HC Deb 12 June 1952 vol 502 cc419-71
Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)

On a point of order. Might I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to the procedure we are to adopt? We are about to debate the vital question of the home production of food during the next four years. I understand that this debate is to be interrupted at 7 o'clock for a Private Bill and, because it is Supply Day, it is not possible to add on the lost time when that Private Bill is disposed of. I should like to ask whether it is permissible, within the Standing Orders, to take the Private Bill at 9 o'clock instead of 7 o'clock. If that were done, I think there would be greater continuity of debate on a matter which I think both sides of the Committee regard as a vital one.

The Chairman

Under Standing Order No. 7, paragraph 4, it is quite clear that 7 o'clock is the time at which the Chairman of Ways arid Means must put down a Private Bill. I am afraid there is nothing that can be done in the matter.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)

Some five or six weeks ago there was a debate in another place on food production. I found it very agreeable to notice that there was a unanimous acceptance of the 1947 Act as the only possible basis for a long-term agricultural policy. There may be a need for some slight amendment here or there to enable county executive and district committees to play their part more effectively, or to catch up with some inefficient farmer or restrain an overbearing landlord. But after five years the general principles of the 1947 Act are accepted in another place, as I think they are, broadly, by us. I think I can say in all modesty that that is very comforting to those sitting on the benches on this side of the Committee.

The Minister, when addressing the Council of the National Farmers' Union and county leaders, rather went one better when he said that the 1947 Act gave the industry an enormous measure of self-government, and that it was based in principle on a unique partnership between the agricultural community and the Government. The Minister went on to say that this was something which was not matched, as far as he knew, in any other industry or in any other country. It was a precious possession that he was certain the N.F.U. appreciated. It was an asset too precious to risk. It had got to be looked after both by the Government and by the industry with all the energy and will at their command. I thought that that testimony to the 1947 Act was so good that it ought to be in the records of the House. Better still, I should like to commend it to every farmer in the country. There ought to be a copy of it in every farm-house.

But the noble Lords were equally unanimous on the need for the maximum production of food, improved efficiency and fuller co-operation from the industry than we have had during the last 18 months. I do not think we can afford to be less enthusiastic than noble Lords. Unless we do produce more food from our soil somebody is certainly going to get less. I shall return to that theme later.

We now have before us the White Paper on the review of prices and future production policy. Having been associated with several Price Reviews, I readily appreciate—perhaps as few other hon. Members can—the difficulty of making readily intelligible the mass of figures embodied in the White Paper, but if hon Members who have the White Paper before them will look at paragraphs 17 to 20 I think they will see—it seems clear enough to me, at all events—that the total increase in farmers' costs, including wages, between February, 1951, and February, 1952, was some £57 million. This was made up of the items referred to in Appendix III, plus £16 million for wages; and recoupment is £39 million, plus £16 million, less £2½ million, making a net recoupment of £52½ million.

I understand this figure to represent full recoupment on all review commodities except wool. I am prepared to say that, faced with a recession in production and the need for an intensive drive for greater production, full recoupment was probably justified. But if society is to continue to spend very large sums of money on science, research and education, society is entitled, at some stage at least, to share in the benefit of increased efficiency. Whether the figure for this year will increase or decrease the net income of the farmers depends upon several factors, including the volume of production, improved efficiency and the weather.

Of the £39 million mentioned in paragraph 19, something like 37 per cent. or 38 per cent, is to be provided by subsidies on fertilisers, ploughing grants and calf rearing, and the remainder by increased prices. There may be legitimate difterences of opinion as to the wisdom of this sort of policy, but if we are to restore and extend the tillage acreage, produce the meat we require and improve the yields of tillage crops there is a good deal to be said in favour of this policy. I would say to the Minister, however: "Please do not carry this policy too far, or at some future date it may attract the attention of a hard-driven Chancellor of the Exchequer." In saying that I speak with some little experience.

The second important thing to notice —and I raise this only for the sake of clarity—is the price of feedingstuffs, as shown in paragraph 16. Doubts have been expressed whether this is another subsidy, in addition to the £39 million already referred to. As I see it, however, the stabilising of the price will make no difference at all to the farmers in general. It may help the smaller farmer, where he can produce little of his own feeding-stuffs. If feedingstuff prices had been increased by a further £24 million, it is obvious that £24 million would have had to be added to the recoupment also. It would have left the situation very much as it was. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to make that point transparently clear, although I think the footnote to page 6 is clear enough in itself.

On the general question of the Price Review, I must confess that it is no easy task, but no acceptable alternative has yet been discovered. When dealing with 360,000 or 370,000 farms of every gradation of size, layout, area, position, rainfall, etc., it is obvious that a uniform price cannot produce uniform results farm by farm. If prices are too high for certain farmers then these farmers get more than enough, but we can all rely on the tax gatherer doing his duty efficiently there.

It is nonsense to say, as has been said here and there, that once a person reaches the Income Tax range his production automatically slows down. If that were the case, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would come off very badly indeed. Since his estimate of the product from Income Tax this year is no less than £1,800 million, we can say that someone continues to produce even after reaching the Income Tax level. An important point to remember is that if prices are fixed too low, production can go down very rapidly indeed. Once that happens, recovery is not easy.

On the question of future production policy, there can be no two opinions about the need for maximum production, for, as the Minister of Food has found since he took office, the days of cheap, abundant supplies from overseas seem to have gone for a very long time. I do not think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knew very much about it during the last Election. The world has been changing very rapidly. Perhaps Argentina is the best example. There, some 50 years ago, no fewer than two-thirds of the population were engaged on the land. Today the number is less than one-third. Industrialisation has been going on at a fairly rapid rate. Men are leaving the land and consuming more, and because they have greater spending power and are producing less, there is less available for export.

Australia is in pretty much the same position as Argentina. I believe that the time is not too far distant—a few short years—when Australia, because of indus- trialisation and the slow development of the countryside, may be competing with us as buyers of food on the world market. Then, of course, there are India, Pakistan, Burma, and other countries where it is a question of more and better food or Communism, which none of the countries would desire. It is an indication of the new situation that India, 20 years ago the second largest exporter of wheat, now must import some eight million tons of grain annually to stave off famine.

Neither does world population stand still. It is very awkward to realise that when those born today become 21 years of age there will be another 500 million mouths to feed. I do not think that in the history of the world food production has ever increased at that rate. There is not only a full-time job for the Lord President's commercial travellers that we heard so much about in the course of the Election, but there is a very real job for our own farmers, too.

We were all extremely anxious to see what the Government's future production policy was. I cannot say that I am seriously disappointed, because I did not expect too much. Even paragraph 12 tells us that the objective for the next four years is a moderate one. Of course, there is little or nothing very new in it. We had been running grass-development campaigns ever since 1947. I have been myself appealing on scores of platforms for many years for an increase in sheep, on lowland as well as on upland farms. More important still, the Labour Government did extend the Hill Farming Act and passed the Livestock Rearing Act with a view to getting more home-produced meat.

We can thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for holding so tightly to the sound policy of the Labour Government which preceded the present Tory Government, but even the National Farmers' Union, commenting on these new proposals, said: Far from setting British agriculture an impossible task, the programme understated the industry's capacity to contribute effectively towards remedying the country's economic difficulties. They are very brave words indeed. Capacity is one thing; achievement is quite another. Certainly the National Farmers' Union's expression is hardly consistent with what has happened in the countryside over these past two years. Members of the National Farmers' Union have constantly repeated what I regard almost as a fable, that the downward trend of production was due to under-recoupment in 1951. Well, let us just have a look to see whether that is so or not.

The loss of tillage acreage and the reduced number of calves are referred to in paragraph 7 of the White Paper. It is suggested in paragraph 6 that the cause is partly uncertainty about the demand for farmers' products. I find it difficult to agree on this point either with the National Farmers' Union or with the suggestion in paragraph 6. There never has for the past nine or 10 years been any uncertainty about the need for more meat in this country.

For example, the net income for 1951–52 is estimated to be £30 million more than in 1950–51, which was a very bad year and was much less than 1949–50, when we had a very good year. On the other hand—and this is important—there were only two commodities mentioned at all on the 1951 price-review problem. They were milk and eggs. They hardly account for the drop of 300,000 calves being carried for beef or the loss of one million acres of tillage.

I believe that the capacity referred to by the National Farmers' Union is there, but now we are anxious about achievement out of that capacity. To be fair to the N.F.U., and indeed to ourselves and everybody else, it is true to say that there was a shortage of capital owing to a shocking harvest in 1950 and a drop in milk yield owing to excessively wet weather early in 1951. Perhaps also the advance minimum prices were, on the whole, unrealistic.

The plain fact is that we failed to use our power under Section 98 to maintain the tillage acreage. Apparently we and the county committees were too lenient, but the repeated Tory promises about the imported feedingstuffs that they were going to bring in when given power did not help us to maintain our tillage acreage. The Minister of Agriculture has been very frank to admit his indiscretion. I am also prepared to be very frank, and I accept my share of the responsibility.

I am glad to see that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman states in paragraph 9 that the Government will not only encourage but where necessary require that full productive use is made of the land. I entirely agree with that sentiment, and I do not think that there is any disagreement about it in any part of the House, but perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be good enough to explain a little more clearly what he means by "requires," and what steps he intends to take to ensure the full productive use of the land.

As I see it, and as I think I know it, he will not only need all the assistance that the National Farmers' Union in Bedford Square can give him, but all the assistance that it can give him in the counties and districts, because that is where the food is really produced, that is where confidence must be won and held. I hope that the Minister will give all the encouragement and inspiration he can to the county executive committees and the district committees to help them achieve whatever objectives have been set.

At the end of paragraph 9, the White Paper states: Third, technical improvement, which has already produced such significant results, must continue and in some directions be intensified. Is the Minister satisfied that where this involves the use of steel for pig houses, for example, the present allocation will be sufficient to meet all the needs. We have heard something about a 50 per cent. reduction in the allocation of steel to agriculture. When we sat on the other side of the House, we were chivvied on more than one occasion as to whether we should, would or could provide the tools for the job. I hope that the Minister, in asking for a large increase of livestock, will not be held up because the allocation of steel is too small.

As I view the proposals in paragraph 12, everything seems to depend on the fulfilment of the objectives contained in sub-paragraphs (a) and (c). When the Labour Government started their grassland development campaign in 1947, we aimed to provide for 10 per cent. more livestock output from 10 per cent. fewer acres, thereby releasing about a million to one and a half million acres for bread grain, feed grain and potatoes.

It is fair to say that much progress has been made, but not nearly enough. Certain individual farmers have achieved proportionately more than the aim we set for them, but there are, unfortunately, far too many farmers who have yet barely begun. Yet we have it, on the authority of Sir James Scott Watson, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry, that it is an under-statement to say that the full application of available resources would double both output and profit per acre of grassland on a large proportion of our farms.

It seems to me almost incredible, that being the case—and I do not think there is any doubt about it—that any farmer large or small should hesitate to take full advantage of the later, more modern science. It is well known to every hon. Member that both Holland and Denmark are well ahead of this country in grassland cultivation, and they are still marching on. They have set themselves a further quota of improvement for the next 20 years. Accordingly, there is ample justification for urging the doubters, the laggards and hesitant into adopting modern methods, for without that the extra 250,000 tons of meat referred to at the end of paragraph 12 will certainly not be there in four years' time.

Moreover, to achieve this very desirable objective about an extra million sheep and about 400,000 extra calves each year, and one and a half million pigs over the four years' period will be required to produce the extra 250,000 tons of meat. That, in turn, means more and not less, labour. It means more capital expenditure and not less, and it means that much of the new capital expenditure will have to be borrowed at 5½ per cent. instead of at about 3½ per cent., because that happens to be the financial policy of the Government.

I wish the Minister and the industry well, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will have to deliver the tools for the job if we are to achieve these indications or objectives, or whatever one cares to call them. They are not regarded as targets, they are thought of only in terms of indications or objectives. They seem to be in the same category as the 300,000 houses.

The Minister will not mind my calling attention to sub-paragraphs (e)and (g)in paragraph 12, which confirm the wisdom of the Labour Government when they produced the 1947 Act. There is reference in (e)to enough potatoes to satisfy consumer demand"; and in (g)to egg production (in proportions as required by consumer demand…). Such implied limitations, embodied in the Bill which I presented, were torn to shreds and ribbons by the present Minister, the Leader of the House and all the Conservative Members who sat on the Committee which considered the Bill. Now, once again, apparently, they have changed their minds, not for the first time over the last seven months. As minds are there to be changed, I make no complaint but merely remind the Minister that we have not allowed this change to escape our notice.

We in this country are faced with a very grim situation. We are still the largest importers of food in the world, supplies are not so readily available as they used to be and what supplies are available are no longer cheap. Even in this country the costs of production of those items mentioned in Appendix III have increased since 1947 by no less than £221 million in respect of Review commodities alone.

Accordingly, there are no signs of cheap food either at home or abroad. Therefore, instead of holding the prices and then reducing them, as the Government promised when they were in opposition, all the signs are in the opposite direction. Yet there is no doubt that we need the food; we need that red meat and varied diet about which the Lord President talked during the Election.

Unless there is a very determined and sustained effort, not only by the farmers themselves but by county executive committees and the National Agricultural Advisory Service, and supported in every way by the Minister and the Government as a whole, these new-old proposals will not provide that extra 250,000 tons of meat.

I should like to ask the Minister two or three questions. Is he really satisfied that during the course of the foot-and-mouth epidemic we have been sufficiently drastic in our restrictions? Very grave doubts have been expressed in many quarters, particularly by those farmers who have very large herds which they have spent many years of their lives building up, as to whether or not, fearing that restrictions might be too cumbersome to some sections of the community, we might be too easy at the expense of more outbreaks.

I have a 100 per cent. confidence in the veterinary service of the Ministry of Agriculture. I have seen some of the work which they have accomplished, and my question is therefore no implied criticism of them. I hope, however, that the Minister will have an observation to make on that point.

Secondly, can the Minister state what progress, if any, has been made with marketing schemes for fruit and vegetables? I know it is a very thorny problem. Many people have been at it during the last 30 years, and yet very little, or no, progress has been made, and I do not expect the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to have solved the problem in seven months' time. However, it would be interesting if we could know how far we have gone, if we have gone any distance at all, with any new marketing scheme.

Thirdly, perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would be good enough to tell the Committee what progress has been made with schemes under the Hill Farming Act and the Livestock Rearing Act, and what total acreages are involved.

Finally, in view of the pressing economic situation, I should like to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to have one more look at the common lands problem. I know that this is a very thorny question, and I know that it needs very careful handling. There are as many points about this immediate difficulty as there are on a porcupine's back, but I cannot help thinking that the last Government were pressed into de-requisitioning in some areas far too hastily.

I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will have another look at the common lands not yet de-requisitioned to see whether or not there should be some hesitation about de-requisitioning them—whether we should not at least for a year or two, think in terms more of food production than of scrub, thistles and bramble, which are neither use nor ornament, as they say in Yorkshire. I know that I am asking for something troublesome for any Minister, but I think it is worth while looking at this problem and worth while that there should be some delay in de-requisitioning of the common lands not yet returned.

I repeat, we have no material complaint to make against the results of the Price Review. We are, however, gravely concerned about food production. I believe that food at this moment is as important as armaments, coal, or exports, and because I, not without some minor association with the industry, feel that, I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will see to it that between now and the autumn the industry is not held up in any way whatsoever for want of the tools for the job.

4.42 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Major Sir Thomas Dugdale)

I think that in replying to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) I ought, at the outset, to thank him for his helpful speech in support of the White Paper, which analyses the results of the Annual Review during this year. He has had unique experience in the operation of the Act and of the negotiations that led up to the Review. Before I discuss that White Paper, let me tell the Committee the exact position as far as foot-and-mouth disease is concerned, because I think that every hon. Member of the Committee, from whichever part of the country he may come, must be concerned about the position as it is today.

Since last November the coastal counties, first from Yorkshire to Kent, and subsequently from Kent to Dorset, have been bombarded by infection from the Continent. Although there is no proof, there is very strong circumstantial evidence to the effect that birds have been the carriers of this disease. This bombardment is still continuing, and is likely to continue for some time in view of the position in northern France.

I think it will be of interest to the Committee to have a few figures concerning northern France. In the nine Departments immediately opposite our coasts, from the Pas de Calais to Finisterre, there were about 1,400 fresh outbreaks in the first half of April. Superimposed on those outbreaks there were 1,700 further outbreaks in the second half of April, and then in addition another 2,800 in the first half of May. So the Committee will appreciate that by the middle of May there were in existence just across the Channel some 6,000 sources of infection. Moreover, the peak of infection all the time was moving westwards across northern France, and when this was taking place—when this build-up of infection in northern France was taking place—it was corresponding very closely with the fresh outbreaks that occurred on the south coast of England during recent weeks, and also with the outbreaks in Jersey and Guernsey.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

In view of what the Minister has just said about the serious position in France, may I ask him if the Ministry, or the Government at a high level, have made direct representations to the French Government on this matter, with a view to getting an agreement on a European level about it?

Sir T. Dugdale

My answer to that is that our veterinary advisers are always in touch with their opposite numbers on the Continent on this matter.

Mr. Peart

This is something far more important, surely, than a matter just for scientific advisers. Has there been an official approach made by the Minister, or even at Cabinet level?

Sir T. Dugdale

My answer to that is that contact is taking place all the time. If we are right in supposing that birds carry this infection, no approach by any Minister or anybody else can deal with it effectively. We cannot stop the flight of birds.

Since 21st April there have been about 20 initial outbreaks on the South Coast of England from Kent to Dorset, but these have given rise to about only 40 secondaries. I give these figures to the Committee so that the Committee can compare them with those I have just given for part of France, and I submit that they do give a striking indication of the effect of the present restrictions in checking the spread of infection.

In general, the position in the Midlands and in Scotland, which was causing some anxiety, has improved, though there were two cases only yesterday in a new area in Derbyshire. The only active centre in Scotland is the outbreak in Dumfries, where, I am afraid, further outbreaks must be expected. The origin of the case in Dumfries is still obscure, in spite of most exhaustive inquiries.

Now, to view the picture as a whole. Since 14th November, 1951—since the real, big outbreak started—there have been 430 outbreaks. At present there are 14 infected areas in England and two in Scotland. One of the latter is being revoked, and six of the areas in England are being contracted by tonight.

In addition to the infected areas there are two controlled areas in operation in England. I should like to give the Committee the reasons for those controlled areas. The one on the South Coast is intended to guard against a rapid spread of the disease from further invasions from the Continent. The other which covers the Midland counties gives additional protection to the now very extensive clean part of the country. I should like the Committee to appreciate that.

As regards the methods of control, I have little to add to my previous statements in the House itself. Hon. Members, however, would like to know that this question was considered by the Agricultural Improvement Council at its meeting on 28th May, when its conclusions were recorded in terms I shall quote. The Committee will remember that I told the House that the Agricultural Improvement Council would consider the whole position. The Council reported as follows: The Agricultural Improvement Council, having reviewed and discussed with the Director of the Pirbright Research Institute and the Chief Veterinary Officer of the Ministry scientific work and research to date, and the position with regard to foot-and-mouth disease, and measures of control in other countries, endorses the view that, in the circumstances in Great Britain, it is still necessary to follow the slaughter policy, which arrests the multiplication of virus as rapidly as possible, and, in conjunction with control of movement, has prevented the disease from becoming endemic. On present knowledge, any other method would not be so effective in preventing the spread of disease, and would, in the long run, be far more costly. In certain continental and other countries where it is not practicable to adopt a slaughter policy a more intensive use of vaccination would enable the disease to be better controlled. Every effort should be made to secure effective international action, and every encouragement should be given to the development of research work. I accept that statement in its entirety, and it would appear to me to be conclusive.

In a leading article in the "Daily Telegraph" this morning there appears to be support for a slaughter policy plus immunisation, and I should like to say a word to the Committee about that. I speak now as a farmer myself, and I know only too well what it is like to contemplate the slaughter of one's own herd. If we could safely save even a few of the animals we now have to slaughter we would certainly do so.

There are certain vaccines which exist today which do provide a serviceable immunity against foot-and-mouth disease. The considerations are highly technical, and I will not develop them today, but I am advised that the principal objection to any known method of immunisation, leaving aside altogether that of cost— which, of course, would be very substantial—is that it does not act quickly enough to prevent the spread of the disease. In the Ministry of Agriculture we are deeply interested in the further development of vaccination, and, as I have already announced, the work at Pirbright is to be considerably expanded, and research in connection with vaccination will be pressed forward vigorously. But for the present time I could not take the risk of abandoning in any degree our present slaughter policy, and I feel sure that the House will concur in that view.

I think the House would also wish me al this stage to pay a tribute to the veterinary field staff of the Department of Agriculture, to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. For nearly seven months now many of them have been working long hours for seven days a week. The farming industry, and all of us, owe them a debt of gratitude for their efficiency and devotion to duty over a long period during which they have been under great strain, and a great deal of responsibility has rested on their shoulders. I should like also to thank the Governments of Northern Ireland and Eire who responded so quickly and generously to the request of the Ministry of Agriculture for a loan of veterinary staff.

Lastly, in referring to foot-and-mouth disease, I should not like to let this occasion pass without saying how much I am certain we all sympathise with the promoters of the Royal, the Royal Highland and other shows which have been unable to include any of the cloven hoof classes, and as Minister of Agriculture at this time I am grateful for their co-operation.

Having said that, I will try to answer the question put by the right hon. Gentleman——

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Before the Minister proceeds, I should like to interrupt him, and I apologise for doing so. We are very grateful for his statement about the progress in respect of foot-and-mouth disease, but can he tell us the effect up to date, so far as his Department is concerned, on home supplies? Does he expect to be able to meet the demand in terms of meat and milk, or will this put him in a difficulty?

Sir T. Dugdale

I will have that figure obtained during the course of the debate. We have salvaged for human consumption about half the meat, and a very large proportion—I think two-thirds—of the pigs and sheep. It is difficult to give figures, but I will see that the figures up to today are given during the debate.

I was about to say, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman, that the standstill orders which have been imposed on this occasion over wider areas and for longer periods than ever before, including very bad epidemics right back in the '20s, in these infected areas have been adjusted so as to provide a wider area of protection around actual outbreaks. In general, these methods have been successful in checking the spread of the disease. The whole time the veterinary officers at the Ministry are watching and thinking of any new particular action that they could take which would help, but I am satisfied at the moment that everything that can be done is being done to fight this disease.

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

I think the Committee would be interested to know what the outbreak during the last few months has cost in compensation.

Sir T. Dugdale

Again I must give very round figures. Since the outbreak started up to now it is likely that the cost would be £1¾ million.

Mr. Gooch

That £1¾ million would have gone to the owners of herds. Can the Minister say how much compensation has been paid to farmworkers who have been stood off because herds have been slaughtered?

Sir T. Dugdale

I do not think that arises on this question.

Major W. J. Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)

I have never heard of any farmworkers being stood off as a result of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Surely not.

Sir T. Dugdale

I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. I, personally, have never heard of such a thing.

Mr. Gooch

I can assure the Minister that it does take place.

Sir T. Dugdale

I now turn to the White Paper itself. The right hon. Gentleman referred in considerable detail to the White Paper, and, if I may, I will try to sum up what he said and tell the Committee how we look upon the final award. The Review itself opened in not very encouraging circumstances on this occasion, because the expansion programme on which the industry had embarked in 1947 was running down, and there was very definite evidence that the rate of increase in the net output of the industry had been decreasing over the last 18 months.

On top of that, the aggregate net income of farmers had declined from £309 million in 1949–50 to £264 million in 1950–51, and since the 1951 Review farmers have experienced increases in the annual rate of cost of production amounting to £57 million on Review commodities—a figure referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. Of this total, £16 million has been due to increases in wages which had already been recouped in full in the form of higher prices as the result of the Special Review held in November, 1951, so that at the beginning of this year when we started these discussions there remained a total of £41 million unrecouped increases in costs.

Against this background the Government decided to add £39 million to gross farm receipts, and of this total £15½ million was to take the form of subsidies, whilst the balance was added to the end price of review commodities. At the same time as that was taking place it was decided that the Government would not increase the Ministry of Food basic release price of feedingstuffs to farmers, but would continue to accept a loss on the Ministry of Food's trading account until 31st March, 1953.

This brings me to a point made by the right hon. Gentleman. The loss the Ministry of Food will bear is not included in the figure of £39 million which I have just given, but—and this is the important point for the Committee to consider—had feedingstuff prices been raised the figure of £41 million for increased costs would also have risen by a similar amount. I think that answers the point made by the right hon. Gentleman.

A further rather complicated point, which is explained in the White Paper, is that the £2¼ million once-and-for-all addition to prices in the 1951 award has been duly deducted this year. That is in accordance with arrangements made by the right hon. Gentleman a year ago. These are, as I see them, the salient points of the 1952 award. Against the estimated increased costs at an annual rate of £57 million, which, I would remind the Committee, because I think that it is very important, are already being incurred, the farmers have received an award which, if production levels are maintained, will add £52½ million to their gross receipts, but this addition will be spread in different ways over two to two-and-a-half years ahead.

The additional income made available for the farming community has been distributed on this occasion in the way that the Government think will stimulate production in the directions in which an increase is most urgently required—that is by encouraging the rearing of calves and achieving a substantial expansion in the tillage acreage. We have borne in mind during these discussions and during the months that have gone by the particular difficulty suffered by the small man during a period of sharply rising costs, and we have taken special steps to meet these difficulties.

We have done this by giving a large part of the award in the form of production subsidies, by holding stable the price of feedingstuffs and by increasing the production bonus paid on the first 400–500 gallons of milk produced each month in winter and summer respectively. The general effect of the award should be to give farmers and particularly those who need it most an assurance of a reasonable reward for further effort and increasing production.

We have set before the farming community an objective of increasing production so as to raise the net output to a minimum—I advisedly use the word "minimum"—of 60 per cent. above prewar by 1956. In mentioning this general objective of increasing production by 60 per cent. above prewar, I would like to emphasise that it is a general objective, and we do not expect production of every commodity to increase at the same rate or to the same extent. We have indicated in the White Paper that the main increase must come from meat.

Before developing that theme, I should like to say a few words about milk. We have set out clearly in the White Paper what the requirements now are in our view, namely, the maintenance of the existing number of dairy cows and the expectation of a continuing increase in the yield per cow, and we are watching the course of production very carefully. We are satisfied that the treatment of milk within the award we have made will give a reasonable basis for the necessary confidence among milk producers.

Now I will turn to meat, especially beef and veal. The production of beef and veal in 1951–52 will probably reach the same level as last year, that is about 600,000 tons. The increase in production in the past two years has been due mainly to the large number of calves which were reared between 1947 and 1950. Since 1950—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this, although he did not give a date—the number of calves reared has gone down by nearly 300,000, and it is for this reason that the quantity of beef and veal marketed in 1953 will probably decline slightly. The Government have decided and have announced in the Review decisions to re-introduce the calf subsidy, and I hope to be in a position to announce the detailed arrangements very shortly. At the moment, the details are being examined with the industry to find the best method of administering the scheme so as to achieve the main objective of greater beef production.

I should like to turn to the subject of sheep. I would say in passing that I, too, am going round the country encouraging the farmers to keep more sheep. The numbers of sheep in the United Kingdom are still about 25 per cent, below pre-war. That is a serious position. On the other hand, in the hills, the sheep flocks have generally recovered from the disastrous winter of 1946–47, and the relatively low figure for the total sheep population is largely due to the disappearance of hurdled sheep.

I am glad to be able to tell the Committee today that, according to my reports, this has been—and I do not know if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland can confirm this for Scotland—an extremely good lambing season, and we hope thereby that we shall see a considerable increase in the sheep population this year. I can assure the Committee that we are doing all that we can to encourage more farmers in the lowlands to keep sheep.

The right hon. Gentleman has asked me—and I think that this is where I can best bring in the answers—for some indication of the progress made under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts. I will give him the figures as I have ascertained them. From 1946, when the Hill Farming Act started, to 30th April this year, nearly 6,000 schemes under the two Acts had been approved or were under consideration for the United Kingdom as a whole. The holdings affected cover nearly five million acres. That does not mean that five million acres have been improved, but the holdings affected by the 6,000 schemes do cover five million acres. I think that is a satisfactory position up to the present.

I should like to tell the Committee about the pig position. The number of pigs in the United Kingdom has increased by well over one million during the past year. This is a result on which I should like to congratulate all those farmers and others who have been responsible for bringing it about. We must remember that it is only from pigs that we can get the extra meat that is needed in the immediate future. Any further increase in pig numbers must be based on home produced feed.

An increase in the immediate future in the number of the calves reared cannot provide any increase in the quantity of beef available for consumption in less than three to four years, while an increase in the number of sheep would not have an affect on our meat supply until after about two years. So pigs are the standby to which we must look for an immediate increase in the supply of meat. The March census shows a large increase in the number of fowls under six months old and this suggests that the difficulties of the poultry industry are being faced and met.

I have shown that the pig and poultry population is increasing. That being so, our cropping policy must be built round the need to provide adequate feedingstuffs, and this brings me to the question of our tillage acreage. On former occasions I have drawn the attention of the House to the drop in the tillage acreage, and the right hon. Gentleman referred to it in his speech. We need to keep the figures before us.

At the war-time peak more than 11,500,000 acres were ploughed in England and Wales compared with 9.86 million acres in 1951. The United Kingdom figure for 1944 was 14,500,000 acres. If, as we confidently hope, we are well over the 10 million acre mark in England and Wales in this month's returns, the addition of 1 million acres to the United Kingdom figure will bring us very close to our objective of getting back to within a short distance of the war-time maximum.

The Committee will agree that it is now much easier to attain that figure than it was in 1944. It is encouraging to reflect that the achievement of a tillage area of something like the war-time peak is a much easier task now because our grasslands are so much better and are continuing to improve. I cannot but emphasise again to the Committee the importance that I attach to our achieving a high standard of grassland management.

There has been much correspondence in the Press and much discussion about efficiency. I would say at once that increased efficiency cannot be imposed on the industry from above; it can only be achieved as a result of a co-operative effort on the part of all concerned with agricultural production, and that includes not only those who work on the land but all whose activities contribute even indirectly to their production efficiency.

The Committee will agree that the agricultural industry is most fortunate in the relationships which have long existed between the farmer and the farm worker. When going about the country, I have been particularly struck by the consultations which are always taking place between them in regard to all activities on the farms. This in itself must make for better farming, and it should be en- couraged in every way in all parts of the country.

When announcing the result of the Price Review, I said that the Government would take vigorous action to ensure that the limited area of agricultural land in this country is neither used inadequately nor misused through incompetence. Since then the National Farmers' Unions have called upon their members to co-operate wholeheartedly in an all-out effort to obtain a higher standard of productivity. That is a helpful gesture from these unions met together in conference, and I have no doubt that we shall receive that support.

Also since I announced the result of the Price Review I have had very full discussions with the chairmen of the county committees about the steps which they should take to ensure that the most effective use is made of the land at our disposal. I reminded them that the principle underlying the Agriculture Act is that the industry should judge itself.

As I see it, this can only be done if the industry also knows itself, and for this reason I attach great importance to the Farm Survey. This is essentially a task not for district officers but for the members of district committees who should be knowledgeable, responsible and respected leaders in their own areas. I hope that quicker progress will be made in completing the Farm Survey so that the industry shall know the exact position in all parts of the country.

Mr. T. Williams

I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not propose to encourage all district committees to confine the Survey exclusively to local farmers and not have any members of the N.A.A.S. with them. It has been brought to my notice that some members of district committees very much prefer to have with them officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service when they are doing the Survey.

Sir T. Dugdale

I know that very well, but I shall try to encourage the members of district committees to do it themselves because they are responsible people and at the initial stage this ought in no way to be official. That will be my approach to it.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

Is not there a danger in a large survey of this nature that we shall take away from their own farms a large number of men who ought to be farming their own land instead of looking after the land of others?

Sir T. Dugdale

I do not think there is much in that point. If we are to get the people whom we must have to make this a success we must have the best and most respected farmers in the districts. We shall find that the busiest men can always give a certain amount of their day or week to a good job well done.

Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)

I gather from the statement of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that he believes that the only people who should judge the efficiency of the industry are those drawn exclusively from the industry. Are we, therefore, to assume that on the basis of this White Paper very considerable sums of money will be paid by the Exchequer to the farming industry and that the Government itself will not act as a judge in determining the standard of efficiency?

Sir T. Dugdale

That goes very much further than what I was saying. My point was that the whole principle of the Agriculture Act is that the industry should run itself and that in return for the guaranteed prices under Part I the industry should ensure that it is efficient and giving good service to the country as a whole. In my remarks I was reflecting how I thought the industry should develop the Farm Survey so that the details of all areas might be obtained.

I now come to supervision and dispossession. There have been complaints in the past that the supervision procedure under the Act is too cumbersome. I think the main difficulty is that some committees have, in effect, taken over the farming of the land placed under supervision. That has made it impossible for them to supervise more than a very few farms at a time.

I am asking the committees in future, speaking in broad terms, to serve as far as possible only one direction on a farmer placed under supervision. This will enumerate the faults of his husbandry and direct him to improve it. It will be accompanied by an invitation to seek advice of the district officer or a district committee member, which the farmer will be left to do on his own. The period of supervision will not in future be unduly prolonged. Committees have been asked to try to reach a decision at the end of 12 months, or at any rate 18 months if the farmer has been given a full farming year. We hope that that will be helpful for the work of the committees.

I am anxious that landowners should play their full and proper part in bringing about a higher general standard of farming efficiency. Too often in the past in response to an application by a landowner for a certificate of bad husbandry, committees have put the tenant under supervision. Committees have now been asked to do so only exceptionally when it seems that the farmers' failures are due to inexperience and there is a real chance of improvement. Normally in the majority of cases they should come to a definite decision one way or the other to grant or refuse a certificate. On their part, landowners must play their part in the campaign by setting a high standard of estate management and taking every opportunity of carrying out improvements designed to increase food production.

I come to the point that was put by the right hon. Gentleman when he opened the debate. He referred to the part of the White Paper where the Government have undertaken, where necessary, "to require that full productive use" should be made of the land. I hope that what I have said will assure him that we are very much in earnest about this. I have indicated the way in which we intend to tackle it. I should like to come to another point which he raised which is the subject of the continued cultivation of common land. There is nothing more disheartening to the local farmers than to find common land badly farmed in their own neighbourhood and nobody doing anything about it. I know that problem only too well.

At present I have power under the Defence Regulations to retain until December, 1954, possession of common land and other land requisitioned in the interests of food production. I propose to use that power wherever retention of such land can be justified in the national interest as a means of maintaining food production. But I do not underestimate the importance of the wider problem, and I am urgently considering the whole future of common land and how best the contribution that it can make to our national food supplies can be increased.

I will only here utter a personal view. Governments come and go, and some Governments may be here for a long time and some for a short time, but no Government since 1913 has ever done anything about common land, and the Government of 1913 only got as far as to say that something ought to be done about it. I believe that something is urgently wanted. The problem is bound up with technical difficulties and with Acts which come down through the centuries, and the only way we can get anything done is by a Government of some kind agreeing with the Opposition of the day to go so far, thus making a start in solving the problem. I am prepared to review the whole position to see if there is anything we can do in the interests of food production to deal with the common land problem and that is as far as I will go this afternoon.

I am afraid I have taken too much of the time of the Committee, but I must say one word on the subject of the long-term policy. I have called the arrangements that we have made and that I have so far outlined today as "the foundation of our long-term policy." I will shortly be bringing before the House other Measures which will show how we propose to continue what we have already begun. Before the House rises for the Summer Recess, I hope it will give approval to the Ploughing Subsidy Bill. In addition, the Second Fertiliser Subsidy Scheme will also be submitted to the House, when I will ask for authority to continue the existing assistance of 30 per cent. on phosphatic fertilisers and pay a new subsidy equivalent to 15 per cent. of the cost of nitrogenous fertilisers.

A number of forms of assistance, which were established under the Agriculture Act and have proved most useful in the past, will lapse during the summer unless appropriate steps are taken to prolong them. I refer to the lime subsidy, the financial assistance to farmers who undertake schemes for water supplies and field drainage and the marginal production scheme. Appropriate Orders will be submitted to the House in the near future.

Having said this, I must say a word about this loose term of "long-term policy," because it has been used as if there existed a magic formula that will solve all our problems. Obviously no such thing exists at present, nor could any amount of study or consideration be expected to produce it. There are many topics to be covered and, as the White Paper says, we shall announce our decisions as and when they are reached.

In the meantime, as far as long-term problems are concerned, our preliminary consultations with the industry have already begun. I do not expect these discussions to result in the formulation of a set of hard and fast rules. What I am seeking to achieve is the establishment of underlying principles which will give us the guidance necessary to deal with day-to-day problems as they arise, while retaining not only continuity but the flexibility which, in dealing with a dynamic industry like agriculture, is so important if full production is to be maintained.

Among the problems that we are already considering is the right treatment of feedingstuffs prices together with the special position of the large number of small producers. I have already explained how their interests were safeguarded at the recent review, but I do not consider that we have necessarily reached the complete and final answer to their problem.

Following on that, one of the most important matters which we shall have to discuss with the National Farmers' Unions is the determination of the minimum prices for livestock and livestock products for the years 1954‣56. At the recent annual Review it was decided to leave these consultations over for future discussion, since in determining minimum prices three to four years ahead we must obviously pay regard to the kind of conditions which we are likely to have at that time. This means that we shall have to consider whether the present methods of implementing guaranteed prices and assured markets, together with the present methods of marketing are those which we should wish to see continued, or whether there should be any development of the present system.

My colleagues and I fully endorse the present guaranteed prices and assured markets embodied in Part I of the Agriculture Act, but we feel that the present method of fixed prices coupled in many cases with State purchase tends to make them have too great a rigidity at any rate in the case of certain products.

As my colleague, the Minister of Food, has said on a number of occasions, the Government are most anxious to move as rapidly as we can towards a freer economy. Such a movement would inevitably entail changes—for which full provision is already made in Part I of the Act—in the present method of guaranteeing prices, and we should have to find an alternative system of protecting farmers against undue fluctuations in price which was compatible with a free economy. It would, at the same time, facilitate the restoration of conditions in which marketing boards could operate.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have always believed in the value of producer marketing boards. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and his hon. Friends also supported the Agricultural Marketing Acts, and, in fact, promoted legislation as recently as 1949 to bring about certain changes which even then were considered desirable. There should, therefore, be general agreement on the continued usefulness of producer marketing schemes, provided that full account—and I emphasise the word "full"—is taken of the changed place of agriculture in the national economy since pre-war days, and of the closer interest which the Government must continue to have in agriculture and food supplies.

These modifications will need very careful consideration since while it is essential that producer boards should have adequate powers to carry out their marketing functions effectively and maintain the full confidence of the producers, farmers at the same time must recognise that under modern conditions the Government have a special responsibility to safeguard the interests of the consumer and the taxpayer.

For these reasons, we think that in working out the modifications which will be necessary we shall have to strengthen, and at the same time streamline, some of the safeguards already included under the Agricultural Marketing Acts. I can say no more on the subject today, but I do want to take this opportunity of assuring the Committee of the importance which the Government attach to fitting the producer marketing boards structure into the economic mechanism of modern conditions.

One of the most successful of the prewar marketing boards was the Milk Marketing Board for England and Wales, and we have at present under consideration proposals from the Board that its former marketing powers should be restored to it. This is by no means so easy a matter as it might appear, since so long as the price of milk for its different uses and the quantities of milk which can be sold for different purposes are controlled by the Government and milk for normal sale is heavily subsidised, there is little scope for the restoration of marketing initiative to the Board. But, here again, we are anxious to move towards a freer economy which will enable the Milk Marketing Board to perform fuller marketing functions in the interests of both producers and consumers.

In opening this debate, the right hon. Gentleman said in general terms that he thinks the settlement which the Government have reached is on the right lines. I have no complaint about the fact that he thinks they are very much on the same lines as he himself laid down. Of one thing I am absolutely certain—and the more I go about the country today the more it comes home to me—and that is that if we are going to get the best from the land we want constructive criticism at Westminster all the time. But we must try to proceed on a common basis in order to give continuity and confidence to the industry for the years immediately ahead.

I hope the Committee as a whole will agree that the Government proposals will enable the industry to go forward boldly to a further expansion of food production against the background of a Government policy of which the repeated keynote shall be the confidence of the industry won through the recognition of its varied needs.

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

Mr. Stanley Evans.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

On a point of order. With very great respect, Mr. Hopkin Morris, may I know whether you have a list of speakers to be called because I see—and I submit this with the greatest respect— you have called one of my hon. Friends whom I may describe as one of the hardy annuals in agriculture. There are others representing agricultural constituencies who never seem to have an opportunity to speak in these debates.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is not a point of order, nor a proper remark.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)

May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) that the point of view which I have been expressing for the past two years has not overburdened the House to any undue extent because until very recently I have been the only one expressing it. Therefore, I do not think he should mind if that point of view continues to find expression.

Mr. Snow

I always find my hon. Friend's speeches most engaging, if at times, rather irrelevant.

Mr. Evans

That is very good. We have had a good deal of harmony this afternoon, and I hope nobody will take exception if I introduce a rather more effectively critical note into the debate.

But first let me say how sorry I am that the industry is once more afflicted with this wretched foot-and-mouth disease. I can readily understand that monetary compensation does not completely console a man who has spent many years building up a pedigree herd which has to be slaughtered. I very much hope that this wretched scourge will be speedily and completely mastered.

Having now exhausted my benevolence for the next 10 years, let me turn to some of the things that have been said. I do not look upon this industry with the same degree of complacency as apparently characterises the two Front Benches. This industry is the favourite son of the national economy and has been very handsomely treated in the last five years. For example, over the past four years its income has averaged £290 million compared with less than £60 million in 1938. Five times the income, and for that we have had a 40 per cent. increase in production. Some may consider that satisfactory. I do not.

These very substantial profits have, of course, been made possible by a continuing flow of taxpayers' money into the industry. This year alone the industry will be receiving about £80 million in what I would call direct subsidies. That has nothing to do with the subsidies on milk to which the Minister made reference. As I understand it, the subsidies on welfare milk are £45 million and on milk for general consumption £50 million. That is a £95 million subsidy on one commodity, in addition to £80 million by way of direct subsidy to which reference has been made.

I take the view that giving the farmers more money is like drinking sea water to quench a thirst, and so far as this February Farm Price Review is concerned, it reminds me of crown and anchor—the more we put down, the less we pick up. For example, the Committee may have noticed from the figures in the White Paper that last year the production of oats went down by 200,000 tons, that is, by 8 per cent., rye went down by 25 per cent., wheat by 12 per cent., sugar beet by 13 per cent., potatoes by over 1,500,000 tons, representing 16 per cent., that the production of mutton and lamb was down by 8,000 tons, and that 261 million fewer eggs were placed at the disposal of the British housewife.

One would think that following these catastrophic falls in production—catastrophic from the point of view of the nation struggling to close an import-export gap—the income of the industry would have taken a severe knock. Lo and behold, the facts are the exact opposite and the White Paper speaks with considerable satisfaction of the return to previous levels of the income of the industry. For example, it says on the first page: After some decline in 1950–51 the aggregate net income of the industry seems likely to have returned in 1951–52 to approximately its 1949–50 level. Now the 1949–50 profit was an all-time record at £309 million; so that last year, and following this decline in production which I have described as catastrophic, and accepting the assumption of the White Paper, the profit of the industry did not go down as a result of the fall in production but went up by £45 million.

I want to ask this Committee and the nation: if indolent farmers are to be insulated against the economic consequences of their apathy and inertia in advance and at public expense, what incentive is there for them to be efficient?

[Interruption.]The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) should not mutter and mumble. If he wants to interrupt me, I will sit down. The fact of the matter is that the N.F.U., by what I can only describe as a masterly technique of public-spirited blackmail, are succeeding in insulating their membership against every economic and other kind of ill. If this industry is to go on being protected from all the afflictions to which other less favoured industries are subjected, I want to know what incentive there will be for increased productivity?

One of the things about the industry that worries me is the bovine complacency of its leadership. On figures given to me, the nation this year will get about 265,000 tons of butter. That will give us our two or three ounces each, whatever it is. Of that 265,000 tons, 259,000 tons will have to be imported. Only 6,000 tons of butter will be forthcoming from the British dairy industry; only 6,000 tons out of a total consumption of 265,000 tons. And this from a dairy industry that is in possession of subsidies on milk, providing it with an artificial market amounting to £95 million, in addition to its share of the £80 million direct subsidy.

This is really scandalous. The President of the N.F.TJ. got up in front of the farmers in December, 1950, and said that in five years we would have 375 million gallons more milk from the same number of cows. I want to ask whoever is to wind up this debate what part of that additional 375 million gallons which is to be forthcoming at no increased cost has been taken into account in arriving at the Farm Price Review settlement? And, if it is not too indelicate, I want to ask what amount is included in these figures for, shall I say, the unconventional sale of eggs? I am told that we have now arrived at a stage where fewer than half the eggs coming off British farms are reaching the packing stations. I am also told by knowledgeable people that the income of the industry from these unconventional sales may be in the neighbourhood of £50 million a year. I want to know whether that has been taken into account in arriving at this settlement.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, does not what he is saying prove what I have said on many occasions, that there is no single commodity for which the farmer is getting a subsidised price that he could not get more for in the open market? Eggs are a case in point. They make more in a free market——

Hon. Members

Black market.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

That is what the French say.

Mr. Evans

If I may intervene in this debate I can answer that. We know we lose the Income Tax on it. We do not mind that. I shall not speak of ethical considerations. We reconcile ourselves to that loss, but we should not like to think that we were having to pay more money for our commodities because some acknowledgement of this unofficial source of income had not been made.

My friends and I, who moved a Motion in the House on 4th April calling for an inquiry by a Royal Commission into this industry, and into the manner in which the 1947 Act has lived up to the hopes and aspirations which we had for it, ask for it again today. We feel that after five years it may be that the administration of the Act has revealed weaknesses which might now be remedied. That is all we ask. In asking that, we cast no aspersions on anybody, but we feel that this industry, one of our two major vital industries, if we can only get it going, will do much to close the import-export gap. We feel very much that it is languishing, that it is at no more than half-cock and that it is failing to perform its proper function; and we believe that that is due very largely to the operation of the February Farm Price Review.

Do not forget that there are many people in the industry, farming very large areas of land, who are not stirred to greater production by more money, but to whom, in fact, more money means a deterrent. There are a large number of men operating in those conditions to whom more money simply means that they are brought into the higher Surtax brackets even earlier, so that from the viewpoint of increased productivity the Chancellor of the Exchequer has virtually all the advantages.

I was talking the other day to a man who had found out that if, through increased costs and a loss in productivity, his profits went down by £3,600, the out-of-pocket loss to him would be £253, and that the whole of the balance of that loss would be sustained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

Was he a hill farmer?

Mr. Evans

An inquiry, therefore, is necessary to examine whether it is not a fact that in some cases more money does not mean more production, but means less production. At the other end, we need an examination and an inquiry to find out whether the February Farm Price Review is not year after year freezing to the land people who for some reason or other are unfitted to remain in possession of large slices of the nation's most vital asset.

These prices are enabling people to go on farming who in the ordinary way would go bankrupt, and who, in going bankrupt, would make way for some of the thousands of second and third sons of good farmers or for the products of the agricultural colleges and universities who are now coming out of the colleges and finding it quite impossible to get land.

For all these reasons, we say that there is necessity for an inquiry. If anyone doubts my contention that the industry is languishing, is running at half-cock, and is failing the nation lamentably at a very critical period in our history, let them read the "Farmer's Weekly" leading article of 18th January, 1952. I should like to refresh the memories of hon. Members with this short excerpt: At such a time one might expect N.F.U. thought and action to be positive and progressive, matching both the needs of the hour and the parlous condition of the agricultural industry. Mark the words used: "the parlous condition"; not parlous financially, quite obviously— But there is little hope of this. With one or two exceptions, the county resolutions are like a dismal gramophone record with the needle stuck in a groove first made at 45, Bedford Square. That, of course, is the headquarters of the little Napoleon and his cardinals. Seldom is any principle enunciated beyond ' Gimme'. This, of course, is the "Farmer's Weekly," and not the hon. Member for Wednesbury. It continues: This, and a mere urging of the Government to do something, is neither worthy of the Union nor of the industry. That is scathing criticism, and it is very important that we should have this inquiry to go into the charges that are here made.

Mr. Baldwin

Hear, hear.

Mr. Evans

I hope that we shall get support for the project that is now supported by the "Economist," by the" Daily Mirror, "by the" Birmingham Gazette" and by the "Wolverhampton Express and Star." I have now got in all the newspapers that are likely to do me any good.

I and my hon. Friends who stood with me on 4th April—and there were 20, including five ex-Ministers of a Labour Government—felt then, and feel now, very strongly that there is this necessity for an inquiry into the industry, because sooner or later, if it wants long-term stability and prosperity—and that is what I want for it—the industry will have to come to terms with its fairy godmother, the State, and with its only customer, the British housewife.

At present, the British housewife is getting a very scurvy deal indeed from the British agricultural industry. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was holding forth about the parlous, dangerous condition in which the nation stands, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us that without some wage restraint there is no hope of recovery; but surely, neither of these gentlemen is unintelligent enough to think that the British housewife, constantly forced to dun her husband for more money, is not going to tell him to demand more wages.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Does the hon. Member remember, when making remarks about the British housewife, that a great many British housewives happen to be the wives of agricultural workers, and that if his recommendations were followed the wives of those agricultural workers would probably not be making a living at all?

Mr. Gooch

They would be making 25s. a week.

Mr. Evans

Nobody wants agricultural workers to go back to 25s. a week. That is a lot of nonsense. As the hon. and gallant Member brings in the question of the agricultural workers, and tries to apply the construction that I am attacking their living standards, I will devote myself for a minute or two to that aspect of the question.

One of the most sinister things about the present set-up, in which farmers only have to go to the February Farm Price Review to get reimbursement for increased wages, is the danger of syndicalism that is now arising in the industry. The agricultural workers ask for £7 a week. My platelayers, men on the railway, paying 23s. 6d. a week, with no garden, no fowl, no pig at the bottom, no free milk and no perquisites, have a basic wage of £5 10s. a week, living in an urban area. The agricultural workers now want £7 a week.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

Why not?

Mr. Evans

If the farmer can go to the February Farm Price Review and transfer the cost of this increased wage to the taxpayer or to the housewife, or to both, why not? But how can we solve our problems in this way?

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

If what my hon. Friend has said is true, how does he explain why every time an application comes before the Central Agricultural Wages Board the farmers' representatives oppose it strenuously?

Mr. Evans

The intelligent people are not so concerned with what is apparent as with what is real; the point is that they get it. Therefore, I say to the Minister that this is an aspect which will have to be watched very carefully. We have in this country, for the first time, a threat of syndicalism arising out of this industry.

I return to the question of this clash— make no mistake there is a clash—between the affluence of the farmer and the ability of Black Country housewives to live. I have said this before and will say it again; I do not think it does any good to conceal the reality of the fact that there is a clash of interests. If the affluence of the agricultural industry is produced at the cost of my housewives, of course there is a clash, and I want to see this subject brought back into active debate in the House.

One of the troubles and one of the causes of the unhealthy condition in which the industry now finds itself has been the conspiracy of silence between the two Front Benches. What is happening is that both parties are claiming praise for agricultural prosperity while the Opposition of the day blames the Government of the day for the high cost of living. It is not a very vigorous Opposition, if I may say so, but a token Opposition pending the time when they change sides. Therefore, I want to see this subject brought back into debate in the House.

I think the nation has been very badly let down by this industry. With their basic raw material, the unchanging good earth, these people have been very well circumstanced for waging a private war of their own on inflation during the last five years. Instead, agricultural economics have been one of the most inflationary factors at work in this country. Indeed, it was due to the increases given to farmers two or three years ago that the wage freeze was first thawed.

The underlying and deadly dangerous psychology of this February Farm Price Review is precisely that farmers are not subject to ordinary standards of accountability and efficiency. No matter what economic storm blows, they must be exempted from it. They are now getting exemption in advance. As I pointed out earlier, it is a most astonishing fact that this industry, which experienced such a catastrophic fall in its production last year, found its income up, on the basis of the Farm Price Review White Paper, something like £45 million.

I say again that this industry which is receiving so much benevolence and so many hundreds of millions of pounds from the State, from the taxpayer—in addition to what the farmers get from the housewife—stands in urgent need of very careful investigation. The farmers can have the shirt off my back if they want, if they will give us the results— [An HON. MEMBER: "They want the skin off your back."] I know they do, they are on a feather bed. They not only have a feather bed, but this February Farm Price Review tucks them up in it every year.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I am sure that the last thing the hon. Member wishes to do is to mislead the Committee, and I am sure he does not want to mislead the Committee to such an extent as to think that the farmers are the only section of the community which receives State assistance. I should like to ask whether he can tell me the difference between what he calls a subsidy for agriculture and a housing grant towards building houses. If he looks up the information, he will find that there has been a corresponding increase in housing grants over the last seven years with the increase in what he calls State subsidies for farm prices.

Mr. Evans

I think I had better stick to agriculture and not go on a housing expedition. I hope the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) will catch your eye, Mr. Hopkin Morris, and be able to put his point of view.

I am dealing with this industry because I think it is one of the two industries which can do the most to get us out of the cart. We have 20 per cent. of farmers who are the best in the world and 20 per cent, who are the worst. We have 60 per cent, of whom I would say the prevailing climate is one of dull mediocrity. We can, and I hope we shall, deal with the 20 per cent. who are the world's worst, but the 60 per cent, provide a problem.

They provide a problem not less because the N.F.U. leaders continue to hug to themselves the psychology of "gimme" instead of concerning themselves more with good husbandry. I should be the last to deny their negotiating ability, in fact I make the suggestion that they should be entered for the Olympic Games at Helsinki. If these N.F.U. heavyweights went to Helsinki imagine amidst all the anxiety about Bannister and Chattaway, what a comfort it would be to know that the tug-of-war was in such capable hands.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. Denys Billiard (Norfolk, Southwest)

I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) in detail, except to take him up on one point in regard to the suggestion that in this country we should be producing an increased proportion of butter. That seems a novel suggestion. I wonder whether he has given consideration to the question whether it would ever be possible, in addition to providing the liquid milk, which I think he would agree is so necessary to the health of the people, and the beef, to produce the butter as well. If he wants a practical lesson in agricultural economics, I suggest that he takes a farm with a herd of cows and goes in for butter-making. He will find the true reality of the economics of butter-making in this country.

Secondly, I should like to take up the question of the wages of farm workers. I thought there was implied in the remarks of the hon. Member a suggestion that the agricultural worker should always be at the bottom of the ladder.

Mr. Hobson


Mr. Bullard

I think we have heard that suggestion on manv occasions.

Mr. S. N. Evans

The hon. Member must not impute things to me which are not true.

Mr. Bullard

I hope it is not true, but I thought it was contained in the remarks the hon. Member made about the demand for an increased wage.

I wish to return to the subject which is the basis of the White Paper we are debating. The real test of this White Paper and the policy contained in it is, does it match up to the need of the hour for increased food production? Reference has been made to the remarks yesterday of the Prime Minister, and we have heard today some further words about the economic situation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is certainly true that many of the sources of food from abroad will not continue to be available to us. Mr. Amery in letters to "The Times" has, in very powerful fashion, been drawing attention to the fact that we are bound to have increased emphasis on home food production.

I want to discuss the production side. The aim of the White Paper, so it says, is to increase production by 60 per cent, above the pre-war figure. Some people may think that is not sufficient, but I would say that the final stages of getting that increased production are much harder to attain than were the earlier stages when we had a great acreage of half-used grassland to work on, which we ploughed up and developed during the war.

The more immediate cause of our anxiety is the fall in the food production which has been mentioned, the tillage acreage, and particularly I think the most serious sign is the fall in the number of yearling cattle which occurred for the first time since before the war. No one except those who have had experience in the rearing of a bunch of cattle can appreciate what the effect of this means or can realise that it means that we cannot increase our beef production for two or three or more years. If everyone realised that, they would appreciate the seriousness of this position.

Reference has been made to the need for tools to do the job. Having a good deal of fenland in my constituency, I was worried when I heard that the amount of capital available for land drainage work was likely to be reduced. Much of the lowest lying fenland around Denver Sluice lies in my division. I hope that the drainage position there will be carefully watched. Many of us, too, are worried about the labour side, and whether the long-term effect of the call-up of agricultural workers will leave enough people within the industry to carry out the intensification we require.

I want now to say a word about the price factor. With few exceptions, hon. Members on both sides of the Committee accept the machinery of the February Price Review and the guaranteed prices. On the whole, I think, it has been a very good bargain for the consumer. We should do well to consider what price a fat bullock would fetch today in the open market if in fact there were no controls or rationing. It would make a very big price indeed. On the open market, beef would be fetching a price more comparable with what it is fetching in the United States, which is somewhere near twice as high as here.

There is a new feature introduced into our price structure this time, namely, the production grants. I wish to consider that question and examine whether the production grants should be a permanent or a temporary feature of our price structure. I share the dislike of subsidies which I think most people have, certainly most farmers, because they give rise to so many opportunities for misunderstanding. But I think that in present circumstances, and probably for several years to come, certain of these production grants will have to be continued.

The ploughing up subsidy is not one which should be retained for a very long period. Its purpose is to redress the balance of tillage and arable land which has been going back in the direction of increasing grassland and decreasing tillage. So far as the subsidy helps to redress that balance, well and good, but I do not think it should be regarded as a permanent payment to be made to people to plough up short leys which they are at present laying down. The ley system is one of the most important developments in agriculture of recent years, and I cannot think that a payment of this kind would in the long-run be beneficial to that system.

I have been worried to see the increase in grassland which has been going on. I know all about the improvements in technique both of grassland management and conservation and I think the previous Government were right in initiating their grassland campaign, which I have no doubt will be continued with vigour by the present Minister. But there has been a very great increase in grassland in some districts and I would not worry at all about the use of the powers which county agricultural executive committees have in order to keep that grass in check.

There is a great tendency for leys, once they are laid down, to stay down. I knew an old local government man who always used to chuckle when a temporary official was appointed to his council, because, he used to say, "He will soon be permanent." That applies to temporary leys as well. I am a great believer in the plough as the basis of agriculture in this country.

I believe that the fertiliser subsidy comes into a different category. The amount of fertilisers used on the poorer land in this country has greatly increased in the last few years and some remarkable results have been achieved on the breck land in Norfolk and elsewhere. Everyone concerned with agricultural policy must exercise his mind as to how we are to give proper returns to the people on the poorer land without over-doing the people on the better lands.

I farm on the silt land round Wisbech which is considered to be some of the best land in the country, but I am very ready to recognise the essential difficulties of this problem and I think that this fertiliser subsidy offers one means of assistance to farmers on the poorer land. In connection with the potato business, which is most important, I think we should maintain a reasonable potato acreage. The cost of seed plus fertilisers has become excessive and has tended to discourage the small producers especially from growing this necessary and intensive crop.

There is, I think, a special case for regarding the calf subsidy as a more permanent feature of our price policy. We have a very delicate balance in this country between milk and beef. If we were to push up beef prices to make the business really economic, it would lead to the slaughtering of heifers. The raising of beef cattle is bound to be a slow and a not very profitable business. No one would advise a young farmer who had little capital to start beef production as one of his main lines. It is not quick enough or profitable enough. But clearly we cannot raise beef prices out of proportion to milk.

I believe that the beef of this country has to come very largely from calves reared in the dairy herds, but what inducement is there without some payment half-way along the line for the person to set out to breed beef calves from the dairy herd, which we know should be done today, especially in view of the wonderful development of artificial insemination? It would have been wrong to have allowed the calf subsidy to lapse. I do not think that we shall be able to do that for a good many years.

I want to say a word on the feeding-stuffs subsidy mentioned in paragraph 13 of the White Paper, for that is what it really amounts to. This is a move which might deter people from concentrating on growing their own food. But another great danger of this type of subsidy is that it may delay the time when we can liberate home-grown cereals from the ration. I do not believe that any single move would do more good to the pig, poultry and other livestock industries than the action of releasing home-grown cereals from the ration and getting away from a system which is based on 1939 and which is not now very equitable. If that system could be modified in some way, it would be useful.

I turn to the other side of production—to the step which the Minister says he will take to require land to be cultivated in a proper way. In these debates we often hear references to the two methods of the stick and the carrot as alternative inducements to the farmer. This is a most insulting analogy. It is insulting to the object which is placed between the carrot and the stick. It is not at all proper to refer to the industry in this way.

I have never been a donkey proprietor myself, but in my time I have kept several working horses. I have always thought that intelligent management and proper arrangement of the work, providing the animal with suitable instruments to draw, was the best means to get work out of the horse, rather than the supposed alternatives of the stick or the carrot. I do not like that analogy any more than I do that used by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wednesbury, who referred to the farming community as "bovine." Neither of those is a helpful analogy.

The real way to get increased production is through continued technical development. We have the finest research organisations in the world, but the information they secure must not merely be available but must be put over to the farmers. The method to adopt is a combination, a partnership, between the agricultural committees composed of farmers and farm workers and the National Agricultural Advisory Service. It is a partnership. It is a great mistake to imagine that it could be anything else.

I hope that the Minister will keep in the closest touch with the committees on these technical points. I should like to mention one or two which are of great importance. One is in reference to the development of the pig industry. It is essential that the food eaten by the pigs should be economically used. Since the end of the war we have had to build up our pig industry quickly, and not always with the best resources by way of feedingstuffs. We have had to use makeshifts. We have not got anything like the Danish system. They have a system of litter testing, with arrangements to make sure that the very best strains of pigs are used. That is the basis of their breeding. The other factor was the question of beef calves. There is enormous scope for technical development to ensure that the right sort of dairy cows are used to breed the best beef cows which must be the foundation of the industry.

I hope that the Minister may yet see his way to re-establish the system of liaison officers. These people did extremely valuable work during the war. There are people available today with the requisite amount of public spirit who would do similar work in this most necessary service.

In connection with the agricultural committees and the National Agricultural Advisory Service, I would say that many of us feel that the technical development side of the work is hindered to some extent by the fact that the two functions of development and police work are carried out by the same committee. Although I do not think that many of us agree entirely with the Report of the Ryan Committee, it would be helpful if we could devise a scheme whereby the two functions could be separated. This is very much a matter of personalities, of leadership being given to the committees, rather than of altering the organisation.

I am glad that the Minister has sent out his instructions to committees to tighten up their supervision procedure, the power of landlords to obtain certificates of bad husbandry and the rules about notices to quit. I agree here with the hon. Member for Wednesbury that probably too great a measure of security has been given to the industry by these provisions of the Agriculture Act. One weakness in the organisation is the use made of district committees. It is customary to say that these are the cornerstones of the whole organisation. That used to be the case. The Minister has said that he attaches special importance to the farm survey as the basis of all this work, but I am not sure whether an elaborate survey of the work to be done in later years is exactly what we want.

I should much rather see more individual consideration given by the district committees to the farms, parish by parish. Action could then be taken. It need not be compulsory action. It may be that all that would be necessary would be a visit from members of the committee or the advisory officer. I am suspicious of a vast amount of material in the files of the committees which may be used at some distant date. I hope that we shall see that the survey is followed up by the necessary action straight away rather than that there should be delay.

The policy outlined in the White Paper is a foundation rather than a complete building. I have never believed that the price factor alone was the only important consideration in getting increased production. I do not believe that a mere adjustment of prices, however long the negotiations may be and however delicately done, will of itself solve food production problems. It is clear that the farmers and the farm workers have to do the work. The Government, on their part, have given a start. They have shown willing. I sincerely hope that the Minister will continue, through his agents in the agricultural committees, to give all possible encouragement and leadership.

It is a great mistake to leave the committees on their own, sending them a circular letter once or twice a week. That is the very worst form of communication between the Minister and the committees. If leadership is shown, then there are hopes that we shall redress the setback which agricultural production has suffered and that we shall attain the goal set out in the White Paper.

6.30 p.m.

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

I listened with a great deal of interest to both the speech of my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Agriculture and the very excellent statement that came from the present Minister. The White Paper does give some indication of the Government's future production policy, but the promised long-term policy has yet to emerge. There are, I think, sufficient hints given on the general line to be taken, but I do not think it is sufficient to say that the Government will, where necessary, require that full productive use is made of the land.

I need hardly remind the Committee that these are critical days from the standpoint of food. Millions of people in the under-developed countries do not get enough to eat, and production does not keep pace with ever-increasing populations. The Food and Agriculture Organisation stated quite recently that the world's need for more food has not yet begun to be met, and it is obvious that a grave responsibility rests not only upon food producers in other countries but upon those in Britain.

Despite the criticism that has been offered here today, I want to say that I am convinced that our farmers will do their duty, and that, in doing that duty, they will have the loyal co-operation of their workers. Farmers who do not come up to expectations should be subject to directions on the part of the county agricultural executive committees.

It is evident from what has been said up to now that the Government intend to use the 1947 Act in their drive for more food, and I am not complaining. I appreciate the line taken by the Government, because, after all, the Labour Government's Act remains unchallenged as the most effective peace-time farming legislation. If it has failed in some respects, it has failed because it has never been fully operated. May I add that the drive for more food has to be made evident not only on the farms, but has to come also from a Minister who knows what he wants and is determined to get it.

We have been told lately that the change of attitude of farmers reflects a loss of confidence in the long-term profitability of the industry. In some quarters we are told that the farmers are fearing that a slump is coming. I think a resolute Minister, with his mind made up, can remove what fears there may be. We can never feed ourselves in this country, but we can feed more people than we are doing today, and, with markets guaranteed, a satisfactory Price Review and a helpful Ministry, the response on the part of our own food producers should be great and effective.

My right hon. Friend the former Minister called the Committee's attention to the remarks made by the present Minister when he met the members of the council and the county chairmen and secretary of the National Farmers' Union, and I fully endorse what the Minister had to say on that occasion, when he remarked that an agreed settlement of prices implied obligations on both sides. I think that my right hon. Friend quite properly quoted the Minister's tribute when he said that the Agriculture Act has to be worked both by the Government and the industry with all the energy and will at their command.

The Minister must not only appeal to the patriotic instincts of the farmers and provide incentives; I say quite seriously to him that, where this method fails, he should be courageous and resolute, and at the same time be prepared to give every support to the members of his own county agricultural executive committees. The White Paper states that it is not intended to set detailed targets, but I think that county targets should be set, and that, if they are, they will help to stop the production of those crops which are not as essential as others.

I want to say a word in defence of the people who are farming the land of Britain today. I have never been slow to criticise certain features of British farming, but that is not to say that those engaged in the industry are incompetent or lacking in enterprise. After all, British agriculture today has a great deal to its credit, and I want to quote from an article which appeared in "The Times Survey of British Agriculture" written by Professor Sir James Scott Watson, Chief Scientific and Agricultural Adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture, in which he said: Our acre yields indeed fall short of those achieved by our next-door neighbours in Holland, Belgium and Denmark, but our level of productivity—of output per man-year—is much the highest in Europe. Moreover, the progress made since 1939 is about as high as in any country in the world. No doubt our farming is better than it has ever been, and is improving faster than it has ever done. We cannot hope that that efficiency will even out completely at the wished-for level, for the personal qualities that make up the master farmer are but rarely found combined in any one man. But the range in efficiency, between farmer and farmer, is surely wider than it need be. What we mainly need is a revival of the spirit that has carried us through other periods of crisis—the hungry forties of the last century or the Second World War. While I agree that the range of efficiency between farmer and farmer is wider than it need be, I think there are certain steps that can be taken, and I am very glad to hear that the Minister intends to take some of them in order to bring the inefficient farmers into line with the efficient ones.

Reference has been made to the use of horses in agriculture and to the scrapping of horses and the increased use of machinery. I do not think that the use of machinery always makes for efficiency. It may reduce the burden on the men, but I think that farmers might usefully spend less on machinery and more on their men.

I do not propose to go into the question of wages, because the wages settlement is now before the Central Wages Board. I was interested in a newspaper report a few days ago concerning a visit of some Australian farmers to my own county of Norfolk. As they went round while the county was looking at its best, they were surprised at the cheapness of British labour. In Australia, I understand, the farm worker receives £11 12s. a week, against our men's £5 8s.

We have some of the best and most competent farm workers in the world, and I say to the Minister that they are all wanting to play an effective part. The White Paper gives the aggregate costs increases which were taken into account in the Price Review, and the labour increased cost is the lowest of all. Rent and interest, machinery expenses, feeding-stuffs, fertilisers, road and rail transport and other items have all gone up very much more than labour costs.

Men are still leaving the land. The latest figures show an upward trend of about 15,000, but, after all, this is merely a seasonal increase, and I do not think we should be deceived by the figures. It is very significant that, between March, 1951, and March, 1952, over 19,000 regular men, upon whom the success of British agriculture depends, left the land. Men will continue to leave the land until their wages and conditions in farming more nearly approximate to those obtaining in other, and even in less essential, industries.

I assure the Minister, if he needs any assurance on this point, that the farm workers are as anxious as we are in this Committee that the food drive should be a success, and that they desire to play a full part in it.- I think it will enable the Minister to appreciate the line upon which farm workers are thinking today if I read to the Committee a resolution passed only a week or so ago at the Conference of the National Union of Agricultural Workers on this question of agricultural production. It says: We consider that any sound agricultural policy must include the proper equipment, use and management of the land, the dispossession of farmers proved to be incapable of maintaining a reasonable standard of husbandry, a serious attempt to raise the degree of efficiency achieved by the bulk of the farmers, and wages, working conditions and rural amenities such as will attract and retain on the land the type of labour required for efficient and economic production. Further, the Conference urges that the organised farm workers who have repeatedly expressed their willingness to co-operate in any reasonable way with the Government and with the employers be given adequate representation on agricultural executive committees which are charged with the duty of carrying out the agricultural expansion programme. I hope, in connection with the food drive, that a link can be established with the production methods in other European countries. I am not supporting the proposal that there should be an integration of European agriculture. After all, I think our first duty is to our Commonwealth countries, and I should deplore the possibility of any Continental country being in a position to dictate the lines on which our future agricultural policy should proceed.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of presiding at the Congress of the International Land Workers' Federation at Salzburg at which delegates from many countries discussed this question, and I think it important that the Committee should know what the world's farmers are thinking about it. The Congress, while not declaring in favour of the integration of Western European agriculture, supported, on certain conditions, closer co-operation on agriculture in Western Europe.

I should like whoever replies on behalf of the Government to reveal the mind of the Government on this very important question. I hope it may be possible for the European countries together to make an appropriate contribution towards what we all desire to achieve, the freeing of the world from want of food.

The Chairman

Mr. Legh.

Mr. Snow

On a point of order. Am I to understand, Sir Charles—this is, I know, a confession of ignorance of procedure—that this debate will stop anyhow at 7 o'clock and that if the next business continues till, say, 9.30, there will then be only half an hour in which to continue this debate?

The Chairman

The hon. Member is perfectly correct. This debate will be interrupted at 7 o'clock and if the debate on the City of London (Guild Churches) Bill runs on till 10 o'clock there will be no more agricultural debate. On the other hand, if the debate on that Bill takes only an hour, there will still be two hours in which to continue this debate.

Mr. Snow

Am I to understand that this important industry is to be debated in this Committee to the tune of approximately two back bench speakers and four Front Bench speakers and that many of us representing agricultural interests who have sat through agricultural debates on several previous occasions and who have never been called will not have another opportunity of speaking on this subject for some time to come, because there will not be another agricultural debate until the autumn?

The Chairman

Of course, this is a Supply debate and the Opposition might put down agriculture again. That is not my affair. But as regards the interruption of this debate at 7 o'clock, under the Standing Order, I, as Chairman of Ways and Means, have to put down the Private Bills objected to, because they have to be debated. I am afraid, therefore, there is nothing that can be done about it. I am very sorry, but I am quite powerless in the matter.

Mr. Snow

I fully appreciate your personal position, Sir Charles. The insertion of this Church of England business was not your responsibility, but it was the responsibility of the Government to provide the time. It is really a scandalous method of operating the business of the House when agriculture is dealt with in this way, and I should like to register a protest.

The Chairman

We will deal with one thing at a time. The hon. Gentleman is not correct when he says that it is the Government who find time for Private Bills. It is the Chairman of Ways and Means. As regards the interruption at 7 o'clock, I am afraid that no one on either side has any power to alter the arrangements. It is done under the Standing Order. I am sorry it has to be done, but I have no alternative.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

Am I to understand, Sir Charles, that the Leader of the House had nothing to do with this arrangement and that it is entirely a question of the action of the Chairman of Ways and Means who inserted this business into the middle of a most important debate on a vital issue on which many Members on both sides of the Committee who represent agricultural constituencies want to speak? Is that a correct interpretation of the position, Sir Charles?

The Chairman

I do not think that is quite a fair way to put it. I have to select a day in advance for Private Bills to which objection has been raised to be debated at 7 o'clock, and I selected today. Whatever the business put down by the Government, Members always resent the time taken by Private Business.

Mr. Price


The Chairman

Agriculture or anything else, it is always resented.

Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)

It is in my recollection, Sir Charles, that on a previous occasion when business was interrupted on your Motion the debate was then carried on for the period taken up by the business for which the interruption was made. May we know why that procedure is not being carried out on this occasion?

The Chairman

I think the hon. Gentleman is confusing a debate on a Private Bill with an Adjournment Motion on a matter of urgent public importance, on which occasion the time taken is made up.

Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)

Is it impossible, Sir Charles, to have any extension of time after 10 o'clock in these circumstances? Would the Government be willing to grant such an extension?

The Chairman

That is a matter for the Government to deal with and has nothing to do with me, but I think it is very unusual for a Supply Day to be extended. It may have been done on some occasion, but I do not remember it.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)

I was very glad, Sir Charles, that I succeeded in catching your eye before the points of order discussion started, because I was beginning to think that 7 o'clock might strike before I got out a single word. I was also glad to catch your eye because it gives me the opportunity to make what will now have to be a brief but none the less very earnest plea for one section of the agricultural community which I think not even the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) would be able to say has been feather-bedded.

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman must excuse me for one moment to point out to him that if at the interruption of this debate he is still speaking, he will be called upon to continue his speech should the debate be resumed. Therefore, he does not need to finish at 7 o'clock, provided the Church Bill debate does not run to 10 o'clock.

Mr. Legh

I am much obliged, Sir Charles. I was saying that I want to make a plea for a section of the farming community which has not been feather-bedded. It consists of people who have not in any way benefited from the 1947 Act which the previous Minister extolled—quite rightly—at considerable length in his opening remarks. I refer, of course, to the growers of fruit and vegetables, many of whom live and work and go bankrupt in my constituency.

I am sure there will be general agreement on both sides of the Committee that the best known source of the British strawberry is South Hampshire. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Evidently there is not too much agreement about that. Even though farmers in this country have guaranteed prices and guaranteed markets, they consider nevertheless that that does not give them enough security. So there is much talk about the need for a long-term policy, a matter which the Minister discussed earlier this afternoon.

But the growers of fruit and vegetables have neither a long-term policy offered to them nor guaranteed prices and markets. In fact, they have no security whatever. In my view, they have every right to expect to be given some security now, five years after the 1947 Act, in view of the repeated assurances given to the industry at regular intervals since 1947 by spokesmen for the Ministry of Agriculture.

I suppose one of the, underlying themes, if not the main theme, of this debate so far has been the need to increase production and to increase efficiency in the agricultural industry and to decide, so far as it can be decided by debate, whether or not sufficient inducements are being offered to the farming world to ensure this increased production. But the problem worrying the fruit and vegetable growers of this country is not how they can increase their production but how they can afford to go on producing at their present rate, because too many of them today, at any rate in Hampshire, are losing money, going bankrupt and going out of business altogether.

Yet they are very hard-working people. Many of them are ex-Service men who, after the last war, sank what capital they had in market gardens and smallholdings. They ask only for a moderate standard of living. They certainly do not ask to be feather-bedded. I submit that the interests of these people should be given very much more consideration at the present time. During the last war they responded very nobly to the demands made upon them by the Government to increase their production. Vegetable production, other than the production of potatoes, increased from 291,500 acres to 511,900 acres. Tomato production went up from 64,000 tons to 150,000 tons a year.

Again, in January, 1948, the Ministry of Agriculture circulated to the county agricultural committees details of its four-year programme of expansion for horticulture, and in that same year the Government target for vegetable acreage was exceeded. Yet a quarter of the home production was unable to be marketed. So, inevitably in the two following years, 1949 and 1950, the acreage was below target simply because there was no confidence left in the industry.

I think it is generally agreed, both in the industry and in my right hon. Friend's Department, that the greatest problem before the growers is the ineffective regulation of imports of foreign fruit and vegetables. Excessive imports depress the market price of the home produced crops below cost, and the result is that British growers, when they are planning their cropping programmes for the following year, have no certainty that their produce will find a market.

The growers to whom I talk never regard the present system of regulating imports on a quantitative basis as satisfactory, partly because it is not a sufficiently sensitive method to respond to changes in market conditions. More particularly, they do not feel satisfied with that method of import control because they cannot be certain that the quantities of imports allowed will not be altered at the last moment.

I should like to give two recent illustrations of what I mean by alterations in quantities of imports. The value of licences for importing fruit pulp in the period ending 30th June this year was suddenly increased from £480,000 to £895,000. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, when asked about it last Tuesday, said: The additional licences were issued, at the request of the Governments concerned, in cases where the sudden incidence of our import restrictions had interfered with the performance of outstanding contracts and caused exceptional hardship to exporting interests abroad,… The growers of this country want to know whether that is the end of it. They have heard rumours that there are to be still more imports of fruit pulp into this country, and they say quite frankly that if that is so they will be finished. I hope the rumours are wrong. I hope, even more, that when the Joint Parliamentary. Secretary comes to reply to this Debate he will give an assurance that there will be no further imports of fruit pulp into this country this year.

The second example of changing quantities of imports is that the value of licences for importing foreign strawberries in the second half of this year has been raised quite suddenly from £65,000 to £165,000. When the President of the Board of Trade was asked about that on Tuesday he said: The additional £100,000 for strawberries is intended to reduce the hardship which our import cuts will inflict on a locality in France which is economically dependent on a crop of strawberries grown specially for the United Kingdom market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June, 1952; Vol. 502, c. 12–13.] That is a very understandable reason, but it is not easy for the growers of strawberries in my constituency to understand why additional hardship should fall upon them in order to alleviate the hardship said to be going to fall upon their foreign competitors in France. It is true that in the second half of this year there are to be substantial cuts in the quantities of fruit and vegetables imported into this country, cuts which are very substantial when one compares them with the figures for the same period last year. I think we are all very grateful for these cuts, and that the growers are grateful for them.

I am bound to say that in view of these cuts I had formed the opinion that, temporarily at any rate, the outlook for the British grower would be very much rosier, but last Tuesday my hon. Friends who represent Hampshire and I received a deputation from the county growers. They very quickly convinced us how bleak indeed is the future of the horticultural industry. What impressed me most was the explanation they gave us of how the constantly rising costs they have to face are entirely outside their own control. I should like to give the Committee a few examples of how the major costs of the Hampshire horticultural industry have increased since before he war. For instance, coal has gone up from 35s. 8d. a ton in 1939——

It being Seven o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the considera-Hon of Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business.)

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.