§ Order for Second Reading read
§ 5.7 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture (Major Sir Thomas Dugdate)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is a short but important Measure introduced to implement the promise made in my statement to the House on 4th February to the effect that the Government would introduce legislation to provide for ploughing-up grants. The Government then announced a grant of £5 an acre on four year old, or older, grassland ploughed up and sown to approved crops. This was a special scheme designed to meet an immediate difficulty by producing extra crops for this harvest.
I have been concerned to find the serious fall in the tillage acreage that has occurred since the end of the war. The last returns in 1951 showed a fall of over 600,000 acres in the United Kingdom compared with the previous year. The announcement of 4th February was intended as a first instalment of the measures designed by the Government to reverse this trend. Although I was speaking late in the sowing season, I expressed the hope that about 500,000 acres in the United Kingdom might still be ploughed up to qualify for grants.
At that time I expressed my confidence that there would be a good response. According to my current information I shall not be disappointed in the result. I believe that the figure of 500,000 acres to qualify for grant will be fully reached. That is the report that I have got from the counties. I cannot give the detailed figures, because we have not yet got accurate returns, either from this country or indeed from Scotland.
This figure corresponds to the estimate of £2,500,000 contained in the Financial Memorandum. The grant is intended to provide an extra incentive to plough up unproductive, permanent grassland or leys left down for four years or longer, and, therefore, past their peak of productivity, and the urgency of the whole problem will be apparent to hon. Members in all parts of the House who 419 have studied the figures, not only of the fall in the tillage acreage in recent years, but also of the increased pig population during the past 12 months.
The March census showed an increase of a million pigs in England and Wales alone, compared with March of last year, and, here again, although precise figures for Scotland are not available the trend in Scotland has been similar. The House will appreciate that those pigs must be fed, and we certainly cannot expect to increase imports of feedingstuffs. I acknowledge straight away that I am vulnerable on this point, because, about 18 months ago, I was asking the Government of the day to increase the imports of feedingstuffs from overseas. I accept that at once, but the position today is such that I am satisfied that we shall not get any increase in imports of feeding-stuffs.
Therefore, any continued increase in the number of pigs must entail higher home production of coarse grains. I will not attempt at this stage to predict exactly what will he the net increase in tillage this year. As I have said, we believe that 500,000 acres of four-year leys have been ploughed up since 4th February and will qualify for the ploughing grant, and I expect that about half of this will be a net gain.
This will be a very useful result, as a large part of this will be in the form of grain crops. For instance, according to the farmers' forecasts for England and Wales, we believe that we shall get 200,000 acres of extra barley compared with 1951, and this, in terms of feed, will mean a very appreciable addition to our coarse grain supplies for feeding for livestock this winter. It will be sufficient to feed about 600,000 pigs from weaning to slaughter.
Up to this point I have been dealing with what I would term the special scheme produced as a matter of urgency and aimed specially at the harvest of this year. The land had to be ploughed up and sown at once with approved crops. The list of approved crops included not only grains, but potatoes, linseed, peas, beans, fodder beet and certain other fodder crops. There is no need to mention other detailed features, except, perhaps, to remind the House that no single appli- 420 cation must deal with less than one acre of grassland.
As regards the future, in the course of the Annual Review, we have looked further ahead, and, as I announced on 24th April, the Government have decided to continue the ploughing-up grant. The details, which will not necessarily be the same as for the present scheme, will be the subject of a later announcement, but I can say at this stage that the new scheme will be effective from the date of expiry of the present one; that is, the end of May this year.
The Bill before the House does not deal with any matters of detail, but it empowers Ministers to make schemes for ploughing grants from time to time. The structure of the Bill follows that of the Agriculture (Fertilisers) Act—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Yes, after it was amended. The Bill gives the Ministers power to make schemes, but each scheme must be approved by Parliament under the affirmative Resolution procedure.
Clause 1 deals with the making of schemes. It is made clear in this Clause that the payment of the grant may depend not only on the ploughing up of land, but also upon the fulfilment of certain other requirements, such as the sowing of approved crops, the rates of grant, the kind of land covered, and the period during which the ploughing must take place will be set out in the scheme. It will be possible, for instance, if it is desired and approved by the House, for one scheme to provide for different rates of grant for different types and kinds of grassland.
Clause 2 lays down that the first scheme will deal with grassland ploughed up from 5th February to 31st May, 1952 inclusive, and subsequent schemes will relate to periods of not more than two years each. Any extension of any scheme will also be limited to two years and will have to be laid before the House and approved by affirmative Resolution.
Clause 3 enables a scheme to attach conditions to the grants, and sets out a number of particular conditions, such as the minimum area to be ploughed up and other conditions necessary to make that particular scheme administratively workable. A scheme may, and normally will, provide that the grant will be paid only 421 if the ploughing up and other further operations are carried out efficiently, and this has been regarded as common form in the administration of the ploughing grant under previous Acts.
In Clause 3 (4) will be found the provision for the affirmative Resolution procedure for schemes. If, as I hope, this Bill soon becomes an Act of Parliament, the draft Statutory Instruments prescribing the first scheme will be laid before the House very shortly afterwards. I used the word "Instruments" because, although the qualifying conditions for obtaining the grant during the first period will, in general, be the same throughout the country, there will be a separate scheme for Scotland, and this will enable provision to be made for the special administrative problems arising in that country, where, for example, the grants will be paid centrally in Edinburgh, and not, as in England and Wales, by the county agricultural executive committee.
Northern Ireland will be included with England in the first scheme. The Statutory Instrument will be subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure, and this means that when the Scottish scheme is laid before Parliament by my right hon. Friend the House will have an opportunity of considering any special Scottish points.
In general, I think it will be clear that the Bill provides an admirable opportunity for Parliament to discuss any scheme for encouraging the ploughing up of grassland which the Government may propose from time to time, and I therefore hope that the House will approve this small but important Measure and give it an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Hon. Members on both sides of the House are now accustomed to Agriculture Ministers introducing important Measures by saying This is a small Bill," in a somewhat deprecating way which is intended to make sure that they carry the Opposition with them. This may be a small Bill in terms of bulk, but it is an important Bill aimed at an important matter, and containing some important provisions.
I should like, without I hope seeming to be presumptuous, to congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on the way in which he introduced it in an 422 extremely lucid but short statement. I should like to think I could be as commendably brief and lucid, but I very much doubt it. He made our task very much easier by the way in which he introduced the Bill.
While I am on this rather happy note, I should also like to congratulate him upon the way in which, in this Bill, he has reduced the need for the number of Amendments the Opposition might have felt inclined to put down, by adopting all those that he could think of in advance. This Bill certainly comes to the House in a rather happier state, as he himself charmingly confessed, than did the recent Agriculture (Fertilisers) Bill, arid we are glad to have had such a notably good effect upon the Minister in such a short time.
I have one regret about debating the Bill at the moment, which is that we are debating it ahead of the general debate, for which I hope the Government will provide facilities, on the Government's food policy as a whole. It is difficult to discuss this Bill and the policy behind it without discussing in general the Government's attitude to a number of problems and the circumstances which surround the Price Review recently announced. We have all agreed, I think rightly, that it is difficult to discuss that without having the White Paper, so that we are in the position of trying to discuss an important element in the general policy without wanting to crab the debate which we hope we shall have by taking the debate too wide.
The Minister has told us of the national need which lies behind this Bill. There is both the fall in the tillage acreage and the increase in the number of pigs—the substantial figure of one million shown by the March returns this year. No doubt what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said on that point brought a glow of warmth to the heart of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), since what has happened very largely reflects my right hon. Friend's policy carried out up to the time the present Government took office last November.
In parenthesis, the fact that we had a continuing and very substantial increase in the number of pigs, and also of poultry, right down to that time refutes the frequently used argument of hon. 423 Gentlemen opposite that there has been a lack of confidence among that very class of livestock keeper. If there is a fall in the tillage acreage at the same time as a rise in that class of livestock, there is obviously a need to make sure that there are adequate feedingstuff products.
The first thing to which I want to draw attention, which the Minister in interests of brevity did not deal with, is not that necessarily some action of this kind is called for, but that what is called for is a real attempt to get home to all those in the industry the nature of the task with which the industry is at this stage faced. We are trying to increase our supplies of meat, wheat and coarse grains, and, at the same time, to maintain supplies of eggs, milk and potatoes. In other words, we are attempting, as we have tried to do since 1947, to cover in advance virtually the whole field. It is impossible to do what I once described at that Box—have a "Box and Cox" arrangement; we cannot go ahead on one thing at the expense of the other; yet we are trying to get an approach over virtually the whole field. The task of the Minister of Agriculture, whoever he may be, is to get over to the industry that this is so; that it is a major task, which they accepted when they accepted the Agriculture Act, 1947.
At this stage, I hope again without being presumptuous, I should like to compliment the Minister on his courageous words in his recent speech to the Farmers' Club on this very subject. They have accepted an obligation, and because of the magnitude of the task to be carried out their attention ought to be drawn to the obligation they have accepted and the job they have to do.
We on this side have been saying for a long time what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman charmingly observed he has not been saying for quite so long, that the market for the production is as certain as it could be for almost as long ahead as either we can see or any human beings with their short life on earth will see. The availability of supplies from overseas is difficult, and at least uncertain, and our ability in terms of currency to buy it will be so circumscribed for such a long way ahead that we are bound to look more and more to our- 424 selves for the feedingstuffs for our own livestock. Therefore, there is a great need for this advance over the broad front and for a growing degree of self-sufficiency. We must do all we can to increase our own supplies.
That is the doctrine we have been advancing again and again since 1947. When I had the great pleasure and privilege to be Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, I must have made hundreds of speeches to county committee conferences and provincial liaison conferences throughout the country urging this doctrine. It is a most important one to get over because it invites the farmers to undertake production and action not wholly attractive to them; it is not a thing to which they are accustomed; it is not something which they are necessarily well-equipped to carry out in terms of personal "know-how," or machines, or capital, or even of land. It needs continuing effort on the part of all of us. It requires a much greater use of the plough, with the consequent effect upon the quality of the grass on the remaining grassland.
The Minister gave figures for the fall in the tillage acreage in the returns last June as 600.000 acres over the previous year. That is a very sad and substantial figure. It is quite easy, and to some extent true, to say that that must indicate that some farmers have not seen the problem in the terms in which it exists for us. Some of them at any rate are clearly not farming, or have not been farming, in accordance with the requirements of the nation.
When a Minister comes to the Despatch Box and charmingly admits that he is vulnerable—by which he means that he has been giving the wrong advice over a long period—the instinctive reaction of the House is to forgive him and to hurry on to the next and somewhat less embarrassing subject. However, I am afraid I am somewhat reluctant to hurry on, because as both I and my right hon. Friend have said again and again, I honestly believe that to a large extent they are responsible for what has been happening. They gave the wrong advice so repeatedly and so often in the face of our appeals not to go on doing it, since the facts were so clear, that, with their special influence in the farming community, they have themselves invited what has happened.
425 The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said he was vulnerable 18 months ago. That is a slight under-statement. He was vulnerable a good deal more recently than that. I have here Volume 490 of HANSARD, which covers the period 9th July to 20th July, 1951—a matter of about nine months ago. In other words, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, if he will forgive me saying so, was vulnerable right up to the time when he became Minister. That is the important point.
I think it will stand putting on record again what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said then to the community to whom he now has to say something quite different.I believe that feedingstuffs could have been secured from dollar areas last autumn, and I refer, of course, particularly to Canada.… If we were to buy such wheat from Canada, and if, by so doing, we could build up in that country a source from which we could secure feedingstuffs, how much safer that would be than relying upon the sterling countries.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1951; Vol. 490, c. 1259–60.]How much safer to rely upon Canada! He has now to confess, of course, that it cannot be done. It is not only not safe but we have not the dollars anyway. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) seems anxious to support his right hon. and gallant Friend, and well he might be because in the same debate he gave some advice and, as so often happens, a little less cautiously than his more canny Yorkshire companion. The hon. Member for Newbury said:As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), reminded the Minister, there are supplies of feedingstuffs… which can be bought in Canada, and I hope the Minister will, if necessary, get tough with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that we are allowed to use some Canadian dollar; to buy low-grade wheat and coarse grains from Canada."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1951; Vol. 490, c 1345.]The whole effect of that policy and those statements right up to the end—and I mark this—of the growing season last year was in fact to discourage those who were trying to persuade the farmers that it was useless to rely upon those sources. And for the drop in the acreage last year the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends must bear a great deal of responsibility.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
The right hon. Gentleman might draw the attention of the House to some very sound 426 advice I gave the House a few months ago. At that time we could have bought coarse grains, particularly low-grade wheat, most advantageously from Canada and we would not have put ourselves in the crazy position in which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues left us of having more pigs and nothing upon which to feed them.
§ Mr. Brown
It is all very well to say now that we could have obtained them, by which I take it the hon. Member means that they were obtainable. But for all we know they may be there to be got this year or next. The point of the Minister's argument is that it does not matter if they are obtainable for we cannot afford to have them. My argument is that that was my point last year. Hon. Members opposite are entitled to salve their consciences as they like. I am only pointing out that when the Minister said the acreage fell last year he is bound to accept a very considerable amount of responsibility for that, since as recently as last year he was giving advice which must have been intended to discourage the sowing of those very crops.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
If the right hon. Gentleman had done some research a little further back he would have found that his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) made exactly the same statement. He said that scarce dollars would be used to buy these coarse grains.
§ Mr. Brown
And indeed they were; but the occupants of the present Government benches, who were then in Opposition, were so expansive on this business of buying overseas grain that they wanted still more. Now, of course, they find that they cannot buy them. A paragraph in the Conservative Party Agricultural Charter of June, 1948, deals with Conservative policy on feedingstuffs. The Conservative Party have been wrong on this point right the way through.
We have had some talk about broken pledges. The Lord President of the Council, we were told yesterday, supervises the Minister and the work of his Department. I hasten to say that I sympathise very much with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman both in the supervisor he has and in being supervised, which must make his job twice as hard as it should be. The Minister now may 427 very well be in trouble at the next annual meeting of the Conservative Party.
In 1948 in their Agricultural Charter the Conservative Party said:We are determined that the first charge on foreign exchange for food purposes should be the procuring of animal feedingstuffs…That is not in line with what the Minister said today. That statement goes on:We also believe that larger quantities… must be grown and preserved at home.But larger quantities of what? The only feedingstuffs mentioned which can be grown at home are dried grass, silage and kale. Any farmer reading that statement would be entitled to say "I am to grow my own grass and kale, but course grains will be a first charge on our foreign currency." That is why the Minister is in this difficulty.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The right hon. Gentleman has had a very amusing time, to his own satisfaction, talking about feeding-stuffs, but I must interrupt to ask how we in Opposition in 1948 could know that the Socialist Government were going to make a complete mess of our financial position so that there was no money to buy the feedingstuffs from abroad?
§ Mr. Brown
That shows what supervising does. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is now using the same language as his supervisor. That may make him more attractive to his overlord, but if he wants to be anything more than an underling he had better not do that. All I can say is that if the Conservative Party knew nothing about it they took a great number of pages to say so. The fact remains that the Conservative Party must accept that they have been doing their utmost to bring about just the situation that has come about.
We on this side of the House are quite free from any taint of that. Indeed, we did our very best to present the other side of the picture, and there is at least one hon. Member opposite who heard me once trying my poor best to do it. However, we welcome the conversion of the Conservative Party under the compulsion of realities, and we on our part will be as responsible as we were in Government. We hope that when the Party opposite are in Opposition they will be converted to that outlook.
428 Without doubt, the basic need is to get home to the industry a sense of the problem and a sense of its obligations. Farmers have considerable benefits under Part I of the Agriculture Act, 1947. Part II is the corollary, and we must do all we can to get the farmers and landowners to accept the obligations under Part II as wholly, as vigorously and as wholeheartedly as they accept the benefits under Part I.
I believe, with such little experience as I have, that there is also a very urgent need for a considerable overhauling of the machinery of the Ministry of Agriculture itself for this purpose. There is a lot of talk these days about the need to amend the 1947 Act. It is obvious that one cannot have a major Act which does not contain some blemishes, but I believe that if we are to use the Act and the powers we now have vigorously and fearlessly we can do a lot more than we are doing without the bother of any amendment to the Act at all. I know the Minister has spoken on the subject and has made a very useful speech about "pepping-up" the Committees.
There are existing powers under Part II of the Act which I beg shall be used with all the vigour and fearlessness possible. There are also powers in the Agriculture (Special Direction) (Maximum Area of Pasture) Order. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his Friends opposed it vigorously in Opposition and took over very happily and willingly when they became the Government. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us to what extent that Order has been used, up to as recent a date as possible.
After all, there is no point in paying £5 or £10 an acre if, in fact, one has got the power to get it without paying a special bribe—if I may use that rather unpleasant term for want of another one. I should like to know the extent to which we have tried to use that Order—the number of directions which have been issued under it, the extent to which there have been prosecutions, and so on—in fact, any figures which can be given, because I believe that Order could be used a good deal more than it is being used, and if we do not intend to use it any more we might as well get rid of it.
Recently I went to Leicestershire to have a look round to see what was hap- 429 pening there, as far as it is possible to see in an agricultural county as big as Leicestershire in one day. I had a walk round and was told on all hands—by the farmer with whom I was walking, by a neighbouring landlord and by people in the co-operative packing station there—that land is going down to grass in Leicestershire at a fantastically alarming rate.
When I got back I put a Question to the Minister about it, and I was told that landlords there are being very difficult about ploughing up. I asked him whether he thought that he was able to deal with that, and he assured me that he was. I had another word this day with my guide during my tour of Leicestershire, and I was assured that the process is still going on. Therefore, either the Committee is not being vigorous or we are restraining the Committee from using the power that it already has.
The other suggestion that I would make to the Ministry about its own machinery is that they should consider how far it is possible to re-create something of the sort of liaison arrangements which we had during the war. My right hon. Friend considered this again and again. He was always conscious of the need. The problem was that after the war one could not get men of the same calibre prepared to do the job as we found during the war. However, in view of the urgency and the pressure which exists, I suggest that it is worth looking at again to see whether some better liaison arrangements between the Ministry and the counties could be instituted.
But whatever one does about mechanics, in the end what is achieved really depends upon Government policy. Six or seven months, it could be argued, is not an over-long time for a Government to produce a major policy in every field. Nevertheless, I think there will be agreement in all parts of the House that it is getting well nigh high time when we heard from this Government just what its agricultural policy is. When the right hon. Gentleman made his first announcement on the subject of a ploughing-up scheme on 4th February he said:This is a temporary short-term scheme with the sole purpose of securing more spring sown crops. It is without prejudice to more permanent plans which the Government will 430 formulate.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 6431.]When we got the Price Review on 24th April—that is getting on for three months later—the right hon. Gentleman said:… this price award is not, of itself, a comprehensive programme.… The Government are, therefore, pressing on urgently with discussions on these and other aspects of policy…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1952; Vol. 499, c. 741.]In other words, the policy is still missing. We still do not know, neither does the industry, what the Government's agricultural policy is. I believe it is a fair point and a major criticism of this Bill that the Government are proceeding from one expedient to another, from one new temporary ad hoc subsidy or grant to another one, without any overall policy with which they can all be fitted into a general pattern. I believe it is time that the right hon. Gentleman told us what his production policy is.
In the Price Review there is a pious hope—and it is no more than a pious hope—that by 1956 production should be of the order of 60 per cent. above prewar. When my right hon. Friend was faced with a similar urgent situation in 1947 he did not do anything as weak as that. We agreed with the industry a real policy, the definitive terms of a real expansion programme, including crop targets, the order of priorities and the way in which the whole thing was to be split up over the whole field, and that was announced to the industry and the industry knew where it was. The industry must have something more than a pious hope of this kind if it is to feel the urgency of the situation.
The right hon. Gentleman's supervisor, speaking in another place, went even further. I am not quoting him; I am paraphrasing him, but I think I am being fair. He declared that this was certainly not a target. He took great pride in the fact that no crop targets were going to be issued. He said, "We are not farming from Whitehall." That is the sort of easy statement that one can make, but it is really quite irrelevant. If no crop targets are going to be given, if the final aim itself is to be no more than a pious hope, and there certainly is not to he a target, how can the farmers believe that there is great urgency about this?
431 Even if the figure of 60 per cent. were more than a pious hope, how much does it amount to? The supervising Minister said that by his calculations that represented a 12 per cent. increase between now and 1956. On a four-year programme that is 3 per cent. per year. The right hon. Baronet says that he does not know where he got it from, but the other person must be in touch; he cannot very well supervise without being in contact with the Department which he is supervising.
Since my right hon. Friend introduced his expansion programme in 1947, we averaged nearly 7 per cent. a year. So at a time of great urgency the industry is being invited to cut its annual increase of output by half. How can we convince the farmers that the situation is so urgent, and at the same time say that we can afford to do half as much as we have been doing?
§ Mr. Brown
No; the hon. Gentleman can make whatever points he likes later. Our average over the whole period was 7 per cent. That figure is accurate. I am prepared to compare a four-year programme under this Government with a four-year programme under the late Government. One may say, "We have got to get into our stride again and the average will be 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. in the first year but the average over the whole period will be 7 per cent." But here the average requested is only half the average that we, in fact, achieved. That does not show any urgency. It shows lack of policy. It certainly shows lack of co-ordination between the Government spokesmen. The lack of priority in crop targets is a weak factor in the present position.
I recognise that pump-priming measures are very often essential in order to get a policy off to a good start, or to give it a particular switch, or to give an incentive to a particular slant of policy. I accept that, and we ourselves did it. On several occasions we introduced essential pump-priming measures. We had one like this; we had the calf subsidy, and we had various others. Sometimes we were heavily blasted by 432 hon. Members opposite for daring to do it, but nevertheless we did it. Any Government will have to do it, although it must be in addition to formulating a price policy. But these pump-priming measures are no substitute for policy, and they are meaningless without a policy within which to fit them. In any case, one of the dangers of these pump-priming measures is that they lead to difficulties of their own.
It is all very well paying an ad hoc subsidy as an incentive, but what happens when one wants to take it? Our experience in the past has been that the thing upon which one has been priming the pump does not go on under its own momentum. Once one has finished the pump-priming operation the momentum falls off even more sharply than it rose. We have found that with many things. I think that is the weakness of this particular kind of operation, and it is a weakness that must be borne in mind.
I do not wish to anticipate the general debate, but there is one general matter to which I must refer in order to set the subject in correct perspective. I feel there is a major change of policy on the question of how to implement the agricultural policy, assuming a policy is found. In the light of their recent pronouncements, the Government seem to feel that subsidies of one kind or another are a good feature of a long-term plan and are even preferable to a proper price structure.
I query very strongly whether the paying of 40 per cent. of the recent recoupment by way of subsidy is a good thing from the permanent, long-term point of view. I shall develop this theme more fully in the general debate. I feel that it must be brought out in order to see where we are getting. I urge the right hon. Baronet to think again, because it seems to me that our policy of a proper price schedule allied to a clearly-stated and well-understood production programme—with an occasional pump-priming operation—is much better than over-reliance upon so-called temporary subsidies of one kind or another.
With regard to this Bill, I would go further. I say that of all the pump-priming operations this particular one is probably open to more objections than most others. There are particular difficulties about it, of which I should like 433 to give one or two examples. It is very difficult to assess what one gets for one's money when one has paid it out. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that we had 500,000 acres ploughed up of which, he thought, half was a net gain. I do not know how one assesses that, but assuming it is right—it cannot be more than a guess, and as he has very much more information he can make a better guess than I can—it means that we have paid not £5 but £10 an acre for the net gain.
We put this special scheme into operation so late in the year that we are bound to get a rather higher proportion of special ploughing up, but when we come to a long-term scheme, such as is provided for in this Bill, we are then going to get—because it goes on at the beginning of the year—a greater proportion of ordinary ploughing up than would arise in the ordinary way, so that instead of being half and half it is much more likely to be three-quarters ploughing up done in any case and only one-quarter special ploughing up.
That means that we shall pay not £10 an acre but something like £15 an acre for the net gain. I believe that this will mean that we shall be paying more and getting less for our money than the right hon. Baronet thinks—and it is going to be paid in East Anglia as well as in East Lancashire. It becomes very arguable whether one is really getting value for money.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary how it is proposed to carry out the checks of which the Minister spoke today and in his previous announcement. As I understand it we have to check the age of the grass that has been ploughed up, the crop that is put in, the standard of cultivation after it is put in, and the yield to be got from it. Either there will be an enormous increase of officials or a lot of the advisory service staff will be taken off advice work to do this. I do not say that this necessarily rules out a short term, special pump priming operation; but I think it is a major objection to carrying it on as a long-term policy. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what the Government are going to do in that respect.
There are other criticisms which I shall leave to my hon. Friends to develop. It may be said that this will help to improve the position of the small man—that it will 434 help to get some money into his pockets, direct without inflating the big chap. I do not believe this is true in the case of a long-term policy, because the big fellow gets the ploughing-up grant, and so he will be inflated. I am not sure how far the small chap is concerned in special ploughing up for this purpose, but there are many areas where the problem is not ploughing up but harvesting afterwards. One does not make it any easier for a man to harvest by paying him £5.
For many people it will be as bad as far as the grassland is concerned. There will be a tendency to manipulate the life of the leys so as to get them ploughed up at the moment of getting the subsidy. One will find that grass is growing on longer than it should, or is ploughed up when it has still got heart in it and could feed stock anyway if it were properly managed. Above all, as I was told so many times when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture and went round the country, one of its objections is that it encourages acreage-mindedness as against tonnage, output or yield-mindedness. The emphasis is on putting something in rather than getting something out, and people will not be studying standards of cultivation or checking the yields; they will be studying acreage.
These are major disadvantages, and I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will give attention to them between now and the Committee stage. They are not objections to temporary pump-priming operations, but I think they are very major objections to a long-term scheme.
I am not clear where the money is to come from. It is clear that in any previous continuing scheme the money was part of the Price Review and came out of the global income allocated to the industry for that year; but I am not clear about this first special scheme. It was not taken account of in the February Price Review of last year or in any subsequent Price Review. Is one right in thinking that £21 million is any part of last year's income? It was not allowed for in any figure on which the last Price Review was negotiated. I am sure there is an easy answer, but the position is not clear and I should be glad to have it cleared up.
I warn the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that before he puts forward 435 a long-term scheme there are some things which we want to know. We want to know what are the production programme and the aims of the Government. I venture to think that it is not only the Opposition in this House but his own hon. and right hon. Friends who will want to know about that, and I am sure the industry does. We really must have it confirmed. We do not want the sort of statement which was made by the supervising Lord President, but a firm statement of the production programme and the policy aims. We must have some further information about the Government's action with regard to making the fullest use of its existing powers and machinery, so that we can judge how far we need things of this kind, or how far we can go under present arrangements.
We require a little more exact information as to the real cost of any extra acres paid for in this way, especially allowing for the fact that in a major long-term scheme we are paying more for ploughing up than we would under this special scheme. We should like to know what are the intentions of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman with regard to the resources of the industry. I think it is the utmost folly to be paying a ploughing-up grant to bring more acres into production at the very same moment that we are cutting down on drainage resources, limiting drainage to 15 per cent.
Surely there can be nothing as important, in breaking new grass into cultivation for arable crops, than proper and effective drainage. If we had a policy, the two things would march together. In fact, we have two things which are contradictory going together, and by the time we get a long-term programme I hope the Minister will be able to reverse his policy in that aspect and persuade his right hon. Friends that he ought to give us more information about these matters, and certainly give the industry an allocation of resources which the urgency of the problem merits.
I have many criticisms against the use of subsidies instead of a proper price schedule. I have even more objections, personally, to the use of this kind of ad hoc subsidy as against many others. But I accept that it is the Government's duty to decide whether, in the nature of things as they found them, they needed 436 a special pump-priming operation of this kind. We know that, having entered into a bargain, it must be honoured, and we shall put nothing in the way. The Government must decide the policy, which they themselves must stand by, but I hope the House will look carefully at the provisions of the Bill when it comes to embarking upon this questionable form of a long-term basis.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
I do not propose to detain the House for long, but I should like to lend my support to the Bill. First of all, I was pleased to hear my right hon. and gallant Friend say that he had such an excellent response to the call which he made to the agricultural industry last February asking for these new acres.
If I may use the words of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), there is nothing new in this pump-priming operation, because in 1939 we had a subsidy to encourage the breaking up of grassland at the rate of £2 an acre. in 1947, that was increased to £4 an acre, and today's figure of £5 an acre probably amounts to about the same and, indeed, it may not even be as much as the original £2 paid in 1939.
The right hon. Member for Belper laid great emphasis on the increase in production which has taken place since 1947. I cannot get that to balance with the statement of my right hon. and gallant Friend that there has been a fall in the arable acreage during the last few years and that in the last 12 months there has been a fall in the number of livestock, such as cattle and sheep. Had there been such continuous expansion as the right hon. Member for Belper sought to suggest since 1947, we should not be faced with the fact that in the last 18 months there has been a decline both in acreages of arable land and in the number of cattle and sheep.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am sorry to interrupt, after having spoken for so long, but the hon. Gentleman will find the answer if he looks, first, at a document issued by the N.F.U. called "Information Service." From it he will see the extent of the expansion in livestock—all except dairy cattle, and even though there was a reduction in the number of dairy cattle, we maintained the milk output so that 437 we increased the yield. Secondly, he will find the answer in the figure used by the Lord President of the Council in another place in which he referred to the output for last year as being 144 per cent. of pre-war—that is, 44 per cent. over prewar. When the expansion programme began, it was 117 and the hon. Gentleman can himself subtract one figure from the other, divide by four and he will get the same answer as that which I gave. If my figure is wrong, then he must blame the Lord President of the Council, on whose authority I was relying.
§ Mr. Crouch
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I did not obtain my figures from the Lord President of the Council: I obtained them in the Library of the House. I do not think for one moment that the right hon. Gentleman will suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture supply the Library with figures which are incorrect.
In my opinion, we must turn our eyes more to our upper, dry chalk lands than we have in the past. In going round the country it has seemed to me that it is on the chalk lands, particularly in the South of England, that we have seen the greatest increase in the amount of crops grown through breaking up what was termed old pasture. We see, too, on those lands the greatest increase in the number of our livestock. In carrying out the policy which will be implemented by an Order under the Bill, I hope there will be no attempt to persuade the farmers in the low and wet heavy land, particularly in the West Country, to increase their arable acreage beyond an amount which they feel they can manage and which will grow proper and decent crops.
I am concerned about the increase in rough grazing which has taken place over several years. There must be a great deal of that land which can, and must, be drawn upon if we are to increase production to the extent which my right hon. and gallant Friend wishes. Quoting from the same source, that is, the Ministry of Agriculture, we find that whereas in 1938 we had, in round figures, some 16,500,000 acres of rough grazing, today that amount has increased to 17 million acres. That is a disturbing increase—some 500,000 acres between 1948 and 1951. I know that a great deal of that land could usefully be brought into culti- 438 vation with the modern methods which farmers generally adopt today.
In conclusion, I hope that, as a result of the policy which my right hon. and gallant Friend has now begun for the industry, we shall have very much greater stability than we have had in the last few years. I hope that we shall pursue a policy through which each and every product will get a price which will cover the cost of production. I do not want to see emphasis laid on one crop or one form of livestock and then, a year later, the policy put into reverse.
Dealing with the use of figures, and whether we are producing £x more of our produce this year than last year, I suggest that it would be very much wiser—indeed, I believe this is the soundest way of measuring agricultural production—to see the number of livestock which we have on our farms increased. As the years go by, I hope we shall see an increase in all forms of livestock. We want to see more pigs, and more sheep and more cattle. By the time we have another General Election, I hope that the numbers of our livestock will be very much greater than they are at present.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), say that he hoped the Government had a policy. True, he went on a moment or two later to explain what particular kind of policy he hoped they would have. It seemed to me that neither the speech of the hon. Gentleman nor that of the Minister gave any indication that this Bill dovetails in any way into a well-thought-out policy for the whole of agriculture. I think that is a very great disadvantage of it. It is just an ad hoc affair. But let me say at once that I think that, with certain limitations, it is a very good ad hoc affair.
We all agree that there must be a very considerable increase in the home production of food, and of the various ways in which to bring this about there are two rather more obvious than the others. They are to have either such a level of the end-product of the farmer that every farmer will be induced to produce to the maximum of his capacity, or to do what is done in this Bill and to give to the beginning end of the production line, so to speak, and to encourage by subsidy 439 that which it is confidently believed will lead to increased production.
I know the criticism of the first way, which in the main was adopted by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Agriculture, that this is giving a present to those farmers who are best off and who can afford to do without it. I agree that that might happen, but nevertheless, why not? The present level of taxation certainly does not leave an undue proportion of a farmer's or, indeed, anybody else's gains in the pockets of those who make them. This sort of criticism must come from a diseased town mentality which cannot bear the thought of a farmer's wife in a fur coat or a farmer in a motor car. I strongly deprecate that point of view.
Because this Bill proposes to introduce still further ploughing-up grants—some have already been promised—it will go right to the beginning end of the production line. That being so, I think the right hon. and gallant Baronet is quite justified in saying that he hopes the improvement already shown will be maintained. It is undoubtedly true that some farmers will be induced by this grant to plough up grass, and for that reason I think we are quite entitled at the present time to support it to the full.
If I may be personal for a moment—I have always liked to regard myself as a reasonable chap and as a person not unduly tinged with partisanship—I must say that I am one of those who do not think that the advent of Tory rule is an unmitigated loss. My reasons for thinking that are twofold. First of ail, we shall not have people who ought to know better going round countries abroad running down their own country, and secondly, we have already had a subsidence of those wailing cries which we used to hear from hon. Members opposite when they were in opposition for the importation of more foreign feedingstuffs.
I hope I am the first to acknowledge the spirit in which the right hon. and gallant Baronet came to the House this afternoon and referred to that topic. I use neutral language and need not refer to anything like a white sheet. I am sure we always appreciate any hon. Member coming to the House in that sort of spirit humbly admitting errors. But I think we are entitled to ask the followers of 440 the right hon. and gallant Baronet who sit behind him to attempt to remedy some of the evils they perpetrated in the last few years when they went round the countryside using up their energies and some of Lord Woolton's millions in propagating the erroneous idea that there were great quantities of feedingstuffs available which could be had for the asking.
I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) is not in his place at the moment. He is supposed to be, and I believe is, an expert in many aspects of agriculture, yet he lent his authority to that sort of propaganda which I think should most definitely be retracted before any Members on this side of the House are expected to lend their support to the sort of plea put out, I thought rather wretchedly, by the Prime Minister in his broadcast last week when he said in effect, "Now that we are in office we expect an end to partisanship."
If it is true that hon. and right hon. Members opposite think that, let them be as frank as the Minister of Agriculture has been and let them tell the truth. After all, they still represent some agricultural constituencies. It is true these are dwindling and will dwindle even more, but they still exercise some influence in the agricultural areas and they should tell the truth to their supporters on this feedingstuffs question. They would then have the right to expect us, if not to say that we want to keep them in power for ever, at least to give that full measure of fairness which hon. Members on this side always desire to give to a Government in power.
There is no doubt that, among the articles of food in this country the production of which should be increased, is meat. In the past we have too often had our eyes fixed upon distant lands in this respect to the neglect of pastures near at home. I wish to draw the attention of the House and of the right hon. and gallant Baronet to a most significant development taking place at the present time just across the Irish Sea, where the traditional exchange of coal from this country for cattle from Ireland is in some danger of being upset. Large capital—I believe American to a great extent—has been put into refrigerating plant in Dublin with a view to diverting the meat which would normally come to 441 this country, to America and elsewhere. This is a very significant development indeed.
§ Mr. Crouch
Would it not be fair to say that this development began two years ago when the then Minister of Food was not agreeable to paying the price for the Irish beef which the Irishmen wanted?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
That is a question which can be asked when we have the general debate on agriculture which we are hoping to have shortly. I am not going to deny it or admit it at the present moment. There are two sides to that question, as to most other questions. I am not saying this as a criticism of the Government, but merely stating that it has happened. Personally, I would not care a fig if we did not see another ounce of meat in this country for all time, because I hate the stuff. But, at the same time, that is not the view of most of my fellow countrymen, and until tastes change, if they do change, it is the obvious duty of every Government to try to produce as much meat as possible.
One result of this significant development in Ireland is not only that we may run a grave risk of not being able to import as much meat from Ireland as we might otherwise have done, but that we shall also receive fewer store cattle from Ireland. If store cattle can be produced among the boulders and the bogs and the mountains of Connemara and County Wicklow, why cannot they be produced in some of the backward areas, to use an expression commonly used in foreign affairs debates, of this country?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
It seems that some strange hats are worn by some hon. Members in this House. I hope they fit. I think that some of the parts of our country which have been neglected could very well be made to produce store cattle. This Bill is something which might tend in that direction. It would also tend, not immediately but in due course, to an increase in better quality grass; because ultimately the land ploughed up under these grants will have to be laid down to grass again and we shall have better quality grass, all being well.
442 I am not suggesting that the farmers in the most difficult areas—if I may use that expression with less offence to certain hon. Members opposite—are likely to be tempted to any great extent to plough up their land under this small subsidy. It is a very small subsidy for them when one considers the difficulties with which they would be faced after the ploughing up. There will, nevertheless, be farmers in some parts who had come to the conclusion that it would not pay them to plough up old grass who will now be persuaded to do so.
It is because I believe that this subsidy will probably lead to an increase, immediately, in the production of feeding-stuffs and ultimately, perhaps, to a better quality of grass that I support the Bill. I hope that the Minister who replies will give me some answer to this question: Do the Government regard this particular grant as a temporary affair? I hope so. For reasons advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and by many others, there will surely come a time when there should be no grass to be ploughed up under such a grant as this, except perhaps the grass which is too good to be ploughed up anyway, because it is permanent pasture that cannot be improved upon by reseeding—there is still some in this country —or else it will be the grass too bad to grow crops on except grass, and to which this Bill does not apply in any case.
I hope that the Minister will say that he regards this particular grant as a temporary affair and not as part of a longterm policy. In those circumstances, because I think that it will increase immediately the amount of feedingstuffs available, I support this Bill.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I do not share the view expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) that the measures proposed by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister should be only of a temporary character. On the contrary, I hope that they prove the precursor to other Measures of this character, all of which, I believe, will be infinitely valuable in extending the supplies of feeding-stuffs, and the supplies of those valuable foodstuffs which we expect to derive from a greater acreage devoted to feedingstuffs.
443 With that opening remark, which is intended to follow the general tenor of the speech made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I pass to congratulating my right hon. Friend on his sagacity in introducing this Measure at such an early date in the affairs of the present Government.
I think it fair to say that of the 500,000 acres which he anticipates will be ploughed up in the period between the date when the scheme was announced in this House, on 4th February, 1952, and next autumn, we have already seen the ploughing up of a very generous part of that estimated figure. I know that from my own experience. Within a few days of the announcement being made in this House, I had occasion, one Saturday afternoon, to visit that part of my constituency—a very rich agricultural area—which lies immediately to the west of the River Severn in Worcestershire, and I found salutary results had taken place since I visited that area earlier, and, in many places, there were signs of farmers taking advantage of the incentive that was offered in the shape of this ploughing-up grant.
Therefore, I do not share the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who although he said that he did not like using the expression "bribe," nevertheless did so. I do not regard this Measure in any way as a bribe. I consider it a legitimate incentive measure in the present state of our economic affairs and of the deplorable deficit in our balance of overseas payments. It is upon this broad economic appreciation of the present situation that I wish to dwell for a few minutes.
I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House should not lose sight of the fact that we have emerged from a year in which the adverse balance of payments on visible account was no less than £1,200,000,000, or at the rate of £100 million a month. I was particularly pleased to hear yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) say that, in spite of the fact that hon. Members in all parts of the House had advanced the view that taxation should not be increased on entertainments, the fact remains that every taxation measure, every demand on public funds, and every subsidy ought to be 444 viewed in its proper relation and contribution towards restoring national solvency, and a proper balance of our overseas payments.
The import of this Bill—a small but delectable Bill—is to deal particularly with that major issue. If my right hon. and gallant Friend is correct in saying that 500,000 acres of old grassland will be ploughed up by the autumn, and assuming that it is not over-generous to suggest that the yield yer acre will be approximately one ton of feedingstuffs as a general average for the country as a whole, then we deduce that 500,000 tons of feedingstuffs additional to our present supplies will be obtained by the autumn. The price of imported feedingstuffs, which varies, of course, according to quality and type, may on a general average be taken at £40 per ton. I am aware that barley is possibly £45 a ton and that other grains may be less, but on an average the figure is about £40 a ton.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to food barley or barley for distilling and brewing?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I was referring to imported grains for the purpose of feedingstuffs, and I think that an average of £40 per ton is not inaccurate. If the right hon. Gentleman catches Mr. Speaker's eye later, perhaps he will quote the precise figures for every class of feedingstuff that we import. I am making the point that 500,000 tons of feedingstuff may be derived as a result of this Measure by the autumn, at a price of £40 a ton, which will result in a saving in foreign exchange amounting to £20 million. Against that £20 million has to be put, of course, the cost of operating this subsidy scheme which, according to the Bill, will amount of £2½ million.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The hon. Gentleman seems not to be taking into account that the grass itself would have some value, and he seems not to have listened to the Minister when he said that he expected that 500,000 acres would qualify for this grant but he would say to the House that it was reasonable to assume that less than half that acreage would have been ploughed up in any case, so the additional acreage was 250,000 and not 500,000—
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that I am talking about the saving in foreign exchange. I am perfectly prepared to admit that the acreage which may have been ploughed up had this subsidy not been introduced would have yielded something, but it would not have made any great contribution to saving in foreign exchange, which is what I am discussing at the moment. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) wishes to discuss this matter, a Scottish opportunity is to follow and he will no doubt catch Mr. Speaker's eye in due course.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman will perhaps observe that this is a United Kingdom Measure. It is equally applicable to England and to Scotland.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will advance the Scottish point of view later.
I now pass to the subject of pigs. The increase in our pig population during the last two years has been extremely gratifying and will surely be welcomed by hon. Members in all parts of the House. The precise figures are illuminating; they show that in December, 1950, the United Kingdom pig population was 2,715,000; by December, 1951, it had grown to 3,906,000; and the latest estimate is that it is approaching 4,250,000. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) dissent again?
§ Mr. Nabarro
The right hon. Gentleman may claim a certain measure of credit for the policy which has brought about the increase in the population of these noble and prolific beasts. In view of the great difficulties in securing supplies of meat from abroad, whether it is red meat or white meat, this is a matter of importance, and we should congratulate those responsible for bringing about the increase in the pig population.
The position is that approximately seven-eighths of the pigs are reared by 446 farmers and smallholders and about one-eighth are what are commonly referred to as "back-yard" pigs. I have very often advanced the view in this House that one of the greatest single contributions that can be made to a further increase in our pig population is the removal of many of the restrictions and controls which are still maintained upon the rearing and slaughtering of backyard pigs and the inconveniences that an urban dweller has to suffer if he is to rear and slaughter one or two pigs each year. I particularly dislike the restriction upon the number of pigs that he is allowed to rear.
I am told, and I accept it as a reasonable point of view, that the principal reason all these restrictions and controls upon the rearing of backyard pigs cannot immediately be removed is the shortage of feedingstuffs and the danger that, if controls were prematurely removed, a black market in pig meat would very quickly be created.
I am not sure that is a valid excuse, but if 500,000 tons of extra feedingstuffs result from this subsidy, it might be possible for my right hon. and gallant Friend and the Minister of Food, by the time the autumn arrives, to remove feedingstuffs from rationing altogether. I should be grateful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could give the House some indication of the overall shortage on the amount of feedingstuffs required to maintain the existing population of pigs and cattle, and whether, if the extra 500,000 tons materialises by the autumn, it would be possible to remove feedingstuffs from rationing and, as a concomitant measure, to remove the restrictions and controls upon the rearing of backyard pigs.
It has been said that this Bill represents only rough justice, and that it favours the farmer who has been inefficient in the past and penalises the farmer who has been efficient, because it gives the farmer who has neglected to plough up grassland an opportunity to have a State subsidy for ploughing it up at this very late date, whereas the man who was enterprising and took some action before the subsidy was announced will have no such benefit.
Undoubtedly anomalies of that sort must always exist with a State sponsored scheme of this sort inaugurated on a specific date. It cannot be helped. I do not think that the anomaly and perhaps 447 the sense of grievance that may exist in some counties should be allowed to vitiate or negative the broad general goodness of the Bill's proposals.
We are faced, possibly for several years, with a continuing shortage of meat. The shortage need not be so great and, particularly, bacon rationing need not continue for too long a period if only we can, after the 500,000 acres are ploughed for feedingstuffs, imbue the farming community with a sufficient sense of urgency with Government incentive and support, to press forward from the initial 500,000 acres to a further one million acres, making a total of 1,500,000 acres of old grassland which the Scientific and Research Department of the Ministry of Agriculture estimate are available for ploughing up.
I wish this small but generous and valuable Measure a speedy and successful passage through this House and another place, and I hope that it will yield the full benefits that my right hon. and gallant Friend suggested.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I am not sure that I can entirely agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in his hope that this type of assistance will become permanent. Nor am I very sure that I understand his arguments. He advanced the quite correct view that the country was in great difficulties with foreign exchange and that it was more than ever necessary to grow more feedingstuffs at home. But may we not hope—surely it is the intention of the Government—that our foreign exchange difficulties will be ameliorated and that in due course we shall return to a situation in which we can import more freely?
The hon. Member said—and I agree—that the way to get more production from the farmers is to offer them incentives. But I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he said that he thought that, on the whole, the best incentive one could offer a farmer was a good price for his product, and that, while subsidies like this one are from time to time necessary they should be regarded with caution, and that, all things being equal, a good price was the better incentive.
448 In connection with this sort of subsidy we sometimes get requests—we have had them tonight—for some form of compulsion on farmers to treat their land in a certain way and for inspectors to find out whether the land is ploughed and that the correct crop is sown. While such things may be necessary, I view them with reluctance.
I do not deny that the county agricultural executive committees have done a very good job, but I believe that when they are given the task of enforcing measures on their neighbours they are very often put in a very difficult position. They are asked to be quasi-judicial, quasi-executive bodies, and, certainly in small counties this leads to very difficult political, judicial and personal problems. I would much rather rely on incentives and, on the whole, on the very good sense of farmers to respond to the need of the nation and to earn a little more money, even though they do not necessarily get enough to buy fur coats for their wives, as one hon. Member suggested earlier.
This Measure may certainly be necessary as an emergency, but, as is well known, it has led to considerable anomalies as between farmer and farmer. This year, at any rate, the fixing of a date, 5th February, has meant that some farmers, possibly the more efficient, have been cut out of the subsidy and others, who have no more right to it, will be able to draw it. That may be inevitable, but we ought to try and insure that in future Measures such an anomaly between farmer and farmer does not arise.
I also feel that in certain parts of the country, and certainly in Scotland, the time is coming when we must pay more attention than at present to the improvement of grass. In the north of Scotland we have in the middle of summer a flush of very good grass, but at this time of the year and again in the autumn we find ourselves in a position of difficulty in getting the sheep or cattle in anything like decent condition. If we could extend the period of growing grass for even a short time, it would mean a considerable saving in feedingstuffs.
While this Bill does not deal with grass, it is, I think, a valid point to make on it—this need for grass for feeding and silage. The necessity in Scotland to improve the grassland is perhaps even 449 greater than the need for more tillage, and it will lead to a great increase in food for the people and in agricultural production generally. I hope that when the Government spokesman winds up this debate, he will be able to give some indication that this is appreciated by the Government and that when the broad policy of the Government is known, it will be attended to.
I should like to finish by saying something about the need for imported feeding grains. We must look to the time when imports can be increased. I would appeal to the right hon. and gallant—. I had almost said wicked Baronet—when he is atoning for his murky past, not to go too far. Let him retain a spark of wickedness and press the need for imported grains as hard as he can. There seems to me to be a certain danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water, of overlooking the fact that a great deal of the prosperity of the agriculture of this country is dependent on importing feedingstuffs.
I should think that in the long run we are bound to import more again. Farmers may aim to increase our home production, plough, improve grass and so on, but ultimately if we are to support 50 million people in this country we have got to get back to the state when we can spare a very much greater amount of foreign exchange for the particular purpose of buying foreign feedingstuffs to feed the beasts that we are rearing.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lambert (Torrington)
I am rather surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who is such a distinguished member of the other Liberal Party, did not say that, as well as the fanner requiring a remunerative price, he was discouraged if he had his money taken away by high taxation. My particular branch of the Liberal Party pays very great attention to Mr. Gladstone's dictum that low taxation is the secret of good government.
§ Mr. Lambert
I hope my remarks will be drawn to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman tomorrow.
450 I should like to congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture on the success which his proposals are having. I cannot help feeling that the results would have been very much better had he announced this policy a little sooner. Not only have the farmers who have got ahead with their work been penalised, but the lazy farmers have been able to reap a reward due to their not getting on with the work.
I feel that one of the reasons the proposals were not announced earlier was due to the statistical branch of the Ministry of Agriculture. I have an idea that that branch is so cluttered up with information and statistics that it was not realised that the production of food over the last two years was falling. Another regret I have is that these proposals will involve the farmer filling in yet another form. After a hard day's work, the farmer does not like to sit down at night to fill in forms for his feeding-stuffs, cattle subsidies and so on, and I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to pay particular attention to this matter and to see whether the number of forms can be reduced.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
Is it the suggestion of the hon. Member that it would be easier for the farmers to achieve the ends we all have in view without forms?
§ Mr. Lambert
I feel there should be some way of reducing the number of forms and so enabling the farmer to devote all his energies to cultivating the land. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has done a very good thing in reducing the amount of time and energy a farmer will have to spend in filling in P.A.Y.E. forms, and I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will look at his statistical branch and see whether he cannot reduce the amount of information for which that branch asks.
The farmer is always a little bit sceptical of statistics. My father served on the Royal Commission on Agriculture 60 years ago, and he asked an expert for some figures. The expert said, "Mr. Lambert, what do you want to prove? If you will tell me, I will produce the figures, for I can produce figures to prove anything." I believe the reason my right hon. and gallant Friend did not announce his proposals earlier was 451 that his statistical department was completely immersed in their various returns. Before the war we used to get one form a year to fill in, the yearly return. It used to be called for in June and there were 118 questions. Now we get no fewer than four different returns to fill in each year, and there are 330 questions. One wonders who is allowed to put down all these extra questions on the forms.
Again, as well as reducing the number of forms, the number of questions might be reduced and the returns simplified. I am quite convinced that the farmer would then take more trouble in filling in the forms and there would be greater accuracy of information received by the Department. If my right hon. and gallant Friend could do that, it would be a tremendous help to the production of food in this country. He would make the farmers realise that the emphasis must be on production, and not upon his Ministry trying to farm from Whitehall.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
The question with which we are dealing this afternoon arises from a reversion by the nation to the peace-time recession in agriculture. Over the last two years we have seen a gradual fall in agricultural production and in the number of agricultural workers. This fall was taking place all over the world in pre-war years, when people were returning from the land to the towns. In Australia, for example, something like 85 per cent. of the population lived within 100 miles of the coastline.
Once again the reaction has set in after war, and people all over the world in every free country are moving away from the land to the towns and cities. This is one of the great difficulties that every nation has to face. It is occurring here, and until there is a new view by the urban population of the necessity for agriculture, no amount of pump-priming will bring people back to the land. We need a completely different view of the place which agriculture takes in the life of our nation if we are to bring back prosperity on the land.
This is the first opportunity I have had to speak from these benches, and although I have changed over from that side of the House to this side, my views 452 on the question of subsidies are just the same. I opposed them when I was on that side and I am against them today. We must get to something far deeper than this pump-priming by subsidy if we are to put life back into agriculture.
The subsidy that we are discussing today is one of the most effective. I disagree on that point with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). If we can persuade a farmer to turn his land over, he must do something with it. He has to put a crop into it. It is no use otherwise. In persuading him to turn his land over, we shall ultimately get greater production. The plan has its bad points. The Minister has told us that, while he hopes to have 500,000 acres turned over, the net result will only be about 250,000.
I hope that in any future scheme that he makes, he will put in conditions. Under the present scheme, it is possible for a farmer to plough up land that has been down to grass for four years and then to lay out to grass the land that has been arable, and so balance himself out. He will be able to put down the same amount to grass as he ploughs up of arable land, and so there will be no net gain to the country in tillage acreage. I hope that when any new scheme is brought forward, a condition will be placed in it that will debar a farmer from receiving any subsidy if, at the same time as he ploughs up old grassland for the subsidy he lays down arable land to grass. That is one of the reasons the net result all over the country may not be as high as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has put it.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has left the House, because he told us that in his constituency, on some of the richest land in the country, farmers were taking advantage of this subsidy of £5 per acre. I say frankly that if farmers on the richest land in the country need £5 per acre to persuade them to plough up, there is something absolutely wrong with their farming. The richest land in the country ought to be under the plough. It should not require an incentive of £5 an acre to make the farmers plough it up.
I come from one of the most difficult parts of the country to farm, and it has always puzzled me where the incentive lay in this £5, or £4—or £2 as it used to be—subsidy. If we plough up land, pro- 453 vided it is well drained to start with, it costs us £20 to £25 an acre for cultivation, manuring and seeding before we draw anything back. Farmers all over the country are in very similar conditions where the land is not exceptionally good. For the life of me I cannot see why £5 is an incentive to farmers to grow on land like that.
When we examine this matter, we find that it is really a question of the farmer himself. It boils down to the point that a good farmer will plough land when he feels he can get something out of it and he is adding to the cultivation of his land and to good farming, entirely irrespective of the £5 an acre. The hon. Member for Kidderminster said that the farmers in this country would draw £20 million, on an average figure, on these 500,000 acres, and that that should be an incentive. They are going to draw £20 million because the Government are giving them £2½ million. The argument simply does not make sense. If the farmers are going to draw £20 million from this ploughed-up land, they could do it without the £2½ million subsidy. So I do not believe that this subsidy is the incentive we are led to believe.
Much as I dislike it, we must have a subsidy because the only alternative is a free market for the produce of the farmers. With a free market we should get the real value of that produce, but as long as it is controlled and as long as the price is fixed, there must be some artificial method of production, and this is it. Because we hold the farmer in this way, such a method is necessary; but I do not like it.
The Minister timed this subsidy very well for 4th February. He waited until the good farmers had their land ploughed and would not get the £5 subsidy. It came just at a moment when the farmers who were in the balance looked over their grassland and decided that they would plough it up because the Minister was giving them something. The Minister saved a fair amount of money and I congratulate him. However, I can see his point in getting the land ploughed before 31st May. The Minister is looking to the autumn of this year and the spring of next year, and he will have a greater tillage acreage for grain crops than will be ready for the autumn sowing. It is a good piece of work on which we must congratulate the Minister.
454 We must get it over to the farmers that for the security of agriculture we have to return to the peak figure of the tillage acreage. It is impossible to look forward to any greater importation of feedingstuffs for many years to come. The countries where feedingstuffs are grown are beginning to use more themselves. America is even considering the importation of meat in a few years' time. We shall be thrown more and more upon our own resources.
While this subsidy will have some effect, it is not the incentive that it is made out to be. The recession in agriculture is far deeper than can be dealt with by these artificial means. We shall have to get to grips with a long-term programme. I am hoping to see one within a short time so that we can examine the manner in which the Government intend to deal with this problem inside these islands. / hope that it will go right to the root of the difficulties, which lie far deeper than any artificial subsidy like this can ever go.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
I hope the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) will forgive me if I comment on what he said at the end of my remarks instead of at the beginning. I had not intended to intervene in this debate until I was incited to do so by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), perhaps not for the first time.
I welcome this Bill to meet an emergency situation. The right hon. Gentleman had a great deal to say about what was said on the subject of dollars by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and it was against that background that he made his comments. But the right hon. Gentleman forgot that one of the things that made the introduction of this Bill necessary was the catastrophic drain on dollars and gold last year. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we were wrong in saying that any dollars were available, but one has only to look at the figures in the "Economic Survey." In 1950 the surplus was 93 million dollars, but in the first half of 1951 there was a deficit of 270 million dollars. In the second half of 1951 the deficit was 1,196 million dollars, and the provisional figure of deficit for the year was 1,466 million dollars. As for saying there were no dollars, I will show in one minute where the dollars went.
455 It is great fun to be amusing about party statements. At one time or another I have done the same, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that the statement from which he quoted was made before the war in Korea started, and before the previous Government embarked on the defence programme, and that the picture changed completely.
Now I come to the question of whether the dollars were there or not. In 1949 the Socialist Government allocated just over £1 million of dollars for the purchase of apples. In 1950 it allocated £2,824,000 of dollars for the same purpose. In 1951, when we had the greatest apple crop ever known in this country, it allocated £5,869,000 of dollars. Let us think what would have happened if those dollars had been allocated to the purchase of feeding-stuffs. According to a calculation I have made from the Trade and Navigation Returns, they would have bought 166,000 tons of feedingstuffs.
I am not so optimistic as my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), but I should like to try to settle the dispute which took place between himself and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). The price of imported feedingstuffs last year averaged £35 a ton and has gone up since. My calculation is that this Bill will probably get us 200,000 tons extra feedingstuffs. In other words, the Bill will do what the previous Government 'could have done if it had spent those dollars on buying feedingstuffs instead of on unwanted apples.
The right hon. Member for Belper asked for the long term plan of the Government. I am looking forward to that too. A change has taken place in the last six months. Six months ago, when one talked to farmers, one found that there was doubt, that there was uncertainty—in some quarters even defeatism —because they did not know what was going to happen. That has been banished. There is no doubt or uncertainty now. They can see the way ahead, and that change has taken place. I do ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to remember that this Bill is introduced to meet an emergency situation, which was a situation of their making.
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley that I think he 456 should look at agriculture in this way. People say that agriculture is the fourth line of defence. It is one of those nice easy phrases that slip out easily and well at public meetings. But is it a catch phrase or is it a reality? We have got to make up our minds in this House whether we are going to treat agriculture as the fourth line of defence or not. The public must make up their minds about it, too. I believe that it is a defence industry, and that it must accordingly be treated as other defence industries are—and that is why I welcome this Bill.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Richards (Wrexham)
I warmly welcome the introduction of this Bill, despite some criticisms on this side of the House, because I think—I certainly hope—that it is the beginning of a very definite policy for dealing with agriculture. I think we have got to read it from one point of view. Looking abroad, it seems to me that our chances of getting much feedingstuffs or much food from the countries from which hitherto we have got them are very slight indeed. We do not realise to what extent the countries engaged primarily in agriculture have changed during the last quarter of a century or so. Instead of exporting food, all the great agricultural countries of the world, it seems to me, are going to consume all that they can produce themselves. When we look abroad critically, I think we are driven to the conclusion that the only way in which we can hope to increase the amount of food we are going to enjoy in this country is by growing it ourselves.
We are bound to do something about agriculture. Some attempts have been made. Some were made by the last Government, for example, to increase the productivity of certain parts of this country, especially the hill lands. I think they succeeded to a very considerable extent in re-establishing the position of many of the sheep farms in the poorer parts of the country. Still, much more may be done in that direction, and, fortunately, we are living in a period when science has come to the aid of the farmer to such an extent that we had some experiments during the war as the result of which we are now able to grow crops where we never imagined any crops could be grown at all before.
The future seems to me to lie with the Ministry to take their courage in their 457 hands to do their best to revive the fertility of some of those parts of the country that have been lying waste for a great many years. I do hope that, when the plan is introduced for agriculture in the near future—as, I hope, it will be—we shall find then that the Minister of Agriculture, who, I think, is very much alive to this question, will not only introduce subsidies, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) so much objects, but will at the same time relate any scheme of assistance that he has to the latest scientific developments in the world of agriculture. Our hope just lies there.
We have some excellent land; we have a great deal of inferior land, too; and we have allowed that inferior land practically to go out of cultivation. Science, however, at the moment is in a position to assist us in that case. I have seen some remarkable results in various parts of North Wales, for example, in consequence of war-time efforts, and I trust, as I said, that the Minister will not hesitate to combine the latest scientific agricultural work with any help that he can give to agriculture. Our hope lies there. If we do not move in that direction, I see a very poor future for our agricultural people in this country.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I shall detain the House only a very little time to put two points that I should like to make in support of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) had quite a lot of fun earlier with the question of the import of feedingstuffs. I think that it is quite illogical for him or anybody on the benches opposite to charge us in the way he was charging us, because it is abundantly clear that the reason we are not able to import feedingstuffs is that his own party made it impossible for us to do so by their policies, which created a lack of dollars.
I think that that is fundamental to any appreciation of the situation. If we are able at the present time to import as much feedingstuffs as were being imported before, then I say that that is equivalent to a very substantial increase, bearing in mind the economic position of the country as a whole. It is important to realise that.
458 The right hon. Gentleman mentioned, too, a drop in the tillage acreage during the last year or two, and he even seemed to imply that that was the fault of this party because we said we should have imported feedingstuffs. Clearly, however, we could not be held responsible for what happened during the period when the other party were in power, and certainly, though we may have said we should have imported feedingstuffs, we had no power to do so, and it is utter folly to say we were responsible for that decline—a decline which led to an increase of 500,000 acres of grassland in the last two years; a decline the damage caused by which we are seeking to repair. As I say, it was damage done by the Socialist Government.
The other point I particularly want to stress, and which, I think, has not been stressed in this debate, is the tie-up between the Bill we are discussing now and the labour problem. This Bill, after all, is only a stimulant. It is a stimulant to try to restore the position as it was—as I mentioned—two years ago. We are trying to do that, but we should realise that the underlying cause of our present difficulty—and I do not think it lies purely in the fact that subsidy has been taken off: it lies far deeper than that—and the reason land has gone back to grass to a considerable extent, is the shortage of labour, which is becoming an increasing difficulty in the countryside. I say it is no good at all to try to stimulate a larger tillage acreage unless we are prepared to provide extra labour to see that full use is made of it.
I think that that is a most important point, and I do say that we have got to be very careful to see that some action is taken to provide a very considerable increase in the labour force on the land, if we are to reap the proper benefits of the Bill. I think that that is probably the most important point that has to be tied up with this particular Bill, if we are to get results.
There are other things I should have liked to refer to, but I promised to speak for only a moment or two. I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I should like my right hon. and gallant Friend to try to take up the points I have mentioned, especially that about labour, because unless we are provided with extra labour we cannot get the land ploughed up.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
Does the hon. Member think that the return of a large number of people to working on the land will be encouraged by the policy of the National Farmers' Union in opposing, on every occasion when they have the chance, a rise in the workers' wages?
§ Mr. Godber
The hon. and learned Member is trying to lead me into a very involved matter, which I should be happy to debate with him in full. I am not here as the spokesman of the National Farmers' Union. There are a number of Matters involved in the question and it is very difficulty to give an immediate answer which has the effect of being a full reply.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), although doubtless he is a great agricultural expert, does not seem to be very proficient in the art or practice of logic, nor does be seem to have paid much attention to what has been said by his right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture. To take the hon. Member's last point first, it is within my recol- lection that the Minister of Agriculture has said that there is no great shortage of labour. In fact, he is calling up agricultural workers for the Armed Forces. Therefore, whilst it may be a long stride from the Bill to that particular subject, the hon. Member seems not to have gone into the matter very carefully; but if he has, he has failed to draw the right conclusion.
§ Mr. Godber
Certainly I have given some study to the question. I remind the hon. Member that it was not the present Minister who introduced the call-up of agricultural workers. It was done when the party opposite were in power. My party have mitigated the position very considerably by reducing the numbers of those who are called up.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member bears out completely my charge of his lack of logic. I admit that my right hon. Friends called up agricultural workers for the Armed Forces, but the present Minister has continued the practice, and if the shortage to which the hon. Member has referred does not exist, or if it does exist and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has continued to allow agricultural workers to 460 be called up then, in accordance with the formula laid down yesterday by the Prime Minister, he ought to resign. The Prime Minister laid it down quite clearly that if a Minister does not accept the policy laid down by the Cabinet—in this case, the policy of the call-up—the Minister concerned—in this case the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and particularly as the growing of food is so important—should forthwith place his resignation in the hands, not, of course, of the Prime Minister, but of the supervisor, co-ordinator or overlord, or whatever is the title that is used.
§ Mr. Godber
This is very interesting, but surely the hon. Member agrees that the matter of agricultural labour must be considered in connection with the whole background of the country and its urgent need of food production.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sorry if I transgressed the rules of order but I was following the hon. Member, who now makes the position worse by saying that the Bill will create a shortage of labour on the land. That is very serious indeed. Again, I underline my invitation to the Minister to consider his position if that charge is true.
§ Mr. G. Brown
We do not want to lose the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He is better than the rest.
§ Mr. Wigg
In that case, I had better turn to the first of the points made by the hon. Member for Grantham. He seems to find it rather odd that my hon. and right hon. Friends were indignant with the action of the party opposite during the last five years. It is not so very odd that they should be indignant. Not only Members of the House, but members of the Conservative Party up and down the country, lacking a policy of their own, went round the countryside saying that there was no shortage of feedingstuffs. The question at issue is whether that statement was true.
The question of the responsibility for the importation of feedingstuffs rests, of course, with the Government, but the gravamen of the charge against the party opposite is that they disregarded the national interest in order to advance their 461 own political cause. They made statements which were untrue and which they knew to be untrue, and which, I suggest, the hon. Member knows were untrue. Therefore, it is brazen impudence on his part to come to the House this afternoon and charge my hon. and right hon. Friends because they have exposed the machinations of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Godber
I am enjoying this. The facts of what has been said on both sides are clearly on record. Surely, the hon. Member would agree that the position is entirely different today to what it was two or three years ago, when suddenly we had, if not enough dollars, at any rate far more to spend than we have at present. It is utterly irresponsible for the hon. Member to talk in that way.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have been a Member of the House only for seven years, although I am likely to be here for a good many more years, but I have been here long enough not to be led away by red herrings of that kind.
The real issue is whether or not it is true that there was a shortage of feeding-stuff during the past few years. It is a question not of argument, but of fact. The hon. Member said that if only the previous Government had had the will, they could have got all the feedingstuff they wanted. That statement was untrue, and if the hon. Member suggests otherwise he is guilty of impudence.
I turn now to the speeches of the hon. Members for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and Canterbury (Mr. Baker White), who got into extraordinary difficulties. I tried to follow their mathematics. According to the hon. Member for Kidderminster, the Bill will produce 500,000 more acres. The hon. Member for Canterbury put the figure at 200,000. There seems to be some difference on this point in the party opposite, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will give the actual figure, otherwise I for one certainly would find difficulty in giving the Bill my support.
Next, according to the hon. Member for Kidderminster, the farmers are to get that 500,000 acres at a cost of £40 an acre, which represents £20 million. That is a lot of money. My constituency is next to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans).
§ Mr. Wigg
No, it does not, but the figures given by the hon. Member for Kidderminster do influence me. Talk about "feather-bedding"—they must now be taking the feathers out and putting £5 notes in. It is an extraordinary argument to say that the farmers will get £20 million out of this and that we are to give them another £2½ million to enable them to get that £20 million. If the figures of the hon. Member for Kidderminster are correct, it is nothing more nor less than legalised banditry and holding up the consumer to ransom.
I am horrified at the arguments I have heard this afternoon. Whilst I shall not disregard the advice of my right hon. Friends and vote against the Bill, I am horrified at the policy which is being pursued, and I want on behalf of the consumers, whose voice appears not to have been heard, to enter my protest against this policy which is going to pour out millions of pounds of public money for no other purpose than the hope that we might get a little more of the feeding-stuffs that we ought to get automatically if farmers and farmers' sons were to put their backs to the wheel and would work a little harder. It is no good going to the industrial worker or to areas where the export industries are sustained and to ask our people to work harder and to pay more for their food, if at the same time the Government pour out millions of pounds of public money and put it in the pockets of those who do not deserve it in the least.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), except to deal with the last point he made. He surely misrepresented the position when he said that a small payment in is going to put a vast sum of money into the pockets of farmers. The small payment in represented by this subsidy is a contribution to the very high costs of cultivating this land which at present we want to see cultivated.
I wish to return to what I believe should be the real argument of the debate. I think we all welcome the Bill and are very gratified to hear the Minister say that the response to the first 463 scheme under the Bill has been so good. The principle we should be discussing is whether this form of subsidy payment, continued over the years, is the way in which we want to see the farming community paid, or whether the right method is to put the money on to the final product. We all agree that the future of production in this country, especially in meat, depends on grassland, and that it lies in ploughing up and sowing down and that the aim is to assist and catalyse that process.
During and just after the war, we were able to plough up a great deal of grass- land and at the same time to increase our cattle population. Until last year the cattle population went on increasing, but at the same time we have been laying down to grass and losing land from our tillage area. The great problem is how we are to encourage the improvement of grass by ploughing it up and continually putting the land through a long rotation. I believe that is a policy farmers want to follow, but once they have laid the land to grass, the expenses are such that there is a strong inducement to keep it as grassland, whereas this subsidy is intended to encourage further ploughing.
This afternoon we have had reference made to pump-priming operations. I do not believe that is quite an accurate description of what the subsidies are in- tended to do. In my part of the country —in the Fen districts—we have to lift the drainage water to get it into the rivers and into the sea. Sometimes we lift it twice, first by a booster and then by a pump. I believe it is in the form of a booster that this subsidy operates and that we shall find it necessary, if we are to get a very high level and intensity of production, to invoke the system of a booster payment such as the Bill seeks to put into operation.
I should like to develop the theme much further, as it is one of the most important themes in connection with agriculture at present, but this debate has already gone on for a very long time and I will merely conclude by saying that I welcome the Bill.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. J. R. E. Harden (Armagh)
In rising, as one of a very small minority, to put the Northern Ireland point of view, I wish to say how glad I am that an hon. 464 Member opposite raised the question of the selling of carcase beef from Southern Ireland, a process which is just starting, and which will have a considerable effect on the supply of beef to this country from Southern Ireland. If it goes on in the way it is going, it will have a serious effect on the supply of meat from Northern Ireland, because it will be more profitable for the meat farmer in Northern Ireland to sell in Southern Ireland.
I rise to lend my support to the Bill, which I believe has the complete support of the whole farming community of Northern Ireland. I have good reason to believe that already its effect has been to produce a greatly increased tillage acreage in our small area of Northern Ireland. Over the last 12 months there has been a reduction of 30,000 acres under oats and 35,000 acres under potatoes. While I believe the oats acreage will increase considerably, I cannot say that I believe that the potato acreage will increase at all.
I say that because this year there was an abundant crop, and I believe that the Ministry of Food were not accurately informed and a real muddle was made of the marketing of Northern Ireland potatoes, many of which still remain in the fields in the pits and have not yet been shifted. The farming community, who still have those potatoes on their hands, have no great confidence in the moving of their potato crop should they increase their acreage next year.
What I think important is that my right hon. and gallant Friend should try to pay this money to the small farmers as soon as possible. Many small farmers in my district are being pushed by the banks and cannot get the money. They have to carry out the tillage but are short of money. They have had unfortunate trouble in getting rid of their potatoes, and if they do not get the money they will be in difficulty. I am told that the forms which have to be filled in to obtain the subsidy have not been printed. I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to hurry the payment to small farmers, if he can. That would be a great help.
Although I agree with what has been said about good farmers who ploughed their land before the date in question not getting the subsidy, I believe that in Northern Ireland we are perhaps better 465 placed because, owing to the extremely bad weather, very little ploughing was done before 3rd February. We thoroughly support the Bill, although I personally do not like the principle of subsidies at all; I thoroughly dislike it. I believe the answer is to give the farmer the right price for the finished article and not to have subsidies.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Harden) said that in principle he did not agree with subsidies. I was wondering when some hon. Members opposite would say that, but it was not said until the concluding sentence of the hon. Member. I remember that in the last seven years every time any Measure was brought before the House providing for a subsidy, when we were on the other side of the House, hon. Members of the Conservative Party said, "We are utterly opposed to subsidies in general, but we are willing to accept this one." The subsidies were all good in particular, but all bad in general.
I think the Minister will not complain about the Wile of the debate today, but he, like myself, might have wondered why he did not have the support and we did not have speeches from some hon. Members who normally speak in debates on agriculture. I looked around the Chamber when my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was speaking, and though some hon. Members opposite were a little annoyed and concerned when he quoted some speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members opposite and quoted the Tory Party's Agricultural Charter, when he went on to deal with the provisions of the Bill I rather suspected, watching the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) and the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), that they had very great sympathy with the views being expressed by my right hon. Friend. But it is a surprising thing that a number of hon. Members who normally participate in debates on agriculture did not come into the Chamber to give us the benefit of their views.
I rather suspect that the farmers of England, Wales and Scotland are not so unanimous in their support of this Bill as the hon. Member for Armagh has said the farmers of Northern Ireland are.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Minister says in an undertone that they are, but I can assure him that they are not.
I do not want to go on discussing in any controversial way what the farmers of the country think of the Bill. Generally speaking, they like the Bill because they like subsidies, but the more intelligent and far-seeing farmers of this country were never very keen on a subsidy of this kind. I say that the more confidently because I was a member of the Government, albeit a junior one, that introduced the same kind of subsidy about five years ago.
I know, from my discussions with farmers' leaders at that time, that while they said in conference that it was a very good thing, they told me in private that it really was not a good thing and was not in the best long-term interests of agriculture. If the Bill will bring about better husbandry, which is an important consideration, and will give us more cropping on the right land, it will be satisfactory. The question we really have to ask ourselves is whether it will give us better husbandry. I very much doubt whether it will.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, I consider that we cannot possibly go back on the arrangements which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman made with the industry in February of this year. Therefore, I think that the first scheme really must be approved by this House. It is significant, however, that so many Members on both sides of the House have said, in praising the Bill today, that it is a good Measure to deal with an emergency. But my right hon. Friend's criticism of the Bill was that it does more than that.
All of us will accept this Bill, and the scheme which is to be submitted under it, to deal with the emergency this year, but it does not follow that we should welcome the proposal contained in the Bill that the Minister can—with the approval of Parliament, I know—make further schemes, and the fact that the Bill can continue indefinitely. I do not think it will be a good thing for agriculture if by means of this Bill we continue indefinitely giving a ploughing-up subsidy of £5, £4 or even £2 per acre.
467 I do not believe that the ploughing-up subsidy another year would be as high as the £5 being offered this year. That is a special inducement. I cannot think that the Minister would, in a new scheme to be introduced later in the year for the next ploughing season, offer £5 for every acre of grass that was ploughed over. Surely the need for this Bill arises because too much of our farm land has been going under grass. That is conceded, whatever the reason may be—whether bad administration by the previous Government or bad planning by the farmers.
It is right that those of us who went round the country having meetings with farmers and appealing to them to plough up more and produce more of their own feedingstuffs should remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that in those days—in 1947, 1948 and 1949—they were telling the farmers of this country that there was not great need to produce feedingstuffs in this country. They believed that.
I see some hon. Members are shaking their heads to indicate dissent, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper quoted the Tory Party's Agricultural Charter of 1948. It is there clearly stated that the Tory Party believed that there were plenty of feedingstuffs to be had in the world and that though the farmers of this country would have to produce some winter keep in the form of dried grass, silage, etc., there was no need for them to make a conscious effort to produce food grains from the land of this country. That is the whole implication of the Agricultural Charter.
Hon. Members continued to make the same sort of speeches up to October last year. They would be the first to claim that they have some influence with the farmers of this country. If the farmers were influenced by the speeches of Members of the Tory Party in Parliament and in the country, that influence was a bad influence because it resulted in a loss of acreage under tillage.
I recall also, when we introduced our maximum area of pasture Order, which applied only to England because we in Scotland had no Act under which to make such an Order at that time, the bitter discussion and the Division on that Order because the 468 Tory Party of that time thought and said that the farmer knew best what to do with his land, that it was all very well to have directions in time of war but not in peace-time. So they opposed the Order. By the time the Scottish Order came before the House, the present Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking for the Opposition, said that he would not oppose the Order, and there was no Division on that Order.
Since the party opposite have crossed to the Government Benches, they have found it necessary to continue the maximum area of pasture Orders. It is surely clear to all of us that the reason for this Bill is that we have not received from those Orders the advantage and benefit which we expected. My right hon. Friend asked about the operation of these Orders in England and Wales. On consulting the Report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, I found that last year there were 91 directions served under the Order which, the report goes on to say, had the effect of reducing the acreage under grass by some 1,680 acres. But during the same year we lost 38,000 acres of tillage in Scotland. I submit to the Joint Under-Secretary that in Scotland—I am sure it is equally true of England—we really must make much more use of these Orders.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
In order to be quite fair to the work of the agricultural executive committees, would not the hon. Member agree that the Orders were only the extreme measures, and that, through the advice and threats, if one likes to put it that way, of the agricultural executive committees, far more grassland was ploughed up last year?
§ Mr. Fraser
If far more grassland was ploughed up because of the advice and threats of the executive committees, I shudder to think what a drop there would have been in the acreage without that advice and those threats.
I merely submit the point for the consideration of the Government. It is clear that in saying this my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper and I must be saying it with sincerity, because if blame attaches to the Government about the exercise of their power under the Statutes of 1947 and 1948, and under the pasture Orders, the blame must fall far more heavily on our shoulders. Whichever 469 party is in office we should exercise the powers given in those Statutes and in the Orders to a greater extent than we are at present doing. It is obvious to anyone who travels about the country that we have far too much land going back to grass and far too much going to permanent grass at present.
One looks at the acreage figures. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper referred to the N.F.U. document "Information Service," which is circulated to hon. Members who are interested. One finds that between 1949 and 1951 there was an increase of about 329,000 acres of permanent grass in England and Wales, an increase of 3.1 per cent. Temporary grass increased by 119,000 acres, an increase of 3.2 per cent. During this period, when it was clear to all of us that we had to produce more coarse grains in this country, although hon. Members opposite were giving contrary advice, we find that coarse grains went down by 300,000 acres, or a drop of 6.7 per cent. It is no use hon. Members saying we could have got these coarse grains in the last few years. We have to regard this matter in a responsible manner.
Before the war we imported some five million tons of coarse grains per year. In 1945 we were importing 400,000 tons a year. By 1948, when this Tory Party Agricultural Charter was written, we had got our imports of coarse grains up to about two million tons per year. Almost all of this was coming from America, from the dollar area, and no one will argue that even in those days dollars were easily come by. We had to borrow them, because we had not the dollar exchange. It was absolute nonsense and irresponsible for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to argue at that time, and to tell the farmers of this country at that time, that we could have got additional coarse grains from the dollar area if we had been anxious to buy them. We were getting the most that we were able to get from the dollar area in those years.
If it was easy then, it is surely not too much to expect that it can become comparatively easy again; not next year or the year after, but in a few years. Will the Minister say that there is any prospect in the next few years of getting coarse grains to the extent that we imported them before the war? He will not, because there is no such prospect.
470 It seems to me that the application of this indiscriminate ploughing subsidy will, in at least some parts of the country, have an entirely opposite effect to that which the Minister desires. He knows better than I do that there are many parts of the country where the farmers work on a seven-year rotation; three years under grass and four years under the plough and then back under grass for three years. There are lazy farmers, or farmers who are not so anxious or industrious or perhaps not so intelligent in their husbandry as others. What will they do? Will they continue to keep their land under grass for another year to qualify for the subsidy'? If they do, that would be contrary to what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman desires, and contrary to what all of us desire.
We all wish, and good husbandry demands, that grass should be ploughed up after three years; but if farmers can get a subsidy by leaving their grass down, there are many who will do so. We know from experience that it is an exceedingly difficult job to prevent a subsidy of this kind from being abused. A farmer may very well put down grass for four years, but he may also plough it up in three years and say that it has been down for four years, and who is to say that it has not? It is exceedingly difficult to say whether grass has been down for three or four years. This is the sort of thing which may be operated on a short-term basis, but if an attempt is made to administer a subsidy such as this in the long-term, we may well run up against a great number of abuses, and find that people are claiming money to which they are not entitled.
Another aspect which demands most serious consideration is that when we have a subsidy such as this, there should be a manifestation of awareness on the part of farmers of the necessity for ploughing up their old grass. When we start to run down a subsidy—and I expect that this subsidy will go down in another year—it is not too much to suppose that farmers, who were encouraged to think this was important, will think it less important when the subsidy is reduced to £3 or £4. And when it is taken off altogether—and we have had some experience of this—farmers will think it no longer necessary to plough up their old grassland. They may think the 471 Minister no longer considers that grass of four and more years is unproductive.
I was interested to hear the Minister talk about this grass as being unproductive grass. I have a great deal of sympathy with that point of view. I consider that the most productive grass is young grass. I wish we had more of it and that farmers would put down short leys and plough up their old grass. They would get, not only very useful grazing, but would be able to cut their grass two or three times in the summer months and obtain grass for drying and silage. When grass has been down for four years, or in some areas for three years—it depends on the soil conditions—it is better in the interests of good husbandry that the plough should be put on the land and perhaps three or four crops taken off it. In that way the best use may be made of the land.
That is the practice generally followed by the best farmers in this country. It is not, however, always the best policy, although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that, generally speaking, it is conducive to good husbandry. There are areas where it would be bad husbandry to do so, and we do not want to encourage bad husbandry by offering too high a financial inducement. But if it is good husbandry to plough it up, we should persuade the farmers that that is so and that they should give effect to it without having to dangle before them the inducement of a subsidy of £2, £3 or £5 an acre.
We should use the educational services and the powers given to executive committees to issue directions if need be. Let us use those powers to see that good husbandry is practised. If it is, then this kind of subsidy will be unnecessary. This subsidy, like many other subsidies, including subsidies given by the Government of which I was a member, is given to agriculture because a very large number of farmers in this country—I would say the majority of them—do not practise the best husbandry. Subsidies are given to induce them to do the right thing by the land which it is their privilege to farm.
By all means let us be aware that these subsidies are not necessarily good. I repeat that we must give effect to the promise which the Minister very properly made to the industry at the 472 beginning of this year. If he gets 250,000 additional acres, this subsidy will be fully justified. In the circumstances, it is the duty of all of us acting responsibly to support him. But if we give him support, he must not think that it necessarily follows that we should support a long-term grassland ploughing subsidy. He must know that he has many supporters in the countryside who take a contrary view. They take the view expressed forcibly and convincingly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper.
There has been a little misunderstanding during this debate. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) was wildly inaccurate in his calculations. I regretted that he misled my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) into thinking that by accepting £2,500,000 of Government money and ploughing up another 500,000 acres—as he seems to think—the farmers would produce crops of one ton per acre at £40 a ton and, therefore, they would derive an income of £20 million. That was the calculation of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. He trapped my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley into thinking that, by carrying out the wishes of the Minister, the farmers would, incidentally, drop another £20 million into their pockets.
§ Mr. Wigg
I was not misled. I placed in juxtaposition the figures of the hon. Member for Kidderminster and those of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White). Of course, the figures of the hon. Member for Kidderminster were wild. My point was that it seemed quite extraordinary that hon. Members opposite should come here and say how much the farmers were going to get out of this Bill and then support a policy of giving them £2,500,000 a year for getting it.
§ Mr. Fraser
I agree. The way in which some hon. Members opposite argued the case was extraordinary. They did not seem to argue at all from the point of view of the national interest. They said that it was a good thing and that "these silly farmers" would not have known that they had another £2,500,000 in their pockets if this wise and beneficent Government had not told them about it, and that, on top of that, they were to get another £20 million. In fact, for many of them there will not be much personal advantage from the additional cultivation, but it will be a great help to the industry generally.
473 One of my greatest worries in recent years has been about the number of farmers who had substantial cultivation during the war and who, in the post-war period, hurriedly gave up their cultivation and put the plough away, as far as possible, because they themselves did not need the coarse grains which they grew during the war. They did not seem to think that they had a duty to their colleagues, the beef breeders and raisers and the pig breeders.
I hope that the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland will get it across to the farmers that they have a responsibility to their colleagues in the industry. It is absolutely essential for the well-being of the industry as a whole that there should be a considerable increase in cultivation, particularly of coarse grains.
Therefore, at this stage we give this Bill our complete support. We shall have a further look at it between now and the Committee stage and it may be that we shall be able to offer a few Amendments. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper said, it pleased us not a little to observe that the Minister has incorporated in this Bill Amendments similar to those we moved to the Agriculture (Fertiliser) Bill which he graciously accepted on an earlier occasion.
As a result, we might find it difficult to suggest improvements to this Bill. However, he will probably find that we shall be able to suggest some Amendments. In any case, unless the Parliamentary Secretary is able to satisfy us, we will pursue a little further our doubt about putting into this Bill the provision which would enable the subsidy to be continued indefinitely, even though it is by means of a Statutory Instrument which could not run for more than two years at any one time.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
It was perhaps a little unkind of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) to allude to the fact that more of my hon. Friends had not taken part in this debate. If he will cast his mind back to 1946, when he was concerned with a not dissimilar Measure, he will recall that his right hon. Friend was given the Bill on the nod. I am delighted 474 of course that the Opposition, although with qualifications, are supporting the Bill. There are one or two points which I must answer. I must refer particularly to the main burden of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), as well as that of the hon. Member for Hamilton.
They have accused us of being responsible for the fall in tillage acreage. Do they accuse us also of being responsible for the fall in the cattle numbers over the last year? The fact is that the customary tactics have been used—the best form of defence is to attack. As my right hon. and gallant Friend said in his opening remarks, he found a situation where the tillage acreage had fallen substantially and he had to consider what were the best measures to take to reverse this trend. This is one of the measures he proposes to deal with the situation.
The right hon. Member for Belper commented on the Maximum Area of Pasture Order and asked for some figures. He put it perhaps a little unkindly when he asked, "Why pay this special bribe when you have got this Order?" These are the figures. The Order was introduced in July, 1948, and up to 31st October, 1951, there were 481 directions. Of these, 317 have been fully complied with and many others have been substantially complied with. In 47 cases the county committees applied sanctions; in 23 the land was entered and ploughed up; and in 14 convictions were obtained after prosecution. Nine cases were considered unsuitable for prosecution.
§ Mr. Nugent
I cannot give figures for any period since October but I can say that although, as he knows, this is not a particularly convenient order to operate, we think that it is a weapon of value in the hands of the county committee. Last January my right hon. and gallant Friend sent out a further circular to county committees asking them to make use of it in all appropriate cases. We realise that it is something which can help.
In making comments on our policy, the right hon. Member for Belper used a phrase which struck a familiar note in my ears—and I should have thought it would have done in his ears, too. He accused us of proceeding from one expedient to another. I seem to have heard that before 475 somewhere. The right hon. Gentleman also asked a technical point about where the £2,500,000 will come from and how it is related to the Price Review. The answer is that it is taken into account in the Price Review of 1952-53 and is counted in the global total of the £39 million award.
On a further technical point of considerable importance, I was asked how the accuracy of applications would be checked. It is true that all administrative schemes of this kind present certain difficulties in operation, but I think the experience of all who have had to do with the farming world is that the vast majority of farmers make honest returns. We are not dealing with a collection of criminals, and it is sufficient to do a sample check. It has been the practice of the Department in the past, in dealing with similar schemes, to do something like a 10 per cent. check on a sample of farms throughout the country. In practice, that has been found to give quite satisfactory results, and we intend to do the same thing.
One or two further points were raised in the course of the debate. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) had some comments to make about the wisdom of the permanent scheme, and I will deal with that more fully in a minute. He also commented on the need for grassland improvements, and I am sure we all welcome his comments very much. Those improvements are an important part of the whole idea. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) made a most helpful speech, which we welcomed, in which he called attention to the urgent and continuing need for us to get the maximum possible production from our own soil. He felt, as we feel, that in this connection this Bill would be a useful contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) asked what was the overall shortage of feedingstuffs and whether the increased acreage which my right hon. and gallant Friend anticipates will give a yield sufficient to fill that gap. The answer is that it is quite impossible to give an exact figure, because as more feedingstuffs become available, as the ration scales are increased, so the livestock population increases; and until one gets some measure of freedom into the picture it 476 is quite impossible to say what would be the final total demand. I can say that my right hon. and gallant Friend is very much inclined to introduce some flexibility on the lines of home-grown coarse grains, whenever the circumstances permit.
The main arguments of the debate fall into two parts. First of all, there is the short-term scheme, which provides £5 an acre for four-year old grassland until the end of this month. I gather that, generally, the Opposition accept that, with some qualifications; nevertheless, they accept it as being a pump-priming operation to meet special circumstances and to get a greater production of cereals, particularly in the coming harvest.
The burden of criticism has been directed at the wisdom of continuing a ploughing subsidy as a long-term measure. I will pass over the first point, as we have been generally in agreement upon it, but on the long-term issue I would point out that the first point we must consider is the economic and financial situation of the country which, in spite of all the grave crises of this kind which have gone before, is certainly the worst we have had. In considering what measures he must take to increase agricultural production, my right hon. and gallant Friend is, therefore, dealing with a situation of quite unparalleled urgency, and when we come to compare what is now foreshadowed with what has been done in the past, that is a point which must be borne in mind.
We have had considerable experience of these ploughing subsidies over the last 12 years, of their strength and of their weakness. They were started in 1939, and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite continued them in 1946 with a modification which brought the subsidy down to the three-year ley, and anything over that, from what it had been before —the seven-year ley. In 1947 they stepped up the £2 an acre to £4 an acre, and that was retained until the end of 1949. Indeed, until last February there was a subsidy running on ploughing up old grassland as a contribution towards the fertiliser cost.
We have had quite a long experience of these subsidies, although I shall not use the argument that because the Labour Party did this when they were in office, that is sufficient justification for us to do 477 it. No doubt they would regard it as a good reason, although it is not one to which they have referred this evening. They have been saying throughout the debate that in their opinion we should better achieve the results by using what they call a sound price schedule instead of using these specific subsidies. Obviously, their experience did not show that, because in fact they used these specific subsidies throughout their term of office.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to deal with the real point of the argument. It was not that we should not occasionally have specific subsidies. When I used the argument, he will remember that I was talking about the newly adopted practice of having 40 per cent. of the price recoupment in subsidies. I did not say this method could not be used occasionally.
§ Mr. Nugent
I must not go outside the question of this subsidy, but I shall deal with it specifically because it is the whole point at issue—whether we shall get a better result by increasing prices by our price schedule and thereby get an increased acreage ploughed up, or whether we shall get better value for the consumer by giving a specific subsidy. That is the point.
When we look at the picture of where the tillage acreage has most declined, we find that in the eastern counties, and particularly East Anglia, where the farms are bigger, the climate drier and the soil easily workable, the tillage acreage has been fully maintained. It has scarcely fallen since the peak level of the war. But as we gradually move west, until we get to the very south-west, we find that there has been a very steep decline, as there has been in Wales, where conditions are particularly difficult.
We all know, in the farming world, that as we go further west, and particularly in the far south-west and Wales, we run into a larger and larger number of small farms. I assure the right hon. Member for Belper that this small farms question is at the heart of the economic problem of the production of our farmlands. About 80 per cent. of our farms are under 100 acres.
If all our farms were something like the same size, or at any rate something like the same soil, with fields something 478 like the same shape; and if everywhere there was the same climate and the same rainfall, we could quite well proceed entirely by the price schedule. But when we have such tremendously varying conditions, where yields per acre from the small farms on difficult land are probably not much more than one-third or possibly even less than what they are on the best land, we see how frightfully difficult it is to arrange a price schedule which will make it profitable for the small farmer to grow corn and which is reasonable for the man on the big farm.
That is the problem with which we are confronted and with which right hon. Gentlemen opposite were confronted before. We believe that in this picture we have got to create conditions where the small farmer whose tillage acreage has fallen will be able to plough up again. For instance, a man who has considered ploughing a field may have decided after two wet harvests—and, of course, the last two seasons have made it rather worse for him—that he simply cannot face the outlay and the risk when the result is likely to be so unremunerative. We believe that if we give him a subsidy of £5 per acre that will mean cash being injected at the beginning of the process so that he can pay a contractor for ploughing up and sowing the seed, and so get the process started.
It is for those reasons that my right hon. and gallant Friend feels that we are right to consider a ploughing up subsidy as a long-term measure. The exact terms of it will, of course, have to be considered very carefully, and my right hon. and gallant Friend has made it plain that this particular scheme will not necessarily be the form of any future one. In due course he will bring before the House his scheme for the next two years, and that will be the time to decide whether that scheme is the right one.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that his right hon. and gallant Friend might well find it desirable to bring forward a scheme at a later date that would provide for giving this subsidy only in respect of certain types of land, because that would be a very different thing from the subsidy we are discussing at the present time? I personally take the view that the best subsidies which were ever given were those particular 479 directional subsidies which enabled the man on poor land to cultivate his land to the utmost and to make a decent living. I am wondering whether the hon. Member is now suggesting that the longer term scheme might well provide for giving this ploughing up subsidy in respect of only particular types of land.
§ Mr. Nugent
I was being careful not to suggest anything as to what the future scheme might contain, nor do I feel I would be wise to be drawn even by the wiles of the hon. Gentleman. In due course my right hon. and gallant Friend will put his scheme before the House, and that will be the time to decide on its merits.
I want to say, particularly to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that we feel that in this picture we are not only concerned with getting increased cereal acreage, but also with trying to get some of the 13 million acres of permanent grassland ploughed up and back into better grass. That cannot be done with a great deal of it, but there is undoubtedly some which could be ploughed up and returned into far more productive grassland. That is one of the thoughts at the basis of this Bill. For all those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House in the belief that it is a sound Bill both for the short-term scheme and for the long-term scheme.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Kaberry.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.