§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have a Motion down for the recommittal of the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not want to be unkind, but I looked at the Motion and I did not select it. It is very unusual to have a recommittal on Third Reading.
Mr. T. Williams
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
The Bill received an unopposed passage on Second Reading and comes back to the House without amendment in Committee. I do not intend to repeat my Second Reading speech in commending it to the House. All I need repeat is that the Bill increases the sum available for hill farm and upland farm improvement schemes from £4 million to £20 million. It also continues the hill sheep and hill cattle subsidies for a further five years at a cost of about £11 million.
The Bill, combined with the Hill Farming Act, 1946, represents the biggest effort to develop hill lands made by any Government during this century. To have listened to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) last Thursday evening, one might have thought that the Government had never heard the name of Professor Ellison. We had not only heard of the name, but while Conservative headquarters were searching their records to help with that speech, we were accepting his advice and legislating accordingly. I should have thought that it came ill from the right hon. Gentleman to chastise this Government for their actions or inactions on marginal land.
After all, we must recall that between the wars the Conservative Party were in office for 17 years, five months and four days, and did nothing about uplands or hill lands. In fact, millions of acres of good agricultural land went out of production. So with the figures. The right hon. Member quoted the production of lamb and mutton in 1939 and 1950, but said not a word about the fact that in 1945, when the Labour Party came into office, there were between six and seven million fewer sheep than in 1939. Nor 212 did he make any allowances for the three or four million sheep we lost in the blizzards of 1947. I thought that that was a descent below the normal of the right hon. Gentleman in debates in the House.
I am not sure whether the Amendment to the Third Reading Motion which I notice on the Order Paper will be called.
["In view of the Government's failure to supply a reasonable ration to the public or to build up emergency stocks of meat, this House declines to give a Third Reading to a Bill which, whilst recognising sound principle, lacks urgency, is inadequate to the nation's needs, can only encourage meat production on less than one-third of the three-and-a-half million acres of our livestock-raising uplands, and will still leave ten million acres of our land barren of production."]
I shall be interested to see whether hon. Members whose names are associated with it have the courage to vote for the Amendment at the end of the day. If the Amendment is not called, I shall be very interested to see whether they vote against the Bill, or not. On Second Reading the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) said:We welcome this Bill as a contribution towards the problem of securing increased production from a proportion of the marginal land in the United Kingdom.Later he said:We on this side of the House, in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill today, hope that in the fulness 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1950; Vol. 482, c. 833, 841.]I am convinced that the hon. Baronet was expressing the sentiments, not only of hon. Members on these benches, but of hon. Members sitting behind him at that time.
Of course, the rejection of this Bill would be fatal in that it would not only destroy any hope there may be of an increased home meat production, but it would quickly bring to an end the work of improving hill farms now well under way under the provisions of the Hill Farming Act and also cut off the hill sheep and hill farming subsidy after this year. Those two subsidies are helping very materially to maintain foundation flocks, flocks of hardy hill sheep normally 213 numbering 4,750,000 ewes, but even now in some parts of the country struggling, with the help of this subsidy, to recover from the devastation of 1947.
The Amendment also charges the Government with a lack of urgency because the extra £10 million provided for improving livestock rearing lands will improve only one-third of the 3,500,000 to four million acres of uplands. The hon. Members cannot have taken note of the possibility of the availability of labour and raw materials. It seems to me that the amount of money which has been set apart under the terms of this Bill will absorb all the labour and materials that can be available for some considerable time. If the sum provided in this Bill were either doubled or trebled, in view of the shortage of labour and raw materials, I doubt if the landlords' or tenants' capital would be there to match any sums put up by the Government, at least during the next five years.
This Amendment, which I am rather astonished to see—particularly with the names associated with it—seems to imply that we can produce beef or mutton overnight, if only the money is made available. As most hon. Members know, a bullock takes about three years to grow into beef, and it takes between four and five years before we can hope to see any real effect from any of these improvement schemes as far as meat is concerned. I know it is not impossible to grow pineapples on the top of Snowdon, nor to grow mustard and cress on the pavements of Glasgow, but the Government will hardly be expected to regard that as a good, solid, investment—
This Bill is dealing with the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) wanders about all over the place and one never knows quite where he is. I notice from another source that he was suggesting that if only we had completely upset our guaranteed price and a stabilised market in a certain direction and for a certain commodity we would not need this Bill. I do not think that is good policy or fair and reasonable to "flotsam and jetsam" because some world event has caused some serious change in the price of one particular commodity. This Government set out to 214 provide stability, which no Conservative Government did in the past. Once the hon. Member makes up his mind whether he wants stability, or fluctuating wholesale prices such as there were in the interwar years, perhaps we shall know just where he stands.
This is a modest Bill; it is part of a long-term process and, as I said in winding up on Second Reading: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.I said:This is not the end of the problem; it is simply the beginning of the end."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1950; Vol. 482, c. 832.]That is all I regard it as. I am convinced that, given the right start and the right encouragement, the £28 million made available in this Bill will have a profound effect in improving upland farms in this country and ultimately cannot fail to help to increase the supplies of home produced meat available for the housewife.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)
Before making the few observations I have to make on the Third Reading, it would be helpful if we could have your guidance, Sir, whether or not you intend to call the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill put down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), and other hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps it would be convenient if I said "no" now. I am afraid it is quite impossible to call the Amendment. It is out of order according to our rules. It may be of interest to hon. Members to know that Erskine May says:As the debate on Third Reading should be confined to the content of the Bill, reasoned Amendments which contain matters not included in the Bill are not permissible.As the first part of the Amendment deals withfailure to supply a reasonable ration to the public or to build up emergency stocks,and I cannot find any of that in the Bill, the Amendment is out of order and I am afraid those subjects are out of order also in debate.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
We on this side of the House are grateful for having that made clear, because the Minister, when moving the Third Reading, said rightly that this is a very modest Bill and the situation has changed very considerably since we had the Second Reading debate on 11th December last year. At that time the meat ration was not exactly in the same position as it is today. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone and other hon. Friends have done a public service in calling the attention of the House to the present position.
I should like to confirm that I stand by what I said during the Second Reading of the Bill, namely, that we welcome the Bill, for it will deal with a proportion of the marginal land of this country, and I do that on the old commonsense principle that perhaps half a loaf is better than no bread at all. On behalf of my hon. Friends I wish the Bill well in its application to a proportion of the marginal lands of this country. But I cannot sit down without reinforcing one of the sentences used by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone in his Amendment, namely, that even in this Measure, as in many other Measures which come before the House, there seems to be a complete lack of urgency on the part of His Majesty's Government in the difficult position in which we find ourselves. Although we hope that in the fulness of time this Bill will be the means of producing more meat for the harassed housewife, we know that it is only a long-term measure and can in no way meet the present emergency.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
I am very sorry that the Amendment did not commend itself to you, Mr. Speaker, because it seemed to me to be the epitome of effrontery. I am amused by the use of the word "modest," both by the Minister and by the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale). Many words seem to have changed their meaning since I was a boy. Now we get "modest" in connection with £28 million of public money. I think it is about time the House asked itself how much longer this can go on. Last year out of £1,388 million Income Tax, 4s. 4d. of every £ went in subsidies to the farmer.
§ Mr. Evans
Yes, in this country alone; either by direct subsidy paid through the Ministry of Agriculture or on losses sustained on home-produced food and borne on Ministry of Food Votes in this House.
I wish to ask the House how much longer is this business of financial blood transfusions from the harassed taxpayer to the farmers to go on? I do not think it can go on much longer. I am not unaware of the fact that the farming community is the beneficiary of a conspiracy of silence about agricultural economics. Nevertheless I think that before very long there will be a change of opinion, and that more attention will have to be given to it.
I should like to know whether part of this money is to be used to produce more milk, because it seems to me that we are getting ourselves into a bit of a jam with milk. I remember that last spring we had a five-million gallon surplus which nobody knew what to do with. Domestic consumption was up to the limit, all the manufacturers had been filled up, and it began to appear as though this milk, which had cost the nation 2s. 9½d. a gallon would have to be sold back to the farmers for about 5d.; the farmers would feed it to calves, upon which we should then pay a £7 million subsidy. That seems like "Alice in Wonderland" economics to me, and I should like some assurance that no part of this money is going to the production of more milk—particularly as I note that the President of the National Farmers' Union, speaking at a farmers' dinner in December, said that within five years we could confidently anticipate another 375 million gallons of milk from the same number of cows that we have at the moment. This intrigued me greatly—
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps the Minister will help me, but I understand that this Bill has nothing to do with milk whatsoever. It is a Livestock Rearing Bill and nothing less. Therefore, any discussion on milk is out of order.
Mr. T. Williams
That is perfectly true, Mr. Speaker. The Bill is, as its name implies, a livestock rearing Bill and does not in any way, shape or form, set out to encourage milk production.
§ Mr. Speaker
Then it is quite clear that milk is not in the Bill and we can 217 only discuss what is in the Bill. Therefore, we cannot discuss milk. That is out of order.
§ Mr. Evans
I suggest there is nothing in the Bill that prohibits the subsidising of the breeding of more milking cows. "Livestock" is a comprehensive term which would cover all types of cattle; and therefore a discussion on whether part of this money is to be used to produce more milk, a commodity which is already in surplus supply, would be in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid not, not on Third Reading. It might have been in order on Second Reading and in Committee, but not now.
§ Mr. Evans
Very well, we shall have to tackle this from another angle. I suggest that concentration on the development of marginal land is a mistake. I am not opposed to the development of marginal land, although I do not think our agricultural problems can be solved by chasing sheep and nanny-goats up Snowden. The solution lies in the lowlands, in a more intensive cultivation of those fertile acres that are to be found in the lowlands.
The other day I read that the Dutch support two-and-a-half cows on a given acreage compared with one in Britain. Therefore if we want to increase our livestock population, the need today is not to keep pouring vast sums of money into the marginal lands where, as the Minister has indicated, there exists the social problems of labour, housing and transport. No social problems of a similar character exist in the lowlands. Our problem would seem to be how to develop the existing fertility in the lowlands which we should attempt to solve instead of adopting the policy envisaged in this Bill. The National Farmers Union and the Ministry would do very much better to address themselves to that problem rather than to keep coming to this House for unending sums of money out of the purse of the taxpayer.
I will not say any more about that at the moment. There will be other and perhaps better opportunities for going more fully into this matter of agricultural economics. It is a question of prime importance, because, as a result of this constant "feather bedding" the industry is getting something like a boxer after a 218 long lay-off. And Tommy Farr recently found what happens to a boxer after a long lay-off. I believe that a harder and healthier mattress for this industry would serve, not only the interests of the industry, but, what is even more important, the interests of the nation.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I very much regret, Mr. Speaker, that you were unable, owing to the edict of Erskine May, to call this interesting Amendment which I think would have found considerable support from the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans); though, if we had divided on this matter my reasons and those of the hon. Member for "feather bedding" would have been different. My approach to the matter, and I hope it is an approach that will continue, is the approach of Oliver Twist—to ask for more. The approach of the hon. Member is to see that less is given.
§ Mr. Fraser
I hope that the spirit of Oliver Twist does not die in this country. My right hon. Friend talked about half a loaf being better than none. I think that the whole object of a reformer—and we on this side of the House regard ourselves as reformers at this stage—should be to ask for more and more until we get the matter right.
I also regret that we could not have had a Division on that Amendment in so far as I believe that, had it been a secret ballot, the Minister would probably have voted with us. It is true, as he has said in earlier speeches, that this is only an experimental matter and that this is only the beginning. It seems to me that the meat crisis is likely to continue for a very long time. If I may make just one reference to the debate on meat supplies—the Minister made such a reference—I would point to the statistics produced by the Minister of Food. He said that the world meat shortage was continuing and, that, despite increases of something like two million or three million tons in meat production throughout the world since 1938, there was actually a fall in the exportable surplus.
Therefore, it seems reasonable to expect that the shortage of meat in this 219 country for the purposes of stockpiling and consumption, will remain in the neighbourhood of 500,000 or 600,000 tons. The Government have been tardy in putting forward the right measures to assist home production, That was our only object in tabling our reasoned Amendment. We have no need to make political capital out of this. The hand that failed to feed the people will be bitten hard enough at the next election. We need not worry about that.
We want to see that this matter is put right as soon as possible. Mr. Speaker, doubtless you yourself have suffered recently because of the shortage of meat. With vermin selling at 3s. 6d. a 1b.—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is getting on to dangerous ground. The meat ration, I think, is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Fraser
Neither in the Bill nor elsewhere. The question remains whether or not we should have a more forward and effective scheme than that suggested in this Bill. Owing to the shortages in the world, we are forced to cultivate our own garden to a greater extent. I remind the hon. Member for Wednesbury that the average acreage per head of the population on what he calls the good low lying land is less than three-quarters of an acre. There are some 16 million acres which are, so to speak, beyond the fence of the national home farm, on which he would intensify cultivation and which could produce more beef and sheep. An hon. Member asks why we did not do it. The reason is simple enough. No political party since the days of 1870 and cheap meat has bothered sufficiently about meat production in this country. The time for that is now.
I said the other day that this Bill was the Magna Charta of the hill farming industry. I still say that. The point is that every Magna Charta gets out of date. If hon. Gentlemen were living under the original Magna Charta still, they would all be locked up in prison. We have to have reform and it is usually granted under the pressure of events. The pressure of events is clear enough when vermin is 3s. 6d. a 1b. Even if that gives some satisfaction to the Minister of Labour who must delight on a more valuable Opposition, it gives none to us. Meat is being bought at £177 per ton. 220 These are the types of pressure which demand a wider Bill than this.
The acreage available is roughly 1b million acres. In 1946, in his wisdom, the Minister of Agriculture looked at these acres and divided them rather in the way that Pope Alexander VI divided the New World from the Old by an imaginary line, or in the way that Czar Alexander drove the trans-Siberian railway by a scratch across the map. This was a most arbitrary division in 1946 to which part of this Bill refers. Since then, the Minister has extended the principle which divided hill land from other marginal land, to bring in approximately another three or four million acres.
There are available for grants something like six or seven million acres of hill land, and three or four million acres of upland, plus the area of marginal land not referred to in this Bill. Perhaps I should say that some of it is referred to in the nature of heath and other types of country. This leads to considerable confusion. What has happened is that the Minister has absorbed into the bosom of this scheme more and more land without a sufficient capital to make this scheme a working proposition. In his speech on Second Reading the Minister confessed that the money available could only benefit the uplands and the heath. My hon. Friends on this side of the House are in a quandary as to which heaths are included and which are not. Some dales are included, and some downs are not. Blackheath is not included, nor are some of the Norfolk heaths. There is considerable difficulty on this point.
Of the 3,500,000 acres suitable for the production of stock, only about one million can be affected by the amount of money available. That means that during the next few years, instead of 120,000 tons of beef or mutton being produced, a mere 40,000 tons will be the maximum which can be expected. Similarly, if one distributes the rest of the money available under this Bill to hill land, one finds that there is a very small quantity available for new action. Already £7 million or £8 million have been spent. That means that probably there is only another £2 million or £3 million available.
When, for example, we see that the butchers are paid about £23 million a year for not selling meat, we on this side of the House cannot understand why the 221 Government do not give more help in the rebuilding of hill land. One of the points mentioned by the Minister was that nothing more could be effected at the moment. He said that it was impossible to move faster because of the shortage of raw materials and manpower. I suggest that this matter is moving forward very slowly. Since 1946 about £8 million have been spent on hill farming. I think that figure is correct.
§ Mr. Fraser
More than £8 million mortgaged but not actually spent. This matter is one of great urgency. Reference was made to the position of our stocks. We must always keep that in mind, even though we cannot discuss the matter fully in connection with this Bill. One of the best means of keeping up stocks of meat is surely to have meat on the hoof, because it is better than depending on stocks of meat coming from overseas or on stocks of canned meat. From the stock point of view, this is a matter of great importance. I believe, therefore, on this question of speed, we should see that there is much more effective machinery than is provided in this Bill. From the administrative point of view, the matter is now in the hands of the local agricultural executive committees, and it is up to them with these greater powers to get on with their administrative job at a greater speed.
Similarly, in regard to the question of supplies, the problem of growing more meat in this country is one of giving proper priority by the Government, which has not been given by this Government up to the present time, excellent though this scheme may be. If the degree of priority such as was given to the groundnuts scheme, the Gambia project or the project in Northern Australia, were given to this scheme, we could get the materials and the labour, if need be, by bringing it in from overseas to carry out the road building programme. Road building constitutes one of the principal obstacles to the development of these areas, but these things could be done.
The facts and figures illustrating our lack of meat are clear to everyone today, and the potential added production from this country could, on a conservative estimate, be reckoned in the neighbourhood of 200,000 tons of beef and at least 100,000 more tons of mutton. The gap 222 today between last year's actual supplies and next year's possible supplies must be at least those amounts; I think the gap is something like 600,000 tons. A great contribution could be made, not immediately, but over the next four or five years by a steadily expanding programme, and I believe that the Minister would be fully justified in appealing to his colleagues in the Cabinet for greater priority for this matter.
It is perfectly arguable that today, with world meat prices where they are, when we are importing meat at £177 per ton, or even importing it from the Argentine at £120 or £140 per ton, when we have paid for freight rates, insurance and distribution costs, British meat produced at about £150 per ton would not be expensive, especially if we have regard to the enormous strategic asset, and the enormous social and political asset, of having our own production. I think the Minister, whom we all respect, has a chance to go to his right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet, and say, "Look what you have done in the past, and at the money you are wasting today—£23 million to the butchers, £36 million on groundnuts, and a few millions on this or that scheme, plus bad purchases by various Ministries, when here we have a scheme which will bring into effective production another three million acres of upland by the expenditure of some £20 million or £30 million in the next few years." That money could be found and spent, and the British public would be the beneficiaries.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Slater (Sedgefield)
I should like to say to the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) that the agricultural policy of the Labour Government will stand up to any test or criticism from any hon. Member of the Opposition. I join with other hon. Members on this side of the House in giving a general welcome to this Bill. When we take into consideration the position prior to the war, when we were producing only one-third of the food which we ate, we should remember that today, under our present system of production, we are producing more than half the food we eat.
Hon. Members who represent rural constituencies will have talked, as I have done, with members of the farming community and those with farming 223 interests, and I want to say, from the general conversations which I have had, that I am sure there is general approval for this Bill. I am only sorry, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), that the Amendment put down by Opposition hon. Members has not been called, because we should have been able, in reply to it, to present a picture to the country which would not have been very glamorous from the point of view of hon. Members opposite. Our relations with the Argentine today are unfortunate, but this should bring home to the people of this country the need to develop our own livestock production. We have to lay the emphasis on the production of beef and mutton.
Clause 1 of the Bill is very important, because it widens the scope of the Hill Farming Act, 1946, and I am glad that improvement schemes under this Clause are not to be limited to hill farming land, but will now cover livestock rearing land. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture said in the Second Reading debate that there are thousands of acres of land in this country which could be developed for livestock production. In my native county of Durham, in the uplands of Weardale and Teesdale, there is great need for capital expenditure and the rapid extension of capital development schemes. The Fell farmers of my county, who farm land rising to the Pennines, have not in the past enjoyed the prosperity of the lowland farmers, and I trust that this Bill will help them, and, what is more, will enable them to increase the nation's food supplies.
Any sum of money that is granted today by this House to improve the fertility of our soil and the quantity of our stock will be money well spent. To me this Bill is a means of national investment, and I compliment the Minister on his initiative in presenting this scheme on behalf of the agricultural community.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
I am not going to oppose this Bill on the ground of "feather-bedding" because it is proposed to spend £28 million; nor on the ground that it does not go far enough, as one of my hon. Friends on this side has already said; but on grounds which I know to be in order, since in Clause 12 224 the word "livestock" is used and causes a great deal of confusion. That is confirmed by the fact, Mr. Speaker, that when you were raising the question while the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) was speaking, you referred for help to the Minister of Agriculture, who assured the House that milk cows could not possibly be included in this Bill, because they were not livestock.
It seems to me to be perfectly clear that they are livestock, and that livestock is a very wide general term and that its use is likely to cause similar confusion throughout the country, unless we avoid using words in this House in a wrong sense. It seems to me that we should be particularly careful about our use of the King's English and that we should make our laws in such a way as to be absolutely clear. Secondly, the Minister will agree that, in his own registry, there is need for the Bill to be classified in accordance with a regular and sensible system. I shudder to think what the girls in the registry of the Ministry of Agriculture will in future years be saying over the classification of a Bill about land under the heading of a Bill about animals. Moreover, it is far too wide in its inclusion of animals. It seems to me that Clause 1 (3) limits it to sheep and cows which are not for milk. In other words, it is the narrowest of all possible definitions; it is only two types of animals, and it is not those animals when they are doing at all well.
Finally, we have to realise that up and down the country people have to refer to the Acts passed by this House, and that it is a great advantage to them, if they are looking up anything which they think affects them, that they should look under some heading bearing some relation to the subject which they think is the subject of the Bill, namely, livestock. If we look in the Oxford Dictionary we find that its first meaning is "animals generally," and its first use was in 1777, quoting from "The School for Scandal," where we get "Nothing but livestock, and that's only a few pointers and ponies." But the Bill has nothing to do with pointers or ponies at all.
I maintain that it is a great blemish in this Bill that in Clause 12, and throughout the Bill, it proceeds to deal with land under the heading of the generalised product of the land. It may 225 be that the Bill ought to bear the name "poor land," or that we should limit to store cattle and store sheep the livestock in the name. I do not know what we ought to do, because I should be out of order if I were to propose it, but what I can say under the rules of order is that I think the Minister should look very carefully at this particular aspect of the Bill and try to word it better in another place.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
I was very glad to have from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) a little lecture on the King's English, but, surely, if an hon. Member wishes to improve a Bill or to alter its name, he should come along on Second Reading or turn up during the Committee stage, and not endeavour to make his alteration on Third Reading when the work has been done.
§ Mr. Pitman
The hon. Gentleman was probably not here when I tried to move the re-committal of the Bill so that this could be done as an Amendment.
§ Mr. Dye
I was here, but that was too late. We had a Second Reading, and some of us were present then, and we also had a Committee stage. It is, of course, in the tradition of the party opposite to be too late and then to come along and tell people they have not done enough, as in the case of the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) with his great enthusiasm for farming these days.
But what does the Bill seek to do? It seeks to make good the losses and decay of hill farms over the last century. It is in no wise an effort to make good any loss of the past five, 10 or 20 years. There was a time when our hill farms were in a state of greater productivity than they have been in recent years. With the rising standard of living, which those who live and work on hill farms have every right to share, efforts must be made to bring their accommodation, the roads which they use to get to the farms, the water supply, the drainage of the land and lots of other things into such condition as will enable them to live and work there in more comfort than they have at the present time.
Therefore, when the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) comes along, as he did today, he is just like 226 a poor old dog barking up the wrong tree. He thinks that our problem today is one of finance. It is nothing of the sort; it is one of meat on the plate, and of getting the cattle and the sheep from the farms in this country in order to make up the deficiency. In what way does this Bill seek to do that? It seeks to do it by enabling the farmers who are breeders of stock on the hills to carry a greater head of breeding cattle and sheep. For that purpose—for a limited number of years—it offers a subsidy per head of the stock so that, instead of those people getting their living from selling as many cattle and sheep as possible, they will keep back some for breeding purposes in order to build up their stock.
There is to be a partnership between the nation and those farmers to enable that to be done. But, as I say, along comes this poor old dog barking up the wrong tree, and thinking it is a financial problem. It is nothing of the sort; it is the increasing of the number of cows and ewes that will give birth to calves and lambs in those areas where there are people anxious and willing to rear greater quantities of stock, but where they cannot fatten them.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans
Would the hon. Gentleman answer me this question? Is there anything in this Bill which prevents this money being used for increasing the cow population, which, in turn, would mean more milk at a time when the great need is meat for the table?
§ Mr. Dye
It is really pathetic if an hon. Member cannot read a Bill before taking part in a debate on it in this House, and cannot understand what it is about. It is pathetic enough that an hon. Member elected to this House should know little or nothing about farming, but when he cannot pick up even a small Bill like this and read it in order to know and understand what he is talking about, it really is time that he had a little more leisure at the week-end and did some real studying, instead of allowing his great prejudice against the farming community entirely to blot out his intelligence when he comes to deal with these problems.
This Bill states quite clearly that its purpose is to enable more stock to be reared. It is quite true that the poor old cow has to have the calf and suckle it with milk. In that way, we get the milk 227 going direct to the calf, and it does not assist in any way the production of milk for sale to the public. Anybody who had read the Bill or who had attended the Second Reading or the Committee stage would have discovered that. I would recommend the hon. Member for Wednesbury to sit down occasionally and either to read about these matters, and to digest what he reads, or to discuss them with those who know a bit about the practical side of British agriculture before he gets on to the platform and misleads himself and others regarding it.
We must get down to rock bottom in these things. This is something entirely different from bringing sand and gravel, formed many millions of years ago, out of the earth.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for his lecture and for his rhetorical outburst, which is quite entertaining, but he has done nothing to put at rest my fears that, in fact, a good deal of this £28 million may well go to producing more milk, which is already in plentiful supply.
§ Mr. Dye
This really is getting difficult. It is stated quite clearly in the Bill, and the Minister also said it the other day on the Committee stage, that subsidies for the improvement of land would not be paid to any farmers who set out a scheme to produce more milk. Conditions are attached to the grants that are made and those conditions are quite clearly stated. Therefore, if my hon. Friend were unprejudiced he could free his mind of such illusions as he now has.
We must improve our land before it can carry greater quantities of stock, and the improvement of this land for growing grass must involve liming, manuring and draining. All that work is very expensive and the people to do it in these areas are few and far between. One of the most urgent tasks of the Government and of those who are giving attention to this matter is to speed up the availability of labour and materials to carry out the schemes envisaged in this Bill. That is 228 the most urgent matter on which the Minister should try to set at rest the minds of those in this House who are deeply concerned with this problem. The question is how these schemes can be speeded up so that there is a greater output of stock from the farms which will come under the provisions of this Bill.
As we know, we have roughly about 48 million acres of land in Great Britain of which 16 million acres are hills and mountains and heaths which can be improved. But, of course, this Bill will not enable all that land to be improved. The area will be very limited, and that is a point which could be one of legitimate criticism of this Bill. However, that is all the more reason why it is hopelessly wrong to describe this Bill as another Measure to subsidise farmers, since so very few of the total number of farmers will receive for their land any of the money made available here.
There is another limitation to the development of our hill farms for livestock raising. The area that is productive of grass is limited to a short period of the year in the summer, varying in different parts of the country. It is quite impossible to increase the stock-carrying capacity of our hill farms beyond a point at which they can feed the stock which they must have on the farms during the winter months. Therefore, in addition to the efforts envisaged in this Bill, if the purpose of the Bill is to succeed there must come into our hill farming regions sufficient fodder to see them through the winter.
Here is an example of the problem involved. In the highlands in the west of the country and in the north they are so short of fodder that they are paying a tremendous price for straw to be carried for 300 or 400 miles in an effort to keep the animals alive on those hills. Therefore, there must be an enormous effort if we are to develop our hill farms to the fullest capacity. But I hope that hon. Members, whatever their prejudices against farming, will not take this opportunity, or any other opportunity, to try and widen the gulf or to increase the feeling that exists between town and country people.
Our whole purpose should be to secure a united effort in this country to overcome this food problem, not on a 229 short-term basis. but on a very long-term basis; and the idea that the farming community is fattening on the money taken out of the taxpayers is all wrong. The farmers and their men have to work very hard to produce the stock and the meat that this country requires. There was never a time when it was more necessary that there should be a fellow-feeling between town and country, and a feeling of thankfulness to those who live in the hill lands and who try to overcome our food shortage.
This is not the time to stir up prejudice or hatred, but a time to see that those who are now short of meat appreciate still further the efforts of those who have toiled on our farms in the years gone by. Those of us who have been brought up on the land and who have worked long hours know full well the sacrifices involved. I am indeed thankful that there are still in our hill lands people who are willing to endure hardships and to carry on the work of the rearing of stock in the less comfortable parts of the country. We should pay our tribute to them. In speeding this Bill through the House we should also ask the Minister to do his utmost to speed up the schemes that will come before him under the Bill.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has made himself famous or infamous—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—with his "feather-bedding" speech. I do not want to devote much time to this or to be controversial. I only want to correct one of the statements he made, which, I think, was less than fair to the farming community.
He spoke of vast millions which go to the farmers. The great part of the subsidies paid by the taxpayers in this connection go to help the people in the towns, to give them their food at lower prices than they would otherwise pay. A great part also goes to farm workers and to those who live indirectly on and by the land. I admired very much the closing words of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), who pleaded that none of us should do anything to exacerbate feeling between town and country at a time like the present.
Whether the next few years involve war or peace, it is quite certain that a war- 230 time economy is to be our portion, and in these circumstances we must grow more of our own food in these islands. Our land is not increasing, for a variety of reasons; rather, that part of our land which is available for food production generally decreases. The Army, Navy and the Royal Air Force are constantly making incursions into the land. The building industry very often takes land which is the best pasture. The coal mining industry takes land and disables it for many years, and for all these reasons the amount of land that is available for cultivation becomes less.
Therefore, we have to look to hill land and so-called marginal land and see what we can do to make them more fertile. It is obvious that certain land which is on the margin of economic productivity can be made to come down on the right side of that margin if rather more capital is induced to go into it than otherwise would be the case.
There are some four million acres in this country which, if a relatively moderate amount of money were spent on them, could be made to produce large amounts of meat, possibly as much as 400,000 cattle a year. That represents half the total import from the Argentine in normal times, and, of course, it is much more than we are importing now. That amount could be obtained from the marginal land if it were made economically wise and desirable to spend capital on putting the land in proper shape.
The question for the nation to decide is whether this is worthwhile on strategic grounds, social grounds or on any grounds. There is also the question of whether it is equitable to put money into land which is in private hands and to augment the earning power of the farmers in this country. Perhaps I may be allowed to point out, in defence of this policy, that we are interfering with the economic law so far as it affects farmers, sometimes to their advantage and sometimes to their disadvantage. In general, the policy of the last 10 years has been very greatly to their advantage but there are occasions upon which it can be shown to be dramatically to their disadvantage.
This is one of those times. At Question Time today one of the Ministers told us that British wool was being bought for 25 pence a pound from those who grow it and sold at 125 pence to those 231 who buy it. There is a gap of 100 pence, because of the present day value of the wool, and that 100 pence is not going to the men who grow the wool. Obviously, many millions of pounds are in the market today and could be obtained by the British farmer and by those who work on the land and are interested in the land if there were a free market in meat and wool.
British meat has always enjoyed a better price in this country than other meat, and for good reasons. We deny that better price to these men; the turn of the wheel which is in their favour is denied them. It should not be a matter for criticism, therefore, if the policy of organising this industry and aiding it from time to time leads to expenditure of the kind contemplated in the Bill. My only complaint about the Bill is that it does not go far enough; that it is not bold enough in covering sufficient of the land which could be improved; and that it is too late and should have been introduced five or six years ago—and I said so myself in this House and in the country, so I cannot be accused of being wise only after the event.
I welcome the Bill, for I think it is right to try to improve the land. We cannot go on for ever guaranteeing higher and higher prices for the product of all the land in order to encourage the poor land to grow a little more. The only way in which we can economically and reasonably get the poor land and the marginal land to do its best is to direct some capital to that land, and that is what the Bill proposes to do.
One criticism which was made on the Committee stage, and which, I think, it is fair to make on Third Reading, is that large and comprehensive schemes have to be undertaken by farmers or groups of farmers before they can obtain grants under this Measure. In parts of the country, and in the Lake District which I represent, there are very many small farmers capable only of capital expenditure which is small by comparison with the amounts contemplated in the Bill. These are large amounts to come out of the farmer's pocket. I hope that in interpreting his powers under the Bill the Minister will not insist upon the schemes which rank for grant 232 being so large that these small men are completely cut off from the assistance which could be given.
I agree with the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West, that we owe a debt to those who work on the land, and especially to those who work on the difficult land. I therefore welcome this Measure which proposes to give them some help.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
It is clear from this debate and from earlier stages of our proceedings that the Bill meets with general approval from all those who know and understand the problems of the land and, particularly, the problems of upland farming. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) made some criticism, saying that this action might have been taken before. We should all have liked to see it taken before, but I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that we have had various crises in recent years, and on several occasions—in 1947, and again in the dollar crisis of 1949—we had to undertake various economies in capital expenditure. The Government undertook those economies and the cry of the Opposition in those days was that they were not enough. They wanted more economies. I can quite well understand why we have not had a Measure of this kind earlier.
It is true that we could have spent money in this way instead of spending it on developments in the colonial territories, as, for instance, on the groundnut scheme. I am no defender of the way in which the groundnut scheme was carried out, but I suggest that it is not right to argue that we should neglect, or should not pay too much attention to, colonial development. It all has to take its place. I am glad that there is both colonial development and home development; it is difficult to draw the line between the two.
I am pleased that we now have a comprehensive Measure. Of course, it will not be easy to differentiate between the types of land concerned. The Bill draws the line of limitation between those areas of land which will be eligible for assistance and those which will not. Heath-land is included within the Bill. I can conceive that there may be areas of land in my constituency, in the Forest of Dean, 233 which many people will think ought to be brought within the Bill, and I am not clear whether they will be within the Bill or not. It appears that eligibility will have something to do with proximity to hills and mountains. There is land in the Forest of Dean which rises to nearly 1,000 feet and which is also heath, but I cannot say whether the Bill will apply to it.
There will certainly be marginal cases, but I am sure the Bill will work out for the best in the long run. Nor do I worry about any particular assistance which may be given under the Bill towards the production of milk in the uplands. A safeguard is provided in that connection in Clause 1 (3, a), which defines types of assistance. Moreover, the Minister told us at a previous stage of the Bill that money will not be given to farmers who apply to improve their buildings for dairy purposes—who apply to construct new milking sheds, and so on.
Money will be provided for other purposes. If it becomes profitable for the lowland farmer to produce beef, and if it becomes more profitable for the upland farmer to rear the stock which can go into the lowlands in order to provide beef, obviously the upland farmer will not go in for milk production. One of the troubles during the inter-war years was that beef was unsaleable at any figure that was reasonable. Milk was in a better position, and upland farmers took to milk through sheer desperation. The position will solve itself by making cattle a better proposition than it has been, because already there is a danger of surplus milk supplies, as we are right up to the target for next year.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that a farmer now producing milk is likely to change over to beef production as a result of these various grants?
§ Mr. Philips Price
That is quite possible, and I do not see any objection to it. We want now to see emphasis on beef rather than on milk.
I know the West Country and the Welsh borders pretty well. A big trade has been carried on there for years in bringing yearlings down from the uplands into the lowlands for feeding on the better land and turning them into good beef. That is what we want to encourage. If the Bill 234 makes it easy for the upland farmers to produce yearlings, we shall be ready for them at the autumn sales to turn them into beef. It is because we have not had them in sufficient quantities that the beef trade has flagged to a certain extent. As we are getting near saturation point with milk and want to encourage the production of beef herds side by side with milk herds, the Bill is a step in the right direction, and I hope that it will be given a unanimous Third Reading.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)
I much regret that the reasoned Amendment which was put down by my hon. Friends was ruled out of order. The reason for that Amendment is that the Bill lacks urgency in meeting the present situation. The purpose of the Bill is to give further encouragement to the rearing of livestock in the upland areas. It has always been the custom for the majority of the rearing to take place in the upland areas, and the Bill seeks to enable the farmers living in these upland areas to have such assistance that they can sell store cattle and sheep to the man in the lowland areas at such a price that they can be sold at a profit to the Ministry of Food. It would have been much easier, especially in our present position, if this money had been injected into the price of fat cattle and sheep.
I wish to say how much I regret that politics have been introduced by Members opposite, who have accused us of having done nothing for a great many years. I would remind them that there were several Measures introduced before the last war for assisting the agricultural industry and that the fat stock Bill, which the Minister will remember very well, did a great deal from 1934 onwards to encourage the production of beef cattle. While I respect the appeal made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) for co-operation between town and country on agricultural matters, I hope that the same thing will prevail in the field of politics.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
What was the purpose of the Amendment to which the hon. Member has referred?
§ Mr. Crouch
As it is so urgent to get more meat for the country, and the Bill 235 will not bring about that result as quickly as we think it should, we consider that it would be better to spend the same amount of money in connection with the price structure for fat cattle and sheep. If the price structure were higher it would do much more than the Bill is seeking to achieve. This Bill is merely labelling the British farmer as being given a subsidy which he is not, in fact, receiving. It has been introduced to enable the Ministry of Food to maintain the price of meat at a figure in line with the cost-of-living index.
We have been told that before the war we produced only one-third of the meat consumed in the country, whereas today we are producing 50 per cent. Hon. Members opposite have forgotten what was said by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) the other day, about the amount of meat that was consumed per head of the population before the war compared with today. It is easy to draw that distinction if we disregard the amount of meat that is being consumed today as compared with before the war. If we are to increase the amount of meat for consumption in the country, we should do it on a price basis and not in the way proposed in the Bill.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Having listened to what has been said so far, I should like immediately to say that I support the Third Reading and do so with more pleasure and enthusiasm than I can remember in regard to the Third Reading of any other Bill I have seen pass through the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and I have been consulting each other, and we have discovered that there are two or three farms in the middle of the great industrial city which is in our area. Therefore, we feel that we have an interest in this Measure and want to support the principle behind the Bill. Of course, we all want to see more meat production and to have better quality of meat than we have been accustomed to having from abroad.
The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser)—I am sorry that he is not in his place—spoke of the Bill as being only half a loaf and of the con- 236 ditions of the uplands. He said that the Government and the Minister had not been vigorous enough. It was rather like Rip Van Winkle starting to make a speech in the House in 1886 and, having slept ever since, then continuing his speech from where he left off as soon as he opened his eyes.
But of all Governments that cannot be said of this one. If one looks at the matter historically—I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me—it is an old sin which has been perpetrated against our people and our country. Every one understands that previous Governments a long time ago—50, 60 or 70 years ago—wanted cheap labour and cheap goods in order to export them all over the world. They felt that the right way to do that was to bring in cheap food from abroad. We got cheap frozen meat and cheap white bread made of flour down to 70 per cent. extraction. Our people fell sick nationally, and their sickness continued until we understood nationally what sort of sin we had collectively perpetrated against them.
Our nutritional knowledge was not then such as to enable anyone to know what was going to come of that. I say that in case anyone thinks I am casting any particular blame. But it could not have been this Minister or this Government who were at fault. For the first time they are taking really active steps to make the uplands prosperous once again.
This "half a loaf" which has been mentioned should be an inspiration to other countries to imitate us, because we are moving faster than most of the other countries of the world. I remember that as long ago as 1945, in my maiden speech, I reminded the House of the problems that must arise all over the world in connection with the obtaining of food for the world as a whole. I said that the time was coming when countries which had normally exported cheap food would not be able to do so to the same extent any longer, and that countries that had been accustomed to importing cheap food would not get it but must produce it for themselves. Of course, that applies to us. I said that the world as a whole must double the amount of food available for the world, and that nothing but science married to agriculture, and co-operation between town and country and between one country and another could possibly achieve that.
237 I have heard a good deal about the danger of milk production being increased beyond our power to consume milk. That is nonsense. We must be rather careful, and I beg the Minister to bear in mind the need to ensure that we do not spend too much effort and money on the production and, therefore, the eating of flesh as compared with dairy produce. The facts are rather astonishing. People speak of milk and forget that the amount that is consumed depends upon the cost to the consumer. If we want people to drink more milk or to take more in the form of cheese let it be a little cheaper and it will soon be taken up. In Finland, before the war, the average consumption per day per head of the population was two pints; our consumption is still only between three-quarters of a pint and a pint per day—nearer three-quarters of a pint than a pint.
As we are discussing the increase of meat on the hoof and the encouragement of livestock rearing, and if I suggest that we must be a little careful in our planning, I must discuss the possibility that there is another form of agricultural production, milk and dairy produce, which we should not despise. That is as far as I can pursue that point other than to say that we can easily examine the value to the community of, say, cheese as compared with beef. Four ounces of cheese is the equivalent, in protein value as well as in other respects, of eight ounces of steak, seven ounces of herring fish, five ounces of herring roe, a pound of plaice, 130 ounces of oysters or eight eggs. We can at once see that we cannot go far wrong, if there is a lot of milk, if we manufacture it into good cheese. I ask the Minister to bear that in mind, as he is responsible for our home-made cheese as well as for our beef on the hoof.
In my constituency we provide the plates on which the meat goes. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, porcelain is manufactured; in my constituency it is earthenware which is manufactured. We are very conscious of the fact that a plate which is naked and bare is not much use to anybody. If it is well filled it is a very attractive proposition indeed. We rely upon hon. Members who have constituencies in the country where farming is pursued to see to it that the plates which our constituencies produce are well and properly filled.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent (Guildford)
I wish to give a moderate blessing to this Bill on its Third Reading, although it still contains the same defects which it had originally, and which we failed to remove during the Committee stage.
I wish to make one or two comments on the general trend of the debate. I feel that the Bill provides the right method of assisting these special areas, and that it will help to increase stock rearing for beef in the upland marginal areas. I think that the hon. Member for Gloucester, West (Mr. Philips Price) is a little optimistic in expecting that there will be much of a turnover from milk to beef. As I mentioned in our earlier discussions on the Bill, I think that farmers who are already engaged in milk production will be very reluctant to stop the receipt of their monthly milk cheque and depend on perhaps one annual cattle sale for the whole of their income.
I am hopeful of the Minister's assurance on the Committee stage that when the Bill becomes an Act it will be interpreted liberally enough to allow those engaged in milk production to be able to rear some beasts for beef as well as to continue with their milk production. In contradistinction to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), I do not believe that it would be sufficient to rely entirely on price emphasis. These are special problems, and I think that the kind of approach which the Bill embodies is the right one to adopt.
I wish to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), who gave us his usual entertainment on what he called agricultural economics. They seemed to me more like castles in the air. Indeed, if we really tried to keep two and a half cows to the acre, as the hon. Member suggests are kept by the Dutch, we should literally have to stand one cow on top of the other.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans
We had better get this point clear. What I said, or intended to say, was that the Dutch support, on a given acreage, two and a half times the number of cows that we, the British do, and that that is due to their better husbandry.
§ Mr. Nugent
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for that explanation, but he did not say anything of the kind. I have 239 not had the opportunity of checking his figures, so I will leave his remark without comment. But his original statement was completely wrong, as, indeed, are so many of his statements on what he believes to be agricultural economics.
I might, in passing, make the comment about his anxiety on the increase in milk, that provided we have sufficient manufacturing capacity more milk will not be a handicap to us. As has already been said by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), we can turn it into cheese; or into butter, dried milk powder, etc. It is true that there is not at present sufficient manufacturing capacity, and that that capacity needs to be increased. Provided that is done it can be well used. The only point which no doubt caused the hon. Member anxiety was that conversion into cheese increases the cost to the Ministry of Food in respect of food subsidies. At the present price of cheese the conversion rate is very expensive.
The hon. Gentleman's remark about constant feather-bedding does him no credit, especially at the present time. He knows as well as I do that the annual price review is about to take place, and these attempts to shake the confidence of the public in the soundness of these negotiations must be harmful to the whole agricultural industry and cannot benefit anybody. Having been a junior Minister, he knows better than most of us how these things work, and he must also know that at present there is hardly a commodity produced in this country whose price is not below prices in other countries—countries with cheaper costs of production, like Canada and the United States. Even wheat in this country is below the prices in those countries, and meat is about one-third of those prices. To suggest that agriculture here is feather-bedded is complete nonsense. It does him no credit; the public outside have a way of believing what hon. Members say in this House, and the hon. Member should be more careful in what he says.
I should like to comment on a remark made by the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech. He trotted out that dog-eared piece of propaganda about the Conservatives' neglect of agriculture in the pre-war years. It is really most unworthy of him. He knows as well as I do that 240 most of the Measures that were brought forward to help agriculture in the 30s. were opposed by him and his hon. Friends. Yet here we are supporting this Measure, promoted by the present Government, and although we do not agree with everything in it we support it because we know it has an intrinsic benefit for agriculture. If his own record was as good as all that he might be in a position to throw stones at us, but in the circumstances it was an ungracious and unworthy comment. In spite of that, I am supporting the Third Reading of this Bill, which I hope and believe will make a valuable contribution to the industry as a whole.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
We have all enjoyed hearing the modest blessing of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent). I always enjoy listening to him. His speech was couched in felicitous terms, unlike the speeches of the hon. Members for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), and Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch). I detected in their speeches querulous comments—in fact, a "nattering" note—on this Bill. I should like to add my blessing to the Bill, and in doing so I deprecate the tone adopted by the hon. Member for Dorset, North, who began by talking about the politics which had been introduced by hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Johnson
When I listened to him and looked at the Amendment on the Order Paper—To move, that, in view of the Government's failure to supply a reasonable ration to the public or to build up emergency stocks of meat"—
§ Mr. Johnson
I was going to say that it is a good job it was not called, because to me it is purely political, and it does not become hon. Members opposite to accuse us of introducing politics into this debate when they themselves put down an Amendment of that sort, well knowing that it would not be called because it is obviously out of order.
In view of the state of our meat stocks and our external supplies, this Bill 241 deserves our blessing. The emphasis today should be on the production of beef. The war affected our herds and the disastrous weather of 1947 also had an effect upon them. In view of these terrific losses in the last few years, the money being spent—something like £15 million—is well worth spending and will pay dividends in the future. It may seem at first glance a lot of money, but in view of the vast acreages of marginal land which we need to take up—perhaps something between three million and four million acres—I think it is well worth while.
I have spoken in the House in the past, in Colonial debates, of the need to develop the marginal lands in the outlying parts of the Commonwealth and Empire. We have spent a lot of money there—some people think, perhaps a little unwisely—and I think it is now time that we spent wisely upon our own people in this country. Our home needs come first. Our own people will feel the benefit of this investment much more closely and it will be of much more value than some of the money already spent.
I have spoken to experts on marginal land, yet I am not too sure what marginal land is. To my mind much of it must be land which was once in cultivation and has now lapsed. But without going into the past neglect of agriculture, I would say that there must be a considerable amount of land lying between the high altitudes where we get hardy sheep farming, and the lowlands and the valley bottoms mentioned by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans). Upon this transition land we should place more emphasis. There must be a large acreage between those high altitudes and the lowland valleys, upon which we could spend this money wisely.
I welcome, in particular, Clause 1, which provides for the extension of the class of land for the improvement of which grants may be made under the Hill Farming Act, 1946. I hope the Minister will interpret this provision wisely and generously, and that grants will be made not merely for the purposes mentioned earlier in the debate, but also for the cultivation of fodder crops and their improvement.
I have heard much argument in the Committee stage about the word "comprehensive." We who are concerned 242 with education are often bothered about the definition of "comprehensive" in connection with our secondary schools, and there seems to be as much difficulty here in defining the word. I only hope that the Minister will be generous in his interpretation of "comprehensive"; I am sure he will be, knowing his past record.
I hope it will be left to local committees—and I emphasise local committees—who are conversant with the local topography and geography, to enable the farmers and owner-occupiers in their localities to achieve the maximum benefit under this scheme. I am sure that the financial assistance which we are now voting to enable these improvements to be carried out on our hill farms and marginal lands, will be well spent.
This Bill, small as some people call it, is immensely significant in terms of human welfare to people in these marginal lands, and also in terms of future additions to our meat supplies.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Captain Duncan (South Angus)
I rise for only one reason and that is to say, as the first Member representing a Scottish constituency to speak in this debate, that I welcome the Bill, and will watch its progress into law, and its administration when it is an Act, with very great interest. Scotland stands to gain very much from the Bill, both from the extension of the definition of "hill" to "down the hill" and the continuation of the hill sheep and cattle subsidy schemes under the Hill Farming Act. I hope that the Bill will do a tremendous lot of good in the upland areas of Scotland.
When I say "upland areas" I want to emphasise, especially to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), that the definition does not necessarily depend on altitude. I say that not only to put right the hon. Member for Rugby, but to put right one of my constituents who heardwrongly—that although he had rough grazing—heath, whins, and that sort of thing—he would not be eligible for grant under a scheme under the Bill because his farm was not at the necessary altitude. I want to make it quite clear that altitude has nothing whatever to do with it. It is the type of land rather than the actual position on the map that matters.
For those reasons I support the Bill, but I recognise that there are blemishes. The first is the administrative blemish 243 which the Minister has not yet seen fit to remove, and that is in the selection of schemes which the Minister has to make under the limit of money allowed by the Treasury and by Parliament. I still do not see how money is to be fairly divided between England and Scotland, and, in England and in Scotland, between the various counties.
What is to happen at the end of the second year when all the £20 million is mortgaged? The right hon. Gentleman will only have to come back, it seems to me, for more—if he is still there. If he is, I hope he will come. If he is not my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) will not fail to come, and he will get the unanimous support of this side of the House. If, however, the Minister tries to spread the £20 million over the next five years by selectivity he will run into a most extraordinary amount of administrative difficulty.
I think it was the hon. Member for Rugby who said he could not define, and did not quite know, what marginal land was. Nor do I. Nor does the Minister. It is one of those things that it is almost impossible to define, and we have to proceed farm by farm, almost, to decide whether a scheme is within or without the Bill; and it will be an administrative headache, not only because of the limit of the definition but also because of the financial limit of £20 million. I shall watch with some anxiety how this works out, because it seems to me it will be extremely difficult.
The second failure in the Bill is the insistence on comprehensiveness. We had a Division on that in Committee, and I need say no more about it now, except that it has held up and is holding up certain schemes on marginal land. Now that we are coming, in the right hon. Gentleman's phrase, "down the hill" a bit we are not meeting vast areas of land: we are meeting a large number of the smaller farms, and to that extent we have to take care more of the small men than under the Hill Farming Act. The smaller men will not have the capital to spend on comprehensive and, therefore, expensive schemes, even though they are spread over five years. That being so, I deplore the fact that this comprehensiveness is still insisted on so strictly.
244 The third weakness—and this will not please hon. Members opposite—is that, under the Hill Farming Act, and now under the Bill, we are still keeping the tie on the service cottage. That has always seemed to me to be a mistake, and to have been the subject of a good deal of misrepresentation. It is a pity that in these isolated places these cottages should become untied before a grant can be made. However, in spite of those three blemishes I welcome the Bill on behalf of Scotland, and I am sure that it will do a lot of good.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)
Coming, as I do, from a constituency with a very large rural area which features every form of agricultural activity, I should like to commend the Minister for this fine contribution to his monumental work on behalf of our people. Members on both sides of the House talked glibly of 16 million acres of hill land. They forgot to point out that 11 million of those are in Scotland, and that we run stock in Scotland at higher altitudes than anywhere else in Britain. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) has indicated, we stand to gain materially in Scotland by this Measure. One hon. Member said that our stocks suffered incalculable damage in 1947. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sheep."] They suffered incalculable damage in every form of agriculture long before 1947.
I am surprised at the carping criticisms from hon. Members on the other side. If they care to look back into the official reports they will find that between the world wars there was less land under cultivation in Scotland, and that there were fewer people on the land in Scotland, than from 1870. It was not until a majority Labour Government came in that hope was revived in agriculture in Scotland, and if hon. Members care to look at the returns in the bankruptcy courts in Scotland they will see the truth of what I say reflected in the fact that there are fewer farmers going into those courts now than ever before in history. In my own constituency upland farmers have had the benefit of the Hill Farming Act, passed in the last Parliament, and I am sure that they will derive benefit from this Measure.
245 The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Angus talked of the possibility of the Minister's not being here at the end of five years. If the test is the opinion of Scottish agriculture, then I am certain that my right hon. Friend will again be speaking for agriculture. I hope and trust that hon. Members will not, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) did, shout for more, because we have to remember that there are other people in Britain besides those in the agricultural industry. There are people who reckon that they themselves are just as important. But our national economy begins on the land because that is the source of all wealth, and I think that the Government are to be congratulated on putting the farming industry into a healthy economic state for the first time in my lifetime, at least—and I was not born yesterday.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I represent one of the areas most likely to benefit from this Bill, and I want to say a few words before we give it a Third Reading. There is no doubt that already the Hill Farming Act, 1946, has brought considerable benefits to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and I would point out again, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) did just now, that this not a question of altitude at all, for in my own constituency there is many a hill sheep farmer whose land at one end is washed by the waves of the Atlantic, and is 2,000 or 3,000 feet above the waves at the other end.
We are not blessed in the Highlands and Islands with those valuable lowlands to which the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) referred. I can assure him when he talks about "agricultural economics" that in the Highlands agricultural economics were such that it was very difficult to find anyone who was showing any profit. I deprecate the use of the Third Reading of this Bill for indulging in political arguments and criticisms on one side or the other. We all know that this Bill will have considerable effect on and benefit to the country—I am speaking particularly of the Highlands of Scotland—and I deprecate the introduction of politics. The right hon. Gentleman started it himself this after- 246 noon, and one hon. Member after another has continued it.
It is not for us now to argue who was at fault in failing to support agriculture sufficiently in the past 100 years, because it is not since the beginning of the century but for the past 100 years that agriculture has not been supported sufficiently. I welcome this Bill, which I think will do a great deal of good to our marginal land. I ask whoever replies to tell us what will now be the hill sheep subsidy for this year.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
Representing a very large rural area with a good livestock record, I have much pleasure in joining in the general welcome that has been given to this Bill, and without reservation I support its Third Reading. This Bill is in strict accord with the Government's agricultural policy that the country has been enjoying for the past six years. It has been said that the Bill lacks urgency, but I think that the whole agricultural legislation of the previous Labour Government and of this Labour Government is, in a sense, linked up with urgency all the way through. I am glad that at this stage the Minister has presented this Bill in its present form, and, despite certain criticisms in Committee, I am delighted to think that there is no possibility of a Division, and that it will receive a unanimous Third Reading.
I do not want to discuss the Amendment which has been referred to, because it has not been called. I merely say that I think the motive behind it is not indicated by its wording. A sore point with hon. Members opposite is the fact that the Minister resisted their attempt in Committee to perpetuate the tied cottage system, and I thank the Minister for resisting the Amendment which sought to make service cottages qualify for improvements under this Bill. I am glad he had a straight statement on that issue, and I thank my colleagues for making certain when there was a Division in Committee that that Amendment was not accepted.
It has been suggested that the livestock industry cannot be expanded without long-term planning. I think that nearly all the agricultural legislation of this Government has been aimed at long-term 247 planning, and I am certain that, comparing conditions in the agricultural industry today with what they were in the inter-war years—I know hon. Members opposite do not like our referring to those days, but we insist upon doing so—there is more confidence and much more security than there was under Tory rule.
I listened to some of the speeches in Committee on the production of milk, when it was said that some of our farmers had gone milk crazy. I do not subscribe to that doctrine, because I know very well that the increased production of milk has been valued greatly in the homes of the people and in the schools. But I will say that I think it is the time some of the farmers in the arable counties ceased producing quite so much milk and got back to livestock rearing. It can be done without harming the individual farms, and I am pretty certain that emphasis on livestock rearing would be welcomed, not only by the Minister but by the country. In conclusion, I am glad this Bill is in strict accord with Government agricultural policy. I think it will do a lot of good and will help materially to assist meat production in this country. With all my heart I commend the Bill to the farming community.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
I rise to make two points. As the Minister himself said, there is a world shortage of meat, and this Bill will do something to help to improve the position. One of the factors helping to create a world shortage of meat is the policy of fixed prices and rations, and, in the words of the Minister of Food, the policy of holding down the price of meat. There is no doubt that to succeed this Measure must be accompanied by a reasonable price for meat, and the House should consider what would be the position in the world today, and in this country in particular, if we had not got a comparatively low fixed price for meat.
It is now generally accepted in this country that the production and fattening of beef in winter is a thing of the past. Why should it be a thing of the past? There must be plenty of people who would be prepared and would prefer to pay 3s. a 1b. for prime English beef rather than buy rabbits at 7s. 6d. a piece, or 248 paying more than 4s. a 1b. for chicken meat. But that opportunity is now denied them; people are not given the opportunity of spending their money on good beef. That is a point that needs considering.
We cannot depart entirely from the laws of supply and demand and allow the consumer no opportunity of expressing his desires by buying his food. No doubt hon. Members opposite will say that what we want are expensive cuts for our "rich friends." I know quite well from my own experience that in mining villages at home, where there is plenty of money about, a great deal of expensive unrationed food is gladly bought, such as chickens, rabbits and anything else they can get in the way of canned ham. I therefore ask the Minister to consider whether he could not give a better price still for winter fattened beef so that it would again be in production. That would ease the glut which now falls on the slaughterhouses in the late summer and autumn.
The only other point to which I wish to refer is the assertion by many hon. Members that we are now producing too much milk. That is, in a way, relevant to this Measure. In my opinion, we cannot possibly produce too much milk, and the Minister should attend to that. The one thing that is holding back livestock production in this country in the form of pigs and chickens is lack of protein, and the very best source of protein in the world is milk. If we in this country could start a proper butter and cheese industry we should have all the milk by-products we needed to produce a great deal more protein than we are now doing, which would to a very great extent stimulate the production of pigs, chickens and eggs, and other animals for whom animal protein is an essential.
§ 5.50 p.m.
Mr. T. Williams
I can only speak again with the leave of the House. As there have not been many major points raised during the debate, and as there is a good deal of other business to be dealt with, I think that it would be a mistake on my part to attempt to speak for more than a minute to indicate that I have no intention of being discourteous to hon. Members who have spoken.
I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) 249 made a very dangerous suggestion when he put to me the proposition that because there is a grave shortage of meat we ought to decontrol the price of meat and allow it to find its own level. It is obvious that if we did that those people with the deepest purse would get what bit of meat there was and those with modest purses would get none at all.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
I made no suggestion that the price of meat should be decontrolled. I said that the right hon. Gentleman should consider the situation which would arise if that were the case, and that if this Measure is to be effective it must be accompanied by an increase in the price emphasis given to meat as compared with the price emphasis given to other products. If he takes a reasonable view of that, he may come to the right conclusion instead of the wrong one.
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I understood him to say that we ought to allow the law of supply and demand to operate.
The other suggestion which he made of putting an increase on the end product would, I think, be equally useless. Certainly, we could put a penny per 1b. on beef, but there is no guarantee that after spending £5 million per annum we should get one extra 1b. of meat produced, and there would be none of the improvements which we are contemplating under the improvement schemes of this Bill. If we want more meat in this country we can only secure it by encouraging the breeder and the rearer, and not by putting money on the end product, which gives no guarantee of any extra meat at all.
I am very encouraged by the reception of the Bill, and I hope that every hon. Member who has spoken this afternoon, from whatever side of the House, will agree that the Bill in the long-term will have very useful results. I hope, therefore, that we can now have a unanimous Third Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.