can properly feed both the sheep and 843 the cattle we already have and achieve greater weights than at present in certain places.
This is important, and I ask the Minister to bear in mind the problem which confronts the graziers on the lowlands, as well as subsidising the carrying of more breeding stock in the hills. It may well be that administratively the system of subsidising cattle and sheep breeding on the hills is the easiest and best, but the purpose should be to bring greater quantities of meat to the public. That is what the public expect. These subsidies are financed with public money, and in the end we should see that more meat is forthcoming. To achieve that end, the subsidies should be paid when the meat is forthcoming, and not on the basis of the cows or ewes kept on the hills.
I agree that the latter is the best method of stimulating the carrying of more stock on the hills in the early stages of developing the programme, but it is the weight of meat that satisfies the consuming public who provide the money. I think that the time limit in the Bill for continuing the present system of subsidising the carrying of cattle and sheep in the hills is rather long, and I ask the Minister to consider whether a better system cannot be devised, so that the time when the hill farmers sell their sheep and they go to the people who fatten them later on is the time when the subsidy is paid. As a long-term policy, there should be a limit to the system of subsidy embodied in the Bill, and we should try to give the public greater satisfaction in both the quality and the quantity of home-produced meat.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Scott (Penrith and The Border)
I shall not attempt to argue the very interesting point just made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), because I rise this afternoon with two main intentions: first, to be as brief as possible, because I know that a large number of other hon. Members wish to take part in the Debate; and, second, to be as constructive as possible in the few remarks that I shall make in giving a guarded welcome to the Bill.
Let me say at once that when I read the Bill I had a feeling of very real disappointment because of its lack of scope, 844 and from what I have already heard today in the House and from conversations outside I think that view is shared by hon. Members on both sides, as is evidenced by the remarks of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West. It may well be that there are those who say: Could we, as a nation, afford at the present time to extend the scope of the Bill to deal with what I still consider to be the real marginal land problem, that is to say, the land that is to be found in every county as well as in the upland areas? The question is not whether we as a nation can afford it at present, but whether we can afford not to spend the money at this time. If it is wise to plan the spending, over a period of years, of a vast sum of money, far larger than anything mentioned in the Bill, on the coal industry—I am not saying it is wrong to do that; I believe it to be right—then surely it is equally wise to spend it on the rehabilitation of agriculture and the building up of our soil which, unlike coal, is not a wasting asset.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yorkshire, Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) spoke on the question of definition. Here, I think, we are up against a very real and difficult problem, because it will be within the recollection of anybody who has had anything to do with the administration of either the hill cattle subsidy or the Hill Farming Act that, at any rate at first—and I believe even today—it was very difficult to get uniformity of administration, not only as between England and Scotland and Scotland and Northern Ireland, but as between county and county. It is probably right to say that we should have this all-embracing term which will contain hill farming and what I, as a North Countryman, call the semi-in-by land. Before we can get smooth and easy administration it is essential to try to get a better definition, one which would help to achieve uniformity of administration in the different counties.
Like a great many other hon. Members, I feel a little diffident about entering the controversy of meat versus milk, and I shall, therefore, be extremely guarded in what I say. Until recently I have always regarded the Labour Party as being very milk-minded, but now that they have celebrated their 50th birthday I suppose they are being their age; they are not 845 quite so bottle conscious and are turning to beef and mutton. I welcome that. I welcome the idea in the Bill that there will be no general attempt to start new dairy enterprises in the upland areas. That is wise. But I am not so happy about those upland areas where there is already a certain amount of dairy enterprise.
There is, first of all, the man who carries quite a good herd, who is able to sell his milk, but who could do a much better job if he could have one of those comprehensive schemes, or part of a comprehensive scheme—probably a roadway approach, or a little help with buildings or water. Then there is the farmer—and he is easy to find in many parts of Cumberland and in some parts of Northumberland—who is concentrating on breeding the good old-fashioned pedigree dual-purpose shorthorns; he is doing it very well and is performing a most useful service to the lowland farmer. There, milk is part of the general build up; it is part of the farm economy, but it is not the main thing. Yet I suppose that that will be called dairy enterprise, and that he will not be able to apply for one of these schemes. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will, in reply, make a little more clear than the Minister has done so far exactly how far this milk business is to be allowed.
We have heard, too, this afternoon a great deal about the necessity for simplified schemes and for easy administration. I do not think I need go over that ground again, but there is one point in connection with administration on which I want to ask a question. When the Hill Farming Act, 1946, came into being, an advisory committee was set up by the Minister. From my knowledge of the working of that committee, I think that it has done a useful piece of work. It is representative of different interests and of different parts of the country. I want to ask the Minister if that committee, which, presumably, continues under the parent Act, will be slightly altered, so far as its personnel is concerned, to deal with those people who have a specialised knowledge of what again, as a Northerner, I call, semi-in-by-land. I believe that there are people with vast experience of dealing with that type of land who would be very useful serving on such a committee.
846 Further, I believe that the committee could be improved by real worker representation. I am not saying anything against anyone who may have sat on that committee in the past—everyone did an excellent job except myself, and modesty makes me say that—but I think that there is room on such a committee for a man who is not a trade union leader but who is a retired herdsman on that type of land, and who could really give his own end of it, so that we may see the problem which he is really up against. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would say a word about the Central Advisory Committee when he comes to reply.
I would like to deal with the question of bracken. The type of land with which the Bill is concerned has, in a great many cases, already a very heavy infestation of bracken. One can tolerate a certain amount of obnoxious weeds on a fell or high mountain side, but when it gradually comes further down the mountain side into the type of land with which this Bill is to deal, then it becomes a very real menace indeed. When I put a Question to the Minister the other day as to what research had been done on this particular subject, his reply was that research had been going on in the use of herbicides—what I call selective weed killers—by the University of Oxford for several years, and that they had nothing to report.
I suggest that Cambridge might be given a chance, or Durham, or one of our other more progressive universities. I feel that this is such a grave problem, and so important for this type of land, that it would be very helpful if, in the financial provisions of the Bill, a sum of money could be set aside for research in bracken eradication. There will be a certain amount of other research to do with regard to the rehabilitation of this land, but I think that bracken is the No. 1 priority problem.
I promised that I would not intervene at any length, because there are so many other hon. Members who would like an opportunity to take part in this very interesting debate. I believe that the Bill will eventually be of great benefit to the limited areas with which it is concerned. The Minister spoke about it being the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning—I am confused now, but I know exactly what he meant. I feel 847 that we will not have reached the beginning of the end of our land problem until we have on the Statute Book an Act of Parliament which will seek the rehabilitation not only of the high areas and the middle areas but of marginal land wherever it is to be found in the British Isles.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
I too will not take up much time in the debate, because I feel that, having spoken on so many occasions on this subject, I have nothing new to say. I welcome the Bill, and especially its provisions for the further development of this type of land. I recognise the difficulty in which the Minister found himself in trying to define upland areas because farmers in different parts of the country define this type of land in different ways, according to the type which they find in their own counties.
I feel that the whole of the upland and hill areas will have to be dealt with in a far greater way than they are at the present moment. In one debate in which I put forward the figure of £100 million as a starting point in dealing with hill lands, I was said to be extravagant. I think that I was rather on the minimum side if we are to bring these hill and upland areas into proper cultivation. Certainly, this is another step forward. The main purpose of the Bill is to create fertility in the higher lands, so that the stockholding capacity will increase; but we in the hills know that if we are to increase the stock of hill farms we have to increase more than ever our growing of winter fodder. That is the crux of the whole problem.
We can carry the sheep and we can carry the cattle in the summer, but young stock have to go down to the lowlands in the winter because we cannot carry them through. That results, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), said, in their going into the market immaturely because the hill farmer and the farmer of the uplands is unable to carry them through the winter because of the lack of fodder or of winter root for them. Until we master the problem of the growing of winter fodder in the higher lands and conserving it, we shall not get much more stock on these lands, whatever we do.
I am one of those who would like to urge upon the Minister what other hon. 848 Members have urged, namely, that he should look again at the question of a comprehensive scheme. It is undoubtedly one of the barriers to the small man making an application under the Bill; because what does a comprehensive scheme mean to the small man? The danger to the small man in a comprehensive scheme is that he may easily become overcapitalised. He has to lay out so much money on buildings that the area of land connected with the building is not large enough. He becomes overburdened with capital and capital expenses, and I feel that if the Minister could allow schemes to be put forward on a much smaller scale the small man would take advantage of them and gradually build himself up year by year. When he has taken on one small scheme and become the master of it, and gets on top of it financially, then he will go forward with another.
If the Minister will look again into this question of the comprehensive schemes in order to give the small man better facilities, I am sure that he will have a much better response. It has been pointed out that the small man has not only to carry 50 per cent. of the capital cost of any scheme under the Bill, but has also to bear the whole capital cost of his stock. He also has to bear the costs of the machinery which is becoming more and more necessary for farming, whether in the lowlands or on the hillside. That is far too large a capital expenditure for a man farming on a small scale to bear. As a member of the Advisory Committee, I know what these comprehensive schemes mean. They are far too large for any small man.
I was interested to note that the Minister said that the farmer producing milk in a small way will not be excluded so long as the major proportion of his farming is in the rearing of stock. That is a very good thing indeed, because what these small men require more than anything else is a monthly income, which is the reason why they go in for milk production on their farms. It means, of course, that they have to wait for 12 months before receiving any return in the case of their stock. If these small farmers can obtain a monthly cheque to carry them through the year, it will help them with their cattle and sheep. The success of these schemes will depend to a large extent on the way in which they are 849 administered by the county agricultural executive committees. My experience is that these committees are not taking sufficient interest in these schemes.
I have raised the question of fences on more than one occasion. The way in which fences are being allowed to fall into disrepair is one of the major causes of the fall in the number of sheep in the country. If the county agricultural executive committees would insist on farmers keeping their fences in repair, we should have far more sheep flocks. In one area that I know, which is an area of small farms, there were 18 flocks of sheep carrying 2,000 ewes in 1948. When the war came and the farmers were compelled to go in for ploughing, it was impossible to keep the sheep off the ploughed land because of the difficulty of fencing. Today, not a single flock remains. The farmers have sold out, and there is not a sheep to be found fattening or wintering.
I plead with the Minister to get the county agricultural executive committees to see that farmers keep up their fences. The way in which walls are to be seen falling into disrepair in certain parts of the country is appalling. I counted 73 gaps in a length of 300 yards. It means that no sheep will be put on these hill-farms so long as the fences and walls are in this condition. I say that because the first man to buy sheep has to do the fencing, not only for himself but for his neighbours. Common law works against us in this respect. According to the law, we are compelled to keep our stock on our own land.
So long as those conditions exist, our sheep stock will fall. Far more could be done at present if attention could be paid to fencing and other small matters. Now that the Minister has returned, I will ask again that he give attention to comprehensive schemes. Many suggestions have been made of items that could be brought within the scope of the Bill, such as water schemes, cottages, and so forth, but on many of these farms we find that the liquid manure is allowed to run down from the shippons into the drain.
In Lancashire, only one farm out of every 10 possesses a liquid manure tank. I suggest that it should be possible under this scheme to enable farmers to set up liquid manure tanks. We want to see this manure retained on the higher land for 850 use on the land. What is the use of letting liquid manure run down into the dykes and sewers and then buying sulphate of ammonia, which is what scores of farmers are doing? It means that they are buying back the liquid manure they are allowing to go to waste. If the agricultural executive committees would take a greater interest in these questions, many of these subsidy schemes would be of greater value. It would enable the fertility of the uplands to be restored more quickly than at present, and it would bring back the stock we need so much on this land.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
When the Minister produced this Bill this afternoon, I recalled words spoken by the hon. Member the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he introduced its predecessor in 1946. He called it "the charter of the hill farming industry." One supposes that this Bill might be called by the Minister the Magna Charta of the whole of the livestock raising industry in this country. We are thankful to the Minister for bringing it forward. We fully realise that the donors of charters throughout history from King John onwards, have been forced to grant them, and the thing that forced the Government to make this advance, although I know that King Tom in this instance has been on the side of the rebels, has been the force of circumstances in which this country finds itself today.
We know of the difficulty through Uruguay and Argentine ganging up together to make more complex the factors which make meat a rarity in the world. It is sufficient to say that the British farmer is no longer the free trader's poison, because his produce is probably the only form of certain meat sustenance that there will be in the future. Therefore, the forces making for this Bill put the question of the amount of money to be spent outside controversy in this House, but what one might say is that the sum of money to be expended is by no means commensurate with some of the dangers which may face this country in the next few years.
I should like to judge this Bill by two things; first of all, whether it will make the best use of the land available and the best use of the vegetable growth available on that land; and, secondly, whether 851 it will put the finest quality and quantity of meat on to the dinner plates. It is a question of veg. and meat, because everyone knows the whole cycle of animal production is simply veg. into meat. It is on those two points I should like to discuss this Bill for a few moments. I agree with the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) that the Bill does not deal with the whole cycle of animal production. It only affects lamb and veal. It does not affect them all the way through. In my speech I hope to make certain suggestions, which fall perhaps outside the provisions of this Bill, but which I believe are essential to this fulfilment, because if we are to consider this matter of more meat for the public it means we must consider certain things outside the Bill, such as were suggested by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). That is the first criticism I should make of this Bill.
On the question of land, the Minister himself has dealt with this considerable and growing problem of the amount of acreage available per head of the population of this country. The total acreage available to the people in this country is just over one acre per head, and of that only three-eighths at the moment are used for agriculture purposes. When the Conservative Government are returned to power and build 300,000 houses a year, obviously the problem will become even more difficult. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale), when he is Minister of Agriculture, will see that the density of houses to the acre is increased, because that has an important bearing on the whole question of the use of land.
On the whole question of land use, I am sure the Minister is enforcing on his colleague the maximum attention to Sir Dudley Stamp's Report on this matter. This question of production is of vital importance. There is a very wide margin to work on. The Minister has just defined it as something like 3½ million to 4 million acres lying between the hill land and the lower land. I should like to quote one figure as an example of the margin which exists, a figure which my brother in another place has often thrown at the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). In 1850, 100 years ago, the Highlands used to send down to Falkirk 155,000 surplus 852 store cattle; today the total population in the Highlands of hill cattle is under 55,000. There is a big margin for us to work on.
Therefore, one should give praise to this Bill for certain little things which it does. It brings cattle into the scheme as well as sheep, and it gives longer guarantees. This was an outstanding grievance amongst hill farmers—the guarantee lasted only a few years. Now that the guarantee has been extended the happier they will be. It gives more advantages by bringing more items into the Schedule. As many as 21 items are now listed. There is the question of the cattle pens, of silage installation, and of fencing. All these things are of great importance and a great step forward, but there are certain warnings which must be given about this Bill. This scheme is fine for the rich farmer and the big man. Unfortunately, the upland farmer on the whole is the poorest group in the whole community, and we have to see somehow, without disturbing the global sum, that some greater assistance is given to him.
I would make two suggestions, because as well as his land he has also to buy his stock, and his stock is a very big item. The two suggestions which I wish to make can be included inside the Bill. I know the right hon. Gentleman made a case against breaking down the comprehensive scheme, but what my hon. and gallant Friend said should at least be weighed most carefully by the right hon. Gentleman. If it is a question of developing these 4 million acres, one can look at the similarities between the problems in this country and those in colonial development, where the first thing is to get the fencing erected and then afterwards make out the scheme. This is a frontier question. We are pushing out the agricultural frontiers, and often fences—I am thinking of instances in Brazil and such remote countries as I have seen—make all the difference to further development. I hope the Minister will consider this matter further in Committee.
The second thing is to see that there is a variation of grant. In Ireland the Government gives 60 per cent. and the farmer 40 per cent. to reclamation schemes. I would not suggest that, but I believe that there could be variation of certain items which are of more importance to the small man than to others.
853 The 21 items listed in the Schedule in certain instances could earn a 60 per cent. grant with a 40 per cent. contribution from the farmer. In Committee that may well be worked out. In such things as fencing, roads and buildings that could be a higher rate of grant which, whilst not affecting the global sum, could be dealt with in the interests of the small man by local licensing authorities.
But unfortunately the general problem of finance for the farmer cannot be met by the Bill itself. What is needed is more finance in a new form. The 1928 and 1932 Acts, which set up the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, have done an immense amount of good for British farming but at the moment something like £19 million are out in approved loans by the Minister. We have to find some other way in increasing the amount of credit this Corporation can give.
We already have a finance corporation for industry. There should be a finance corporation for agriculture which could expand the machinery which exists in the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. The thing that holds this corporation up is that before they can issue more loans they must have backers to take up the loans. If the Government could give a further guarantee I believe that the great financial institutions would be prepared to come in and to back an extension of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. While on this question of finance I would like to say a word about the Land Commission and the Ministry. I believe that 450,000 acres belong to the Ministry in Scotland and that new schemes could be started if the Government were prepared to support the small man who is on his way up the farming ladder.
An hon. Member opposite has said that feeding stuffs are the basic problem of this scheme. The scheme solves one problem by producing more land but it creates another by producing more stock which have to be fed during the winter. This is an intractable problem, with which we shall have to deal. The animals have to be brought down during the winter except those belonging to some, of my hon. Friends who manage to keep their cattle out during winter months.
On this question of winter feeding I would put forward a suggestion to the Minister. We know that we have to grow most of our feedingstuffs, and that even 854 if it could be bought abroad most farmers would find it too expensive. We must grow grass for our cattle, which are fattened largely on grass. The important thing, to which the Minister referred in connection with hill cattle subsidies, is to try to push as many of the animals which we need to have fattened on to the high ground during the late spring, the summer and the early autumn.
One way in which that could be effected is to see that the calf subsidy applies in future only to two sorts of animal, those whose parents drew the hill cattle subsidy, and those living in areas which are under this upland farming scheme. That would naturally create a tendency to move cattle away from the fattening lands during the summer months. I suggest that the calf subsidy be limited to those animals, that we reduce the £5 to £3 for male animals and that the £2 be thrown forward on to the finished price. From the national point of view I am sure that the cry during the summer months ought to be, "The higher up the mountains the sweeter grows the grass." This is probably the way to deal with this question of making winter feedingstuffs available.
I want now to deal with livestock itself. I have talked so far about land, but the livestock question is vitally important. As hon. Members know, and as I have said before, land is, so to speak, the factory space for animal production. Our factory space in this country is extremely limited in the narrow set of acres that we have. It is therefore vitally important that we should have the most efficient unit of animal production in using that factory space. Hon. Members know full well the difference between a steer which is well-bred for producing meat and one that is not. If we put the former upon one acre of ground and we put a badly bred, badly conditioned beast on to another, we should find that the first one puts on two cwts. more meat in a year than the other. As far as meat production goes, quality is the equivalent of quality.
One of the sad things in this country is that the quality of our commercial herds is definitely not high in meat production. For that reason those animals will tend to waste the grassland that we have available. I know that the grassland scheme of the right hon. Gentleman has been a considerable success, but it is important as a corollary to that scheme that the 855 animals who use that grass should be good doers and efficient feeders. The Bill makes no attempt to deal with the quality question, and that is a very great lack. We do not expect that from the drop of the Minister's black hat there will suddenly spring up T.T. herds of Shorthorns, Galloways and all the rest of them, but we should see that there is a constant up-grading of commercial cattle. That is what is lacking at the moment.
There are various ways in which that could be done, and I would, in passing, make one comment and give a statistic to the House on this matter. In 1920, more than 4,000 pedigree shorthorn animals were disposed of at public auction. In 1948 only 900 were so disposed of. In 1950, the number was slightly more, but not much. What are the remedies? I suggest that there are some general remedies and two minor palliatives. The first palliative is that we should insist upon controlling bulls in the same way as controlling the rams which are used in these schemes. Artificial insemination cannot be effective for hill cattle unless we are to have vets running faster than deer up the mountain sides. Some calf subsidies that are paid to milking breeds might be transferred to the beef breeds.
Something might be done there, but the more fundamental answer is to see that there is a better price for the finished product. Then we shall get quality. For this result, two things are needed. The first is greater freedom of choice for the butcher and the public, and the second is better slaughtering arrangements. There is no question that there is a waste of meat at the moment especially on the hoof. If the slaughtering trade were handed back to the butcher the public would get a much better service, and meat would not go up so much in price as it looks like doing.
Other things could be done. The calf subsidy could be removed from the milk calf to the beef or dual purpose calf and paid out at six months to the hill and upland cattles' progeny. I ought to have mentioned this point before. At six months £3 of the subsidy should be paid to the breeder and not to the feeder, and the remainder should go to the feeder in the scheme, that is, to the seller of the finished animal. We should get a transfer of payments from one part of the system 856 to the final and finished animal. Further we might consider whether the price to be paid for old ewes and cows is not too high. We should see also that when the supplies of meat in this country become sufficient there should be established a free market in meat above the rationing scheme. All these ideas may be worthy of discussion in Committee.
We should welcome the Bill, and yet issue these words of warning. From the national point of view the vital thing is to see that the maximum use is made of hill land for grazing. I believe that could be done by reducing the size of the calf subsidy and seeing that it is paid to the breeder in the hills. The second vital thing is to see that the price of the finished product is sufficiently high to encourage quality production. This country still has to go through something of an agricultural revolution. As times get more difficult abroad and as our spheres of control and interest contract, so must we push out further the agricultural frontiers of these islands. I welcome the Bill and I hope that it will be the precursor of other wider and more important Measures.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I should like first to express my regret that I was not able to be here at the beginning of the debate. I should also say that I have no personal interest in agriculture or in the subsidy, although my constituency produces probably the finest cattle in the world—at least, the highest prices are paid for its cattle, and that is probably a fairly good criterion. At all events, it is contributing a great deal towards the exports to the Argentine and a great deal towards the raising of quality. Scotland is very greatly interested in seeing that attention is paid to quality as well as to mere quantity.
I should like to address my remarks to the theme on which the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) finished his speech, the wider field of the problem facing not only this country but the world as a whole, of which this is one little contribution towards a solution. It is said that 50,000 new mouths come into the world every night. Certainly the production of food is not increasing at that rate. The population of our own country has increased by 6 million in 25 years and yet we have 3 million fewer 857 acres for food production. In Scotland probably over the last century the population has gone up from about 2,750,000 to 5 million. In the country as a whole we have about one-third of the productive land necessary for feeding ourselves.
Lord Boyd-Orr said the other day that soil erosion and the loss of soil fertility is the biggest problem facing mankind today, and he declared that it was a greater threat than the atom bomb. I am sure that there is no division in the House about the necessity for planning in regard to agriculture. We hear a great deal of criticism about planning, but I believe that every one here agrees that in regard to food supplies of this nation and of the world we have either to plan or to perish.
The Bill has been welcomed—I welcome it for the same reason—because it is a further contribution towards the plans of our country to increase our food supplies. One problem is that every day we are tending to reduce the potential food supply of the nation by using up our agricultural land for houses, factories, mines, railways and so on. In addition we have so far failed to eradicate many of the pests which destroy the fertility of our land. Great areas of sheep land are going out of cultivation because we have not yet been able to deal with the tick and other pests which make sheep rearing unprofitable and risky for the farmers. We have not only to deal with our own activities, which are automatically reducing our food supplies, but have also to deal with all kinds of pests which destroy the food we produce.
During their term of office the Government have taken steps to try to bring this matter under some kind of control. The Town and Country Planning Act gives the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture power to see that agricultural land is not taken if it can possibly be avoided. Before the Act came into existence agricultural land could be taken for other purposes without attention being paid to protests from the farmers, but today agricultural interests have the right and the duty to make it clear that land must not go out of cultivation unless it is absolutely necessary to the country's well-being that it should do so.
As the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone said, the agricultural Acts are 858 indeed agricultural charters. They have made the State, the landowner and the farmer a tri-partnership for the good of agriculture. Curiously enough, it was the Labour Government which for the first time recognised that there was a function for landowners. Up to then landowners had been very largely an object of abuse, but the Labour Government gave them a function in the country's affairs. Curiously enough also, that was done with the agreement of the farmers who do not necessarily want to be the landowners managing the land but are in many cases quite content to be the farmers working in between. Becoming a partner gave the State a responsibility as well as the right to demand duties from its co-partners, and that responsibility became very largely the pumping of capital into our agriculture and ensuring that fences and equipment were kept in a proper state of order and that land was kept fertile.
The Government and the community are also playing a great part in research. Perhaps the greatest thing done in this country since the war has been the development of the agencies which help the farmer to make his land more productive and help him to increase the wealth that can be got from the soil by improving vegetation or by animal feeding. No one would dispute that the improvements in grasses, machinery for cultivation, use of silage and the drying of grass are valuable contributions towards the solution of the problem to which the Bill directs our attention.
A body to which too little attention has been given is the Nature Conservancy Board. It is often regarded as an agency for preserving bird life in isolated lochs and lakes, but it is a scientific body whose object is to see that the destruction of the life of the countryside does not proceed in such a way as to destroy our food supplies and other resources upon which we depend. For example, upsetting the balance of nature frequently causes great loss of food. I have a little experience in regard to fruit trees. Scientists tell us to spray our trees with a tar oil wash in the winter-time in order to prevent damage to the fruit. After this has been done, we find that we have destroyed the enemies of the red spider and that the red spider now has a free run to destroy the trees. We have then to spray the trees with something else in order to destroy the red spider. Science has not yet reached the 859 point at which it knows when it is interfering with the balance of nature, and the question of the feeding and re-feeding of nature is one of the fundamental sciences. The Government are to be congratulated upon the splendid contribution which they are making by the establishment of the Nature Conservancy Board and the many agricultural colleges and research stations with their agricultural advisory committees.
With regard to the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, this is only a small Bill but it is part of a great problem. The greatest area of unused or under-used land in these islands is in Scotland. During the last four or five years and during the war great efforts have been made to bring deer forests and uplands into food production. As the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone said, it is not a simple problem; one cannot just decide to put so many more cattle on the hills and think that the problem is solved.
Obviously the problem starts much earlier. Before we can have any life we must have food for that life. Therefore the problem starts in producing enough food in the Highlands to maintain a greater number of cattle. Much has been done in that regard. Fortunately, because nowadays we have the opportunity to co-ordinate all our activities, and instead of forestry being regarded as the enemy of agriculture as formerly, it has now become its friend.
§ Mr. Woodburn
In Scotland it is becoming so. The great area of the Highlands is being surveyed with a view to having forestry co-operate with agriculture. Trees can help by lessening the watershed which washes manures out of the steep hillside soil. They can also provide shelter for animals. Indeed, trees are also being used to preserve the soil of the valleys where better crops can be grown, thus providing more food in that area for winter feeding of animals.
The noble lord, Lord Lovat, the brother of the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone, has shown how this can be done where circumstances are favourable. All we can do is try to create similar favourable circumstances in other parts of the Highlands and repeat his 860 success. Mr. Hobbs at Fort William is experimenting in another direction. He has brought cattle from Connemara, where there is a similar moist climate, and leaving them on the hills at Fort William all the year round. They may manage to live outside but it may not be economic unless the cattle produce a sufficient number of calves to justify the experiment. Another circumstance favourable to Mr. Hobbs is that he has a great distillery behind him. Everyone knows the warmth which distilleries supply to the population, and the draff which comes from this distillery is spread over the hillsides in the winter time. By distributing draff on different parts of the hillsides the cattle move about and destroy the bracken. In this way they help to recreate their food supply.
There is one problem which arises in connection with the rehabilitation of the Highlands which even this Bill has not attempted to tackle. Mr. Hobbs has been using modern machinery, such as bulldozers and heavy tractors, to level out large pieces of land and bring them into a state of cultivation. But what happens when Mr. Hobbs goes? Does the land go back to the wild again as on previous occasions? Will all the cattle put into it by the State be lost?
I have in mind a case where a farmer spent 30 years experimenting in bringing moorland back into grassland. During the war on a new farm after he had retired he brought still another heatherland up to good grazing land, which in a few years became worth 12 times its previous value. But the man who succeeded him on his old farm allowed the land to go back to the wild, and all that can be done with it now is to plant it with trees. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will pay attention to this problem because the capital put into the land in this way will be a complete loss to the country if the improvement is not maintained permanently.
In the Highlands we require also buildings to shelter the animals in severe storms, since farmers will lose all the cattle they put out on the hills unless under these conditions the beasts can reach food and shelter. It is not enough to have cattle that can live out on the hills; they must be able to find shelter in the worst of these storms. Grants, therefore, towards the improvement of 861 these hill farms will be a great contribution if, as I assume, they also cover buildings.
Another development which is taking place in the Highlands is in breeding types of cattle which can survive severe weather. Lord Glentanar is carrying through experiments in Aberdeenshire, and the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) has done the same in his area. Such experiments in cross-breeding are being made to find animals which will give quality and yet will have the endurance necessary for living out all the year round and reproducing themselves. That, however, represents a long-term experiment. It will not provide masses of cattle in a short time because catttle take their own time for reproduction, and mass production has not been able to devise any method of speeding up that process.
Can we make it possible for animals and men to live in the Highlands and for families to earn a livelihood in this work? They look for some kind of security. It is up to the State to provide that, and so we welcome the help given by the longer-term nature of these loans. Nevertheless, there should be something in the Bill to give power to the community, to require the farmer to see that the improvements are maintained and that the job for which the grants have been given is carried through. As I understand it, it is only after a farm falls into a state of bad husbandry that the community can intervene. If the State is to put capital into the land, it must have the right to see that the capital is properly used and is not lost to the community.
I welcome the Bill not only because it will bring more cattle into the Highlands, but because it will also bring more men into the Highlands. After all, the greatest wealth of this country is not its beef but its men, and one of the greatest tragedies of this country has been the loss of a large proportion of the virile population bred in the Highlands. Many people who have made fortunes in iron and steel, in the mines, and elsewhere have recognised as well as the Highlanders that the Highlands are lovely to live in. They have gone there and have spent their fortunes in trying to rebuild and develop the land of the Highlands. They have done a great job which the country ought to recognise, they have blazed the trail. But it is up to the community to back them 862 up, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of bringing into being the happy people and healthy animals which existed formerly in that countryside, and of raising the standard of our country generally by providing food from our soil by our own labour, and making it a little more independent of the rest of the world.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
In common with all other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction. It will be of particular importance to Wales, and, as the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) said, it will be of great importance to Scotland. It indicates the recognition by the Government that the next source of food production to be developed is our marginal land. There is, of course, marginal land in other than upland areas, but, as we have heard from the Minister, the land in the upland areas forms the greater proportion, although I did not realise until today that it was as high as nine-tenths.
The Government have been faced with the problem of giving a definition of "marginal land." They have overcome some of the difficulties of doing so by defining, instead, "livestock rearing land" asland situated in an area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath, being land which is, or by improvement could be made, suitable for use for the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle ….The word "predominantly" may lead to difficulties when this definition is applied, and it would make for greater flexibility if, instead, were used the words "to a large extent." The limitations of the word "predominantly" may result in distinctions being drawn between one farm and another, although in principle both should qualify for the same kind of assistance. This is really a Committee point, but I hope that the Minister will keep an open mind, as I am sure he will, when suggestions of this kind are put to him during the Committee stage.
I support what has been said about the schemes which are to be put forward, and I hope that there will not be too rigid an insistence on the comprehensive nature of the scheme. The fact that authorities have insisted upon comprehensive schemes has rather slowed up and discouraged 863 people in submitting schemes under the Hill Farming Act, 1946. This matter is of particular importance in a country such as Wales, where the large majority of farmers are tenant-occupiers, farming comparatively small holdings, the average being, I think, less than 50 acres. Very often these farmers have not the capital with which to embark on a comprehensive scheme. After all, although the State may provide 50 per cent. of the cost, the remaining half has to be provided by the person sponsoring the scheme, who very often is a tenant farmer, and who has to spend the money on land which is not his own. Our main purpose should be to concentrate on essentials which will help to build up the livestock population.
I hope, also, that schemes which are submitted will be treated as matters of urgency by the county agricultural executive authorities. The Minister has admitted that there has been quite a lot of delay in dealing with schemes under the Hill Farming Act. He said that the delay was not due to his officials alone but also to those who submit the schemes. I agree, but from the point of view of farmers it must be said that these schemes are difficult to prepare. I should like the Minister to try to ensure that all schemes which are submitted are dealt with quickly.
That there is delay can be seen from the figures. In Wales, in the year ended 30th June, 1950, 2,411 schemes were submitted. Of these, 1,551 were approved in principle, yet grants have been paid in respect only of 83. That is a very small proportion of the total schemes which have been approved in principle. If farmers are to be encouraged to put schemes forward, it is important, therefore, for them to feel that the county committees realise the importance of these schemes and will deal with them quickly.
The right hon. Member for East Stirling said that the Bill was a small but important contribution to the wider problem of feeding the peoples of the world at a time when the population of every country is increasing, but when food supplies on the whole are not increasing. It is also the beginning of a contribution to the problem of rural depopulation. If by means of schemes such as the Bill will make possible we can add to the amenities of life in the countryside, by the provision of roads, water and electricity ser- 864 vices, an important step will have been taken to arrest the rural depopulation.
The sum of £20 million which is envisaged in the Bill may be considered a large amount; it is four times the sum authorised under the Hill Farming Act. It is, however, only a very small proportion of the sums which are being expended in other directions, and I agree with the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) that £100 million would not be too large a sum to set aside for the purposes of the Bill.
Another matter which has been referred to by all hon. Members who have spoken, including the Minister, is the loss of agricultural land which is now occurring. The Minister himself admitted to some concern over this problem. I have recently been in touch with the Ministry, and it appears that no precise records are available of the losses of agricultural land to building and other development. From the figures which the Ministry have given me, however, the estimated average net loss of agricultural land to building development over the three years 1945–46 to 1947–48 was, subject to certain reservations, 36,000 acres.
In addition, there are the claims of the Forestry Commission. The Minister said that in Scotland the Forestry Commission were now regarded as the friend of agriculture, but that he could not speak for the less civilised countries. No doubt when he spoke of "less civilised countries" he was referring to England. If I may proceed higher in the scale of civilisation, in Wales we have not yet come to regard the Forestry Commission as the friend of agriculture. Things are moving in that direction, perhaps, but very great difficulties still exist, and the farming community as a whole is far from satisfied that the necessary precautions are taken before land is acquired for afforestation. Then there are the claims of the Service Departments. Important as these are, we doubt whether the places where the Service Departments desire to take land should not properly be devoted to agricultural production. When the extent of these claims, quite apart from those for building development, are considered, it is evident that the drain on agricultural land must be of the order of 40,000 acres a year or more. That is a very serious drain.
865 I should like the Ministers of Agriculture and Town and Country Planning to take far more interest in this very grave matter. We do not want a position to develop in which every other section of the population can have its chunk of land—the Services, afforestation, building, industry, and so forth—while the farmer has to make do with what is left. The land of Britain is one of the most important, if not the most important, of our material assets, and we are coming to a time when all Government Departments must be far more careful about the way in which any piece of land is taken from agriculture. In the crisis in which this country and the world may be in the next two, three, four, or five years, agricultural production must be in the very top priority and all questions of land use must be considered with that in mind.
Although these grants will provide 50 per cent. of the cost of a scheme, the farmer has to find the remaining 50 per cent. and, in addition, the cost of the additional stock for his farm. Terms of credit are getting somewhat more difficult and the problem of cheap capital is becoming a very difficult one for the farmer. It is a time when much new capital is necessary in the agricultural industry. As an hon. Member opposite pointed out, a farmer needs more and more implements. Their cost is going up, the cost of providing the farm with all the farmer wants has been estimated at about £40 an acre. That is a very high figure. Those are very high expenses for a man starting to farm and for the small farmer.
I should like the Ministry to give some thought to the suggestion of a comprehensive plan for cheap capital for the farmer. The suggestion has been put forward by us that an agricultural bank, or a land bank, might be established which would lend money, in proper cases, at low rates of interest for the improvement of the land. I welcome the Bill. It is an important step in the right direction and I hope it is the precurser of other Bills for improvement of the land.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
I represent an area to which the subject of this Bill is most important. The right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has already pointed out that there are great areas of under-used 866 land in the Highlands of Scotland. We know that. I think it has been variously estimated that these lands amount to something like 11 to 12 million acres. There there is a tremendous possibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) again mentioned that figure which his brother, Lord Lovat, mentioned in another place that at the Falkirk Tryst 155,000 head of cattle, surplus to what was bred in the Highlands of Scotland, were sold. At Sligachan in the Isle of Skye 100 years ago there used to be a great cattle sale and at that sale alone 20,000 head of cattle, some of which were landed in sailing boats from the Outer Islands and driven right across Skye, used to change hands.
We used to be a great cattle country in the North of Scotland but now, for one reason and another, that has declined. We know the history—cheap imports of foreign meat in the 19th Century and then the decline of shelter through the felling of the forests, then bracken took the place of good grazing land, which reduced the sheep area and thus lowered the area of fertility and, finally, sheep gave way to sport. Now we have reached the stage when hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that we have to produce as much food as we can in this country.
The right hon. Member for East Stirling and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone referred to my hon. Friend's brother, Lord Lovat, and the experiment he has made. It is really a remarkable experiment. On an area which before the war carried only 40 Galloway cows, he now has 700 to 800 head of cattle, though as the right hon. Gentleman said, in a way the circumstances are exceptional. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to Mr. Hobbs' scheme, which is also particularly interesting. He has used 5,000 acres of what was nothing but rough ground. It grew simply reeds and was mainly a bog with some heather upon it. He drained it and limed it and now has 600 cattle on that ground. The right hon. Gentleman gave certain information with regard to this and there are one or two points I would supplement. During the first year he used 250 tons of winter feed. In the second year he used 120 tons and this year he has used only 40 tons while, next year, he hopes to use only what he grows on the ground itself. That is a remarkable achievement, but Mr. Hobbs is certain that 867 there are other areas, as many as 20, in a radius of 50 miles in which the same thing could be done. Mr. Hobbs' secret of winter feed is silage consisting of beans, peas and tares.
I would draw the attention of the House to the immense possibility there is for the big farm of this kind. I hope the Government will give every encouragement to it. I think the Bill does so, but it will be difficult to get capital in every instance. We should do all we can to interest big financial interests in the city, particularly those big concerns interested in cattle ranches in the Argentine, which might turn their attention to the Highlands. I suggest also that the Government should make the Bill as flexible as possible in order to take in the small man, because crofting agriculture is the basis of Highland agriculture. We must have provision for the small man who cannot take in every possible feature of the scheme.
There are two particular problems which affect the Highlands. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone referred to what he called "a frontier question" and I think those words are right. This is essentially a frontier question, a question of trying to push out the frontiers of agriculture, and in that roads are absolutely vital. Roads are mentioned in the First Schedule of this Measure. But access roads depend on other roads from which they lead. At the risk of going outside the Bill I mention the position of classified roads in Inverness-shire. Whereas in the County of Kent, on an average, £272 a mile is spent on classified roads, in Inverness-shire the amount is only £109 per mile. It is important to get that as a background. Our problem is to keep the roads in adequate condition. I suggest that as things are now we are not keeping pace with the deterioration of the roads in the Highlands. If we are to make the best of our opportunities we must have decent roads.
Another difficulty is the question of the cost of transport. That is bound to enter into any hill scheme and it is particularly so in the remoter parts. For instance, in the northern part of Skye it costs as much to transport a ton of hay as the hay itself costs. Something has to be done to help transport in these remoter areas because assuredly the reward can be very great.
868 I beg the Minister and his right hon. Friend not to neglect the opportunities which present themselves for food production in the Highlands.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The noble Lord the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) has spoken in moving terms of the great herds of cattle that used to come in to Loch Slighachan of the peaks, and I am sure that there is no one here who would not sympathise with the people of that part of the country which he represents in wishing to see a return to that state of affairs, if that is at all possible. Nor was it at all surprising to hear the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) also speaking in similar terms, having regard to the fact that he represents an area in respect of which there will be very little doubt under the definition Clause in the Bill, as it is undoubtedly an upland area. The position may be different, however, with regard to other parts of the country; the definition Clause may give rise to more difficulty so far as they are concerned.
It is almost common form for the Minister of Agriculture to introduce three Bills a year relating to agriculture—he has done so for I do not know how many years—all of which are greeted with a paean of welcome. Indeed the welcome in some cases is so great that hon. Members on this side of the House permit themselves a great degree of criticism of the Minister which they would not if they really did not welcome his Bills in essence. This Bill, the primary object of which is to increase production from home sources, is no exception. We all want to do that if we can, having regard to economic considerations. Some of us perhaps lay more stress than do others on the economic nature of the enterprise, the expense that will be involved and the return which we might hope to expect. Others say, "Go ahead, we must have an untold number of millions in order to increase production from home sources," perhaps without regard to the expense which that will involve. The plain fact is that we all want to see that increase in production if it can be achieved.
Starting from the basis that in 1949 we imported about 200,000 tons less beef than in 1938, we obviously want to make up that deficiency from home sources of 869 production if we possibly can. We did not import a lesser tonnage in 1949 because we did not want that beef but because we could not procure any more from outside sources.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The hon. Member is sometimes happy in his interventions, but I should say that that is about his least happy one. State trading has helped considerably in procuring the beef we have here. Without State trading and State intervention, it is very likely we should have had far less than ever before. But be that as it may, it does not concern the point which I am making. Whether we favour State trading or private trading, we all want to increase the importation of beef as well as home production at present.
We are, in this Bill, dealing with home production. If we should succeed in increasing the home production of livestock, we should all welcome it even if for different reasons; some because of the profit to be obtained through producing the extra livestock, others because of the fact that we should have more on our table. I should welcome it because of the increased fertility that it would bring to our soil if we increased the number of livestock produced and reared in this country. I welcome this Bill from that angle particularly. Perhaps I ought to say that, being almost a vegetarian, my judgment is coloured to that small extent. I am not at all desirous of having more meat on my table.
Nevertheless, I have a misgiving about this Bill in that it applies only to the upland areas. Speaking very broadly, those of us who believe that production from the lowland areas might be increased even more efficiently and effectively than that from the upland areas, have not had much encouragement from what the Minister has said today. It seems to me tragic that one can, for perhaps a whole afternoon or even longer, pass through grand farming country, as occasionally I do in north Lincolnshire, and see in the course of such a journey scarcely a beast. One is filled with sadness at the thought that such a thing can happen. One wonders how on earth such land is to be permanently maintained in its fertility without extra livestock.
870 We have heard talk of farming "out of a bag." I do not doubt that a great deal of that is done and that it has its uses; but I cannot believe that, without a far greater livestock population, fertility can be indefinitely maintained in many parts of the country today, be they lowland or upland areas. I should like to see conditions where on really good rich land the farmers would have, and it would pay them to have, a far greater head of livestock than is the case at present. I know that this Bill will not help towards that in the least. At the same time, it helps in the right direction in regard to the future balance of the less rich areas. I am indeed glad that it should help them, even if it does not bring a similar benefit to the land in the richer areas of the country.
I am afraid that there will be quite a lot of difficulty about the definitions in this Bill, in spite of what has been said by the Minister. For instance, there is the definition relating to land suitable for livestock rearing but not fit for dairy farming. I suppose that is one of the easier matters in the Bill on which someone will have to make decisions at a later stage. But what about land not suitablefor the carrying on, to any material extent, of dairy farming,. .It seems to me that there is in that considerable ground for argument. It might almost be feather-bedding for lawyers. My regret is that the lawyers will be inside the departments, arguing on this, and not outside.
I am sorry that there should have to be these elaborate definitions and this differentiation between hill land, marginal land and other land. It may be that at the back of people's minds there is now some idea that farmers who are not in an upland or a marginal area are having such a good time that they do not need to be helped. It may be again the thought of that featherbedding in the farmhouses which is holding people back in this respect,
We should benefit if we studied just a little what has happened in Ireland in the case of just such a problem as this. There, a talented if somewhat ebullient Minister of Agriculture goes to the country and says, "Have you an idea as to how you, on your farm, could increase production?" He does not say, "Are you on marginal land or hill land or other land?" He addresses all and sundry—"Have you an idea? If so, come and tell me about 871 it, and I will see what I can do for you by helping with two-thirds of the cost." It seems to me that that is a much simpler way of tackling the problem which this Bill in its own small way seeks to tackle.
I know that in other lands other tones are used, and I have no doubt that the tones used here by the Minister are suitable to our conditions. But I feel that we ought to have much more flexibility and not so much fear that there is to be a stereotyped scheme produced by the Minister. There should not be too comprehensive a scheme; I must use that expression in spite of what has been said by the Minister today. I feel certain that we could benefit to a certain extent if if we did that. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), in discussing the Minister's statement, said that there has been very little detriment to the production of schemes owing to the comprehensive requirements of the Ministry. He mentioned what I thought to be an extremely important point—how few of the smaller farmers on the uplands conserve their liquid manure. Will the Under-Secretary deal with this point? Suppose that a small farmer wanted a grant under this scheme for the making of a liquid manure tank and nothing else, would he be turned down on the ground that the scheme was not comprehensive? If not, will he stand by the proposition that in order to have a road, a fence or a liquid manure tank one must also have an Aga cooker in the kitchen, or that one must remodel the farmhouse?
We must have more flexibility and small schemes within the compass of the financial and physical capacity of the small farmer rather than that he should have to have larger improvements which will cause greater delay. If we had more flexibility, we should have more speed in the carrying out of the schemes, with a far greater propensity on the part of the small farmers to go forward and to make use of the facilities provided. I should like to read from the scheme which the Irish Minister of Agriculture sends out to his farmers. One could easily make criticisms of it, but I think that the House will agree that at least it is characterised by drive. It says:If your land needs to be drained and reclaimed. here is what you should do.872 The leaflet sets out shortly, in terms capable of being understood by any small farmer, the following instructions:Send a postcard to the Department of Agriculture asking for a form of application.It then says that a simple form will be sent, within a few days, asking for the location of the holding and the number of acres. The form will also explain the land rehabilitation project. Later it says:Shortly after this the Department's Supervisor for your district will call on you … In a few days after that you will get a letter giving a description and a plan of the work like what you see on page 1.I hope that I shall not be held responsible for the English of the circular. I merely say that at least it is full of drive and encouragement for the small farmer to go ahead with a scheme. It is the same throughout. It is a flexible scheme which no one would think of describing as anything else. Under it, farmers are not encouraged to go in for any more than they think they want after consultation with what corresponds to our agricultural executive committees' representatives.
On the whole, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the production of a useful Bill, even though it has limitations to which I have drawn attention. I hope that when the schemes come to him, he will impart to them the greatest possible drive and flexibility. If he does, I am sure that this Bill will meet with great success.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Fort (Clitheroe)
This Bill is clearly a useful addition to the measures which this House has passed to bring more of our land into better heart and to get better productivity from it. I was particularly pleased to note that in extending the Hill Farming Act, this Bill covers, in Clause 5, "improvements" as well as the provision of facilities on the uplands farms to which it will bring benefit.
Like many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have been disturbed by some of the definitions and also by the limitations of the Bill. It is almost impossible to find a comprehensive definition of marginal land to cover every part of our country, though one of the be [...] I have heard was made by a farmer in my constituency. He remarked at a meeting that his definition of marginal land was "where the town lorry driver would not take the lime no further." Lack 873 of accessibility is, without doubt, one of the characteristics of marginal land, whether it be on the uplands or on the low countries to which various hon. Members have referred.
The main criticism which I must make, as the representative of a constituency on the foot hills of the Pennines, is about the exclusion of dairy farming from this Bill. I should like to give a picture of the farming in East Lancashire and also the West Riding of Yorkshire. The farms are small family dairy farms of an average size of 40 acres situated at quite a high altitude of between 600 and 1,500 feet. The rainfall is heavy, averaging 50 inches, and the soil is poor and deficient in lime.
These farms are on the hillsides above the valleys in which the great manufacturing cities have grown up during the last 150 years or so, and they mainly produce milk to supply the markets which are on their thresholds. Farmers have to take their milk for perhaps less than one mile and, almost always, less than three or four miles. The result is that although it is a difficult farming area where costs at the farm gate may be high, when the milk arrives on the customer's doorstep it is cheap compared with what it would be if it were brought from better farming areas with a long haul by rail or road.
The demand for milk plus the fact that this is a poor farming area has had the result that in the past the farmers have had to rely on the provender bag, on feeding stuffs, in order to keep up their milk production. During the last 10 years or so with the reduced quantities of feedingstuffs available, the farmers of East Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire have greatly improved in their farming practice. The grassland has been improved throughout those valleys in a way which only those who have seen it would believe possible. The old system of what was called "flying herds" is gradually giving place to self-contained herds and the number of attested herds are increasing.
Farmers in these areas are afraid that the combination of this Bill excluding the dairy farmers and the likelihood that price reviews will slant the emphasis of price on to meat and away from milk, will make it increasingly difficult for these farmers to continue the improvements which they have been making. Their never very large incomes will gradually be reduced 874 and they will not get the assistance which farmers engaged in stock raising will get in other parts of England which are comparable climatically and geographically. The exclusion of dairying from this Bill will lead the Ministry into difficulties fairly quickly, because throughout our part of the country the principal type of cattle raised is the dual-purpose Shorthorn.
Those who have to administer the provisions of the Bill will find it very difficult to decide whether the Shorthorns being raised on these farms are primarily intended for stock or are primarily milk cattle. We have already seen in Lancashire, on account of the disappearance of the subsidy for heifer calves, some effect on the Shorthorn population, and it is a very unfortunate one, because Shorthorn heifers are easier to raise than Shorthorn bullock calves in our part of the world. It will be found very difficult to administer the Bill all through one particular marginal land area, which is unique in England with its emphasis on milk production, if it goes through without alteration in the Committee stage so as to make the exclusion of dairy farming less complete.
Another point concerning administration which I want to mention—and perhaps the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will refer to it—is whether, when carrying out the proposals of this Bill, it will be possible to assist farmers, if they do change over from milk raising to stock raising, because of the big loss of income through the disappearance of the monthly milk cheque. This, in our part of the world, as in many other parts of England, has been one of the great attractions of milk production.
There is one other point about administration. Many hon. Members have referred to the cumbersome operation in the early days of the administration of the Hill Farming Act. Perhaps, there has been some improvement now. I wish that in Clause 9, which deals with the administration through the county agricultural executive committees, we could modify the reliance on committees. Would it not be possible for these marginal land areas to be developed as agricultural development areas, comparable to the industrial development areas? Then a surveyor or land agent familiar with the area—and each one of these areas differs from the others 875 throughout the country—could be responsible for preparing a scheme, just as he would for his own estate, to bring that area into a proper and high state of productivity, using the advisory services now available to him? He would be responsible for carrying out the scheme for his area without the slow moving, although in other ways admirable, committee system. I should very much have liked to see some proposals of that sort which would, after all, be following the traditional way in which English estates have been built up and improved throughout many decades, if not centuries.
In welcoming this Bill with certain qualifications, I wish to make one last comment. The whole success of this Bill will depend on our having a consistent policy. If we suddenly decide, for reasons which we cannot now foresee, that we should not press on with stock raising in five or 10 years' time, but that we want more milk or some other use of this marginal land, all that we are doing today, and all that will be done in the later stages of the operation of this Bill, will be in vain. I hope that we may have confirmation of the suggestion that, so far as anyone can say at present, we shall be advancing stock raising in England for many decades ahead.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Harden (Armagh)
This Bill, of course, is applicable to Northern Ireland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it has been agreed in all its details with the Government of Northern Ireland, which has welcomed it in two respects particularly—first, that it extends the Hill Farming Act for a further period, and secondly, that it extends it a little further down the hill. Any remarks which I make on the Bill will therefore be my own personal opinions, and will not in any way have anything to do with the opinion of the Northern Ireland Government.
I welcome this Bill, but I think it is a pity that it does not cover marginal land which is not in the upland areas. In Northern Ireland we have a great deal of what I would call semi-bogland, low-lying, wet land, which is difficult to drain and is of a peaty nature. Indeed, if one owns a farm in any of these areas, it is extremely hard to make a living at all. 876 If I may say so, I think it is also a pity that one other type of land has not been included—the reclaimed woodlands. There is a large area of cut-down woodland which could be reclaimed, and which would be most useful for livestock, but the expense involved, for one of limited resources, is much too heavy to withstand.
Another point I want to make concerns the small mixed farms where the farmer is perhaps maintaining about six milking cows and periodically selling them. If such a farmer wants to take advantage of this scheme and switch over to beef, I hope it will be possible for him to do so, but he will have the difficulty of having to wait for three years before he can receive any money from the cattle which he might rear. There are farms in these upland areas in Northern Ireland now producing milk as mixed farms, where the farmers would like to turn over to beef, but so far have found the proposition beyond their financial resources.
The question of what is a "sufficiently comprehensive" improvement presents a difficulty, as many of our farmers have extremely small capital and cannot launch out into these schemes without facing very great financial difficulties. They will have to borrow money, and if they could go into a scheme for a small part of their land, extending it later if they find it successful, I am quite sure it would be a great advantage of which many more hill farmers would avail themselves than has been the case in the past. Many of them feel that they will have to expend a great deal of money which they will never see returning to them.
In my part of the world, we export 47,000 tons of beef and some thousands of tons of mutton to this country. I believe that we have gone in for milk too much, and that we are not sufficiently helping this country with our exports of beef. We produce 90 million gallons of milk a year, but the amount used for human consumption is only 45 million gallons. Of the rest, some is exported in tankers to this country, some goes to factories making chocolate biscuits, and the rest goes to the C.W.S. for making tinned milk. I believe the tendency has been too much towards milk and not sufficiently towards beef. We could do a great deal more by having a bigger beef 877 production and exporting our surplus to this country to help to meet the shortage over here. This is one of the many ways in which we could help.
One of the disadvantages is that the milk producer never knows when he is going to be short of milk. The only way to overcome that difficulty is to have dried milk available in order to help in feeding the cows. Unfortunately, farmers in Northern Ireland are not allowed to import dried milk from this country for the purpose of feeding cows. The rationing of feedingstuffs in Northern Ireland is completely different from what it is in this country.
I welcome this Bill for the further reason that it shows how closely the agricultural policy of Ulster is allied to the agricultural policy of this country. I sincerely believe that the future of the whole farming community of Ulster—after all, farming is its biggest industry—is dependent on being closely allied to the agricultural policy of this country, as regards both marketing and other schemes. I believe that if Northern Ireland follows that course, it will be a great advantage to this country.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Storey (Stretford)
As I do not represent an agricultural constituency, I should perhaps offer as an excuse for intervening for a few moments in this debate the fact that, through my own farm, I have had some experience of turning what is marginal land into productive land. Speaking from that experience, I welcome this Bill as a step towards tackling the problem of marginal land, and I only regret that its definition of livestock rearing land has been so drawn as to exclude many areas to which the provisions of the Bill might well apply. I am not speaking so much of the better known instances of low-lying marginal land, such as we have in Somerset and East Anglia, but of large areas in many districts which are not being farmed to their full capacity.
In the East Riding where I farm, there are many thousands of acres, where the Wolds slope steeply to the plain, which are capable of improvement. On these steep slopes there is a wide variety of soils which make farming difficult. First we find chalk bank then landslip varying from dry chalk to clay, and then clay sometimes covered with chalk detritus. 878 The first of these areas is well suited to sheep. The second, where ploughing is not practicable and where there are frequent changes of soil and texture, is best suited for forestry, because it will grow first-class ash; while the third is particularly difficult land which, unless it is well drained and heavily manured, will quickly revert to poor pasture and thorn.
It is in these last areas and those parts of the landslip area where ploughing is practicable that I believe there is scope for increased productivity. I believe that because I have already converted several such areas from unproductive heavily thorned land into pasture which is admirably suited for the rearing of livestock such as the dual-purpose Red Polls which replenish my dairy herd on the low lands and fill my yards on the Wold land above. On the Wolds, sheep on the arable land and full yards of store cattle in winter are both essential to good farming and such potential grazing areas for young stock should not be neglected. I believe this is an area where the Minister, with his dual responsibility for both forestry and agriculture, might well provide the incentive for the conversion of land which is now only part productive into productive areas of good timber and sheltered pasture. I hope, therefore, that when we come to discuss this Bill further, the Minister will consider whether he cannot extend its provisions to cover areas of marginal land other than those covered by the present definition.
§ 6.55 p.m.
Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I wish, first of all, to apologise to the Minister for not being present when he moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I had not intended to take part in this discussion owing to the fact that I am suffering from a bad cold, but in view of the general welcome given to the Bill from all sides of the House, I wish to associate myself with that welcome. The Press has recently paid a good deal of attention to this Bill, and one farming paper, the "Farmer and Stockbreeder," printed an excellent article written by a Welshman which I commend to all those who have not, perhaps, read all that there is to read about this Bill.
I well remember taking part in the Second Reading debate on the Hill Farming Bill, and I am glad to testify now 879 that the apprehensions in the minds of some hon. Members at that time have been disposed of. The Hill Farming Act has been of great assistance to food production in this country, and in the part from which I come it has given some sense of security to the small farmers. As one travels up and down Wales, one sees many improvements. There is a better type of farming altogether, the buildings are improved, and in some cases some really comprehensive schemes are being put into operation.
I am sure the House will agree with me that had it not been for the disaster of 1947, more and better schemes would have been forthcoming under the Hill Farming Act. In view of that disaster and consequently owing to lack of capital among small hill farmers, and, perhaps, among some of the new people who will come under the scope of this Bill, I appeal to the Minister not to insist too much on a comprehensive scheme at the beginning. The hill farmers are willing enough, but it is no use their being willing if they have not got the money. I hope the Minister will bear that in mind, and this is why I join with those who have already asked for the continuation of subsidies for both hill sheep and hill cattle.
With regard to marginal land, some people think that everything we produce in Wales is for the consumption of the Welsh people, but I have here a memorandum issued by the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire giving an account of its activities. In this memorandum marginal land is dealt with by a special panel, and although I do not want to anticipate what I shall say in a further debate, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I hope that hon. Members interested in agriculture will read the very definite recommendations to the Minister contained therein.
One must be very careful regarding the definitions laid down in this Bill. I do not want any farmer to feel that he has been forgotten altogether simply because he does not come under the provisions dealing with either hill farming or marginal land. Therefore, I respectfully suggest to the Minister that he should look at what has happened in some parts of Wales. What was considered to be marginal land in 1930, is not marginal land today, and vice versa. 880 The Minister will find that there are counties with good marginal land and there are those which have adopted hill farming schemes already, but he will also find that conditions are not so in every county such as Radnorshire, which I represent. I hope, therefore that on the Committee stage we can have schemes with less definitions and more elastic. I believe that that would be far better.
While I appreciate what is in the Bill, I firmly hold the opinion that it is no use at all for the Government to give grants for these schemes if other schemes of public service, the social services, and the provision of various amenities are forgotten. Those services are essential, and particularly the provision of roads to and from these farms. The situation is bad enough under the hill farming scheme, but I can see that it is going to be much worse in connection with marginal land. I have long held the opinion that the rural counties cannot bear the expenditure of putting these roads right, and it is a service that ought to be supplied.
One can leave out the industrial areas if one likes, but the provisions of this Bill would be much improved if we had the roads under public service in the rural districts. It is no use saying to the farmer, "Put the private road right and you will get a 50 per cent. grant" if the county road is not good enough to bring fertilisers to his land and to take away the produce from his farm. The same thing applies to electricity. The Minister should consult with the Minister of Fuel and Power and the British Electricity Authority and see that they do not continue to produce the capital expenditure required for rural electrification. If the Minister can also secure an improvement in the rate of rural housing it will make this a very good Bill.
The question of administration should also be borne in mind. It is true that in some counties there is only one hill farming officer, but it will do some good if the Minister calls for a special report on the staffing of this department. It is not that I want bigger staffs for the county agricultural committees, but the Minister could well weed out other departments and put the officers into this department, not only to expedite the scheme, but to see that the greatest amount of service is obtained from the public money spent on the scheme.
881 I support this Bill wholeheartedly. I sent no fewer than 30 copies of the Bill to farmers and authorities interested and even to the National Farmers' Union. They all welcomed the Bill, but they gave me plenty of ammunition to try and make it a better Bill on the Committee stage.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Wills (Bridgwater)
There is no doubt that there is great need for us in these times to obtain as much as we can from all the land that we can use in this country. This Bill is a logical and necessary counterpart of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, and obviously it is essentially right that the marginal uplands should be used to produce and maintain sheep and cattle and that later they should go down to the lush lowlands and be fattened for the markets. That seems quite obvious and quite right.
But I believe many farmers will be in some doubt at the present time whether or not they come into this scheme. It seems to me, from the scheme as it is now set out, that many farmers will find it difficult to know whether or not their land comes in. I represent a constituency which has not the broad acres north of the Border but where smaller pieces of land may well be included in the scheme. I feel that this uncertainty may make some farmers wonder whether or not to take advantage of this scheme, and the farming community likes to have a good think first.
Obviously, we must not waste public money, but I should like to emphasise much that has been said about making this comprehensive scheme far more flexible. It happens so often that quite a small development and a small alteration in the amenities in the countryside can be of tremendous help to farmers and can do very much more, and much more quickly, than a bigger scheme, however elaborately worked out in great length and great detail by farmers and others concerned. I do not think we can ignore, also, the fact which as already emphasised from both sides of the House, that in addition to putting up 50 per cent. of the cost, the farmer—and in some cases he is quite a small farmer—has to put up money for the stock. We have to bear in mind that these hill farmers are those who get the worst of the best years and the very worst of the worst years; and they have not had a very good 882 time this year. Many marginal farmers who are not well off probably farm land which would benefit tremendously if they came into this scheme, but they are in doubt whether they can afford the money to bring their farm into it. Therefore I urge that ways should be found to provide cheaper money to help them to come in.
I do not share entirely some of my hon. Friend's misgivings about milk production, because it seems to me that the Minister has made the "material extent in the Bill perhaps a little wider than we may read it. He spoke about cow byres, and I hope that we shall find that not all milk production will be cut out. Milk production is carried on in many of these marginal farms because it is necessary to make the farm pay, and I should hate to think that there will be no cream in some of the farms in my constituency.
I am glad that pig breeding schemes are to be encouraged. It is well that the pig should stay in these areas and not follow his Gadarene brethren in a mad rush to the lowlands. I should like to reinforce what the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) has said—that if we are to get these farms going and make the best use of the land, we must have the amenities in the countryside for the people who want to live there.
It appears that the so-called tied cottage does not qualify to be improved or to be built under this scheme. Surely a cottage to be built for a shepherd or herdsman in these areas would be miles away from anywhere. It would he a cottage that no one else would want, and it seems to me that that makes a strong case for that cottage to be one to go with the marginal farm. I put it no more strongly than that. If we want people to live on the land, for the land and by the land, we must have greater facilities in the way of electricity, transport services, and water, because people wishing to come to the land expect those things now. I hope the Minister will get in touch with his right hon. Friends and see that these things are produced. I believe that if we have them, this Bill can do a lot of good and that the Bill will produce more food, which is what we want.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
When the Minister was moving the Second Reading of the Bill, I asked him whether 883 the Bill would or would not apply to Exmoor, and that is my main motive for speaking now. He gave me no very clear answer; in fact, I think he muddled me up with my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall). The definition given of this livestock rearing land seems to me to fit Exmoor exactly. It isan area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heath, being land which is, or by improvement could he made, suitable for use for the breeding, rearing and maintenance of sheep or cattle but not for the carrying on, to any material extent, of dairy farming.…On Exmoor there are 80,000 acres, two-thirds of which are marginal land and two-thirds of which do not qualify for the hill farming subsidy and are not affected by the Hill Farming Act.
As far back as 1947, the Somerset N.F.U. asked Bristol University to carry out an Exmoor survey; during this survey 400 farms were visited and a complete report has now been written showing the exact situation relating to the economics of farming on Exmoor. In this report the marginal farmer is said to be the most depressed of the whole of the agricultural community, second not even to the hill farmer. The reason for that is given as the low level of remuneration and the fact that his capital has run out or is very fast running out, and those two reasons drive him to try to produce milk in conditions which are totally unfavourable for doing so, purely because he wants his monthly or weekly milk cheque.
The report to which I referred is a very useful snapshot of Exmoor conditions, which I maintain are typical of all marginal land right through this country. It is, in fact, a miniature of the whole national problem with which we are faced today and which this Bill seeks, at any rate, to alleviate, if not to solve. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he replies to put me out of my anxiety, if he will not do so now with a nod of the head, and tell me whether or not Exmoor is within this scheme. We in Devonshire believe that it should be, and we believe that many farms on its borders and on Dartmoor should also be included. I hope that the answer will be favourable.
The Minister gave some figures of the numbers of acres of land under marginal conditions—3½ million to 4 million acres 884 —but he did not mention one point about which I wanted to ask him a question but did not ask because I did not want to interrupt him. When he mentioned the number of store cattle and the increased number of sheep which could be kept on marginal land if it was improved, he did not tell us what that increase represented in pennies in the housewife's meat ration. I have a figure here, for which I do not vouch but which I believe to be true. If we can produce 250,000 more store cattle per million acres, or, on the other hand, 50 per cent. more sheep than there are now, by reclaiming or improving marginal land, that figure of 250,000 stores or 50 per cent. more sheep per million acres represents a figure of an additional 5d. on the meat ration from home production.
I do not know for certain whether that is a true figure, but it is to the best of my belief. If we take the Minister's figure of 3½ million to 4 million acres, it seems to me that it would give an increase of 1s. 6d. on the meat ration, which is in fact a target which any housewife would acclaim in present conditions. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) said that he did not know where the English beef came from. Perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong, but I think he said either that he did not know where the English beef came from or where it was going.
§ Brigadier Peto
It must have been another hon. Member—also a Welshman. Nearly all the Devon beef, which I see graded whenever I go to market, goes to Wales to support the miners in their hard work, and practically none of it comes on to our tables at home. There is a continual complaint in the market, "Why should our beautiful Devons go off to Wales?"
I do not fall foul of the Minister's statement when he says that the purpose of this Bill is mainly to encourage beef production and has nothing to do with milk production, or at least only to a very limited extent. I am entirely in favour of encouraging beef and mutton production. The bias in the past, as at present, is too much on milk. One can see that pretty clearly by considering that 885 1 lb. liveweight increase of meat gives approximately 1s. 3d., whereas an increase of a gallon of milk gives approximately 2s. 6d. That shows very clearly that the bias is in favour of milk at the moment. I strongly endorse the fact that this Bill, though only a beginning, as the Minister said, is a very useful beginning and does to some extent help those who are trying to produce more beef.
In conclusion, I ask that this Bill should make perfectly clear who are qualified to receive the payments and who are not. In the past, in Statutory Instrument 536 of 1949, relating to the Agricultural Goods and Services Marginal Production Scheme, it was not at all clear who would receive that benefit. It was left to the committees to interpret the instrument as they thought fit. There was, in fact, class distinction and a means test. That may seem impossible, but I have an example in a letter from the Minister which points out that there was a means test and which says:I am satisfied that having considered your constituent's application very carefully, and in view of his financial standing, they came to the right conclusion in deciding that he was not eligible.Do not let us have anything of the sort about this Bill, and do not on any account let us have secret or confidential memoranda passed from the Ministry to the county committee land agents telling them who are qualified and who are not. That would ruin the Bill. Let us have the matter quite clear so that everybody may know who qualifies and who does not.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
In making my small contribution to the debate, I must begin by stating that I have a personal interest in the Bill because, as the Joint Under-Secretary may or may not know, I have at this moment a hill farming improvement scheme before the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. I hope it will not be thought that in my speech I am interpreting my own personal wishes.
I want to support what my hon. Friend said on the subject of assessing the comprehensive nature of a scheme. I am led to take a certain amount of comfort in this matter from a speech made 886 recently by one of the representatives of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. As reported in the agricultural Press, he urged farmers to go ahead with their applications for hill farming schemes and not to worry too much—I think these were his actual words—about their comprehensive nature. He also gave us to understand that in those parts of Scotland the committees concerned had been very reasonable in assessing what was a comprehensive scheme.
As the Joint Under-Secretary knows, many small men or hill farmers all over Scotland could take advantage of these schemes—farmers who require permanent fencing, hill draining and such things, but not buildings, for the buildings are already adequate. In such cases the buildings might want some slight improvement, but the farmers will not want to put up big cattle courts, and so on. From my experience I find that, at any rate in Scotland, the committees are giving sympathetic interpretation to this phrase. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to confirm that when he replies this evening.
Several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have referred to one of the well-known cattle ranching schemes in the Highlands of Scotland, the one at Fort William. Those of us who know the scheme and have been over the property realise what tremendous work Mr. Hobbs has done in improving the hill lands and stocking up with cattle. As the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) said, Mr. Hobbs has the benefit of being the owner of a neighbouring distillery, but the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us what I believe might have helped—that, when inspecting that part himself with a Department of Agriculture representative, he told Mr. Hobbs how interesting it all was and asked, "Have you any advice to offer as to how the Government could help in carrying out this sort of scheme in other parts of the Highlands?" Mr. Hobbs very properly replied, "There is only one way it could be done—by the Government providing capital. With capital many of these schemes could be carried out." Without capital none of his neighbours could introduce them.
I want to reinforce pleas which have been made by my hon. Friends for facilities for the provision of capital. Perhaps it cannot be done under this Bill, 887 but if there could be facilities for increased loans for carrying out some of the schemes for those who are badly in need of them, it would be a good thing. As has been said, the farmer has not only to provide the 50 per cent. contribution towards the execution of the scheme but also to provide money for stocking up and bringing the number of cattle and sheep on the ground up to the maximum figure. I feel, therefore, that there should be some possibility of increasing loan facilities. I know that under the Scottish Agricultural Loans Corporation—I think that is the name—certain facilities are provided, but it may be that those facilities could be improved.
We have heard a good deal about Mr. Hobbs' experiment, which is certainly an extremely good one, but the extraordinary fact is that his is not a hill farm and does not qualify as a hill farm, although it is on hill land. I was very surprised when I was told that, and I asked him why it was not considered to be a hill farm when it was on obviously hill land. I was told, "It is not a hill farm because I do not keep sheep." He has only cattle, although he has the maximum number of cattle on the ground. Is it a condition that he should keep sheep? I have not heard that before and I have not seen it in the Hill Farming Act. Is it a condition that there must be both sheep and cattle on the ground?
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
Certainly; that is so.
§ Major McCallum
The last point with which I want to deal concerns the question of the continuation of the sheep and cattle subsidy. In his opening speech the Minister said that the sheep subsidy had declined from 16s. 0d. in 1947 to 5s. this year, and he looked forward to the time, as do we all, when it might not be necessary to have a subsidy at all. I would remind him, however—and I am sure the Joint Under-Secretary knows it, even if the Minister does not—that in the west country districts we have had an extremely disastrous year. For instance, so far as winter keep for cattle is concerned, every farmer, big and small, has lost most of his harvest and nearly all his hay and, as I am sure the Joint Under-Secretary knows, the position in regard to winter feed will be very serious this winter. I hope the 888 Minister will not choose this coming year as the one in which to reduce the subsidy.
Finally, I want to refer briefly to a subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Wills). I have a private Bill before the House at the moment. I will not say more than that, in the hope that the contents of the Bill—and I believe the subject might well come within this Bill—will be sympathetically considered.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
I have not very much to add to what has already been said. In Shropshire there is quite a lot of land which should qualify as marginal land for assistance under this Measure. A great number of farms on the tops of the hills are definitely very small. In my constituency alone, for example, there are no fewer than 850 farms of less than 50 acres, as compared with fewer than 400 farms of between 50 and 150 acres and even fewer farms of a greater extent.
Farms which are small, towards the tops of the hills, have been forced out of stock rearing into more profitable forms of production and, because they have been obliged to go in for milk production and for the production of pigs and poultry and their by-products, eggs, they would not, as they now stand, qualify to benefit under this Bill. I want to suggest that we should find a way of helping those farms, because they are very badly equipped and have poor buildings; in many cases the animals live in dark little hovels and the people themselves live in poor circumstances. The Minister has said little to us about the pattern of livestock rearing which he would like to see followed in such circumstances. We have heard quite a lot said by hon. Members about larger scale schemes in Scotland which are based upon beef production or the production of store cattle from beef breeds—that is to say, one calf for one cow.
If these small farmers in our part of the world were to produce store cattle and sheep only on their few acres it would be quite impossible for them to make a livelihood. I suggest therefore that we should seek a market for dairy by-products such as cream, buttter and cheese, which would leave the farmers skimmed milk, and they could then rear calves at the rate of two or three per cow, and the store cattle that they produced would provide them with 889 a livelihood, and would, I hope, enable them to come under this Measure.
There is no doubt at all that many of these little farms are in great need of assistance even now with their present economy. The majority of people who work them make no more than, if as much as, what is earned by an agricultural worker on the bigger farms in the lowlands. I think there is a very special problem here and that it does merit particular attention. I hope that the Minister will give heed to it.
There is one other point that I should like to stress, and that is the urgent need for services on the outlying farms on the borders of Wales and in our hill country. We have very few farms which have either good roads to them, electricity or water supplies. All these things are provided for under this Bill, but, in effect, they are mainly the responsibility of public authorities—roads, certainly; and water supplies. We have water schemes which have been prepared to cover the whole of my constituency, but the prospects of putting any of these into practice appear to be remote, to say the best. Electricity is another urgent need. Unfortunately, the people who live farthest from the main centres of population, if they require electricity, are expected to provide large capital sums. It is quite impossible for farmers on small farms, far from the existing supplies, to find these sums. I have often pressed for some survey to be carried out to make it possible for electricity to be taken to such places without these large capital contributions.
We had an Adjournment debate some two years ago, when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power promised to make some further report as a result of the work of a Departmental Committee of that Ministry which was investigating the problem; but nothing has arisen out of that investigation, and I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, as it does effect many farmers, will take a personal interest in the matter and endeavour to persuade the Minister of Fuel and Power to take some action.
Finally, I join with those who have already advocated that schemes should not necessarily be comprehensive. Many of these small farms in my constituency would benefit greatly if they could have improved buildings and nothing else. It 890 should be possible for them to mend their fences by their own labour, and, indeed, to improve their land by good cultivation and the application of fertilisers—if only they had buildings which were worthy of stock that they might then be able to keep.
I hope that the Minister will consider the points that I have put before him and do all that he can to keep people in those farms on the hills otherwise the population farming there will inevitably decrease. And it will decrease quickly if the price of milk forecast in the minimum prices for 1952 and 1953 ever comes into being. At 1s. 10d. a gallon those farmers with the few acres who keep only a few cows will be quite unable to earn a livelihood. I do feel that they are the most deserving section of the whole farming community to have assistance, and it is doubtful at the present time whether they will come under this Bill. I hope that the Minister will ensure that they do.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Heathcoat Amory (Tiverton)
I hope I shall carry the packed benches opposite with me when I say with other hon. Members that I regard this Bill as one to be commended. In these days when we have perforce to regale ourselves on de-fatted mother sheep brought from remote parts of the world, and fragments of flesh which, though undoubtedly of animal origin, it is very difficult to connect with any known species extant in this world at the present time, it is pleasant I suggest to let one's thoughts dwell for a moment on prime Devon beef. It has been mentioned already that a movement has taken place of recent years from stock raising to dairy farming. That has taken place in my own county, too. Well and good, up to a point; but I do think—and I think that most people think—that this has gone far enough for the present, and that there are some farms changing over to dairy production which ought to stop at their proper job of stock raising. If there is any further incentive that can be given to that, that will be to the good.
As regards our county, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we are not doing too badly, even at present, in moving back to our job of producing fine Devon beef. What happens to the prime Devon beef after we have produced it 891 we have not the least idea, because we never see it again. But that is not the right hon. Gentleman's fault. The key to further progress is, undoubtedly, higher quality stock and higher quality grassland. We have, I am convinced, a very fine generation of young farmers coming along who are fully qualified to take advantage of any opportunities there are; and they are going to do great things.
I am very glad therefore, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), said, to see the emphasis put in this Bill on stock rearing land. I think the question in the minds of all of us is about the definition of the word "uplands." There are uplands and uplands, and I must say that, though I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said, and though I tried to interpret the nods and waggles that came from the right hon. Gentleman's head subsequently, I am still in a fog as to what really this definition means. In my own county we have a lot of land that one may call second grade pasture land which, I suppose, is 400 feet to 800 feet up, and if that is not stock rearing land then I do not know what is.
Mountains are mentioned. I am not sure whether we can do anything much in the way of mountains. It depends on what is meant by "mountains." We have some of the characteristics. We certainly breed a very hardy race, which is one of the characteristics of mountain land. I suggest that there are many areas in the West Country which are, above everything else, stock rearing land, and exactly the sort of land which would justify assistance of this kind. It will require a tremendous investment. Devon alone could use about three-quarters of the total sum made available under this Bill. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary would suggest to his right hon. Friend that he might make the County of Devon a demonstration plot, as it were, and spend the whole of the money on that and see what the effects are before he goes any further.
With regard to the "comprehensive" qualification, to which almost everybody has referred, perhaps we must be grateful that the Minister used the phrase "sufficiently comprehensive." I suggest that the criterion ought to be, not so much 892 how comprehensive it is as how permanent will be the improvement which is brought about. That seems to me to be the important thing, and if the improvement is to be permanent perhaps that adjective "sufficiently" might, in certain instances, be changed to "slightly" comprehensive.
I wish to finish by referring for a moment to the agency selected to administer the Bill—the county agricultural executive committees. We are very fortunate in our committee. It is composed of practical experienced farmers who, I think, are respected throughout the whole county, and I am therefore glad that the agricultural executive committees have been selected to administer the Bill. I hope, however, that the Minister will lay down very clearly indeed the principles upon which the Bill is to be administered, because the business of adjudicating whether or not a certain farmer qualifies is a pretty thankless task. I hope, too, that very careful attention will be paid to the administrative costs.
I have before now picked a bone with the Minister—and if he were here at this moment I should do so again—on the question of the accounts of the county agricultural executive committees. I think that he is making a very bad mistake indeed in not publishing the accounts of individual committees. It is most important that these committees should continue to earn the confidence of their fellow farmers and the local population, but as long as their accounts are not published full confidence will, in the long-run, be extremely difficult to maintain. There is everything to be gained by publishing these accounts: It would help the Government; if expenditure is low people have a chance of asking whether everything necessary is being done; and if expenditure is high it will be up to the members of the committee to justify their stewardship.
I think there may be some extravagance today in the use of county committee labour, and I suggest that the best way of helping the labour position in the kind of remote areas we are discussing today is probably, no longer by providing committee labour, but in the long-run it will be cheaper to give a higher priority for houses for the people in those areas.
893 It is right to centralise the control of policy, but it is wholly wrong to centralise administration. I believe the Minister himself is a pretty good decentraliser, but I ask him to look out, because I believe there are around him forces which, if allowed to, will do their best to corrupt him in that respect. I hope that he will be vigilant and guard against too much centralisation. If a wide enough scope is given under this Bill to help the land which is really worth helping, the kind of areas I have referred to in the South-West—land which is, above everything else, stock rearing land—then very considerable increases in productivity can take place and greatly add to the national advantage.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
First, I should like to say how wise I think it was of the Government to have grafted this Bill on to the Hill Farming Act. Those in charge of the administration of that Act have had a great deal of valuable experience since the time it was brought into force. At first the scheme was slow off the mark, and one hopes that the experience gained of the administration of that Act by the Agricultural Departments and the agricultural executive committees will enable this extension of policy, which has been welcomed on all sides this afternoon, to get under way with the minimum of delay.
I see that Scotland's share of the assistance actually paid under the Hill Farming Act up to 31st October of this year—the latest date for which I have been able to get figures—amounted to about 63 per cent. This evening hon. Members have been canvassing the claims of their constituencies under this Bill. It has been asked whether the Breck lands of East Anglia, Bodmin Moor and Exmoor, Devon and so on, will qualify. Whatever view there may be about that, there can be no doubt whatever that Scotland has a vast area of marginal uplands which will, of course, qualify under this Bill. Not very long ago the Department of Agriculture for Scotland made a survey from which it was found that there were 7,000 marginal farms in Scotland which would qualify, and that of those 5,000 could not be described as hill farms. There is, therefore, not the slightest doubt 894 about the need in Scotland for assistance of this kind.
Almost every other hon. Member who has spoken has pointed out that the farmer's financial contribution by no means ends with his 50 per cent. share of the initial cost. After that he has the very heavy cost of stocking the land which has been improved. There is no doubt that the largest contribution to the success of schemes under this Bill must come from the industry itself. That means that upland farmers—and they are not amongst the most wealthy of the clan—are bound to think very seriously whether they will be able to afford to take assistance under this Bill. They are bound to ask themselves, "What inducement have we to undertake this heavy expenditure, not only of the initial 50 per cent. on improving the land, but the stocking of the land which has got to follow?"
By definition, grants under the Bill will not be available for fattening land. The real potentiality of the upland areas is to act as reservoirs for the fattening areas of the lowlands, and to help the lowlands—as I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale,) said—by summering some of their young stock. In a sense, the real purpose of the Bill is to expand our resources in store cattle and sheep. The inducement must, therefore, lie in the price of the end product—the price of meat. What is the prospect for meat? I am sure that every upland farmer of marginal land who contemplates putting in a scheme under this Bill will say to himself, "What are my prospects if I try to raise products which in the end must sell as meat? If I raise stores, which will eventually have to be finished on the lowlands, they will go as beef and mutton. What is the prospect of growing more meat at home?"
We have not yet reached our pre-war production of carcase meat. This is hardly surprising, since in 1938 we were able to turn into meat something like 8,600,000 tons of imported feedingstuffs as compared with 3,300,000 tons of imported feedingstuffs in 1949—a drop of 5½ million tons. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture warned us the other day that we were going to get even less feedingstuffs. Well, in spite of that, I believe that it is very much to the credit of British agriculture 895 that we are as near as we are to the 1939 output of carcase meat. In the 12 months to the end of June last—which, I think, is the last period for which figures are available—our cattle population, taking cattle at two years' old and over, increased by 100,000; sheep by 900,000, and pigs by 176,000. That seems to me to be a remarkable achievement judged by any standard.
We can see from the size of our own meagre meat ration, and from the fact that we are getting on that miserable "take-it-or-leave-it" ration inedible ewe mutton and no less edible cow beef, the fact that the ration of carcase meat has been reduced recently from 1s. 7d. a week to 1s. 3d. per week, and the fact that we are getting and have been getting fat pork in summer and corned beef in winter, that there is the greatest possible scope for the production of more good meat from our own land.
May I conclude with three self-evident propositions? The first is that the increase in the area and the productivity of agricultural land throughout the world is not commensurate with the annual increase—which is of the order of something like 20 million a year—in the world's population; secondly, that in these islands we can rely no longer upon an expanding industrial production to provide the coin in which we pay for imported meat supplies; and thirdly, if I may use the words used last week by the President of the National Farmers' Union, there is no better meat than British-bred mutton and beef. For these three reasons, I warmly support the Bill.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I am rather in the position of the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) in that I expect shortly to be submitting an improvements' scheme to the Scottish Office. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory), who said that they have in Devonshire a very good agriculture executive committee, and, therefore, he was glad that the administration could be left to that committee, I can also say that we have a very good one in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and, therefore, I am very glad that it should be left to them.
896 It is the principle that I want to criticise. The Minister again today emphasised that an application for these grants had to be of a comprehensive character. I am sure that the Minister's intentions in that respect are admirable. I imagine that what he means—and I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—is that he must avoid spending public money in improving parts of a farm when the other parts are so bad that the expenditure would be unproductive. In practice, I think that it tends to work out in this way: That the measure as to whether the grant is made or not is how much money is proposed to be spent; and that seems to me just about the worst test there can be.
The result is that either the deserving farmers who want to improve their food production are unable to get the grant because they will not spend money on things which they do not think are necessary, or public money is wasted and the resources of the nation are wasted by using it in a wasteful manner.
§ Mr. G. Brown
If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence about that, I should like to hear it. The advice given by our people in the counties, so far as I know, is always directed to what sort of improvements are needed on the farm in connection with the circumstances of the farming carried on, and never is it a question of how much money should be spent on it.
§ Mr. Spearman
I want to give the Joint Parliamentary Secretary some examples. I can give him the particulars and he can check them up for himself. I do not say I have checked them myself; I have been told of them. I can give him the names of the farmers.
The first was a constituent of mine who proposed to make certain improvements in regard to the supply of water, but he found that if he was to obtain a grant he had to spend about twice as much as he would spend without the grant. For one thing, he would have to put a building round a pumping ram for lifting water. I suggest to the Minister that resources are being wasted by making buildings round rams in the same way as they are by putting expensive buildings around hydro-electric plants, which does not occur in other countries.
897 Another example of a farmer in my constituency who did not get the grant was one who wanted to build a Dutch barn. The official said to him, "That is all right, but we can only do that provided other improvements are made at the same time. Let us have a look round and see what can be done." Then the official said, "You have this flagging round the fold yard and that is very bad; if you go in for a plan of cementing it that will make it a comprehensive scheme." The farmer said, "If we get that cement down, in the winter the cattle will slip on it and do themselves injury. I do not want a cement path."
A further example concerned another farmer who also wanted a Dutch barn. Again the official said, "Well that is not a comprehensive application. What else is there that you want?" The official said, "I have been over your house and I find that you have not a water closet; would you like one?" The farmer, unfortunately, was almost stone deaf and consequently he did not hear one word of what was said. He replied, "Yes, hay shed is what I want." After the question had been repeated many times, louder and louder, he was made to understand that the official was talking about a water closet and not a hay shed. The farmer said, "I do not want that at all. I have been for a long time without it." Surely the farmer should be the judge of whether he wanted it or not and he should not have it pressed upon him.
§ Mr. Spearman
My third instance is in regard to the supplying of water to a farm. The present supply is from a stream some hundreds of yards away. There is an excellent system of piping for the major part of the distance, but the piping is very poor for the rest of the distance. The landlord was told that he could only have a grant if the whole of the piping was done. He found that this would cost roughly three times as much as that which he thought necessary.
I suggest to the Under-Secretary that the first test should be whether everything that is asked for is really necessary and productive. Secondly, whether the farm is good enough to be worth the expenditure; and, if so, the object should be 898 to spend as little as possible, and perhaps to do the work step by step. There have been critics on both sides on this general principle of comprehensive requirements, and I therefore appeal to the Minister to authorise the Under-Secretary to tell us that this will be reviewed, because the Minister again emphasised that it had to be a comprehensive application, which I am sure is doing a great deal to prevent the scheme being as useful as it can be.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I wish to add my general welcome to the Bill. I wish to take up a remark which came from the benches opposite on the sparsely occupied benches on this side of the House. I can assure the House that if we are lacking in numbers just now, we make up for it in quality.
§ Mr. Gooch
We are pretty equally matched in regard to visible interest in the debate.
I want to assure the House that we are as much concerned as anyone else to see this Bill become an Act and achieve the results required. I intervene in the debate because a few days ago I was taking part in a debate and criticising a Private Member's Bill—the Hill Farming Bill. This Bill is a Measure to improve the Hill Farming Act, 1946, and it may be construed from my attitude in dealing with the Bill that was before the House a few days ago, that I was merely concerned from the standpoint of the men and not the welfare of the industry as a whole.
I can assure the House that those associated with me, the workers on the land, are very much concerned for the success of the agricultural industry, and that we are hoping this Bill will achieve the end the Minister has in view. This is but further evidence of the desire of the Labour Government to put British farming on a permanent and prosperous basis. We are concerned to increase home food production, and we are here giving visible evidence of the desire of the Minister and of the Government for the permanent welfare of the British agricultural industry.
Much has been said about the desirability, or otherwise, of putting new 899 duties on the county agricultural executive committees. These committees are much maligned, and we have heard a suggestion that the committees ought to publish their accounts, with doubt being thrown on their efficiency. I served as a member of one of these committees during the war years, when they did a good job of work, and I am sure that they are doing a good job of work today. They are representative of all the agricultural interests, and they can be relied upon to discharge the duties placed upon them by the Bill in the same satisfactory and efficient manner with which they discharged their duties during the difficult days of the war and since.
I hope that this further expression of confidence in British farming will be justified by results. I have listened again and again to speeches from Members opposite about the desirability of increasing our food production. I am glad to know that the agricultural expansion programme has succeeded. We have not yet got to the figure suggested by the Minister, but I am sure that by further encouragement, such as is provided by this Bill, the farmers, with the help of the men, will succeed in reaching the full extent of the agricultural expansion programme, and, in so doing, they will be making a real contribution to Britain's economic recovery.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)
I wish to raise one or two matters that have been brought to my notice by farmers in my constituency. I am encouraged in doing so by the fact that the Minister made reference—I hope it was not in error—to my constituency, North Cornwall. I hope that he has North Cornwall so much in mind that those I represent will gain great benefit from this Bill.
My constituency is mainly agricultural, and a large part of it is chiefly interested in the rearing of beef cattle. It includes much land on the fringe of Bodmin Moor, which, I believe, will come within the scope of the Bill. In addition, there are thousands of acres of high land, ranging from 400 feet to 800 feet and even, at points, up to 1,000 feet. It is a windswept part of the country that is exposed to the Atlantic gales, and it is capable 900 of definite improvement for the purposes of cattle raising. Generally it is not suitable for dairy farming. Whether it comes within the wording of the Bill asan area consisting predominantly of mountains, hills or heathto my mind depends on the definition of "hill." It is certainly high land. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give my constituents a clearer idea of the definition. One speaker suggested that it should be related to some definite altitude. That would be too rigid, but I hope that the people in the country will be given a clear idea whether they are likely to be included in the operation of this Bill.
I welcome the modification by the Minister of the term "comprehensive," because in my constituency schemes would have been put forward under the Hill Farming Act had it not been for the original interpretation of that word. The Minister stated that he would correct a misunderstanding. If there was misunderstanding, the Minister was surely to blame, for the term "comprehensive" has appeared in no fewer than three different passages. It appears in H.F. 24, to which the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), referred—"To carry out comprehensive improvement schemes." It appeared again in the Minister's statement on 27th July when he said that what he proposed to bring in would cover "comprehensive and long-term improvements." And it appears in the Explanatory Note at the beginning of the Bill.
As I say, I welcome the modification of the interpretation which is strictly in accordance with the terms of the Hill Farming Act, namely, that the schemes will be comprehensive enough to provide adequately for the rehabilitation of the land for such purposes. In other words, what it really means is that the schemes should be not necessarily comprehensive but that they should be carefully thought out. Perhaps the Minister will give thought to that to see whether some more simple form of words can be used to describe what is meant. They must be adequate to do the job and must be carefully thought out. That is a proper provision to make because a large sum of money is involved, and it is right that there should be words in the Bill to provide an adequate safeguard.
901 The term "comprehensive" suggests that this will help the big farmer, but in my constituency we are mainly small farmers and we need a Bill which will help the small farmers. For most of the land in North Cornwall, which I hope will come under the provisions of this Bill, the treatment most generally needed to improve the land is an ample use of our local sand. I am quite certain that the expenditure of a sufficient sum on improving roads to it would cause more sand to be applied. In another part of my constituency the main requirement is drainage of the high land, 600 or 700 feet up, round the sources of the Tamar River. Overall, perhaps, the greatest need in my constituency, as in many others, is to overcome the shortage of labour. We must remedy that shortage of labour by improving the living conditions for the labour force.
One hon. Member mentioned the need for electricity. I should be grateful if when the Minister winds up the Debate he would say whether, in the modified interpretation of the word "comprehensive," the provision of electricity to farm houses and cottages will follow as a result of the Bill. During the past week the report of the South-Western Electricity Board has been published, and I notice that the average capital cost of providing electricity in the rural areas is £165 for each new consumer. That is an impossible sum for many rural consumers to meet, and it is of great importance to the rural areas that the Minister tonight should give some indication of the extent to which the provision of electricity to dwellings serving marginal lands in upland areas will in themselves be accepted for improvement grants under the Bill.
Another point of great importance in improving rural amenities is the question of housing. It is a pity that in this most useful Bill, which provides for improvements to farm buildings and farm houses, the corresponding provision should be hedged around with the restriction that where farm cottages are concerned they must not be tied cottages. This is a matter which is felt very strongly amongst the farming community in my constituency. I cannot understand why, if the Forestry Commission are allowed tied cottages, they should be denied to farmers in upland and hill areas.
There may be a case, although I do not admit it, for objecting to tied cottages 902 in the more thickly populated districts, but there can be no similar objection in the isolated areas with which we are now dealing. There is a compelling case for having tied cottages in these isolated places. I very much doubt whether, in my constituency at any rate, the majority of farmworkers are not happy to have tied cottages providing, as usually happens, they get with those cottages the lower rents. I hope that the Minister will give very close attention to this point and will consider whether this provision in the original Act is not a hindrance to agriculture.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I do not know whether the Minister of Agriculture ever dreams, but if he dreams tonight, one of the things that will go through his mind will be the word "comprehensive." He started the ball rolling himself and I think that every subsequent speaker has mentioned that word. I thought, therefore, that I had better keep in fashion and deal with it myself, since my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Sir H. Roper), also referred to it.
I reinforce what has been said by hon. Members on both sides in hoping that the Minister will give instructions to the county committees to see that any schemes which are put forward are not too comprehensive, because otherwise what will happen is that the very men who should derive benefit from the schemes might well be excluded. They may want, and may be able, to finance small individual schemes, and I think that the decision whether the schemes should be financed should rest with the county agricultural committees, who should have instructions on this point from the Minister.
My hon. Friend referred to tied cottages, but I prefer to call them "service cottages." I hope that when we come to the Committee stage an Amendment will be tabled so that we can again discuss this controversial and rather bitter subject, which ought to be raised above controversy. I do not think any decent-minded farmer wants to have a man in his cottage who can be evicted forthwith. All he wants to be sure about is that if a man makes a contract with him to do a job and part of the contract is living in the cottage, when the man breaks the contract for work the contract should 903 be broken also in regard to the cottage as well. The position can be safeguarded.
It would be an entire waste of the taxpayers' money to rehabilitate marginal and hill farms unless it is possible to get the labour necessary to carry on those farms and to turn out increased production, which is the only justification for the expenditure of taxpayers' money. Therefore, I hope that in Committee we shall make this an agreed Measure so that it is possible for a grant to be made for hill and marginal farm cottages.
§ Mr. Baldwin
All I want is that they should have the option and be given the chance and if they are foolish enough to build a service cottage to which a man will not go, that is their responsibility. The Forestry Commission and the National Coal Board have tied cottages, and to say that they are better landlords than the farmer or the ordinary country landlord is nonsense, because they are the worst landlords, as has been proved time again.
Although I am not one who agrees with subsidies—[Laughter.]—I do not know why there is this hilarity. I have spoken against subsidies from the first year I came into the House. I think the subsidy is abused to a tremendous extent and I would rather see a price given for an article. Let us have price incentive instead of a subsidy. But since we are talking on a Bill which grants a subsidy, I am sure the Minister will give credit for the source of inspiration which produced this Bill. I feel sure he would not like to say that the credit is entirely due to him and his permanent staff.
I think he will agree that he has had many physical demonstrations of what can be done by rehabilitating marginal land in cases which have been quoted in this House today, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), whose scheme I have seen. He has given a practical demonstration of what can be done. The Hobbs scheme has been mentioned two or three times, and although that cannot be called hill land, it is land which was about as desolate a bit of country as one could see, and Mr. Hobbs is doing a great job 904 there. The noble Lord the brother of my Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) is doing great work.
In Wales, Mr. Moses Griffiths and Captain Bennett Evans have given examples of what can be done. We have had eminent people lecturing—Professor Ellison, Mr. Beresford and Mr. Moses Griffiths have all lectured on this subject. This Bill is the culmination of five years of work and lectures and of debates in this House and in another place. Lord De La Warr spoke of the matter in another place on several occasions and he has contributed very largely to showing to the Minister what can be done and should be done to bring the countryside back to that state in which it should be. I myself have twice raised this question in debates on the Adjournment. I know that if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies, he will probably make his usual gibe that he has heard the same speech three or four times.
§ Mr. Baldwin
The hon. Gentleman says "More that that." I am glad that at long last the Ministry are taking the advice I gave them five years ago. I hope they will acknowledge the inspiration from which this Bill has sprung.
This country has come to realise that it has to return to production from the land of this country, which has been neglected—I know this will please hon. Members opposite—for 80 years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought I would get that applause. It has been neglected because this country opted for an industrial age, and b agriculture did not matter. [Interruption.] I knew that would please hon. Gentlemen. In spite of and not because of the Socialist Government, the agricultural land of this country has to be brought back into production, otherwise this country will vanish. The land has to come back into production whether we are at war or at peace. If ever we are at war, which God forbid, it may well be that this country will have to provide all the food necessary to keep its people going. If war comes—and we hear about submarines, and we know full well that our ports will in the event of war be bombed, probably before the declaration of war—where will this country be in two months' time, if we have not the necessary food supplies on our own land?
905 Whether this country appreciates it or not, we must produce from the land of this country on a war-time basis. Apart from that consideration, it is the only source of real wealth, and we must produce to the utmost from the land even in peace-time. During the week-end the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been congratulating the Socialist Government on having very nearly closed the dollar gap. That is the sort of thing which gives the people of this country an entirely false impression of their economic position.
§ Mr. Baldwin
It is only a step in the right direction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am certainly receiving applause from hon. Members. I say to them that agricultural land is just as important as mining land, and if it is necessary to spend £200 million or £300 million on the rehabilitation of the mines, it is more important to spend that sum of money on the rehabilitation of the agricultural land of this country. If such a sum is spent on the mines, it is spent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone said, on a wasting asset, whereas if it is spent on agriculture it remains there permanently.
Do not let us think that we are in a position to close the dollar gap by our own efforts alone. We are closing it because there is a danger of war and because the Americans are stockpiling. We have to look forward and envisage a time when, if war does not come and America ceases to stockpile, and we do not receive American aid, this country will have to consider the question of where it is to get its food supply.
One of the things which this country has to face sooner or later, if it is trying to make itself believe that the days of cheap food will return, is the fact that we shall have to pay something like an economic price for the food we consume. At present we are trying to make our people believe that some day cheap food will come back and subsidies will not be necessary. That day will never come. What is the position we are in at present? Wheat in America is worth £30 a ton. We are buying it to bring to this country to make into bread which we sell here at 4d. or 4½d. a lb., whereas in the United 906 States, where the wheat is grown, it is 1s. a lb. [Interruption.] It is all part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Baldwin
If we want to rehabilitate our land, we must get our food prices at somewhere near an economic figure. At present we sell bread in this country at a price per lb. which is the same as that which we pay for food for pigs. We must get back to an economic position, and then we shall not need so much subsidy.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
The hon. Gentleman has made an amazing statement. Does he say that the Government ought to remove all subsidies from grain and sell bread, which is the staff of life, at what he calls an economic price, which is something in excess of the price at which the Americans sell it today?
§ Mr. Baldwin
I did not say that we should remove all subsidies. I said that we must get to somewhere near an economic price for our products. There is no merit in taxing the people in order to give the money to the Treasury to return it to the people by way of food subsidies. Let those who can afford to do so pay an ecnomic price and let those who cannot afford be relieved by increased wages or pensions. But to tax the poor people by Purchase Tax, and so on, in order to provide money to form the fund from which to pay food subsidies to people like those in this House, who can afford to pay the proper price for our food, is nonsense. Some day a Government must face that fact.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
This is a serious matter. The late Sir Kingsley Wood consulted a few of us on several occasions when he was concerned about the dangers of inflation. It was he who began the policy which, relatively speaking, has helped to stabilise these matters in Britain.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I agree that at one period these subsidies were necessary. They were right for the period through which we have passed. But after 10 years, when we are in a different position, it would be difficult to convince many people that they are still necessary. If we are to rehabilitate these farms—
§ Mr. Baldwin
The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to realise that if we are to get the production which we want from the land, we must gain the confidence of those who live on the land. We shall not do that if they see that food subsidies, and so on, are continued.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been allowed a great deal of latitude. I must point out that this Bill deals only with the encouragement of the rearing of livestock.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I thought that livestock formed part of our food, but I will turn from that point. If we are to rehabilitate these farms, we must encourage labour. Today farm labourers are fewer in number than they were 12 months ago. We must build houses out in the countryside for these people. I do not agree with some of the statements made today, that if we build houses in the country we necessarily use up land which should be used for agricultural purposes. If a cottage is built in the country and provided with a garden, and possibly a small pig run, that land will produce more food than was grown on it before. The building of a house in the countryside does not necessarily mean that the amount of agricultural land will be reduced. If we are to get the production which is necessary, we must get some of the people out of the offices. We must get some of those who are running rationing schemes, controls and planning into productive work. That is the only way in which we can save this country.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Captain Duncan (South Angus)
I shall be brief and shall stick to the terms of the Bill. I welcome this Measure which is almost exactly on the lines of the policy which I put forward at the General Election and before. As far as it goes, it seems to be an extremely good Measure. I use the words, "as far as it goes," because the Minister when introducing the Bill said that it was only a second stage in the evolution of his policy. I hope the Minister will, in due course, produce the third stage, which will cover the areas of land not yet covered in this Bill. I believe that there are still both large areas and small areas which could be brought in, but which will not be covered in this Bill. That third stage of his policy will be 908 equally warmly welcomed by me, if the right hon. Gentleman is lucky enough to remain in office long enough to carry it out.
This Bill is necessary mostly because so much good farming land has already gone, and is annually going, for other purposes—aerodromes, schools, houses and so on. The effect of that is that farmers are being driven to the hills, and that appears particularly the case in my own constituency, where we have developments taking place in the lowlands and taking the finest agricultural land, while farmers are driven to take advantage of the producing possibilities of the hills. Secondly, it is necessary because we must grow more food at home. It is not only a dollar problem, but an economic problem for ourselves. It is right to encourage the breeder of hardy, well-bred cattle and sheep on the uplands, so that they can be fattened elsewhere for the use of our people. Scottish beef is the best beef in the world, and anybody who went to Smithfield last week, or last year, would have had proof of that statement.
This Bill and the Hill Farming Act, which is now being extended, provide for a total public investment of £22 million, plus £11 million for the continuation of the hill sheep and cattle subsidies. I want to stress the fact that, in return for that £22 million of public money, at least another £22 million has to be found by the individual farmers, because it is all based upon 50 per cent. grants. That sum of £22 million is a very considerable amount to be found by the farmers. We have heard of a lot of cases today in which rich men have been able to do all sorts of things in Inverness-shire, Argyllshire and other places, and one of the criticisms of the Hill Farming Act as it has operated up to now has been that the rich man could spend £20,000, £30,000 or £40,000 on a great area of land, whereas the small man could not do anything like that.
I want to stress the importance of maintaining the profitability of hill and upland farming, if we are to get the farmers' share of the capital which is essential in order to achieve increased production from such land. I am not as keen on lending money or providing cheap credit as many of my hon. Friends. I do not want to get my farmers back into the hands of the banks, or the auctioneers, or even the Government, as they were before 909 the war. We should encourage the profitability of their farms and encourage them to improve them out of the accretion of profits year by year, instead of having to rely on the agricultural mortgage corporation, which lends them money.
The Bill also continues for another five years the subsidies on hill cattle and hill sheep. These subsidies have already made an enormous difference to the numbers of cattle, calves and sheep, and one of the things which the right hon. Gentleman will have to do at the autumn markets of calves is to make special arrangements for extra sales in order to deal with the greatly increased numbers coming on to the market. At Kirriemuir, for instance, both auctioneers last year were selling calves in the dark at nine o'clock at night because there were so many as a result of the subsidies already given.
On this question of calves, although it is not directly connected with the Bill, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that more attention should be paid to their quality. Some of the calves coming into the markets with punched ears, which shows that they have received the subsidy, are of pretty poor quality. I have asked questions on this subject, but the answers have always been that the number of calves disqualified on grounds of poor quality has been comparatively small. I think that in the coming months it might be well for the right hon. Gentleman to direct the disqualification of more unless they are of adequate beef quality. When State money is being handed out, it is vitally important that we should get value for it, and I am quite certain that in the recent operation of the subsidy we have not received value for money.
The operation of this Bill depends on its administration. Hon. Members have different views about the agricultural executive committees. Personally, I am pleased with mine; the Angus committee is excellent. Under Clause 10 of the Bill, the agricultural executive committees act as the servants of the Secretary of State for Scotland. They are not quite so independent as they are in England, although they are decentralised as far as possible. I want to be quite satisfied that if they are to act as the servants of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Gentleman will give them clear and definite instructions about the administration of the Bill, so that the approval of 910 schemes, and so on, will be handled with a minimum of interference from St. Andrew's House, and with the utmost speed.
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question about the selective basis. In his statement on 27th July, the Minister emphasised that approval of schemes would need to be on a selective basis in order to ensure that available funds were concentrated on land which would yield the highest return. I can see nothing in this Bill as drafted, except the control of the land, which will enable the Minister or his officers to select land, and I should like to make it quite clear that the Bill and not the Minister's statement will become the law.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The Bill says that the Minister will approve the schemes, which thus gives the Minister control.
§ Captain Duncan
It certainly gives the Minister control, but not on a selective basis. Provided the conditions of the Bill are complied with, and it is suitable land, the Minister has no control over that land from farm to farm, as I see it, unless it is a financial control over the total amount that may be spent. I should like that cleared up.
Finally, one or two words about the Hill Farming Act as it is administered just now. I agree with what my hon. Friends have said about the word "comprehensive." The Minister said it was a debatable point, and no doubt it will be debated on the Committee stage. The tied cottage has been mentioned. I prefer to call it the service cottage. I agree with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) said about that on a previous occasion, and I think the majority of farm workers in my constituency do. As far as I have been able to gather, this is a red herring to cover certain political ends of a political party. When one talks as man to man to people, as I have done on many occasions, one believes that the average farmworker does not want to live away from his farm. That is more important than anything.
Another criticism made to me of the hill farming scheme is the slowness of its operation. I gather that in Scotland 1,174 schemes have been submitted up to 31st October and 557 have been approved in principle. The Minister said 911 that somewhere about £7½ million were involved in the scheme, but in Scotland only £158,000 had actually been paid out. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply in his speech that until the comprehensive scheme covering five years was absolutely completed, there was no possibility of any payment from the Government except by their good will, and I interrupted him to ask whether in fact that was so.
According to Section 2 of the Hill Farming Act—and I understand it is not supposed to be amended in this Bill—An improvement grant in respect of the cost of any work"—not the whole work—may be paid on the completion of the work, or by instalments on the completion of parts thereof.I hope that is so. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to alter the terms of the Hill Farming Act, because surely if we are to have work going forward it is necessary that it should be paid for step by step instead of the farmer having to wait the four or five years before a single payment is made. I think that is the law, but I should like to be reassured on that point.
I welcome this Bill. I shall follow its further progress with very great interest, and I hope that as a result of its consideration in the House it will do tremendous good to Scotland as a whole.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
I think the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), who replied to the Minister, was right when he remarked that the question of the definition in Clause 1 (3) (a) of the Bill would be mentioned by many hon. Members today. The Government have been compelled to call this Bill the "Livestock Rearing Bill" to avoid using the rather nebulous term "marginal land," although the Bill deals entirely with marginal land, or land that we used to call marginal land.
I do not wonder that this land is difficult to define. I remember writing to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland about a constituent of mine who was trying to get his farm designated as a marginal farm and had failed to do so. I, personally, thought that he had a case, so I wrote to the hon. Gentleman and 912 asked him to look into the matter. Some departmental officials went up to this area and defined the farm as a marginal farm. So there were two officials of the Department who themselves were uncertain about the definition.
An hon. Member has asked whether Exmoor would be designated as marginal land for this purpose. I should like to know whether Caithness in the North of Scotland would be eligible under this definition. The definition is very vague and I am sure that the Minister will have to reconsider it. I know it raises a very difficult drafting point, but it will have to be made much more certain. A difficulty may arise with lands on the borderline of the definition of marginal land. Farmer A, who may be doing all he can to improve his land, may not have his farm recognised as marginal, whereas the farm of farmer B, who is working the same type of land but not so well, may be designated as marginal land.
To deal with this sort of borderline case I should like to bring to the notice of the Joint Under-Secretary a suggestion of a farming friend of mine. He suggested that marginal farming land should be classified as A, B or C—C getting a 50 per cent. grant, B 30 per cent. and A 20 per cent., or other suitable percentages. This arrangement would be fairer than merely giving the 50 per cent. grant in the case of land passed as marginal land.
One hon. Member suggested that the items in the Schedule should be given on a percentage basis. When the marginal agricultural production scheme was started in 1943—and we should remember it was in 1943; many people seem to think that these benefits arose from the 1946 Act—I believe that the Scottish share of the moneys available in 1943 was allocated to the agricultural executive committees. I think most of these committees classified the farms in various degrees, and assistance was offered in varying percentages up to 50 per cent. At any rate, I think that was so with lime fertilisers and seeds.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I must remind the hon. Member that this is not a marginal land Bill. He is discussing this matter as if this were a marginal land Bill. It is nothing of the kind. This is a Livestock Rearing Bill. The marginal land scheme is continuing and is unaffected by this Bill.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I was hoping that this Bill would improve the conditions of these so-called marginal lands. This bears out what I said earlier, namely, that one escapes calling it a marginal land Bill by calling it a Livestock Rearing Bill.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I do not wish to take up the time of the House now.
The question of winter keep is one which we have to solve. With the extra cattle being kept the plough will, I think, go round the farm. I believe it is necessary, first of all, that we should give a larger drainage grant, and I would even go so far as to suggest that lime should be given free on some farms, certainly those in the more remote areas.
I hope this Bill will help to increase winter feed. Apart from the extra stock, it is the cultivation and the increasing production of the poorer lands which will help to achieve greater production on our good farm land. I think it was Professor Scott Watson who said that we must use our good land for cropping and, of course, the upland and lowland farms are interdependent. I hope that in my constituency the upland farms will benefit from the wonderful work which is being done at Calrossie, where we have the best Shorthorn herd in Great Britain. I know that certain animals from that herd are improving the upland farms in many parts of Scotland. We all appreciate that there is a tremendous amount of development still to be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton), for example, gave figures of the decline in the cattle population.
Despite this further assistance, it is unfortunately true that the Highlands of Scotland remain at a disadvantage. The disadvantages which I have met have been of long standing. Full benefit cannot be taken of the opportunities given under this Bill unless transport and communications are completely overhauled and unless we tackle the serious problem of the crippling freight charges. There must be some adjustment made to give the Highlands equal opportunities with other areas. Surely the experts could find a solution to the problem and could make the necessary adjustments. My hon. Friend 914 the Member for Inverness gave an example in which the freight charges to carry hay across to the farm were greater than the value of the hay itself, which, of course, is a ludricrous situation. These high charges make the problem of obtaining winter feed very acute.
The final point I should like to make is this. Under the 1946 Hill Farming Act, it is possible for crofting communities to benefit under a comprehensive scheme. It is revealed in the Government's Highland development programme that one of the most pressing problems is that of crofting communities which are falling into decay. I do not think that crofting communities have taken full advantage of the 1946 Act, and the Department of Agriculture should give a greater lead here. There is a lot of talk in Scotland at the moment about the crofting communities, and I believe we already have the legislation with which to tackle this problem. I do not think the Department of Agriculture are doing all they could in providing comprehensive schemes in crofting communities which they themselves own. What happens? The crofters get a 50 per cent. grant from the Treasury and the Department of Agriculture "pinch" the other 50 per cent. I should like to see the Department of Agriculture giving a much stronger lead to crofting communities to take advantage of this Bill.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I think everyone will agree that we have had a most satisfying debate, containing many constructive speeches, on this small but extremely important Bill. I am sorry if, by rising exactly at nine o'clock, I am preventing anyone else from speaking, but in winding up for this side of the House I must leave the Minister himself some time to reply to the debate.
I do not think it would be very far wrong if we were to say that the two major problems that face British agriculture today are these: first, how to reduce the costs of production in face of ever-rising expenditure while at the same time maintaining wages fixed under Statute and, secondly, how best we can most economically exploit or develop the reserves of production still available in our country. That is how I see it. This Bill seems to me to be an attempt to 915 deal with the second of those two problems, because it is generally agreed, I think, that now the only substantial reserves of production still left to us in this country are the enormous hill areas and what are called the "marginal" lands of our country.
The Bill sets about the task in three main ways. I am missing out the smaller provisions about cattle grids, and so on. It extends the 1946 Act for a further period of five years; it extends the period during which the hill sheep and cattle subsidies will be paid; and it brings in an entirely new principle in extending to what are called the livestock rearing lands the same facilities as at present are applied to hill farming. I think I have listened to almost all the speeches that have been made today, and I would say that this debate has, quite naturally, tended to focus attention on the entirely new provision made in this most excellent Bill, the newest part of the general plan—the extension of the principles of the Hill Farming Act to what are called "livestock rearing lands" in upland areas.
However, before coming to that I should like to say a word or two about the working of Clause 6—the working of the hill cattle scheme which is to be extended by this Bill for a further period of five years—and to make a couple of suggestions in order to render it, in my opinion, more effective. I should have said before that I am interested in this Bill. I could not be more interested in it from all angles. However, I hope that it will not be felt that what I am going to suggest will be to the benefit of my pocket. Actually, it will not.
In my opinion, the best single thing that has been done for the hills is the hill cattle scheme. It has proved to be what I would call the self-starter or prime mover in the cycle of production of increasing the numbers of store cattle from the hills which we so much require at a time of meat shortage, while at the same time it has been possible to improve our sheep grazing. In my own experience, in a certain part of Perthshire it has been possible, not altogether under the scheme but largely because of it, actually to double the stock rearing capacity of 30,000 acres in terms of sheep.
916 Anyone who realises that must also realise that this scheme does something that no other scheme does. It performs the dual task of producing the raw materials in the form of store cattle from the hills, while increasing the stock-carrying capacity for sheep at the same time; and, most important of all, it reduces costs. Because of the larger number of head the farm can carry the cost per ewe goes down, and that is of benefit to the consumer.
Unfortunately, in Scotland, and, it may be—although I do not speak with any close knowledge—in some parts of England and Wales as well, this excellent scheme is being prevented from attaining its maximum result because of the prohibitive cost of the transport of vital supplies of fodder to keep the hill herds ticking over—what is about the only expression one can use—in the worst of the winter months. It is just as wrong to assume that hill cattle can be kept out on a hill all the year round as it is to assume that they cannot. Hill cattle can be kept out on the hill all the year round, at very high altitudes, if they are given just a little keep from January until the end of April. In the enterprise in which I am interested, I have found. from looking at the figures, that a breeding cow, wholly out-wintered in the hills of Scotland, will eat 2 cwt. of oat straw and 6 cwt. of hay during the four vital winter months.
The point to note is that in these vast areas fodder cannot normally be produced; fodder must be brought there, and the farmers must be able to buy it at reasonable prices. I am not asking for any rebate because of the high cost of hay due to a wet season, or anything like that, but I do ask that note should be taken of the prohibitive cost of the transport of fodder from the lowlands to these established hill herds. It is within my own knowledge that quite a few—1 will not say an enormous number, because that would be exaggerating—of the hill herds of Scotland established under this scheme are now being either reduced or dispersed. I suggest that that is the reverse of what we are aiming at, and this Bill will collapse if note is not taken of that fact.
The hill cattle scheme is really part of the whole structure. It runs counter 917 to our policy to see that happening, and it may wreck the scheme. I suggest that the Government should very seriously consider, not a flat rate for transport for everybody—personally, I hope that in some cases they will do without it—but in approved cases, vetted by the county agricultural committee, where the transport of fodder to maintain a hill herd is essential, assistance should be given to meet these enormous charges; that is to say, where fodder cannot normally be produced on the farm.
Before leaving that point, I must say that I was sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he would not consider extending the scope of the scheme to the new part of the Bill. I shall not go into the question of what is marginal land and what is not. The Minister said he was not going to apply the hill cattle scheme to stock rearing land in the uplands. I ask him to remember that if people who are already indebted to the banks, at any rate in Scotland, to the tune of £16 million—this is taken from "The Scotsman" and I assume it to be an accurate figure—are to be called upon to put still more capital into capital equipment, if farmers are almost being persuaded to leave the milk churn and to come into the fat stock rearing sphere, they will ask "What is the incentive?"
I suggest that it would be putting this Bill on a proper basis if the right hon. Gentleman were at any rate to consider how he could provide reasonable incentives. Some hon. Members have pointed to what has been spent in other parts of the globe, on groundnuts and what not. I should imagine that what would be needed under this Bill would be but a drop in the ocean compared with that.
This debate has centred on the newest phase of the Bill—the extension of the principles of the Hill Farming Act to livestock rearing land as defined in Clause 1 (3). A moment ago the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that this Bill had not to do with marginal land. Of course it has. Most of the upland rearing lands in this Bill are marginal land, and if I may say so, that remark exhibited a certain ignorance. I am not surprised that the Minister has rather shied off trying to define marginal land. Personally, I dislike the expression. The Economists are the only people who have 918 found any definition at all, and I am bound to say that it does not satisfy anyone I know; and neither, I think, does it satisfy the economists if we were told the truth.
Another reason is this. Most of us have a picture in our mind's eye of what is a marginal farm. In Scotland, most of our marginal farms are upland farms, but not all of them, and they are predominantly stock-rearing farms—I do not want to talk entirely from the Scottish angle, because I want to refer to some of the points made by other hon. Members—that does not seem to be the case in England and Wales. From what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, I am beginning to wonder whether the Minister has not jumped from the frying pan into the fire with regard to the definition in the Bill. I see trouble ahead when we come to discuss this Clause in Committee. For example, if altitude were to be the sole criterion—and I gather it is not—it would be wrong, because there are many upland farms not necessarily stationed at a high altitude.
Whatever definition is used in the Bill, so far as I can understand it we are going to Miss out huge chunks of what the majority of us in this House understand to be marginal land. I think that this requires some definition when the hon. Gentleman comes to answer the debate. What does he propose to do with the enormous areas of land that are left out of the Bill? Are we to have further legislation at some future time? If so, well and good; we would like to know. But the fact which must hit everybody, I think, is that huge chunks of what we all believe to be marginal land capable of cattle production in this country are not included in the Bill. We would like to have some further illustration of the extent of the area to be covered by it.
The hon. and galllant Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) mentioned a point which is definitely an English point. I think I know what is in the minds of the hon. Members from England and Wales. It is the question of exclusion from grant aid under the Bill of farms where dairying is carried on to any considerable extent. There are many stock rearing farms of an upland nature engaged in milk production because of the emphasis on milk prices. I take it from what the right hon. Gentleman has said 919 that a farm where milk is sold to the Milk Marketing Board will be excluded from grant aid under the Bill. Personally, I do not quarrel with that.
I think that many hon. Members have made a point in raising the question of dual-purpose cattle. Dual-purpose cattle must be retained on the upland farms. The last thing that we want is the wiping out of dual-purpose cattle because of milk emphasis. We have lost a lot of these herds because people have gone in directly for milk-producing herds. Can the Minister tell us whether these dual-purpose upland herds, maintained I understand in England and Wales, are to be excluded from the Bill? I should like also to raise a question which was raised by one of my hon. Friends about summer dairying. My recollection is that in some parts of England summer dairying is carried out on marginal farms where the milk is separated and the skimmed milk is fed to dual-purpose calves. It may be that if the Milk Marketing Board cannot be bothered to go up to high upland dairies to bring down a trivial amount of milk, these farms will go in for that sort of production. I should like to know whether these farms are to be included.
Then there is the important point about change of use which ought to be answered. If a farmer takes a grant under this Bill and complies with all the conditions, does that mean that never at any time can he make a change? We should like a reply to that. The Minister made it clear that approval of these schemes will need to be on a selective basis. I did not follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) on this. I understood from the Minister's statement when he originally announced his intention to introduce this Bill, that a selective basis was to be applied. I do not quarrel with the idea, because I think we all want to be quite certain that public money is spent on an economic basis and goes in the right places.
It would be wrong to pour money down the drain on completely uneconomic holdings which can do no good to anyone. I can understand that point of view, but I am wondering how it will work out in practice. It cannot, surely, be an allocation of first come first served. I take it that it will be done by the agricultural 920 executive committees and not by departmental officials. Perhaps we can also have this cleared up. Can the Minister tell us, for example, whether the size of the holding is to be taken into account, as under the Hill Farming Act, on the grounds that some farms are not economic units?
I agree that there is something to be said for such a decision, but if that is the yardstick, what is to be done in the case of the small farms that are left out? I have heard it suggested that the agricultural organisations have made certain proposals to the Government on this question. Has the Minister anything in mind in regard to the amalgamation of small uneconomic units into larger units, or has he in mind a programme of rural development into which these small units might be fitted to make them economic? I do not know whether the Minister can answer that question, which is a point worth mentioning.
Whatever is done, the agricultural executive committees seem to me to be up against a very difficult proposition in drawing the line. I sometimes think that the officials of these committees have a very hard job with some of these schemes. Here they will be in the position where many owners may be dissatisfied with their decision because their holding does not qualify, and if the money goes to the wrong place the taxpayer will be annoyed because it is being badly spent. For that reason, I emphasise what has been said about the need for uniformity.
In Scotland—and the same may be the case in England and in Wales—we have a survey of the marginal farms which has been made on a rather broad basis. Every farm has not been examined, but great areas have been examined on a broad basis, It seems to me that it would be a good idea, in Scotland at any rate—I do not know whether it is feasible in the case of England—to complete that classification of all farms, and then to let the occupiers and owners know whether or not they rank for a grant under the Bill. I do not think that would be an impossible task. It would remove a lot of discontent and prevent many questions in this House. If there is dissatisfaction, give them an independent tribunal to decide the matter.
Possibly the most important point made in this debate, by so many hon. Members that I can hardly remember 921 them all, is the question of the comprehensive scheme under the Hill Farming Act. I have had some experience of how it works in Scotland, and I know that the Department of Agriculture have insisted that every scheme submitted under the Act must in every respect be comprehensive. There is a lot to be said in favour of that. One could argue that it is not much good building a cottage if the drainage and all the farm buildings and other equipment are neglected. So maybe behind this there is a good reason.
However, the comprehensive scheme has scared off a large number of people who otherwise would have taken advantage of the Act. High taxation, Death Duties and the demands for fresh capital in all directions today to finance an expansion programme of £450 million mean empty pockets. Empty pockets certainly make bad landlords, but empty pockets are not necessarily the fault of individuals these days. As has been said by other hon. Members, we do not want just big fellows with ample funds going in for these schemes. The man with a large capital is the one most likely to take advantage of the Bill and is the one most likely to look after his place in any case. We want to encourage the man who is tight for money, who possibly has not kept up his property as well as he might, to go in for even a moderate improvement scheme.
Taking up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), I think the Minister should consider the question of the variation of grant. I take it that my hon. Friend means without changing the global sum?
§ Mr. Snadden
The idea is a new one to me but it may be a good one. The suggestion is that there might be a case for increasing the grant because of certain conditions, perhaps in drainage where tiling may cost £80 an acre today. I ask the Government to consider that. Under this Bill I hope we shall see a loosening of the comprehensive scheme, so that the man who wants to do his reasonable bit will have his chance.
The Hill Farming Act has been talked about a lot tonight. Although it made a bad start, on the whole it has produced reasonably good results. We have heard 922 criticism of delay, and I am surprised at the smallness of the sum paid under that Act. On that point we would like confirmation from the hon. Gentleman that money is paid against work done on vouchers, and not held up until the scheme is completely finished. In Scotland the Hill Farming Act has meant a development of expenditure of £1 per acre, I do not know if it is the same figure for England. The money available under this Bill is much larger and yet the acreage is much smaller. I take it, therefore, that the Government have a good reason for believing that relatively greater development will take place.
In conclusion, we on this side of the House are supporting the Bill. It was actually in our General Election programme, and for the best part of 10 years I have been doing my best to produce a scheme whereby we could get the best results from our hill land. The proposals in the Bill will certainly greatly help to increase the numbers of store cattle available—and that is good—but we will make a very great mistake if we imagine that a mere increase in the numbers of store cattle available will in itself solve the problem of increasing the meat ration.
What has happened has astonished the experts, men like Sir Henry Turner, who was in the Ministry of Food, and others. We are now reaching a stage where we have an increasing number of store cattle. I can give the figures for Scotland, but they are not available in the statistical digest for England and Wales—why, I cannot think. The increase is considerable. It is well over 10 per cent. and may be almost 20 per cent., but, strange to say, our production of home-finished beef has fallen by 14 per cent.
§ Mr. Snadden
I am not taking up Sir Henry Turner. I am only pointing out the general principle that, although the numbers of store cattle have increased, home production of finished beef has fallen by 14 per cent., so that today we are getting less beef from our increased herds of cattle. In my opinion, there are several reasons for this paradoxical situation. The main one is the slower turnover. Because of scarcer protein concentrates, there is a slower turnover in our cattle; we are not going to be 923 able to put that right. Another reason is that for 10 years all the emphasis has been upon milk, and here we have the major reason why the quality of our beef today is so bad. The reason is that the mass of our store cattle—I do not say all, but the majority—are now by-products of the dairy industry. What else could be expected but a lowering in quality?
Even presuming that we solve this problem of stocking our hills and marginal lands, we come up against the question of who is to buy the store article and finish it in order to increase the meat ration. I speak from experience in saying that it is completely uneconomic to feed cattle to the fat stage in winter, except, perhaps, in a few favoured parts of Britain—possibly, parts of East Anglia—where there is a surfeit of sugar beet; but elsewhere this has been proved by the economics department of the East of Scotland Agricultural College to be completely uneconomic; hence the time lag.
I am not asking for an increased price for winter fed meat. If we increased the price sufficiently, meat would be unbuyable. In any event, even if the feedingstuffs were available, they would be too dear to finish beef economically in winter time. I used to think that this would be possible, but now I have come to the conclusion that it is not. I believe that the answer is to be found in the intensification of our grassland development, by the farmer carrying far higher stocking—that is his job. The Government's job is to review their price structure and cold storage policy.
In my view, the price should be arranged, not to discourage summer fattening, but to encourage it. There should be no excuse whatever today for anything approaching what is called a summer glut. If we could build up a decent home production of meat, our bargaining power with the Argentine would improve with every ton we collected. Either foreign imports should be retained in cold storage, while grass-fed home beef is consumed, or, alternatively, our grass-fed beef should be put into cold storage. But if grass is to be used to the full for the stocking of store cattle, then the Bill will produce the results we want. Certainly, we want to produce the maximum and therefore 924 we must increase the intensification of Our grassland farming. We should not be in the position of having to say that, because we have a glut, the price must be brought down; but that is what is happening today.
The nation wants more meat. It has been put by one person of some standing in Scotland that one could send the weekly ration today by letter post to any town in Great Britain and it would cost 1½d. I suppose that is true. But we have the best material with which to work, the best beef breeds in the world, the best stock, ample grazing, both rough and smooth—rough grazing and cultivated grazing—and, in my view, we could have the meat if we set out to get it in the same way as we did for milk. This Bill is a step, but it is only a step, towards that goal, and for that reason we on this side of the House give it a warm welcome.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
We have had an interesting debate on this Bill and no one could complain of the tone of the speeches. I think the only criticism that has been made by the Opposition is that the Government have not made a good job of drafting the Opposition's Bill. The hon. Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) said in his opening speech, "Of course this is what we recommended some five years ago." Not quite. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said, "We had it in our General Election manifesto." The trouble is that while we put most of these things in our election manifesto in 1945 the Tory Party did not and we proceeded in 1946 with the Hill Farming Bill.
It was only when we proceeded with the Hill Farming Bill and invited the House of Commons to support it and permit us to offer some £4 million of the taxpayers' money to improve hill farming land that hon. Members on the Opposition benches said, "It is not good enough merely to assist hill farmers of this country; we must give some assistance to the upland farmers and all sorts of people." Now, when we are helping people a little further down the hill, they say, "You ought to go further." The farmers must be wondering what stopped the Tory Party from distributing largesse when they were in power. They never thought of doing anything of this kind, and when 925 we discuss the need for the Hill Farming Bill in 1946 and this Bill just now we should consider from what it arises. It arises out of the neglect of past years.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member says it is the old story, but is there any hon. Member in this House who will say that the hill farms and stock rearing farms of this country were not neglected in the inter-war years? Will any hon. Member stand up and say that? No one can, because in fact those farms were neglected in the inter-war years and the neglect is the cause of the deterioration of the farm buildings, of the farmhouses, of the farm cottages, of the pastures, of the fencing—does the right hon. and gallant Member wish to interrupt?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
Does not the hon. Gentleman know something about the farm cottages and the fact that we improved them, but that his Government stopped it?
§ Mr. Fraser
I invite the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make a study of the reports of the Balfour of Burleigh Committee and to see there whether cottages were in need of repair or not. If the farm cottages were not in need of repair in 1946, I wonder why on earth we did not exclude farm cottages from the provisions of the Hill Farming Bill?
§ Mr. Fraser
Obviously the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not like it. I was just trying to bring home to hon. Gentlemen opposite the fact that the Hill Farming Act was introduced by the Labour Government, and this Bill is a follow up of that Measure which has been foreshadowed, and which again is introduced by a Labour Government; and that hon. Gentlemen opposite must not complain that we have made a bad job of drafting their Bill. That is my point.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman was speaking about cottages, and really to say that all the cottages were finished in 1946 is ridiculous. They were in process of being improved, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.
§ Mr. Fraser
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is thinking of Scottish farm cottages he will remember that when he was Secretary of State for Scotland his Advisory Council on Housing advised him that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act should be continued for another two years and then terminated. That was the advice which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman received from his advisory committee in 1937.
§ Mr. Fraser
We have had considerable discussion as to the definition of land to be included in this Bill. We have been asked by many hon. Members, including the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks, to provide for more elasticity, not to be too rigid. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman was asking for considerable elasticity in respect of the £20 million. I wish all hon. Members, when asking for elasticity in the definition, would bear that in mind—that there is£20 million and the question is, where are we to spend it? We propose that it should be spent on livestock farming. That is why we call this the Livestock Rearing Bill.
Many Members who have participated in today's debate have discussed this Bill as if it were a marginal land Bill, which it is not. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) took me up when I intervened to say to the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod) that it was not a marginal land Bill. I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks, to bear in mind that in England, Wales and Scotland there are many marginal farms that will not be included in this Livestock Rearing Bill.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Really, we cannot have this. The Minister of Agriculture spent the whole time he was addressing the House in explaining the provisions of the Bill, in telling us all about the recent survey of marginal land, and he went on to explain that nine-tenths of the marginal land was in the upland areas and that it was this nine-tenths of marginal land with which we were dealing. Really the Joint Under-Secretary of State cannot say that this Bill has nothing to do with marginal land.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. and gallant Member still thinks that we are dealing with his Bill, but we are not; we are dealing with the Government's Bill. There is scarcely any need for me to repeat what I have said. I adhere to what I have said. There are many marginal farms assisted under the agricultural marginal production schemes in England, Wales and Scotland which do not come within the scope of this Bill.
§ Mr. Fraser
What hon. Members have been saying is that all those farms that are marginal farms should come within the scope of this Bill; and indeed that many others that are probably not included in the marginal production schemes should come within the scope of the Bill.
I should have thought that the Bill was exceedingly well drafted for the purpose of definition. It is made quite clear in Clause 1 (3), which has been examined by many hon. Members in the course of the debate, that what we have in mind is to give grants towards capital works that are necessary on what are essentially stock rearing farms. If a considerable part of a farmer's income is derived from the sale of fat stock or milk or crops and he applies for assistance under this Bill when it becomes an Act, it will be for the Committee concerned to have a look at his farm.
§ Mr. Fraser
He need not nod his head too enthusiastically. He has not been here for very long. The Committee dealing with the application will consider whether the farm is one which is suitable only to be developed as a stock breeding unit. They will also consider whether it might well be developed as a dairy farm or a cropping farm, or whether it is one which, with improvement, might be capable of feeding cattle for fattening for the market. If they decide that it is in one of those latter categories, it will not be assisted under this Bill.
928 The farms assisted under this Bill will be those which are essentially stock rearing farms. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), I would say that the other farmers, who he said did not seem to be getting any assistance at all, have security of income under the Act of 1947. They have guaranteed prices and markets, but the bill farmer does not have guaranteed prices and markets. Nor does the stock rearing farmer. He is producing a semifinished product which he must sell in the open market, and he is the fellow whom we are trying to assist.
I should have thought that Clause 1 (3) made it clear what we are after. I have no doubt that we shall have more discussion on this point during the Committee stage, but if hon. Members succeed in extending this Bill to the small dual purpose farms and if all, or a proportion, of those farms are to be included in the financial assistance, then the £20 million will not go very far towards improving the 3,500,000 or 4,000,000 acres referred to by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
If a farm comes within the definition of being a stock rearing farm, can we take it that not too strict interpretation will be applied as to whether it is mountain, hill or heath?
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member for West Perth asked whether altitude was to be the only criterion. Even for the Hill Farming Act altitude is not the criterion. Near where I live we have first-class dairy farms 900 feet above sea level, but in other parts of Scotland we have hill farms which run right down to sea level and which are included in the Hill Farming Act. Altitude as I say is not the criterion. We have said clearly that the stock rearing farm may very well produce some milk. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman wants to interrupt he should stand up.
§ Mr. Assheton
I was trying to point out that a stock rearing farm may produce a lot of milk, not a little milk.
§ Mr. Fraser
What the right hon. Gentleman and some others seem to think is that a stock rearing farm may be a unit capable of being developed as a dairy holding, but, if not, if the primary purpose of the farm is to rear stock and not to produce milk, and if it could only 929 be developed for that purpose, then that farm can come within the provisions of this Bill.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
We are not quite clear yet who is going to decide whether it is a stock rearing farm. Is it the county agricultural executive committee, and has each committee the discretion to make its own interpretation, or will there be a directive sent out by the Minister and the Scottish Office?
§ Mr. Fraser
The Minister has the duty, in the first place, of making the scheme selective, but, as he has said, there are 3½ to 4 million acres of this land in the country that could be improved, and there is some £10 million or so for the purpose. We believe that improvement schemes, by and large, will cost about £20 per acre; that is, £10 being paid by the owner and £10 being paid by the Government per acre. That represents only one million acres which will be improved with the money at our disposal; perhaps it will be a little more or a little less, but approximately a million acres. There are between 3½ and 4 million acres, so we are not going to improve all the acres that need improvement.
Therefore, as there is a sufficiency of applications coming in, the Minister must be selective, and, in the interests of the nation, he must try to see that the farms which are going to give the best return to the nation in increased food supplies will be the farms selected. That is our intention, and that is why we say that we shall be selective. Since we say that in the first place, and since we are going to use the county committees to administer the scheme, I think the hon. and gallant Baronet will agree that the Minister must give pretty clear advice to the executive committees for carrying on their work. He will do that, and he will advise them clearly on their job.
§ Brigadier Peto
May we know something further about that? Will the Minister give secret advice, or will the advice be public?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should intervene with such a silly question.
§ Mr. Fraser
I cannot give way again. The advice which the Minister normally gives to a committee is given to the chairman and the secretary of the committee, 930 and the most of it is public advice. In any case, in these circumstances, it will be given to the public and will be of interest to the public. I should have thought that that point was hardly worth raising on the Second Reading of this Bill.
May I now say a word or two about the insistence on schemes being comprehensive? The hon. and gallant Baronet, when addressing the House earlier, said that the Minister had used the words "sufficiently comprehensive," and that hitherto all the printed data on the schemes have only referred to "comprehensive" schemes. The hon. and gallant Baronet thought that the Minister was weakening, and said he was glad that he was, and hoped that he would go a little further. I have here the report dealing with the administration of the Hill Farming Act, and this is a public, not a secret, document. It goes out to the farmers. I find that this document, in the paragraph headed "The Approval of Schemes," used the words "sufficiently comprehensive," and goes on to refer to the works as a whole being regarded as "reasonably comprehensive in character."
The fact is that we do not want to receive applications from farmers who want to improve a cottage or build a cottage and to give 50 per cent. grant towards it. That would not be an improvement scheme at all. The advice we have always been given on this matter—advice which I should have thought this House would approve—was that we ought to increase the population of sheep and cattle on the hills and on the upland farms of this country. Therefore, when we receive an application for assistance under the Hill Farming Act, or under this Bill when it becomes an Act, we must try to see that the scheme is sufficiently comprehensive to provide for an increase in the livestock being kept. If it does not do that, it is no good; it is not worth investing the nation's money in it.
We must have that increase in population resulting from the comprehensive scheme. That is why it is no good merely putting up new fences here and there, building a cottage, or placing a bridge over a road. We are sometimes told that the farmer cannot afford to do all these things, but if he cannot afford to do all these things, which are necessary if we are to have an increased stock of cattle on the hills, then we just cannot afford to have the scheme. The hon. Member for West 931 Perth said that he thought too many people had been discouraged and had not seen fit to come forward with applications because of our insistence on a comprehensive scheme. I must say that that is not our experience in Scotland; we have had no complaints of that kind.
§ Mr. Fraser
Hon. Members must not interrupt at every point I make. They made their points and I listened to them, and I am making the reply.
We have been told several times in this debate that when farmers and owners apply for assistance, they are told that they must make their schemes more comprehensive, that they have to withdraw them, and so on. But that has not been our experience in Scotland, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture tells me that is not the experience in England and Wales. But in any case, hon. Members know that the live schemes at the present time account for £8,500,000. If all those were approved, they would involve the Government in an expenditure of £4,250,000, but the Hill Farming Act, 1946, which still has a year to run, only allowed us to spend £4 million. We have already exceeded the expenditure allowed us by Parliament in 1946, which, surely, is the answer to those who say that the owners have not been coming forward with schemes because of our insistence on their being of a comprehensive character.
The other point made by the hon. Baronet and repeated by other hon. Members was that we really ought to provide cheap credit for the farmers whom we expect to go in for this capital investment on the upland farms. I really cannot understand the Opposition on this matter. I remember their criticisms of my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Town and Country Planning when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were pretty severe in their criticism of him because of his cheap money policy. It seems that we ought to have a low rate of interest when we are borrowing money, and a high rate of interest when we are lending money. But we cannot have it both ways. If we are going to have a low rate of interest when borrowing, we must have a low rate when lending. I should have thought there was no need for the Government to introduce any further scheme to enable the farmers 932 to borrow money at a low rate of interest, particularly if it has to be done by Government action, which means a further subsidy.
The other principal point raised in the debate was that there ought to be a variable rate of grant, so that some schemes would receive a grant of 60 per cent. and some 40 per cent. and so on. I should have thought that hon. Members, who were already pointing to the difficulty of defining which farms would be within and which would not be within the provisions of this Bill, would hesitate before saying, "After you have got them in you will determine which will get 30 per cent., 50 per cent., 60 per cent. and so on." That would be a most difficult matter for the executive committees to do. The hon. and gallant baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks, said. "We do not want any more rough justice in our agricultural legislation."
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not know whether, when the hon. and gallant baronet mentioned rough justice, the emphasis was on the rough or on the justice, but in any case there is manifest justice in what we are doing. If we accepted the views on variable grants, laudable as is the intention behind the suggestions, I think there would be a feeling in agricultural circles that less than justice was being done to those who received the lower percentage grants. I think we should leave the 50 per cent. grant alone.
Interesting as were very many other points raised, I think they are points which could be considered very properly during the Committee stage of the Bill. As I understand there are other things to be done before ten o'Clock I shall conclude with the hope that the House will give this Bill a unanimous Second Reading.
§ Brigadier Peto
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the points I raised on the subject of Exmoor? Is it or is it not within the scope of this Bill?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole Committee upon Thursday next.—[Mr. Sparks.]