HC Deb 17 December 1952 vol 509 cc1549-82

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Agriculture (Special Directions) (Maximum Area of Pasture) Extension of Period Order, 1952, dated 3rd December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved.—[Mr. Nugent.]

10.42 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the full and lucid way in which he has moved the Order. No doubt he would like the Order to go through just like that, but I regard this as an important matter which deserves more attention than he wants to give it. In February this year, almost a year ago, we had a discussion on a Motion to extend the Order for another year, and we then had a similar problem in persuading the Government to give it the attention it merits. On that occasion I reminded the Minister —and we welcome him to our deliberations tonight—and the Parliamentary Secretary of what they had said about the Order when we used to extend it when we were in office. I must refer to that again tonight.

We ought not to make Orders unless the Government asking for them propose to make use of them. I used to think we were justified in Orders of this kind because it fitted in with the general policy which the Government were adopting, but this Government are running no long-term policy and are proceeding on the basis of coming to the House every few months or so with yet one more temporary expedient, in some of which they believe and in some of which they do not believe. The whole thing adds up to no coherent policy which the country can understand. On the question of increasing production, I hope that the Minister has fortified himself with some figures with which he proposes to give us in a moment—if I am interrupting the Leader of the House I am prepared to give way to him.

I was looking this week at a paper called the "Dairy Farmer," which, no doubt, comes the Minister's way occasionally. There, I saw on page 14 of the December issue an article which, I think, is unkind to the Minister; and I am not to be taken as endorsing all it says about him. I think he has been unfairly blamed for the muddle of the Government over agriculture. The article begins by saying what a sense of disappointment there is among farmers —as if agriculture had been dressed up ready for a long-looked-forward-to party and then told that it was all off. It goes on: For months we've been hearing promises of plans for the future and of proposals for a long-term farming programme. We've had speeches about the ever-growing importance of agriculture, and we've been expecting recognition of this in a more concrete form. At one time I thought we might well see the Minister crusading round the country, stirring farmers to a great determination to grow more food. But-nothing's happened.". There is another paragraph headed, "Minister Misfires." It ends by saying, On results to date, Sir Thomas Dugdale has failed the farmers and the country. He should make way for a better man; I do not endorse that. I think he is the best man his party has. The article continues: and the Prime Minister should make a way for that man to be in the Cabinet. [Interruption.] I am glad to see that the Prime Minister is about to do it. That will be a success I hardly expected to have. I hope that as the gentleman he is about to sack is very aged he will not ring him up at this time of night.

The point I am making is that proposals of this kind are putting the industry into difficulty. We really do not know what the Government's policy for agriculture is; we have no indication of a longterm plan. Every new Order produces new speeches. These speeches, as the "Dairy Farmer" says, make everyone think that something has happened. Then things tail off, and we get another Order later.

I would not mind if the Government believed in the Orders which they are producing; but all the speeches which the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister made, up to last year, about how bad this Order was, and how disgraceful it was, fit in well with what they have done. I asked the Minister, just over a week ago, what he had done under this Order to date. I asked how many directions had been served under the Order, and he told me that 86 were made during the year ended 31st October, 1952.

This is an Order with admittedly considerable powers, and which is open to the kind of partisan political talk which the Conservative Party used to use about it. It is kept on with our concurrence. The Government virtually make no use of it, yet ask for its further renewal. I think we are entitled to ask the Government tonight to say whether they think that this is an Order which they can use.

I believe that I am giving away no secrets if I say that there are many who believe that it is an awkward Order to enforce. There are many who believe that the wording of the Act does not make for an easy Instrument. I have never accepted that view. If it is the Government's view, ought they not to say so, and to do everything to get a form of Order which they are willing to use? It is leading good men who serve on the agricultural executive committees up the garden path. They are in the unpleasant, malodorous position of being held responsible if it is said that these considerable powers under this Order have been put into their hands, and then no use is made of them. They get the worst of both worlds. I believe that is what is happening at the moment.

The Minister may answer to some extent by saying that since then he has taken up the ploughing-up grant Order, and now has power to pay for this tillage acreage. He will remember that one of the objections I had to that was that we were seeking to do the same thing in two different ways. We were taking the power to bring it about by persuasion or, if necessary, by having some sanctions to apply and, at the same time, we were taking power to drive people into doing it.

I am astonished at what has happened during the past year. In the same day that the Minister answered the Question to which I have referred, I also asked him what the increase in the tillage acreage for the last year had been. He told me that it had increased in England and Wales by about 156,000 acres. He then gave me a completely different figure and said that the area under crops, excluding grass, had gone up by 238,000 acres. It is difficult to know which is tillage and which is not of those two definitions, and it is time the Minister cleared up the definition of tillage acreage. If we take it at the higher of those two figures, then for 238,000 extra acres we have paid over £3 million.

If my arithmetic is good enough, we have paid over £30 an acre, not £5 as the House was told, to get that very small increase when we had this Order, which the Government are now asking us to renew, of which we made virtually no use. It is wrong. If the Government want to get it by paying this extravagant price, ail right. We shall attack it and they are entitled to defend it. But it is of little use taking these other powers if they then do not use them. The Government, because they are in a muddle, because they are approaching it in two minds, are failing to give the results that the country needs.

The increase in the acreage is extremely interesting if one has time to analyse the figures. Temporary grasses have gone down and permanent grasses have remained virtually steady. If we paid £30 an acre, we could bring some cultivable land into cultivation, whereas this £30 or thereabouts which we have paid has merely taken land from one form of cultivation to another. It has not even reduced the permanent grass. That is partly the answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke).

There is not a steady story of increase in agricultural production. It is true that barley is up, in a year in which the spring cultivation circumstances rather tended to the putting in of barley, and following a year in which a lot of barley was sold for malting at very high prices. But wheat is down. Many other crops are down. The total cattle is down. So there is anything but a steady increase in agricultural production shown on the June returns of the Minister. To bring forward an Order of this kind, which the Government are not using, still without any long-term policy within which to fit it, is treating this country and its need for food production very badly.

One likes to give credit where credit is due and we have the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with us. In a few minutes he will deal with his own Order, and it is not my business to deal with that. I admire the hon. Gentleman. He went up to Scotland, courageously delivered an unpalatable message and was violently assailed for it by the farmers. I applaud both his courage and his judgment in doing that.

There is a moral there for the Minister of Agriculture. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) held that post, he never once shirked the job of taking unpopular powers, if he thought they were justified, and using them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where is he?"] I think the hon. Member will rather regret making that remark. The present Minister must, I think, face this problem in the same way. We will not, as his party did when the position was reversed, make party capital out of the need to do unpopular things in the agriculture industry if the circumstances call for them.

I give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance, and I think he has had many demonstrations of it. But we are bound to say to him that he cannot take credit for passing these Orders if, in fact, he is not going to use them. I am prepared to let him have this Order tonight. I believe —and I say this to those in the Press and elsewhere who have been attacking the existence of the powers contained in subsidies, and so on, for agriculture, and that as we do not have this for bookmakers and miners, why should we have it for farmers—that the corollary of the underwriting we have now given to the agriculture industry is the existence of these powers to see that the land of the country is thoroughly and properly used.

That being so, I am prepared to say I think the Minister has a case for this Order. For a variety of reasons there is a reluctance to keep as big an area under cultivation or arable cultivation as there should be. To some extent that reluctance is because of certain difficulties to which the Minister shuts his eyes. It is difficult for a small tenant farmer to find ways and means of financing his operations at a rate of interest and on terms that he can manage. That is a large part of the problem. If the Minister would persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer that some special form of credit facilities is essential for the tenant farmer who cannot go to the Agriculture Mortgage Corporation and would shy off at paying 5 or 6 per cent. even, the need for this sort of thing would probably disappear.

But until his full policy is deployed—and we have waited a long time for it—there will be problems of this sort. I am prepared to agree that the Minister should have this kind of power, and to go out and support him on it—risking my own reputation with his to do it, but he cannot and must not ask for the Order, and then make the ludicrous use of it which he made last year. I understand the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply—and I know how frustrating is the job of Parliamentary Secretary; I have great sympathy with him—but I ask him to say to us tonight on the authority of his right hon. Friend, who is at his side to give it, that he will use this Order this year.

I think that in the light of the fantastic price we have paid for the very nugatory return we have got from the ploughing-up grant, he should drop that for the coming year and use the power under this Order. We are entitled to that assurance. The agriculture industry—as I read in that extract from the "Dairy Farmer," and as I could read from the "Farmer and Stockbreeder," is very worried indeed about the absence of a long-term policy and about the revolving in circles that is now going on.

If he would give a firm declaration, in the terms in which his colleague gave it —in forthright and courageous terms—the industry would know where it was, and many people would think that the Government meant more business than they do now. I recommend my hon. and right hon. Friends, after they have questioned the Minister still further, to approve this Order while, at the same time, giving a firm warning to the Minister that we shall watch very closely the use he makes of it.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) never lacks consistency in his argument. I listened to the speech he made on the Second Reading of the Agriculture (Ploughing Grants) Bill last May. His whole case then rested upon the fact that the Government were proceeding by a series of hiccoughs and had no longterm policy. I am not a farmer, but I represent substantial farming interests in Worcestershire. I am also most interested in the feeding standards of the people who live in the towns.

I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman's purely academic argument about whether or not the Government have a long-term policy, is, in fact, valid in this context. What matters is the results that have been achieved by the Government in their short period of 12 or 13 months of office. The right hon. Gentleman chose to use a rather disparaging phrase in the last few moments of his speech. He spoke of a nugatory return for the ploughing-up grants which were introduced earlier this year.

While there may be a theoretical argument upon the exact amount of the additional tillage that has been derived from these grants, one point is undeniable. They produced in the last harvest 300,000 tons of additional feedingstuffs. That, had it not been produced at home would have cost, in terms of import equivalent, approximately £12 million. That, in itself is in my view sufficient justification for the step that was then taken.

Also, last May the right hon. Gentleman had a great deal to say about the merit or otherwise of encouraging additional feedingstuffs production with an eye on the pig population. In fact, the "Daily Express" reported me on that occasion as being the most optimistic Member of this House when I anticipated that the action which my right hon. Friend then took might lead to the abolition of bacon rationing at an early date.

I said on that occasion that the Order authorising the payment of ploughing-up grants would make a direct contribution, and very quickly, through the prolific breeding of pigs, to the abolition of bacon rationing. What has happened in the six months since that date—[Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene. If he does, I will give way.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I was merely pointing out that the Minister of Food informed me today that the bacon ration is to be cut shortly.

Mr. Nabarro

Whether the ration is immediately to be cut or not, perhaps the hon. Member will be good enough to admit that the future level of the bacon ration for whatever is the remaining period of rationing, must depend largely on the pig population of this country. What has happened as a result of the Order made last May in terms of pig population? In 1949, the figure was 2,500,000; in 1950 it had risen to 3,790,000; in 1951 to 5,070,000; and in 1952 to 5,790,000.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

I do not know whether I am anticipating the point of order. I would point out to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that there is nothing about pigs in this Order.

Mr. Nabarro

The right hon. Gentle. man the Member for Belper discussed at some length the agricultural policy of the Government, tillage acreage, and the growing of feedingstuffs. My argument has merely been derived from the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. I want to make the simple point that my right hon. Friend's policy, in the short period of 13 months during which he has been in office, has been supported and encouraged by highly satisfactory results, whether it represents in the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman a long-term policy or whether it does not. What the nation needs is food—and quickly—from our own acres.

The only arbiter, the only yardstick, and the only criterion in this matter is whether or not the policy is being successful. I submit that the policy, on the few figures I have quoted, in terms of the saving of imports, and of the pig population, demonstrates that the policy is proving successful. The diatribe of the right hon. Member for Belper amounts to such much sour grapes.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) talks about consistency. I hope that his party will be honest tonight and explain why they were so consistent in their opposition to this Order. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary had given us some information. He gave us nothing, and I hope he will remedy that when he makes his reply. I do not think he is a discourteous man, and I trust that he will answer the legitimate points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who was formerly Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture.

I should like to know if there have been any prosecutions under this Order since it was presented on 20th February? When the Parliamentary Secretary first brought this Order to the House, he mentioned that 400 directions had been served and that out of that number there were 14 prosecutions. I understand tonight from my right hon. Friend that since the period from 4th February, 1952, to December, there have been 86 directions. Would the Parliamentary Secretary confirm that?

I am certain every hon. Member believes this Order is necessary. We wish to increase our production of coarse grains and potatoes, and to improve the tillage acreage. That is not an academic point. That was always the policy of the last Labour Government. This Order arises out of Section 95 of the Act of 1947. I can remember, for the education of the hon. Member for Kidderminster, how his party criticised this Section in the Standing Committee. Section 95 was violently opposed. Time and time again, we had speeches from right hon. and hon. Members opposite, criticising the powers which the Labour Government sought to introduce in that Measure.

The present Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Crookshank) and the present Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), attacked this direction in glowing and very eloquent terms. I should like to know why they have changed?

Mr. Speaker

It is not permissible to discuss the parent Act when we are discussing the Order.

Mr. Peart

I accept that, Mr. Speaker, but not only did they attack that section, they attacked the Order when it was presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). It is well for hon. Members opposite to understand what their forces said in that period. The present Leader of the House stated: …it does not commend itself to me … That is the Labour Party and the Labour Government all over again—the big instrument for the little necessity, …the Government are making a terrible psychological blunder … likely to destroy the whole structure of confidence. It is a quite monstrous thing to bring this great weapon of direction into force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th July, 1948; Vol. 454, c. 123–126.] Why has the Minister changed? Why has the Tory Party changed now they are in power? The then hon. Members for Ripon (Mr. York) and Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner), and the hon. Members for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), Skipton (Mr. Drayson) and Newbury (Mr. Hurd) all made very violent speeches against this Order. The Minister himself went into the Division Lobby. [HON. MEMBERS: "Date?"] This was when we presented the Order in 1948.

We argued then, as the Minister, I hope, will argue now, that we had to facilitate the provision of the kinds of foods that the national interest required: second, that we had to face a serious financial position; third, that we had to consider our own expansion programme. Those three factors still apply today. We face a balance of payments problem; we aim at an expansion programme of 60 per cent. above pre-war output; we must produce the type of food that the nation requires. The situation is still the same as it was in 1948, and I hope that the behaviour of hon. Members opposite goes to prove that they did act irresponsibly when they were the Opposition, and I hope that the Minister tonight will answer the general case of my right hon. Friend.

What is the policy of the Government? Have they really a long-term policy? How long do they propose to carry on with these powers of direction and these Orders? We should like to know. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as reported in the "Farmers' Weekly" of 12th December, promises that methods will be introduced to give greater freedom to producers and as much choice to the consumer as possible, and to restore as much as possible the best elements of the free system. He went on to say: The Government can best help by limiting the extent of their interference in the affairs of the agricultural industry. How do the Government explain this Order? Is it only a temporary expedient, or have the Government a really longterm policy? So far, in replies to Questions by hon. Members on this side of the House at Question time—detailed Questions to Ministers at Question time—and in debates like this we have had no answer. We have had merely vague declarations.

The Parliamentary Secretary must realise by now that there is uncertainty in the farming world about the Government's intentions. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Kidderminster to eulogise the efforts of the Government over the past 12 months. The June returns for this year indicate a very serious position—

Colonel Malcolm Stoddart-Scott (Ripon)


Mr. Peart

On wheat acreage, and the need to have increased tillage acreage, on the need to implement what this Order seeks to do. One has only to—[Interruption.] I hope hon. Members opposite will have regard for their own Chief Whip. I am stating and will go on to repeat that the June returns do indicate a serious position, which has been mentioned in detail by my right hon. Friend. I am merely asking for information from the Minister and for him to give us certain assurances. Whether we like this Order or not, even if hon. Members opposite still rail against directions, we on this side believe they are essential. At the same time, we believe they should be related to a positive, constructive policy to increase production by, above all, giving the producers of this country that confidence which is so essential.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)

I wish to intervene for only just a moment or two. One or two of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) call for some comment. I always listen with interest to his interventions in agricultural debates. I think he contributes very considerably to them. But I am not prepared to follow him in some of his arguments tonight.

He based his argument largely on the fact that this particular Order has not been used a large number of times. I do not consider that that is a valid argument against having the Order. It is not the number of times it is used, surely, that matters. It is the fact that it is there and can be used that makes it effective. It is not always necessary to use it. If it is known it can be used, if necessary, as a final means of enforcement for keeping a proper balance of tillage as against grass, that makes it useful. The right hon. Gentleman made great play, too, on the question of the build-up of £30 per acre as the cost. I could not admit the validity of that figure. Surely it should be related to the position when my right hon. Friend took office, when the amount of grass was increasing rapidly while tillage was falling. It is not a question of what the increase is now over 12 months ago, so much as a question of what the increase would have been had my right hon. Friend not brought in that £5 subsidy. Things were going down substantially, and he arrested the fall and built up again. That figure of £30 gives a quite wrong impression, and is quite unjustified.

We are all convinced of the need for a higher tillage acreage—of that there should be no question—at the expense of permanent grass. We want to see a larger acreage of temporary leys, because that is the only way to get the increase in food production that we all seek. There is still far too large an acreage of permanent grass, and whatever means we use to achieve the switch over will be fully justified. Let us go forward with both the means this Order gives my right hon. Friend and also by means of the £5 per acre and build up the tillage acreage and temporary leys to a far greater extent, because I am certain that is how we shall help.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)

I hope the House will approve the Order. I took the view on the subject of the ploughing grants that the Minister already possessed sufficient powers to get what he wanted without giving farmers an additional financial bait. However, the ploughing grants are now history and, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, we are paying dearly in money in endeavouring to secure by grants what we could have secured under this Order, at the same time without acting unfairly towards farmers.

I have been refreshing my memory as to what transpired in the House on 19th July, 1948, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), then Minister of Agriculture, moved that the Order be approved. As he then said, the Order was designed to facilitate the production of those kinds of food that the national interest required. I believe that to get more of the right kind of food produced in increasing quantities—and that is the aim of us all—from our own farms to feed our own people, and to help towards Britain's economic recovery, our farming must conform to a plan. I believe in allowing the farmers a measure of freedom, and I am certain that the vast majority of them will not abuse that freedom; but it does a great disservice to agriculture to advocate complete freedom for farming, particularly of the kind that we had between the two wars—years of depression for those who sought vainly to wrest a living from the land.

I welcomed the statement of the Chancellor at the recent Farmers' Club dinner, that the Government would stand behind Part I of the Agriculture Act. But guarantees bring obligations, and we must maintain and increase our tillage acreage. Directions may be necessary in some cases, but I am convinced that we can get all we want from our own farmers in restricting the pasturage acreage by the kindly but firm application of the Order.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in 1948, in moving the Order, said: While the great body of farmers are readily persuaded to contribute their quota to the national targets, there is a small minority who have no such scruples. In fairness to the agricultural executive committees, who as my agents have the task of dealing with them, and in fairness to farmers who are playing the game. I am satisfied that the committees should be given powers to compel non-co-operators to keep at least to a minimum acreage of tillage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1948; Vol. 454, c. 120.] I wish we could persuade the present Minister of Agriculture and hon. Gentlemen opposite to adopt production targets. The point has been put before, but up to now the Minister has resisted all our advances. He should give the matter further consideration. We ought to establish not only national but also county and area targets. The Minister may come round to this point of view one day, and I hope he will. Meanwhile, let us increase our tillage crops, and I believe that the Order will help to achieve the desired end.

I want to join my hon. Friends in congratulating right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite upon their change of front about the Order. When they were sitting in Opposition, again and again they opposed the projects of the Labour Government, apparently only to be convinced in these latter days, when they form the Government, that the Labour Government was right after all.

I want to call the attention of the House to some words used in 1948 by the present Leader of the House. He went bald-headed for my right hon. Friend the then Minister and the Labour Government for introducing the order. The right hon. Gentleman said: The Minister has made a very great mistake, and by bringing this Order before the House tonight, he has, in fact, whatever he may say, shown his lack of confidence in the farming community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1948; Vol. 454, c. 127.] Has the present Minister lost confidence in the farming community. Confidence in the farming industry was certainly never lower than it is today, but does the Minister bring the Order forward at the present time because he lacks confidence in Britain's farming?

I shall not weary the House by quoting from speeches delivered on that notable occasion, but it would be very interesting to refresh the memories of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, I shall just refer to one or two remarks in speeches delivered then. One hon. Member opposite opposed the Motion "rather more in sorrow than in anger." I expect he will support the Order tonight and thus drown both his sorrow and his anger. Another hon. Gentleman regarded the Order as "retrograde"; another declared that it would do "nothing but harm"; and yet another referred to it as "nonsense." Those hon. Gentlemen are mow sitting on the other side of the House and supporting the Minister.

I looked in vain in the report of the debate of 1948 for the opinion of the present Minister on the Order. The right hon. Gentleman certainly made a brief interjection, but not on the merits of the Order. But he got his opportunity later. When the then Opposition forced a Division against the Labour Government the name of the present Minister now asking the House to approve the Order appeared in the list of 74 Conservative Members who opposed the Order.

So far as I am concerned, the Minister can have his Order tonight. He may not need to use it to any great extent, but I think it will be very useful, if he will use it to the limited extent desired, in inducing the non-co-operators to come into line.

11.24 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

May I say, not only on behalf of those of my hon. Friends who acted with me in criticising this Order when it was introduced by the then Minister of Agriculture in July, 1948, but for many of my hon. Friends who feel as we do today, that nothing worthwhile has been achieved so far under this Order. When it was first introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), whom we are all sorry not to have with us tonight, he reminded us that at the beginning of the war the tillage acreage in England and Wales was 7 million acres and by the end of the war it was 11½ million acres. At the time he spoke it was about 10 million acres, and in commending this Order he told us that it was designed to make the tillage acreage reach 11½ million acres by 1951.

But what happened under the Socialist Government? The tillage acreage fell considerably below the 10 million acres, and it is only now in 1952, when we have a Conservative Government in power, that, thanks to the ploughing-up grant, we have got the tillage acreage up to 10 million acres again. My view, and I think it will probably be shared by other hon. Gentlemen, is that we should give the Order a run for another year. The Minister has, I understand from my farming friends, told the county agricultural executive committees that they should use the Order more freely in suitable cases. I am content to support it tonight and to see what happens now that we have realism in agricultural policy and are moving in forward gear again.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

We have certainly had some interesting speeches from the other side of the House tonight. We have had one from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who began by telling us that he was not a farmer, and he made that good in his speech. He went on to say that he did not know whether the Government had an agricultural policy or not, but it did not matter as the Government had had a good harvest. The Government may take credit for the weather, but they have not much else to take credit for.

Then we had an interesting contribution from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who challenged my right hon. Friend's figures. I should like to challenge them also, because I think that the cost of every new acre of plough, if they be new acres, and I doubt it, is nearer £40 than £30. The hon. Gentleman says that my right hon. Friend's figure is not the correct one, because but for the ploughing grant we should have had not an increase but a decrease. What is this Order about? It is precisely an Order to give the Government power to stop a decrease. Why did they not use it if they wanted to stop a decrease? But they have not been using it. When they introduced their ploughing subsidy I introduced an amendment to try to limit that subsidy to a net increase and to deny it to a man who ploughed up one field and put down another to grass. That is what has occurred.

There has been no substantial increase, and I prophesy that in many districts, when we come to the returns next June, the Minister will find that his tillage acreage has gone down, and gone down considerably. The existence of an agricultural policy and the confidence of farmers in its existence has a direct and immediate effect on agricultural production.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. and learned Gentleman makes the same point as his right hon. Friend—that there has been no substantial increase. I quote from HANSARD of 12th December—last Friday: Following the first scheme of ploughing grants, there was an increase of some 300,000 tons in the home production of barley, oats and mixed corn at the last harvest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December. 1952; Vol. 509, c. 107.] That is worth £12 million in terms of money.

Mr. Paget

But less wheat. It is ridiculous to take particular figures which we get in one of the best harvests Nature has given us for years. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Let us stick to the acreage and not turn to these fortuitous results, which depend on the harvest.

Farming confidence at the moment—and this is of real importance—is in a state of crisis. There are things which I believe are of much more significance than farming accounts, for I have always viewed the figures of farming accounts with a good deal of suspicion. What is more important is the demand for farms. May I give a personal example? As the executor of my father, I had an auction this year of three farms with vacant possession. There was not one bid at the auction. One of the farms was sold subsequently by private treaty. But the difference from the situation concerning farms with vacant possession two years ago need scarcely be stressed.

It has been said that bank overdrafts have gone up. I was surprised at that, because my belief is that capital is rapidly going out of farming. I have made some investigations about bank farm figures, and I ask the Minister to tell us how much of that is working capital and how much is mortgage by farmers who, being in possession, have bought their farms at a reduced price, the money being found by the banks?

Mr. Speaker

This is a little wide of the Order.

Mr. Paget

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I was going a little wide in dealing with the general question of the absence of confidence, which is alarming to all of us who believe that the salvation of this country depends on our being able to produce a greater proportion of our food. We shall not do that. We must not be deluded by figures which are not too bad this year. Every indication is that they will be much worse next year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members may gibe now, but they will not gibe in a year's time. Those of us who go round the country can see this. It is seen too, in the agricultural Press, with attacks upon the Minister personally, which I deplore, because I believe that he is far and away the best of the present Government—although I agree that that does not put it very high. But he will not escape from the office of Minister of Agriculture with his reputation.

No Conservative Minister of Agriculture has escaped from office with his reputation. It is not the Ministers' fault The reason is that no Conservative Government can have a policy for agriculture because of the duality of the Conservative Party. When they get into power the industrialists take charge and agriculture is betrayed. That happens every time a Conservative Government comes into power. It is going to happen again, and the farmers feel it. That is why there is a sense of shortness of money, a reduction of the capital which is being used. We have this reflected in the agricultural Press, in every market, and in every conversation which one has with farmers.

It is serious, and unless capital is made available to agriculture on reasonable terms neither this Order nor any form of compulsion will maintain tillage acreage. It cannot be done if farmers have not the money to finance their production. The pinch of finance is removing confidence. Loss of confidence is making them wish to reduce their overdrafts and liquidate their position. Neither this nor any Order will give results. If results are wanted there must be pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is the only man who can make cheap money available to agriculture.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the hon. and learned Member going rather wide?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Member went wide of the subject, and I checked him for it. Then he proceeded to go wide again, but returned in a sort of spiral course to the material of the Order. I was about to say to the House in all seriousness that this Order cannot be made the basis for speeches on general agricultural policy. It would be a gross breach of the rules of the House if that were done.

11.38 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I cannot follow, nor do I wish to follow, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in his discourse on the general aspects of agriculture; but I would just comment that when he accuses the Conservative Party of duality, that is something of which I am not conscious. No doubt it is something which he and his hon. Friends understand. We are not aware of it.

A great deal of this debate has been following the same lines as the debate on this Order last February, in calling attention to the speeches made by my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends in 1948. No doubt hon. Members opposite found it convenient that they have not to refer back very far, in fact no further than the speech of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who covered the matter comprehensively.

Mr. G. Brown

That does not dismiss it.

Mr. Nugent

Yes. I dismissed it last year. I do not propose to go over the argument again. If hon. Members will refer to HANSARD for 20th February, last year, they will find that a very satisfactory answer was given.

Mr. Brown

Not at all.

Mr. Nugent

The repetition we have had of these very sterile arguments illustrates the poverty of the Opposition's case.

This Order has been working in the past 12 months in exactly the same way as it has been working since 1948. It is true that during that time the right hon. Member for Belper has asked questions about the procedure, has made some comments, has pressed for tightening it up and has given us advice on the subject. However, we felt we should like to see this Order in action for a year before we made any change. We thought also that we would follow the precedent laid down by our great predecessor Disraeli of never taking advice from political opponents. Therefore, having had a year's experience, we have now decided that some improvement could be made in the procedure followed by the right hon. Member and his right hon. Friends when they had the administration.

The present procedure is that county committees make a direction under this Order, the effect of which remains in perpetuity. That is to say, once the direction has been given for a maximum acreage of pasture on a farm, it continues year after year. In practice, however, it has been regarded normally as having effect for one year only, and if the county committee has thought that its further retention is necessary, it has given another direction.

We feel it is desirable to have a follow-up procedure. Therefore my right hon. Friend has decided that when the notice goes out to county committees informing them that this Order has been renewed for another year, we should send them an instruction asking them to check the farms concerned where directions have been given at the end of a twelvemonth, not in the form of a formal survey but sufficiently to see that in broad terms the direction is still being observed and, at the same time, to make a return of what is happening.

There has been a good deal of comment during the course of the debate about the amount of use we have made of this Order. I think the House will be interested to have the figures. The total number of directions served is 494, and in the past 12 months we have served 86 directions under the Order. That really compares favourably with the number of directions in the previous 12 months which was only half, namely, 42, under the Administration of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Brown

Yes, we had a better policy.

Mr. Nugent

At least the use we have made of the Order, on which the right hon. Gentleman was particularly criticising us, has been double that of his administration. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asked how many prosecutions had been made in the past 12 months. The answer is two.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Would my hon. Friend say whether these directions that have been served have been all over the country or concentrated in one area?

Mr. Nugent

The number of counties that have been making directions is 20 now and at the beginning of the year it was 14, so an additional six counties have made directions— that is about one-third of the counties. The main argument put forward by the right hon. Member for Belper was that in the general use of this Order the Government have been ineffective, that if there had been effective use of it it would have been unnecessary to have a ploughing subsidy, and that the Government do not have confidence in the value of the Order in this context.

Some comment has been made about the return of last June. I should be out of order if I strayed into the realms of livestock figures, but I can deal with the figures for tillage acreage and arable acreage. The right hon. Gentleman asked particularly for an explanation of these figures. The increase in arable acreage was 85,000 acres; in the tillage acreage—that is crops and fallow, it was 134,000 acres. In tillage, which includes fallow plus lucerne, which is the new definition of tillage, it is now 156,000 acres, which is a comparable figure to 134,000 with an additional 22,000 acres of lucerne. For crops without lucerne it was 216,000 acres, and for crops with lucerne, it was 238,000 acres. These figures were all for England and Wales. The House will see that the increase in the net acreage of the 1952 harvest over 1951 was quite substantial—of crops with lucerne it was 238,000 acres for England and Wales.

In judging the value of the Government's policy for agriculture, the first thing to look at is results. Is there an increased acreage? The answer is, flatly, that there is. That is quite irrespective of tonnage from the harvest, weather or anything else. I am quite certain this is a matter for general satisfaction for everybody inside this House and outside it. I think it all the more creditable when we recall that, from June, 1950 to 1951 there was a substantial decrease in this acreage. I have not the England and Wales figures here, but the United Kingdom figures were a decrease in tillage acreage from June, 1950, to June, 1951, of 622,000 acres, and a decrease in arable of 358,000 acres—very substantial indeed. The effect of what we have done in the past 12 month is not only to stop that downward trend, but to get it going up.

As some quotations were given from different papers, I think it is fair to make comment here about farming prices, to which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton alluded and for which he apparently derived his facts from reading the "Daily Herald" which gave banner headlines to tell us about the alarming drop in home food output. Really the agricultural correspondent of the "Daily Herald" and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton are a year out of date. There was an alarming decrease in acreage from 1950 to 1951, but from 1951 to 1952 there has been an increase. I feel it right to make a comment on the very misleading impression that particular article caused.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is making a very clear point, but will he tell the House, so that we know exactly what these figures mean, what has gone down so that the acreage of crops and lucerne had gone up? Has the acreage of permanent grass gone down?

Mr. Nugent

These are all United Kingdom figures as opposed to England and Wales, which slightly complicates the picture. The figures quoted in the "Daily Herald," which the right hon. Gentleman is asking about—

Mr. Brown

No, I am merely asking for the home figure. The hon. Gentleman has said that the answer to my hon. and learned Friend—I am not worried about agricultural correspondents for the moment—is that there has been a substantial increase in this last year. Now, that increase, I think he will agree, is only significant if it has come from some form of lower production. If it means that permanent grass has been brought under the plough in rotation. What has the acreage of permanent grass gone down by in the same period?

Mr. Nugent

The acreage of permanent grass in the United Kingdom has decreased from 13,134,000 acres in June, 1951, to 13,084,000 acres in June, 1952, so there has been some net decrease of permanent grass which of course has gone into tillage.

Mr. Brown

That means that only about one-quarter of the 238,000 acres which the hon. Gentleman is claiming is in fact a net gain.

Mr. Nugent

With great respect, the net gain to the country is the extra acreage that is growing food.

Mr. Brown

Not if it was growing something else before.

Mr. Nugent

These figures show the net gain in crops. The figures I gave earlier, including lucerne, are 238,000 acres for England and Wales only.

Mr. Paget

Surely, the point is that it is a gain where it was permanent pasture and has become a crop. It is not a gain when it was a crop and has become another crop. Three-quarters of it was a crop and has become another crop.

Mr. Nugent

The hon. and learned Gentleman is not completely right in his argument. It may well be a gain as well if it is a reduction in temporary grass of three or four year ley which goes into cereal crop production. That is what we wish to encourage—the three-year ley rotation so that we get a larger acreage of arable. It is true that there is an even greater gain where there is a conversion of the permanent grass into tillage acreage. Nevertheless, there is a net gain to the national larder if there is an increase in cereal acreage by the ploughing up of more temporary grass.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)

Is it the policy of the Government to reduce the area of temporary grass?

Mr. Nugent

It is our policy to see that temporary grass rotates properly in the rotation. It is common knowledge that a good deal of grass that was intended for a three-year ley has been running into a four and five-year ley under the previous Administration. The rest of that picture is a substantial reduction of the fallow figure. The acreage in fallow has considerably reduced and that has come in to make an increase in the crop acreage. So much for the production picture.

There is one point I should like to make on the ploughing subsidy. Some play was made with the cost of the additional acreage of crops. I should make the point that, had the total sum concerned in the ploughing subsidy not been paid under the ploughing subsidy, it would have been paid in the form of an additional amount on the end price of the various products. In other words, it was part of the Price Review settlement. If the farmers had not been paid in that way, they would have been paid in another. Then, of course, it would have applied equally to the whole of the acreage.

On the question of the administration of the county committees, I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper has had a long and distinguished term of office in the Ministry of Agriculture; but, frankly, I do not agree with him. He has put the picture out of perspective. The fact is that the far greater part of the work of the county committees is to give advice and leadership, and generally to gain the confidence of the farmers in getting the production in this country that the nation needs.

Mr. Brown

I did not deny that.

Mr. Nugent

At least 95 per cent. of their work is concerned with that. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the average farmer wants, within the capacity of his farm and his own resources, to grow the food which the nation needs. It is in his interests and in the interests of the nation. It is the job of the county committees to inform, advise and help him to get the production that the nation wants.

If there is to be a continuous and frequent use of an Order of this kind, with a form of direction here, there, and everywhere, and a brandishing of the big stick, this will have a most damaging effect on the general confidence, relationship, and co-operation which county committees can establish with the farmers in the main field of production. Clearly, it might have exactly the opposite effect to that which we want of getting extra production.

My right hon. Friend takes the view that the right way to use this Order is to continue it so that county committees have the power in reserve to deal with the farmers who refuse to respond to the normal methods of advice and persuasion, and to persuade them to get the reasonable level of production which the nation wants at a particular time. We feel each case should be treated on its merits. We believe county committees are fully conscious of what the nation wants and that they are doing their best to get it.

The right thing is to leave it to their judgment and discretion to decide, in which cases it is appropriate to use this Order. I feel sure, used in that spirit, this Order will continue to have value and, at the same time, will in no way upset the general relationship between committees and farmers.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Agriculture (Special Directions) (Maximum Area of Pasture) Extension of Period Order, 1952, dated 3rd December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved. Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Agriculture (Maximum Area of Pasture) (Extension) (Scotland) Order, 1952, dated 2nd December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd December. be approved.—[Mr. Snadden.]

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I think the House will not object to having a short discussion on the Scottish Order. Last year, we spent 18 minutes on it and, it seems, we ought not to begrudge at least that amount of time to this business tonight. In Scotland, we have an area half the size of the area of England and Wales. Some people sometimes forget this and tend to regard us as being a rather unimportant little hub, somewhere North of Carlisle.

The interesting thing in these debates is the comparison one is forced to make between the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite now in support of such an Order as this, and those they made when the provision was being inserted in the parent Act. I am not going to discuss the parent statute as it would be out of order, but hon. Members opposite must remember how they opposed the insertion of the provision in the Act, which gave the Minister permission to make any such Order as this.

The Parliamentary Secretary, in replying to the Order affecting England, took great credit to himself, to his right hon. Friend, and to the Government generally because his Government had used the powers given under this Order twice as often as did their Socialist predecessors. We have said many times that we probably were much too reluctant to use these powers when we had a Labour Administration. I said so a year ago. I said so when we were discussing the Agriculture (Ploughing Grants) Bill. A year ago, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, replying to a speech I made and one made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. J. Grimond), said: I agree that some risk is run by allowing the A.E.C.s to use powers of direction, but throughout Scotland the evidence in my possession, at any rate, shows that, generally speaking, these powers are very sparingly used.… It is only when a committee feel that the farmer is not pulling his weight in the national production drive that they serve directions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 315 and 316.] The point of my intervention on that occasion and on other occasions on this matter was that the powers have been too sparingly used. The Joint Under-Secretary of State thought then it was right they should be very sparingly used.

Let me quote from the speech he made at a meeting at Kelso a little while ago, on 17th November—just a month ago—on which he has already been congratulated tonight. He showed quite clearly that by the month of November this year he was not happy with the way in which executive committees were in fact administering the powers given under this Order. He said then there were some farmers who were tempted to take the easy path of putting down to grass an undue proportion of their land, and he went on to say: To meet this situation the Maximum Area of Pasture Order was introduced in the year 1949, but its use by agricultural executive committees in the light of attendant circumstances to achieve a reasonable balance between arable and pasture on any unit has so far been restricted to the most flagrant cases. I emphasise that term—"only the most flagrant cases." So said the Joint Under-Secretary of State. He went on to say: Other causes may, however, in the aggregate account for an appreciable excess of grass acreage, but to allow those farmers to continue to escape their responsibilities would be inconsistent with the all-out drive for increased production. Well, all of us congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State on the words he had the courage to use at a meeting of farmers on the Borders of Scotland. He went on to say: The decision has, therefore, been taken, with the support of the N.F.U., that in future the agricultural executive committees will be authorised to apply the Order wherever necessary, irrespective of the extent of the individual acreage involved. There are no grounds to suggest that the farming community generally will grumble at the use of this reasonable power to spur the laggards"— laggards, said the Joint Under-Secretary of State— to play their part in the production drive. Well, the Joint Under-Secretary of State says, in such a voice I do not know whether or not it can be recorded, that that is what he is supposed to have said. It is amazing the number of times that Conservative Ministers find themselves misquoted in journals normally very sympathetic to the party in Government.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Does he admit it?

Mr. Fraser

I am reading a report, which was in quotes, of the "Scotsman" of 18th November this year.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)

It was only the word "laggards" I did not use.

Mr. Fraser

I see. The Joint Under-Secretary of State agrees he spoke in this sense—

Mr. Snadden

Oh, yes, quite.

Mr. Fraser

—in the sense of the quotations I have just read out; but he does not accept that he used the word "laggards."

Mr. Emrys Hughes

"Blackguards,' he means.

Mr. Fraser

He said the farming community would not grumble. He does not believe that the farming community will grumble at the use of the power to spur the laggards on to play their part in the production drive. I will allow him to take out the word "laggards" and to insert any other word.

Mr. Emrys Hughes


Mr. Fraser

That would have been a word that could have been misquoted—misheard —by one of the reporters at the meeting. However, what I want to say is that the N.F.U. has not given its blessing to this. It is clear from the columns of the same newspaper that the local branches of the N.F.U. in the Borders of Scotland were very upset, very angry with the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the words. Well, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) does not agree. I could explain it a little longer than I had intended tonight by telling him what the Executive Committee of the National Farmers' Union said about that speech. I could tell him what the Hawick branch of the National Farmers' Union said about the speech.

I have got a quotation from the Edinburgh newspapers. I do not want to take up the time of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—in giving quotations. Those branches of the National Farmers' Union were most outspoken in their condemnation of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for what he said at this meeting on 17th November at Kelso, but I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State is not going to be scared off from doing the right thing in the national interest because some branches of the National Farmers' Union were a little bit opposed to what he said. I have said in this House before now that there are areas in Scotland where this Order is very much required. If there is an area in Scotland where it is required more than in any other it is in the Border area.

Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh and Selkirk)


Mr. Fraser

Some of the leading farmers in the Border area—

Commander Donaldson

Would the hon. Gentleman say on what basis he couches those remarks?

Mr. Fraser

On the basis of quite considerable experience. During the war years the Border farmers were directed to put the plough in land that had not seen the plough for generations. They did so, and they expressed quite openly to me their determination to put the plough away when they were free to do so and to go back to grazing farming. Leading farmers in that area said to me when the Bill that gives us the power to make this Order was going through the House, that we were making a mistake by merely providing in the statute a power for the Secretary of State to make an Order.

Responsible farmers in the area said to me that provision ought to be written into the statute, and I confess that that is my view, too. I think this ought not to be done by an Order that may be continued from year to year. It is a great pity that in the permanent statute we did not give powers to the Secretary of State through the executive committees to control the area of pasture which any farmer might have, and perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to say a word about it in reply.

However, I most sincerely congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary on the speech he made to which I have referred. I know he spoke with all sincerity, and when he made the speech he was offering a warning to the laggards. Whether he used that word or not, he was offering a warning to the laggards in the industry. I made bold to issue such warnings from time to time, too. I doubt if I ever made such a powerful speech to farmers, threatening them with action, as did the Joint Under-Secretary on that occasion, but I did make many speeches which earned for me the strongest condemnation of Conservative Members of Parliament at that time sitting on the back benches, as well as on the Front Bench. They would not take it from me. I hope they will take it from the Joint Under-Secretary, because what he is asking for is nothing more than the needs of the country demand.

I wonder whether he can give us some figures for Scotland comparable with the figures given for England and Wales by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and others of my hon. Friends used figures which were resisted by the Parliamentary Secretary, who quoted other figures for England and Wales which he said were the correct figures. I accept the figures he gave as correct. In the circumstances I will not bandy figures about with the Joint Under-Secretary, but I just ask him whether he can tell us the most recent figures showing the increased tillage acreage in Scotland and the reduction in the pasture acreage. I hope that when he does that he will also tell us, if he can, to what extent permanent pasture has been reduced in Scotland. I should also like him to disagree, if he will, with what the Parliamentary Secretary said about it being the wish of the Government to reduce temporary pasture.

Mr. Nugent

I did not say that.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman did say it. If he looks at HANSARD tomorrow he will see that he said it.

Mr. Nugent

I said it was our wish to see that temporary pasture was ploughed in proper rotation, and that three-year leys were not extended to four and five years.

Mr. John MacLeod. (Ross and Cromarty)

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "temporary pasture"?

Mr. Fraser

If the hon. Gentleman does not know what temporary pasture is I do not think this is the proper occasion upon which to give him a little lecture about it. The Parliamentary Secretary is correct in telling the House what he said after he was interrupted, but he knows as well as I do, and the Joint Under-Secretary knows—indeed, he knows better than I do—that there are many parts of Scotland where grass should be down for four years, and not three years, in the interests of good husbandry. But it might be that if one went into that too far one might be taken on to a discussion of the ploughing-up grants.

I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not too disappointed that the Opposition are not opposing the continuation of these Orders. They are Orders for which we made provision in the statute against the opposition of the Tory Party. They are a continuation of Orders for which we were responsible and in respect of which the Conservative Party offered nothing but the most vigorous opposition and contempt.

12.12 a.m.

Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

This is the type of Order which we do not like in principle, but I think it is necessary at present to have it. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will assure us that the greatest possible care will be taken by the local agricultural authorities to see that only in the really genuine cases where land is being put and kept to grass to the detriment of other production will action be taken.

There are many cases where it is necessary to have a longer ley than two, three or four years in order to restore land which has been overworked beforehand. Thus, I hope we may have an assurance that only in the most important and exceptional circumstances will the powers to be given under the Order be enforced.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I should be glad if the Joint Under-Secretary would clear up a mystery concerning what he said at Kelso. If he did not call the farmers "laggards" he must have been misreported, which would be a reflection on the journalists and on a very reputable Conservative newspaper, the "Scotsman."

I hope that we shall now have a very clear statement about what the hon. Gentleman said. This controversy has raged all over agricultural Scotland. We ought to have a very precise definition of the word that he used. Farmers in my constituency are very anxious to know exactly what they have been called. As the suggestion is that it was not "laggards" but "blackguards," I want to know exactly what noun the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary used. Did his derogatory remarks apply to the farmers of Ayrshire? Or did they apply to the farmers of Perthshire? Can he apply some geographical limitation to the aspersions that he cast upon the farmers of Scotland?

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Snadden

I have not got the notes of what I said at Kelso, but I know that I did not use that particular word. I might be tempted to think of a word to apply to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but I know that I did not use the word "laggard," and that is all I can say as I have not got the speech handy.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is this the first occasion on which the hon. Gentleman has denied this report?

Mr. Snadden

I have not actually seen the word in print myself, and until the hon. Gentleman mentioned it I was unaware of it. That is how the matter stands.

I should like to assure my hon. and gallant Friend, who asked whether cases will be considered on their merits, and whether county agricultural executive committees will take into account the farming practice of the area before this particular Order is applied, that the answer to his inquiry is, "Yes." Although the Order is a form of direction, I should like to make it clear that its origin was to prevent an undue amount of grass being sown on a holding in the period after the war.

Under the Order there is no form of direction to crop, nor is there anything to change the practice of farming on a holding. What can be done is to tell a particular offender that he is sowing out an undue proportion of pasture on the holding, and this Order gives power to pull him up and tell him that we believe he has too much grass on his holding and that as we are hard pressed for coarse grains to feed livestock we advise him to reduce the area of his pasture. But the Order does not give the power to serve a direction for cropping.

Mr. T. Fraser

The Under-Secretary will agree, I am sure, that if the agricultural executive committee gives a direction to a farmer to reduce his pasture acreage and he does so but does not make use of the land he has turned over the committee has other powers to require a farmer to make use of his land. Nobody has suggested that there was power given to sow a particular crop, but there is power vested in the committee to ensure that use is made of agricultural land.

Mr. Snadden

What the hon. Gentleman says is right, but I am trying to make clear that the application of this Order is not the direction to which we were accustomed in war-time.

This Order has been brought in to, prevent an unnecessary amount of pasture on ordinary agricultural holdings, which is different from the war-time directions. We feel that today, because of the economic situation, and because we wish to see by 1956 a further one million acres of pasture released to plough, it is necessary still to retain the Order so that we may achieve that end, and keep a reasonable balance between our arable and pasture land on any individual holding.

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) made a good deal of my speech at Kelso on this subject, and it gives me an opportunity to say something about that, although I had had no notice that he was going to raise it and must, therefore, make only a comparatively short comment. I would not agree with him if he chooses to put it on the House that the Border area was the particular area to which I was referring when I addressed the meeting. I was invited to go to a rally to take part in an increased production drive, and it would not have mattered where it had been held for I would have made the same speech.

I do not take back a single word of what I said. My references to inefficiency were to what one might call chronic inefficiency, which covers a comparatively small number of cases. We know that the vast majority of the farming community are pulling their weight, and the remarks I made were addressed to the chronic inefficients who were not playing the game.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

What is the difference between the chronic inefficients and the laggards? The hon. Gentleman is making the matter worse.

Mr. Snadden

I do not think we need go into that. One or two people who did not hear what I said, or have not read it carefully, have come to the conclusion that I was making a general statement that all farmers were inefficient, whereas my remarks were addressed to the chronic inefficients, of whom there are a very small number; but, unfortunately, there are some.

The hon. Member for Hamilton spoke of the sparing use made of the Order— "in the most glaring cases," I think he said. The reason for that is simple. After the war we were passing from a state of war economy, geared up to a very high rate of tillage which could not possibly be maintained, and some allowance had to be made during the transitional period into grass until farms had found a reasonable level. No doubt because of that, the Labour Government decided to use the Order on the really bad cases, where they were convinced that the farmer was running away from his responsibilities. No doubt that is why few directions were served.

The only change of policy—and here I come to my Kelso speech—in this Order is this: whereas this Order has been used only in the worst cases so far—the very bad cases—to serve as an example, we are now of the opinion that, because of our economic position, and because we have passed through the transitional stage from war to peace, it is our duty, if we are to produce as much food as possible, to apply the Order more uniformly; and that, instead of taking just the worst cases, we should apply the Order in a general way, picking out each case on its merits and applying it to all farms in a uniform way instead of selecting one as an example. That is what I said at Kelso, if anyone cares to read my speech.

Finally, the hon. Member for Hamilton asked for some figures—and I presume he meant Scottish figures, because the Parliamentary Secretary gave the English figures. The results in Scotland to June, 1952, show a tillage increase as against the previous year of 12,000 acres. In the previous year, the tillage acreage fell by 38,000 acres, so that we have succeeded in stopping a fall of 38,000 acres, or whatever it would have been, and, on top, have added 12,000 acres. That has been secured almost entirely, as far as we can tell, making a quick calculation, by eating into our permanent grass rather severely. We have 35,000 fewer acres of permanent grass than in the previous year.

These figures are fairly satisfactory. Another figure, for which I have not been asked but which is of interest to me and, no doubt, to all hon. Members, is the very big jump in Scotland this year in the production of silage. We have been rather slower than our friends in England in getting this crop going, but this year our acreage has risen from 36,000 to 44,000 acres, which is a rather big increase in one year.

I hope that, after that explanation, the House will agree that we should have the Order.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Agriculture (Maximum Area of Pasture) (Extension) (Scotland) Order, 1952, dated 2nd December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved.